Not yet as reliable as death and taxes, every April one can count on being inundated with countless Passover-themed articles recommending a number of kosher wines just in time for the holiday. With nearly the same level of certainty, the vast majority of these will mention Manischewitz and marvel at how far kosher wine has come. Unfortunately for all these wine writers, this not only dates them, as there has been an abundance of quality kosher wine for decades, but it also shows how out of touch with reality they are given the vast quality options for those desiring to honor their Passover table(s) with some quality wine that will also satisfy the kosher requirements.
So “How is this Passover Wine Article Different from all others”? Below I will briefly explain the basic requirements in order for a wine to be qualified as kosher and will also list a few recommendations of quality kosher wines from around the world.
Given the countless misconceptions about kosher in general and kosher wine specifically, it likely makes sense to discuss all the things that kosher is not but that would leave precious little space for discussing the requirements and explaining that any wine can be made kosher and if one desired, almost any wine including Chateau d’Yquem and Mouton Rothschild could be produced as a kosher wine – without impacting the wine itself.
One thing worth noting is that wine doesn’t have to be blessed by a Rabbi to be kosher.
Kosher is the Hebrew word for “proper” or “right” and simply means the fulfillment of certain requirements. Some foods are inherently kosher – like vegetables or fruits (ex. grapes) – while others need to fulfill certain criteria in order to be eligible for kosher certification.
While there are many intricate details involving every aspect of the wine making process that are far beyond the scope of this article, I have set out below the basic concepts that will hopefully shed light on what it really means for a wine to be kosher (kosher wine isn’t and shouldn’t ever be referred to as, a category – they are simply wines that fulfill these requirements, like organic or vegan).
In order for a wine to be certified kosher it only needs to fulfill three requirements:
1. Certain agricultural requirements need to be met, most of which are only applicable for grapes grown in the land of Israel
As we all know – good wine starts in the vineyard and the same is true with the kosher process, which starts with observing the laws of Orlah which prohibits the use of grapes grown during the first three years of a vine’s life. As most vines don’t start to yield effective fruit until the third or fourth year, this isn’t really an issue for most wineries anyways.
Three other agricultural laws that pertain to the vineyards are applicable only in Israel – Teruma, Ma’aser and Shmita. The first two are historical remnants of an ancient agricultural system in which a certain portion of produce was given to the poor and the priests who served the people and Shmita which dictates that the land lay fallow every seven years – a sort of sabbatical for the farmer and the land.
In modern times Teruma and Ma’aser are replaced with contributing a certain amount of money to charity in lieu of the grapes (a system utilized in ancient times by large land owners where distribution of so much produce would have been difficult from a practical perspective) and Shmita, which is handled in a myriad of complex and intricate ways which are far beyond the scope of this article. While it is applicable only to Israel, a significant portion of kosher wine available today comes from Israel and due to the various intricacies of the laws of Shmita (and the various workarounds), the availability outside of Israel for Shmita vintage wines (recent Shmita vintages are 2015, 2008 and 2001) is significantly limited. Thankfully (and as you will see from my recommendations below) there is plenty of top-tier kosher wine being produced from other wine-growing countries around the globe to slake our collective thirst during those leaner Shmita years.
2. The wine can only be made with kosher ingredients; this includes the yeasts, fining agents, acid, etc.
The next part of ensuring a wine can retain its kosher moniker is abstaining from using any non-kosher ingredients in the winemaking process (or the wine itself). While wine does not (yet) have to list ingredients on its label; as you may know there are a number of items besides grapes that go into the magical conversion of grapes to wine including yeast, acid and certain fining agents (not to mention certain bonding and sealing agents used with the barrels, corks and other aspects of the process). All of these are available in kosher versions and most present an issue only in connection with Passover when additional restrictions arise (during Passover certain grains and leavening products are prohibited). With wine presenting such an integral part of the Passover holiday, the vast majority of wines (and all fine wine) is made kosher for Passover, enabling it to be consumer both on Passover and all year round (where the level of kosher stringency is lower).
3. The wine must be handled (and supervised) from crush to bottling only by Sabbath observant Jews – this means Jews that keep Shabbat.
The last aspect of enabling a wine to be kosher is also the one that prevents the majority of wine in the world from being kosher. In order for wine to be considered kosher it needs to be handled from crush to bottling by Sabbath-observant Jews. From the moment the grapes arrive at the winery until the final product is bottled, corked and sealed, Sabbath-observant Jews only can come into direct contact with the wine. When the owners and/or winemakers aren’t Jewish (as is the case with the vast majority of wineries around the world – including those producing kosher wine) let alone Sabbath observant, this can be cumbersome and complicated, especially in areas where there are lower concentrations of Sabbath-observant Jews like Rioja, Burgundy and Alsace. This also entails extra cost to “import” such labor (which is in addition to the cost of certification). When a winery decides to start producing kosher wine (either exclusively or in limited “runs” as is more common outside of Israel) it is almost always an economical decision driven by obtaining access to a new and fast-growing market of consumers interested in fine wine whose availability continues to grow.
Demystifying Wines That Are Mevushal
One additional aspect of kosher wine that is also responsible for a lot of related misconception and historical negative reputation is the term Mevushal. In addition to being labeled kosher, some wines carry this additional notation which translates from Hebrew as cooked and is the main source for the misconception that all kosher wine is boiled.
In ancient pagan societies, it was customary to tithe a bit of wine to the gods before imbibing. As participating in pagan rituals was frowned upon by Jewish law, boiling the wine ensured it was safe as this rendered it inappropriate for pagan tithing.
In modern times where pagan worship has, for the most part, been eliminated, making the wine mevushal enables it to be handled (after bottling) by non Jews (necessary at functions and in restaurants where the waiters and servers may not be Sabbath-observant Jews). Modern technology has enabled the boiling to be replaced with rapid flash pasteurization which, when done properly, can have limited or no impact, especially in the short term – though longer-term aging is still impacted.
Listed below are a few recommended wines across four different price points, all of which I think you’ll enjoy and most of which are widely available wherever you might be. I have broken them down into Under $18, between $18-$30, $30-$50 and finally what I refer to as Moshiach Wines, which are wines I would be honored to serve the messiah if he were to grace my Seder Table.
As you will see, they range across the entire spectrum from Champagne and Rosé to bone-dry Sauvignon Blanc and Mediterranean varietals such as Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot hailing from wine-growing regions around the globe including the Judean Hills, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, Chile, Montsant and others.
For additional recommendations, please check out my annual Passover Wine Buying Guide with additional recommendations in each of the categories.
Enjoy and Happy Passover.
- Capcanes, Peraj Petita, 2014
- Cotes de Galilee Village, Jacques Capsouto Vignobles, Cuvee Eva Blanc, 2014
- Golan Heights Winery, Gilgal, Brut, n.v.
- Tabor, Adama, Merlot, 2014
- Terrenal, Seleccionado, Red Wine, 2014 – Only Available At Trader Joe’s
- Covenant, Lavan, Chardonnay, 2014
- Damien Gachot-Monot, Bourgogne, 2010
- Elvi, Herenza, Rioja, Crianza, 2010
- Flam, Blanc, 2014
- Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Petite Sirah, 2013
- Domaine du Castel, Petite Castel, 2013
- Drappier, Carte D’Or, Brut, n.v.
- Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Petit Verdot, 2013
- Shirah, Bro-Duex, 2013
- Yatir, Petit Verdot, 2010
- Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien, 2005
- Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012
- Domaine du Castel, Grand Vin, 2013
- Flam, Noble, 2011
- Matar, CB, 2013