What the heck are Kosher/Passover and Easter Wines, Anyway?

Catholics and Jews have wine rituals.
Wine plays an important ritual role in Jewish and Catholic ceremonies.

A few myths and facts about Kosher wine:

Wine plays an important role in Jewish traditions and in Catholic rites.  Kosher winemaking is much the same as non-Kosher. Chardonnay, Cabernet or other grapes, whether from California, Bordeaux, Italy or Galilee are grown and harvested the same, fermented in the same temperature-controlled tanks, aged in the same small oak barrels and bottled the same. The winemaker will have studied at a place like UC Davis or other wine-centric school.

Hagafen Cellars Winery, Napa.
Hagafen Cellars, Kosher Winery in Napa.

A Kosher winery is just like any winery producing non-Kosher wines – except, only Shabbat-observant Jews can be involved in making the wine. From crushing to bottling, kosher wine must be handled exclusively by observant Jews, plus there are stricter additive rules. Casein from dairy products or gelatin that can come from pigs cannot be used.

Kosher wine is generally red wine.
Most Kosher wines are red.

Big surprise:  Vintners in Italy, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Chile, USA and France all make Kosher wines.  Famed Bordeaux wineries such as Smith Haut Lafitte, Leoville Poyferre and Valandraud and in Burgundy, Batard Montrachet and Clos de Vougeot all make Kosher wines!

In fact, a Frenchman, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934) is considered the founder of the modern Israeli wine industry.  His branch of the Rothschild family owns Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, one of the most famed and revered wines of Bordeaux.

So, how did Kosher wine get started?  In history pagans would celebrate something good by pouring a bit of wine on the ground as thanks to the gods.  Jewish religious leaders wanted to make sure there was never any wine consumed by their followers that had been used for any type of idolatry.  So, easy:  And it was decreed that only Jews could handle winemaking for Jews to drink.

Any Kosher Winemakers in California?  California has everything including kosher wineries.  Most well-known are the family owned Hagafen Cellars , the large Herzog Wine Cellars and a one-man operation,  Four Gates Winery in Santa Cruz, whose wines are made from organic grapes.

What is Easter Wine?
Is there such a thing as Easter Wine?

Myths and Facts about Easter Wine: Spoiler alert!  There is no “Easter” Wine, rather there are wines that pair with Easter meals.  Generally light to medium-bodied white and red wines.  Some choices are:  Pinot Gris (Oregon), Gavi (Italy), Chenin Blanc (France, California and Baja) and for reds try Gamay (France), Pinot Noir (Oregon, California & France) or Dolcetto or Valpolicella (Italy).  And, rosé is an always!

There is an historic “spring” wine that is made from honey that is often considered the quintessential Easter Wine, called Mead.

Fermented honey wine called Mead.
Mead is a wine made from honey.

So for this holiday weekend for whatever glass you’ll raise, Cheers and L’Chaim!

Contributor:  Stacie Hunt, Certified Silver Pin Sommelier/AIS

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Image credits:  Courtesy:  winemag.com, Hafafen Cellars, foodandwine.com, vanstonwine.com, city-vino.com

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