Having become somewhat of a wine enthusiast over the years, I have tasted many fine wines from all over the world, and have toured wineries in the United States and abroad in pursuit of a recreational oenophile’s whimsy.
Over the past 20 years or so, the market for kosher wines – don’t laugh – has grown, as post Baby Boomers acquired money and taste, and began seeking finer alternatives to the old style syrupy sweet Malaga and Concorde Grape selections of Kedem and Manischewitz.
My late step-mother loved to tell this story. She went to a local liquor emporium known for its kosher wines, and asked for two gallon-sized bottles of ritual (Kiddush) wine, one Malaga and one Concorde. The owner pulled her over to the side and said, in a low voice, “You know, you don’t need to drink that anymore. We have a large selection of really good kosher wines.”
“I know,” she said, with a tinge of regret. “But my husband loves this stuff.”
That was over 15 years ago, and the “large” selection is now a huge one.
In a sense, kosher wines have become ultra-westernized, and along with the fine cars, nice homes, single malt scotches, boutique distilled bourbons and golf outings, kosher baby boomers now collect fine wine.
Fine wine and kosher used to be contradictory terms, but with the rise of so many wonderful vineyards in Israel, the race to produce the best kosher wines soon expanded to Spain, Australia, France, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New York, California, and every other place non-kosher wines have been made for centuries.
Grapes, like all foods that grow in the ground, are inherently permissible foods, as is the alcohol produced during fermentation. Any wine can be “kosher,” and some kosher consumers accept that they are. A biblical prohibition prohibiting “pagan wine” ceased to be a problem in the first millennium, according to the rabbinic literature of the period, but social contact with non-Jews was an issue, so the ban on “non-kosher” wines continued. “Cooked wine,” on the other hand, was permissible, even during social contact with non-Jews. Thus, “mevushal” (cooked) wines became the standard until only recently. Why that is so is subject to debate. To get into that debate here is beyond the scope of this article. Besides, it would force me to examine why I can do tequila shots in a dark bar with my non-Jewish friends, but sitting down with them for a sedate dinner with wine is frowned upon.