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Argentine wine goes kosher

August 16, 2011 - by Jude Webber

Argentina, with the largest Jewish community in Latin America, already boasts kosher ice cream parlours, supermarkets and restaurants. Now the world’s No. 5 wine producer is launching an exclusive kosher wine club being billed as the first of its kind in the world.

This is wine produced in Mendoza, the country’s premier winemaking region and home of the luscious Malbec varietal, and made according to strict Rabbinic supervision. This video on the Kosher Wine Club’s website shows a Sattath-observing Jew, in a black skullcap and with a long grey beard, carefully observing the crushing and production process.

The club, which will send its members a six-bottle case of wine unavailable in shops (hence it is branding itself as the first exclusive kosher wine club in the world) every two months, says world demand for kosher wines has increased nearly 50 per cent in the last decade. The first delivery, in August, will be Merlot, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and blends to follow.

The wines, made by a single producer rather than a range of wineries, are elaborated by enologist Andrea Di Silvestre. However, she is not Jewish and must remain detached from the production process.

For a wine to be kosher, only Sabbath-observing Jews can be involved in the process, from crushing to bottling, and no work can be done on the Sabbath. As this article explains:

For a wine to be kosher, strict regulations must be followed. It really all begins in the fields. Grapes from new vines may not be used for making wine, until after the fourth year. Every seventh year the fields must be left fallow and there is a prohibition on growing other fruits and vegetables between the vines.

All the equipment, tools and winemaking storage facilities must be kosher. During the harvest, only Sabbath observant male Jews are allowed to work on the production of the wines.

During the production of kosher wine, no animal products may be used. Gelatin or egg whites are sometimes used by non-kosher wine makers, to clarify the wine, while kosher wine makers use a clay material, called bentonite, which pulls suspended particles to the bottom of the barrel.

For wine to be kosher one percent of the wine must be discarded, a symbolic remnant of the 10% tithe, paid to the Temple in Jerusalem in days gone by. Additionally, barrels must be cleaned three times.

There are really two levels of kosher wine. The first includes the restrictions outlined above, while the second, known as “mevushal” utilizes an additional process. This is important since Kashrut law stipulates that in order for a wine to retain its ‘kosherness’ once opened and poured by a non-Jew, (such as a waiter, for instance) the wine must be “mevushal.

Bringing the liquid to a boiling point makes this type of wine, causing air bubbles to be brought to the surface and the loss of some wine, due to evaporation. A wine that is produced in this manner retains its religious purity, regardless of who opens or pours it. A study at the University of California at Davis, has proven that it is not possible to consistently taste the difference between non- mevushal and mevushal wine.

This makes for a longer-than-usual process, but the club says the Kosher certification underscores the quality of its produce and the purity of its production.

Argentina’s National Institute of Viniviticulture says domestic wine sales rose 6.83 per cent in the first five months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. The Kosher Wine Club will be hoping to cash in on this trend.

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