Several leading Bordeaux châteaux make Kosher wine which is made following Jewish dietary law (Kashrut). In order for a wine to be deemed Kosher it must be made under the supervision of a Rabbi and must contain only Kosher ingredients. No preservatives or artificial colours may be added. To be considered Kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew has to be involved in the entire wine making process from the harvesting of the grapes, through fermentation to bottling. As wine has a special role in many non-Jewish religions, the Kashrut laws specify that wine cannot be considered Kosher if it might have been used for “idolatry”. When Kosher wine is yayin mevushal (boiled), it becomes unfit for idolatrous use and will keep the status of Kosher wine even if subsequently touched by an idolater.
Mevushal wines are heated to 90°C (194°F).This obviously affects the character and flavour of the wine as the boiling process kills most must on the grapes, greatly altered the tannins, and has a substantial effect on quality and ageing potential. Producers of Kosher wines are now using a process called flash pasteurization which is said to have a minimal effect on flavour. The wine moves in a controlled, continuous flow while subjected to temperatures of 71.5°C (160°F) – 74°C (165°F), for about 15 to 30 seconds. In each case, the goal is to craft a Kosher wine that perfectly mimics the non-kosher version. The resident winemaker provides direction but is not permitted to touch the Kosher wine or any of the equipment used to make it.
Jean-Luc Thunevin, owner of the garagiste Right Bank Chateau Valandraud is producing a top quality Kosher wine in Saint Emilion. Starting with the 2001 vintage, Thunevin singled out a few small areas of his vineyard to use solely for the production of his Kosher bottling of Valandraud. When the grapes are harvested they are handled separately from all the other lots and flash-pasteurization techniques are used which maintain the quality of the wine yet still allow it to be considered Mevushal. The 2005 Kosher vintage was rated 90 – 92 points by Robert Parker.
The Rothschilds have been making Kosher wine since 1988, some of it being Mevushal and some not. They are partnered with Royal Wines Corp in the USA who supply a team of Rabbis who supervise the wine making at Chateau Clarke (Moulis), owned by Baron Benjamin Rothschild. Wines produced are Baron Rothschild Haut Medoc, Baron Rothschild Le Rose de Clarke and Chateau Malmaison Nadine De Rothschild. Both the Rothschild’s First Growths, Chateaux Lafite and Mouton, also produce Kosher wine.
The Rothschild family have played an important part in promoting Kosher wine and, in particular, Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) produced the first kosher wine to be made by a Rothschild outside Israel. Baron Edmond sent his own viticulturists with cuttings from Chateau Lafite’s vineyards, to plant vineyards in Israel in 1882. He built the wineries of Rishon Le Zion in 1890 and Zichron Yaácov on Mount Carmel in 1892 and sent Bordeaux winemakers to make the first vintages – including the winemaker of Chateau Lafite itself as a consultant in the 1890’s. The Baron is affectionately known as the modern founder of the Israeli wine industry.
In Saint Julien the Second Growth Château Léoville Poyferré makes Kosher wine as do Chateau Giscours (Third Growth) in Margaux, Lafon Rochet (Fourth Growth) in Saint Estephe, Pontet Canet (Fifth Growth) in Pauillac and Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac Leognan.
If you are interested in Kosher wine check out Daniel Rogov’s book ‘Rogov’s Guide To Kosher Wines 2010’, published by Toby Press. The book lists the best 500 Kosher wines in the world. Daniel Rogov is the world’s premier critic on both Israeli and Kosher wines and is the first book ever to focus specifically on Kosher wine. He has a website here.