Let’s get one thing straight a wine labelled as being kosher has no bearing on its quality. For a wine to have kosher certification it needs to be produced by Orthodox Jews and that only kosher substances are used in the wines production. The actual production techniques from harvest to bottling are the same as for non-kosher wines. I am certain that there is lack of consumer knowledge about wines labelled as kosher and to combat this some wines do not use ‘kosher’ wording. Wine that is certified by the Orthodox Union can use the letter ‘U’ inside a circle. Interestingly the first product to bear the ‘U’ symbol was Heinz baked beans!
I also think the prejudice against kosher wine stems from the kosher mevushal wine which has been boiled, or flash pasteurised, before bottling (so that it remains Kosher even if handled by non-Jews). There is no doubt this will affect the quality of a wine, although there is now more debate on this with new techniques being developed, but not all kosher wine is mevushal. Furthermore there has been a lot of bad press in the past, and some articles, I have noticed, in the quite recent past, but it will take time to see the changes that are happening in the wine industry that labels its wine as kosher. This is certainly evident in Israel.
Israel has been making wine for thousands of years, but only in the last decade has it shifted focus towards quality rather than quantity. A better understanding of what grape varieties to grow in this varied Mediterranean climate and improved winemaking technology has led to Israeli wines winning international awards. There were 26 different Israeli wines that gained a Decanter World Wine Award in 2013. The five largest wineries are Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights, Teperberg 1870 and Binyamina Wine Cellar. These wineries together account for 80% of wine production in Israel. There are many smaller commercial and boutique wineries emerging.
In the quest to taste, and report on, East Med wines from UK supermarkets and national retailers, I came across these three wines from Israel. A red from M&S and a red and white sold by Morrisons and Budgens. The M&S wine was labelled as Kosher and the other two were bearing the Orthodox Union symbol along with a ‘p’ which means is it suitable for Passover.
M & S Recanati 2012, Judean Hills, Israel
With a great match of Carignan and Petite Sirah this promised to be solid wine and it did not disappoint. This medium ruby red is autumn at its best……[read more]
Carmel Ridge White 2010, Shomron, Israel
The main grape in this vintage is sauvignon blanc, but don’t expect anything like a zesty, zingy New Zealand style sauvignon blanc. …….[read more]
Carmel Ridge Red 2011, Shomron, Israel
The aromas of this medium ruby red gave very little away as to what lie in the glass; a faint hint of leather, cherry and blueberry…….[read more]
Even though these are the entry level wines from the producers they are relatively expensive. The best value is definitely the M&S Recanati, but they are all worth trying and are good examples of what these grapes should taste like in this climate. The Carmel wines are meant to be drunk young and given the red is already three years old and the white is four then I can’t imagine they will be around for much longer.
Don’t be put off by the ‘kosher’ labelling. There is still more to be done by the wineries, importers and sellers if they are going to convince consumers to buy these wines. When I did the research I found a number of published inaccuracies about these actual wines.
For a more detailed look at the global perception of kosher wine then see Adam Montefiore’s article in the Jerusalem post.
Wine Israel is great site if you want to find out more about wine from Israel. They produced this detailed information document on the statistics of Israel’s wine industry in 2013 – Fast Facts 2013 – Israel