When it comes to kosher wines, it is best to start by getting the misconceptions out of the way. First things first, wine is not “kosher” because it is blessed by a rabbi. This might be the most common misconception about kosher wine, but others abound including: kosher wines are sweet, they are boiled, they appeal only to people of the Hebrew faith and they’re automatically kosher if they come from Israel.
Although Manischewitz (a traditional, sweet concord grape wine) once cornered the market for kosher wine in the United States, that is no longer the case. Kosher wines can be dry, come from every country and be made with different grape varietals. Virtually indistinguishable from their non- kosher counterparts, kosher and non-kosher wines are made using a nearly identical process.
So what does Kosher actually mean?
Kosher simply ensures that the wine is prepared and processed according to Jewish law. The use of dairy or animal based products such as casein or gelatin for fining is prohibited. Wine that is kosher for passover has an additional requirement- it must never come in contact with yeast or other leavening agents. Interestingly, all kosher wine must be handled exclusively by Sabbath-observant Jews from crushing to bottling. Rabbinical supervision is also required throughout the whole process.
The reason for this unusual restriction is because, in the past, wine was used by other religions as offerings to idol gods. To ensure that Jews never received a glass of wine associated with idolatrous offering, the rabbis enacted this strict requirement.
In order to avoid this measure, kosher wines may be Mevushal. Mevushal means boiled: When a kosher wine is heated to 185° F, it becomes unfit for idolatrous use and therefore remains kosher, regardless of who handles it. Mevushal wines are particularly common around Passover, where there may be non-orthodox and non-jews at a seder, or ceremonial dinner.
Although the idea of boiled wine can make certain people wary, technology has improved to a point where most casual drinkers would not be able to tell the difference between a wine that has been flash-pasteurized and one that has not.
Kosher wine, with its added levels of supervision and quality control, has established itself as cleaner and higher quality wine – not to mention fit for jewish celebrations and traditions. Wines with kosher or meshuval certification will be clearly marked- the certifying agency is listed on the back label.
For information on perfect wine pairings for a Passover feast, check out our guide here.
We’ve expanded our Kosher Wine Selection! With over 15 kosher wines to choose from, from sparkling to big bold reds, we’ve got your bases covered.
Manischewitz Photo Credit: Jeremy Parzen