Six Things You Need to Know About Kosher Wine
Six things you need to know about kosher wine.
1. Wine is not Kosher because it is blessed by a Rabbi.
Yes, it might well be the most common misconception about kosher products in general and is clearly a mistake. I know of a rabbi who provides a service in his local community, in cooperation with a regional supermarket, by marking the shelves of all of the items which qualify with reliable heksher (kosher certification). He does this by placing a small, green dot “kosher” sticker next to the shelf label of the appropriate items to make it simple and convenient to identify those products that qualify. He tells the story that one day a lady happened by and observed this activity. Startled with the speed with which he affixed the green dots on a group of very similar items, she commented: “Rabbi, you’re saying those blessings awfully fast, aren’t you?!”
Kosher, with regards to wine, includes kosher content and context with very careful supervision with even further very special considerations for kosher wine from Israel. Historical ingredients for wine that present kashrut challenges have included: casein (a dairy derivative), enzymes (from animals), isinglass (from non kosher fish) and even ox blood (exactly what it sounds like). Further, owing to explicit halacha, kosher wine must be processed exclusively by observant Jews and supervised by Mashgichim from the time the grapes become juice until time the wine is sealed in the bottle.
2. It is one of today’s great values.
Wine offers uncommon value in a word of ever rising costs. In 1940 a typical bottle of sweet kosher Kiddush wine would cost about $1.00. In today’s dollars (even at a conservative consumer price index) that would translate to somewhere between $12 and $15 for the standard 750 ml. bottle. Today you can buy many sweet Kiddush wines for under $5 and for $12 - $15 you can purchase some very good to excellent wine. And the really good news for the consumer is; things are only going to get better with higher quality at lower relative cost.
3. It’s a mitzvah (under certain conditions).
Kosher wine is prescribed for use in many rituals: including the covenant of bris mila (circumcision), the wedding chuppa (canopy), Kiddush (Sanctification) as well as for Shabbos (Sabbath) and Yomim Tovim (Holy Days). While most occasions call for just one glass, on Passover, the mitzvah (which literally means commandment or obligation, as well as implying good deed) requires the consumption of a minimum of most of four glasses of wine at one sitting to properly conduct the Passover Seder. I know a rabbi that says: “Who else but Jews would complain about how much they have to drink?” On Purim wine also plays a significant role for its connection to the “banquets” described in the Megilla (the Purim narrative). We use it as the beverage of choice for the festive meal, to increase our overall simcha (joy).
4. Good wine is wine you like.
Some wines are great for desert, others for a quiet evening of sipping, still others that are especially food friendly with fish or meat or cheese. White wines are generally younger, fresher and fruity with hints of apple, pineapple, pear and the like. Red wines can be full bodied with notes of black current, plum, tobacco, leather and wild berries, with months or years of aging in charred oak barrels and a big finish. They can be silky and smooth or tart and astringent or even perhaps both at the same time. Wines can be cool, sparkling, light and refreshing for everyday or special occasions. Two thousand years ago Pliny the Elder said: “The best kind of wine is that which is most pleasant to him who drinks it.” He might also have been the first known wine critic as he rated 121 B.C. as a vintage “of the highest excellence.” This review was apparently based on his tasting of a wine that was 200 years old! But that is a much longer discussion for another time.
5. Israel produces some of the world’s best kosher wines.
Chalk, limestone, sand and volcanic soil can provide excellent growth medium for premium wine grapes. These are often conditions found in desert climates which until recently were simply not friendly to reliable vineyards. There were two high influence developments in the second half of the twentieth century which allowed noble grape varieties to thrive in deserts all over the world.
• Stainless steel tanks and refrigeration allow grape juice and wine to be kept cool after summer harvest and during fermentation (the process by which microbes, called yeast, eat the sugar converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide) in warmer areas.
• Drip irrigation, which was refined in Israel on a kibbutz in the Negev in the 1960’s, not only allows a hungry world to be fed with far less water (agriculture places by far the largest demand on our global water supply) and far greater nutrient control, it also provides for consistent results from year to year in places that could simply not otherwise sustain agriculture. Deficit irrigation has become a standard practice in the best vineyards to encourage full development of superior noble grape varieties.
Israel is blessed with many state of the art wineries that merge a synergy of technology and tradition. Israeli and other kosher wines and wineries are now recognized as “world class” from the leading wine authorities, with many regularly receiving the highest awards and recognition.
6. It’s good for you body and soul.
Kosher would seem to have established itself in a broad physical perception as cleaner, healthier, higher quality, or even safer with additional levels of supervision or quality control. But, Jews keep kosher because it is important for our spiritual health. Now that’s soul food!
For wine, favorable health implications abound from anti oxidants to a compound called resveratrol and research continues. It would seem almost every few weeks there is another story about the health benefits of wine. I suspect at least some of them are related to the classic inductive process of starting with a conclusion and accumulating a series of observations to support it as opposed to the deductive alternative of objectively evaluating a series of observation to form a logical conclusion. Yes, we do that!
We could discuss the inclination for this rationalization in more detail over a glass of wine.
Is it white wine or red wine, the tannins, anti-oxidant compounds, flavonoids, enzyme releasers or something else? Can a French pharmaceutical company really make it into a pill? Someday, perhaps, will we toast to their success? Well, that remains to
be seen, but if they ever do, I can tell you that I for one, plan to be washing it down with a nice glass of kosher Cabernet Sauvignon