This Wednesday, the first night of Passover, Jews all over the world will sit down to the most important meal of the year. The Seder ritual recalls the Exodus story through reading, eating, and drinking wine. What a good idea, you might say - a religion enforcing drinking rather than abstention. But then you taste the wine and - yikes! On Passover, even many non-observant Jews try to keep a kosher table, and from the Seders of my youth I remember kosher wine as a sickly fluid. My brother describes it as "grape juice with cough medicine". Even then we could tell it was seriously awful.

This Wednesday, the first night of Passover, Jews all over the world will sit down to the most important meal of the year. The Seder ritual recalls the Exodus story through reading, eating, and drinking wine. What a good idea, you might say - a religion enforcing drinking rather than abstention. But then you taste the wine and - yikes! On Passover, even many non-observant Jews try to keep a kosher table, and from the Seders of my youth I remember kosher wine as a sickly fluid. My brother describes it as "grape juice with cough medicine". Even then we could tell it was seriously awful.

Here's why. The laws call for an extreme form of cleanliness and this was achieved by, at first boiling the must before fermentation, and later by flash-pasteurisation. Either way, high heat obliterates just about everything that makes wine worth drinking. Nowadays the method is more complicated and far more expensive. But it has also made it possible to drink the undrinkable.

New-style kosher wine must have three properties. Only certified kosher products - yeasts, fining agents - may be used. (Incidentally, this eliminates all animal products - kosher wine is also vegan wine.) Second, the equipment must be cleaned with boiling water. Third, wine production must be supervised by specially qualified rabbis.

In response to demand for better kosher wine, two things have happened. One is that kosher winemakers such as Golan Heights have raised their standards. The other is that non-kosher wineries have, since the mid-Eighties, produced special kosher cuvées.

The centre of this activity is France. Among top Bordeaux estates, those with partially kosher production include Château La Gaffeliere (St Emilion), Château Yon-Figeac (St Emilion), Château Giscours (Margaux), and Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan).

From a tiny office in north London, Aben Wines (tel: 020 8900 9427) has become this country's leading importer of kosher French wine. It sells the kosher versions of Smith-Haut-Lafitte (around £39 retail), Laurent-Perrier NV (around £25 retail), plus a raft of lesser wines. There are also kosher versions of other drinks, including Martini & Rosso vermouths. Anyone fancy a kosher vodka martini?

Prices are higher for the kosher cuvées - Laurent-Perrier carries a premium of a few quid. For observant Jews, however, it is worth paying. Not many years ago, the ritual four sips would suffice. Now, wine enthusiasts sitting down to their Seder can drink with pleasure. That's a big change.

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