Manischewitz: The Common Kosher Wine That’s Becoming a Hit in Caribbean Communities

Hazel Bethel is a Manischewitz wine devotee. She's originally from Trinidad and was introduced to the wine by friends who worked in Jewish homes in New York. (Credit: Nadege Green/PRI)
Hazel Bethel is a Manischewitz wine devotee. She’s originally from Trinidad and was introduced to the wine by friends who worked in Jewish homes in New York. (Credit: Nadege Green/PRI)

Just over a year ago, I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw a picture of a billboard in Haiti advertising Manischewitz wine. The kosher wine has been a constant in Jewish homes for Passover seders and sacramental occasions.

In Jewish circles, Manischewitz has a certain nostalgic value, but it’s not exactly considered a fine wine.

Or as one bartender recently told the Washington Post, it’s “the drink of choice when you were 14 and nothing else was available in the liquor cabinet.”

Yet the very sweet Manischewitz wine is a hit in some Caribbean communities, where it draws respect and praise, especially around Christmas.

“It’s the immigrant’s fine wine,” explains Carla Hill. Her mom, who is originally from Trinidad, is a Manischewitz aficionado. Hill is not.

Miami television journalist Glenna Milberg posted the Instagram photo of the Manischewitz billboard in Haiti. She was in Port-au-Prince covering the presidential election.

“I think the caption I put under it was something like, ‘A kosher Creole connection. Who knew?’” says Milberg. “Which is kind of a Jewish way to say things. Who knew?”

I knew.

I grew up with Manischewitz wine. I am not Jewish, but my very Haitian and Catholic mom swore by the stuff. She wasn’t much of a drinker, but for Christmas there was always a bottle of Manischewitz. And it’s not just my mom. Among my circle of friends from the Caribbean — Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines — it isn’t hard to find a Manischewitz connection. Usually, it’s our parents who discovered the wine after moving to the US.

Milberg also grew up with Manischewitz wine. “Manischewitz was this ubiquitous presence on the table just like the beautiful china and the seder plates,” she says. During our interview she was stumped. People actually enjoyed it on purpose? “No disrespect to Manischewitz,” says Milberg. “It’s horrible. It’s sweet, it syrupy, it’s ugggh, gaggy,”

Hazel Bethel, Hill’s mom, strongly disagrees. For her, “Manischewitz is put in most everything.”

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SOURCE: Nadege Green 
PRI