Wine is an integral part of the Passover holiday. "It has come to be a symbol of joy and celebration," notes Rabbi David Segal. "Traditionally, the Passover seder includes four cups of wine, perhaps a sign of Passover's paramount importance as a celebration of freedom. Drinking wine, let alone four cups, is a sign of freedom, of being redeemed from bondage."
But what should go in those cups? It depends on how observant you are, of course, but if you're sticking to wines that are officially Kosher for Passover, you've probably seen the options multiply in recent years. We tasted our way through a case of these wines in search of the most delicious bottles. But first, a little background...
What Makes a Wine Kosher for Passover?
Passover wine has come so far from syrupy-sweet Manischewitz that it might be considered insulting to even mention those Concord-grape based beverages here. "Fine kosher wines are made the same way that fine non-kosher wines are made," says Jeff Morgan of Covenant wines in California's Napa Valley. "There is no kosher winemaking 'technique.'" What's required for the wine to be considered kosher, continues Morgan, "is that the wine be handled only by Sabbath-observant Jews. And there are plenty of fine winemakers and cellar workers who are Sabbath observant. Great grapes and skilled winemakers yield great wines—kosher or not."
Kosher wines must be produced without any non-kosher ingredients (such as non-kosher clarification agents, such as isinglass). Kosher-for-passover wines must be made in a cellar that's free of bread, dough, or grain products, or, perhaps most importantly, leavening agents (such as any non-kosher non-indigenous yeasts, which are often added in wineries to kickstart fermentation. There are some kosher-certified yeasts that are allowed for inoculation, though, and many kosher wineries do use them rather than waiting for indigenous yeasts to start fermenting the wine.)
Is Kosher Wine Really Boiled?
You might have heard once that Passover wine has to be boiled. This isn't exactly true. There are basically two types of kosher wines: mevushal and non-mevushal. These days, mevushal wines are flash-pasteurized, and according to Jewish tradition, this type of wine can be opened and served by anyone (including non-Jews!) without altering its kosher status. Non-mevushal wines can still be kosher, but the strictly observant believe that those wines can only remain so if opened and poured by Sabbath-observant Jews. Many certified kosher-for-passover wines are non-mevushal these days—the info is always printed on the label if you're curious.