“Why is this night different from all other nights?"
The ancient phrase is uttered on the first night of Passover, which this year falls on Friday. It leads to discussions of Jewish tradition, the ritual seder meal and, often, to kosher wines.
Kosher wines are a little complicated, but they're becoming more popular in America, even among non-Jewish wine fans.
Put simply, kosher wines (kosher means "correct" or "proper") are made much like other wines, with a few extra steps including that the process must be carried out by Sabbath-observant Jews, using only kosher ingredients.
To go beyond that to "kosher for Passover," a wine also must be fermented with yeast from fruit such as grapes, plums and such and not from grains like wheat or oats.
Finally, kosher wines may be made mevushal, which in Hebrew means "cooked," rendering them proper to be served by non-Jewish workers as in a restaurant or hotel.
In the past, mevushal wines were boiled, greatly damaging their flavors. Today they are heated only to 185 degrees, where the first tiny bubbles start to form, then quickly cooled while their flavors are intact.
In all of these cases, other requirements also apply.
One big change: For decades, most American kosher wines were sweet, in part because the Jewish population centered on the East Coast, and the kosher wines came from upstate New York. The cold weather there meant many wines were from the concord grape, a high-acid variety that turned out very tart if made dry.
Many people still prefer the sweet wines. But today, kosher wines also come dry as well, in all varieties, from dozens of countries. You can find dry kosher Bordeaux, Burgundy, chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot and many others.
Oh, and there's an advantage to kosher wines, even to nonkosher consumers. In many nonkosher wineries, workers clarify the wines by "fining," which means dropping egg whites, gelatin or other substances through them to carry any tiny pieces of grape skins, leaves and such to the bottom. It means that while the wines might be vegetarian, they no longer are vegan.
Kosher winemakers are not permitted to fine with animal products, instead often using a finely ground sterile clay called bentonite.
It means kosher wines are vegan.