What You Need to Know About Drinking Wine

Wine isn't just a drink in Jewish tradition—it's a symbol of joy, sanctity, and ritual. From welcoming Shabbat to celebrating holidays and joyous occasions, wine plays a key role. It even had its spotlight in the Holy Temple, where it was poured on the altar with offerings. But, there's a unique twist to wine in Jewish law, especially because of its historical use in idolatrous practices. So, when it comes to wine, we've got some special rules to keep its sanctity intact.

The Super-Drink

First up, the blessing. Before we enjoy a sip of wine, we say Borei Pri Hagafen, thanking G‑d, who "creates the fruit of the vine."

Since wine is the most prominent of all beverages, saying this blessing over the wine (and then drinking some1) covers all other beverages—just like the blessing over bread covers whatever you’ll eat during that meal. Therefore, after having said a blessing over wine, if you wish to have a cup of water, you do not need to say another blessing.2

Here are some specifics to be aware of:

Out of Sight Out of Mind

For your non-wine beverage to be covered, you must either have it in mind or have it sitting in front of you when you make the blessing. If it was both out of sight and out of mind at that time, you’d make another blessing before taking a sip.3

But if you’re a guest, the blessing over wine will cover any drink your host brings out, even if it’s not present and you didn’t know about it, since the convention is that you’ll partake of whatever is served to you.4

One After-Blessing

When you finish drinking and recite the after-blessing of Al Hagefen over wine, it covers all other drinks—even those that may not have been covered by your Hagafen.5

Not Included in Bread

Although the Hamotzi blessing over bread generally exempts other foods and drinks that are consumed during that meal, wine is an exception, and a blessing is always warranted before taking a sip.6

When Better Wine is Brought to the Table

Another unique aspect of wine is that when a second, better wine is brought to the table in the middle of a shared meal, we say the Hatov Vehametiv blessing, thanking G‑d, who “is good and bestows goodness.”

There are several conditions that must be in place for this blessing to be said:

  • The second bottle was brought because it had a better flavor or quality, not because the first bottle was finished. In fact, you must have some of the first wine left in order to say this blessing.7
  • You’re drinking in the company of others (friends or family), not drinking yourself.8
  • The second wine is not being served right after the after-blessing following bread has been said.9

What Kind of Wine?

Once these prerequisites are met, there are a number of conditions regarding the quality and flavor of the wine itself.

As a general rule, if the second wine is of lower quality, the blessing of Hatov Vehametiv isn't recited.

From Red to White: If the second wine is white and only slightly inferior, the blessing is recited. However, if the second bottle is so inferior that it’s difficult to drink, the blessing isn't recited.10

From White to Red: If the first bottle is a white wine and the second bottle is red, then the blessing is only said if you are certain that the new bottle is truly superior.11

From Old to New: If the second bottle is of a newer vintage, you only say the blessing if you are certain that it is at least as good as the first bottle.12

What to Drink First?

When you have two wines brought out simultaneously, you should say the Hagafen blessing over the better one, even if it results in not being able to recite the blessing of Hatov Vehametiv over a glass of the second wine.13

That said, if someone accidentally recited the blessing of Hagafen over the inferior wine and then tasted the superior wine, they should say the blessing Hatov Vehametiv.14

Non-Jewish Wine

As mentioned, wine has a central role in rituals such as Kiddush, as well as in the Divine service in the Holy Temple, where it was poured onto the altar alongside sacrifices. At the same time, wine was and still is used in many forms of religious and idolatrous worship. It is for this reason that wine has a unique status in Jewish law, which places extra restrictions on the making and handling of wine. These restrictions apply to all wines, even those used for non-ceremonial purposes.

It’s forbidden to drink or derive any benefit from wine that was poured in the service of idolatry. Such wine is known as yayin nesech (lit., “poured wine”).15

The sages decreed that even wine produced by non-Jews or left unattended with non-Jews, where it's uncertain if it was used for idolatrous practices, is also a no-go. (According to many, one who brazenly violates Shabbat would also prohibit the wine should they touch the wine.) This type of wine is referred to as stam yaynam.16

Additionally, since drinking wine together fosters closer and more intimate relationships, the sages decreed that even if the non-Jew who handled the wine has monotheistic beliefs, the wine is still prohibited in order to prevent potential intermarriage. However, in this case, the wine would only be forbidden to drink, but one may still derive benefit from it.17

Based on this, the production and handling of kosher wine must be exclusively managed by Jews. From the manufacturing process to the moment the bottle is opened, wine, grape juice, and any products containing these ingredients must be under Jewish supervision. Once the seal is broken, it's prohibited to consume wine, grape juice, or any drinks containing these if they have been touched by a non-Jew.

Grape Products

It's important to stress that in Jewish law, all liquids made from fresh or dried grapes, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic—like grape juice and wine vinegar—are treated similarly to wine in this context. So foods containing grape flavoring or additives must always have a reliable kosher certification. This includes items like jam, soda, popsicles, candy, fruit packed in juice and fruit punch, as well as various alcoholic beverages that are at times mixed with wine.

Cooked Wine - Yayin Mevushal

An exception to the above is yayin mevushal (lit., “cooked wine”). In the Holy Temple, wine that was boiled was no longer fit to be used on the Altar. As such, if kosher wine (or grape juice) was boiled, it’s considered yayin mevushal and is not included in the prohibition against being handled by non-Jews.18

Due to the many potential issues that can arise, the simplest solution is to use yayin mevushal. The label of a kosher wine will clearly state (usually next to the kosher certification) if the wine is mevushal.

For more on this, see Mevushal: Keeping Kosher Wine, Kosher

Lechaim, to life!