‘Kosher wine is not just for Friday dinners anymore, but for fine drinking’

Kosher wine often used to be of poor quality, but times are changing

Kosher wine often used to be of poor quality, but times are changing - Credit: Archant

Wine complying with Jewish dietary laws was largely made for ceremony occasions but a growing market for recreational drinking has meant a leap in quality.

Kosher wine traditionally had to be handled only by Orthodox Jews

Kosher wine traditionally had to be handled only by Orthodox Jews - Credit: Archant

The growing market for kosher wines is seeing more producers making bottles that comply with Jewish dietary laws - with even the Barons de Rothschild getting in on the act.

Kedem the UK’s largest importers of kosher wines brought together 30 producers from France, Switzerland, the UK, Italy, Spain, the US, New Zealand, Israel and Finland to the recent Kosher Food and Wine Experience at the Park Lane Sheraton.

Jay Buchsbaum exec VP of marketing at the Royal Wine Corporation told gathered journalists: “It starts with making absolutely magnificent wine that’s the most important thing.”

The world’s 2,500 plus kosher wines now include Champagne Cuvee Kosher from the Barons de Rothschild - more famous for reds like Chateau Lafite.This chardonnay and pinot noir blend with its notes of pear, nuts and white flowers “embodies the essence of the families winemaking values” said Champagne MD Frederic Mairesse.

The three winemaking branches of the family; Baron Eric, Baron Benjamin and Baroness Philippine joined forces on the project: “This is the first time in their history that all parts of the Rothschild family have come together on a project. It’s unprecedented. The target was to be very exclusive and premium quality. Rothschild expectations are so high we had to do something very special. Kosher wine is not just about making kiddish on Fridays anymore. It’s about fine wine and fine drinking.”

To be kosher, the hands on production of wine from grape crushing to bottling must be carried out by Sabbath observant Orthodox Jews.

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Ingredients must be kept from contact with grain - so no fermenting with yeasts from grains - and in a kind of religious get-out clause Mevushal Wines that are cooked can be handled bythe non-observant or non Jews.

This has lead to techniques such as flash pasteurisation where the wine is heated to the required temperature then immediately cooled back down - but still under strict rabbinical supervision.

Some producers admitted going kosher was a commercial choice. For others like Domaine du Castel based 10 miles west of Jerusalem it was part of a tradition dating back to biblical times.

This spot in the Judean hills at 700 metres altitude facing the Mediterranean has seen grapes grown for centuries, but Castel’s cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec, chardonnay and cabernet franc grapes are somewhat younger. The domaine was founded in 1988 by self-confessed perfectionist Eli Ben-Zaken who makes soft reds full of black fruit spices, and oak aged Chardonnays. They use cement tanks, have minimised invasion in production and age their wines in French oak barrels.

Arriving in the 1970s he opened Italian restaurant Mamma Mia, the first in Jerusalem to serve home made pasta. He also planted vines.

“At the beginning it was completely a hobby the first vintage was 600 bottles, they soon turned the old chicken house into a winery and now its 150,000 bottles” says Eli’s daughter Ilana.

At Elvi in Spain they feel the very existence of their domaine is symbolic. In 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain but 20 years ago, Moises and Anne Cohen bought a parcel of land .

“It feels a sentimental comeback to Spain where for years it was forbidden for Jews to buy land. We are somehow like the first Jewish family after many years,” say the Cohens. Their ancient vineyards have tiny yields of carignan, grenache and syrah but make award winning Rioja. The organic Clos Mesorah from the Priorat wine region is biodynamic non filterd had its first vintage in 2009 and has won international awards for its elegance and complexity. It’s stocked in 3*Michelin establishements.

Over in California Herzog has nine generations of winemaking under their belt making kosher wine since 1985 and investing in a state of the art winery with a kosher restaurant. Their oaked Burgundy-style creamy rich chardonnays include the Russian River a cool terroir style with apple, tropical fruit and toasty vanilla oak is made using malolactic fermentation; kosher yeasts derived from grapeskins.

Flintier are the Goose Bay sauvignon blancs made by Philip Jones in the cool climate of at New Zealand’s only kosher winery. Founded in 1990 and producing since 1994 he uses innovative one tonne bags and stainless steel tanks. When he arrive there in the 80s the industry was tiny but by year three they’d won an award.

“I liked sauvignons made in the oak aged fumee style. It gives it more depth, structure and character.”

He adds: “There’s no difference between our kosher and non kosher wines, we have observant Jews helping us make our wines some of them are mevushal we don’t see heating the wine makes any difference.”

At their Matar winery in the Golan Heights, Tal Pelter uses locally sourced shiraz grapes grown in Galilee and minimal pumping and handling methods to create their Stratus wine full of cocoa and spice. This 12 year old producer also makes CB a blend of cab sauv, shiraz petit verdot and cab franc that’s aged 14 months in oak barrels and is richly flavoured with coffee plum and violet. Not all their wines are kosher, as his brother Nir explains: “To understand why you need to meet my brother and look at his hands - he wants to be able to touch everything that’s why he wanted to be a winemaker. He can’t be a winemaker and not dig into the grapes, that was a compromise between me and him. I believe in the kosher wine industry, it’s the way to go.”

From the US Jeff Morgan at Covenant uses only wild yeast on Chardonnay grapes grown in Napa Valley vineyards. They also produce wines in Berkeley near San Francisco the only urban kosher winery in America since prohibition. Tribe is a mevuschsl wine using the flash detente method.

“After seven days the wine starts to ferment; it’s all kosher there’s no yeast, nothing added it just goes into barrels and ferments in there. It’s going back to what they did 3,000 years ago.”

A personal favourite was the rich Amarone style red from Alexander Winery in Beit Yitzhak, Israel where since 1996 Yoram Shalom has combined traditional and modern wine production - drying the grapes on straw mats for 70 days using low temperature supervision and ageing for 40 months to produce Amarolo a 16 percent red that has super intensity and richness.

Recipe for Shakshukah: This traditional Israeli breakfast is becoming increasingly popular in cafes and restaurants across the capital and is a bestseller for the £15.95 bottomless Sunday brunch at JW3’s Zest in Finchley Road. Here is their version of this classic:

Serves 4


1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

1 red onion

1 white onion

4 garlic cloves

1 tbsp each of paprika and cumin

4 x 450g tins of tomatoes

1 tin of tomato puree

500 ml of veg stock

150ml of white wine

1 heaped tablespoon of sugar



50ml olive oil


Handful of crumbled feta

half bunch of chopped parsley

Zhoug (recipe below)

Roast aubergine

Eggs 8


2 cardamon pods

2 tomatoes

2 green chillies

1 shallot

1 garlic clove

Olive oil

Lemon juice


Salt and pepper


•Slice all the vegetables thinly

•Heat the oil on a high heat in a large saucepan

•Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they begin to brown

•Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding both peppers and sweating for another 5 minutes

•Add the cumin and paprika and cook for another minute

•Add all other ingredients, reduce to a low heat and cook for 45 minutes until rich and thick stirring frequently to make sure it doesn’t catch the bottom of the pan

•Place the sauce in a frying pan with a touch of water over a high heat

•Drop the eggs into the pan and cover with a lid until poached

•Blitz all the Zhoug ingredients together in a blender

•Finish with garnish and Zhoug