Sacramental wine 1 of 4

While wine is enjoyed as a beverage and a food by billions every day, it also is integral part of religious worship.

Roman Catholics include wine in every celebration of the Mass. Although viewed differently from theological point of view, Episcopalians and Lutherans include wine in their services. Jews use kosher wine in such celebrations as Passover.

This and next three columns: the sacramental/altar wine story.

Can you use “just any old wine” on the altar? Heavens, no. There are strict rules governing “fruit of the vine and work of human hands.”

According to Catholic canon law, sacramental “wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine, and not corrupt.”

There can be fevered discussion about what “not corrupt” means. Does adding sulfites to preserve wine constitute corruption? Generally, no—sulfites occur naturally in all wine. But what about adding more? Without sulfites, white wines in particular have short shelf life, turn brown and bad. That is real problem for altar wines because they often are stored up to a year. Blessed be sulfites.

How about adding spirit alcohol to prevent souring or spoilage? Add away as long as spirit was distilled from grapes (grape brandy), it is added during fermentation, and alcohol level of final product does not exceed 18 percent. Peace be with you, and with your spirit.

Other additives, such as water, juice not from grapes, sugar to boost alcohol during fermentation, alcohol to boost alcohol after fermentation, and anything else? For God’s sake, don’t even think about it.

Red, white, rosé/rosato? All acceptable styles. Hallelujah.

Makers? Two California companies dominate with more than 90 percent of business. We’ll meet them and others next week.

Unless you are priest or church, you cannot purchase sacramental wine, so no recommendations this week. In following three weeks, however, we will include tasting notes on wines used by area Catholic churches.