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Manischewitz: The Great History of the Not-so-great Wine

Manischewitz
Manischewitz wine comes in several flavors, including concord grape, cherry and blackberry. Manischewitz

You know a product has become a staple when its brand name replaces the generic term within the public's vocabulary. Popsicles, Crockpots, Q-tips and of course there's Manischewitz.

As the de facto go-to brand of kosher wine for Jews and Gentiles alike, the Manischewitz Company has led the charge on traditional Jewish foods since the late 1800s when Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz opened a small matzo bakery in Cincinnati. Now 130 years later, the Manischewitz Company does way more than produce the sweet, tart, low-priced wine. It's also king when it comes to kosher cookies, soups, gefilte fish and way more. But how did it get into the wine-making business?

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The Kosher Wine Standard

Manischewitz is typically shared during religious ceremonies and holidays like Passover, Purim, bar and bat Mitzvahs, and weddings, and the wine has a long and illustrious history with Judaism that goes all the way back to biblical times.

The modern Manischewitz as we now know it — the uber-sweet concord grape-derived drink — came to fruition in 1947 when Brooklyn-based Monarch Wine Company approached the Manischewitz Company and proposed a licensing deal. Monarch Wine wanted to use the well-known Manischewitz name on its new kosher wine. The Manischewitz Company was uninterested in pursuing winemaking on its own so it agreed to the deal, unknowingly cementing itself as the purveyor of kosher wine.

The Manischewitz Company is known for its kosher standards and regulations, and it applies them throughout to the winemaking process, too, from crushing the grapes to bottling the final product.

"We have rabbis at each and every production to make sure all facilities are abiding by strict kosher standards," says Shani Seidman, CMO of Kayco Kosher Food and Manischewitz.

Along with strict rabbinical supervision, (rabbi supervisors are called Mashgichim) all bottles of Manischewitz must be certified by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America before they're sold to the public. On top of this process, Manischewitz wines go through a process called "mevushal." That means the juice for wine is cooked immediately after the grapes have been crushed. Why? That makes Manischewitz a mevushal wine, which, according to Jewish law, means it can be served by both non-Sabbath-observing Jews and gentiles alike.

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Millions Love the Sweet Taste

Manischewitz is available in six flavors — concord grape, blackberry, elderberry, cherry, extra heavy malaga and medium dry concord — and the appeal has long expanded past its Jewish base to the rest of the world. Whether it's the $5 price tag, low alcohol content, or syrupy, sweet flavor, Manischewitz's classic tagline "There's a seder in every bottle. Let the tradition flow" now rings true for millions

A 1954 article in Commentary magazine reported on the kosher wine trend, noting how 10,000,000 gallons (37,854,117 liters) of Manischewitz was imbibed the year prior. Interestingly enough, the same article mentioned a spike in sales "at Christmas and Thanksgiving several times higher than for Passover," even noting how "a relatively minor occasion as St. Patrick's Day causes a discernible rise."

That was in 1954, though. What about today? It seems the wine still has a big following, and not just by those who grew up drinking the stuff at seders and other Jewish holidays. USA Today reported in 2017 that the wine is a hit among Caribbean communities, especially around Christmas. And the Wall Street Journal ran a similar story in 2016 that says Constellation (Manischewitz parent company) produced more than 900,000 cases of Manischewitz that year — 200,000 of which were exported to its top markets in Latin America, the Caribbean and South Korea.

Its sweet and fruity flavor clearly has a broad appeal. And that taste comes from (no surprise) a large amount of sugar that's added to offset the bitter taste of Labrusca grapes. However, when paired with dry, salty Passover foods like matzo and gefilte fish, this table wine shines through to provide an unforgettable dining experience. Unless you drink too much, of course.

"Manischewitz dishes are comfort foods," Seidman adds. "The wine is sweet, robust, [and] should be sipped with friends and family."

For those who've never had the chance to sip this sweet sacramental drink, you can find Manischewitz in almost any liquor or grocery store (typically on the bottom shelf or kosher sections) and you can also use it for cooking dishes like chicken cacciatore, potato encrusted salmon and matzo meatloaf. If you're looking for an easy dish to pair with Manischewitz, try something like a hearty brisket. Of course, you could always go with a Manischewitz red wine slushy. Cheers!

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