It’s Book Week here in Israel. Many of the Jewish publishers are participating. Even if you can’t make it to any of the local events, you will also find discounts online.
I suggest that you keep your eyes out for The Kosher Grapevine by Irving Langer, with an excellent introduction by Daniel Rogov, ztl.
This is not a large volume (it doesn’t even crack the 150 page mark) but it is filled with a ton of useful information.
Major topics include:
- understanding the differences between wines
- how wine is made
- the regions of the world where kosher wines are grown and produced
- wine tasting in ten easy steps
- how to appreciate dry wines
- how to buy wine
- suggested wine and food combinations
- glossary of wine terms
- list of kosher wineries and online wine stores
The author and publisher did not skimp when it came to illustrating this volume. Virtually every page has a delightful picture of a vineyard, a wine growing region, or wine and people enjoying it.
The pictures transform this book into a real treasure. It’s tempting to suggest that the book is worth it just for the pictures.
This book is for everyone who grew up thinking that Manischewitz sets the standard for kosher wine.
To be fair (as explained in the Introduction on page 2) Manischewitz started with a real handicap:
Unfortunately, the wines were made from Concord grapes and were coarse and bitter; they had to be sweetened in order to make them palatable. Over time, it was such sweet, unsophisticated wines that came to be associated with kosher wine.
How to Use This Book
The Kosher Grapevine is not a book to merely read and then put onto your shelf.
Read and then do it.
How? Go to your favorite wine store and buy a bottle of wine. Buy an old favorite or get bold and buy something new.
Then turn to Chapter 5 and go through “The Ten Steps of Wine Tasting.” Mr. Langer explains what to do expect in each step and how to become a confident wine taster.
I especially like what he writes in Step 6 – Recite the Blessing:
Reflect on the fact that the wine did not get here by accident. God has given you the wonderful opportunity to explore and appreciate His world. Say the blessing and let the gratitude well up in your heart.
The Wine of Our Sages
We all know that wine plays an important role in Jewish life. We say kiddush and havdalah over a cup of wine. The Pesach Seder is built around the four cups of wine.
Mr. Langer asks a provocative question. What wine was served at the Pesach Seder described in the Hagadah?
Was it a thick, sweet, syrupy wine or perhaps a dry red?
Mr. Langer delves into the Misha, Gemara, commentators, and halachic literature to study the question and come up with his answer.
Nope, I’m not going to reveal it here. You’ll need to take a peek into the book.
I love this book and I’ve enjoyed both reading it and gazing at the pictures.
I do have a few criticisms of the book. I mention them here, not to deter you from buying it, but in the hope that the publisher will read my review and correct them in the next edition.
Mr. Langer wants us to understand six major wine types. He explains them with a parable about six chassidic courts. The parable and the accompanying pictures don’t work. It’s a bit too goofy for my taste and not in keeping with the character of the book.
To top it off, one of the illustrations (page 33) shows a father and son standing next to a donkey. Not just any donkey, mind you, but a smiling donkey with split hooves. I can’t tell if this donkey also chews its cud, but either way it’s a very unique donkey. That’s probably why it’s smiling.
One of my favorite sections of The Kosher Grapevine is the world tour of regions where kosher wines are produced today.
This section’s seven pages of text cry out for subheadings. Including country or continent subheadings would have made this section much easier to read and to use as a reference tool.
My final criticism is the lack of a subject index. In my opinion, it is absolutely criminal to omit such a useful tool from a reference book.
Buy this book. Start exploring kosher wines. It can be done by everyone, even on a limited budget.
The Kosher Grapevine – Exploring the World of Fine Wine by Irving Langer. Published by Gefen Publishing House.
Disclosure: I was given a review copy of The Kosher Grapevine by the publisher.
Please share your experience with kosher wines in the comments.