One of the interesting aspects of having a site such as The Liquid Muse is meeting all sorts of different people who all have one thing in common: a love of libations!
I recently met a writer named Sara Shereen Bakhshian, who is particularly interested in writing about topics related to religion. We got to chatting about where religion and wine intersect, and she expressed interest in writing a piece on kosher wines. I was very excited, as this is a topic I know nothing about (being a Catholic school girl myself, which surely fostered my love of wine. When else is it ok to underage drink - in front of one's parents - than at Mass?)
And, now, drumroll please... Here is Sipster Sara's article:
Vino in Kashrut
“Where is the Manishevitz?” is a common question in American Jewish homes at the Friday Sabbath dinner table and the blessing of wine is done with the brand’s sweet Concord Grape.
In the past, kosher wine meant sugary vino from the American Northeast. Today, there are multiple varietals found from vineyards across Israel, the U.S., Europe, South America, South Africa, and Australia. Yarden is the flagship series of Golan Heights Winery in Northern Israel.
Wines from the Golan Heights Winery have kosher certification and follow the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. Only observant Jews are in contact with it during the winemaking process. While most wines don’t have any forbidden ingredients, a part of kashrut is that the wine should not be used for idolatry or come in contact with anyone using it for those purposes.
Some kosher wine consumers, particularly those who follow the Orthodox tradition, drink only wine that is mevushal: “cooked” or “boiled.” After the wine goes through a process similar to flash pasteurization, it remains kosher no matter who touches it. However, Golan Heights Winery doesn’t flash pasteurize their wines because they believe the process could alter quality.
There are 16 vineyards in the Golan Heights (a plateau on the border of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) — as well as one in Upper Galilee (as in Sea of Galilee). The Golan is known for rolling green hills, dry summers, snowy winters, volcanic basalt soil (left by now-extinct volcanoes) and plentiful water sources.
Golan residents planted the modern vineyards in 1976 and the first grapes were sent to Central Israel in 1982. The Golan Heights Winery was established for the 1983 harvest, with its first release being the 1983 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc.
The Yarden series was given the name after the Jordan River, which cleaves the Galilee and the Golan Heights. Chief winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, a California native whose résumé includes Baron Wine Cellars, Robert Mondavi Winery and Champagne Jacquesson & Fils has seen the winery through many medals in international competitions since joining it in 1992.
Art also plays a factor in Yarden, with its mosaic ancient oil lamp symbol and smooth and clean typography. A key to this wine series is the grape, which it calls an artwork of nature. This fruit is a basis for 20 varietals available in the U.S. such as the following four tasted for this piece:
- Yarden Gewurztraminer 2006 ($18), from vineyards in Northern Golan, with touches of litchi, passion fruit, cinnamon and a floral bouquet simply evaporates in the mouth. The wine’s smooth taste can be attributed to its extremely cold and long fermentation in stainless steel. The wine’s light sweetness pairs nicely with spicy foods like a horseradish cheddar.
- Yarden Odem Organic Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 ($17), a medium-bodied wine from a Northern Golan vineyard, retains the flavor of the French oak barrels it was fermented in for seven months. Filled with the smells of a rainforest, the Chardonnay has traces of apricot and pear. Compared with the Gewurztraminer above, the Chardonnay comes out second in the white wines tasted.
- Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($28), from Central Golan and Upper Galilee vineyards, also includes a bit of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In addition to the tastes of dark berries, cherries and vanilla, the Cabernet has hints of the small French oak barrels it was aged in for a predominate portion of 18 months. The Cabernet is pretty bold with its spice but the Syrah takes first place among the red wines.
- Yarden Syrah ($28), with the sleek shade of dark purple, comes from vineyards in Central and Northern Golan. The soft French oak taste complements the berries and chocolate with a hint of anise sensed in the Syrah. The wine pairs pleasantly in one sense with dark chocolate and then in another with herbed goat cheese.
Sara Shereen Bakhshian is a reporter, writer, editor and photographer with experience covering entertainment, the environment, local news, politics, current affairs, religion and other topical issues at major dailies, community newspapers and on the radio.