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Flash Pasteurization and Kosher Wines

Posted by guest, Jun 5, 2008.

In my post of a couple of weeks ago , I argued that the word "kosher" on a wine label no longer has any implications about a wine's quality, and that this is very much thanks to the relatively recent innovation known as flash pasteurization.

Today, I'd like to explore a more basic question: why is flash pasteurization relevant to kosher wine?

To answer this question, it's important to understand that the label "kosher" speaks both to the food's derivation and to how it was prepared.  For example, a cow is a kosher animal (unlike a pig, which, according to the bible, is off limits to Jews), but beef would not be kosher unless the cow were, first, slaughtered in a specially prescribed way and, second, prepared in accordance with Jewish law under the supervision of a qualified witness.

By analogy, the example described above about cows and beef is true of grapes and wine.  Like a cow, a grape is categorized as kosher - and, in fact, since a grape doesn't need to be killed, no special preparation would be necessary to eat one.  However, like beef, wine (despite having been derived from a kosher source) is only considered kosher if it’s prepared properly and under the appropriate supervision.

Here are the steps involved in koshering a wine:

•    The equipment used to make the wine must be thoroughly cleaned before use;
•    All ingredients (e.g., yeast, etc.) other than the grapes must be certified kosher;
•    Production of the wine must be witnessed by a qualified supervisor; and
•    The grapes must be handled only by Jews from crush to serving.  To illustrate, if an otherwise kosher wine were to be poured at a restaurant by a non-Jewish waiter, the wine would lose its kosher status.

Pasteurization - i.e., cooking wine at high temperatures for extended periods - comes into play with respect to the final step above.  The reasoning behind this rule was that, in ancient times, biblical authorities worried that if a wine were handled by non-Jews, there would be no way to ensure that the wine had not been used during idol worship.  Pasteurizing the wine (also referred to as making the wine Mevushal ) solved this problem because doing so was thought to make the wine unsuitable for idolatrous rituals.

And that brings me to the answer to the question I posed above: flash (as opposed to traditional) pasteurization is relevant to koshering a wine merely because it allows winemakers to produce Mevushal wine without harmfully affecting taste.  Instead of cooking the wine at high temperatures for an extended period, it is heated to around 90 degrees Celsius for a period of up to thirty seconds.  In contrast with its predecessor, studies have shown that this method doesn't affect taste in the least - in fact, some experts believe that the process actually enhances aromatics!

Josh Anzel , with his wife Christina, are the founders of Wine Rabbi, a wine mentorship website based in San Francisco. They review outstanding wines - sometimes kosher - every Tuesday and Thursday on their site.


Reply by Philip James, Jun 5, 2008.

I think the pasteurization part is totally key, otherwise every dock worker, delivery guy and shop keep who handles the bottle on its way to your table would have to be jewish as well. As you say above, and wikipedia states "When kosher wine is yayin mevushal ("cooked" or "boiled"), it thereby becomes unfit for idolatrous use and will keep the status of kosher wine even if subsequently touched by an idolator."

So, clearly, doing the cooking part early on (and fast, for the sake of the wine), then means the product is free to travel via any normal channel and still retain its kosher status.

I never thought wine was so resilient. 90 degrees centigrade is basically boiling temperature.

Very interesting.

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Jun 5, 2008.

Thanks for the information Josh. I hadn't ever really been clear on the specifics of Kosher food. If food is Kosher all the way to the waiter and makes it to the plate in front of me, does it cease to be Kosher the minute I fork it into my mouth? I'm not Jewish, though, so maybe it doesn't matter, but I would find it interesting that I could never eat a Kosher food!

Blog comment by Josh, Jun 6, 2008.

Good question, Mark. I've got to be careful not to wander out of my league in terms of fielding questions about kosher foods in general! But with that said, I believe that the handling/Mevushal concept is specific only to wine (in contrast with food), as wine was apparently so closely linked to religious (e.g., idolatrous) ritual. In your example above, I'm pretty sure the food stays kosher...

Hope that helps!

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Jun 8, 2008.

Thanks, Josh!

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