Kosher Wine is an important part of Jewish sacramental services. The blessings or saying the Kiddush over wine in observance of the Sabbath or holidays, as well as for other important events of family life, is special to many families and it is in keeping with family traditions.
When wine is produced according to Jewish dietary laws it is known as Kosher wine. There are several steps that must be followed in order for the wine to be Kosher (blessing by the Rabbi is not one of the requirements).
List of the Required Religious Laws*:
- No wine may be produced from a vine until its fourth year.
- The vineyard, if within the biblical lands, must be left fallow every seven years.
- Only vines may be grown in vineyards.
- When the grapes arrive at the winery, the grapes and resulting wine may only be handled by strictly Sabbath-observing Jews, and only 100% Kosher materials may be used in the wine-making, maturation, and bottling process.
*This list is an excerpt from Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine.
Brief history of Kosher wines
There is quite a bit of history related to Kosher wine-making so we’ll just cover a few facts you might find interesting.
Since Biblical times Israel has been making wine which was shipped to ancient Egypt. These wines were generally not very good. They were seasoned with honey, pepper and juniper berries. It was very thick, syrupy, and it was so sweet that it was almost undrinkable. In the 1870’s Kosher wine production would get a boost from Baron Edmond de Rothschild. His attempt to construct a winery was halted when the Turks heard that Rothschild was building a “fortress” possibly aiming to liberate Palestine from the Turks. (This is another history lesson.)
During this period the wines were red, sweet and very unappealing. In 1875 the British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, was given a bottle of Kosher wine from Palestine which he said tasted like an elixir he would receive from his doctor for a bad cold. This review did not help Israel’s wine-making reputation.
It was well into the 1960’s that Israel’s reputation for making Kosher wine continued to be criticized. Finally in the 1980’s the demand for more sophisticated wines from Israel came about as travel abroad became more common.
In the 1980’s a state-of-the-art winery was built with trained wine makers from the University of California at Davis and the Golan Heights Winery came to be. Since they began production, their wines have received accolades and a gold medal in International competitions.
The Golan Heights Winery along with at least eight other important wineries in Israel now produce wines made from the popular grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, as well as grapes from other regions such as Tempranillo, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Viognier, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
Not to be ignored is the growing number of boutique wineries in Israel that are also producing high quality wines. Today, some Israeli wines are being compared to wines of the respected chateaux of France.
Age-worthy Kosher wines are being produced in many regions other than Israel. Quality Kosher wines are produced in California, France, Italy, Spain, Australia and South Africa as well as other wine producing regions throughout the world.
Kosher wine pairing
Kosher wines have been given a ‘bad rap’ so to speak. Though today’s wine-making incorporates new technology which produces high quality and even age-worthy wines. This makes Kosher wine pairing easier today. There are great Kosher wine and food pairings. We have excellent recommendations of wines that are produced by some very prominent wineries and are food friendly.
What style is Kosher wine?
Most people believe Kosher wine is a style of wine that are sweet and not very good tasting. This is not true. Kosher wine is wine that is made according to religious dietary laws. Kosher wine is not a variety, or a style of wine-making. Being a Kosher wine does not affect the taste of wine.
Mevushal or non-mevushal
Modern technology has changed the wine-making process which is evident in the high quality wines produced today in all regions including the making of kosher wine.
In earlier wine-making years, kosher wine was made using two methods – mevushal (“cooked”) and non-mevushal. The mevushal method boiled the wine, which actually sterilized the wine, and made it less palatable than regular wine. By making wine mevushal it can be handled by anyone, making it “user-friendly.” It can be shared by observing and non-observing Jews or non-Jews.
In the New World today it is recommended that Mevushal wines be served at catered Kosher events such as weddings or bar mitzvahs where it is not certain who will be pouring the wine.
Non-Mevushal wine could be drunk and served only by Sabbath-observing Jews. It could not be touched by a non-observant Jew. Actually, once the bottle is opened and it is touched by a non-Jew or even a non-observant Jew, the wine becomes non-kosher.
Today, rather than using the traditional mevushal method of boiling the wine, the unfermented grape juice or “must” is “flash pasteurized” then cooled quickly. This flash pasteurized technique is the modern method of sterilizing the wine.
Flash pasteurization is also kinder to the grapes than boiling them. It preserves the wine’s aroma and flavors. This modern technology has taken the level of Kosher wine to the highest quality. Today kosher wine can be enjoyed in several different styles of wine and can be paired with everyone’s favorite traditional dishes.
Kosher wine pairing and comfort food
Comfort food is what everyone is enjoying these days. We have paired a few popular comfort foods with our favorite wine selections.
Spaghetti with tomato sauce – This is most everyone’s favorite comfort food. Pair this tomato sauce based meal with a fruity Zinfandel. If your sauce is peppery (or spicy) try a fuller style Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Baron Herzog Red Zinfandel
- Teal Lake Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Meatloaf is hearty winter comfort food staple with a base of ground beef mixed with ketchup. Try a Merlot.
- Altoona Hills Merlot
Tuna Casserole is a favorite and easy dish that has many different ingredients and flavors. Onions and garlic or peppers and carrots may grace your dish. There is the creamy sauce, noodles and crunchy topping. Chardonnay is going to be a nice pairing.
- Hagafen Chardonnay
Hot Dogs – what can be more comforting than a grilled Kosher hot dog. Serve it with chili, or maybe some shredded cheese and onions. Try a Rosé or a Pinot Noir, or if you want a white wine go with a Pinot Grigio.
- Hagafen Pinot Noir
- Bartenura Pinot Grigio Rose
Buffalo chicken wraps are all the rage. These are easy to prepare and fun to eat. Pair this with a Zinfandel.
- Ravenswood Zinfandel
Dairy. Are you having a dairy meal? Brie and strawberries are a wonderful pair. Pair this with a sparkling wine.
- Nando Fragolino Sparkling Wine