If you’re not particularly immersed in Jewish culture, you might have heard of kosher wine but always wondered what exactly it is. Most people’s first question is, “Well, does it taste any different?” The answer here is that good wine is good wine, kosher or otherwise. The exception here is mevushal wines - but more on that later.
If you're feeling tempted, we’ve got plenty of great kosher wines in our online store that you should check out.
Following the Rules
So, if it doesn’t taste magically different, what exactly makes it so? Well, Jewish kashrut laws are strict and they say that kosher wine cannot have been used for idolatry, a term that basically means the worship of an idol. More specifically, it can’t be poured for an idol, nor touched by anyone that believes in one - basically anyone non-Jewish.
For this reason, for wine to be strictly kosher, only Sabbath-observant Jews must be involved in its production right through to being sealed in the bottle or pasteurized. It is worth noting, however, that the wine’s ingredients - alcohol, sugars, and phenols - aren’t in themselves non-kosher.
There is one get out though. A wine that is is mevushal - cooked or boiled - is considered unfit for idolatry, making it perfect in restaurants where not everyone is Sabbath-observant.
So, just pasteurize the stuff then? Not quite. As wine connoisseurs will be aware, heating kills the fine mold on the grapes and dramatically alters the flavor profile of the wine for the worse. So, the key here is to find the very lowest temperature the wine needs to be heated to, for the shortest possible time, so that the rabbis are kept happy and the wine is kept drinkable. Sadly, as drinkers of mevushal wine will tell you - producers often miss the mark.
Without wanting to bore you, the consensus seems to be 165°F (74°C) to 194°F (90°C). Something called flash pasteurization is also becoming popular. The wine is rapidly heated to a set temperature then immediately chilled back to room temperature. The quick burst of heat is far less damaging to the wine.
Other Interesting Facts About Kosher Wine
Some people have the idea that a rabbi must bless all wine for it to be kosher. This is not true, although a mashgiach - a ‘kosher supervisor’ of sorts - does need to be present when the wine is made. They are usually responsible for pouring the grapes into the crusher and operating the pasteurization equipment.
‘Kosher for Passover’ is a separate distinction, meaning that the wine has not come into contact with any grain, bread or products made with leavened dough. Luckily, there isn’t much of this in winemaking anyway, so most kosher wine is already fine for Passover.
Kiddush wines, on the other hand, are not to be mistaken with kosher wines. These are actually sacramental wines which pass the kosher rules but tend to be of much lower quality. Unless you like your wine tasting like syrupy sugared water, these are best avoided.