Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kosher, Pt. 1: Not Uncle Max’s Manischewitz!

Concord grapes are the backbone of many a Manischewitz wine. Photo by Midiman/Wikimedia.


make a wine drinker cringe? Say Concord grape wine.

Fabulous over vanilla ice cream and perfect for making the Passover Seder favorite haroset, Concord grape wine, a mainstay of the Manischewitz brand, can hardly be called “a great drink.” Syrupy sweet, almost like cough medicine, Concord is in a class of its own. Thankfully.

Now imagine going to a Passover Seder (meal) during which four cups of wine must be drunk. No wonder why some specially made Seder cups are the size of a glorified thimble.

But today there’s no need to suffer. The days of Prohibition are over. The do-it-yourself make-wine-in-the-bathtub find-any-grape-you-can-grow type Concord wine is soooo early 20th century. Good kosher wines from beautiful wine-producing varietals are widely available.

Avoiding the Good Old Days: Bacchanalia
What makes a wine kosher? Let’s flip the question first: Why does a wine need to be kosher? Back in the day when winemaking and frolicking harvest festivals were synonymous, people would pour libations to the gods, offer thanks and praise, and … well … do all sorts of bacchanalia when wine and hay come into close proximity.

A 5th century BCE kylix depicts pouring wine to the Greek god Apollo. Photo courtesy of Holy Land Photos.

Ancient Judaism, very concerned that the wine could be used as an offering to foreign gods – a real no-no – and possibly concerned about who’s frolicking with whom in the fields – possibly a really real no-no – mandated that the production of wine be strictly monitored. In case its production could not be so guaranteed, the wine had to be made kosher by purifying it, heating it slightly (mevushal).

Heating wine? Another thing to make a wine drinker cringe. But actually, compared to Concord grape, heated wine is not as bad. Recent techniques of flash pasteurization greatly reduce the damage that traditional mevushal methods cause.

Barkan Classic Merlot 2007. Photo from Skyview Wines.

Does Wine Need to be Kosher?
Interestingly enough, there is an ongoing rabbinic debate as to whether any wine needs to be made kosher in our modern age. Who offers libations as part of commercial wine production anymore? Personally, I’ll pay anyone monopoly money to find a rabbi from fabulous wine-growing regions such as Argentina who would agree to boil a wine for almost any reason. A quick note: the vast majority of Israeli wines are both kosher and un-heated (non-mevushal).

One thing is certain: a la Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” no one messes with what kosher means on Passover. No one wants to get smited/smote/smitten. Kinda undoes the whole point of “pass-over.” For that reason, all Kosher-for-Passover wines have a special certification mark on the label and most (except many Israeli wines) are mevushal. Sorry, but that’s the breaks.

How to Find a Good Kosher Wine
On 27 March 2011, City Winery in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood hosted The Jewish Week’s Grand Wine Tasting. Imagine a rustic microbrewery plopped down in the middle of New York City, but instead of vats of ale, barrels of wine dot the airy and open place. Somewhere amid a thriving singles scene, tasting bars got stationed. Lots of folk forgot to spit, so a slightly tipsy time was had by most.

Yogev Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot 2009. Photo from Binyamina Wines.

With Passover right around the corner, you, too, can have your own kosher wine-tasting experience. Keep your eyes open for special events at your local wine store or wine bar. But if public tastings aren’t your cup of tea, try these (Sale prices courtesy of Skyview Wines,

Classic - Merlot 2007
Judean Hills, Israel
$12 ($9 on sale)

A crowd-pleaser. If Merlot is your grape, feel completely comfortable bringing this bottle to the table. A slight cut above average, this Merlot will compliment the hearty flavors of the Seder nicely.

Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot 2009
$20 ($16 on sale)

Produced by Binyamina, Yogev’s Cabernet Sauvignon blend is a knockout. Its aroma (nose) will knock you out, as leathery as it gets. Not to worry – the wine is delicious. Slightly sweet on the tongue (fruit forward), the flavors unfold revealing spices (middle finish) only to become a soft dry impression. Complex without being overpowering, this wine is a great value.

Tishbi Estate Pinot Noir 2006. Photo from Tishbi Winery.

Weinstock Cellars
Select - Zinfandel 2006
Lodi (Napa), CA
$20 ($16 on sale)

Take what is commonly known as Zinfandel and chuck it out the window. Gone is the jamminess, the obvious blackberry, the fruit-forward sweetness, and leave in its stead a whisper of fruit against a backdrop of a dry red wine’s oak and spice. Remember “7 UP: the Un-Cola”? Welcome to Weinstock, the Un-Zinfandel. Buy a case and drink it throughout the year.

Estate - Pinot Noir 2006
$30 ($26 on sale)

A lovely Pinot made in the Burgundian style, you won’t find the strong peppery taste favored in Washing State production. The word “balance” comes to mind: oaky, but not too much; full but not overblown; dry, but not too acidic. Tishbi’s Estate Label Pinot Noir will pair perfectly with roasted hen or quail and will still stand up nicely with brisket.

Red wines aren’t your favorite? Not to fret.

Next: Kosher Wines Part II, Desserts and Whites

No comments :

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
VEVLYN'S PEN: The Wright take on life by Vevlyn Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .
Based on a work at .
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at .