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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. What kashrus issues should I be aware of when choosing a wine?

A. There is a unique halacha that applies to grape juice and wine, known as stam yayin.  [We’ll discuss wine, but all these points apply equally to grape juice.]  Basically, it means that if the wine is touched or moved by someone who is not Jewish, it becomes forbidden.  For this reason, wine (and wine vinegar) without hashgachah is not kosher, since the assumption is that it is stam yayin.

One important exception to this halacha is that once the wine is mevushal, it cannot become forbidden.  [If it was stam yayin before it became mevushal, it remains forbidden].  The literal translation of mevushal is “cooked”, and contemporary Poskim have different opinions on what it takes to qualify.  One issue is the temperature required, and, in turn, that is based on the way earlier Poskim defined mevushal as (a) when the wine is yad soledes bo and (b) when there is some diminishing of the juice (yisma’et m’midaso) as vapor escapes.  Iggeros Moshe understands that those two measures are identical, and, therefore, says that when the wine has been heated to 175°F (i.e., yad soledes bo), it is considered mevushal.  In contrast, Minchas Yitzchok and Shevet Halevi say that the second measure (yisma’et m’midaso) might be higher than the first (yad soledes bo), and, therefore, wine is not mevushal until it reaches a hotter temperature (190°F or 212°F).

A second issue is whether wine can become mevushal through the modern process of pasteurization.  Most American hashgachos permit this, since the juice reaches the required temperature.  However, several Israeli Poskim disagreed because (a) pasteurizers are closed-systems, which do not allow vapors to escape, (b) there is no degradation of taste in the pasteurizer, as would be common if the wine was “cooked” in a pot, and (c) pasteurization is so common that it does not qualify as “unusual” (and the leniency of mevushal might depend on that).  Due to this position, some Israeli wines will state on the label that they are mevushal al yidei pistur (“mevushal through pasteurization”) to alert the consumer that they relied on the lenient opinion.

One last issue regarding the creation of mevushal wine is that Iggeros Moshe rules that it is possible to accomplish this process even before the juice has been squeezed from the grape!  This is very advantageous to the wine producers because wine cannot become stam yayin until the juice has separated from the rest of the fruit (a.k.a., hamshachah).  Thus, by rendering the grapes mevushal before the juice is removed, there is no time at all when it can become stam yayin, and that makes the Mashgiach’s job that much simpler.

As noted, wine which is mevushal has a significant advantage, in that it will not become forbidden if touched or moved by someone non-Jewish, such as a waiter or a cleaning person.  On the other hand, there are two reasons why a company might choose not to make their wine mevushal.  Firstly, there are those who are concerned that the heating process will ruin the taste of the wine.  Secondly, it helps those consumers who prefer non-mevushal wine, since there is a preference to use that type of wine for kiddush.  It is worth noting that not all “non-mevushal” wine is created equal: some is actually pasteurized at temperatures which are close enough to yad soledes bo that possibly no longer qualify as the type preferred for kiddush.

Some other issues related to wine are (a) how much water can one add to wine and still retain the bracha of borei pri hagafen, (b) whether red or white wine is preferable for mitzvah use, (c) whether grape juice from concentrate has the status of “wine”, and (d) whether one can have music playing at a meal that includes wine.  These are beyond the scope of this article.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, March 22, 2024.