Passover can be all about the wine, given the four cups that you have to quaff throughout the festive Seder meal, it’s easy to get weighted down by too many heavy reds and traditional sweet wines. This year, pour some excellent whites from the Asif Winery based in the Negev town of Arad. In Daniel Rogov’s final Guide to Israeli Wines (Israel’s premier wine critic died this year), he listed Asif on his list of up-and-coming producers.
Asif vintner Ya’acov Oryah established the winery in 2006, moving the entire operation to the Negev two years later. His interest in whites developed for several reasons, including the early maturation of grapes grown in the Negev. Oryah explained that “strong radiation by day and extreme [cold] temperatures at night,” are conditions that are good for white wines that “usually lose acidity because of Israel’s intense heat.”
He’s found that he’s grown to like whites because they’re “challenging and less forgiving” as well as being drinkable and friendly for those who shy away from more complex Merlots and Cabernets. And in Israel’s hot climate, white wines work with the local cuisine as well as the summer heat.
Oryah isn’t planning on growing Asif into a large winery, instead insuring that every wine gets its “proper attention” while he and his partner sell directly to their customers as well as restaurants. His current dream is to produce a proper Israeli champagne where the quality of the wine is evident behind the “screen of bubbles.”
For your first seder glass, start with the Chevlei Aretz series — the Classique, a Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend — before proceeding to the 2009 Chardonnay (Rogov gave it a 90) and the 2010 Viognier, another highly rated wine in the series. Those looking for more of a challenge can move onto the Asif reds, which are blended from a variety of grapes into a tasty and drinkable whole. L’chaim.
Asif Winery, Artists’ Quarter, Arad