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Kosher Wine

by Staff Writer - C. Barnett | July 01, 2011

What Does Kosher Mean?

Kosher is Hebrew, and it means that something is sanctioned by Jewish law. It means that it is ritually fit for use, such as kosher wine.

What is Kosher Wine?

Any wine begins with the grapes used to make the wine. It is acceptable for the grapes to be grown and picked by anyone, whether they are kosher or non-kosher. Kosher wine may be made from any variety of grapes. The kosher wine process begins when the grapes are ready to be crushed. This process must be done under strict rabbi supervision. There are specific regulations that must be followed for the wine to be kosher.

Rules and Regulations

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  • The grape vines have to be at least four years old before the grapes can be picked and made into wine.
  • Only Sabbath observant workers are allowed to take part in making the wine. None of the work making the wine is allowed to be done on a holy day. After the wine has been put into barrels and been given a rabbinical seal of approval, a watchman is required to watch over the barrels.
  • All of the the equipment, tools, materials, and storage facilities used to make the kosher wine must only be used for making kosher products. Mixing kosher and non-kosher is not allowed.
  • No animal products may be used to produce kosher wine. Instead of using gelatin or egg whites in the fining process (Fining is a method to either clarify or chemically stabilize wine), non-animal fining agents (such as bentonite clay) or kosher fish gelatin are used. (Bentonite pulls suspended particles to the bottom of the barrel.)
  • No leavens (a substance such as yeast used to produce fermentation) are permitted. While yeasts are part of winemaking, they must be certified kosher.

A wine’s label will tell you if a wine is kosher. There will be an O with a U inside of it with a P near it; this is a sign that the world’s largest kosher certification organization (Orthodox Union) has approved it. A wine label that reads “Made from grapes that are not orlah” indicates that the winery observed the age rule; that the grapes were at least four years old.

There are Two Types of Kosher Wine: Meshuval or Non-Meshuval

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A meshuval wine is a kosher wine that has been pasteurized. The kosher wine is put through the flash pasteurization process, which means the wine is heated to a quick boiling point for a few seconds and then the wine is quickly cooled down. After a wine goes through the meshuval process, it remains kosher no matter what type of handling it receives. A non-kosher server can open the wine and it still remains kosher. Most kosher wines made in the United States are meshuval. Pasteurization changes a wine’s characteristics to some degree. Some winemakers say it actually enhances a wine’s flavor. Many kosher wine tasters say that it is difficult to tell the difference between meshuval and non-meshuval kosher wines.

A non-meshuval wine is a kosher wine that is not put through the pasteurization process. The Jewish faith dictates that non-meshuval wines must only be handled by Jews if it is to maintain its integrity. Most non-meshuval wines are found in Israel, where it is easy for a bottle to remain in kosher hands for the entire wine making process.

The History of Kosher Wine

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Kosher Wine has played an important part in Jewish tradition and rituals for thousands of years. Most important religious ceremonies begin with the Kiddush, the prayer over the wine. During Passover, the worshippers drink four cups of wine to symbolize the four dimensions of freedom. In ancient times, before the Roman conquest drove the Jewish inhabitants out of what is now Israel, vineyards and winemaking were common. Because tradition required the drinking of wine, Jewish winemakers took their skills with them when they went into exile. When Jewish immigrants settled in the Northeast United States, over a century ago, the grapes available to them were the Native American Concord grapes. The wines made from these grapes were very high in acid and had a moldy character. In order to make them edible, the wines had to be heavily sweetened. This heavy sweet style became synonymous with kosher wine, but in the mid-1980s kosher winemaking began to change. Kosher wines are now increasingly made from popular grape varietals like Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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