Culture, Religion

Don't Drink Unhechshered Wine

Actually, I don’t so much care about the oak chips and oxygen – that’s okay with me. But this just goes to show why it’s unwise to rely on government oversight of unhechshered products.

Wine labels tend to focus on romance; the small amount of government-mandated information includes the percentage of alcohol, a warning against consuming wine when pregnant or driving, and a disclosure of sulfites.
It might be disenchanting if the label also listed the chicken, fish, milk and wheat products that are often used to process wine. And it would be hard to maintain the notion that wine is an ethereal elixir if, before uncorking, consumers read that their Pinot Noir or Syrah contained Mega Purple (a brand of concentrated wine color), oak chips or such additives as oak gall nuts, grape juice concentrate, tartaric acid, citric acid, dissolved oxygen, copper and water. The mention of bentonite, ammonium phosphate and the wide variety of active enzymes used to make some wines would end the romance.
Federal regulators are considering revamping the rules governing wine labels, and if changes are made, the information revealed may surprise many wine buyers. Additives that supplement what nature failed to provide in an individual wine — tricks of the trade that winemakers rarely talk about — could soon be listed in detail on the labels.

When the rabbis warned us, perhaps they knew what they were talking about. I guess the idol worship we need to be most careful of today is Money.
Full story.
xposted to Kol Ra’ash Gadol

23 thoughts on “Don't Drink Unhechshered Wine

  1. Yes, the labeling is a good thing. More info for consumers is better. Of course some folks I know ONLY drink un-hechsered wine, in response to the racism implicit in many of the hilchot around wine.

  2. racism
    what racism? Anyone of the Jewish *religion* can handle kosher wine. Unobservant Jews may also make the wine non-kosher. I don’t see racism.

  3. “this just goes to show why it’s unwise to rely on government oversight of unhechshered products”
    So, ah, help me out here. Which of the SPECIFIC “additives” listed in this article would be excluded in a kosher wine or better disclosed if the wine were heckshered? Sort of looks like the case of the lady who believed that her chicken fat was “healthy” because it was hechshered.

  4. Let’s take a look at the additives mentioned and consider whether each could similarly appear in hechshered wine:
    * chicken [would not appear]
    * fish [may appear]
    * milk [would not appear, unless marked (d) which would raise suspicion]
    * wheat products [may appear]
    * Mega Purple (a brand of concentrated wine color)
    * oak chips [may appear]
    * oak gall nuts [may appear]
    * grape juice concentrate [may appear, so long as it’s manufacture didn’t involve non-jews]
    * tartaric acid [may appear]
    * citric acid [may appear]
    * dissolved oxygen [may appear]
    * copper [may appear]
    * water [may appear]
    * bentonite [may appear, i think]
    * ammonium phosphate [may appear, i think]
    * wide variety of active enzymes used to make some wines would end the romance [would not appear, assuming they are from animals rather than synthetics]
    It looks like the koshrut status has little to do with this problem. Drink or don’t drink hechshered wine based on values, if you feel strongly about the clarifying agents being vegan, they make vegan wines, and you can be more sure of their vegan characteristics than you can of kosher wines which don’t necessarily avoid non-vegan clarifiers, just non-kosher, or milchig/fleishig ones. sure we should have better labeling. this is one among the many reasons i prefer beer.

  5. Chorus of Apes —
    Do these people only eat un-hechshered food as well, due to the ‘racism’ inherent in many hilchot around baking, cooking, and dairy production? If not, they should probably start..

  6. Yes, they tend to avoid pas yisroel and chalav yisroel as well. As to Amit’s contention that this is a religious issue, which excludes non-observant Jews… Yes, the origin of these halachot are around Jews not using wine that may have been used for idol worship (and by extension those why do not celebrate shabbate), and to avoid drunken fraternizing with goyim. Rather than prohibit non-shabbat observing jews from opening wine, many poskim rely on the concept of “tinok sh’nishbah” to allow non-shabbat observant Jews to open and pour wine for observant Jews. This means that the value is not on religious segregation, but on a segregation of “peoples”. Yes Jewishness by lineage is not strictly a racial category. However, it engages in the work of race by mapping social differences onto biology or biological metaphors (it this case lineage). Thus, the halacha is not about avoiding contact with folks with heterodox views (not that I would support it if that was the goal), but with creating a strong distinction between Jews and non-jews. While the halachic goal of ensuring Jewish babies may be saluted by the continuity crowd, it cannot be upheld by anyone dedicated to celebrating difference as cultural rather than biological.

  7. oh, God, here we go again…
    1. as Amit points out, the issue isn’t racism, or even ethnicity. It is however, whatever-the-correct-term-is-for-how-you-relate-to-people-of-other-religions. (If this were about ethnicity, I’d be half in, half out, and I don’t know where that would leave me)
    2. I don’t know anyone who keeps stam yeynam [the technical term for laws about kosher wine] because they are afraid the wine has been used for non-Jewish ritual purposes. In my experience, people keep it do so because they buy into a certain approach to halacha as a whole.
    3. that said, people who object to stam yeynam on ethical grounds: please be clear if your issue is with the halacha, not with the people who keep it. That might be clear in your head, but it generally doesn’t come across clearly, and causes all sorts of arguments.
    (If anyone does have issues with people who keep the halacha, well, then we can have a lovely conversation about making assumptions and judging people before you know them.)
    4. ZT- as for fish– both shellfish and non-kosher-fish products are used, so fish would also be a problem for kosher wine. But that doesn’t really alter your main point.

  8. Oh it goes a lot deeper than just bread and milk… the ramifications of “bishul akum”, and the backflips gone through by hashgacha agencies to deal with it, are immense.
    As for non-Orthodox/non-Shomer-Shabbat/non-observant Jews and kashrut, the idea of “tinok-shenishba” was always drafted as a *late-stage leniency* so you don’t have to run out and kasher your dishes after having frei Uncle Eddie over. Straight-up and classicly according to halacha, when it comes to wine and such, Joe Reformnik & Jane Reconstructionist are in the same boat as Pope Benedict and Ayatollah Ali.

  9. How about we just drink good wine instead of hechshered wine?
    I’ll bet ‘Schewitz and Morgan Davis have way more additives than most legit fine wines. And while the number of non-nauseous kosher wines available has expanded greatly in the last two decades, there still are very few kosher wines that are actually good.
    Then again, maybe drinking good wine is idol worship in and of itself…

  10. i’m with themicah, let’s screw this wine debate and just drink more beer. what’s even better? aha bourbon which, in it’s pure form, needn’t have a hechsher. it’s kosher, patriotic, and delicious. screw wine, drink bourbon.

  11. i’m with themicah, let’s screw this wine debate and just drink more beer. what’s even better? aha bourbon which, in it’s pure form, needn’t have a hechsher. it’s kosher, patriotic, and delicious. screw wine, drink bourbon.
    of course, this leaves the question of what to drink on pesach as bourbon is by definition hametzdik. the easy answer there would seem to be potato vodka which, i think, generally needs a hechsher (but only on pesach).

  12. Just to note – even if just one item (chicken) or two (fish, including shellfish) would appear (of course on pesach, wheat would also be a problem, but just for assumptions sake, let’s exclude Pesach) that would be enough to make a difference in whether something could be considered kosher or not (which is really who I was addressing – those folks who drink unhechshered wine by the Conservative tshuvah, and think it’s kosher. To them, the clear outcome of this is: it’s probably not.
    I would also add that there are other fining agents not mentioned in this article – a big one, which tends to be a problem from European wines (which are techinically not covered by the tshuvah, but, as with other tshuvot, this tends to be ignored as a fine detail) is ox blood – blood cells are a *common* fining agent. Mmm. no wonder the wine has a hearty flavor, almost like meat….
    As for those who don’t want to keep stam yeinam because of implications of how we treat those of other religions:
    First, that actually is mostly an problem with opening and pouring the wine. Granted there are problems with having wne made by non-Jews, but that particular problem is common to all food, really. The big worry for which mevushal was declared the solution is non-Jews using wine for (idolatrous) sacramental purpose. For those who respond that this isn’t a problem any more, I will just note that I have seen myself, and have had others report to me as well, seeing things like the superstitious custom of pouring some wine out for ancestors or gods – to this day. Granted I haven’t seen it in this country, but that’s no guarantee someone isn’t doing it, given the great variety of cultures that are part of the fabric of our society. Does that mean I think that pagans are evil or dirty? No, it just means I can’t drink wine that they may have used as a libation to their gods.

  13. I would presume kosher wine that included fish would be labeled due to the (odd halakhot, which I think the Conservative movement dealt with well — if only it had an observant laity and, in many cases, clergy) prohibition of eating fish and meat together (on the same plate).
    themicah – there is PLENTY of good kosher wine. Who needs Maneshevitz and Mogen David or any sort of concord wine? Herzog from California wins top honors. I just had a good French wine called Fortant this Shabbat, Italy has Bartenura which is nice and Israel has tons and tons of great kosher wines such as the WORLD CLASS Domaine du Castel (small winery but still available) which has top honors from all the wine critics, to the well known and top notch Golan Heights Winery to Tabor and Recanti and more (Carmel is even OK). Sure there are plenty of not good kosher wines but there is plenty of bad non-kosher wines too. And, of course, any wine that says “concord” or “kiddush” is going to be garbage but that’s because it’s made by (and bought by) people who clearly don’t know good wine — kosher or non!

  14. Hold on a sec – you lot are so trusting of rabbis – do you not know that non-kosher ingreadients CAN be included in KOSHER wine as long as they are less than 1 sixith and are not seen to radically enhance the flavour? When was the last time you saw a Vegitarian or Vegan sign on a kosher wine bottle?

  15. Oh and a variety of Chemicals, pestersides, colourings, flavourings, addatives, preservatives – etc… which are not strictly ‘NOT Kosher’ all included for the same price!

  16. Oxblood was banned as a wine fining agent in the late 1990’s. From what I know, most wineries use bentonite- clay– to fine their wines. It’s cheaper and safer. Another, although less common, fining agent is isinglass- from fish. The reason for the use of blood or other proteins: in wine production, proteins may be added to the wine which attract undesirable “stuff”, which then falls to the bottom of the vat and is not part of the finished product.

  17. oxblood was banned as a fining agent in the USA. There seems to be a general supposition that thispost was somehow regarding people who drink kosher wine because it’s more ethical or healthier or the like. It wasn’t (are there such people?). THe post was directed towards people who might consider drinking unhechshered wine under the idea that it was adequately kosher, fo rpeople who keep kosher. It’s not.
    Chemicals and avoah zarah are additional problems, which could certainly be dealt with. As for batel b’shishim, that is only b’diavad (after the fact) not l’hatchilah (intended from the beginning). That is, if you add it in purposefully and its not kosher, it doesn’t get the hechsher – unless someone with a ham sandwich walks in and drops some crumbs of ham into the wine that no one knows about until he mentions it six months later. Then it’s fine.

  18. unless someone with a ham sandwich walks in and drops some crumbs of ham into the wine
    I love that line. It’s like the punch line of a really dumb joke- except there are people who use it to discuss serious kashrut issues- and then it’s so entirely not funny, it’s sad. Are there really people out there who spend their precious time hunched over wine bottles eating ham sandwiches- or beef jerky or cheeseburgers (this line has many different versions, each reflecting the particular irrational fear of the teller…).
    The ban on oxblood came straight from the European Economic Community- the US, at some point, considered a ban on importing wine made with oxblood because of mad cow disease concerns, but it was determined that none of the wine coming in contained oxblood, so the proposal died a quick death.
    So far, all I’ve seen here are scare tactics and superstition, not actual kashrut concerns. As for avodah zarah, I think that unless you’re buying wine directly from an abbey, you’d be hard pressed to argue that the producers of a given bottle have any serious concept of avodah zarah, in the first place. I think Rashi, himself, once said so much. Batel b’shishim probably wouldn’t come into play, either, as it could be argued that many of the additives and processing agents are not actually food (and may be considered “poisons”- think of the historical arguments back and forth over gelatin, rennet, etc) and therefore, especially since they’re not part of the finished product, they don’t matter as far as kashrut is concerned.

  19. I was at an interfaith event once where the waiters quite innocently opened the kosher wine for the Jewish guests, with the result that a number of more traditional Jewish folks would not drink the wine. Complex theological explanations aside, the obvious conclusion for our hosts was that their merely touching our food made it unfit for us to eat. It was an extremely uncomfortable evening.
    It’s easy, and perhaps even true, to assert that the halakhah is not about prejudice per se, but I’d like this discussion to consider how such a prohibition plays out in the real world, and the bad will it can create. Explaining to one’s host that the waiters might perhaps have offered a libation to a deity before pouring the wine is unlikely to be convincing.

  20. amechad–yes, there are more and more decent kosher wines all the time. Hagafen has made good kosher wine for years and some of the Herzog wines are indeed pretty good. A few (very few) of Yarden’s wines are also passable for people who really like wine. I’m sure there are others, too.
    But the vast majority of kosher wines that I’ve had are still crap. They’re as good as most of the non-kosher crap you can get at most suburban supermarkets in the US (i.e., on par with the mass produced F.F. Coppolas and Yellow Tails of the world), but that’s not saying much. I grew up around some pretty serious oenophiles, and when you get used to drinking truly great wine, you start to really dislike the bad stuff. It’s a form of snobbery, sure, but there really is a difference.

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