Did you know:
- 30% of Israeli wine brands are certified kosher, but they produce over 90% of the Israel wine industry’s output.
- Wineries around the world craft special runs of kosher wine that meet the specifications.
- All kosher California wine is made by fully kosher wineries such as Herzog Wine Cellars, Covenant and Hagafen with one exception: Marciano Estate’s “Terra Gratia.”
- Passover dinners feature red wine because that’s what Jews used during their Seders after they escaped Egypt.
- Kosher wines range in price from $5- $500 with the average price at $25.
- Bartenura produces the largest selling imported Italian Moscato in the U.S. — and while it is kosher, only a small fraction of the 5,000,000 blue bottles go to the kosher market.
- Founded in 1848, Royal Wine Corp. has been owned and operated in the United States by the Herzog family, whose winemaking roots go back eight generations to its origin in Czechoslovakia; Sue and I visited Herzog last summer and wrote about it here.
As the Kosher world of wine expands with increased demands, exports and enthusiasm, you may be wondering:
Where can I taste some of these kosher wines?
What makes them special?
What’s the difference between kosher and non- kosher wine?
“When it comes to taste, there’s no difference between kosher and non-kosher wine,” says Jay Buchsbaum, Executive VP Marketing and Director of Wine Education at Royal Wine Corp. — the most important kosher wine source in America. “In fact, many kosher wines are award winning – beating out their non-kosher competitors for top varietal prizes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and rosés as well.”
What makes kosher wine “special” is that strict purity guidelines must be followed during the winemaking process while the grapes are in the winery. All ingredients used, including yeasts and fining agents (which remove of organic compounds to improve clarity or adjust flavor/aroma) must be kosher.
Some wines are also “Mevushal” which means “cooked” in Hebrew: the must or grape juice is heated prior to fermentation or prior to bottling in order to. Kosher certification means a specially-trained rabbi is responsible for supervision during the process. This strict rabbinical supervision in the winemaking process now occurs in countries around the world including South Africa, Chile, Canada, Israel, France, California, Spain, and Italy.
Other than these restrictions, kosher winemaking is basically the same as any other winemaking.
Drinking wine can be a Mitzvah (good deed).
Kosher wine is prescribed for use in many Jewish rituals: Bris Milah (circumcision), the wedding chuppa (canopy), and the Kiddush that starts all Sabbath and holiday meals. While most occasions call for just one cup, on the holiday of Purim, wine (in abundance) is the beverage of choice for the festive meal, recalling wine’s significant role in the “banquets” described in the Megillah story. On Passover, Jews are required to drink four cups of wine at the Seder. Jay Buchsbaum has helped guide the Royal Wine Co. for more than 30 years.*Fining agents are substances that are usually added at or near the completion of the processing of brewing wine, beer, and various nonalcoholic juice beverages. Their purpose is for removal of organic compounds; either to improve clarity or adjust flavor/aroma.
So where and how can you taste these wines?
Last year, my friend Karen and I attended the Kosher Food Wine Experience at the Petersen Automobile in the mid-Wilshire District of LA. After tasting a number of wines as well as spirits, we explored the Museum and then spoke at length with one of the vendors about kosher meat. We ended up staying for the evening consumer event and came away with a sense that this is one of the premier food and wine events to attend in LA — especially if you keep kosher and even if you do not! After attending this event, tasting Lebanese wine, plus now two samples, I’ve really been wowed by wines from the middle east. There’s a long history of French colonization and winemaking history there, and today, many of these historic vineyards are being rehabbed and appreciated.
The Kosher Food Wine Experience in LA this year is Weds. Feb 7; there are sister events around the world: in NYC (today Mon. Feb. 5), Miami, Tel Aviv, London (Jan. 31), and Atlanta to expose these acclaimed wine and spirits from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Israel, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia and the United States to more people. Over 300 wines as well as finely crafted spirits from around the world are available to taste alongside the best kosher cuisine on the West Coast with chefs from across Southern California dazzling foodies with inspired and beautifully composed dishes. Tickets to this kosher event cost $125 and include wine, food, tax and souvenir wine glass.
2013 – Carmel Limited Edition -#9527 of 10,000 – 14.5% alcohol SRP $70 (sample)
Cabernet Sauvignon, 70% Petit verdot, 14% malbec, 12%, Cabernet Franc 4%
Founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of Château Lafite-Rothschild, this Bordeaux style wine from Carmel pays tribute to its origins. Made from grapes grown in various Upper Galilee vineyards, after fermentation and maceration on its skins, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 16 months. With the continued impact of global warming, we wonder how much longer will this region be able to continue to produce winemaking grapes which would be a shame because I find the earthy texture and rich fruit in this wine quite lovely.
We paired this wine with light appetizers of hummus, baba ganosh, assorted cured olives, and pita bread, and later with a filet mignon with blue cheese. For dessert, assorted rugelach.
Color: purplish red, dense with a translucent rim of rose,
Nose: robust nose, dense rich and complex; tannins and spice, herbal, vegetal, right up Sue’s alley, the Cab Franc really shines through
Palate: lengthy finish, bell pepper, herbs, earth, carob, cocoa nibs. Sue tasted the cab franc through and through on this wine as the rich herbal bell peppers resonated on her palate while I enjoyed the cocoa nibs. Most memorable for me was the earthy texture and minerals on the palate, very distinct; I am looking forward to trying more Israeli wines to see how this might be a recognizable element of the terroir.
A resounding “Wow” came out of my mouth when I tasted it with hummus. And of course it was excellent with filet mignon.
As we have learned, when you pair the food of the region to the place where the grapes are grown and the wines are made, it usually is complete harmony. Of course the steak was a beautiful pairing, but when it came to dessert, I felt the cinnamon walnut rugelach went best with the wine. Sue agreed, but she liked it with the chocolate the best, which made me think about pairing it with chicken mole. It would also go well with Osso Bucco –go with rich complex meats to pair with this rich complex wine but don’t be surprised if you love it with humous!
Overall, this is a surprising wine. Of course, a wine at this price point should be excellent. This one is indeed very special– and not just because it is kosher.
IF you can’t check out the Kosher Food Wine Experience, do check out Israeli wine!