There has been a steady increase in the number of kosher wines released on the U.S. market that are being made mevushal or “cooked.” These are wines that have been thermally processed in accordance with religious strictures so as to, basically, inoculate the wine from being rendered not-kosher by the handling of non-Jew or a non-Sabbath observant Jew.
For a wine to be made kosher (and presuming here that all the ingredients, as well as the vineyard practices, already conform to Jewish legal requirements), it must be produced exclusively by Sabbath-observant Jews. This means that only Sabbath-observant Jewish hands may manipulate the grape juice at any and every single stage of the production process, from the moment the juice has been separated from the grapes until the wine has been double sealed for retail sale — corked and covered with either wax or foil, or the screw cap has been fully affixed and made tamper-proof. If anyone else, and especially non-Jews, should manipulate the juice or wine, their very handling automatically renders the product not kosher.
The only exception to this basic kosher protocol is when the kosher wine or kosher grape juice has been made mevushal by a Sabbath observant Jew (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 123:3). Mevushal wine may be handled by others without being thereby rendered nonkosher. This is why mevushal wines are the preferred wines for kosher restaurants and kosher catering, and concomitantly why more and more kosher wines are being made mevushal.
There are differing rabbinic opinions about what temperature of thermal processing (cooking) is considered sufficient to render a wine mevushal, and consequently about what processes and technologies may be used to apply that heat. This is especially true since one prominent line of reasoning about what constitutes mevushal argues that the heat must be at least sufficient to cause some of the wine to evaporate through cooking. This is the opinion, for example, of Rav Shabtai HaKohen (1622-1663), known as the Shach (the abbreviation of the name of his famous scholarly work, Sifsei Cohen or “Lips of the Cohen”). In embracing this view, Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986; Igros Moshe YD, 2:52 and 3:1) and the late Rav Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013; Teshuvot Yabia Omer, Yoreh Deah, 8:15) rule that the wine may be considered mevushal once it has been heated to 175 degrees Fahrenheit (or 80 degrees Celsius). This contemporary ruling, though not universally accepted, permits the use of a process known as flash pasteurization to render a wine mevushal. This process is much less harmful than the more traditional methods (picture a pot of wine boiling over a roaring fire) that helped give mevushal wines such a horrible reputation.
More recently, however, there is a novel process for obtaining mevushal called “flash detente.” Using this method, the highly regarded Covenant Winery has released a new line of mevushal wines. As Jeff Morgan, Covenant’s co-owner and head winemaker, explains: “After a decade of making only non-mevushal wines, we decided to use a new flash-heating technology called flash detente to create mevushal wine. It allows us to flash-heat whole grape berries before they become wine.”
This new technology has been around for more than a decade in Europe, South America and Australia, though it only hit the U.S. in 2009, but — hugely expensive and not-portable — it has never before been used to make mevushal wine (it is OU approved). This system is used widely by nonkosher winemakers, though typically in a behind-closed-doors sort of way. The technology was initially developed for problematic vintages and then for “green” or under-ripe grapes. It also helps increase sugar levels in grapes because it removes 6 to 7 percent of the water; it also quickly extracts more color and less tannin from the grape skins, then traditional (nonthermal processing) methods.
The process involves a combination of heating the grapes to about 180ºF and then cooling within a vacuum chamber. The water in the skin of the grapes instantly “flashes” into steam, while the vacuum explodes the grape skin membranes, leading to an immediate extraction of color from red grapes. As a side benefit, certain unwanted compounds (such as pyrazines that produce “vegetal” characteristics in wine) are volatized and dispersed, or “flashed off,” in the vacuum chamber.
One of Covenant’s new mevushal whites is The Tribe Chardonnay 2013 ($30), from grapes grown in a single vineyard located near the California town of Lodi east of San Francisco. A bright, fruit-driven wine with apple, quince and pear flavors on an interesting citrus, slightly spicy frame, it should work well with many summer dishes including chicken and fish.
Spirits-wise, we’ve recently been chided by a few of our loyal readers for spending too much time writing about American whiskey, and not enough on Scotch.
So, just to balance things out a bit, we heartily recommend a dram of the Cragganmore 12- year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $50): A complex floral, fruity nose with additional aromatic notes of toffee, honey, nuts, a bit of pear and a touch of angelica, the whisky on the palate proves elegant and malty, with flavors broadly in tune with the nose, developing further into almonds, walnuts and chestnuts, light caramel, some berry and tropical fruits, lots of honey, and with a hint of peat smoke and white pepper on the ever-so-satisfying finish. A lovely, sweetish, elegant whisky. L’Chaim!