Kosher wine is a worldwide phenomenon but plays a unique role in Judaism. It’s been part of the culture for thousands of years! The old testament mentions wine more than a few times. As you might know, like every other religion, Judaism has special rules, and they’re particular about what you’re allowed to eat and drink — we know these rules as Kosher.
Kosher or Kashrut are laws that protect people that choose to follow them from food that could be possibly contaminated or dangerous, something beneficial thousands of years ago. Today, Kosher laws are still prevalent, including more than food; they regulate wine.
What is Kosher?
Kosher wine is made just like other table wine, with an extra set of rules to make it consistent with Jewish dietary law. For a wine to be deemed kosher (Yiddish for “proper” or “fit”), it must be:
- Made under the supervision of a rabbi.
- The wine must contain only kosher ingredients (including yeast and fining agents) and be processed using equipment rabbinically certified to make kosher bottlings.
- No preservatives or artificial colors may be added.
- The wine can only be handled — from the vine to the wineglass — by Sabbath-observant Jews unless the wine is mevushal.
*A mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, ensures that religious laws are followed throughout the process.
Mevushal wine is often served at events where non-Jews will be doing the pouring and serving of wine. Mevushal wines, unlike ordinary kosher vino, can be handled and operated by non-Jews. To be considered mevushal, a wine must be heated to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Extended exposure to high temperatures can threaten a wine’s character, but producers have developed flash-pasteurization techniques that minimize the effect on the wine’s flavor.
Wines kosher for Passover must also be free of certain additives, such as corn syrup and legumes. Most kosher bottles are already approved for Passover. Still, producers of Concord-based wines (such as Manischewitz) that are sweetened with corn syrup must produce special “kosher for Passover” bottlings labeled as such.
The Reputation of Kosher
Kosher wineries started in the US with a lousy reputation primarily because they were made with Concord grapes, the grapes available to Jewish immigrants to the US. These grapes were highly tannic and had to be sweetened to be palatable. Today, kosher bottles are made worldwide, and there are many high-quality producers and wine types from which to choose.
Beyond the Stereotypes
Kosher bottlings don’t necessarily look, smell or taste different from any other wine. This is because it’s still just fermented grape juice. For a while, though, Kosher bottles had a bad reputation. Most of it was produced as “Mevushal” wine, a wine that’s been boiled or cooked before bottling, in a way, pasteurizing it. And although some people love the style, regular wine drinkers found these wines too sweet and peculiar, thanks to their cooked aromas.
Luckily, flash pasteurization, a process that elevates the wine’s temperature for just a few seconds, doesn’t damage the wine or change its organoleptic properties, so even Mevushal wine is now pretty similar to ordinary wine!
Today, most Kosher bottles in the market is not Mevushal but regular table wine. Still, its production is supervised by Sabbath-observant Jews, from the grapes’ harvest to the bottle.
Every ingredient in contact with wine must be kosher, including clarifying agents. However, standard winemaking ingredients (isinglass from fish bladders, egg whites, gelatin, and casein) are not Kosher, so every tiny detail matters. In addition, producers must use non-animal products to precipitate the solids in the wine, like bentonite clay.
Where to Find Kosher Bottles of Wine?
A few years ago, Kosher wine was only consumed by the Jewish community. Still, it’s more available today—at least one Kosher winery in every wine-producing country, from South Africa to Argentina. And since the wine is better than ever, it’s often worth seeking.
Besides, if you want to enjoy the superb wines coming from Israel, an up-and-coming wine producer, it will probably be Kosher, and that’s okay. Winemakers need more than a rabi’s blessing to market their wines as Kosher. They need a legitimate Kosher certification, and these demand quality standards are of the highest level. As a result, kosher wine is generally above average, at the very least.
Wine Is Meant to Be Enjoyed by All!
Kosher wine might be slightly different from standard wines, but it serves the same purpose — wine brings people together and makes any meal more enjoyable. So the next time you walk the wine aisles in the supermarket or browse your favorite online wine store, see if you spot a Kosher certification symbol. Give Kosher wine a try; we’re sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.