Wine Wednesday for Rosh Hashana!

Rosh Hashana: Bring in Jewish new year with new kosher wines.

By MICHELLE LOCKE – For The Associated Press
Since Rosh Hashana is all about clean slates and fresh starts, perhaps it’s time to give kosher wines another chance.

At least, that’s what Aron Ritter, enophile and founder of the New York-based Kosher Wine Society, says about the wines with a reputation for plonky sweetness and the Jewish new year — which this year begins today.

And a growing number of people seem to be listening. This year the society, now at 800 members, is holding its third “new wines for the New Year” tasting, featuring wines from several countries and including about two dozen Israeli wines new to the U.S. market.

“It’s a really cool concept,” said Ritter. “People love to come out and taste new wines, learn what’s new.”

Israeli wine doesn’t have a very high profile in the United States, but the winemaking tradition there stretches back thousands of years.

About 25 years ago, the industry was hit by the kind of reform movement that swept through New World winemaking as new apprentices studied enology in France and California, then took that expertise back home.

“You have all these wineries in Israel that start to say, ‘You know what? There is a market for good quality wine.’ They started to really cultivate the land to produce good quality grapes,” said Ritter.

One issue for kosher wine producers is overcoming the old image of kosher wine as a sweet, cheap product that dates from early producers who made wine in New York state using the Concord grape, which requires sugar to balance its acidity. With more producers making kosher wines out of premium grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon, that perception is changing.

For example, at Carmel Winery, a major Israeli producer, there’s been a switch in strategy from exporting mostly sacramental wine to higher quality vintages.

Kosher wines are a small fraction of the overall wine market, but the segment is growing with more customers looking to upgrade to higher quality bottles, said Gary Landsman, spokesman for Royal Wines, one of the largest importer, producer and distributors of kosher wine in North America.

Kosher wines are also being produced in all of the world’s major wine regions. In Israel, an emerging wine producer, most of the wines produced are kosher, Landsman said.

And the market isn’t limited to customers seeking products made in compliance with Jewish dietary laws.

“You are seeing non-kosher consumers purchasing kosher wines because they are good,” Landsman said.

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