At most parties and “simchas” today, we find many people enhancing their level of celebration with the help of some form of alcoholic beverage. Indeed, a well chosen bottle of wine or liqueur makes a perfect gift for almost any occasion. And what better identifies a kiddush in any shul or Jewish home worldwide than the familiar bottles of fine whiskeys and liqueurs on the table? The joyous cry of “Lechayim” has been passed down from one Jewish generation to the next and is still heard today at simchas. Yes, alcoholic beverages play an important part of our lives as Jews. No less important is the knowledge that the kosher consumer must have today regarding the kosher status of the many hundreds of available alcoholic beverages on the market. As with most edible products on the market, alcoholic beverages can have their share of headaches for the kosher consumer. For instance, vermouth, sangria, champagne, sherry brandy and cognac, as well as some liqueurs and cordials, all require supervision because they are wine-based or may contain wine as an ingredient. Needless to say, all wines must have careful supervision. These concerns extend to grape juice and vinegar as well.
There are few edibles which have the particular status of a truly social food. One class of delicacies, though, is universally considered classy, even though they may be inexpensive and simple: wines. For thousands of years, people have recognized the special “something” which makes wine the drink of toast, of friendship and of love.
It is small wonder, then, that the Torah consistently makes reference to the importance of wine and that the Talmudic rabbis saw fit to establish a special law with regard to wine.
Needless to say, the vast majority of wines on the market today are unfit for consumption by observant Jews.
Strict kashrus supervision is required throughout all stages of the wine-manufacturing process until final bottling.
An interesting prohibition concerning wines relates to the status of boiled wine. Kosher wine that has been cooked before any contact with a non-Jew is exempted from the injunction. Boiled wine is considered “improper” to be offered as a libation to an idol: therefore, if a non-Jew subsequently came into contact with boiled wine, the wine is still permissible to drink. Many kosher wines today bear markings to indicate that they have been boiled. In such a case, it will state on the label “Yayin Mevushal” (boiled wine). Extra caution should be taken with a kosher wine that has not been previously boiled, lest a non-Jew or Jew who is not Shomer Shabbos should come in contact with the bottle of wine (maid etc.)
This winemaking process, from grape to wine glass, yields what may be the most simple and, at the same time, most complex liquid in existence. Simple, because in its most basic state, it is nothing more than fermented grape juice. Complex, because its nuances are boundless, given the countless variables of grape types, processing and aging. The basic ingredient is the grape, which consists of water, sugar, acid and tannin.
The wine industry in Israel was greatly enhanced in 1906 when Baron Edmond de Rothschild gave two vineyards and wineries to the Israeli government. One was in Richon LeZion, near Tel Aviv. The other location was Zichron Yaakov, near Haifa. Several species of grape vines were added from Europe as well as the Reisling grape variety from Germany. Most types of grapes that are used in kosher wines today are carignam, grenache and semillon. Today, the vineyards in Israel consist of almost 40,000 acres, and produce over 13 million gallons of wines per year. Currently kosher wines are being produced in such places as Spain, Italy, New York, California, Israel, and Italy, among others.
This is a brief description of how wine is made:
Preparation – The grapes are crushed and destemmed in a machine, then poured into a wood, steel, cement or fiberglass fermentation vat. For white wine, the skins usually are removed immediately after crushing. Sulphur dioxide as an antiseptic may be added before fermentation.
Fermentation – Natural yeasts start the fermentation when the temperature exceeds 65 degrees, but cultured yeasts, developed to suit a certain grape or wine style, are added to speed and control the process. In red wines, the grape mixture is heated, usually to about 75 degrees. In most white wines, a cooler fermentation is preferred. When the sugar is almost completely converted to alcohol, the fermentation ends.
During fermentation, sugar or sterilized grape juice may be injected for sweetness, acids for tartness, and certain flavorings, like oak shavings, may be added to provide extra tannin.
Maturation – Most red wine is filtered, then aged from a few months to 3 years. The better reds draw complex flavors from oak barrels. White wines generally are stored briefly and away from air in concrete or cement tanks. During maturation, the wine is filtered and clarified, often employing several additives.
Bottling – Most white wines are bottled within 9 months after harvest, while red wines are bottled between 2 and 10 years after picking. Wines continue to age in the bottle, with acid and tannin softening over time. Fine red wines may continue to improve for 30 years or longer.
Wine Facts: As of the date of this second edition, of special interest to wine consumers may be some of the following facts:
a.) Kedem 1 1/2 Litre bottles of wine are NOT Mevushal.
b.) Kedem Domestic 187 ml. and 750 ml. bottles of wine are ALWAYSMevushal.
c.) In Kedem’s 3 Litre bottles, only the Burgandy, Chablois & Sherry AREMevushal.
d.) Kedem Baron Herzog are ALL Mevushal except for those marked “Special Reserve”, which are NOT Mevushal.
e.) ALL Manischewitz wines are Mevushal.
f.) All O/U Grape Juices are Mevushal.
g.) Tirosh wines in the 75 ml. bottles are Mevushal.
h.) Tirosh wines in the 1500 ml. bottles, are NOT Mevushal.
i .) Weinstock wines are ALL Mevushal. All Ashalon Wines are notMevushal, all Golan Wines are not Mevushal except for Sauvignon Blanc. All Gamla Wines are not Mevushal except Sauvignon Blanc and Red Emerald Hill.
Liqueurs are generally made by adding flavoring to high proof distilled spirit. A liqueur can contain many ingredients of concern to the kosher consumer. The first ingredient to check is the alcohol base itself. This is sometimes a grape alcohol from the surplus grape crop. Another important concern is the flavoring of the liqueur. Chartreuse liqueur has over 130 herbs, peels, roots and spices all contributing to is flavor. Most liqueurs fall into 4 main categories. a.) fruit liqueur b.) citrus liqueur c.) herb liqueur d.) bean and kernel liqueur.
In fruit brandy, for instance, Creme de Cassis is made near Dijon, France from black currants and grape brandy. Without proper supervision, this would be prohibited to the kosher consumer.
Among the citrus liqueurs is Cointreau, which is a Triple-Sec Curacao. This and Grand Marnier, from the Bordeaux wine region, have a champagne Cognac base, and are not kosher.
Tia Maria liqueur is an example of a bean and kernel liqueur. It is produced by the use of blue mountain coffee extract in Jamaican cane spirit. Kahluais made in a similar fashion in Mexico. Drambuie, which in Gaelic means “Drink that satisfies”, is made from a base of single-malt scotch whiskey with added beaten honey and herbs. All of the above liqueurs are recommended.
Since the essence of a liqueur is in its flavor, many are shrouded in secrecy. Benedictine, for instance, is made by a company founded in
1863 in Normandy. Among its ingredients are: cinnamon, cardomom, bitter aloes, nutmeg, saffron, musk seeds, myrrh, angelica seeds, mace and 17 other ingredients.
Vermouth is always wine based, hence a good certification is always needed.
Scotch whiskey has been around for close to 500 years. Although some companies still produce single malt whiskey (e.g. Glenlivet), most blend from 15 to 50 different malts to achieve the flavor they desire. The malt is made from barley, and later combined with a mostly tasteless grain alcohol base. Chivas Regal, for instance, uses over 30 malt whiskeys in their product. U.S. produced whiskey is usually made either from rye, corn or barley. These are often blended. It is important to note that the U.S. government allows up to 2.5% sherry (wine based) to be added to the whiskey blend. This can cause problems for the kosher consumer. Canadian whiskey is rye and barley. It is then aged in used American bourbon barrels. Seagram’s V.O. whiskey, one of the most popular, is a blend of over 120 different whiskeys.
Mescal & Tequila
Mescal, and its cousin tequila, are made by the following process: Agaveplants which are about to flower (the terminal event in the life of the plant) are cut off at the roots, their leaves removed, leaving a globular stem called a “cabeza” (Spanish for head). The cabeza is then baked, to convert the starches and polysaccharides (which build up in the stem in anticipation of flowering) into sugars. The cabeza is shredded, and the liquid extracted. This liquid is fermented and then distilled into mescal. Commercial mescal and tequila are generally distilled twice, to 110 proof, then watered back down to 80 proof.
The difference between mescal and tequila is the place in which it is made. Much like the wines of Bordeaux, tequila comes from the Tequila region of the state of Jalisco, Mexico. (Only one cultivar, the Aqul: (Spanish for blue) variety of Agave Tequilana, called blue maguey, is cultivated there.)
The distilled product from other species of Agave, or from outside the Tequila region, is generally called mescal. Some are known by local names. A good deal of it is bootlegged.
The larvae which are put in some bottles of tequilla are natural parasites who feed on the rich stem and root tissues of Agave plants. Why is this misnamed “worm” added? It is an indication of the proof of the liquor. If the larva is in good shape, it means that the percentage of alcohol is high enough to keep it preserved. However, if the booze has been watered down, the larva goes bad. Although most tequilla is acceptable, those with the worm inside of course are not.