Paul Franson

Paul Franson

A process developed to improve the wine from deficient and even damaged grapes may help make kosher wines better, too.

According to Master of Wine Bob Paulinski, head of wine at the Concord-based retailer BevMo, kosher wines have improved in quality, and no longer need to be passed over at this year’s Seder.

Despite wine having a prominent role at Passover, historically the wine chosen in America was typically syrupy Concord grape wine.

But now there are a number of kosher wines (and kosher spirits) that wine drinkers can enjoy throughout the year. BevMo stocks more than three dozen different kosher wines at its stores in California, though not all at every store.

They include traditional Mogen David and Manischewitz in Concord and blackberry but also Hagafen from Napa Valley and Baron Herzog and Herzog Wines from California, as well as wines from Israel.

Jeff Morgan’s Covenant also makes kosher wines, some with grapes from Leslie Rudd’s vineyards in Napa Valley, and some of France’s Jewish families also produce kosher wines.

Rudd even makes a kosher gin at his Distillery 209.

A kosher wine is one handled only by strictly Sabbath-observant Jews. Kosher wine makers also can’t use any potentially non-kosher ingredients either.

Another class of kosher wine can be handled by others, and it is designated mevushal.

In Hebrew, mevushal means literally, cooked or boiled, and traditionally mevushal wines were flash-pasteurized to a temperature that meets the requirements of an overseeing rabbinical authority.

Some producers claim that it doesn’t harm the wine but others admit that the heating may create a burned or rubbery quality.

In 2013, a new technique for heating grapes called flash-détente was introduced. It involves quickly heating the grapes right after they are picked at harvest; then cooling them instantly in a vacuum. The red wines take on the color of the grapes immediately.

The technique is used in other winemaking, but Covenant says that these wines meet the requirement and are mevushal wines. Since they heat the grapes, not the wines, this preserves fresh flavors.

Israeli wines

The Golan Heights is the highest wine region in Israel with vineyards 400 to 1,100 meters and grapes grown on volcanic basalt soil.

Golan Heights Winery is Israel’s third largest winery, and it makes Yarden, Gamla, Golan and Mt. Hermon labels.

Other wineries in that region are Odem Mountain, Kishor Vineyard and Bazelet HaGolan

Wineries in the Galilee include Galil Mountain Winery, Tabor Winery, Dalton, Adir, Rimon (fruit wines), Ramot Naftaly, Avidan, Trio, Moshav, Kishor Vineyard, The Tulip and Maia Vineyard.

Another pesticide scare

A few months ago, researchers found arsenic that exceeded drinking water standards in many wines. But there are no legal limits for wine — and we assume you drink far more water than wine, anyway.

Experts say that the tiny quantities didn’t pose a health risk, and a lawsuit over the claim was dismissed.

Now, a group called Moms Across America reports that they tested 10 wines, and all contained glyphosate, the herbicide in RoundUp weed killer.

Some of the wines were even labeled “organic,” so the herbicide must have drifted into the vineyards.

Napa grapegrowers don’t use much herbicide. But when they do, it’s carefully regulated by the local agricultural commissioner.

Homeowners aren’t regulated.

The Wine Institute is taking a look at the issue, and a spokesperson reports, “We welcome sound, unbiased scientific research on the impact of any material used in agriculture.”

They’re gathering information on glyphosate from experts and identifying independent scientific studies. Some early impressions they have noted so far:

The number of samples, 10, used in the Moms Across America report is too small, based on the hundreds of thousands of wines available in the U.S. market.

Additionally, the source and condition of the wines, which must meet specific criteria for testing, is unknown.

Also, the testing process isn’t trivial.

Glyphosate analysis for wine requires specialized testing methodology by a certified lab with internationally recognized ISO 17025 accreditation. A lab with Department of Agriculture recognition isn’t because the USDA does not certify labs for glyphosate analysis.

Wine has a unique matrix and any testing method for glyphosate requires proper validation, primarily due to the presence of ethanol, as well as the pH, polyphenolics and a number of other potential substance that could affect tests.

They do note that experts like the World Health Organization and the European Food and Safety Authority have divergent opinions on the effect of low levels of glyphosate.

At any rate, the amount in wine is tiny. You wonder why they’re so worried about minuscule amounts when they’re drinking wine containing 14 percent ethanol, a known toxin if used improperly.

We do welcome some independent scientific research on the subject.

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