“Kosher wine is growing double the pace of general market wine consumption with an average price per bottle of $20+ due to growing consumer demand and industry accolades,” says Jay Buchsbaum, Vice President Marketing and Director of Wine Education at Royal Wine corp.
Gone are the days when kosher wine tasted like melted popsicles. Fortunately for oenophiles kosher wines options have expanded beyond sweet Concord grapes of Manischevitz fame. The 1980s heralded the revival of the Israeli wine industry and today kosher wine has moved into a premium category. Kosher wines are produced throughout the world (including Israel, Germany, South Africa, Chile, Australia, California, Italy and France) and score well in global wine competitions.
Israeli wines are in demand and shows the strongest growth in the kosher wine world. In October, 2016, Wine Spectator featured a cover story on Israeli wines with a list of 20, 90+ rated wines.
Link between Jews and Wine
Wine plays an important part in Jewish holidays, especially Passover Seders where everyone drinks four cups of wine. Blessings are recited over a cup of wine beneath the chupah (wedding canopy). During Purim wine is enjoyed and on the Shabbat there are obligatory blessings (Kiddush) over cups filled with kosher wine. At Jewish marriages and circumcision ceremonies the obligatory blessing, Borei Pri HaGafen (Blessed are you O Lord, Who created the fruit of the vine), is almost always spoken over kosher wine. Shavuot is the time for a wine and cheese party and Sukkot is a wine harvest festival.
In the Midrash teaching, Eve ate a forbidden fruit which she gave to Adam and it was the grape from which wine is derived (some schools of thought suggest is was actually a fig).
While wine is good to drink – Ein Simcha Ela VeBasar Veyayin (There is no joy except through [eating] meat and [drinking] wine), drunkenness from wine is described by ancient rabbis in Hebrew as nichnas yayin, yatza sod (Wine goes in and secrets come out). Righteous Noah, whose beliefs caused G-d to spare the human race was disgraced by excessive wine consumption. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two holy sons, entered the Tabernacle while drunk and were consumed by a fire from the heavens. The Torah extols the virtue, courage and holiness of the Nazirite who vows to abstain from wine.
How Wine Becomes Kosher
To make a wine kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must be in charge of the process, supervising and frequently responsible for the entire process from the grape crushing through bottling. All the ingredients, including the finings, must be kosher. To be considered “Kosher for Passover” the wine must be free from any contact with chametz (grain, bread, dough).
Historically, kosher wines would be boiled, but currently they are flash pasteurized, a process that is gentler on the wine. A mevushal wine remains kosher even if touched by a non-Jew. There are different standards depending on who is certifying the wine. Some rabbis think that 180-degree F is hot enough. Others require 195 degrees F. Suppliers of kosher wines to the US may use mevushal as insurance as servers in restaurants will not necessarily be observant Jews.
Kosher wine that is produced, marketed and sold in the marketplace will usually have a hechsher (seal of approval) from a kosher certification agency or an authorized rabbi who is, preferably, also a posek (decider of Jewish law), or supervised by a beth din (Jewish religious court of law). If a non-Jew touches a kosher wine bottle it becomes non-kosher…only if it is an open bottle. Even at kosher tastings, all servers behind the tables are observant Jews.
11th Annual Kosher Food & Wine Experience
To educate and inform wine buyers and wine sellers, educators and journalists about the depth and breadth of kosher wines, The Royal Wine Corporation/Kedem, organizes kosher food and wine experiences. The company is also the leading producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines and spirits and offers 300+ brands in its portfolio. The unique wine/food event held at Chelsea Piers attracted over 2400 members of the wine trade and consumers who were able to experience 400+ varieties of kosher wines and spirits.
The event also included an enormous array of kosher foods that were not only unique, they were downright delicious, especially selections from Wandering Que, a New York based kosher food catering organization that features kosher wood smoked Texas BBQ.
Curated Kosher Wines
1. My Favorite: Chateau de Rayne Vigneau Sauterne 2014
This French/Bordeaux wine is a delicious blend of 74 percent Semillon, 24 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 2 percent Muscadelle. The grapes are slowly attacked by botrytis cinerea (noble rot) towards the end of the growing season. The grapes are harvested in three rounds of selective picking. Round 1: September yielded grapes with good acidity and freshness. Rain at the beginning of October enables rapid growth of the botrytis and excellent concentration of the berries. Rounds 2/3: Selective picking of grapes of superb purity and elegance. The resulting juice (must) is allowed to settle for 24 hours before being poured into barrels. The wine is aged for 18 months – 50 percent in new French oak barrels where fermentation takes place.
The soil of the vineyards is mainly gravel and sand with clay subsoil that is surprisingly rich in agates, amethysts, onyx and sapphires. The chateau holds the prized rank of Premier Grand Cru Classe de Sauternes in the famous 1855 classification.
• To the eye – bronzed yellow of sunshine or aged gold. To the nose – delicious and lush lemon and honeysuckle, almond, mango, pineapple and dried apricot. The palate warms to limes, lemons, honey, and perfume, creating a viscous but elegant taste experience. The finish is sweet (in a good way) and aromatic. Pair with fried chicken with a squeeze of lemon or sauté of pork tenderloin with habanero pan sauce.
2. Goose Bay Rose. Pinot Noir grapes.
Goose Bay wines (New Zealand) are made under strict supervision for the international kosher market. This is the only New Zealand winery to make kosher wines that are kosher for Passover, mevushal and vegan. New Zealand has a relatively cool climate, yet produces excellent wines due to its long growing season and high solar intensity. The cooler temperature helps to retain the delicious fruit flavors and the long growing season and high sunlight ripens the fruit perfectly.
The soil is clay loam composition that provides the grapes with depth and concentration of flavors not found on lighter soils. The soil retains moisture and grapes grow without additional irrigation. The oldest grapes on Upper Moutere vineyards were planted in 1990.
• To the eye a beautiful hue of coral trending to pink lavender. To the nose, hints of flowers (think young roses) and springtime. The palate detects nuances of cherries and fresh fruit. Pair with anchovies, grilled tuna, shrimp or poached or grilled salmon.
3. Yatir. Viognier 2014.
Viognier grapes selected from two districts from Tel Arad in the heart of Yatir Forest. The area extends to a height of up to 900 meters above sea-level creating a unique meeting point between the mountainous regions and the desert, the snow and sunshine. The wine is cold fermented to preserve its delicate aromas and aged in old oak barrels for 6 months. The winemaker from Australia is Eran Goldwasser, and Ya’acov Ben Dor (formerly an electronics engineer) is the CEO.
• Golden light-green to the eye with the aromas of white peaches, green apples and citrus blossoms exciting the nose. The palate experiences ripe apricots, nectarines and jasmine with strong minerality. The finish offers a touch of bitter grapefruit peel. Serve with steak or aged cheese.
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