When the Jewish winter holidays come around, many people prefer to put kosher-certified wine on their Seder table or serve it at a Chanukah celebration. Many of you probably grew up with shiver-inducing memories of mass-produced, syrupy-sweet kosher wine and might be interested to know you have way more options than your parents might have.
So, just how different is kosher wine from the non-kosher stuff?
“When it comes to taste, there’s no difference between kosher and non-kosher wine,” says Jay Buchsbaum, who ought to know because he’s Executive VP of Marketing and Director of Wine Education at Royal Wine Corp., the top kosher wine purveyor in the US. There’s a common urban legend that wine must be blessed by a Rabbi to be considered Kosher. Not true! But there are strictly enforced purity guidelines. Which if you think about it makes kosher wine a good option for everyone.
To be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise and sometimes handle the entire vinification process, from the time the grapes are crushed until the wine is bottled. Any ingredients used, including yeasts and fining agents (used to filter impurities from wine), must be kosher. Some kosher wines Mevushal, which means “cooked” in Hebrew. Wineries produce Mevushal wines by heating the must (juice) prior to fermentation, by heating after fermentation but before bottling. When kosher wine is produced, marketed and sold commercially, it will bear kosher certification granted by a specially-trained rabbi who is responsible for supervision from start to finish.
Recent years have seen increased demand for kosher wines, and certified kosher wines are now coming from regions as diverse as South Africa, Italy, Chile, Spain, France, California and the exotic land of Canada as well as from Israel. These wines are often highly sophisticated and totally delicious.
Ten Things to Know About Kosher Wine
1) Kosher wine is made in precisely the same way as non-kosher wine. The only difference is that there is rabbinical oversight during the process and that the wine is handled by Sabbath-observant Jews.
2) Not all Israeli wines are kosher! In fact, certified kosher wine accounts for only a third of Israel’s wine brands. However, those kosher wineries produce over 90% of the Israel wine industry’s output.
3) The number of producers of kosher wines has dramatically increased in the past 10 to 20 years. This is due to an increase in interest from consumers who are adding to their kosher wine portfolios. Kosher wine cellars, a rarity two decades ago, are becoming increasingly mainstream.
4) A number of well-known non-kosher wineries in countries from all over the world including France, Spain, Italy, and Argentina now craft special runs of kosher wine. California remains an exception to this, with only one kosher wine from a basically not kosher winery (Marciano Estate). Other than Marciano, all kosher California wine is made by fully kosher wineries such as Herzog Wine Cellars, Covenant and Hagafen.
5) Passover dinners traditionally feature red wine because that’s likely what the Jews were drinking after their escape from Egypt. (I don’t think you’d be frowned on for pairing a white with matzoh ball soup though).
6) Kosher wines can range in price from $5.00 a bottle to $500. The average price for a bottle of good kosher wine is $25.
7) The most popular Moscato in the U.S. happens to be kosher. Bartenura produces the largest selling imported Italian Moscato in the U.S. The Moscato in the famous blue bottle sells over 5,000,000 bottles annually, only a fraction of which to the kosher market.
8) Currently there is a steady increase in total wine consumption and a great interest specifically in high-end Israeli wines.
9) Drinking wine can be considered a Mitzvah or good deed. (I know that’s how I feel about it!) Kosher wine is used in many Jewish rituals: Bris Milah (circumcision), wedding ceremonies, and the Kiddush that starts all Sabbath and holiday meals. While most occasions call for just one cup, on the holiday of Purim, wine (in abundance) is the beverage of choice for the festive meal, recalling wine’s significant role in the banquets described in the Megillah story.
10) On Passover, observant Jews are required to drink four cups of wine at the Seder! I mean, hey, if it’s a requirement, what are you supposed to do, flout the law? I think not.