The holidays are a time to wine (and dine)! As Hanukkah nears, we’ve invited Wine Guide Leah Johnson to share her Hanukkah menu with us on the Traveling Vineyard blog, along with perfect wine pairings for the Festival of Lights—plus, her favorite recipe for an out-of-this-world olive oil cake. L’Chaim!

I’m a wife, mom, adjunct professor and very proud Wine Guide. I’m also Jewish, which means that the holiday season, for me, is all about Hanukkah. So, I am excited to tell you about some of the foods my family and friends enjoy this time of year—all paired with *Traveling Vineyard wines! But, before we dig in, let’s talk Hanukkah history.

Hanukkah History

Some people might be surprised to learn that Hanukkah is a minor holiday in the Jewish tradition. Its proximity to Christmas, however, has made it one of the most famous and popular. During Hanukkah’s eight-night celebration we remember the second century BCE Jewish revolt against the oppressive Grecian-Syrians who destroyed the second Temple in Jerusalem. Judah Maccabee lead a small “army” and once victorious, found only a small jar of oil in the Temple that would last one day. The miracle of Hanukkah is that this jar lasted eight days until more was brought. As with many Jewish holidays, we remember this with food, drink and merriment. Hanukkah’s basis on oil has translated to traditional foods that are fried, like latkes (potato pancake) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). It also has become common to find a beautiful brisket at the center of the table.

Latkes

This is probably the most well-known and popular Hanukkah food. Simply put, this is a potato pancake. You can find boxed mixes in the Kosher section of your grocery store. You can also create the from-scratch version: shred potato and onion, combine with flour, egg, salt and pepper, shape into little patties, and fry in oil. Tons of versions have sprouted up over time—sweet potato, carrot, and combinations of the two—you name it and it’s probably been done! In my house, I only fresh-grate potatoes once a year. The other times I’ll use frozen hash browns to keep my clean-up under control. Regardless of how you make them, it is traditional to serve them with applesauce or sour cream.

Wine Pairing: Pair your traditional potato latkes with Traveling Vineyard’s 2018 Zeffer Hills, California Chardonnay.

Sufganiyot

Lesser known, but just as delicious as latkes, are sufganiyot (pronounced SOOF-gah-nee-OHT)—which are jelly doughnuts! I’m not going to lie, I typically just buy some from our favorite doughnut shop, but you can make them fresh at home, too. There is no one “right” filling. Just fried dough with jelly. Yum!

Wine Pairing: Belly up to the jelly with a glass of Fissata Red.

Brisket

Brisket is probably the Jewish go-to for a main course at a celebratory meal. It’s kind of the Jewish turkey. Prepare this in your favorite manner, but remember at Hanukkah you don’t need to add your potatoes in the roasting pan because you’ve got latkes for that!

Wine Pairing: Brisket melts in your mouth when paired with the perfect red wine. Traveling Vineyard’s 2017 LUXX, Monterey County Merlot, California offers a nice weight with a softness and pleasing fruitiness without being overpowering. LUXX is also an elegant premium red, and was made for the holiday table.

Olive Oil Cake

As with every background, each family has their unique foods and traditions at Hanukkah. For me, I always remember the sizzle of the latkes frying while my cousins and I played dreidel (traditional top game) for chocolate gelt (coins). Now that I am married (to a practicing Christian) and we have kids of our own, our focus has been on providing them with the beauty of both faiths and cultures. I love preparing an olive oil cake in my Star of David bundt cake pan as it is something that can sit on our table for all the December celebrations.

I use a recipe from the food blog, What’s Cooking Good Looking, often swapping lemon with lime, and using tequila for the alcohol. You can find it here.

This year, I’m excited to bake my olive oil cake and enjoy a glass of 2018 La Screaming Goat, Gewürztraminer, France. Maybe I’ll even save some of the wine to drink with the meal once I’m done cooking! Cheers!

Leah Johnson is a Wine Guide and Two-Star Leader in Arizona.  Thanks for sharing your story, Leah! Find out more about pairing food and wine with your local Wine Guide by hosting a wine tasting party in your home!

*Leah tells us that while some people of the Jewish faith purchase only Kosher wine, others choose non-Kosher wine for their holiday. Please note that Traveling Vineyard wine is not Kosher wine.

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