Ufoodz Newsletter

Stay informed on our latest news!

Syndicate content

The World of Kosher Wines

The use of wine in Judaism has been important for centuries, stretching back to biblical times. Historians note that wine was produced in Israel until sometime in the mid 7th century, when the country came under Muslim rule and alcoholic beverages were prohibited, though the use of wine for religious ceremonies continued within the exiled Jewish community. However, wine making did not return to Israel in earnest until the 19th century and the start of the Zionist Movement. The wine produced for consumption by observant Jews has always been guided by Jewish dietary law, which tends to center more on how the grapes are harvested and who handles the wine than what goes in it, as the ingredients in kosher wines are not considered to be non-kosher. Overall, given all the restrictions, the production of kosher wine can be a long and arduous process. Furthermore, the wine has taken a lot of heat over the years and often dubbed low-quality. For decades, most kosher wines were of the concord variety, were ultra sweet, and not so palatable. But, Jewish wine lovers say, this is changing. And now, when they lift the cup during Passover Seder, they are more pleased about the wine that reaches their lips.

What Makes a Wine Kosher?
In order for a wine to be dubbed “kosher”, only Sabbath-observant males are allowed to be involved in production. That means no non-observant individuals can plant or harvest the grapes, prepare them for the fermentation process, or bottle the wine. Major ingredients aren’t usually a problem as alcohol, sugar, and phenols are considered to be kosher. However, some of the ingredients normally used as “fining agents” – to clarify the wine – may not be used. These include gelatin, which comes from non-kosher animals, and casein, which is derived from certain dairy products. Instead, most kosher wine makers use a clay material known as bentonite to pull the suspended particles to the bottom of the barrel and clarify the wine.  Any equipment that touches the wine must also be kosher. This includes all tools for harvesting as well as the storage facilities for the wine, such as the barrels. The barrels must also be cleaned three times and one percent of the wine – consistent with the tradition of tithing – must be discarded.

Mevushal vs. Non-Mevushal
There are really two different levels of kosher when it comes to the winemaking process. Following the steps outlined above is sufficient for many drinkers of kosher wine but Orthodox Jews only drink wine that is “mevushal”.  Making a wine mevushal adds another step to the wine-making process. Kashrut law stipulates that normal kosher wine, when touched by a non-Jew – including a wine steward or waiter in a restaurant – becomes “un-kosher”. In order to avoid this situation, the wine is brought to the boiling point after fermentation, after which it can be touched by non-Jews or “idolaters” and remain kosher. This type of wine is usually served in kosher restaurants. Most wine aficionados will note that the cooking of the wine does indeed affect the flavor and alter the tannins; however, new processes are coming into practice which have improved upon the traditional mevushal process, having less of a negative effect on the taste of the wine.

New and Improved
In the last twenty years, kosher wines have grown in popularity and, hence, many new kosher wineries have sprung up, particularly in Israel’s Golan Heights area but also in other countries like France, Australia, Italy, Germany, and even in the United States’ most popular wine-making regions, like California’s Napa Valley. The import of many of these wines to the U.S. means that observant Jews are no longer limited to varieties by long-time domestic producers like Manischewitz and Kedem, who many believe give kosher wine a bad name.