Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Kosher Wines

There has been a recent explosion in the interest of wines. Not just kosher wines, where Jews are discovering that there is more to life than Carmel, but also an interest in small, fine wineries from remote parts of the world. "Sideways," as I see it at least, was only an indication of this trend.

The funny thing about kosher wines, however, is that they are completely identical to non-kosher wines. Ideally, whereas non-kosher food contains ingredients which either by themselves, or mixed together are trief, a non-kosher wine consists of nothing which is physically assur. Rather wine, through Rabbinic edict, must be "made by a Jew" (whatever the technical definition of that may be). It is thus very frustrating for a wine coinsure that the wine, so rich and subtle, which he or she may have enjoyed in a past life, is no longer permissible for merely artificial and ethereal reasons.

You enter a large wine supermarket and are overwhelmed by the choice and selection at hand. There are wines from known and venerable wineries, along with new, smaller groves. While those instantiated wines are known for their exquisite composition, you can always get a surprising and novel new wine, with a palette you could have never otherwise dreamed of. As you go through the store you accumulate a basket full of wonderful, exotic, rich, complex wines which have been fermented and crafted with the utmost care. As you proceed to the register you remember that you ought to check the bottles for a hechsher. Nothing. They are all trief. You put them all back, one by one, shedding a tear as you replace every bottle individually. But as you replace a certain highly touted and specialized New Mexican '85 vintage you can't help but pause and sigh.

"Can you please direct me to the kosher wines?" you inquire of one of the attendants. The kosher wines are kept in a small ill-lit room in the back. There exists a wide variety of fruity, bubbly and overly sweet Mascato D'Asti-esque beverages (which seem filled with mostly air) and Baron Herzog White Zinfendels, the complex (yet acerbic) end of the Jewish palate. As you rummage through the selection in desperate yearning for a kosher run of that New Mexican wine you love so much--or any other respectable wine for that matter-- you are at a loss. Nothing. Where are the sweet, soft, light, complex and intriguing bottles that you had discovered just moments earlier? While at one time you were amused by some of the Israeli and Australian attempts to mimic good wine, you know that today is lost.

You leave the market, bowed head and bowed shoulders, lamenting the dismal array of kosher wines. Oy me haya lanu. Pausing, you compose yourself-- DAMN IT! DAMN IT!!! you then yell in a fury which could only echo the cry of Hades when he lost Persephone-- and then regain calm. There is no guarantee you will ever be able to find the a kosher bottle of that New Mexican you once cherished so. But you must face the truth, Jews do not know how to make fine wine. So you wait, as others do for the messiah, for the once a decade kosher runs from your favorite trief wineries. You must be patient and not lose composure, settling for the second rate Binyamina or Dalton, but remain composed for the best wines to become kosher. It takes a combination of luck, patients and discernment, but it can be done. Hamevin Yavin.


miriam said...

zevi, snobbery is unbecoming even to those who come by it naturally, all the more so when it is affected.
On the topic of wine, I think we should all make it in the basement like a cousin of mine does for pesach. Then we could quit complaining.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing. Every once in awhile, esp when a certain Prof of Phil/Judaism visits, we have a decent kosher wine. But the better the wine, the more son L is disappointed. Last shabbos he was so happy that we have a sweet bottle of Rashi. Soon to be a 9 yr old lush...

Jose said...

of course, you seem to have forgotten that there is a delightful littel loophole: we can have mevushal wines and hten it doesn't much matter what the gentiles do with the wine.

I guess it is just a question of when the bishul happens. Unfortunately, once it's been bottled we can't just stick on the stove, give it a quickie boil and have, voilá, an acceptable wine. It would be a great little trick if we could.

Of course, the worst part about kosher wines is that many of them start out sweet, like candy, and you think to yrouself, this is harmless—grape juice—I don't even need to think about how much I'm drinking. But then the hangover is 100 times worse, and it leaves you with such a bitter taste in your mouth that you think to yourself "if this is all I can have, I never want to drink again."

Eventually you have another glass for kiddush though and you think to yourself, you know, maybe this isn't so bad after all, and you try again. Or so I'm told.

Zev said...

so very confused Jose.

Yehuda said...

Actually, in Israel you can get some pretty good wines. A 60 sheqel bottle of wine here can be of quite good quality.