Posts Tagged ‘kosher wine’

Pass Over the Manischewitz

April 20th, 2011 No comments

Manischewitz kosher wineDuring this year’s Passover, some of you will probably have a glass of Manischewitz, a peculiarly sweet kosher wine often associated with Passover.  There are, however, kosher alternatives to Manischewitz many people are unaware of (Unless you’ve read our previous post on kosher wine!).  The idea that all kosher wines are eminently sweet is simply untrue.  When kosher wines (like Manischewitz) were first made in America, the incoming Jewish population had little time–and few resources–to produce wine quickly for religious holidays, as well as the regular Kiddush ritual.  Since Jewish immigrants also tended to settle in areas that were not conducive to growing grapes, early kosher winemakers in America had but a handful of varietals at their disposal.  Because of limited time, tools, and grapes, the resulting wine was often less-than ideal, so it was sweetened until palatable (It often came to this, or drinking a raisin wine!).  From there, all it took was one generation in America to associate kosher wines with sweetness.  During passover, Manischewitz is still sweetened with cane sugar.

The majority of European kosher wines, on the other hand, are not sweetened.  They also tend to incorporate more grape varietals.  It’s possible to pick up a decent bottle of kosher Cabernet, Bordeaux, Merlot, and even Pino Grigio!   Though kosher wine has tended to be slightly lighter in body and color than non-kosher wine, with today’s advances in winemaking technology this “lightness” is quickly disappearing.  Examine a glass of Fernandez de Arcaya Galdiano Alate Navarra 2006, for example, to see a delightful Tempranillo with excellent color!  Though tradition may dictate a glass or two of sweetened Manischewitz this Passover, the larger world of kosher wine is certainly worth exploring.  May you and your family  be delightfully surprised by today’s abundance of quality, kosher wines!

Categories: Purchasing Wine Tags: ,

The Spiel on Kosher Wine

September 16th, 2010 No comments

A bottle of kosher wine

Kosher wine’s got a bad rap.  But is it deserved?

A decade ago, there weren’t very many wine options available to observant Jews.  There was really only one choice: Manischevitz, a syrupy, sickly-sweet wine made from Concord grapes.  Concord grapes are typically only used to make three things: grape jelly, grape juice, and–you guessed it–kosher wine.  Needless to say, this isn’t the ideal wine grape.  Unfortunately, this cough syrup-excuse for a wine became synonymous with kosher, and the reputation of kosher wines has suffered ever since.

But in reality, there’s no reason that kosher wines have to be any worse than any other wine.  In fact, many of them can be just as good.  Let me explain:

Kosher wine can be grown from the same grapes, harvested the same way, as any other wine.  The difference is in the production: to be kosher, the grapes must be handled only by Sabbath-observing Jews.  A rabbi or specially-trained supervisor must oversee the whole process, and no winemaking can be done on the Sabbath.

Kosher wines also can’t have any non-kosher ingredients.  This can (but doesn’t necessarily) mean that things like casein (which comes from dairy products, gelatin (from non-kosher animals) and isinglass (from non-kosher fish) won’t be in the wine.  They are replaced with kosher substitutes.

At Passover, there are two kinds of kosher wine which may be served: meshuval and non-meshuval.  The Jewish faith dictates that non-meshuval wines must only be handled by Jews if it is to maintain its integrity.  This stems from the long history wine has played in many non-Jewish religions; according to Jewish law, wine isn’t kosher if it might have been used for “idolatry.”

Meshuval wine is wine that has been treated and is thus considered safe to drink, no matter who has handled it.  In the past, this was achieved through boiling the wine, which completely changed the wine’s chemical structure and so, its taste.  This is another reason kosher wine has such a bad reputation.  However, modern-day flash-pasteurization techniques ensure that the wine is meshuval without damaging it.

So technically, there really isn’t that big of a difference between kosher and non-kosher wines.  Kosher wines can be made from the same great grapes, processed nearly the same way, as any other wines.  Kosher wines have experienced huge increases in popularity over the last few years, and their ratings have been steadily climbing.  So don’t be afraid of kosher wine…just stay far away from that cough syrup stuff.  L’chaim!  (“Cheers” in Hebrew.)

Wines for Easter

March 28th, 2010 No comments

The Easter Bunny is hopping our way, bringing with him (or is it her?) eggs, chocolates, and of course, a big Easter feast. Whether you view Easter as a meaningful religious event, the day that frees you from your Lenten sacrifice, or simply as a time to get together with family and friends and celebrate springtime, Easter always involves a great meal.  And if you’re reading this blog, to you, a great meal calls for great wines.

Ham is one of the most traditional Easter dishes.  Ham’s dominant flavors are saltiness and, especially if your ham is glazed, sweetness.  Ham calls for a wine that can cut through those strong flavors without overwhelming the more delicate flavors of the actual meat.

Highly acidic wines are your best choice.  Wines that also fall on the sweeter side can be great choices too, because nothing balances salty flavors better than sweet ones.  But be careful–if your ham is glazed, the combination of sweet glaze and sweet wine could be too much for your guests to handle–and if they’re overwhelmed with sweet flavors, they won’t be able to enjoy their Easter candy!

Riesling and Gewurztraminer are classic choices for a reason–their crisp and acidic but delicate natures make them the perfect companion to ham.  If you aren’t looking for a sweet wine, make sure that the bottle you’re choosing is dry–many wines of both varietals are sweet.  A Pinot Grigio or a lightly-oaked Chardonnay could also be good choices to accompany ham, so if one of those varietals is your favorite, don’t be afraid to serve it.

Tender, flavorful spring lamb is also a popular choice for the Easter meal.  Lamb is earthy yet delicate, with a powerful, lasting flavor.  Lamb is made for red wine.  The perfect red can vary with the method of preparation and cut of meat you’re using.  Sauteed veal medallions will require a more delicate red than roasted rack of lamb.  Grilled lamb (and grilling is a great way to celebrate the beginning of nice weather and capture the fresh nature of springtime) needs a wine that can stand up to the smokey and charcoal-y flavors it creates.

Bordeaux is the classic pairing for lamb, and it’s a good choice that will match well with this meat no matter how you are preparing it.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Malbec can also be great choices.  Look for a wine with the structure (read: tannins) and finish to handle the strong flavors of lamb without overpowering it.

If you’re celebrating a traditional Passover or will have a Jewish guest in attendance, you might be thinking about Kosher wines to serve.  You’ll be happy to learn that kosher wines have moved on from that sweet, syrupy grape juice stuff that was the only available choice in the past.  Kosher wines today are produced around the world and in all classic varietals.  Because of kosher wines’ bad reputation, the good ones often won’t advertise the fact on the label.  Look for the U in a circle, meaning kosher, or the U in a circle followed by the letter P, which means that the wine is kosher for Passover (its makers had to adhere to ever stricter standards).  These symbols will usually be located on the back label.

Whatever you’re serving or whomever you’re serving it to, there are great Easter wine options out there.  Happy Easter!