Dear Kosher Spirit,
1. Can I make kiddush on raisin wine?
2. Does it need to be mevushal if non-Jews are present?
Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Sholom Ber Lepkivker responds:
In times of great need, notably in the Russian gulags and concentration camps, many men of stature made raisin wine in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Arba Kosos. Raisin wine, aka “straw wine” (because of the way the grapes are traditionally dried), is an ancient method of winemaking dating back to pre-Roman times. The raisins are soaked in water and fermented to become wine. The wine has an extra sweet taste due to the highly concentrated sugar present in raisins.
Raisin wine can be used to make kiddush if it meets the following conditions:
1. The raisins must have some moisture in them at the time of the wine production, otherwise it does not require the brocha of borei pri hagafen and cannot be used for kiddush.
2. There must be a minimum ratio of slightly more than one part raisins to six parts water. There is an debate regarding how to calculate the ratio (prior to fermentation, before the raisins were added to the water, or after the water bloated the raisins). There is also an opinion that one has to calculate the ratio using the liquid extracted from the raisins, rather than the actual whole fruit. The latter position is the best way to calculate, but calculating using the actual raisins is acceptable if necessary.
3. The raisins must be kept in the water for at least three days.
The Mishna Berurah states that while raisin wine is permissible, due to the halachic complexities mentioned above it is better to use traditional grape wine.
Kosher raisin wine can be used for the Arba Kosos on Passover, but a reliable kosher for Passover certification is a must. In addition, the Shulchan Oruch considers raisin wine to be equivalent to grape wine with respect to yayin nesach and, therefore, one would need mevushal raisin wine if non-Jews or non-Shomer Shabbos Jews are present. It is explained that raisin wine originates from grapes, so it has the same halachic considerations as grape wine.