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Kosher wine

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Kosher wine (Hebrew: יין כשר, yayin kashér) is grape wine produced according to Judaism's religious law, specifically, Jewish dietary laws (kashrut).

To be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must be involved in the entire winemaking process and any ingredients used, including finings, must be kosher. Wine that is described as "kosher for Passover" must have been kept free from contact with grain, bread and dough.

When kosher wine is produced, marketed and sold commercially to Orthodox Jews, it must have the hechsher ("seal of approval") of a supervising agency or organization (such as the "OU" sign of the Orthodox Union), or of an authoritative rabbi who is preferably also a posek ("decisor" of Jewish law) or be supervised by a beth din ("Jewish religious court of law") according to Orthodox Judaism.

In recent times, there has been an increased demand for kosher wines and a number of wine producing countries now produce a wide variety of sophisticated kosher wines under strict rabbinical supervision, particularly in Israel, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, and Australia. Two of the world's largest producers and importers of kosher wines, Kedem and Manischewitz, are both based in the Northeastern United States.

In Israel, most of the wine produced and consumed from the 1880s was sweet, kosher wine when the Carmel Winery was established, until the 1980s, when more dry or semi-dry wines began to be produced and consumed after the introduction of the Golan Heights Winery’s first vintage. The winery was the first to focus on planting and making wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, white Riesling and Gewürztraminer. These wines are kosher and have won silver and gold medals in international competitions.


The use of wine has a long history in Judaism, dating back to biblical times. Archeological evidence shows that wine was produced throughout ancient Israel. The traditional and religious use of wine continued within the Jewish diaspora community. In the United States, kosher wines came to be associated with sweet Concord wines produced by wineries founded by Jewish immigrants to New York. Beginning in the 1980s, a trend towards producing dry, premium-quality kosher wines began with the revival of the Israeli wine industry. Today kosher wine is produced not only in Israel but throughout the world, including premium wine areas like Napa Valley and the St-Emilion region of Bordeaux.

Requirements for being kosher

Because of wine's special role in many non-Jewish religions, the kashrut laws specify that wine cannot be considered kosher if it might have been used for idolatry. These laws include Yayin Nesekh (יין נסך) -wine that has been poured to an idol; Stam Yainom-wine that has been touched by someone who believes in idolatry or produced by non-Jews. When kosher wine is yayin mevushal ("יין מבושל" - "cooked" or "boiled"), it becomes unfit for idolatrous use and will keep the status of kosher wine even if subsequently touched by an idolater.

While none of the ingredients that makes up wine (alcohol, sugars, acidity and phenols) is considered non-kosher, the kashrut laws involving wine are concerned more with who handles the wine and what they use to make it. To be considered kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew must be involved in the entire winemaking process from the harvesting of the grapes, through fermentation to bottling. Any ingredients used, including finings, must be kosher. This requirement can exclude certain fining agents, such as casein (which is derived from dairy products), gelatin (which is commonly derived from non-kosher animals) and isinglass (which comes from non-kosher fish). Egg whites can be used in the clarification of kosher wine but would not be appropriate for vegan kosher wine.

Wine that is described as "kosher for Passover" must have been kept free from contact with grain, bread and dough.

Mevushal wines

As mentioned above, when kosher wine is mevushal (מבושל—"cooked" or "boiled"), it thereby becomes unfit for idolatrous use and will keep the status of kosher wine even if subsequently touched by an idolater. It is not known from whence the ancient Jewish authorities derived this claim; there are no records concerning "boiled wine" and its fitness for use in the cults of any of the religions of the peoples surrounding ancient Israel. Indeed, in Orthodox Christianity, it was common to add boiling water to the sacramental wine. It is possible that this was mere hearsay concerning one specific idolatrous tradition, the results of which have persisted long after the actual observance of this rule among "pagans" has been extinguished, or that the prohibition within Judaism against using boiled wine for observance at the Temple in Jerusalem was assumed to likewise apply to other religions.

This style of wine is frequently used in kosher restaurants and by kosher caterers. Traditionally, this edict was followed literally. The boiling process killed most of the fine mold, or "must", on the grapes, and greatly altered the tannins and flavors of the wine. Later, the process was modified to require only that wine be heated to 194°F (90°C). (At this temperature, the wine is not bubbling, but it is cooking, in the sense that it will evaporate much more quickly than usual.) This managed to reduce some of the damage done to the wine, but still had a substantial effect on quality and aging potential.

Recently, a process called flash pasteurization has come into vogue. This method avoids causing the juice of the grapes to simmer or boil, and is said to have a minimal effect on flavor, at least to the casual wine drinker. Indeed, the non-kosher winery Château Beaucastel flash pasteurizes and its wines are considered among the world's finest, although few others have copied this technique. In most territories, the bulk of kosher wine is supplied by wineries producing both kosher wine and wine for the general market. However, irrespective of the method, the pasteurization process must be overseen by mashgichim to ensure the kosher status of the wine. Generally, they will attend the winery to physically tip the fruit into the crush, and operate the pasteurization equipment. Once the wine emerges from the process, it can be handled and aged in the normal fashion.

Role of wine in Jewish holidays and rituals

Almost all Jewish holidays, especially the Passover Seder where all present drink four cups of wine, on Purim for the festive meal, and on the Shabbat require obligatory blessings (Kiddush) over filled cups of kosher wine that are then drunk. Grape juice is also suitable on these occasions. If no wine or grape juice is present on Shabbat, the blessing over challah suffices. At Jewish marriages, circumcisions, and at Redemption of First-born ceremonies, the obligatory blessing of Borei Pri HaGafen ("Blessed are you O Lord, Who created the fruit of the vine") is almost always recited over kosher wine (or grape juice).

According to the teachings of the Midrash, the "forbidden fruit" that Eve ate and which she gave to Adam was the grape from which wine is derived, though many would contest this and say that it was in fact a fig. The capacity of wine to cause drunkenness with its consequent loosening of "inhibitions" is described by the ancient rabbis in Hebrew as nichnas yayin, yatza sod ("wine enters, [and one's personal] secret[s] exit"), similar to the Latin "in vino veritas". Another similarly evocative expression relating to wine is: Ein Simcha Ela BeBasar Veyayin—"There is no joy except through [eating] meat and [drinking] wine".)

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