March 26, 2010
The Kosher Wine Covenant
What makes kosher wine holy? Since I’m hardly a Talmudic scholar and certainly no rabbi, you’ll have to take my opinion for what it is: that of a Jewish winemaker who deals in everything from fermentation science to drinking (often and a lot) with other members of our tribe.
From my perspective, there is no other comestible—food or beverage—that has the power to bring people together like wine. And with Kiddush, wine actually bonds us to G-d. I’m down for that! So what makes kosher wine so special?
Well, let’s start with the seemingly mundane. It’s important to remember that kosher wine is made only from grapes. Not strawberries, peaches, blueberries or bananas. Why? Well, my secular theory is that grapes have a greater concentration of essential oils (also known as terpenes and esters) than other fruits and vegetables. These essential oils are the chemical compounds that create aromas and flavors in fruits and vegetables. Think about it: can you describe what a grape tastes like? Not really. Aside from artificial “grape” flavoring, a grape’s flavor is not easily defined in the way a strawberry’s is. Come taste wine grapes in the vineyards with us at harvest, and you’ll see what I mean. The grapes are bursting with flavors ranging from all sorts of berries and stone fruit to chocolate and herbs. It’s incredible. There’s a reason we don’t make great wine from strawberries. And by extension, there must be a reason we don’t say Kiddush with strawberry wine either.
Like I said, I don’t pretend to fully understand the unique essence of yayin—especially from a spiritual perspective. But I can tell you that wine brings people to together in a way that promotes social and spiritual bonding. And drinking kosher wine, which according to our tradition is only handled by Sabbath-observant Jews, provokes us to focus not only on simply eating and drinking, but also on our common heritage and spiritual bonds.
Is there another drink or food that does this? (Perhaps matzoh….But somehow it’s just not as inspiring to me.)
That said, as we prepare for Passover, let’s remember it’s no accident that the meal revolves around four cups of wine. We Jews have the oldest codified relationship to wine of any people on earth. Our culture is special; our people are special; and we need to honor ourselves and our history with only the best. And that includes kosher wine. This Passover, when you make a covenant with Judaism and G-d, make sure you’re drinking the good stuff.