Kosher Wines

Until the Golan Heights Winery’s 1983 Yarden sauvignon blanc arrived in the United States in 1984, many American Jews assumed that kosher Sabbath and Passover wines had to be red, sweet, heavy and made from native Concord grapes. Virtually overnight, this European-style Israeli white — dry, light, crisp, grassy — began redefining kosher wines.

The ensuing revolution offered a cornucopia of red, white, still and sparkling alternatives to Manischewitz, which is made in Naples, N.Y., near Lake Canandaigua, and remains iconic among graying traditionalists. Kosher modernism became synonymous with chardonnay, chenin blanc, gewürztraminer, riesling, viognier, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, syrah and zinfandel.

Wine does not become kosher by being blessed. It is kosher (Hebrew: pure, proper) when complying with strict rabbinic criteria that render it acceptable for Orthodox Jews.

For the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America to put its accreditation symbol on bottles — the letter o with the letter u inside it — the winemakers must be Sabbath-observant Orthodox Jews. Other Jewish winemakers (non-Jews too) can oversee cellar functions, but only the religious can do hands-on work with equipment, grapes and wine. If wine is designated kosher for Passover, to carry another Union symbol (the “ou” plus a hyphenated p) it cannot have come into contact with grain, dough or bread products.

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