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30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
What makes wine kosher?

With the recent celebration of Passover, when Jews around the world joyously mark the birth of the Jewish nation when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, it seems a good occasion to take a closer look at kosher wine.

Although many people think of kosher wine as a thick, sweet and grapey drink, this is actually only one style of kosher wine, one that became popular in the United States more than a century ago, when many Jewish immigrants lived in the Northeast and had easy access to Concord and other native American grapes with the characteristic "grape-jelly" flavor that needs sweetening to make it palatable. Necessity became the mother of tradition, and for many years "kosher" in wine almost always meant heavy and sweet.

Indeed, one noteworthy kosher wine producer, Schapiro's Kosher Wine, observes with pride on its Website, http://www.schapiro-wine.com/ "When my grandfather, Sam Schapiro, came to this country and began making wine in 1899, our company's motto was 'wine so thick you can cut it with a knife.'"

But it needn't be so; and in modern times, many Jewish wine makers in the U.S., in Israel and in many other countries are now producing dry, elegant table wines that are both fully in the European fine-wine tradition and fully kosher.

"Kosher," after all, simply means "fit and proper" in Hebrew, and as explained in the Jewish glossary on the Manischewitz wines Website, http://www.manischewitzwine.com/glossary/glossary.htm it refers to any food or drink that conforms to Jewish dietary laws and is made under the supervision of a rabbi.

The Royal Wines Website, hosted by another major producer and importer of kosher wines, tells more about kosher wine at http://www.kedemwines.com/kosher.htm

  1. The wine-making equipment must be used exclusively for kosher products.
  2. Only Sabbath-observant Jews may handle the wine throughout production, from crushing the grapes to serving the wine. (There's an exception to this, however: If the wine is boiled or pasteurized - "mevushal," in Hebrew - it may be handled by anyone, Jewish or otherwise, without being rendered unfit.)
  3. No non-kosher product may be used to make kosher wine. This provision, by the way, makes kosher wine of some interest to vegetarians, who can be reasonably assured that kosher wines have not used animal products in the "fining" or clarification process.

None of these rules prevent making wines in an international style, and indeed, many modern kosher wines have won awards in major competitions. As a category, they're certainly worth consideration by wine lovers of all heritages. To paraphrase the Levy's Rye Bread commercials of the '60s, just as you don't have to be French or Italian to enjoy the great wines of those countries, or any other, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy kosher wine.

See my notes below for three examples - a mevushal white, a modern-style red, and a classic old-style kosher Concord wine. If you would like to discuss this or other wine-related topics, I hope you'll drop by our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=1. Or, if you prefer, send me E-mail at wine@wineloverspage.com. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.

Please tell your wine-loving friends about The 30 Second Wine Advisor, and invite them to register for their own free weekly copy at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor.

30 Second Tasting Notes:
Kosher wines
Baron Herzog Baron Herzog 1996 Clarksburg Chenin Blanc ($6.99)
Clear gold in color. Aromas and flavors of almonds and hazelnuts, delicate nutlike scents over fresh citrus fruit. Honey and white tropical fruit show in a complex, slightly sweet flavor, damp wool notes appearing with time in the glass. Quite interesting and drinkable, it's marked with the "circle U" symbol indicating approval by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and listed as "mevushal kosher for Passover." From an analytical standpoint, it's hard to say whether the evolved and nutlike flavors reflect the heat applied in the mevushal process or merely indicate that this five-year-old white has been sitting on the shelf for a while. (April 8, 2001)

Hagafen Hagafen 1996/5757 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.99)
Very dark garnet in color, black at the center. Oaky vanilla and blueberry fruit in a ripe, forward aroma; pleasant flavors, bright if rather one-dimensional, focus more on oak than fruit, a bit tart and tannic in the finish. A typical big California Cabernet, indistinguishable in flavor from its non-kosher competitors except by the label, which bears the vintage date in both the civil and Jewish calendars and is marked with the "circle U" and the Hebrew letters for "kosher for Passover." (April 8, 2001)

Manischewitz Manischewitz American Concord Grape Kosher Wine ($3.99)
Trademarked "the traditional kosher wine," I tasted this standard, inexpensive label to get a benchmark for the style. Dark ruby in color, it shows the strong "grape jelly" aroma and flavor of Concord grapes on the nose and palate. It's thick and syrupy sweet, a simple wine in the Jewish-American kosher-wine tradition. From a wine-taster's standpoint, it's inoffensive but not the style of wine that most "connoisseurs" would choose for everyday enjoyment. Marked with the "circle U" and "kosher for Passover" in both Hebrew and English. (April 8, 2001)

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
Where do you live?
Just a quick reminder that we're continuing this informal survey for a second week. So far we've heard from more than 800 of you in every continent but Antarctica, but I would love to see the count top 1,000. If you haven't already "voted," I hope you'll take a moment to drop by http://www.wineloverspage.com/votebooth and tell us what country or region you live in.

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Glen, a wine lover and professional wine maker in Australia and France, has created a remarkable little quick-reference guide to serious wine tasting in a slick, portable format that literally slips into your shirt pocket, wallet or purse. Slip it out, open it up, and it unfolds to reveal 34 mini-pages of compact wine-tasting information including more than 1,000 specific descriptions to help guide you in the analytical tasting of wine. Just 3 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches, it's about the size of a business card, and it comes with a clear plastic holder to keep it like new.

I was so impressed that I asked Glen's permission to offer the Essential Wine Tasting Guide for sale on Wine Lovers' Page. It's $8.95 plus $2 shipping and handling in the U.S., $4 in other countries. If you would like to take a closer look, the Guide is on display at http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/click.pl?url=www.WineLoversPage.com/guide.

30 Second Administrivia
This free weekly E-mail publication is distributed to subscribers every Monday. Previous editions are archived on The Wine Lovers' Page. See http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/thelist.shtml.

You are on the subscription list because you registered during a visit to Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page. If for any reason you no longer want to receive this publication, simply send a short E-mail to 'wine@wineloverspage.com' asking to be unsubscribed (and, if you wish, offering us any suggestions you may have as to how we could have served you better), and we'll remove your name from the list. We do not use this list for any other purpose and will never give or sell your name or E-mail to anyone. Please contact us in the same way if your E-mail address changes. And of course we welcome feedback, suggestions, and ideas for future columns. Send us E-mail at wine@wineloverspage.com.

A note about our HTML Edition: Please note that as of December, 2000, we have temporarily suspended publication of an HTML edition (with images), because of persistent technical problems. However, if you signed up for this edition, we are keeping your preference in the database, and you will get it again if and when we resume it.

All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

More time for wine?
You don't need to wait for Mondays to read about wine! Drop in any time on Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page, where we add new tasting notes several times each week and frequently expand our selection of wine-appreciation articles, tips and tutorials.

If you'd like to talk about wine online with fellow wine enthusiasts around the world, we'd be delighted to have you join the interactive, international forums in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group.

Vol. 3, No. 12, April 9, 2001

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