Palwin is the name of the first kosher and Israeli wine brand. It has now flourished in three separate centuries, the 19th, 20th and 21st, but outside Great Britain, it is scarcely known. However Palwin became part of the history and fabric of Jewish communal life in the United Kingdom and there is no British Jew, who is not familiar with Palwin wines. It became as strong a brand in the UK, as Manischevitz was in the USA. If Manischevitz is the byword for Kiddush wine in America, Palwin is the same in England.
The story began in 1898, when a wine import and marketing company was opened in London by the Rishon Le Zion & Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars. Their British subsidiary initially traded as The Palestine Wine & Trading Co. Then the word Palestine was the term used for local enterprises. There were some other notable examples. ‘The Palestine Bank’ was founded and later renamed Bank Leumi, and the quality newspaper for English speakers, ‘Palestine Post ‘, was later renamed The Jerusalem Post.
The Palestine Wine Company started marketing wines with the name ‘Palwin’, which was an abbreviation for ‘Palestine wine’. Palwin was the first brand sold in export markets by the Israeli wine industry and it is also arguably the oldest wine brand still in existence in the kosher wine world.
Of course there are many other famous kosher wine brands, each with their own history and associations. The most established of these are from America. Mogen David was launched in 1933; the aforementioned Manischevitz was first released in 1934, and Kedem dates back to 1948. Out of the leading leading Israeli brands, Yashan Noshan, in its current format, dates from 1957, Conditon from the 1970’sand King David from 1987. All of them are babies compared to Palwin.
During the time Palwin was the brand name of the UK subsidiary, every wine they produced, whether dry or sweet, was branded Palwin and intriguingly, each bottle was identified by a number. This was not just for sweet wines, but also for dry wines, aperitifs, brandies and liqueurs. For instance there was a dry red wine called Superior Claret which was Palwin No. 2, a dry white wine was called Palwin No. 3 and there was a brandy known as Palwin No.5.
There are all sorts of conjecture as to the reason for the numbers. An original guess was that they relate to the bus numbers that used to pass Whitechapel in London’s East End. It was certainly popular with the new immigrants from Eastern Europe, who found identifying numbers easier than reading the labels.
Palwin wines were launched in the 19th century and they were prominent in every Jewish home throughout the 20th century. Old advertisements in the Jewish Chronicle used to cry out: ‘Let your Seder Table help the Jewish Colonists by insisting upon Palwin!’
On the forming of the State of Israel, the company name of the UK subsidiary was changed from Palestine Wine to the Carmel Wine Co. and the name Palwin then became specifically associated with a brand of Kiddush or sacramental wines rather than the full portfolio.
The number of Palwin wines was whittled down to four. These were numbered 10, 11, 4 and 4a. The difference between them was basically alcohol content. The No. 10 was 12.5% alcohol and the No. 11 was 13%. The No. 4 was 14% and the 4a was a liqueur wine weighing in at a hefty 15.5%.
Right up until the early 1970’s, these wines were shipped from Israel in large barrels and were then bottled under the Palwin label in London. Since then, they have been bottled at Rishon Le Zion Cellars.
Even at the beginning of the 21st century, Palwin still features prominently, despite all the new quality options the wine lover has to choose from. Today the only survivor is Palwin Menorah No. 10, to give its full name, but it is known simply as No. 10. The customer going into a shop and asking for ‘a bottle of No.10 please’ will receive what he wants.
Palwin is in itself a symbol of the dreaded Kiddush wine, that has given kosher wine such a bad name. It does though, have some redeeming quality attributes which make it stand out in the kiddush wine sector. Palwin No. 10 is made from freshly gathered wine grapes and has no added water or sugar. This is rare for kiddush wines in general.
The grape varieties used are mainly Carignan, but also a little Petite Sirah and Argaman, grown in the coastal regions of Israel. The wines are made by a mistelle – adding natural grape juice for sweetness rather than using artificial sweeteners. The resulting wines are less sweet and more wine-like than many of the other kiddush wines on the market.
Many people’s perception of Palwin has often been ruined by tasting from an already opened bottle that has sat on the sideboard for half a year or more. At its freshest, it represents a better kiddush wine than most.
For those who wish to maintain traditions, Palwin wine remains as a reminder of a bygone era. A taste of history – in a bottle.