Columns - 2005


    By Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    It's April once again. It's that time of year when Jews have extra, special commandments to follow, such as exclusively driving Nissans for thirty days.

    We just finished Purim, the holiday on which we're commanded to drink so much we don't know the good guy from the bad. (Though a lack of knowledge of Hebrew combined with sleeping through religious school accomplishes the same goal.)

    And now we have Passover, the holiday on which we're commanded to drink so we can't tell the difference between traditional kosher wine and jelly, which are both made from the same grapes.

    You don't have to be a wine snob or diabetic to unappreciate traditional kosher wines. But you need this column because it will show you that there's plenty of kosher wine out there that (you better be sitting for this, reclined to the left...) tastes like real wine. And it's really kosher.

    There are those who say that the stereotypical kosher wines are a longstanding Jewish tradition, not to be mocked, chided, rebroadcast, or republished without the expressed, written consent of Major League Baseball.

    To them I say that Jews have also traditionally suffered through exile, attempted genocide, and weekly sermons, but you don't see us voluntarily subjecting ourselves to any of these en masse. And it's not just because only Catholics go to Masse.

    While there are kosher wines produced in over a dozen countries, including France, Chile, Australia, and California, we focus today on its most logical source: Israel.

    It therefore makes sense to focus on the most logical resource on Israeli wines, "Rogov's Guide to Israeli Wines (2005)."

    Daniel Rogov, who is now second-guessing the wisdom of distributing advance copies to my home newspaper, is Israel's most influential and pre-eminent wine critic. I know this, because his book says so.

    In his guide, he rates over one thousand Israeli wines. This begs the question, "there's over one thousand Israeli wines?"

    Yes, there are. And we don't just mean bottles. Actual varieties of varietals. And many of them are kosher.

    "What?!?" I hear you bellow. It's true, not all wines made in Israel are kosher, any more than all people made in Israel are. But there's a good enough variety (of wines) out there to allow you to save the cough medicine you serve at your seder for flu season.

    In all fairness, the traditional kosher wines we know for their sweetness and compatibility with distilled peanut butter were never intended to be consumed as normal wine. They're sacramental wines. At least, this is the bone that Rogov throws their way.

    Rogov goes on to say that such wines are still made, but are increasingly perceived in the world of wine as oddities. He stopped just short of saying the same about the people who prefer them.

    What exactly makes a wine kosher? There's lots of rules about rabbinical supervision, planting, rabbinical supervision, production, and rabbinical supervision. Suffice to say, kosher wine goes through such a rigorous process to ensure dietary cleanliness that there's no way you can serve it in those wine glasses you have.

    Is it true that wines must be boiled to be kosher? It's true that once, for a wine to be considered mevushal (literally Aramaic for "pasteurized", in a freakish linguistic prescience since Pasteur wasn't born before that language died), it had to be boiled to be considered pure.

    Apparently, the boiling process changed the wine's composition so it could remain pure even when (gasp!) served by non-Jews. Today, to be mevushal, wine is merely warmed to a temperature a whole several degrees below boiling. Yum yum.

    One of the most eye-catching introductory sections of Rogov's Guide is titled "Drinking Habits." Of course, this merited further review.

    Never let it be said that Israel hasn't been consistent. According to Rogov, from 1948 to 1997, Israelis consistently drank an average of 3.9 liters of, typically average, wine. Since the ensuing eight years, AA can expect an increase in Middle Eastern membership thanks to a rise to nearly 7 liters.

    In the grand scheme of the world, this is still insignificant. According to Rogov, the average French person uses 56 liters a year to chase their Toast du Francaise, or to help induce their dates into a kiss du Francaise.

    Italians complement their cannolli with 49 liters a year, and even Australians end up down under the table thanks to their 20 liters per annum per capita. Per fect.

    What sparked the increase? Rogov claims it's a reflection of an improvement in Israeli wine. This is ironic, considering this improvement has actually taken the sensual experience of its consumption farther away from, rather than closer to, the gentle olfactory and culinary characteristics of chainsmoking.

    Rogov often refers to the "warmer reception" that Israeli wines are receiving in recent years from wine connoisseurs. This is largely because of a shift in the Israeli wine market toward a heavier preference for red wines, which are best served at room temperature.

    Whose room? Always a good question. In an act of Nostradamical proportions, Rogov actually details the intended room temperatures in different countries. It's as if he's in the room right there with you, and even foresaw whether you had the air conditioning on and that the sun was out.

    So, which kosher Israeli wines do I recommend you try for this Passover? I dunno. I haven't tried them myself yet. And certain members of my family like to drink wine on Passover as if they have the flu, so I doubt I'll find out this year.

    Which wines does Rogov recommend? Buy his guide and find out.

    I got a copy for free, the least I can do is not spoil the ending.

    Doug Brook is a senior technical writer in Silicon Valley. He is not, in fact, Daniel Rogov in disguise. Any resemblance or similarities between Brook and Rogov, including but not limited to the R and two O's, are purely coincidental, and no doubt greatly insulting to Rogov. For more information, past columns, and other writings, theatre, and current events, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.