What is a Kosher Wine?
A kosher wine is a wine made from grapes that follow strict adherence to Jewish dietary guidelines and laws. The word itself, kosher, is Hebrew for "proper" or "fitting." Most commonly featured at prominent Jewish holidays and religious ceremonies, like Passover, Purim or Jewish marriage ceremonies, kosher wines are made by the same winemaking processes as regular table wines with specific caveats sprinkled throughout the vinification model. First and foremost, kosher wines must be crafted under the watchful eye of a qualified Jewish rabbi and only Sabbath-observant Jews may be involved in the actual handling of the winemaking process from vineyard management to cellar storage and beyond.
Kosher Wine Vines
The grapevines harvested for kosher wines must be a minimum of four years old before their fruit can be crushed for kosher designated wines. Likewise, kosher wines can only contain and come into contact with ingredients that are also designated as kosher, down to the details of kosher certified yeast for fermentation (meaning no contact with grains). This leaves out options for certain, fining agents, some standard methods of extraction and other common additives.
Kosher Wine Regulations
All of the winemaking equipment from the fermentation tanks to barrels and bottles and even cellars, must be reserved for only producing kosher wines. One thing you'll never see on a bottle of kosher wine is a label warning, as you do on so many food packages today, that reads,"Warning this wine was produced in a facility, that also produces non-kosher wines." Never. What you will see on the label of a kosher certified wine is one of several designates: an "OU" (for Orthodox Union kosher certification) or a capital "K" with a circle around it and a smaller "P" signifying that the wine is "Kosher for Passover," and has been specifically kept from any association with grains in any form.
Moreover, none of the harvesting or vinification process may take place on the Sabbath or any other Jewish holy days. Kosher wines can get tricky when it comes to serving them. The same exacting standards that guide the production of kosher wines, also come into play as the wines are transported, served and even consumed. So what happens when someone who isn't a Sabbath-observant Jew serves the kosher wine in a restaurant? Is it still considered kosher? Only if it has been flash pasteurized, to minimize harm to the wine's structure, making it a "Mevushal" or "boiled" wine, then it may be served by non-Jews and still retain it's kosher designation.
Types of Kosher Wine
Kosher Wine - A wine that has only been handled by Sabbath-observant Jews in strict accordance to the Jewish dietary regulations and that has been under the supervision of a qualified Jewish Rabbi from grape to glass.
Mevushal Wine - This term refers to a wine that has been flash-pasteurized and can be appropriately handled by someone that is not Jewish and still maintain its kosher status.
Top Producers of Kosher Wine
While Israel has been making wine for centuries, it's only been in the last two decades that there has been a significant resurgence towards quality-driven wines that can truly compete on the world's wine stage. However, Israel is not the only country to make high-quality kosher wines. France, Australia, the U.S., South Africa, Chile and Italy all have contenders in the kosher wine market, with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot being the most common varietals available.
As for specific producers of kosher wines, look for: Golan Heights Winery also marketing wines under the Yarden, Golan and Gamla wine labels, Carmel Winery, Barken, Domaine du Castel, Efrat and Galil Mountain. In the U.S., Baron Herzog Cellars is topnotch and if you are interested in checking out kosher South African wines, then look no further than Backsberg Wines.
Whether you are looking for a wine to celebrate a distinctly Jewish holiday in full tradition or are just curious to try some of Israel's award winning wines to expand your wine horizons, there are plenty of reasons to try some kosher wines.