Jewish Journal

This Kiddush Cup Runneth Over

Rogov's Guide to Kosher Wines 2010: The World’s 500 Best kosher Wines By Daniel Rogov (The Toby Press; November 1, 2009; 145 pages; $19.95)

By Joshua E. London

Posted on Dec. 4, 2009 at 12:44 am

For decades, choosing from among kosher wines has been a haphazard affair. Consumers face a dizzying array of increasingly expensive wines of unknown character, and uncertain quality. Since the early 1980s, the Concord grape has give way to the more familiar Cabernets and Chardonnays of the non-kosher wine world, and kosher consumers have begun to cultivate qualitative preferences beyond super cheap and super sweet. Now, however, Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines 2010: The World‘s Best Kosher Wines by Daniel Rogov (The Toby Press; 145 pages; $19.95) has entered the scene to aid the weary consumer.

The book includes useful information about what constitutes kosher wine, about mevushal wines, about the kashruth of Israeli wines (most Israeli wineries produce non-kosher wines), etc. The book also includes details of how Rogov evaluates wines, how to host wine tasting parties, and useful glossaries of wine grape varieties and of wine evaluation terms. Much of this background and introductory material actually appears in previous editions of his annual Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines (The Toby Press), but its inclusion here is nevertheless welcomed both because it is useful information and because the Israeli guides are not focused on kosher wines.

Daniel Rogov is the weekly wine and restaurant critic for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. In the course of evaluating thousands of wines from around the world, he tastes and reviews more kosher wines than any other published critic. This is not an insignificant point, for this guide’s value rests on the strength of Rogov’s professional critical judgment of kosher wines, and of wines in general. That’s why his name is in the title. It is one critic’s view, and is perhaps a little idiosyncratic.

In this Guide, Rogov reviews the “world’s 500 best kosher wines,” presented in categorical fashion (Dry, Sparkling, Rosé, and Dessert), with each category presented by country (France, Israel, Italy, etc.) and then alphabetically within each country (some 14 different countries are included). Somewhat confusingly, however, the countries are not themselves presented alphabetically, such that the “United States” section is sandwiched between Israel and Italy, and “Australia and New Zealand” is found between Spain and South Africa, etc. Some explanatory note would be helpful. It might also be nice to include some ordinal cross-referencing so as to easily locate, say, the 90 point wines or the few 94 point wines (were there any that scored over 95?).

The tasting notes are intelligent, concisely written and helpfully communicative, as these things go. That is, each review gives one a very clear picture of Rogov’s perception of the wine’s sensory characteristics (fruits, flowers, spices, etc.) and relative charms (balance, elegance, personality, etc.). These tasting notes are formulated to assist the consumer in future purchases and for helping to determine future storage or consumption of each wine.

The wines are further evaluated on the familiar 100 point scale favored by Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator.  Rogov provides a key: 100-96 points is a “Truly great wine;” 90-95 is “Exceptional in Every Way;” and 85-89 is “Very Good to Excellent and Highly Recommended.” Rogov notes in his foreword that the book is limited to “the five hundred best kosher wines that I have tasted or re-tasted during the last year.” He later stipulates that he is only including wines that scored 85 points or more. It is here where the Guide gets a little idiosyncratic.

Most of the wines included, based on their scores and tasting notes, clearly made the grade and are, indeed, worthy of inclusion – but not everything. Yet no satisfactory explanation as to his precise methodology of compilation is offered. There is not a single Israeli wine scoring below 88 points in this guide, for example, yet his Israeli guide has them in abundance.  Other distinct inconsistencies of inclusion arise as well. The excellent Israeli Bustan Winery, to take but one example, has 10 entries all kosher and all scoring 90+ points in the 2010 Israeli guide, but only 4 in this 2010 kosher guide. This, in turn, begs the question of why other non-Israeli wines which just barely made the cut are even included.

Looking past the numeric scores into the detailed tasting notes further aggravates this mystery. Note, for example, this line from Rogov’s tasting note of the “Alfasi, Chardonnay, Maule Valley, Chile, 2007: “…Not complex but very pleasant and easy to drink. Drink up. Score 86.” This is really one of the “world’s 500 best kosher wines” of the title? Many of the dozens of 85-87 point wines included here have similar such evaluations: “Now past its peak and starting to show age;” “Not complex but a good entry level quaffer;”  “A well-made wine but lacking depth or complexity;” and so on.

This is not to say Rogov is wrong in his reviews of these wines. The point is, rather, why are such wines part of the “world’s 500 best kosher wines”?  For that matter, why “500” wines? Why not 1,000? Why state any number at all? Its inclusion suggests some ordinal preference, yet none is on offer.

Presumably Rogov and his publisher had to whittle the list down somehow to give it shape, keep it manageable and, one supposes, to maintain enough distinction of product between his Israeli and kosher guides. Including all rather than just most of the 85+ point wines might result in a book that is substantially larger and 80% Israeli, but so what?

Kosher consumers would prefer the expansiveness, and would actually be very pleased to know that the bulk of the world’s best kosher wines are produced in the Jewish State of Israel. Indeed, for most kosher consumers the biggest complaint with Rogov’s Israeli guide is that so many of the wines are not kosher. Those who self-select to drink only kosher wine have zero need for intimate knowledge of non-kosher Israeli wine. So a kosher wine book that primarily serves this self-selected group seems the ideal opportunity for such narrowed duplication. If nothing else, a little explanation or even just public musing of the methodological considerations would have been nice… But this is all a quibble.

Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines is an annual must-have for lovers of the best in kosher wines. Its publication marks a true milestone in the development of a genuine culture of kosher wine, and hopefully forever shatters the myth that kosher wine is necessarily inferior.

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