What Makes Wine Kosher (& 8 Kosher Wines That Taste Good)

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I grew up in a conservative Jewish home, which meant that I did not taste bacon until the age of 24 and that finding delicious, quality kosher wines to bring to Hanukkah celebrations has been a challenge.

It’s been easier to make up for the lack of bacon in my youth than to find kosher wines that are exciting, complex, and worthy of my Grandma’s latkes.

Photo by James Ransom

Kosher wines are unique in the world of wine in that they abide by their own set of rules regardless of the country of origin. There are two types: kosher wine and mevushal wine.

Kosher wine is made from kosher ingredients (grapes, yeast, and fining agents) on certified equipment under the supervision of a rabbi. But that’s the easy part. For a wine to be considered Kosher it needs to be handled from grape to glass only by observant Jews. The reason for this unusual restriction is because, in the past, wine was used by non-Jews as an offering to idol gods. To ensure that Jews never received a glass of wine associated with idolatrous offering, the rabbis enacted this strict requirement.

Photo by James Ransom

Now, as you would imagine, ensuring that your kosher wine is only handled by observant Jews is (nearly) impossible. Which brings us to our second type of kosher wine: mevushal. Mevushal means boiled: The kosher wine is heated to 185° F, at which point it becomes unfit for idolatrous use and therefore remains kosher, regardless of who handles it.

Photo by James Ransom

So this now brings us back to the struggle. The process of cooking the wine to make it mevushal can greatly alter the flavor and character. There is some good news here and hopes for the future, however.

The flash pasteurization process, where the wine is rapidly heated and immediately cooled, has been shown to have minimal impact on the wine. While it seems the process of boiling wine won’t be disappearing any time soon, the technology used to do so is improving to a point where most casual drinkers would not be able to tell the difference between a wine that has been flash-pasteurized and one that has not.

Photo by James Ransom

Here are 8 of my favorite kosher wines to enjoy this Hanukkah.

(But first call your mom, she is worried sick about you.)

  1. Yarden Chardonnay: This rich, full-bodied Chardonnay has notes of ripe pears and tropical fruit. It's my favorite wine to pair with latkes. Yarden, in general, is my go-to winery for kosher wines.

  2. Tishbi Brut: The holiday meal can't officially start until the Hanukkah candles have been lit and a glass of bubbly has been poured (okay, so maybe the last part is unique to our home). This sparkling wine from Israel is made in the same method as Champagne in France.

  3. Gonzalez Byass “Tio Pepe” Palomino Fino: Fino Sherry is one of great pleasures of the holiday season, and I require a glass or two to sip on while cooking. This wine is dry with almond notes and a lovely saltiness that pairs beautifully with all the noshes before the main meal.

  4. Flechas de Los Andes 2008 Gran Malbec: This Malbec has ripe notes of black fruit and pairs beautifully with brisket.

  5. Peraj Petita: This Spanish blend has notes of cherries and spice and it's a good pairing for brisket or lamb

  6. Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon: This pricey red ($100) is the brainchild of two vintners who questioned why there weren’t any really delicious kosher wines and set out to create one. This kosher Napa Cabernet changed the game and put them on the map.

  7. Recanati: This red is a blend of Cabernet and Merlot from vineyards in Galilee in Israel. With notes of ripe berries and spice, this medium-bodied wine goes well with a variety of side dishes, including kasha varnishkas.

  8. Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc: Sometimes you need a little something sweet, and this wine, with its notes of apricot and honey, is just the thing for ending the meal (along with that jelly doughnut).

What's your go-to kosher wine? Tell us in the comments below!

Tags: Jewish, Wine, Hanukkah, Kosher