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Friday 13 April 2012

Weekly Wine: Kosher Wines for Passover

This week marks the celebration of Passover, and with it hopefully a glass or two of kosher wine.

Kosher wines are available in UK supermarkets, but have somewhat of a bad reputation. This probably has something to do with the kosher wine of the 1980s: heavy, sweet red wines whose merits began and ended with their religious significance.

This kind of kosher wine is still on the market today (ASDA do a typical example for £6.49) but the development of kosher wines has come on leaps and bounds since then, with some producers passionately dedicating themselves to bringing kosher wine up to the standard of its non-kosher contemporaries. The trouble is, the UK market doesn't appear to have caught up just yet.

If you want to get a better idea of the practises involved in making a wine kosher (as I did), Smithfield wines explain the process brilliantly (and also sell some great examples), but during Passover that definition alters a bit: wine that is kosher for Passover must also be kept free from grain, bread and dough. Bottles that meet this requirement will almost certainly specify this on the label as it is obviously an important differentiation.

If you're looking for some good kosher for Passover wine to celebrate with this weekend, you may struggle if you haven't already found one of the excellent specialist kosher wine merchants in the UK (the aforementioned Smithfield is one, as well as The Wine Cellar and Kosher Wines) who have an extensive and impressive list of good quality producers to choose from.

The reason for this is - aside from a minuscule selection in most supermarkets - no leading UK wine merchants offer kosher wines (or specify them in their lists anyway), making it very hard for a savvy wine-drinker to find good examples without doing a fair bit of legwork.

Waitrose Wine, however, do some promising examples, and I found a couple of decent varieties in supermarkets. All of the wines I list below are kosher for Passover.
Israeli wines are growing ever-popular, and this is a good example of why. Classic cedary cabernet with good black fruits and an excellent accompaniment to rich food, roast meats and the cheeseboard.
A little sweet for my liking when it comes to rose (this is a bit of a 'big brand' wine), but this is a good Californian blush that would be perfect for garden party sipping if the weather holds up this weekend.

White - Terrenal Chardonnay, half price at £4.49, Tesco
Spanish producers appear to be at the forefront of good kosher wine production. A grape like Chardonnay isn't exactly what you'd expect to see from Spain, but it is grown successfully there, and this is crisp, dry and fruity. Perfect with lighter food dishes.
Another offering from Baron Herzog, this is an interesting grape variety and slightly honeyed. This wine has had grape juice added before bottling to make it sweeter, which isn't exactly brilliant wine production practise, but it makes an interesting contrast to the crispness of the Chardonnay from Tesco.

So why are kosher wines so under-represented in Britain? The kosher wine merchants I mentioned list hundreds of varieties at varying prices, so why are options so limited elsewhere? Barkan and Baron Herzog do dozens of different varieties of wine and even they only have a couple of options available countrywide.

It seems as though perhaps the UK wine market has failed to explore the new possibilities in kosher wine production, and I can't help thinking it's a real shame that it isn't more widely available.

I'd be interested to hear Domestic Sluttery readers' opinions and experiences of the kosher wines we have available in the UK. Tell us about it in the comments, or head on over to Twitter or Facebook to give us your thoughts on all things kosher.

Image of a delicious traditional Passover Seder meal (the feast that marks the beginning of Passover) taken from Robert Couse-Baker's photostream under the Creative Commons License


  1. Passover finishes today so all the wine was bought (and drunk) last week!
    Palwin wine continues to taste like undiluted Ribena but I suspect the main reason that kosher wine is not very widely available is that if you are orthodox (and you're drinking kosher wine, then you probably are) if the wine is handled* by someone not Jewish then that renders it non-kosher, which means that a lot of people are only going to want to buy it from a kosher shop.

    Also, Jews are traditionally not very big drinkers so there probably isn't a massive demand for a range of kosher wines - the aforementioned Palwin is definitely for ceremonial use and certainly not for actual drinking!

    *to be fair, I'm not sure if 'handled' encompasses bottles or would just be sticking fingers in it.

    1. Interesting points, thanks so much for this extra information!

      I did read up on the additional 'mevushal' level of kosher wine which the Smithfield page I mentioned suggested would mean it could be handled by anyone, but didn't realise it wasn't very widely available! Really appreciate you making that point as that would contribute to the reasons why big name non-kosher shops don't sell very much kosher wine.

      While I guess that would explain why supermarkets wouldn't stock it, I still imagine there must be a demand for non-mevushal kosher wines or would they stock any kosher wine at all? And if there is, why not stock some of the better ones available (there's so many!), and why don't big wine merchants stock any at all? I just felt it perhaps didn't represent the market and didn't seem an avenue wine buyers were pursuing.

      Again, thanks so much for your comment - really helpful info. :)

  2. I think if more people knew about it there would probably be more of a demand. My dad has recently discovered 'proper' wine and really enjoys the odd glass but then, I doubt that he would feel comfortable buying it from a regular supermarket - he'd want to get it from the 'kosher' shop so he could be doubly sure of its provenance.

    I suspect he's not the only one with that attitude and that's probably what puts the wine buyers off...

  3. Just a quick note that closed bottles of kosher wine (i.e. in a wine shop) can be handled by anyone without rendering it non-kosher so I doubt that has any connection to the poor selections of kosher wine available in the UK (which is a crying shame given the vast selection of incredible kosher wines from around the world).


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