My knowledge of kosher wine used to begin and end with Manischewitz. I’ve never even had it, but from what I’ve heard it’s a heavy, syrupy wine that no grapefriend in their right mind would really want to drink. Luckily, a few weeks ago I went to a tasting of Covenant wines which are all kosher and grapefriend-approved.
Since Hanukkah starts next Tuesday at sundown and Seder is a very wine-involved meal, let’s keep with the spirit of the holiday and ask four questions about kosher wine.
So what makes a wine kosher?
From the time the grapes are crushed, the wine can only be made by observant Jews using equipment that rabbis have approved. And even after they’ve made the wine, it can only be opened and poured by an observant Jew. To get around this last rule, some kosher wines are flash-pasteurized, a method where wine is heated almost to the point of boiling, and after that anyone is allowed to handle the wine. Flash pasteurization brings out the fruit in a wine but most serious winemakers would never alter wine that way.
Does that ever cause any complications?
Well, obviously! Covenant co-founder Jeff Morgan said that if anything goes wrong in the winery on a day of observation, he can’t go in and fix it! That’s a huge deal for winemakers since wine is a living, constantly changing thing and anything can go wrong at any moment.
Is it only made in Israel?
Nope! When Jewish immigrants started coming to the US, they started making kosher wine, but from sweet Concord grapes (which don’t make great wine). But in the 1980s, people started making higher-end wines. Covenant was started in Napa in 2003, and they now make 9 different wines.
OK, so which ones should I try?
I was slightly partial to the non-Meshuval ones (ie, the ones that weren’t flash-pasteurized), but the Meshuval ones had my favorite names – The Tribe and Mensch. The Tribe has both a red blend ($38) and a Chardonnay ($32) – perfect for matching all sorts of good food at your Seder dinner.
But we also tasted a sample of the Mount Veeder Cabernet that goes into their blends, nicknamed MTV for short which I loved. Mount Veeder (in Napa) produces really brambly, blackberry-heavy Cab which I’m super into.
And, you can always go for the flagship Covenant Cab, $90, which had lots of blackberry and cocoa, or this Chardonnay, $38, which was oaky and pear-driven.