Until recently, the only time I’d tasted kosher wine was as a guest at a Passover seder. My hosts opened an inky, elegant cabernet sauvignon. Still, conjecture about kosher wine persists: Isn’t it boiled? Isn’t it expensive? Isn’t it often terrible?
The reason for this last assertion goes back to kosher wine’s association with Concord-grape based wines such as Manischewitz, as well as awkward early attempts to brand itself as fine wine. “When I started [in wine] in 1965, the only wines you could get were the traditional wines from Israel that were not very good,” said Michael Douglas, senior adviser at Syosset’s Post Wine and Spirits. “Kosher wines have since made tremendous strides in quality.”
Fifty years on, Post Wine’s kosher wine selection stretches across half a wall and includes wines not only from Israel but Italy, Chile and elsewhere, as well as varietals ranging from syrah to chardonnay. To earn the kosher label, these wines were handled by Sabbath-observant Jewish males from grape-crushing to bottling, made using kosher tools and ingredients — including barrels — and overseen by a rabbi. (All of this can push up the price.) For a wine to be certified kosher for Passover, the wine’s yeasts must not have come from grains, which are forbidden during the holiday. Look for emblems on the labels.
Some of these wines are “boiled,” also known as mevushal, so that they are rendered safe for pouring by non-Jews. These days, that task is often accomplished via flash pasteurization, which many wine professionals insist does not alter a wine’s profile.
Mevushal or not, there are more kosher wines than ever to choose from — and trends in the wine world show up in kosher wine, too. “Kosher rosés are very hot,” said Moshe Fink, owner of Chateau du Vin in Cedarhurst, which sells only kosher wine and spirits. Some of the store’s newest bottlings also include kosher wine made in Monroe, New York.