Good Food wine guru Stacie Hunt has the low-down on Kosher wines:
The season for celebrating Hanukkah is now. Traditionally, this is when a spotlight is shone onto kosher wines. The words: Kosher Wines, conjures up a first thought of sweet, syrupy, grapey wines. The next reaction is often: Pass. But, man-oh-man, those days are over! Contemporary kosher wines consistently win international awards and rival wine made from standard methods.
But, what exactly is Kosher Wine? And, how is it different from other wines? It’s all about the stringent laws that govern the cleanliness, processing and serving.
Here’s a brief history of Kosher winemaking: The vineyards and grapes can be grown and operated by anyone, kosher or not. It’s when the winemaking process begins, that tradition begins. It’s a closed set. Only rabbinical supervisors are allowed to be in the room, handling the liquids from the very second the grapes enter the winery, all the way through to the bottling and labeling.
The winemaking equipment has to be steam cleaned three times. And, that’s not all, sometimes if requested, the open flame of a blow torch is used. The barrels must be new and used only for kosher wines. No animal products can be used, which eliminates a regular use of egg whites to filter any sediment from the wine. Instead, Bentonite, a clay material often used in regular winemaking, is introduced to take sediments out of the wine, carrying it to the bottom of the barrel. Might want to put this on your gift list for vegan friends and family.
For those who are observant, there is the factor of “religious purity”. Kosher wine, in order to retain its kosher standing in the public arena, must have another layer of winemaking process, called “Mevushal”. This layer comes in because there may be some non-Kosher folks employed by a restaurant or other public facility to handle, open and pour the wine from the bottle. The translation of Mevushal is “cooked,” and to be correct and exclusive, pure kosher wines must have this layer of the winemaking process. Those bottles that are so marked mean that the wine was passed through a flash heat pasteurization which raised the heat of the liquid to nearly 200 degrees. Immediately upon reaching that temperature, it is rapidly cooled. Now, the wines can be handled, opened and poured by anyone. Only drawback here is that by virtue of the heating process (which because of the heat creates a type of artificial aging), Mevushal wines will not age as long as those that are non-Mevushal. Bottles that do not sport this label can only, if the letter of the law is followed, be handled by strict kosher adherents. For gift-giving, bottles labeled this way are very appropriate.
Today, the major areas of Kosher wine production are: Israel, France and California, although many countries do produce wine in a kosher manner. One of the most recognized labels, Baron Herzog, produces a Merlot in the Central Coast not to be missed. In Sonoma, Weinstock Cellars was the first into the kosher winery business. Started in Geyserville by Rob Weinstock in 1984, the winery produces Chardonnay and White Zinfandel. In Napa, Hagafen (which means vine) produces wonderful Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. From France, no less than the Rothschild family weighs in with a rich wine from Bordeaux.
So raise your glass with this toast from the Talmud: “Wine nourishes, refreshes, and cheers. Wherever wine is lacking, medicines become necessary”.