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.