Kosher wine is traditional Jewish wine made with either the grape, black cherry, blackberry, purple plum, logan berry, black raspberry, strawberry, apple, rhubarb, or black currant fruit, or any combination of these and may include various spices as well as other ingredients.
The transliterated Hebrew word "Kasher" means "Kosher" in English which in turn means either "fit" or "proper". To say that something is Kasher or Kosher means that it conforms to the dietary laws of Kashrut, or Kosher dietary laws within Jewish law. Jewish law in general is known in Hebrew as Halakhah or Halachah.
Today, in most cases, Kosher wine is exactly the same as Passover Wine or Kosher For Passover Wine as long as the bottle of kosher wine is sealed and the entire manufacturing process for the kosher wine adheres not only to the laws of kashrut or kosher laws in Jewish law, but also to the additional Jewish laws for Passover / Pesach. To read more about Kosher For Passover wine or Kosher For Pesach wine, just head on over to the following page: Passover Wine or Kosher For Passover Wine.
Requirements For Making Kosher Wine According To Jewish Law
Kosher wine is wine that has been exclusively produced by Shabbat or Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males, who are under the strict supervision of a qualified Orthodox rabbi for the entire process. In other words, from the grape-crushing phase up to and including the bottling phase, only Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males can touch the grapes / wine. In addition, all the ingredients used in making kosher wine must fall into the category of being kosher ingredients according to Jewish law. This means that no animal products or by-products can be used in the making of kosher wine such as gelatin, a meat product, or eggs, a dairy product, which are normally used as clarifying agents for making non-kosher wines. Rather, a mineral clarifier is used when making kosher wines.
All the tools, equipment, storage areas and barrels for the kosher wine must be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized three times and maintained as such to achieve and retain their kosher status according to Jewish law and be used exclusively for making and storing kosher wines. This is done either by using modern steam cleaners and/or scalding hot water, and, when necessary, blowtorches. All wine barrels are either brand new or used exclusively for making kosher wines. Of course, wine barrels that were used in making non-kosher wines cannot be used for making kosher wines. Even turning valves on and off must be exclusively handled by Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males. In short, any activity related to the production of kosher wine must be exclusively handled by Sabbath-observing Orthodox Jewish males.
If the winery is owned and operated by non-Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males, they must hire Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males when making kosher wine, whereupon the Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males take over the entire wine-making process for kosher wine while the regular workers watch from the sidelines. If the winery is not exclusively kosher, then the highly qualified rabbi that is hired to supervise the making of kosher wine must first kosherize or kasher all the equipment that will be used in making the kosher wine. Depending on the size of the winery, this could mean that one or more highly qualified rabbis and/or other Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males may be employed for this task.
Furthermore, following Jewish laws regarding grape harvesting, grapes cannot be harvested from vineyard vines that are less than four years old; after the removal of all third-year grapes has been completed, the first harvest of grapes occurs in the fourth year, and then starting from the fourth year, the fields in the vineyard must be left fallow (meaning the field is left unplowed and unseeded during a growing season) every seventh year according to the laws regarding the Jewish agricultural calendrical cycle; also, no planting between the rows of vines in the vineyard is permitted at any time. Finally, the ancient Jewish laws of tithing must be fulfilled for the wine to be kosher wine, and so all wines are tithed to fulfill the "Teruma and Ma'aser" requirements, which are specific, religiously prescribed quantities that are to be tithed; specifically, 10% of the produce of each Hebrew/Jewish household. Since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in either 68 C.E. or 70 C.E. by the Romans, only a remnant amount of this tithe has been given, and since there is no Temple in Jerusalem, the remnant tithe is simply discarded, meaning 1% of the kosher wine must be discarded immediately after its production. Therefore, supervision of the wine-making process in Israel begins with the planting of the vines in the vineyard or vineyards in the first year of the vines.
All the aforementioned requirements for making kosher wine apply to kosher wines that are made in Israel; for kosher wines made outside Israel, only three of these requirements must be followed: that the grapes and resulting kosher wine must be exclusively handled by Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males, from the grape-crushing phase up to and including the bottling phase, that all the ingredients used in making kosher wine must of course be kosher, and that all the tools, equipment, and storage areas for the kosher wine must be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized and maintained as such to achieve and retain their kosher status according to Jewish law and be used exclusively for making and storing kosher wines. Even the cork stoppers used for many bottles - especially for the more prestigious kosher wines - must be kosher certified by being manufactured with kosher-certified materials, tools, and equipment and the production supervised and handled exclusively by a qualified rabbi and by other Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males. The advantage of cork is that it can allow the wine to breathe because it is a porous material, and so kosher winemakers use oak cork for their more prestigious kosher wines.
Once the wine is sealed, it can be handled by anyone until the seal is opened. Absolutely no perservatives, additives, or coloring can be used for the production of kosher wines. Thereafter, only a Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish man can touch and handle the wine for it remain kosher. The reasons for this derive from Temple times, where wine was used for pagan worship, and to protect the Jewish community and its religious and social culture, the Talmudic Sages wanted to prevent any Jewish person from using wine that could otherwise have been used for pagan worship by issuing a ban on the use of all wines that were not cooked or boiled. Since wine that was cooked or boiled rendered the wine unfit for pagan worship, then this type of wine was distinguished from the wine used by pagans, and so the Talmudic Sages only permitted the use of cooked or boiled wine by Jewish people.
There are two types of kosher wine: Mevushal kosher wine and non-Mevushal kosher wine.
Mevushal kosher wine, as mentioned, is wine juice that in Temple times was boiled or cooked to distinguish wine used by Jewish people from wine that was used by people of other faiths or pagans who used non-boiled or non-cooked wine for religious rituals. Although non-boiled or non-cooked wine - whether used or potentially used for pagan worship - as well as even those non-boiled or non-cooked wines that were not designated for pagan worship - were banned for use by Jewish people by the Talmudic Sages, wine which was boiled or cooked rendered the wine unfit for pagan rituals, and so this type of wine was permitted for use by Jewish people by the Talmudic Sages. Nowadays, however, Mevushal wine is wine juice that may still be cooked or boiled but most often is now flash pasteurized to a temperature that Jewish law considers appropriate for the wine juice to be called cooked or boiled; for instance, a temperature of 203 degrees Fahrenheit (95 degrees Celsius) for a few seconds to better preserve the quality and structure of the wine as it was in its non-Mevushal state, whereupon the flash pasteurization process is followed by rapid cooling of the wine. The wine juice of Mevushal kosher wines can also be cooked or boiled by being heated to a temperature of either 175 degrees Fahrenheit (79.44 degrees Celsius) or 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 degrees Celsius) - depending on the authoritative rabbinical opinion one follows - for one minute, followed by a rapid cooling of the wine. Mevushal kosher wine - once produced - is wine that can be handled - meaning opened and served - by anyone, whether Jewish (Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish male or non-Sabbath-observing Jewish male or female) or from another faith - and according to Jewish law, this type of wine will remain kosher regardless of who handles it.
Non-Mevushal kosher wine, like Mevushal kosher wine, can only be created by Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males under the strict supervision of a qualified Orthodox rabbi for the duration of this process, and in conditions that are completely sterilized. After the kosher wine is sealed, both Mevushal kosher wines and non-Mevushal kosher wines can be handled by anyone. However, once the seal is opened, Mevushal kosher wines can still be handled and served by anyone with the Mevushal wine remaining kosher, but based on the ancient ban Talmudic Sages placed on all non-boiled or non-cooked wines for use by Jewish people in order to safeguard them against using the same type of wine that was used by pagans and to prevent them from possibly using the non-Mevushal or non-cooked or non-boiled kosher wine for pagan rituals, all non-Mevushal kosher wines can now only be handled and served by Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish men in order for the non-Mevushal kosher wine to remain kosher.
Most kosher wines produced in the United States are Mevushal wines to safeguard against the kosher wine being touched and handled by non-Sabbath-observing Jewish people and those of other faiths which would otherwise render the kosher wine non-kosher. However, in Israel, there are more non-Mevushal wines available since there is a much better chance that the non-Mevushal kosher wine will remain in the hands of Sabbath-observing Orthodox-Jewish males from the time of its bottling up to and including the time that the kosher wine is drunk.
How is kosher wine made?
In a nutshell, the process of making kosher wine is as follows: after the grapes have been brought to the wine-processing plant or winery and then dumped into machines to be destemmed and then crushed and processed using enzymes and then run through a pulp-pressing machine to extract the juice, the pits and skins of the grapes are then removed. To reduce the amount of sediment from the pulp that remains after this processing, the juice is put through a filter to reduce the sediment to an amount suitable for making the kosher wine, about one percent or two percent of the juice. Next, fermentation of the juice using kosher-approved yeast to convert the juice into wine by converting the sugar of the juice into alcohol takes place, a process that can take anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks. Following the fermentation process, kosher wine is produced. Near or at the end of the wine-making process, kosher-approved fining ingredients (such as clay bentonite) are used to either improve the clarity of the kosher wine / juice or to adjust either the aroma or the flavor of the kosher wine / juice. In this process, organic compounds are removed from the wine to achieve these adjustments. In many kosher wineries, the resulting kosher wine is then aged in doubly sealed wooden barrels for 3 to 4 years, but in many cases, the kosher wine is placed in wooden barrels, doubly sealed, and aged anywhere from 6 months to 30 years. After the kosher wine is taken out of the wooden barrels and bottled, most kosher wines continue to age in the bottle in order to develop their distinctive flavor.
Kosher wines that are developed to be high quality wines are placed in and aged in oak barrels because oak serves to enhance the layers of aromas or fragrances as well as the flavors of the wine or in other words, the "bouquet" of the wine. The types of aromas or fragrances and the flavors of the kosher wine when it is placed in the oak barrels will depend on the origin of the oak wood as well as the way in which the oak barrel was made. For instance, brand-new oak barrels are used for storing and aging high-quality kosher wines. The flavor of vanilla is given off from new oak barrels as well as the smell of freshly-cut wood and adds organic compounds called tannins which strengthens the complexity of high-quality kosher wine, enabling it to be suitable for aging. However, not all kosher wine is placed in wooden barrels as is the case for kosher wineries in New York State, where the kosher wine is placed in doubly sealed stainless steel tanks for aging. After periodic taste-testing of the kosher wine by the qualified rabbi in charge of the wine-making process, who also first makes sure that the seals have not been tampered with, and reapplies a new seal after he has broken it to taste the kosher wine to determine its status, when the kosher wine is ready to be be bottled, the qualified rabbi in charge of the wine-making process must be present to oversee the entire bottling process as well.
Making a kosher wine Mevushal through the process of flash pasteurization of the kosher wine is not a requirement in Jewish law but is done to provide extra assurance that the wine will be kosher wine. Flash pasteurizing the wine is based on an ancient rabbinical Jewish law which required Jews to cook or boil wine in order to distinguish it from wine used for religious purposes by pagans, which was uncooked or unboiled wine. Today, most but not all kosher wines are flash cooked or flash boiled. The kosher wine is flash pasteurized after the wine juice is processed and left with about 1 to 2 percent of sediment and before the fermentation process takes place. However, most Mevushal or cooked or boiled kosher wines lose some taste quality after being flash pasteurized, and being aged in the bottle will not improve this taste quality to the point of regaining the loss in taste quality. Despite this loss in taste quality, once the kosher wine is flash pasteurized, it can be handled by anyone, regardless of whether or not they observe the Sabbath.
Over the years, however, technology has helped overcome the limitations in taste quality that occur when flash pasteurizing kosher wine to make it Mevushal wine to the point where it is impossible to taste the difference between Mevushal wine and non-Mevushal wine on a consistent basis.
What is the difference between kosher wine and Kosher for Passover wine ?
There is a common misperception that one is prohibited from drinking any wine during Passover because wine is made using yeast for fermentation purposes, both of which are forbidden during Passover / Pesach. Well, I hope I don't ruin your day, but fermentation is not prohibited, and as for the yeast, yeast itself is also not prohibited. However, when it comes to producing yeast, the type of ingredient that is used to produce yeast may or may not be prohibited for use during Passover / Pesach as you shall discover in the following paragraph.
First off, Kosher for Passover wine is a subset of kosher wine as long as the kosher wine was not made with and does not consist of and has never come into contact with products and/or by-products derived from any of the five grains that are forbidden for use during Passover / Pesach (barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat) and is unopened, based on the previous explanation of non-Mevushal kosher wine always being kosher as long as it is unopened; we already know that Mevushal wine is always kosher whether it is opened or not opened. Kosher for Passover wine includes all the requirements necessary to make kosher wine plus some additional restrictions. For instance, the yeast used to make Kosher for Passover wine may be from any type of yeast with the exception of yeast produced from one of the five forbidden grains during Passover/Pesach - those grains are: barely, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat. Therefore, yeast and fermentation are not banned for Passover/Pesach, just the five aforementioned grains and anything derived from them. Yeast grown from either sugar or fruit are but two examples of yeast that are permitted to be used for making Kosher for Passover wine. Ashkenazi Jews (Jews whose ancestors came from either Central, Northwestern, and/or Eastern Europe) have further food restrictions for Passover/Pesach, known in Hebrew as kitniyot (Kitniyot means either "bits", "small things", or "little things" in Hebrew), and so yeast or any other wine ingredient derived from kitniyot cannot be used by Ashkenazi Jews in making Kosher for Passover wine. Furthermore, many common preservatives are forbidden to be used in making Kosher for Passover wine, an example being potassium sorbate. With kosher wine, the five aforementioned grains as well as kitniyot foods are permitted to be used. The only instance where any of the five aforementioned grains are permitted to be used for Passover/Pesach is when one makes matzo, in which case any one of the five aforementioned grains must be used in its production. Since matzo is unleavened bread, it does not matter if any of these five grains are used.
So, to summarize, Kosher for Passover wines are a subset of kosher wines as long as the kosher wines were made without ever having come into contact with products or by-products containing or derived from any of the five forbidden grains (barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat) and the grains themselves, and are in unopened bottles. It therefore follows that not all kosher wines are Kosher for Passover wines since in some cases kosher wines are made with ingredients that are prohibited during Passover / Pesach such as the five forbidden grains and any other additives or preservatives that derive from those grains, but all Kosher for Passover wines are kosher wines provided the kosher wines are unopened and never consisted of, nor were made with, and never came into contact with any of the five aforementioned grains or products and by-products derived from them. It therefore makes sense for winemakers to produces lines of wine that are both kosher and Kosher for Passover to save on additional costs that would result from having to produce separate lines of both kosher wine and Kosher for Passover wine. I hope I made your day by clearing this up. :)
Kosher wineries exist wherever grapes are grown. Leading Israeli kosher wineries in alphabetical order include Castel, Yatir, and Yarden, followed by Carmel, and Galil Mountain. In terms of location, wines from Israel come from, in alphabetical order, the Galilee, Golan Heights, the hills of Jerusalem, the Negev Desert, Samson, and Shomron. In the United States, kosher wineries and grape-growers for kosher wineries are located in California just north of Napa on the Silverado Trail and in Rutherford, both located in the Napa Valley; in Santa Cruz in the Santa Cruz Mountains; the Edna Valley; in Oxnard; and in Santa Maria; in the state of New York (in the Hudson Valley), in the State of Washington, Michigan, and Illinois, in addition to other states. In other countries, kosher wineries are located in Argentina, Australia, Canada (Whitbourne, Newfoundland, near St. John's; Toronto, Ontario, Aylmer, Ontario, as well as Alvinston, Ontario), Chile, Estonia, France (especially Southern France), the Republic of Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Turkey.
Most kosher wines have traditionally been red in color, and very sweet, or thin and devoid of flavor or at best, semi-dry. Since the mid-1980's, premium kosher wines have been produced, and through the 1990's, the variety, caliber, quality, and scope of kosher wines has grown. In the 2000's, there has been an explosion of fine kosher wines with new vineyards being established in many of the aforementioned countries in the hope that they will produce the next memorable line of kosher wines.