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What Makes Wine Kosher?
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed Apr 9, 2001. For more information go to

With the recent celebration of Passover, when Jews around the world joyously mark the birth of the Jewish nation when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, it seems a good occasion to take a closer look at kosher wine.

Although many people think of kosher wine as a thick, sweet and grapey drink, this is actually only one style of kosher wine, one that became popular in the United States more than a century ago, when many Jewish immigrants lived in the Northeast and had easy access to Concord and other native American grapes with the characteristic "grape-jelly" flavor that needs sweetening to make it palatable. Necessity became the mother of tradition, and for many years "kosher" in wine almost always meant heavy and sweet.

Indeed, one noteworthy kosher wine producer, Schapiro's Kosher Wine, observes with pride on its Website, "When my grandfather, Sam Schapiro, came to this country and began making wine in 1899, our company's motto was 'wine so thick you can cut it with a knife.'"

But it needn't be so; and in modern times, many Jewish wine makers in the U.S., in Israel and in many other countries are now producing dry, elegant table wines that are both fully in the European fine- wine tradition and fully kosher.

"Kosher," after all, simply means "fit and proper" in Hebrew, and as explained in the Jewish glossary on the Manischewitz wines Website, it refers to any food or drink that conforms to Jewish dietary laws and is made under the supervision of a rabbi.

The Royal Wines Website, hosted by another major producer and importer of kosher wines, tells more about kosher wine at

1. The wine-making equipment must be used exclusively for kosher products.
2. Only Sabbath-observant Jews may handle the wine throughout production, from crushing the grapes to serving the wine. (There's an exception to this, however: If the wine is boiled or pasteurized - "mevushal," in Hebrew - it may be handled by anyone, Jewish or otherwise, without being rendered unfit.)
3. No non-kosher product may be used to make kosher wine. This provision, by the way, makes kosher wine of some interest to vegetarians, who can be reasonably assured that kosher wines have not used animal products in the "fining" or clarification process.

None of these rules prevent making wines in an international style, and indeed, many modern kosher wines have won awards in major competitions. As a category, they're certainly worth consideration by wine lovers of all heritages. To paraphrase the Levy's Rye Bread commercials of the '60s, just as you don't have to be French or Italian to enjoy the great wines of those countries, or any other, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy kosher wine.


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