The kosher wine market has rapidly gained momentum over the past 10 years, and no one understands that more than Martin Davidson. Director of Communications at Royal Wine Corporation, the largest importer of kosher wines in the U.S., Davidson is a man on a mission, having spent the last decade working to make kosher wine not just a sacramental symbol, but a respected component of any great meal. He recently took some time to chat with us about kosher wine.
What Makes Wine Kosher?
“From grape crushing onwards, [the wine must] conform to the following rules: First, a Sabbath-observing Jew must be present to administrate the process, and in many cases, that supervisor turns out to be the winemaker, himself,” says Davidson. “Second, each ingredient added during the vinification process, whether in filtration or clarification, must be kosher. Third, all tools and equipment used in the winemaking process must be dedicated to producing only kosher wines.” This last rule means that most wineries are either 100 percent kosher, or zero percent, since switching between kosher and non-kosher winemaking would require replacing their machinery and equipment. Certification also requires regular visits from a rabbi to check for adherence to these rules.
Mevushal vs. Non-Mevushal
There are two styles of kosher wine: mevushal and non-mevushal. “Wines marked as mevushal have been flash-pasteurized so that non-Jews—say, waiters in kosher restaurants—can uncork and serve them to observant Jews according to strict Jewish law,” says Davidson. Non-mevushal wines undergo no pasteurization and for the most part are favored for home use by the kosher community, although continued improvements in the flash-pasteurizing method are making it harder to tell any difference on the palate.
Kosher Wines Today
With its double-digit annual growth, today’s kosher wine market has experienced a sea change, says Davidson, “upgrading from basement varieties to top-quality, award-winning wines—today, being kosher has become purely incidental.” And, according to Davidson, it’s the younger generation that is really driving the demand. “Much of the younger Jewish population is returning to a kosher value system, but their familiarity with world-class, non-kosher wines has made their palates quite discerning,” he says, “and today they’re definitely demanding kosher wines of a higher quality.”
10 Kosher Wines to Try
Baron Herzog Lodi Syrah 2005
From the California Lodi region comes this fruit-forward, food-friendly wine with notes of boysenberry and a soft finish of leather and smoke. Try it with anything from marinara and goat-cheese pasta to grilled Portobello mushrooms. $12, varmax.com
Domaine du Castel “Petit Castel” 2006
Aged 16 months in part new, part used French oak barrels, this Israel-produced Bordeaux blend is dark and brooding with aromas of blackberries and cassis, flavors of dark plums and a subtle finish of roasted cocoa. Try it with a New York strip, lamb or brisket. $47, klwines.com
Galil Mountain Barbera 2006
A taste of northern Italy makes its way to Israel with this ruby-red Barbera, where tart, sour cherries and ripe raspberries soften into a lingering finish of oak and vanilla. Try it with pizza or a meaty ragu. $17, kosherwine.com
Golan Heights “Gamla” Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
This cooler-climate Cab is aged in a mix of French and American oak, making it a great candidate for your cellar, while a healthy dose of Cabernet Franc and Malbec before bottling makes it deliciously approachable anytime. $19, drinkupny.com
Golan Heights Moscato 2009
The perfect brunch sipper, this sparkling and slightly sweet wine is low in alcohol and full of orange blossom aromas, tropical fruit flavors and a hint of marzipan on the finish. $12, klwines.com
Goose Bay Savignon Blanc 2008
New Zealand’s first kosher wine, this Sauv Blanc is bright and fruity with flavors of tart green apples and freshly cut grass. Bright acidity and good balance make this Marlborough District white perfect with mild, flaky fish. $18, klwines.com
Hagafen Zinfandel 2006
A great barbecue wine, this California Zin is rich with notes of currants, black cherries and firm tannins that shift to a finish of cloves and black licorice. $32, hagafen.com
Tishbi Pinot Noir 2006
This Pinot is the perfect party red with balanced fruit and approachable acidity and tannins. Sip alongside appetizers, burgers or take-out. $20, winelibrbary.com
Yarden Brut NV
Made in the méthode champenoise, this Golan Heights, Israel blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is rich and creamy with a subtle aroma of toast and vanilla and flavors of lemon zest and ripe peaches. Serve as an aperitif or pair it with a main course of roasted chicken. $23, wallywine.com
Yarden Heightswine Gewürtztraminer 2005
Unabashedly sweet, this dessert wine is crafted from frozen Gewürtztraminer grapes harvested in Israel’s northernmost appellation. Its rich flavors of candied pineapple, dried apricots and a hint of spice shines alongside shortbread or biscotti. $16, sfwtc.com
Click here for 10 great kosher wines.