On the third day of Christmas my true love said to me: “What wine do I choose? We’re out of Italians.”
Our fridge was full of leftovers, though most of the food had to be put in the freezer, as the flu had forced us to spend the holidays in bed amidst loads of tissues, which made it a white Christmas after all. Dinner that evening consisted of spaghetti with turkey leftovers sautéed with rosemary, raisins and garlic, an adaptation of Nigella Lawson’s Tagliatelle with Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto. Lawson’s recipe has pine nuts too, but as our leftovers were quite substantial we skipped them.
Back to my true love and the wine that could accompany this simple but delicious dish. A white wine would have been splendid, but our constitution favoured a warming red. As Italians were not to be found on the shelves, we opted for a wine made from an Italian grape: a Sangiovese from Israel. While many an Israeli regards ghetto life with disgust and others tend to romanticize the phenomenon, I thought it a good pairing, both historically and food-wise. The Christmas part of it is a bit odd perhaps.
Dine: Christmas Turkey from the Venetian Ghetto
Sautee roughly chopped turkey leftovers in their juices together with chopped rosemary, a handful of raisins and a clove of garlic cut into small pieces. Boil the pasta al dente. Serve. (Much quicker than those leftover pies by Paul Hollywood.)
Wine: Gamla Sangiovese 2009
Gamla is the fruit-driven label of Golan Heights Winery in Israel, a big company consisting of Yarden (their premium brand), Gamla, Hermon (more accessible wines) and Golan (more affordable wines). The grapes for this Sangiovese grow in a ‘cool’ climate (i.e., hot summers, relatively cold winters), on volcanic soil at a height of 400-1200 meters.
Unfortunately the cool climate didn’t prevent the high alcohol level (14,5%), but that is the only ‘fault’ in this otherwise fruity, full-bodied wine. Think dark fruit, dried plum, spices. Think even Amarone (which brings us back to the Veneto). Paired well with the turkey, especially with the raisins as trait d’union between food and wine.
This is the sort of posting one should write three weeks before Passover, to help those who don’t give kashrut a second thought but find themselves confronted with beloved friends who do. At least on Passover. Compared to cleaning the house and getting hold of kosher-for-Pesach dishware, finding dry, affordable and religiously as well as politically kosher-for-Pesach wine may seem peanuts. But the Netherlands aren’t Israel or the States, so one does need to spend some time searching the Internet.
This year I was in charge of the Passover preparations and all went well except for the pork sausage that I somehow left hanging on the wall. (Did I mention this was a vegetarian happening?) At WijnBox.nl I found a choice of kosher Israeli wines, from which I selected a white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard and Muscat and a red blend of Merlot and Argaman.
Argaman (Hebrew: ארגמן), as in the purple yarn God wants to be endowed with (Exod. 25:4), as in the fine purple linen tied with silver rings to pillars of marble of Ahasuerus’ palace in Shushan (Esther 1:6) and the hair of the beloved, in which kings get entangled (Songs 7:6). The name of this royal grape may be old, the variety itself is not. Grown in Israel since the 1970s it is a crossing of Carignan and, well, here the Wikipedia’s differ and I am sorry to admit I do not yet possess Jancis Robinson’s grape bible. Would she have given this grape a favourable review? I doubt it, as I read somewhere that her Oxford Companion to Wine states that the Argaman is used primarily for low quality jug wines.
Some of my Passover guests would agree. They thought the blend of Merlot and Argaman green (!) and poor. They even demanded a different (if need be non-kosher) wine instead of this plonk. Which of course I provided. No problem at all. The strange thing was, I happened to like the Merlot Argaman. How come they didn’t? Could it be that they are used to full-bodied, fruity, easy-to-drink new-world wines? Compared to such ‘family friends’, the Merlot Argaman indeed is a bit of an acquired taste.
Barkan Merlot Argaman 2011, Galil, Israel (12%vol, € 8,45)
A light-bodied wine (60% Merlot/40% Argaman) with soft tannins and a hint of dried plums. Its animal bouquet reminded me of a Swiss Dôle (I know, different grapes, but that same dustiness). Not really a bargain. Pairs well with charcuterie.
Barkan Segal White 2011, Hulda, Israel (11,5%vol, € 6,30)
Blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard and Muscat. ‘Dry white wine’, the bottle screams. Still, the Muscat in this blend does give it a sweet tone. Nothing wrong with that, except that the wine lacks acidity, which does not inspire one to pour another glass.
By the way, did you know argaman is also a handy word to memorize the names of the archangels? ARGaMaN: Uriel (OK, that one works better in Hebrew), Raphael, Gabriel, Michael and Nuriel. Now you know a little Zohar too.
(Previously published on my blogspot site, July 2013)