What Makes a Wine Kosher?
by Yael Zisling
There is a misconception about Kosher wine, that it simply doesn't ‘hold-up', taste wise. However, one only has to taste some of Binyamina Winery's wines (just as an example), to know that is simply not true. Kosher wine used to mean a sweet dark-red liquid – since the mid 1980's all that has changed.
With the emergence in recent years of so many boutique wineries in Israel, not all of the wine being produced locally is kosher. Many of the boutique wineries simply are unwilling or unable, (due to their growing and production methods) to produce kosher wines. For a wine to be kosher, strict regulations must be followed. It really all begins in the fields. Grapes from new vines may not be used for making wine, until after the fourth year. Every seventh year the fields must be left fallow and there is a prohibition on growing other fruits and vegetables between the vines.
All the equipment, tools and winemaking storage facilities must be kosher. During the harvest, only Sabbath observant male Jews are allowed to work on the production of the wines. Since most of the experienced winemakers in Israel are not observant, this means that they can't touch the wine or the equipment, during the winemaking process.
During the production of kosher wine, no animal products may be used. Gelatin or egg whites are sometimes used by non-kosher wine makers, to clarify the wine, while kosher wine makers use a clay material, called bentonite, which pulls suspended particles to the bottom of the barrel.
For wine to be kosher one percent of the wine must be discarded, a symbolic remnant of the 10% tithe, paid to the Temple in Jerusalem in days gone by. Additionally, barrels must be cleaned three times.
There are really two levels of kosher wine. The first includes the restrictions outlined above, while the second, known as “mevushal” utilizes an additional process. This is important since Kashrut law stipulates that in order for a wine to retain its ‘kosherness' once opened and poured by a non-Jew, (such as a waiter, for instance) the wine must be "mevushal." Bringing the liquid to a boiling point makes this type of wine, causing air bubbles to be brought to the surface and the loss of some wine, due to evaporation. A wine that is produced in this manner retains its religious purity, regardless of who opens or pours it.
A study at the University of California at Davis, has proven that it is not possible to consistently taste the difference between non- mevushal and mevushal wine. To ensure wine's purity, the codification of koshering wine began in the days of Maimonides. Today, a quick glance at the bottle's label will clearly indicate whether the wine is kosher or not. Some truly wonderful kosher wine is being produced in Israel.
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