The kosher wine industry’s slow shift from sweet, syrupy kiddush wine to dry table wine began in the late 1970s. Since then, kosher wine producers and importers have been fighting the stereotype that kosher wine is sweet, proving the opposite time and again with dry wines of high quality produced all over the globe.
Somewhere in the last decade, they seemed to have finally succeeded. Yet the single most successful kosher wine, commercially speaking, is the sweet and simple, albeit enjoyable, Bartenura Moscato. What’s more, the brand behind this success was introduced specifically to shift away from sweet wine.
Moscato is a semi-sweet, lightly fizzy, typically simple, and usually low-alcohol wine, made from muscat blanc grapes, most famously from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy. Perhaps the most successful brand of moscato on the market, kosher or not, is the Bartenura Moscato, packaged in its distinctive blue bottle.
“When we thought the market was ready for dry kosher wines, back in the late 1970s, we went first to Italy, and then later to France,” said Nathan Herzog, of the Royal Wine Corp, the world’s largest producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines.
The idea was to have dry kosher wines that were on par with the popular non-kosher dry table wines of that period — so Italy’s famously food-friendly wines were a natural starting point. “Our first dry kosher imports,” said Herzog, “were the 1978 Bartenura Valpolicella and the Bartenura Soave.”
The brand was named for Rabbi Ovadiah ben Avraham of Bertinoro, a 15th-century Italian rabbi best known for his popular commentary on the Mishnah, commonly referred to as The Bartenura.
Royal’s Bartenura brand sold well, and other wines were added to the lineup — one of them being a Moscato d’Asti. In the 1990s, Royal had the idea of changing the packaging from a green-tinted bottle to the now internationally recognized, and much copied, blue bottle.
The blue bottle developed a strong following not only in the Jewish market, but also in the African American community. It soon also became a known favorite of several famous hip-hop and rap artists. Royal seized the opportunity to promote the wine, and as a result Bartenura’s blue bottle moscato became the bestselling Italian moscato in the world. Exact figures are not public, but according to Herzog, sales of Bartenura’s moscato are heading toward a half million cases annually.
Even outside of the blue bottle, Bartenura has become a mainstream brand, and an international one — exported to 32 countries, including France, Israel, Spain, Russia, China and throughout South America. As the Bartenura brand has been growing over the last four decades, the main winery that has been supplying the wines for many of these years, Gruppo Araldica, has grown in tandem.
“The volume of kosher wines is now so large,” noted Herzog, “that a part of their greatly expanded and updated winery [Araldica Vini Piemontesi in Castel Boglione, in the province of Asti, Piedmont] has been sectioned off as kosher year-round.”
Bartenura, Moscato d’Asti, Italy, 2016 ($15-though often on sale for less; mevushal): This is a semi-sweet, slightly fizzy, low-alcohol tropical fruit and citrus flavored wine. Not complex or ever meant to be anything but fun and light, it is a terrific aperitif, matching well with cheese and other simple fare as well as brunch and many desserts. In the summer, or when one wishes to conjure sensations of summer lounging, it can be consumed the way many Italians drink it —like a soda, in a tumbler over ice. L’chaim!
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