Wine Talk: Kosher pride!

France may boast centuries, but kosher wine laws are measured in millenia, and some of them still make sound agricultural sense.

Wine bottles and glases 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wine bottles and glases 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Let’s destroy some popular misconceptions: Not all kosher wine is made in Israel and not all Israeli wine is kosher. Nowadays nearly every wine producing country in the world produces kosher wine. In Israel, just to be confusing, many of the smaller wineries make non-kosher wine. However, it is true to say that most wine made in Israel is kosher.
The kosher wine laws are the oldest in the world. France may boast about its Appellation Controllée and Cru Classé systems, which have roots that may go back hundreds of years, but the kosher wine laws are measured in thousands.
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Some of these laws (orla, kil’ei hakerem) still make sound agricultural sense. Others (like shmitta, trumot and ma’aserot) are today regarded as more symbolic. In Biblical times though, they were revolutionary, addressing the profoundest issues of spirituality vs materialism, economic justice and ecological sustainability. One thing is for certain, not one of the kosher wine laws may be held as a reason for making poor wine.
The kosher designation should not be thought as a quality defining process. Think of kosher certification more like a quality assurance program, similar to the ISO systems. All raw materials like yeasts, barrels and fining agents have to be prepared under the strictest quality and hygiene standards. Origin and traceability are key and there is an exaggerated emphasis on cleanliness. However, there is nothing which alters the basic way of making wine and traditional methods are followed throughout the process.
Unfortunately the word “kosher,” where wine is concerned, is almost a pejorative term. If it is kosher, there are those who believe it can’t be good. Regrettably, kosher wine is often confused with the kiddush wine category. These are the sweet, red sacramental wines that have given kosher such a bad name. However in reality, a wine can be well-made or poorly made. Whether it is kosher or not, is irrelevant to its quality.
Most wineries usually prefer to ignore the “K” word. They want to make the best ‘Israeli and Eastern Mediterranean’ wine they can, which just happens also to be kosher.
Strict observance of kashrut does not prohibit the possibility of either making great wine or even drinking a fine wine for purposes of religious ritual. One of Judaism’s greatest sages, Maimonides, gives some guidance here. He was a proponent of quality wines and insisted that sweetened or pasteurized wines should not be used either for kiddush or the four cups at Pessah.
Regrettably it is often the Jewish communities around the world that are the most cynical with regard to the acceptance of the possibility of quality kosher wine. A lifetime of Palwin in the UK, Manischewitz in the US, King David in Israel or Mevushal wine at celebrations, Shabbatot and Sedarim has had an effect.
Recent events have proved them wrong. Awards, scores and critics reviews have provided international recognition at the very highest level and destroyed forever the preconceived ideas about kosher wines. Yatir Forest was awarded 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, The highest score ever achieved by an Israeli or Eastern Mediterranean wine. Castel received four stars from Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, the highest rating possible. Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon was in the Wine Spectator’s Annual Top 100 Wines. Carmel’s Kayoumi Shiraz won The Decanter International Trophy, beating the best from France and Australia. Yatir Winery, Domaine du Castel, Golan Heights Winery and Carmel Winery are proudly Israeli and their wines happen also to be kosher.
To put this third party recognition in perspective, Robert Parker is the world’s leading wine critic and Hugh Johnson the world’s leading wine writer. The Wine Spectator is the world’s leading wine magazine and the Decanter World Wine Awards the world’s leading competition. Each of the wines were being judged on a criteria of quality alone and not on a basis of whether they were kosher or not.
Sparkling wine is made everywhere, but French champagne is regarded as the best. In the same way, kosher wine has become international. However the finest kosher wines in the world are, in my opinion, produced in Israel. Likewise, in the same way New Zealand specializes in Sauvignon Blanc and Argentina in Malbec, Israel specializes in kosher wine. The best range, quality and best value kosher wines are today available from Israel.
Let's face it, kosher wines have had a bad reputation because once they were pretty awful. This is no longer true, but many abroad have not caught up with the new reality. The “K” word stigma still exists. Now the world’s leading wine experts have given kosher wines their hechsher, it is time the wine drinking public did the same.
We should not be ashamed of producing kosher wines or labeling our wines as kosher. We should be kosher and proud of it!
Anew salmon-pink sparkling wine made from Colombard and Merlot grapes. The wine has a delicate berry aroma, and a touch of sweetness to add to its beautiful color. It should be served very cold. It is one of three Selected sparkling wines. The others are Selected Sparkling, which is white and extra dry, and Selected Sparkling Lite, which is lower alcohol and semi sweet. Selected is the largest selling brand in Israel. Suitable for those who want sparkling wines which are both kosher and Israeli.
Price: NIS 35.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes on wine in Israeli and international publications. [email protected]