Seder Night as all Merlot

With Passover just around the corner, Yonatan Sternberg gets readers to jump on the merlot bandwagon, making seder night different from all the others...

With Passover just around the corner, I decided to give readers a head start to wine selection for the evening. During the course of the seder there is section that describing the differences between this special night and all others. On all other nights, we may eat either chometz or matzah; on this night, only matzah. On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables; on this night, we must eat maror (bitter herbs). The night of the seder is, indeed, a very special evening – hey, it’s not every day that your people are liberated from slavery and embark on a forty year hike in the desert.

And as for all the other nights of the year, it seems like everywhere I go in Israel cabernet sauvignon is the red wine of choice. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider the cabernet sauvignon to be the king of red grapes, but in a country like ours with vast differences between the various terroirs, we are seeing very impressive results from other grape varieties, especially merlot. So, on this special seder night – the night that is different from all others, why not try a merlot for a change.

Over the past few years several winemakers have noticed the unique qualities their merlot grapes posses and decided to produce high end merlot wines that proudly compete with any cab in the market. Doron Rav Hon, head winemaker at the Ella Valley Winery says that when he 'first sampled the Merlot from our vineyards, I knew that these grapes would produce top quality wine. There is no reason why we shouldn’t drink high quality merlot. My job is to ensure that the unique quality and characteristics of these grapes shine through when sampling the final result.'

With so many quality merlot wines from which we can now choose, the salient factor in choosing which wine to serve should be the evening's menu. The more often softer and fruitier merlots will go well with elegant and more delicate meat dishes, while cabernet sauvignon (or at least the ones found in the Israeli market) tends to be a bit more aggressive and are a better pairing for heavier red meat dishes.

In advance of the seder I decided to sample a few varietal merlots, including one unique blend from Ella Valley winery.

After receiving their kashrut certification, Bravdo recently released two excellent wines; I will fill you in on their chardonnay in one of the future articles, but if you get a chance, pick up a bottle of their Merlot 07. Dark ruby in color, the wine offers layered aromas of dark berry fruits, herbs and a touch of vanilla all leading to a long and satisfying finish.

The other two wines I sampled were produced by the Ella Valley Winery and are included in their Vineyard Choice (V.C.) series. The blend which is also known as R.R. consists of 60% merlot and 40% cabernet sauvignon. While usually the merlot is used to soften the cab when creating a final blend, Doron decided to put his high quality merlot grapes to the test resulting in an interesting and complex blend. The R.R. 2004 is full bodied, mouth filling and is showing generous aromas of dark fruits including plums and berries, along with hints of thyme. Still a bit firm, I advise purchasing the wine now and cellaring it for a year or two because Ella Valley wines often go up in price - that is if you can still find them on the shelves.

While the R.R. 2004 was truly a unique blend, I personally prefer the Vineyard Choice Merlot. The V.C. Merlot’s have been consistently good over the past few years and if you can still find a bottle from 2002 or 2003 you’re in for a treat. The V.C. Merlot 2004 is keeping with this tradition. Full bodied and dark in color, this merlot is showing concentrated aromas of both red and black berry fruits along with hints of spices and herbs all leading to a lingering finish.