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Apr 14, 2011 07:45 AM

Why our parents drank sweet seder wine

Interesting article at The Atlantic Monthly (which is now more or less The Atlantic Hourly)

The gist is that Jews wanted to drink a wine that was 100% American

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  1. Atlantic Hourly is very funny, Adina.

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    1. Thanks, Adina. very funny article, but probably spot on. My grandmother refused to speak Polish to anyone, EVER, and refused to teach her grandchildren Yiddish because "We're in America now."

      You also reminded me that I want to take a bottle of good Kosher wine with me to the seder I'm attending Tuesday.

      BTW, they dropped the "Monthly" from The Atlantic's name some time ago. but I loved your pun. ;)

      1 Reply
      1. re: ChefJune

        My grandfather had an expression in Yid-lish: "America Gonif" (America the thief). I was pretty young, but I thought of it reading this thread. Maybe he had something there.

        Anyway, if I had to choose between that dreadfully sweet concord grape wine and Slivovitz, schnapps made from plum brandy that tastes like turpentine, I'll take the sweet stuff any day.

      2. I love this writer..been reading his very erudite comments at months....loved this article, very nuanced.

        1. article is fun and very silly.
          raisin wine was known in the ancient world and I believe it's mentioned in the talmud along with fermented dates etc.
          The comment that Jews would confuse fermentation of wine with leavening is insane, or stupid. Canaan had been producing wine since the 3rd millenium BC and canaanites (later phoenicians) had been exporting it to egypt even suspending figs inside the clay jars to add sugar and speed fermentation. Wine is MANDATORY for passover (four glasses) and the idea that wine might be hametz to any jew in yemen, iran, poland or the moon is nuts.
          Sweet wines were known and there were certainly methods to prevent wine turnign to vinegar in the ancient world. Archaeologists have found near eastern wine jars resinated to forestall exposure to air - greeks still drink resinated wines. As for the FASHION for dry wines, this starts with the use of both corked containers that slow oxidation and aging in wood which is another form of resinating wine - as even oak has resins and oils in the wood
          If you look at banquet menus from the 19th and early 20th centuries, you see a lot more sweet wines served at the meal proper, sauternes with seafood and sauternes and tokay with roasts. The fashion for bone-dry champagne started with the brits = the french still drink a good amount of demi-sec as well as brut, but the english market lovies its bone-dry champers.

          So the idea of the best wines being dry is relatively recent (again look at the french 1855 classification of grand crus - all the white grand crus are sauternes and barsac, these are sweet wines. HORRORS.

          There is no lack of sophistication in savoring a sweet wine, oh dear Atlantic Monthly of Boston, great historical culinary hub... oh wait, strike that. And tastes do change - in 1900, Los Angeles county produced the most wine of any california county and the demand (pre-prohibition) was chiefly for Muscat of Alexandria wines. Shakespeare praises malmsey (either the sweet madeira or the wine of Malvasia).
          Manischewitz does make abominable wine - but because it's unbalanced. They also produce, for the american market - a blackberry "wine" and a cherry "wine" which are labelled clearly in hebrew as not being ritually fit for passover use.

          And as a note - when the wine industry was revived in what is now Israel under Rothschild patronage ( late 19th century) the wines ran a gamut from a dry to several balanced sweet vinifera wines. The implication in the aritcle is that in Europe, jews had only raisin wines and part of their march into modernity thanks to America was the intermediate step of a labrusca concord creature. This isn't the case historically. And if the american wines in the East were also made with labrusca grapes (one can still find a catawba wine in the East if one hunts real hard, or a scuppernog wine). there is nothing halakhically prohibiting jews from partaking in it.

          But remember, historically the lands where they were living in the Near East and where their cultural roots lie were producing wine for export a thousand years before Rome was even founded (acdg to the Romans). I read much of the archaeological info in Patrick McGovern's books on the history of wine and alcohol in general - links to news

          and to his books at