11 Expert-Approved Wines to Serve Along with Your Rosh Hashanah Dinner
Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year, is a time when families enjoy traditional holiday dishes like brisket, apples and honey, matzo ball soup, potato or noodle kugel, tzimmes, and sometimes even a whole roasted fish head (a nod to the holiday's name, which literally translates to "head of the year"). With such a rich and diverse array of dishes making up the menu, what wines should you have on the holiday table? We asked seven Jewish wine professionals how they pair wines for Rosh Hashanah and which bottles they recommend.
Matt Montrose, CMS Advanced Sommelier and Chief Administration Officer at OMvino, recommends you opt for versatile, crowd-pleasing bottles. "Try to avoid extremes, namely wines that are too sweet, too boozy, too dry, or too tannic. Because the holiday table is laden with bountiful dishes, finding wines that are flexible in flavor and texture will stand you in good stead for harmonious pairings."
Freelance wine writer Jess Lander says that this is a holiday where classic wines are a foolproof choice. "I find that Rosh Hashanah dinner ends up being similar to Thanksgiving in that a medium-bodied, food-friendly red like a pinot noir or merlot is often a perfect match, and when in doubt, bubbly. It is the Jewish New Year, after all. Also, for the challah bread and honey at the beginning of the meal, I imagine something like a nice sauternes would be delicious."
On the other hand, Rosh Hashanah could be a time for exploration in your wine selection, argues Advanced Sommelier and Wine Educator Erik Segelbaum. "One of the most important traditions of Rosh Hashanah is to say a 'Shehecheyanu' which is a prayer over something you are doing for the first time and to eat a food or fruit you don't normally eat. This can be translated into new wines as well." Segelbaum suggests forgoing the usual cabernet or chardonnay and "filling your table with new and adventurous 'Shehecheyanu' wines!" Francine Cohen, food and beverage journalist and consultant, agrees. "Rosh Hashanah is the perfect excuse to explore something new, be it a grape varietal or blend you haven't had before or a new (to you) wine region. For example, love Bordeaux? There's probably a growing region in Israel or Virginia or Washington where the terroir is similar, and the wine is equally delicious."
Several experts recommend not overthinking the pairings for the holiday. Wine journalist Shana Clarke says, "Don't sweat it! There will be so many flavors on the plate at the same time that it's impossible to create perfect pairings of anything. A better strategy is to have a couple of different types of wines open so people can go back and forth depending on their mood (and can find one that goes best with that second or third helping of a favorite dish)."
If you do want to pair wines more formally with your Rosh Hashanah dinner, Cohen reminds you that the typical food and wine pairing rules still apply: "Pairing wines for Rosh Hashanah is no different than any other meal; consider the flavors you want to enhance or play against with your wine choices." Rachel Signer, author of the forthcoming memoir You Had Me at Pét-Nat, ($24.99, barnesandnoble.com) and publisher of indie magazine Pipette, advises, "The food can be hearty, so you'll want a wine with some richness and texture. Look for a skin-contact white from a warm region like California or Southern France, or a medium-bodied red, such as a Cru Beaujolais (Gamay goes with everything), or a rustic Italian blend, like a typical vino rosso made for everyday enjoyment."
Finally, one question that might be on your mind when choosing wines for Rosh Hashanah: Should the wines be kosher? Jen Monago, wine educator at The Savvy Somm, doesn't think they have to be. Still, you might be surprised by the quality of today's kosher wines: "It's good to remember that not all wine for the holidays needs to be the goopy grapey stuff we grew up with," she says. "While researching for our holiday dinner, I found a fantastic family-owned Jewish winery from South Africa of all places: Backsberg Wines."
Wines to Try for Rosh Hashanah
Ready to branch out and try something new this Rosh Hashanah? Here are some specific bottles our experts suggest you open up for your holiday meal.
Backsberg Methode Cap Classique Brut 2018
"Sparkling wine is a secret weapon when it comes to pairings—it goes with everything. Backsberg's traditional method sparkling wine is a delicious, textured bubbly, and kosher to boot," says Clarke.
Shop Now: Backsberg Methode Cap Classique Brut 2018, $26.99, kosherwine.com.
Tulip Winery "White Tulip"
"This is an incredible and food-friendly blend of gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc. Tulip Winery is based in a special needs community in Israel called the village of hope. They only hire special needs individuals, so it's very on-brand with Rosh Hashanah to support a company that does so many mitzvahs! While fully dry, the gewürztraminer adds beautiful floral and honeyed tones as well as delicate spice notes: all of the classic elements of Rosh Hashanah! Its acidity makes it food-friendly and a great pairing across the whole meal. It can stand up to the sweetness of gefilte fish, the spices of tzimmes and the richness of roast chicken, kugel and even matzoh ball soup," says Segelbaum.
Shop Now: Tulip Winery "White Tulip," $22.99, kosherwine.com.
2018 Handley Anderson Valley Chardonnay
"I love to have white wine with texture that can hold up to some of the soft, yeasty breads like challah, as well as the roasted vegetable dishes. I'm going to pop open some 2018 Handley Anderson Valley Chardonnay, which for me is the perfectly balanced chard—not too lean, not too rich. The toasty, creamy notes are well suited to vegetarian dishes and anything with flavorful seafood; this style of chardonnay is great with Rosh Hashanah's symbolic apples and honey, kugel, and scented rice dishes," Montrose says.
Shop Now: 2018 Handley Anderson Valley Chardonnay, $27, wine.com.
Domane Wachau Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Federspiel
"Since Rosh Hashanah follows the Hebrew calendar, one year it may be "early" and warm out, other years it is "late" and the weather is more crisp; this beauty spans the seasons beautifully and works with every bit of your holiday meal. It'll stand up to heavier dishes and be the wings beneath the wings of lighter fare. Excellent for just sipping and chatting too," recommends Cohen.
Shop Now: Domane Wachau Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Federspiel, $21.99, wine.com.
Sandar & Hem Bates Ranch Rose of Grenache 2020
"I plan on starting my Rosh Hashanah evening with wine from a small family producer, from one of my favorite wine regions in the United States, the Santa Cruz Mountains. This rosé is drop dead gorgeous! Fresh acidity and an elegant, dry mouthfeel makes this a perfect wine to begin a meal; abundant aromas of dried flowers, tart red fruit, and savory herbaceous notes means it's extremely versatile and goes perfectly with all of my spreads, snacks, and appetizers," shares Montrose.
Shop Now: Sandar & Hem Bates Ranch Rose of Grenache 2020, $24.99, wine.com.
Celler de Capcanes, Flor de Primavera Peraj Ha'Abib
"A little more of a splurge, but worth it! Montsant is right outside of Priorat and has a similar full-bodied, voluptuous style. The story behind this winery is truly special. For decades, it was a middling-quality cooperative. But in the mid-1990s, the Jewish community approached the winery with a proposal: make a kosher wine. They invested in special equipment and followed the laws required to make a wine kosher, which greatly improved the overall quality of all the wines. Today, it's one of the most respected wineries in Monsant," Clarke explains.
Shop Now: Celler de Capcanes, Flor de Primavera Peraj Ha'Abib, Montsant, Spain, $40.99, vivino.com.
Cantine de Borgo Reale Chianti Reserva
"While this may not stand up to bold, rich flavors of the prunes and apricots in your grandmother's brisket recipe, it'll be delightful paired with a roast lamb, savory kugel, rice dishes, and roasted vegetables," says Cohen.
Shop Now: Cantine de Borgo Reale Chianti Reserva 2016, $17.99, kosherwine.com.
Jezreel Valley Winery Adumim
"Jezreel was a pioneer in recognizing the potential of Mediterranean varieties in Israel. Everyone told them they were crazy for only planting Rhône grapes, but in fact, everyone else was crazy for having not done so. Theirs are some of the most exciting wines in Israel right now. What makes this wine truly extraordinary (and very Rosh Hashanah appropriate) is the inclusion of argaman, a modern interpretation of a biblical grape that only grows in Israel. The wine is medium-bodied with plentiful fruit and spice balanced with bright acidity. It's perfect throughout the meal and pairs especially well with baking spices (looking at you tzimmes), roast beef and chicken," explains Segelbaum.
Shop Now: Jezreel Valley Winery Adumim, $27.99, wine.com.
Peay Vineyards' Les Titans' Syrah 2017
"With the main event, if you're thinking about brisket or a roast, I'd advise you to try this incredible, cool climate wine. It embodies everything I love about New World syrah—excellent balance, wildly complex fruit, and earth and pepper notes, plus well-integrated tannins. It'll hold up to the rich, meaty flavors you might be incorporating into your main course. Peppercorn and floral notes mean it works well with any exotic spices or herbs that you may be utilizing." says Montrose.
Shop Now: Peay Vineyards' Les Titans' Syrah 2017, $45, empirewine.com.
Chateau Lamothe-Cissac Haut Medoc
"This elegant wine needs a moment to breathe out of the bottle, but once it does, the elegance of it will astound you. A wine this special is a wonderful way to kick off the new year, and it's a plus that it's perfect with food from appetizers to the cheese or dessert course, or just on its own," says Cohen.
Shop Now: Chateau Lamothe-Cissac Haut Medoc, $32.99, kosherwine.com.
Tamanohikari Junmai Ginjo Sake
"Sake is a really fun choice for Rosh Hashanah. It's a beverage that pairs very well with tons of different flavor profiles and its umami-driven style balances some of the sweetness in dishes. Junmai sake is inherently kosher: it's only made with water, rice, koji (a type of mold), and yeast, so some breweries have taken the extra step to receive kosher certification," Clarke says.
Shop Now: Tamanohikari Junmai Ginjo Sake, $43, tippsysake.com.