What makes wine kosher?
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
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 email@example.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.
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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 1996/5757 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.99)
Manischewitz American Concord Grape Kosher Wine ($3.99)
Where do you live?
Essential Wine Tasting Guide
If this dilemma sounds all too familiar, I invite you to take a look at Glen Green's trademarked new Essential Wine Tasting Guide.
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.
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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.
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Vol. 3, No. 12, April 9, 2001