QPR in the world of kosher wines – is getting harder to find

I have been off the blog for a bit of time because of a mix of things – but I have still been on the sauce and I have had the chance to enjoy some nice wines and some real duds as well. One of the clear themes I have found in this time off and while I have been on the road – is that wine is a complex concept for many when faced with a wall of options. The many times that I was in a kosher wine store or kosher wine section on my travels, I watched many a person just become befuddled by the options that faced them. The good news is that there is TONS of kosher wine options now for the mass kosher market. The problem is that many of those options are poor – for those with a slightly advanced palate and/or desire for the good things in life. The bad news is that they cost a lot and there are fewer and fewer QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wines in the kosher wine market. For example, while I think that the baseline Herzog wines are fine, they are not QPR winners, because they lack quality. The response I normally hear to that comment is one of two: they taste fine to me or you get what you pay for. Lets break those two down:

Not everyone is a wine snob like me and I am fine with that – but there is still a grade that most can agree on and while the baseline Herzog wines are fine wines – they are not quality wines. The Herzog reserve wines are quality wines to me – but they are more expensive. When I talk with people in the industry, both on the sale side and the wine production side, they comment that it is hard to make a kosher wine that is also reasonably priced. Clearly the high costs of the grapes, production, and all things California make it costly, but this is not a problem in the world of non-kosher wines. Take a gander at the plethora of California options that the Wine Enthusiast scored highly. Clearly the lack of QPR kosher California wines is not tied to the high cost of living in California. Whatever the reason, it is sad to see, but there are other regions where kosher QPR does live well. Another revelation from my time in the aisles, was that some decide on what they will buy based upon the very purpose for why it is being bought. An average wine is quality enough for a guest to a house that sees grape juice and wine as one the same, while a Yarden Katzrin may not be quality enough for one visiting the house of a wine maker or boss. Of course those may be extremes in each direction, but while I stood in the aisle and helped folks find kosher wine – the criteria continued to revolve around – price, purpose, flavor, pairing, and then quality – if ever.

Another interesting criteria that I have heard about – though one that I did not notice or hear when standing in the aisle, is the love affair with wine consumers and labels! It is something that I find myself doing when buying beer – and it is a criteria that some consumers use when faced with the all daunting task of buying wine from a wall of options.

My take away from these experiences, was the continued affirmation that while I believe I am on the pursuit of wine knowledge and experiences, the vast majority see the beverage as a tool or condiment to their own pursuits. This is much the same realization that hit me while I gained knowledge in the world of computers. While I found breaking down and rebuilding of computers to be an honest and well paying pursuit others saw the very kernel of my self-satisfaction as nothing more than madness, as computers were simply a tool to simplify their own pursuits. Surely, this is not a revelation to many – but it is a fact that needs to be repeated to those that drink from the cup of wine plenty. To remind us all – that we are not the norm, and while wineries and wine makers may find solace in what we write and preach – they realize (and so should we) that we are not the saviors or upholders of the common winery – that would be the folks looking blankly in the wine aisle.

On an aside, another issue that became apparent during my travels – was that unless you really know what you are doing – you are at a disadvantage in both wine cost, wine availability, and wine quality. In Chicago I visited two wine stores – a Jewel store that carries a large selection of kosher wines and Hungarian – which is the physical brick and mortar (love that quote from the late 1990s) store backing kosherwine.com. While Jewel may be a bit more conveniently located for the broader Chicago Jewish and kosher scene, Hungarian is more centrally located to those in the Skokie kosher and Jewish scene. The pricing at Jewel was close to, if not maybe higher, than retail pricing. I was shocked! I have brought this subject up before and in no way am I try to throw Jewel under the bus. This is a business decision – Hungarian may sell a bunch of wine from their store front – but the vast majority of their sales do not go out their front door – they go out their side doors to the FedEx and UPS trucks that ship their wines all over the country.

So, sure Jewel has a single channel to sell their wares and that puts them at a competitive disadvantage to Hungarian/Kosherwine.com and no one is crying for them – they do brisk business throughout the kosher and non-kosher sides of their store. However, in regards to the kosher wine, they know that they have a captive audience who has screaming kids or a ton of things to do or both, who have no time to drive over to Hungarian. So, they can control the prices and from their selection – it seems that the high-end wines sit on shelves, while the low to medium priced items move pretty well. They still had very old and dusty bottles of Catsel and Carmel that were higher than retail and clearly the only beings interested in these wines were the dust bunnies and the spiders nesting in their cobwebs (exaggeration). Besides the absurdly high pricing – the selection was lacking, though I did pay retail for a bottle of the 2010 Galil Mountain Winery Barbera, because it was sporting Galil’s new mid-level labels and I wanted to see what this new vintage tasted like. Hungarian was selling the 2009 vintage – a better option in the end, but I was on my continual pursuit of knowledge.

This is a problem that even reared its ugly head in New York, the kosher wine buying capital of America! I was shopping for wine in Brooklyn, and went to a store which had hundreds of options, all priced at absurd valuations – excepting for a few sales in the center of the store, and the classic QPR winners – that are always great – even at retail. The clear take away for me was if you care about wine quality and wine pricing – your best bet is to watch the many deals at the online stores I shop from (listed to the right) or other shops online (of which I receive no kick backs). Leave the local purchases to emergencies, simple and dirt-cheap weekday wines (like Terrenal), and when they have a great sale. I guess this is a diversion from my earlier belief – that one should really support their local store. I still believe that – though with these new qualifications. The price differentials are so high and the quality options so low – that for the most part the best option is online. This is sad, and it is self-defeating, because soon that wine store will close or not sell kosher wine at all, and you will be left with no option for emergencies or cheap weekday wines. It is a fine balance and it is a decision that each and everyone must make on their own.

This blog posting is a response to a thread on the kosher wine forum that I am a part of – though much of the thread went off into the weeds, as all forum threads do, there are many solid points and counter points that find their way to the top. It started with a question on Dalton wines, of which I am a huge fan, and if bought during sales – many of their wines are solid QPR winners. But short of nice sales, they do not rate as QPR winners as much as they rate as VERY good wines for a price. Also, do not confuse QPR with Best Buy. Best Buy, is a moniker that wine rags use to tag a wine they like that is cheap enough to get their best buy selection. QPR is simply a subjective score that defines if the wine was worth its price – no matter the price.

Another great QPR winner is Recanati – of which I had the opportunity to taste a bunch more wines and I will be posting those notes soon. Also, there are many Elvi Wine options that have a great QPR. There is also the highly enjoyable French wines from Vignobles David, and a few other French wines that have been pooping up recently that are nice. The old standby of Galil Wines – for their baseline unoaked varietals – have fallen on hard times, and to me lack the QPR stamp of old. Their mid level wines are hit and miss, while the Yiron is always a winner – but at many stores, fall just shy of the QPR label, because of the increased price. Yarden is always in the habit of dropping prices on many of their enjoyable wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and on rare occasions – their Cabernet. These are not the single vineyard varieties – but who cares – the normal label wines are lovely! Still, the vast majority of Israeli wines, California wines, French wines, and others are way too expensive or just not that good to make the QPR label. So from now on I will be labeling my wine notes with QPR to denote that the wines are not only of quality but if they are reasonably priced, they will also receive the QPR stamp of approval. In NO WAY is the quality predicated in any way on the price. If a wine is good – it receives my score – irrelevant to its price.

Finally, there was a great discussion in the thread about quality being defined as being true to its varietal. This is a hot button topic because if one buys a Pinot Noir and what you get is a lovely wine that tastes more like a cross between a Barbera and Grenache or (in some extremes) a Merlot/Cab cross – is it still a high scored wine? The wine tastes great – but it is not a Pinot Noir. To the average Joe – the response is who cares? Really, the wine is solid and enjoyable, and there are few folks who buy a Pinot to pair with a Risotto or a Sushi dinner and are disappointing when they find it tastes more like a Cabernet. However, if we are judging a wine based upon quality as defined above – meaning a wine that meets the standards of wine journalists and critics the world around – well then it may well be knocked down a peg. That said, it will be scored high, but it will be noted in the notes that the wine was not a Pinot. A perfect example of this is the 2007 Yarden Pinot Noir. It is NOT a wine styled in the mannerisms of a Pinot Noir. There is NOTHING ethereal or fleeting about this wine – this is the wine incarnation of the bully that tormented you daily in school. It assaults your senses and is a highly enjoyable wine – that is finally softening up and is really at its peak to drink and enjoy. That said, this wine does not pair well with Sushi or a mushroom risotto, rather it pairs well with hard cheese or meat. Personally, the wine would have scored higher if it were true to its varietal, if it showed less wood and front facing fruit and more earth and ethereal fruit. Still, the wine is perfectly fine wine – if it said Barbera, many would have thought it was the bomb. So, I scored it a B+ to A-, and sure it will get a QPR label, but it will also have a clear and present disclaimer in the note stating this is a wine to be served with something other than Pinot fare.

I would love to hear from you on what you think. What kosher wine gets you QPR label? Where are you on the pursuit of wine knowledge? Is wine a tool to add to your enjoyment or is it a pursuit/passion and a tool to add to your enjoyment?

My notes follow below:

2007 Yarden Pinot Noir – Score: B+ to A- (QPR)
This wine is one that is sure to create controversy wherever it is poured. Why? Because the wine does not taste like a Pinot Noir! The wine is rich and lovely and more akin to a Tempranillo or Barbera than it is to a Pinot Noir. The nose starts off hot but then cools with lovely and expressive black cherry, smokey aromas, cloves, spice, licorice, cinnamon, and herb. The mouth is medium in weight with a nice and full mouth that coats the mouth with integrated tannin, sweet cedar, along with dark fruit, that is now coming together quite nicely with raspberry, and black plum. The finish is long and spicy with black pepper, chocolate, vanilla, and a hint of date on the finish. The wine is not a typical Pinot Noir, but please do not take that as an affront – it is a lovely and enjoyable wine. If you are looking for a Pinot Noir styled wine – look elsewhere. If you are looking for a lovely wine that works with hard cheese, chicken soup, and roast beef alike, that will please newbies and wine veterans alike, than this is the wine for you!

2010 Galil Mountain Winery Barbera – Score: B+
The label for this wine is the new Galil Winery label – that is used by all Galil mid-level wines. For a long time Galil essentially had two labels – the Yiron/Meron labels and everything else. Now they have created a new label for all wines that they produce that they age in oak or for extended periods of time. The baseline Galil wines will use the old label, the oaked wines – like Barbera, the Pinot Noir, the Cab/Shiraz blend, and others. This is one of the first new labeled wines to be available in the US. The Yiron labels will continue as well. The nose on this wine starts off with black cherry, raspberry, black plum, cloves, and spice. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice and round with blackcurrant dominating the fruit forward but controlled mouth, along with hints of cedar, and smokey notes. The finish is long and spicy with rich espresso, heaps of vanilla, along with cinnamon, and toasted wood.

2009 Galil Mountain Winery Pinot Noir – Score: B+ to A- (QPR)
This is a classical Pinot Noir styled wine. There is a lot of scuttlebutt about how Israel cannot create a world class Pinot Noir because of its hot climate. To many this makes sense, and I appreciate that, but every now and then, you can create a diamond from the rough hot and tumble “Hell’s Kitchen” environment of Israel, and this is one of those examples. The wine is lithe, ethereal, yet backed with enough richness and earthiness to make the package work. The wine is not long for this earth, so whatever bottles you have enjoy in the next year or so.

The nose starts off closed and opens to chorus line cheer of black cherry, ripe raspberry, a splash of blackberry, mineral, crushed herb, mint, smoky aromas, and heavy graphite. The mouth is medium in weight with nice plum, black and red fruit, hints of cedar, along with softening tannins that bring the entire package together. The finish is long and spicy with hints of raisin, cloves, coffee, tobacco, and licorice. This wine has hit its peak and is not getting better so brink by 2014 or earlier. Finally, this is a wine that shows its mineral and fruit style with a controlled hand of oak and tannin. This is a wine that does show its terroir, with raisin and date once the wine starts to fade, but for now – enjoy one of those rare kosher pinot noirs from Israel – that look like a duck, quack like a duck, and by miracle is also a duck!

Posted on October 22, 2012, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher French Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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