Purim is unique in the cannon of Jewish holidays in that while wine is a critical component of most holidays, it is only on Purim that one is encouraged to overindulge. While one can fulfill this mitzvah of drinking on Purim with any sort of wine, one of the most delightful ways to fulfill the mitzvah is with a good dessert wine, one to linger over at the end of the Purim Seudah.
Many Jewish oenophiles tend to avoid sweet wines, based on an often unthinking assumption that all sweet wines are going to be foxy and cloying like Cream Concord, Heavy Malaga, and similar kosher sacramental wines. In truth, a well-made dessert wine—one with a good balance between sugars and acids—is something that any wine lover can relish.
While there are fewer high-end kosher dessert wines on the market than there were a few years ago (and those that are still around are getting more expensive all the time), there are a growing number of quality, moderately priced, kosher dessert wines. To prepare for Purim, I tasted five recently released dessert wines, all of which retail for under $25, and all but one of which would make a delightful addition to your Purim Seudah.
The best wine in the tasting—and with 15.1 % residual sugar, also one of the sweetest—was Binyamina’s 2012, Late Harvest Gewürztraminer. Made from Gewürztraminer grapes grown in the Galilee, this tawny, straw-colored, full bodied wine has a rich bouquet of peaches, Meyer lemons, oranges, and heather. Look for flavors of peaches, apricots, oranges, and lychees, with lemon and spice on finish. Well-balanced, with a nice bracing acidity, this wine should drink well until at least 2017, and perhaps longer. Score B+ ($22.99 for a 375ml bottle. Available at Queen Anne Wine & Spirit Emporium, 247 DeGraw Avenue, Teaneck,  692-1555)
Another good, full-bodied dessert wine was Carmel’s 2009 Sha’al Vineyard, another Late Harvest Gewürztraminer. With a rich golden color, this satiny wine has a nice level of complexity. Look for flavors and aromas of persimmon, apricot, candied citrus peel, caramel, and honey, with a nice note of white pepper on the finish. Unfortunately (unlike previous vintages of this wine), it’s a bit off balance and flabby. Drink within the next year. Score B ($21.97 for a 375ml bottle. Available at Wine Library, 586 Morris Avenue, Springfield, NJ,  376-0005.)
Slightly lighter in body is Herzog’s 2012 Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. This rather pleasant wine, made from grapes grown in the Clarksburg region of Northern California, has a medium-to-full body and a straw color. Look for a somewhat restrained nose of Mandarin oranges and pears, and flavors of honeydew and pears, with a hint of candied ginger. Drink within the next three years. Score B/B+ ($17.00 Available at FillerUp Kosher Wines, 174 West Englewood Ave, Teaneck,  862-1700)
The lightest wine in the tasting was Herzog’s 2012 Late Harvest California Orange Muscat. With its pale orange color, this medium-to-full bodied wine has a bouquet of kiwi, honeysuckle, and apricots. Look for a crisp flavor of honeydew and apricot on the fore-palate, pineapple and orange on the mid-palate, and lemon on the finish. This is a well-crafted wine. With only 9.5% residual sugar, it is perhaps slightly too light to truly be classified as a dessert wine. Drink until 2016 or 2017. Score B/B+. ($15.74. Available of Linwood Wine and Liquor Company, 102 Linwood Plaza, Fort Lee,  944-5504)
Dessert wines can be very food friendly. They go particularly well with chopped liver, patés, and waterfowl (for my own Purim Seudah I often serve roast duck with a variety of sweet wines.) However, at the end of a meal, dessert wines should be served as dessert, not with dessert, because they don’t actually compliment most sweets. So if serving dessert wine at your Purim Seudah, it is best to serve it either before or after the hamentashen. Always serve dessert wines well chilled. And remember, as the late, great Dean Martin said, “If you drink, don’t drive. Don’t even putt.” I wish you all a very happy Purim.
Please Note that wines were scored on an ‘A’-’F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the price at the retailer mentioned.
By Gamliel Kronemer