isearly autumn. A bunch of
chardonnay grapes hangs from a
vine in California's Napa Valley.
So filled with juice and pulp, its
skin ready to burst, a bird pecks
at the fruit.
With the skin broken, the mi-
croscopic yeasts in the bloom — the haze
you often see on grapes — attack. The
wild yeasts convert the sugar in the
grapes to alcohol — instant fermenta-
tion. Without the help of man, nature
has begun the process of making wine.
Birds and human beings aren't the
only creatures to recognize nature's
magic. Toward harvest time, bees sip the
nectar from the fatinenting fruit and fall
woozy to the ground. All that man has
learned to do is to control the process.
Judaism recognizes this divine
process, treating the grape with special
reverence. It is the only fruit from which
we derive sacramental wine. And when-
ever there is wine on the table, we offer
Our sages knew the wonders of wine.
No organism harmful to humans can live
in the libation, which has been used med-
icinally virtually as long as it has been
made. Bless it in praise of God, wash
your food down with it, cook with it,
drink it on its own — there is no bever-
age more pleasant or versatile.
The 1980s were a decade of ferment
for kosher winemakers around the
world. It is difficult to account for the
blossoming consumer acceptance of
kosher wine, except that almost all are
competently made. and competitively
priced with their non-kosher equivalents.
There is little data on who is drinking
all this kosher wine, but it is certainly
more than kosher-keeping Jews ex-
panding their wine drinking beyond rit-
ual purposes. The New York-based Royal
Wine Corporation — the leading pro-
ducer and importer of kosher wines in
the United States — contends that more
than 60 percent of its sales are to non-
Clearly, modern understanding of fer-
mentation science has encouraged the
expansion of kosher wine's availability.
Most winemaking nations now export
kosher wine to the United States. Por-
tugal and Australia are the major ex-
ceptions and, even there, plans are afoot
to remedy those lapses.
On the shelves of a well-stocked wine
store, you should find kosher wine from
such diverse places as Czechoslovakia,
Hungary and Spain, which produces a
true sweet Sherry as well as Parnas, a
cava made in the traditional Champagne
From Italy and its main kosher wine
producer, Bartenura, come such white
M. David Levin, a New York writer, is the
longtime chairman of the Wine Media
wines as Gavi, Soave and Muscat.
Another producer, Rashi, adds a cou-
ple more. Reds such as Barbera D'Asti,
Valpolicella and Lambrusco also are
But three main centers of kosher wine
production dominate the world markets:
France, Israel and the United States.
aimonides, the first Jewish
wine connoisseur, is said to
have preferred reds. So, in
deference to the Rambam
— who said that, everything else being
equal, sacramental wine should be red
— our first choice this year must be the
highest ranked red Bordeaux wine ever
to be made kosher: Chateau Giscours.
The first kosher vintage, 1993, was in-
troduced to the world only in recent
weeks and is rare on the U.S. market —
only 100 cases for the whole country.
Robert M. Parker Jr., the preeminent
wine writer in the United States, says
Giscours makes "some of the richest and
longest-lived wines of the appellation" of
Margaux, one of the five greatest wine-
growing communes of the Bordeaux re-
gion. He characterizes the wine as of
"deep, often opaque color, gobs of con-
centration, and a muscular and rich con-
struction with plenty of tannin."
At $46 a bottle retail, Giscours should
certainly be tasted on special occasions;
there is no sense in wasting such an ex-
Also new this year and immediately
drinkable, at about two-thirds the price,
is a Chateau Labegorce. This wine also
comes from Margaux — a commune
known for the silkiness and perfume of
its wine — and is characterized by Mr.
Parker as "consistently well made."
Lower-priced Bordeaux wines also
meriting consideration include Chateau
Grand Noyer from the excellent 1989
vintage, a chateau-bottled wine from the
Lalande de Pomerol commune and
Chateau des Termes, an '89 from the
Saint-Estephe area of Bordeaux.
France is also home to Howard Abar-
banel, an American wine producer who
traces his ancestry to Don Yitzchak
Abarbanel, the last in a line of great
scholars before the Jewish exile from
Spain in 1492. He also claims to be a di-
rect descendant of King David.
Abarbanel Cabernet Sauvignon or
Chardonnay are vies de pays, or coun-
try wines. With less ex-
alted vinous pedigrees
and prices than those of
the Medoc, they are pro- administrator for
duced in the south of Mt. Mroma wines,
France, in the Cassan takes time out at
the winery in
district of the vast Rutherford, Calif.,
Languedoc - Roussillon re - amid a bower of
After languishing for leaves hang spent,
their grapes picked
years as the jug wine and undergoing
producers of France, the the winemaking
that wine made mevushal through
this "flash pasteurization" method is
indistinguishable from the same,
but untreated wine. Wine served at
large functions invariably is me-
vushal, as it retains its kashruth
quality even when the bottle is
opened by gentile waiters and
passed around the table at a mixed
Kosher wine that is not mevushal
is used for religious purposes in syn-
agogues as well as among those
whose touch would not taint it. The
laws of kashruth include shmitta,
which requires fields to lay fallow
every seventh year, and the
ceremony of maaser, which directs
that 1 percent of all a winery's pro-
duction be poured away to symbolize
the tithe paid to the High Priests in
the time of the first and second tem-
The codification of koshering wine
began in the days of Maimonides.
Having accorded wine status above
all other man-made liquids — nei-
ther beer nor hard liquor carry its
religious significance, as they are
not made from grapes — the codi-
fiers of kashrut girded it with strict
production requirements to guard
No animal products may be al-
lowed to taint the wine. For exam-
ple, non-kosher winemakers often
use egg whites to clarify the wine.
But kosher winemakers use ben-
tonite, a clay material, to attract
suspended particles and drag them
down to the bottom of the barrel.
And they never use animal bladders
Physical cleanliness, in addition to
religious purity, is mandated. Bar-
rels, for instance, must be cleaned
three times. Though modem steam-
cleaning and chemical preparations
might seem to make this rule, like
many others, obsolete, kosher wine-
makers follow them fervently.
Is It Kosher?
o what makes wine kosher?
Wine occupies a special place in
the laws of kashrut compared to
food. While kosher food will be
kosher no matter who serves it, the
same cannot be said of the fruit of
For wine to-retain its kosherness
when opened and poured by a non-
Jew — such as caterers or restau-
rant personnel — the law demands
that it be made "meshuval" by bring-
ing it to a boiling point, defined as
heating it until Air bubbles are
brought to the surface.
Modem technology has overcome
that distinction. Today, barely fer-
menting must — the slurry of
grapes and juice before fermentation
--- is run so quickly over steel plates,
heated to about 185 degrees fahren-
heit, that a bubble or two appears,
satisfying the kashrut laws. The
must then is cooled just as quickly
and the rest of the fermentation and
winemaking process goes on.
A study at the University of Cali-
fornia at Davis, the nation's top
school for winemakers, has proven