Get the Skinny on What Makes a Wine Kosher
If your bubbie serves sweet, red, kosher wine at Seder but you want to bring a variety that tastes good too, don’t fret. Kosher wines are not what they used to be. You can find wonderful red, white, rosé, and sparkling wines that suit your palate and comply with strict kosher laws. But first, you need to learn about the rules that govern kosher wine and how to know if a wine is kosher or not.
Kosher Wine Laws
Did you know that Jewish wine laws are the oldest in the world? Sorry, Spain and Portugal; you may have invented the appellation system, but Jewish wine laws are much older. And contrary to a persistent urban myth, a wine is not kosher because a rabbi blessed it. In fact, at no point in the wine growing, harvesting, or production process does a rabbi bless anything.
Kosher laws are very specific, and three categories of kosher rules regulate the “kosherness” of wine. First, there is kashrut (kashrut is the body of kosher laws from the Torah that regulate what Jews can and cannot eat and how those foods should be prepared and eaten) wine, which is suitable for consumption by observant Jews and for the celebration of important religious holidays, such as Passover.
Second, there is mevushal (which literally means cooked) wine, which, according to experts, “can be handled by non-Jews since it is no longer fit for sacramental use.”
Finally, there is kosher wine for Passover, which, unlike other kosher wines, cannot use yeasts grown on bread (only unleavened bread is allowed for Seder) and cannot include common preservatives like potassium sorbate.
All three categories of kosher wines must be certified by recognized or reliable certification bodies like the OU, OK, or a similar organization. Just remember that any time you encounter religious laws or certifications there may be exceptions to the rules, depending on each person’s personal practices and the teachings of his or her faith. Whether someone follows OU, OK, or something different is important to know, and it’s best to ask your host about his or her family’s traditions before you bring food or drink to any kind of religious celebration.
For wines to be kosher under kashrut, they must follow these rules:
· The wine must be produced from vines at least four years old
· Other fruits and vegetables cannot be cultivated between the vines
· Every seven years the fields must be left fallow
· Harvesting, wine making, and storage processes must be kosher
· Wine barrels must be cleaned three times
· Only Sabbath-observant Jewish males can be involved in any part of the growing, harvesting, crushing, wine making, and bottling processes
· All the equipment, tools, vats, bottles, cellars, and storage facilities must be kosher
· Wine makers are prohibited from using any animal products to clarify the wine. Instead of relying on egg whites or gelatin, they must use betonite or other natural products to remove sediments from the wine
· As a symbolic gesture of the historic 10 percent tithe ancient Jews paid to the Temple in Jerusalem, 1 percent of the wine must be thrown away
· If a home is kosher, non-mevushal kosher wine must be sealed or kept hidden because it would no longer be kosher if non-Jewish people had access to it
· Historically, non-fermented grape juice was boiled to make it mevushal, which made it possible for non-Jews to handle, open, and pour the wine
· Once a wine is mevushal it is no longer a sacramental wine
· According to experts, most mevushal wine goes through a flash pasteurization and rapid chilling process that prevents the wine from cooking and reduces some damage to the grapes
· Fine kosher wines generally choose to forgo the mevushal process in order to preserve the wine’s integrity, quality, flavor, and appeal
For tips about where to buy kosher wine, how to determine if a wine is suitable for Passover, or recommendations on wines to try, read The Quick Sip on Wine for Passover.