Growing up, sweet kosher wine was pretty much it in the Rubin household. So I have fine memories of sipping this during Passover and I always associate this style of wine with seeing friends and relatives. But as far as kosher wine goes, there are many more options available now that go well beyond the tooth-achingly sweet wines that have dominated the kosher table.
True, kosher wines are mostly sweet and oftentimes have other fruit flavors added aside from the grapes from which they come. The vast majority of kosher wine consumed in the United States is made from the Concord grape (Vitis labrusca), a prolific producer that is actually one of the few indigenous grapes of North America. It’s the grape flavor that we associate with grape jelly. The full, heady flavor of the fruit of this vine is aptly balanced with some sweetness.
Some genuinely prefer sweet wine, as this non-confrontational style that is easy to enjoy across generations. But most drink this sweet wine for the spiritual, ritual or nostalgic qualities it brings forth. So, some imbibe the sweet wine because they like it while most drink it as a way to fully embody the practices that have defined tradition.
Common vinifera varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, used to produce premium wines are now also being utilized around the world for kosher wine production. These wines have been highly rated and are generally considered to be up to par with conventionally produced wine.
Before we go much farther, let’s first define some terms and lift the shroud of mystery from kosher wines. Anything meant for consumption that conforms to the ancient Jewish dietary laws can be classified as kosher. Wine is unique in that there is an additional step that must be taken so that non-Jews (or Jews who aren’t observant) can serve or otherwise handle unopened wine. This additional step, called meshuval, involves heating the wine to render it suitable for handling across religious beliefs.
Before the wonderful technology of flash pasteurization was invented, the process of heating wine was potentially very risky. Today’s technology allows wine to be heated to the requisite temperature and then cooled in seconds so that the flavor is virtually unchanged. Of course there is debate over this, but most agree that the practice in itself is not bad. Some even believe that, done properly, this technique can actually enhance some wines and retard spoilage.
You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy kosher wine. Many vegetarians opt for this type of wine, as animal products are forbidden in the clarification process. As for me, I still pick up some sweet wine for Passover and at least give it a try. It sure brings back the days.
2004 Baron Herzog Sauvignon Blanc; Sonoma, California $10 (Mevushal)
This wine is light and crisp with a bit of fruit and body brought forth by a touch of viognier. Simple and easy to enjoy with baked fish, cheese, or light vegetable side dishes.
2004 Weinstock White Zinfandel; California $7 (Mevushal)
A bit sweet but with some acid structure, this wine is a nice match with grilled vegetables and roasted chicken.
2001 Baron Philippe Mouton Cadet; Bordeaux, France $16 (NOT Mevushal)
A very agreeable Cabernet-Merlot blend form California that displays nice balance and depth. Pair with roasted beef, mushroom soup, and other hearty fare.
2004 Hagafen Pinot Noir; Napa Valley, California $30 (Mevushal)
A classic New World Pinot, with ripe berries and dark chocolate. This wine has soft tannins and a long finish. This wine is a perfect match with roasted salmon, poultry, or hard cheeses.