Why kosher wine reigns in Spain

Spanish producers are gaining a world-wide reputation for quality. We find out how they're doing it.

By Victoria Prever, March 9, 2012

Kosher wine has arrived. The wine list at Spain's El Celler de Can, one of the world's top restaurants, offers selections from kosher producer Elvi Wines. The Michelin-starred venue is not alone. Until it closed its doors recently, the world-famous El Buli also kept Elvi bottles in the cellar.

So it could be time finally to ditch all those headlines exclaiming surprise that kosher wine is drinkable. With more than decent, even top-quality wines being produced worldwide, the whole "what a shock, it actually tastes okay" shtick is yesterday's news.

It is particularly true of two Spanish wineries. The aforementioned Elvi Wines and Celler de Capcanes.

Elvi is a family business. Owner Moises Cohen studied agricultural engineering at Haifa's Technion. The next 15 years were spent between Israel and Spain while he researched agriculture.

Cohen and his wife, Ana, moved permanently to Spain 20 years ago, at about the same time as the Spanish wine industry began to take off internationally. Cohen worked as an agricultural consultant for 10 years before he and Ana started Elvi Wines.

Elvi Wines' Moishe and Ana Cohen

Elvi Wines' Moishe and Ana Cohen

Viniculture remains a key element. "It is our very clear philosophy that we produce all of our own grapes" says Cohen. "The grapes are produced in eight regions of Spain."

The Cohens believe in kosher traditions and produce all of their wines under strict supervision. However, they also believe that this should not prevent their product competing with mainstream wines.

"We make excellent wines that happen to be kosher and which can compete in regular markets" says Cohen.

They export to 35 countries. "In several markets we have gone into, they have never heard of kosher. It is only later that we publicise this," Cohen laughs.

The wines been critically acclaimed. "We have competed successfully with non-kosher wines and done well" Cohen says. "Seven of our wines are already considered by the Spanish wine guide, Penin, to be in the top 180 wines in Spain, and our Rioja is one of the most acclaimed in the country," says Cohen.

It was kosher wine that became the salvation of the wine-makers of the Catalan village of Capcanes. Vines had been grown there since the middle ages. The inhabitants of the village (none Jewish) formed a wine-making co-operative - the Celler de Capcanes - in 1933, at first producing wine for bulk sale but by the 1980s, not even making wine, but instead selling their grapes off before fermentation. It was only in the late 1990s, after an approach from the Jewish community of Barcelona asking them to make them a kosher wine, that they realised the value of their grapes.

To meet kosher requirements, the co-operative installed new equipment enabling them to hand-produce smaller batches of special wines from the best of their grapes. Capcanes went on to produce a number of high quality, boutique-style wines.

Last year, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate -­ the most respected wine review in the United States - awarded the Capcanes 2007 La Flor del Flor and Peraj Ha'abib scores of 94 and 95 respectively. These are the highest scores ever for a kosher wine.

With kosher wine turning up at some of the world's finest restaurants, the bashing days should be well and truly over. And now there is no reason at all to arrive at your next Seder brandishing a bottle of mildly alcoholic grape juice.

Last updated: 11:26am, March 9 2012