Friday, April 15, 2011

In Search of Fine Kosher Wine

So ubiquitous is Manischewitz that people often think of it as synonymous with Kosher wine. This sickly sweet wine from Naples, New York is made from Concord grapes (the same variety used to make Welch's, and so it's no surprise that most don't take it or Kosher wine all that seriously. However, lest one want to miss out on some stellar values, the world of Kosher wine is well worth exploring.

There are many myths and misnomers regarding Kosher wine. A common one regards geography; it is important to know that Kosher wine can come from anywhere. Just because a wine is from Israel, doesn't mean it is necessarily Kosher; inversely, Kosher wines can hail from many unexpected places like France, Spain or Australia. For example, Terra Vega Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile's Central Valley is Kosher.

So what makes a wine Kosher? There are many rules governing Kosher wine production which stem from Jewish dietary laws known as kashrut. Wikipedia succinctly puts it, "While none of the ingredients that make up wine are considered non-Kosher, the kashrut laws involving wine are concerned more with who handles the wine and what they use to make it. To be considered Kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew must be involved in the entire winemaking process from the harvesting of the grapes, through fermentation to bottling. Any ingredients used must be Kosher. This requirement can exclude certain fining agents, such as casein (which is derived from dairy products), gelatin (which is derived from non-kosher animals) and isinglass (which comes from non-kosher fish)."

Furthermore, because of wine's role in many non-Jewish religions, kashrut specifies that a wine cannot kosher if it has been used for idolatry (which can mean produced or poured by a non-Jew). One way around this is to "cook" or "boil" the wine which makes it unfit for idolatry and thus permits it to retain its Kosher status regardless of how it's been handled; this is called mevushal and will be marked on the bottle's label.

The process of making a wine mevushal is essentially that of having it undergo flash pasteurization, that is say raise its temperature very high, but for a short time (generally 71.5 °C (160 °F) to 74 °C (165 °F), for about 15 to 30 seconds). Flash pasteurization does little in terms of effecting the wine's flavor, and has long been used for the production of beer and fruit juices. Whether or not a wine is mevushal is up to the producer; wines from the Israeli producer Tishbi are, while the Gamla line from Golan Heights Winery is not.

Finally, wine that is described as "Kosher for Passover" must be kept free from contact with grain, bread and dough. As most wine never comes in contact with these products in the normal course of its manufacture, most Kosher wines are Kosher for Passover. So come this Passover, pass over the tired Manischewitz and on to fine Kosher wine; it's time to drink well.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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