Buzz keeps kosher with Mad Dog 20/20

Posted: April 11, 2014

BUZZ: Hey, Marnie, I was at the liquor store the other day and the lady ahead of me was buying a case of concord grape wine. Aren't those grapes for making jelly?

Marnie: Sort of, Buzz. Concord is better suited for juice and jelly than for fine wine. It's sometimes used as a filler grape in bulk wines, but if it was named on the label, I bet that was kosher wine. She was probably stocking up for Passover.

Buzz: To pass over what?

Marnie: Monday will be the first night of Passover, Buzz, a Jewish holiday where families prepare a traditional Seder feast. Even those who don't normally keep kosher the rest of the year make a special effort to observe the kashrut dietary laws for this meal, including serving kosher wine.

Buzz: I'm in a cash rut myself lately. So, kosher wines are made from jelly grapes?

Marnie: Sometimes - it's a little complicated. Historically, wine held a ritual role in many religions that Jews considered idolatrous, so consuming wine was forbidden unless it was kosher, or made according to strict rabbinical standards.

Buzz: And those standards are certainly higher than mine.

Marnie: Grapes themselves are automatically kosher, and most modern winemaking methods are considered kosher by many Jewish communities. However, if at any point a wine was handled by non-Jews, it would no longer be kosher unless it had first been boiled or cooked, literally mevushal, in Hebrew. Orthodox households serve only mevushal wines period, but most observant Jews favor them for religious holidays like Passover.

Buzz: Boiled wine? Sounds awful.

Marnie: Heat does damage wine's aromatics, so the nuanced flavors of premium grapes like chardonnay or merlot get lost - hence the concord. It was also common for mevushal wines to be sweetened and fortified to make them more pleasant to drink. If you've ever tasted a wine from Manischewitz or Mogen David, you'll know what I mean. They're super-sweet, super-strong and super-grapey - kind of like port, but cheaper.

Buzz: Oh man, do I ever remember Mogen David. Those were the good old days, sipping Mad Dog 20/20 under the boardwalk.


Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author known for practical advice with real-world relevance. Her newest book, Wine: A Tasting Course, is an illustrated crash course for the wine curious. Marnie also advises clients in the beverage and restaurant trades. Check her out at MarnieOld.com or follow her on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph.

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