Some of the most popular and sought after wines in the industry today are kosher. New varietals and fresh, kosher vines are popping up at wineries, young and old. The production of these wines is a burgeoning industry with a product that is becoming more popular every single day. Kosher wines exploded in America with the influx of Jewish immigrants in 1945. Thousands of survivors arrived bringing with them their strict kosher diets and a huge demand for kosher wines to match. America has been one of the primary producers of kosher wine until recently when Israeli wines made a comeback in the last two decades, cementing their place as one of the primary producers of quality kosher wines. The climate and the soil content in Israel make for the perfect environment for beautiful wines.
Wine is an elemental component of Jewish sacramental ceremonies. Grapes hold an elevated position within dietary Jewish laws called Kashrut. The grape has a special reverence in the Kashrut because it is the only fruit from which sacred wines may be extracted. Close regulation of the kosher wine-making process insures that there is enough kosher wine for the Jewish population throughout the world.
In order for wines to be kosher, they must be produced under specific rules in accordance with Jewish dietary law. The rabbinical law states that the wine must only be made in certain wineries that adhere to these special rules and regulations. The word “kosher” means “fit,” and in terms of food or wine, it means “fit to eat.” The production, fermentation and processing of kosher wines must be strictly handled by Sabbath-observing male Jews for it to remain kosher. This ensures that the product is not tainted and remains spiritually pure. Every ingredient that goes into the fermentation process must also be kosher. The normal production of wine using yeast or gelatin is unacceptable. If a kosher wine is tainted somewhere in the processing, handling or shipping, the entire harvest is considered spiritually unclean and unfit for consumption because the religious integrity of the wine has been compromised. It may still taste lovely, but it will not be considered kosher. In fact, kosher wine must also be uncorked, poured and handled only by a Jewish person.
A second type of kosher wine, called Mevushal, has recently been cultivated. “Mevushal” means “boiled or “cooked.” The grapes for Mevushal wine are cooked prior to being crushed. This extra step of pasteurization allows the wine to be handled by non-Jewish people, and still remain kosher. This means people of any faith can partake in drinking and handling of this kind of kosher wine, which has helped the industry sustain itself and thrive. Mevushal wines are now used widely for Jewish weddings, functions and celebrations where there will be non-Jewish people in attendance.
Recently, there has been a world revival in kosher wines. In America, kosher wines were traditionally very sweet, due to the use of the indigenous Concord grape. Dryer kosher wines are on the rise in recent years with the growth of the Israeli wine industry. Now that a variety of grapes can be used in the production of kosher wines, the new tastes and types are everywhere. Kosher wines are also cultivated in France, Italy, and Australia. Commonly used varietals are Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, Petit Sirah, Cab Franc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Barbera and Zinfandel.
All eyes in the kosher wine industry are on Israel right now. The wines coming from the region are coveted and always in demand. New varietals are available and different tastes are presenting themselves now that the wine-makers are no longer forced to use the traditionally sweet Concord grape. With the resurgence of the practice of kosher wine making, any grape can be used to make kosher wine. And they are.
Our pick for stunning bottles of kosher wine come from Dalton Winery, a burgeoning, family owned Israeli wine maker located in the hills above Hermon Mountain in Upper Galilee. Dalton produces 800,000 bottles a year with care and patience. Their Red Canaan blend, made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Sirah, is easy to drink with sweet red fruit notes, balanced by hints of spicy pepper and gentle vanilla. Their unoaked Chardonnay on the other hand, is a bold expression for Israeli wines with a surprising blend of tropical citrus and melon notes. Either bottle will be the perfect toast for your Rosh Hashanah celebration!
Julie Bausch is a freelance writer who moonlights for Tipsy, a wine and spirits shop in Brooklyn. Tipsy hosts 3 or more free tasting events every week. Visit us at the corner of Myrtle and Classon or online at www.shoptipsy.com.