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What makes wine kosher?

 

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The term "kosher" for many consumers represents a variety of perceptions which have historically included: cleaner, higher quality, healthier, made in smaller quantities. It is a belief among many consumers today that it is safer which is important in a time where there is concern over the integrity of our food supply from, contaminants, pathogens or disease.

It is seen as held to generally higher standards, perhaps even as the Hebrew National Company claimed a couple decades ago in an extremely effective advertising campaign to promote what have become some of the world’s most popular all beef hot dogs: "We answer to a higher authority!"

Kosher food has become increasingly popular and sustains one of the highest growth food market segments representing double digit growth for decades now. Many like the idea of an additional level of supervision or quality control provided by a third party inspector, (under certain conditions it may not require full time attendance) who must be allowed to arrive unannounced to audit the ingredients and process. It is also easily decoded for those interested in avoiding dairy, gluten, or meat. Past experience with traditional kosher wine might lead one to believe it must be sweet and syrupy. It does not need to be made from concord grapes but can be made of any of the best noble grape varieties in any region of the world. Some kosher wine is recognized as world class and excels in international wine competitions.

It includes content and context.

One thing is for sure: It is not blessed by a rabbi, although that is clearly the most common misconception.

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 awful fast, aren’t you?!”

Kosher means to qualify under a set of laws established by the Torah. It includes both process and content. As it relates to wine, it is a unique category with special requirements. It requires careful supervision by qualified experts and handling only by Sabbath observant Jews throughout the entire production from the time the grapes become juice through the bottling process to insure that the product conforms in every way to very exacting standards.

Kosher means that each step requires constant and expert supervision to insure that it is safe not just for our physical body but also safe for our spiritual soul. Now that’s what we call “soul food!”

The fermentation requires yeast which needs to be grown on a kosher medium. Wine can become cloudy from dead yeast cells which are a product of fermentation and subjected to a clarification process called “fining”. Ingredients are added to help coagulate or agglomerate the suspended particles to they may be more easily filtered.

Fining may include but not be limited to the following ingredients: Isinglass (a sturgeon derivative), ox blood (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like), gelatin (possibly from the stomach lining of animals), bentonite (a type of clay), casein (a dairy derivative), egg white, or other additives. It may be interesting to note that when many of these additives are used including egg white it renders the wine unsuitable for vegan consumers.

Some wines (like Muscat, Port, or Sherry) may be fortified with Brandy. To qualify as kosher, it is critical that no non-kosher ingredients are introduced at any time. It should be noted that as Brandy is a spirit distilled from wine so it also requires a kosher certification.