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Part II of II

Last week, we looked at the evolution of kosher wine from fine, to syrupy, and thankfully, back again to very, very good.

European Kosher Wines

Kosher wines in Europe have an ancient history going back over two thousand years. Little of its history remains. Today, however, many famous Italian appellations and winemakers are making kosher wines, much of it exported, as Italy has such a small Jewish population (around 40,000). Some you can look for: Terra Di Seta Chianti, Chianti Classico, Tuscany; Rosh Aglianico, Campania; Batasiolo Barolo, Piedmont; Araldica Pinot Grigio, Piedmont; Fattoria Scopone Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany. Cantina Giuliano is a kosher and well-regarded Tuscany winery in Laro, Italy( Two very successful kosher interpretations of Italian wine wine are Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino Maryam and Aglianico Ros.

European wine was not much available in the United States until 1982, when Kedem was importing kosher Asti Spumante from the Bartenura Winery in Italy. It soon added Bartenura Soave and Spanish Abrarbanel Rioja. It later expanded into South America, beginning with Argentina. Its crew of Argentine Jews also later did service in Chile to create kosher wine there. They assembled a pool of 35 reliable Sabbath-observant Jews based in Western Europe to produce kosher wine on 15 to 20 estates in France, Spain and Portugal. Kedem now also offers wines from Israel, Australia, New Zealand and Hungary. Kosher Bordeaux wine remains a niche product. More information on Kosher French wines is available at

California Kosher Wines

In America, the best wines typically are made in California, and especially in Napa Valley in Northern California.

Kosher wineries are now well represented. While about 37 wineries have a Jewish “connection” in Napa Valley, only a fraction are kosher. The most important of these wineries is Hagefen Cellar, founded in 1979 by Ernie Weir, winemaker of the award-winning Napa-Green Certified Hagafen Cellars and Covenant Wines, founded in 2003 by Jeff Morgan and Leslie Rudd at Rudd Estate in Napa Valley. They also make wine in Israel. The largest (by far) kosher wineries in California are Herzog Wine Cellars and Baron Herzog, both owned by Royal Wine Company (Kedem) and named for its founder. They are much larger, and located just south of Santa Barbara in Oxnard. Shira Wines, started by brothers Gabriel and Shimon Weiss, make high-quality Rhone varietals in nearby Santa Maria Valley Viticultural Area (AVA). Another small kosher winery is Four Gates, owned by Benjamin Cantz, which has made estate-bottled Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc on 3.5 acres in Santa Cruz Mountain since 1997. Jonathan Hajdu owns Hadju Wines, in Berkely, CA. It has produced small-lot, high-end kosher wines with a focus on Rhone varietals since 2007. While the winery is in Berkeley, the grapes are from nearby Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Mevushal Wine—What Is It, and Is It Inferior?

Perhaps the most sensitive, you might even say boiling, subject related to wine is called Mevushal. As discussed, kosher wine touched by a gentile is considered like gentile wine and is stam yenom. All kosher wine, therefore, requires careful supervision, as handling of open bottles by a gentile renders the bottle unkosher. Non-kosher wine can affect the status of sinks and dishwashers, as any residual taste from an unkosher wine imparted to something kosher would make it unkosher too. This is true because wine follows the rule of “b’noten taam” (imparts a taste) and is not batel (nullified after the fact) if it is less that one part in sixty, as other unintentional mixes. The concept of nullification does not apply “lechatchila” (from the outset), but only if the mixture is accidental, fortuitous or un-premeditated, the criteria in the Shulchan Aruch. The Star-K provides a useful explanation of the complex rule of nullification.

At home, the continued kashrut of wine is easier to control. In catered events, much of the catering staff can be expected not to be Jewish, so it presents a problem. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1520-1572), who adapted the Shulchan Aruch for Ashkenazi Jews, accepts relying on a leniency called Merushal (cooked) wine, holding that such wine may be drunk even if handled by a non-Jew. Cooked wine cannot be yayin nesech, as cooking renders it ipso facto unsuitable for sacramental use. The Rosh, Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (~1250-1328) explains that the key to the leniency is that cooked wine is considered inferior or diminished. This is based on Rava’s statement in the Talmud Avoda Zarah (30a), which is accepted, for practical purposes (halacha lemaaseh) by Rashi, Tosafot, Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asurot Ch. 11: 9), the Tur, Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 123: 3) and later authorities. The Rosh explained that the Rabbis established gezeirot (restrictions) only for situations that arise frequently. As cooked wine is not common, it is not the subject of a decree of Chazal.

There is a little bit of disagreement as to what treatment makes wine mevushal. Some rabbis hold that a wine becomes mevushal once heated to 165°-175°F. For others, the wine must be heated to a minimum of 190°F. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 123:3) simply states “when it gets hot on the fire,” implying that it must be at least hot enough that “Yad Soledes Bo,” when one would reflexively pull his hand away for fear of getting burned. The Talmud additionally refers to this degree of heat as that which would scald a baby’s abdomen (B.Shabbat 40b).

The Shach (Rabbi Shabbatai HaKohen, 1621-1662), quoting the Rashba (Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, 1235-1310) and Ran (Rabbi Nissim of Gerona ~1310-~1380), however, adds another caveat: The heat level has to be high enough so that the wine’s volume is noticeably reduced (diminished) due to the cooking. Rav Moshe Feinstein, in several responsa, estimates this temperature to be approximately 175°F. He maintains that once the wine reaches this temperature while being cooked, it is already considered yayin mevushal, and we no longer need be concerned about the halachic ramifications should a gentile touch this wine.

What About Pasteurization?

This technique (invented in the mid-19thcentury by Louis Pasteur, though it was apparently known in China since 1117), is based on Pasteur’s discovery that it is sufficient to heat a young wine to only about 50-60°C (122-140°F) for a brief time to kill the microbes, and that the wine could subsequently be aged without sacrificing the final quality. It used to be common in wine preparation to prevent it from souring. Today, it is much less so.

The Tzelemer Rav, Levi Yitzchok Greenwald, holds that in order for a wine to be classified as mevushal, it must reach the higher temperature of 190°F. Kedem, whom he certifies, flash pasteurizes (high termperature, short time processing) to 190° in accordance with his ruling. It takes 15-30 seconds, so it damages the wine much less than conventional pasteurization.

Not all decisors (poskim) agree that flash pasteurization renders the wine “mevushal.” Israeli poskim tend to be stricter. The late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo siman 25) ruled that because the average person will not detect any difference in the taste of the wine following this method of pasteurization, it cannot be considered “cooked” and is therefore not yayin mevushal. The late Rabbi Yoseph Shalom Elyashiv (1910-2012) in Kovitz Teshuvot (siman 75) offers another reason to prevent our mevushal wines from coming into contact with a non-Jew. He reasons that leniency of yayin mevushal is based on the premise that cooked wine is unusual. Today, he reasoned, when it is standard practice to pasteurize wine, it cannot be considered, in his view, as an abnormal act so the heter of yayin mevushal would not apply. Some question the information presented to Rabbi Elyashiv, claiming that non-kosher wine companies today do not routinely pasteurize their wines and so it would still be considered uncommon to have “cooked wine.”

Today, the minhag haolom (nearly universal prevalent practice) is to follow the lenient approach of Rabbi Feinstein and Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss (1902-1989), known by his work Minchat Yitzchak (V.7 siman 61), who both consider our pasteurized wines mevushal.

The Choicest Wine

In closing, one question and one thought.

Are mevushal wines inferior? To oenophiles, the answer is unquestionably yes, and so premium and ultra-premium kosher wines are all sold as “lo mevushal,” and thus all require special handling to retain their kosher status.

For Kiddush, it is preferable (when possible) to make Kiddush over red wine that is not mevushal, as this is considered choicest. My closing thought is we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the pioneers who reintroduced fine kosher wines to our kosher tables.

By David E. Y. Sarna

David E. Y. Sarna is a writer and retired entrepreneur. He has eight published books, including “Evernote For Dummies, V2,” and hundreds of articles, and has nearly completed his first novel, about the Jewish treasures in the Vatican’s secret archive. He is hard at work on a book about the Internet of Things and also on a book on the Talmud for general readers. He and his wife, Dr. Rachel Sarna, are long-time Teaneck residents.


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