Best Kosher Wines, Kosher Mevushal Wine

By Dirk Smits

A brief history of kosher wine

The Jews may have the oldest established relationship to wine of any people on earth, but kosher wine, ironically, is best known for its “unorthodox” taste.  In the context of Jewish history, this dubious distinction is understandable.  Thousands of years ago, the Jews lived in the Holy Land, where grape growing and wine making were common practice.  But after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago, the Jews began a long period of wandering known as the Diaspora, which presented them with a serious enological challenge.  Rarely were their new homes in exile blessed with vineyards such as those previously known in their ancestral land.

Nevertheless, tradition as well as religion mandated the drinking of wine, and vintners did their best with whatever means were at their disposition.  Wine was even made from dried raisins when necessary.  Apparently the socio-economic status of the Jewish people in exile did not facilitate a steady supply of grapes worthy of a first growth Bordeaux!  In fact, in Europe, Jews were often prohibited from owning the land necessary to grow grapes.

A century ago, Jewish immigrants to America found local Concord grapes to be plentiful.  However, the wine produced from these native American grapes had a so called “foxy” character and were unpleasant to drink.  Keeping the wines sweet made them more palatable, and this sweet style became synonymous with “traditional” kosher wine (e.g. Manischewitz, Kedem).

More recent history has been kinder to Jewish wine makers, and currently there is a revolution in quality among kosher wines the world over.  These wines are made from such classic grape varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from both the New and Old World.  With access to top-notch grapes and contemporary cellar methods, kosher wine makers are now creating wines that may equal or surpass those that are not kosher.  Indeed, it would appear that kosher wine makers have now restored the sensual quality of this sacred beverage to a level appropriate with its spiritual status.

What makes a wine kosher?

Consuming kosher (Yiddish for “suitable” or “fit”) foods is essential to all who observe Jewish religious dietary laws (Kashrut). These laws were commanded by God to the children of Israel in the Sinai Desert.  Moses taught them to the people and wrote the basics of these laws in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.  The details were handed down through the generations and eventually written down in the Mishnah and Talmud.  Throughout the 4,000-year history of Judaism, the observance of kosher has been a hallmark of Jewish identity.  Perhaps more than any other mitzvah (divine commandment and connection), the kosher laws emphasize that Judaism is much more than a religion in the conventional sense of the word.  To the Jew, holiness is not confined to holy places and times outside the everyday; rather, life in its totality is a sacred endeavor.  Even the seemingly mundane activity of eating is a Godly act and a uniquely Jewish experience.

Kosher wine is made just like other table wine, with an extra set of rules to make it consistent with the Jewish dietary laws.  In order for wine to be kosher, it has to contain only kosher ingredients, including yeasts and fining agents, and it must be made using equipment rabbinically certified to make kosher wine.  Once the grapes are picked and brought to be crushed, only Shabbat-observant Jews can be involved in making the wine, and the winemaking needs to be supervised by a rabbi.

As mentioned above, there is no difference in the making of a fine non-kosher wine or a kosher wine. That is, unless the kosher wine is to be designated mevushal. In Hebrew, mevushal means cooked or boiled. Mevushal wines traditionally are heated up to 185°F. Extended exposure to high temperatures can threaten a wine’s character but producers have developed flash-pasteurization techniques that minimize the effect on the wine’s flavor. In 2013, a new technique for heating grapes, not the wine, was invented. The technique is called flash-détente. It involves quickly heating the grapes right after they are picked, then cooling them instantly in a vacuum.

Once a bottle of kosher wine has been opened, it could cease to be kosher if handled by anyone not observant of the Sabbath. Mevushal wines, since they have been pasteurized, remain kosher, although not considered “sacramental wine,” and can be handled and served by non-Jews. Kosher caterers, banquet halls and restaurants in the United States use mostly mevushal wines so a non-observant or non-Jewish waiter or waitress can serve the wine.

1. Yarden Blanc de Blancs 2011

Yarden Blanc de Blancs 2008



Varietals: 100% Chardonnay
Origin: Galilee, Israel
Suggested retail price: $33

Produced from Chardonnay grapes of the northern Golan Heights region in Israel, this sparkling wine shows lemons, flowers, apples and green pears, minerality and hints of fresh baguette. It is a classic and elegant sparkling wine, delicious and refreshing, with good acidity and an elegant finish.

For more information, visit the Golan Heights Winery official website.

2. Champagne Drappier, Carte d’Or, Brut non-vintage (Mevushal)

Champagne Drappier Carted d'Or

Varietals: 80% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier
Origin: Urville, France
Suggested retail price: $55 – when ordering please ask for the kosher version since the winery also makes a non-kosher version of this wine.

The Carte d’Or cuvée shows pretty aromas of peach, ripe white cherry, apple, yeast and orange peel. It has lots of character and structure with a creamy, lacy texture in the mouth.

For more information, visit the Champagne Drappier official website.

> Check out GAYOT’s profile of Champagne Drappier House.

3. Champagne Laurent-Perrier, Brut Cuvée Rosé non-vintage

Varietals: 100% Pinot Noir
Origin: Champagne, France
Suggested retail price: $85 – when ordering please ask for the kosher version since the winery also makes a non-kosher version of this wine.

This is a rich rosé Champagne with finely carved bubbles and a nose of ripe strawberries, cherries and raspberries followed by red fruit flavors. Good chalky minerality carries through in the long and elegant finish.

> For more information, visit the Champagne Laurent-Perrier official website.

> Check out GAYOT’s profile of Champagne Laurent-Perrier House.

WHITE

4. Chablis, Les Marronniers 2018 (Mevushal)

Varietals: 100% Chardonnay
Origin: Chablis, Burgundy, France
Suggested retail price: $20

With a beautiful pale gold color and green reflections, this Chablis has a fresh and floral nose with notes of fresh almond and hazelnut, citrus and white flowers. The mouth is balanced, minerality, and restrained. The evolution and finish are more subdued, all in finesse with a delicacy highlighted by its great freshness.

> For more information, visit the Domaine des Marronniers official website.

5. Clos des Lunes, Lune d’Argent, Bordeaux Blanc, 2017

Clos des Lunes Lune d'Argent 2018


Varietals: 70% Sémillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc
Origin: Bordeaux, France
Suggested retail price: $22

The wine is bright yellow in color with light green reflections. The nose is very expressive and aromatic, showing ripe lemon, pear and stone fruits. The taste is medium-bodied with some viscosity typical of Sémillon yet lively and crisp on the palate. There are notes of fresh lemon zest and melon, lively acidity, with great saline and earthy minerals as well as touches of fresh almonds on the long and elegant finish. It is perfectly balanced and drinking beautifully now but has the structure to hold and evolve nicely over the next few years.

This wine is a GAYOT’s Wine of the Week.

> For more information, visit the Clos des Lunes official website.

6. Goose Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, 2019

Varietals: 100 % Sauvignon Blanc
Origin: New Zealand
Suggested retail price: $22

This wine has a very aromatic nose on the onset with kiwi, lemon, melon, stone fruit and a nice touch of minerality. This wine has a super crisp mouth feel, medium body with melon, gooseberry, lush acidity and a smooth finish.

> For more information, visit the Spencer Hill Wines official website.

7. Hagafen Cellars, Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley 2018

Varietals: 100% Chardonnay
Origin: Napa Valley, California, USA
Suggested Retail Price: $30

Inviting citrus blossom and lemon zest entice the nose and open onto a palate revealing flavors of pear, citrus, Asian spices and green apple.  Creamy and silky on the palate, subtle oak frames the wine while vibrant acidity lifts and carries the fruit into a long, mouthwatering finish.

> For more information, visit the Hagafen Cellars official website.

8. Hagafen Cellars, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 (Mevushal)

Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Origin: Napa Valley, California, USA
Suggested Retail Price: $36 (375ml)

This wine has a beautiful golden color with exotic fruit on the nose. The palate is unctuous on the entry with layers of rich honeyed fruit while retaining fine acidity and guaranteeing a fine balance. This wine has 18% residual sugar.

> For more information, visit the Hagafen Cellars official website.

9. Herzog, Chardonnay, Special Reserve, 2019 (Mevushal)

Varietals: 100% Chardonnay
Origin: Russian River, Sonoma, California, USA
Suggested retail price: $37

Fermented and then aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrels, the wine shows aromas of citrus, exotic fruit and white flowers. On the palate flavors of honey, lychee and a small dose of buttery oak emerge and evolve in a long, elegant finish.

> For more information, visit the Herzog Wine Cellars official website.

10. Pacifica, Evan’s Collection, Riesling, Washington 2019

Varietals: 100% Riesling
Origin: Washington, USA
Suggested Retail Price: $19

A crisp, vibrant Riesling with a bouquet showing hints of Key lime, lemon and green apple. The palate is medium dry with lovely acid balance and a touch of minerality at the end.

> For more information, visit the Herzog Wine Cellars official website.

ROSÉ

11. Don Ernesto, Beret Rosé, 2020

Varietals: 100% Syrah
Origin: Napa Valley, California, USA
Suggested retail price: $30

The wine, by Hagafen Cellars, shows a darker shade of rosé and aromas of ripe cherry and citrus. The palate unfolds ripe red fruit, some spiciness and juicy acidity towards the end.

> For more information, visit the Hagafen Cellars official website.

RED

12. Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild 2016 (Mevushal)


Varietals: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc
Origin: Judean Hills, Israel
Suggested retail price: $80

This wine was aged in French oak barrels for 12 months. The wine offers attractive spicy notes and rich fruit flavors followed by a round and velvety tannic structure that’s characteristic of a great Bordeaux wine.

> For more information, visit the Edmond de Rothschild Heritage official website.

13. Blue C Adom, 2017

Varietals: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah
Origin: Golan Heights, Israel
Suggested Retail Price
: $40

The wine displays a deep red color. Ripe fruit aromas dominate with spices, all framed in with ripe tannins.