In wine, it was a very good year

Making wine is much like raising a child — incessant monitoring and coaxing from birth (springtime bud-break in the vineyard) through adolescence (barrel fermentation) to becoming an adult (bottling).

The process is rife with the joy of production, but also with hazards that could lead the wine down the wrong path at any turn. Each life is a miracle, as is every bottle that graciously comes of age. Perhaps that’s why wine is so often linked to life’s celebrations: our life experience is so parallel to the journey of the wine grape.

A wine’s vintage, or the year it was harvested and produced, is an imprint in time — events during the year the grapes are harvested, fermented and bottled leave an indelible imprint on the wine that makes it unique from all others. The vintage of a wine can reveal the highlights and tribulations of a harvest year based on the meteorological events, location and even the time of year the grapes were harvested.

If you’re celebrating b’nai mitzvahs this year, acknowledge the human connection with the grape by serving wines at the celebration from the vintage your b’nai mitzvah was born (this year, it would be 1995). Some 1995 wines could also be a thoughtful gift to the honoree, as the wine could continue to age well for another eight years and beyond to celebrate that other rite of passage: legal drinking age.

Conventional wisdom holds that a kosher wine can’t — and shouldn’t — age well.

In the case of wine, conventional wisdom is probably right.

In particular, the process to make wine mevushal can destroy a wine’s potential for aging well because, according to kashrut, wine must be heated to at least 90 degrees Celsius to be handled by gentiles (such as non-Jewish servers). But the heat significantly alters the chemical composition of the wine, particularly tannins, which are a key element to aging wines over a long period. A balanced wine with strong tannins when it’s young will mellow over time by mingling with vibrant fruit acidity and alcohol in the wine’s youth.

If kosher isn’t a consideration, there’s no reason to ignore wine as an integral part of the bar or bat mitzvah celebration, particularly non-meshuval wines that will more likely improve with age because they haven’t been heated (or “cooked”).

Fortunately, the 1995 vintage was, to borrow from Frank Sinatra, a “very good year” in top wine-producing countries — Italy, France, the United States and Australia.

Starting with bubbly (as we always should), leading wine critics consistently give high marks to the 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Brut. It’s rare for French Champagne producers to release a wine from one year because they typically apply complex chemistry to blend juice from any combination of three grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunière) and several vintages to result in the perfect bubbly. Only in near perfect years like 1995 — frequently declared one of the best vintages in Champagne since 1990 — do winemakers produce Champagne with a year on the label.

As you can guess, this bottle won’t be cheap — one bottle will make your wallet $70-95 lighter — but for a special occasion it’s worth the splurge, particularly as a gift for aging. Indeed, some wine critics posit that it still tastes young, implying that it can age another seven to 10 years.

For a hearty red wine that would sing with food, try the Dehlinger 1995 Goldridge Syrah. Robert Parker, the wine world’s perceived demigod of wine, rates this wine with 90 out of 100 points (a compliment from Mr. Parker). He declares it youthful through about 2015, meaning you could drink it now for a powerful, tannic experience that would go well with protein-rich foods such as prime rib, or cellar it for years to come as a gift. Dehlinger is a mailing list-only cult winery with a following of wine geeks three decades deep, but the 1995 is available on various wine merchant Web sites, such as

Depending on the grape varieties and the growing conditions, some wines are ready to drink now, some take years to mellow, and others may take decades to reach their peak — late bloomers. Like the vast variety of wines available around the world, each of us has developed our own character based on genetics as well as environment. This year, celebrate individualism with a wine just as unique as your b’nai mitzvah.


Where to get the 1995s

Critics’ scores and more information about the 1995 vintage (and others) are available in vintage charts and ratings found on various Web sites, including the ones listed below.

• Wine Spectator (subscribers only):,3842,,00.html

• Wine on the Web:

• Robert Parker:

• Daniel Rogov, wine and restaurant critic for the Israeli daily newspaper HaAretz and for the Israeli version of the International Herald Tribune:

• The Wine Doctor’s 1995 Tasting Notes:

•, a definitive wine shopping site: