Those who live in Israel know that each year new Israeli wineries keep on opening up and new wines are constantly released. Old wineries keep on improving and competing with the best. With over 250 wineries in Israel, both certified kosher and not, the Israeli wine world has changed rapidly and it’s even hard for observers to keep up. Yet, despite the fact that Israel’s best wines have praised by the oracle of wine critics, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, there are still those who wrongly associate Israeli and kosher wine with memories of New York’s Manishewitz or ‘old Carmel’ kiddush wine.
While there is a plethora of blogs, magazines, and other media in Hebrew about Israeli wine, there is very little information available to the English-language audience. However, with the release of two new guidebooks from Israeli wine critic, Daniel Rogov, there’s no excuse left to not drink good kosher and Israeli wine.
Daniel Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines 2010 is the fifth edition of Rogov’s annual reviews of Israeli wines and each year the guide keeps on getting bigger. Daniel Rogov, the wine critic for the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper and a contributor to Hugh Johnson and Tom Stevenson’s wine guides, tastes wines from the transformed Carmel Winery (who have followed an amazing revolution not only in their top level wines but also scoring high marks in their mid- and low-range series, Private Collection and Selected) to the medium-sized Teperberg, Pelter, and Tzora to the great tiny wineries, still unknown outside of Israel, like Sea Horse and Ye’arim.
For observers of Israeli wine, one of the most exciting things in Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wine is his list of the top Israeli wines and wineries. This year, Daniel Rogov decided that he couldn’t limit his list of the best wines to just 10 top wines, but instead lists the 25 highest scoring wines (some widely available in the United States while others are available only in Israel’s finest restaurants and wine shops). In addition, while your memories of Israeli wine may include disparaging comments about Carmel, which has been producing wine in Israel for over a hundred years, they also make Rogov’s list of the 10 best wine producers, along with their sister-winery, Yatir. Other wineries making the list of Israel’s best 10 wineries include Golan Heights Winery, Flam, Pelter, Castel, and Galil Mountain.
Besides Rogov’s exclusive tasting notes of the constantly improving world of Israeli wines (which make the book worth it themselves), the Guide to Israeli Wines also includes introductory sections describing the Land of Israel’s 2000-year-old wine history, information on grape varieties in Israel and vintage reports since 1976.
Despite the fact that while most Israeli wines are kosher, most Israeli wineries are not. Therefore, Rogov also includes a short description of the rules to make kosher wine and a brief description of the kosher wine making process. It’s worth nothing that Rogov, certainly not an observant Jew, remarks that “there need be no contradiction whatsoever between the laws of kashrut and the production of fine wine.” Yet, for too long kosher wine — particularly that made outside of Israel — had cultural connections either to cheap plonk or sickly sweet Concord grape (an American innovation, it must be noted – in Europe and Israel, Jews have always drank dry kosher wine) that charitably reminded those unlucky enough to drink it to cough medicine.
That world of undrinkable kosher wine is long gone, as Rogov’s new book, Guide to Kosher Wine 2010, attests. While Daniel Rogov has long been recognized as an authority of kosher wine not only of Israel, it has taken time for quality kosher wine to be produced by wine makers outside of Israel. And, even today, most of the best kosher wines still come from Israel. Therefore, until this year Rogov did not see a need to produce a separate guide to the world’s best kosher wines, because many of them were listed in Rogov’s guides to Israeli wines.
While there have been some quality wines being produced for quite some time, most Jews are exposed to kosher wine in kosher restaurants or s’machot. However, unlike in Israel and Europe, most kosher caterers and kosher restaurants only serve wines that are mevushal (flash pasteurized). With rare exception (such as California’s Herzog and HaGafen wineries), the best kosher wines are not mevushal. Of the 500 best kosher wines from around the world, very few of them (and none in Israel) are mevushal. Thus, even much of the kosher-drinking public in North America are not familiar with most of the world’s best kosher wines.
Top kosher wines come in all styles – from a dry red Syrah, to a refreshing rose, or a fruity Sauvignon Blanc, to a sweet dessert wine like a late harvest Riesling or Gewurtzraminer. Rogov’s extensive list, divided by region and style, covers wines not only from Israel but also from the likes of France, Italy, America, Hungary, Austria, South Africa, South America, and more. This extensive guide underscores the diversity of kosher wine, from the Italian Barbera D’Alba to the Californian Zinfandel and the Israeli Syrah and the Spanish Cava.
While the diversity and unfamiliar terms can be overwhelming at times, particularly for those readers who are unfamiliar with most wines and overwhelmed by the variety and diversity, both Daniel Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wine and Guide to Kosher Wine provide a guide to the best way to learn about wine: drinking different wines and deciding what you like best. Daniel Rogov also helps the new wine drinker with a helpful dictionary of terms that appear in the book, as well as descriptions of wine varietals, and suggestions for how to taste and evaluate wine.
Both Daniel Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wine and his new Guide to Kosher Wine have enough information and new reviews to satisfy the most dedicated and committed oenophiles, as well as useful information, articles, and essays to educate those whose memories of kosher and Israeli wines leave a little something to be desired.
L’Chaim! To Life! And good wine from Israel and around the world. Luckily, Daniel Rogov’s new guides will make it much easier to find this. They also make excellent holiday gifts for Chanukkah or Christmas.