Kosher Wine – What Makes Wine Kosher?

If you are familiar with the fundamentals of kosher it may seem that all wine would be kosher wine.  After all, wine is generally made up of sugars, acidity, phenols and alcohol, all of which are kosher.  It would seem logical that wine would be.  But, it’s not really that easy.  A wine being certified kosher has much to do with who handles the wine.  The winemaking process has to be overseen by a Sabbath-observant Jew from start to finish.  That means from harvesting the grapes to the fermentation through the bottling process.  Occasionally a wine maker will use gelatin, a non-kosher product for a finings and that is prohibited.

Sometimes kosher wine is cooked or boiled and known as mevushal wine.  Kosher restaurants and caterers often use this wine because it remains kosher even if touched by a non-Jew.  Boiling the wine kills the mold on the grapes and further purifies it.  It also can adversely affect the flavor.  While it remains kosher, it may not be very appealing.  Flash pasteurization is a process that lets a wine remain kosher by killing any mold but has a minimal effect on flavor.

Even if boiling or flash pasteurization is used the entire process must still be overseen by a Jewish supervisor trained in the practice of keeping food kosher.  Once boiling or flash pasteurization is used and the wine is considered pure it can be aged in the traditional way and served by non-Jews.  Kosher wine is often produced by a winery that produces both kosher and non kosher wines.  Wineries catering to the Jewish market are well aware of the standards needed to make a wine kosher and they will go to great lengths to have their wines given the “hechsher”, the seal of approval.

Wine has been used in Judaism since biblical times and was widely produced in Israel until a prohibition era started in 636 AD when Israel came under Muslim rule.  Much later Jewish immigrants began producing kosher wine in New York using the sweet Concord grapes readily available.  Today areas such as Napa Valley, St-Emilion, and Israel are producers of fine kosher wine.   It is important to note that most wineries in the United States are fully automated and that wine made in this fashion is not classified as manufactured by non-Jews.  This leads to greater number of wines produced there to be considered kosher.

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