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July 24, 2016 2:57 am

Kosher Wine: Myths and Facts

avatar by Norman Lever

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A selection of wine bottles. Photo: wiki commons.

A selection of wine bottles. Photo: wiki commons.

There’s always one. In every crowd, at least one.

“Oh, I don’t want that kosher wine” — the word “kosher” said with such disdain as to indicate he thinks it’s made from floor-sweepings and old army boots. 

The wine snob. Always ready with a caustic remark. Always condescending and always convinced he’s more cultured than you — has just shown his ignorance.

The common misconceptions about kosher wines are, and have for a long time been, either completely out-dated or untrue.

Take, for instance, the idea that kosher wine is sickly-sweet, often oxidized and lacking character. This is entirely based on “kiddush” wine, which is purposely made to be easily glugged down as required for the purpose. It’s not and was never meant to be a table wine. And you don’t have to use a sweet wine for kiddush, but if you’ve ever tried to drink a dry wine fast, you’d know why this helps.

Another myth is that kosher wine has to be boiled. It doesn’t have to be, and although opinions vary as to the temperature it must be cooked, when it is done, it is generally done with great care and many precautions to preserve the general character of the wine. But there are so many kosher wines not treated this way. (As an aside, the reason boiling wine was established was to prevent wines that might have been somehow involved in a pagan ritual from being unwittingly used in Jewish sacrament; it was never a required to make the wine kosher.)

Excellent kosher table wines have been available throughout Europe for centuries, although many were made and consumed by the families who grew the vines. 

There are kosher batches of many “Premier Cru” French wines, dedicated kosher wineries in Italy, kosher wines from Spain and Portugal and more. Outside of Europe, excellent kosher table wines are made in the US, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, Israel.

The wine snobs, of course, feel they simply have to draw the line at Israel. “But it’s the Middle East, for heaven’s sake,” they say. “You can’t grow grapes there!”

Ignorance has never been more obvious. The grape vine, Vitis Vinifera, is known for having originated in the region, like the rose did. Wine, too, originated in the region, and Israel’s cool-climate wineries in the north are recognized by those who actually do know wine.

Unfortunately, you can never win an argument against true ignorance. I am often faced with this situation and before I can say anything, I’m often told how horrible kosher wine is. 

I nod and pretend I’m listening. Then, if the mood strikes me, I mention that I also know a little about wine, hand them my business card, and walk away without looking back.

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  • shloime

    absolutely right.

    i would only add that there’s an interesting side story to concord grape wine, which many people associate with horrible “sacramental wine”. it’s authentically “american”, having been developed in the colonies as a substitute for imported european grapes, and climate. and it also enjoyed popularity during prohibition, when many people, some of them not even jewish, grew fond of making kiddush.

  • Yaakov

    The problem is that kosher wines may be made using animal products as fining agents, just as most non-kosher wines are.

    • Author

      How is that a ‘problem’?

      Kosher wines don’t generally claim to be vegan. And the use of animal fining products (egg white) is very rare these days.

      On a commercial Kosher scale, it is impractical to use and most manufacturers of winemaking products now offer a range of vegetable-extract alternatives.

      The availability, however of a wide range of enzymes and the changes in processing and filtration technology have all but done away with finings in commercial operations.