Keeping it kosher for Hannukah

Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 5:20 PM

Latkes, doughnuts, brisket and short ribs will likely be on the menu during the eight nights of festivities that celebrate the Maccabean revolt. Hannukah is coming.

Kosher wine and kosher mevushal wine are paramount to faith and celebration. This edition will discuss pairing ideas for the classic dishes, Israeli wine and what makes wine kosher and kosher mevushal.

Wine was produced as early as 400 B.C. in Mesopotamia (the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers), now known as Iraq. While most of us are unfamiliar with Israeli wine, there is a long history of Middle Eastern wine production. Over the past 20 years, there has been an explosion of Israeli wineries. Most of the common grape varieties are grown in Galilee, Samaria, Judean Hills and Negev. Both white and red wine production continue to improve. In fact, having tasted countless premium Israeli red wines, it is clear that the country’s premium wine is world-class and stands up to both Napa and Bordeaux. Stylistically, Israeli wine sits between the ripe and lush wines of Napa and the long-lived, structured wines of Bordeaux.

The dominant red varietals are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite verdot and shiraz (syrah). For whites, chardonnay dominates the landscape with fewer plantings of sauvignon blanc, riesling and even moscato. Prices for Israeli wine run between $12 and $60.

What makes wine kosher or kosher mevushal?

For wine to be kosher, it must be made from only kosher ingredients. More importantly, all aspects of viticulture and vinification must be performed and handled by Shabbat-observant orthodox Jews. In addition, the wines must be fined (the process in which the wine is clarified and cloudiness is removed) with egg whites or bentonite (clay) or not fined at all. Other restrictions include:

New vines are not allowed to be used for wine making until the vine has reached four years of age.The winery is not allowed to grow other fruits between the rows of vines.More than 1 percent of the winery’s annual production must be poured away in memory of the “10 percent tithe.”Every seventh year, the vineyards are left fallow.Kosher mevushal wine implies the wines were flash pasteurized. Traditionally, kosher mevushal wines were cooked and boiled too long, which ultimately affected the quality and resulted in a consensus of poor wine. Now, with flash pasteurization, it is mostly indiscernible with even some of the premium wines.

Now for the fun part, wine pairing.

For starters, potato latkes call for a white – both chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are ideal. For the traditional brisket or short ribs, nothing other than a cabernet sauvignon or shiraz will do. The fatty, spicy nature of the main course asks for a rich, structured red with good tannin. Did someone say doughnuts? The rare Israeli riesling will suit the sweet sticky doughnuts just perfectly.

Happy Hannukah.

Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at