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When is a Wine “Kosher” ?

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By Steven Tincher

When is a Wine “Kosher,” and What Does That Mean?

Kosher, or more properly in Hebrew transliteration “Kashrut”, normally means that a food product is produced in accordance to strict Jewish dietary law. This is a guarantee of purity not taste, which is not to say that many Kosher wines are not good. Some are excellent (and some are not) but that is not the emphasis of these rules.

What makes a Wine Kosher?

Herzog SR RR Chard back label PicmonkeyThe back label of a Herzog Wine Cellars Chardonnay displays the two hechshers certifying compliance with Jewish dietary laws.

Kosher wines are produced, from grape growing to bottling, solely by Sabbath Observant (“Shomrei Shabbat”) Jews. These are workers who do no work on the Jewish Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. All equipment must be used solely on Kosher products or must be purified after use on non-Kosher applications.

Kosher production must be overseen and certified by a rabbi as being compliant with Jewish law. Compliance is indicated by a “hechsher” or printed mark, in Hebrew or in the local language.

As is normal in Judaism, there is no one certifying group or agency, so it is not uncommon to see multiple hechshers.

“Kosher for Passover” is a special classification indicating that there are no leavening products used in this item. For reasons lost in the ancient lack of understanding of microbiology the naturally occurring yeast used in the winemaking product is not considered a violation.

Herzog SR Chard front label Picmonkey

Do Kosher Wines have a bad name?

Traditionally, Kosher wines used in the weekly Sabbath observation in America have been associated with Concord grapes which tend to taste sweet and syrupy. Again, Kosher is not a statement on taste but rather purity of production. Many Kosher wines are complex, varied in characteristics, and are of excellent quality. Herzog and Hagafen are two California producers of such wines.

When are Kosher Wines Appropriate?

Kosher wines are normally used in Jewish religious ceremonies such as the start of Shabbat (Friday night). It is very appropriate to use “Kosher for Passover” wines at the Passover Seder or ceremonial meal where participants are required to drink four glasses of wine.

If one is invited to the household of an observant or Orthodox family where Kosher rules are observed, it is appropriate to present a bottle of Kosher wine as a house gift.

Kosher wines can also be enjoyed anytime without any other reason than that they may be very good quality wines.

A Tasting

Recently we acquired several examples of Kosher wines distributed by Royal Wine. These were produced in several different countries from vitis vinifera grape varieties (no Concords).

One in particular intrigued us. It was the Herzog Special Reserve 2015 Russian River Chardonnay ($40). The Herzog winery and its Tierra Sur restaurant are located in Oxnard, which is just a bit south of Santa Barbara. The winery sources fruit from the Santa Barbara growing area, but also from other parts of the state and Northern California’s Russian River Valley is regarded one of the best appellations for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

I found the Herzog Russian River Chardonnay delightful. It displays notes of butter, honey and vanilla. I would pair this wine with a white fish or a vegetarian quiche.

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