By Jay Buchsbaum
With the Jewish holiday of Passover just around the corner — the first seder this year falls on the evening of Apr. 5 — many people prefer to serve and drink wines that are kosher-certified. So, just how is kosher wine different from the non-kosher stuff?
In addressing this question, it might be useful to begin by noting the key non-difference — and that relates to flavor. When it comes to taste, there’s no difference between kosher and non-kosher wine. In fact, many kosher wines are award-winning, beating out their non-kosher competitors for top varietal prizes.
Then there’s the urban legend that wine is made kosher by being blessed by a rabbi. This, too, is incorrect. For a wine to be certified kosher, strictly supervised purity guidelines need to be followed from the moment the grapes enter the winery to the bottling of the finished product. While it is true that a specially trained rabbi will supervise this process, it is wrong to assume that any wine becomes kosher by dint of a simply having a prayer uttered over it.
Some Kosher wines are processed as mevushal, which means “cooked” in Hebrew. Some wineries produce their mevushal wines by heating the freshly crushed grape juice, or must, prior to fermentation, while others apply that procedure to the final product, just prior to bottling.
Recent years have seen increased demand for kosher wines, prompting a number of vintners in countries not previously represented to produce sophisticated kosher wines. You can now find kosher wines produced in South Africa, Chile, and Canada as well as traditional sources such as Israel, France, California, Spain, and Italy.
Not all Israeli wines, incidentally, are kosher. Only about 30% of Israeli wine brands are certified kosher, but these kosher wineries produce over 90% of the county’s output.
Another myth that needs to be debunked is that kosher wines are all inexpensive. In fact, kosher wines can range in price from $5 to $500 a bottle, with the going rate averaging about $25 per bottle — the same amount paid out for non-kosher wines.
Jay Buchsbaum is Executive VP Marketing and Director of Wine Education at Royal Wine Corp., the leading kosher wine purveyor in the U.S.