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Kosher Wine Past the Holidays

The easiest way to make a sure sale is to have a good product and a natural audience to buy it.

For years, kosher wine was largely a mediocre-to-poor product, and the audience who bought was largely one who purchased it for reasons of religion and tradition but was never really that excited about it.

But what if kosher wine was really good and the people who had to drink it really wanted to drink it? Even when the holidays were over?  If you were sommelier at a restaurant or were in charge of a wine bar, would you stock and promote it?

For years, most people who made kosher wine made it sweet and syrupy, almost as if it were bad medicine or bitter coffee that might taste better if you put enough sugar in it.  And if you were a kid who was brought up drinking full-strength Coke, you might actually like it, at least for the first few sips.  If you were a sophisticated drinker of table wine, you had to watch out that your gag reflex didn’t kick in.

By now, it should be no surprise that several winemakers in Israel, California, France and elsewhere have for the past dozen years or so been making some really good kosher wines.  All of us wine writers have been saying so, usually in articles we’ve written about this time of year before the Jewish holidays when the big kosher sales kick in. After all, if you read the rules, there’s no reason that kosher wine has to taste bad, with the possible exception of some meshuval, which is flash pasteurized mainly for the orthodox community.

People who didn’t have to drink kosher wines who read these articles generally thought, “Gee, that’s interesting,” but it would never occur to them to ask for a glass of kosher wine with their kosher deli sandwich.

It’s now time to move beyond the “surprise! – kosher wine can be good” phase to the next level, and not just because kosher wine has improved.  The audience has also changed.  It surprised me when I was in Israel a couple of years ago to have winemakers tell me that the Jewish community there traditionally never drank much wine, or any kind of alcohol, as a beverage.  “We don’t have a drinking culture,” they would say.  So their wineries were marketing heavily to change that – and they felt they were succeeding.

So, increasingly, there’s good kosher wine and a community that appreciates good wine from wherever it comes but who would probably drink kosher year-round if they had the option and a range of choices.

Here’s the point: What if restaurants put kosher wines on their beverage lists and on their wines-by-the-glass service during the holidays and then never took them off?  Would a permanent niche market be created, and would curious, non-Jewish wine drinkers be tempted to try them from time to time?  And what if some of these non-Jewish drinkers decided they really liked the wines of Barkan or Laurent-Perrier or Galil Mountain, not caring whether they are kosher?

What if ordering kosher wines finally became as normal as ordering kosher meats?


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