How to Choose the Right Wine for Your Passover Seder
The perfect wine can upgrade any meal, but it serves as an especially important accent during holidays that put your favorite types on full display. Passover is the perfect example. "Wine is integral and essential to the entire Seder," says Marcia Friedman, author of The Essential Jewish Cookbook ($17.99, amazon.com). "We often think of matzah as the most prominent thing we consume at the Seder, but the service actually calls for a lot of wine—four cups of it! Plus, Ashkenazi families pour a cup for the prophet Elijah, which is not consumed by anyone, and drops of wine are spilled out of our cups in recalling the plagues of Egypt." While your wine choices don't have to follow any hard and fast rules, choosing the best bottles for your celebration simply means answering a few questions before you start sipping.
How much wine should you buy?
As with any other type of gathering, the last thing you want is to run out of wine. Expect to serve each guest four cups of wine, and plan for one bottle to pour five servings—but, says Friedman, "note that it's permissible to not drink all the wine in your glass as long as you drink most of it, so some people might drink less. Don't forget the people who don't drink alcohol: Grape or other fruit juices, including a reduced-sugar option, are important to have on hand." This is also the time to consider how many different blends you want to offer: "Decide whether you want one all-purpose wine for the entire evening, a couple of options, or options to complement your menu," says Friedman. "You might try serving different wine for all four cups or perhaps choose a different wine for that fourth glass at the end of the night. See what you like, what works well with how you conduct your Seder, and what seems worth the effort. And make notes on what you liked and didn't so you're ready to go next time around."
Should you choose red or white?
The specific blends you buy can vary based on your own tastes and the food you're serving. "Red is traditional, but I recommend having white on hand, too," says Friedman. "I know people who prefer to drink one or the other, no matter the food, and I like to make sure everyone has something they enjoy." Traditional Seder entrées, like brisket, lamb, or meat-filled matzah pies, often pair seamlessly with red wines, like cabernet sauvignon, while chicken and vegetarian dishes coordinate with chardonnay and other whites; some families begin with a rosé for a hint of the classic red without the heavier taste. "Although people customize the flow of their Seders, traditionally the second cup of wine is enjoyed with the meal and the third cup after the meal," says Friedman. "If you follow that order, you might want to have wine for those cups that complements the food."
Many families also opt to include Manischewitz wine, a sweet red introduced to America by Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. "We always have Manischewitz before switching to dry wines with dinner and I enjoy it myself—no judging—as it is uniquely Jewish to me," says Friedman. "It also has a slightly lower alcohol content, which helps with pacing. Bottom line is you should serve what you like to drink, as you have a lot of drinking to do."
Should the wine be kosher?
Freidman recommends serving at least one kosher wine—even if you don't keep kosher—to mark the importance of the holiday, though you'll need to read the labels carefully. "Not all kosher wine is kosher for Passover, though much of it is," she says. "Second, like all wines, kosher for Passover wines vary in quality and characteristics, so get advice from your local wine shop if possible. And because Passover celebrates the promise of freedom in Israel, choosing Israeli wines adds extra meaning. Another option would be buying wines from and supporting a winery near you that has taken the effort and expense to achieve kosher certification."