As a Wine Educator, I get asked to run tastings on a range of different topics. Among the most interesting was one for a 10th Anniversary party, when the hosts wanted wines from places they had visited together as a way of bringing back happy memories. But a subject recently was a first for me: Kosher Wines – and the tasting was in a room in the local synagogue, no less.
So, aren’t all wines Kosher? Absolutely not! For a wine to be Kosher (and therefore acceptable for Jewish wine lovers) it must only be handled by observant Jews during the winemaking process and anything used must also be Kosher. This particularly restricts ingredients widely used for clarifying wine before bottling, many of which are derived from animal, dairy or fish products forbidden to Jews. Acceptable options are egg whites (provided the eggs are from Kosher sources) or bentonite clay.
Many Kosher wines also undergo flash pasteurisation – necessary to retain their status should the wine be opened or served by someone who is not an observant Jew. Some experts have suggested that this damages the wine, destroying the fruit character and making it taste dull and lifeless. On the evidence of the bottles I selected for the tasting, I disagree; all the wines were as I would have expected from similar, non-pasteurised examples.
Of the wines on the night, the one that stood out for me was the Barkan Classic Pinot Noir from Israel’s Negev region (available from kosherwines.co.uk, £10.99). Pinot Noir is the fussiest of grapes – not liking conditions too hot or too cold. So, how would it get on in a vineyard more than 800 metres (2500 feet) above sea level in the semi-desert of the Negev? A sophisticated, computer controlled irrigation system ensures that the vines receive enough moisture, but, even so, it is quite an achievement to produce such an attractive Pinot Noir with delightfully clean raspberry and redcurrant fruit in such a site.
But this was only 1 example from my selection from around the world – France, Spain and the US also featured, but I could easily have picked wines from Italy, Australia or South Africa instead. Truly an international phenomenon.