Kosher Wines Decoded
Wine is important in many Jewish holiday traditions and celebrations, including blessings during Shabbat and Passover Seder. With Passover only four weeks away, do you know what Kosher wines are and how they are different from not-Kosher wines?
Kosher wines in the United States were historically associated with sweet concord-grape-based wines (think Kedem and Manischewitz) produced by Jewish immigrants to New York. Since the 1980s there has been a trend however toward producing more high quality dry Kosher wines and a number of quality producers are coming out of Israel, the United States and France. With the exception of the Concord grape based wines mentioned above, there are no flavor differences between Kosher and non-Kosher wines. In fact, the winemaking techniques are the same, save the exceptions below.
Kosher wines are those that are deemed to conform to the Jewish laws of what is "proper for consumption" (the actual definition of "Kosher" in Hebrew, even for food). This means that the wine and production must be free from:
Any materials used for a purpose other than the wine production,
Animal-based products (like egg whites or gelatins for fining),
Additives like corn syrup or wheat based products,
Common preservatives like potassium sorbate,
Yeast that might have been grown on bread.
In addition to these rules, the process must be overseen by a rabbinical organization.
Further, there is stipulation that the wine can not be used for idolatry. Here it gets a bit more complicated. If we extend this to mean that the wine can not have come in contact with anything or anyone used in or believing in idolatry than the following must also apply for a wine to be considered Kosher for Passover:
From the time the grapes arrive at the winery until the wine is bottled, only observant Orthodox Jewish males may be involved in the production, or
The wine must be Mevushal. Mevushal is a sub-category of Kosher wine where the rules for who many handle the wine are relaxed but the wine must go through a high heat flash-pasteurization, which raises the temperature of the wine to 185F!
To ensure the Kosher status of a wine man restaurants use Mevushal wines. There is very special handling in the making of these wines to preserve the Kosher rules while still ensuring the flavor quality of the wine.
If you’re interested in exploring Kosher for Passover wines, I’ve been told that Royal Liquors in San Jose California carries a good supply of Israeli wine (note that only about 20% are certified Kosher). Besides Portola Vineyards featured below (one of my favorite producers), some other well respected Kosher for Passover wines in Northern California (that I’ve not had the chance to try) include: Covenant Wines, Hagafen Cellars and Four Gates.
Cheers & Shalom!