2017 kosher wine year in review
Well, it is another Gregorian year and though there have been many new things going on in the world of the kosher wine world, they are all small in comparison to the larger fact that not much has changed. I truly mean NOT A SINGLE thing I brought up in last year’s set of issues has changed – NOT ONE!!
In many ways, they are getting worse, and one of those issues where I was personally promised a fix from the man in charge – well let us just say that nothing changed yet – maybe there is still hope (think LA). But let us start at the beginning and get to my issues next. So here is what I thought about 2017, in terms of kosher wine overall.
First, let us do a quick recap of last years issues and the state of them, and then a few new things to think about as well!
We have too much wine out there for the official kosher wine buying populace. How do I know this? Because the amount of wine being dumped on the non-kosher market for a pittance in countries that no one visits is absurd! Wine is being dumped all over the place, and it is not going to get better anytime soon. Why? Because wineries are still popping up all over the place, and they are making really average wine at best!
Which brings me to the same issue, but in more detail. We have lots of horrible wine out there. Yes, I know I am a broken record, get over it. The kosher wine market in Israel and California needs to get better at making wines for a decent price. But I would be happy with just good wine – for a not decent price.
Again, besides the price, the overall quality of the wines are just not acceptable. The good news is we have lots of wine, but sadly the quality is not there. We need to raise the quality and then work on lowering the price.
State after 2017 of the Economics of kosher wine
Nothing has changed here. Israel is even worse than it was in 2016. At least at the beginning of 2017, we had some 2014 whites that were still ok. Now, they are all dead. The Matar, Tabor wines are all oak juice or flat as a pancake. The 2015 wines are a total and absolute disaster. There was ONE wine I would buy again from 2015 in Israel, and that is the 2015 Tzora Misty Hills, which was on my list of top 25 wines of 2017.
I will say that Herzog has stepped up its game. The 2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley – my 2017 wine of the year, was lovely and reasonably priced for such a good wine. Quality at Herzog is rising, Four Gates is always the same – mostly great wines with a mix of a few misses. Shirah Winery had a few wines on both the QPR wines of 2017 and the interesting wines of 2017. Hagafen Winery continues to make the lovely Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and sparkling wines. Look at Hajdu’s Italian wines – they are really fun and very well made! Covenant Winery has been making Cabernet Sauvignon for 14 years now, and Chardonnay for 9 years and they are consistently on my list of top best wines for Passover, the hits keep coming! Still, overall even within California, there is a lot of work to be done in regards to improving the quality and the prices.
So, yes California is improving, but that is about it! France does not need “improving”. Italy could use better options outside of Terra de Seta! Spain is rocking with Capcanes and Elvi Wines.
The issue though is that there are THOUSANDS of bottles and they are all undrinkable and horrible wines. I am not trying to be Politically Correct, why should I? I do not make wine (other than a few gallons of Pinot Noir to learn the process – hands-on style), I do not sell wine, I will never make money from wine – in any form or manner. I have no issue, desire, or need – THANK GOD!!!
What I do need is to make clear that the state of where we are is not healthy. We have far too much wine that no one wants. Go to stores, go online, there are hundreds of labels of wine from 2010, 2012, 2013. Old labels of old wines that no one wants. What are these poor stores to do? They have no choice! They have to buy the wines – why? because that is the game! The more you buy the stuff that does not move, the more access you get to the stuff that everyone really wants! You rub my back, I rub your back, AKA old mafia style. Nothing new, I am not spilling state secrets here. The issue is that whether we like it or not, stores are the lifeblood and they are being forced by importers and distributors to move stuff that no one wants.
Look at what I said about how many HORRIBLE Rose wines we had – they are still on store shelves! What are they going to do with that stuff?? There are still 2013 Netofa roses in some stores!!
If the wines stink, they sit on shelves, so when I want a new vintage of the hot new Rose, I cannot buy it! Why? Because the store still has previous vintages, what is he supposed to do – eat it? Why should he? I am not in the business, but this much I know – old labels of dead wine stuck on the internet and physical wine stores – IS BAD FOR BUSINESS! PLEASE fix this! Move the stock – kill the stock – I do not care!
Finally, remember that the wine business is a fickle mistress. It is a long-term game – one that needs to be managed and maintained. Names and reputations can be lost overnight when the buying public realize that what they have been enjoying for so many years is just not there anymore. Worse than that, is that all that wine, three or so years of it – the one being made, the one in the winery, and the one in the channel are all flipped on their head and now you have a real problem on your hand. That day is not here in any way. However, seeing where the public is slowly moving, that day is not as far as you would expect. The public is learning – white wine is MOVING! things are changing, and if wineries continue to build wines for the past – they will be left with a ton of inventory that no one wants. You heard it here first!
Which takes us to the next subject – QPR (Quality to Price Ratio). I scream when there is a new good wine that is worthy of the QPR moniker. I wrote about this and the quality issue in my year-end review of 2016 and AGAIN in the October checkup of August 2017. Quality is not improving and instead of improving quality what we get is more bad wines.
State after 2017 of the Quality of kosher wine
No change. I just released my 2017 QPR winners of the year! Sadly, that list has fewer and fewer Israeli wines on it! Why? Because quality is going down at a terrifying rate and prices are indeed going up for many wines in Israel. I guess if you cannot make good wine, raise the prices!
My list of top wines for Passover did not expand this past year, while the wines available grew at a faster rate. The list this year will improve because of the great French wines coming out, but the QPR list is shrinking very FAST!
The French wines are not the answer for QPR, they are raising their prices as fast as the Chateaus can give them new higher cost invoices, which is yearly! So where does that leave us, get ready for fewer good wines and higher prices! Sure, there are a few good options, but they sell out quickly – the 2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, Alexander Valley is sold out in most locations. Keep buying the good stuff and leaving the bad stuff on the shelves, sooner or later the wineries and distributors will get the message!
Kosher wine consumer and their choice
As stated, there are thousands of kosher wines released every year into the market – and while we do not all get to taste all of them, the majority of them are not for polite company – to say it nicely. Still, when the consumer walks into the store – he/she continue to be inundated with these wines and the knowledge is not there for these wine buyers.
Nothing has changed in that fact since the passing of Daniel Rogov in 2011, and while many have tried no one can take his place, IMHO. In his stead – the wine shop owner now is in charge of helping or pushing his/her wines onto the consumer.
I have been having conversations with wineries more and more, and as they talk to me about their wines, along with how the wines are distributed (more on that below), they all come back around to the issue of education. Of course, they bring it up as a way to separate themselves from the crowd and to let their wines shine more – against a wall of competing wines. However, I find the idea a MUST-have for wineries going forward, educating the world about their wines, and allowing the consumer to see if they like their wines and why. Wineries need to go out and visit wine stores and wine events and talk about why their wines are unique, special, tasty, and different.
As the market grows, I think opportunities like the KFWE and Sommelier in Israel are must-see for wine consumers to gain a better appreciation for what they like, dislike, and can appreciate in the wines on the market today.
Israel and wines – whites and reds are getting worse
As much as I hate to sound like a broken record, nothing has changed in this area, for the most part. In many ways, it has gotten worse. Wineries in Israel are still caving into the LCD (Lowest Common Denominator), and are not taking cues from wineries like Tzora, or newcomers like Capsouto. There are even wineries moving further off the field to accommodate the ripe and over the top wine public.
What can I say, Israel was the clear worldwide leader when it comes to white wines and rose, in terms of sheer volume and quality. From 2008 to 2014 Israeli whites ruled the roost. Sadly, since then 2015 and 2016 were total failures! Except for a few wines, the vast majority were not fun at all.
2015 was a complete disaster – the number of wines I would buy from the 2015 vintage in Israel is ONE – ONE wine! Sadly, I am NOT optimistic about where Israel is going with their wines, but what can I do? I can try the wines and post the scores, and then you and I can vote with our pocketbooks.
Well, what can say on this subject – the big keep getting bigger and the rest are not! Teperberg Winery (two year’s ago addition) and Vitkin Winery (last year’s edition), is now being imported by Royal Wines, the biggest kosher wine importer in the world, adding another large quality winery to their portfolio.
The real question though is – does anyone care who imports the wine? Does it matter? The other issue that comes up in terms of the kosher wine distributors – is do they sell the winery’s wines as well as the winery can? Do they facilitate an environment of good sales for the winery? Are distributors just a sales channel for the wineries, handling the logistics and such of getting the wines to the states? Is the rest is up to the wineries to sell their own wines here?
Where this does matter is, whose job is it to promote the wine? Is it the winery’s job to market the wines and do tastings and get the attention of the wine shops and consumers, or is it the distributor’s job? Again, I am constantly wondering why it is so hard to find Netofa wines and Elvi wines at most wine shops in the midwest or west coast – THERE IS NADA! Save for the Cask in Los Angeles, there is little here in terms of those two wineries and others. I can buy as much Barkan as I would want if I wanted to.
There has been a lot of chatter on the web about Netofa Winery and how it is being distributed here in the USA. All of it, for now, is chatter, but the sad truth is the entire 2016 vintage for Netofa is still in Israel.
In regards to Elvi Wines, things are indeed improving. Finally, we have access to most of Elvi’s wines and they are available on the east coast – however, they continue to not be available in Chicago and Illinois.
Royal does hold its annual KFWE – which is really the only distributor driven wine event in the kosher industry. They do this for the very reason I am stating – which is to have a place where consumers can come and educate themselves on what they like and do not like. In the end, there is a need for more education and marketing and whether that is the job of the winery or the distributor – it needs to be done and done better than it is being done today.
However, and this cannot be understated enough, Royal now commands maybe 85 to 90% of all the wine I buy. That is a terrifyingly large number of wines. Why is that scary? Simple, take Netofa or Elvi Wines if I am in Chicago and I want them, and Royal does not want to sell them there, I have little recourse. Why? Because internet companies cannot ship wines to Chicago! Illinois decided it would be better to force me to buy wines from the stores in Illinois! Great! But if the distributor does not want to sell the wines in that region I am out of luck! When a single entity owns that much power, it is scary.
No, Royal is not doing anything bad or illegal or the sort, it is just a business that is trying to maximize its channel and it does not see Chicago as a place where some wines sell. Great! So, now I need to ship wines to Chicago to enjoy a weekend or two and such is life.
The more scary concept is which wines does Royal push harder? Also, which wines are being forced on retailers to get other wines? That is stuff that happens with many distributors and wine shops around the country and especially in Israel (in both directions), and I have no idea if Royal is doing this at all. What I do know is that a winery that sells wine through any distributor better be 100% ON TOP of what is selling where. Because as much as Royal is an honorable company from what I know and can see, business is business, and if a winery is not watching out for themselves and pushing their wines within the top regions of the USA, then it may fall behind other wineries that Royal is moving. If that happens, well some shelves have a higher value than others, and in the end, the store shelf is where wine sells.
In the end, I have NO issues with what Royal is doing, and so far I have seen no real issue at all. The only aspect that annoys me is the lack of access to certain wines in the Chicagoland area, but that is something I can work around.
EDIT: Kosherwine.com has the ability to ship to Chicago! So, order away.
West Coast and Midwest
So, according to the Pew Poll, roughly 79% of all Orthodox Jews live in NYC/NJ and its surrounds. The rest are distributed lightly between the South (9%), the Midwest (7%), and west (5%)! So, it is no surprise that when you are looking for good kosher wine – you buy it from stores on the east coast (like the list of online stores to the right and others).
Still, there are many thousands of religious Jews on the west coast and where do they buy their wines? The Cask? Glatt Mart? Western Kosher? Really – that is it?? Come on guys – where do all the wine drinkers in LA buy their wines? Trader Joe’s? I do not know as I do not live there, but from what I hear the pickings are slim outside of the Cask, Glatt Mart, and Western. Three wine stores for all those Jews? What about the rest of the religious Jews scattered west of the Mississippi? Kosherwine.com used to be the man – but that is really just JWines now, and is a large east coast player. To be fair they are one of the few online kosher wine retailers that have free shipping for cases of wines, and while their wines cost far more than east coast players, if you add in the free shipping to California, they are in the game. Which is why they are still on the right side – for my list of wine shops.
So, who is to blame on this? Is it the lack of kosher wine consumers? Is it the lack of kosher wine purveyors that should be promoting wines and educating the public? Herzog Winery is not to blame – that is for sure! They have a calendar of wine and foodie events that would make me think of moving to Southern California just to be closer to the food and wine mecca that is Herzog Wine Cellars. They also host the KFWE west coast’s version, so Herzog/Royal is doing their best – even if it is for their wines, to educate the kosher public about great wines that are available.
I do not know. Wineries ask me this question every time I visit them. They want to know why the consumers in Cali are not buying their wines more? I always ask back – before you start asking about the consumer – what about wine availability? There is little to almost no availability for great wine on the west coast – there just is not! Now, to be fair, Southern Wine says they can get about any wine that Royal imports, but not so much for the other kosher wine importers.
So, before we start beating on West Coast consumers and their lack of wine consumption, I think we need to first address the chicken and egg problem here that feels more like a three-way stop gone bad than a consumer failure. First, we need to address the lack of availability, then we need to address the lack of wine shops and their purchasing or lack thereof, and then we can also in parallel address the kosher wine consumer.
I say this in all seriousness because as a kosher wine consumer on the west coast it annoys me to no end that I need to pay absurd shipping rates and the such, for wines that should be available here – for reasonable prices on the west coast.
Clearly Southern is too big to care about any kosher wine importer other than Royal, so what the West Coast needs is a small-scale kosher wine distributor – to handle the rest of the kosher wine importer’s west coast affairs! Anyone out there wants to take up the challenge?? Dan Kirshe – do you want to get back into the game??
State of West Coast and Midwest Distributor – post-2017
I was promised some hope here and in the end, there was very little. Glatt Mart is still devoid of much wine that I would buy. There is lots of Herzog wine, which is understandable and obvious. There is a bit of Hagafen and Covenant, and then not much else. There are smatterings of wines from Victor, and a few French wines from Royal, but if I lived there and wanted to buy the wines I buy – I would fail!
So, for the past year, I have been buying from kosherwine.com – and that has been working firn for me. They have most of the wines I want and so once again, I will ignore California and buy online.
The French Wine issue
The amount of French wine coming our way from 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages is insane. I am not even talking about a single distributor here, I am talking across all of them, there is too much French wine being made for the kosher wine buying populace.
Well, in terms of mevushal wine – the kosher wine world has not gotten any better. Royal has been pushing hard to get good mevushal wines for affairs and restaurants here in the USA. Why? Because the OU and the rest of the Hareidi supervision entities demand it. In Israel, France, and the rest of the civilized kosher world – this is not an issue at all. But in the USA – we need to be more religious than them, be more AMERICAN and show we are bigger and more frum! The cost for that is that we all need to suffer a bit, and honestly, when I go to a restaurant I just get a beer. The restaurants lose out and so do we all.
There have been a few good mevushal wines, like the QPR wine of the year, the 2016 Chateau Des Riganes. Also, the lovely 2016 Les Marronniers Chablis, and the lovely Herzog Special reserve wines. Along with the Montroc and others.
Still, WHY?? Why are we forced to drink mevushal wines? Why must we be the ONLY country in the world to be forced to drink mevushal wines? WHY? Israel, France, Spain, Southern America, and Australia all allow the use of non-mevushal wines in restaurants! Only Canada and USA force this issue. Why must we be “special”??
Enough is enough, restaurants must take a stand against the kosher supervision organizations. We MUST demand as customers that option to drink wines we desire and not wines we are forced to consume. It is UP TO US! Ask more and more, demand it more often. It will not change until we try. Change is up to us – we must bring it about.
White and Rose wines were a disaster this year
This year was worse than last year and that was worse than the year before that. At least in 2016, we had the original Chateau Roubine Rose. This year we really had nothing. Yes, there were some nice enough wines – as can be seen in my post of white wines and bubblies of 2017, and my post of the rose wines of 2017.
Once again there were very few unique and special white or rose wines this past year. Israel was a huge dud – two years in a row. The 2015 and 2016 vintages from Israel, have been an absolute mess in regards to red, rose, or white wines. There are some ok wines, even some A- wines, but they are not unique or special enough for me to buy them. Even if I wanted to buy them just look at the prices! Are you kidding me! Some Cabernet and Syrah from Israel that I would rather throw down the garbage hole go for 100 dollars a bottle. Sure, those are the outliers. But the prices are going up fast and the wines are not worth anything like the prices!
I could not think of a SINGLE dry white wine from Israel that I would put on my top wines of the year! The Old Musketeer by Yaacov Oryah is lovely, but that wine is crazy expensive, and for good reason – he has been floating that cost (and losing lots of it to the air) for 8 years now. The 2016 Netofa Tel Qaser white is also lovely and very unique, but it too is very expensive and not that level of top wines, but a very lovely wine that was worthy of my interesting wine list.
So, where does that leave us? Another year without good rose or whites. That goes for Israel, Spain, Europe (though I liked the 2016 Les Marronniers Chablis), or the USA, again though Iiked a few there too. Overall, it was a very weak year indeed for whites and roses.
Cabernet continues to be king
Well, another year and nothing has changed. The number one selling wine varietal in the kosher wine world – is the king of wine – Cabernet Sauvignon. Really? There is ZERO originality here. People will buy the wine as long as it has a high price and a good kosher supervision! The product or quality is not important. How do I know? I stood at KFWE last year and watched people ignore Elvi and Capcanes and enjoy UNDRINKABLE and UNSPEAKABLE wines – because they were Cabernet Sauvignon!
They would come by the table and ask – what is the most expensive Cabernet you have? Not what is good? Not what is special? Just the highest priced Cabernet Sauvignon!
Now, who is to blame here? The NYC kosher wine drinker and every drug dealing distributor that pushes these wines! A cab here or there is one thing – but Herzog itself sells maybe 18 or 20 Cabernet Sauvignon by itself!
Same goes for many large wineries, the number of Cabernet is absurd and non-proportional to what is good for the trade. In the end, wineries make what sells, and as I stated before, and especially for red wines like Cabernet if the public changes its mind – that is a lot of cabs to sell!
Fads work great until they do not! Bell bottom jeans, pet rocks, come on we were stupid enough to buy ROCKS and drag them around! This too will change and it will be painful for the one holding all those wines.
Trader Joe’s pulls Terrenal wines for some horrible Barkan mess
So, another year and another QPR wine pulled from the shelves. I spoke about the fact that Trader Joe’s pulled the Terrenal wines from their shelves. The wines that replaced the Terrenal wines are a slap in the face of the kosher consumer. I have tried them a few times now and they are disgusting. I honestly have no other way to say it. I would score the Givon Chardonnay an 82 and the Givon Cabernet in the high 70s.
Why are these better the Terrenal wines? I have no idea, but Barkan wines sell well to people who have no palate, so I guess that works for them!
Barkan is the kosher wine world’s Meiomi
Tell me if you have heard of this story? Some dude decides he can make a wine for the average American wine drinker. He will call it, Meiomi, and make a Pinot Noir, the wine that was most affected positively by the Sideways movie.
Well, the craze for all things Meiomi was nowhere when Joe Wagner (the 33-year-old son of Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards fame) started it in 2006, However, with time that craze soon that took over the country, and it was finally sold in 2015 – without a winery, without vineyards, just a brand – for 315Millionn dollars to Constellations brand!
Now, what kind of wine is it – an average, sweet, boring wine that Wine Spectator tries to sound positive about as it spins the fact that in 2015 they sold 700,000 cases of this wine alone!
I have never tasted it, but from the wine notes I read – it is an American-ized Pinot Noir that is roughly 97 percent Pinot Noir, with small amounts of other grapes, including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Grenache.
If there was a single wine in the kosher wine world that could compare – it is the Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon Classic. It is an undrinkable, sweet wine that is perfect for the USA palate that just wants to drink. It is easy drinking because it has no substance, all it has average ripe fruit, and lots of people who drink it. It is mevushal so it is poured down the gullets of millions of Jews around the world (well maybe the Barkan Classic line as a whole) at restaurants and weddings – when all these people want is some alcohol and it serves that purpose.
You would think my answer would have been the Bartenura Blue Bottle Moscato (BBB), but actually, that is an alcoholic soda pop – that is indeed still doing well. But no, this wine is a “dry” red wine for the REAL wine drinkers amongst us. This wine is for that guy and woman at the table that thinks they know what wine is. The one that when asked what wine they like – their response – red wine! For that person, this is the kosher wine option of choice. They may not always drink wine – but when they do – it must be a Barkan Classic!
Good enough versus wines I would buy
My wine scores are defined here and while some think wine scores are useless – I cannot agree. To me, there are so many wines out there that even if I score them an 89 or even a 90, they would not be wines I would buy!
Again, that is clear as day in my scoring. So, when I say, man, this sucks, there are truly few wineries in Israel from whom I would buy their wines, that does not mean the wines are bad. It means that they are not special, they are not something I need or want. They are OK wines – they are just not really interesting or unique wines.
More and more, wines of Israel are just that – boring, uniform, all the same, searing and burning tannin, oak juice that makes me want to spit out splinters, and fruit so over the top that nothing could survive tasting it.
Nothing elegant, nothing desirable, nothing special – just a copycat or the winery next door, just with another month of oak so that they can say they left the wine in oak longer!
Sure, this may sound like my previous statement of how badly Israel is making kosher wines, but I wanted to stress that while some may actually be making OK wines – they are just that! OK! That is not what I buy and it is not what I hope most wineries aspire to. How long can a country continue to make oak and date juice and think it will work? I guess time will tell!
Special wine clubs are selling exclusivity at what cost?
Just look at any kosher winery, website online, or macher, and you will find another guy/entity selling you a wine or experience that is exclusive to them! I have written up about the kosher wine clubs that abound here in California, and while a winery has every right to sell whatever they want to whomever they want (within reason of the stupid state post-prohibition laws) – it does start to feel like a secondary wine market.
Now is there anything really wrong with a secondary market? Many startups today are not going public and why should they? They have access to all the cash they need from the private and secondary markets without all the red tape and regulatory headaches of a public company.
Same goes for these private label wines and experiences. The wines are already sold – before they are made, that is the whole point of the secondary market. You buy into the exclusive access and for that cost, you get wines that are meant to be special, different, and unique.
All of that sounds great and it is not the boring same old that the public market is pushing, with the added benny of it being cool to be one of the in-crowd folks. Right?
So what could be wrong with this? Well, to start lots of these wines have not been put through the rigor of the public market, whether that means public access to the wines and people’s comments and reactions to them, much like a public company. Also, since you have paid into the game, you have very little recourse, other than to attempt to leave the game when the stuff you are sold is – well not special!
All of those concerns are an issue for the consumer to think about and really has very little to do with me or anyone else who decides to stay in the public markets. Still, do these exclusive wines and access affect the public markets in any way? Are we being affected negatively by the existence of these private, secondary markets?
Honestly, the issues that govern and affect the unicorns and their absurd valuations in the private tech markets really have a very small effect on the public kosher wine market. If people do jack up the pricing on these private labels or clubs, they are not going to attempt to go public and leave their investors holding the bag – as would be the case in the private unicorn world of tech startups. If they did, all that means is the exclusivity comes to bite the people who bought it.
So, while the private and exclusive clubs abound in the kosher wine world, they are not making the kosher wine market better or worse, from what I can tell they exist. There have been a few nice wines that have come out of it all, but for now, it is just another kosher wine option.
So where are we after another year in the world of kosher wine? The answer, as I led off this post, not much has changed. The hope was that we get better wines overall, whether in the private or public markets and sadly – for the most part, that has NOT been the case.
In the past at least we had solid white wines, but again, that too has failed us. What we truly should feel blessed for, is the bounty of 2014, 2015, and 2016 kosher French, Spanish, Californian, and Italian wines that are making our lives better.
I know I am asking for too much, for good, balanced, and enjoyable wines. Still, wineries have proven it is possible, now it is up to other wineries in the kosher world to learn and adapt and improve.
Truly the red wines of Europe and some from California were the bedrock of 2017 and they will continue for the next two years at least – given the quality of French wines that are still coming to the shores over that time frame.
My hope for next year is that we get more great wines for under 10 to 20 dollars – RETAIL! Bravo to the QPR winners of 2017 – I just wish the list was longer. Next, we need to get kosher wines to the west coast – in larger quantities. I also hope we find a way to work out the Shmita issues for 2022. Enough is enough – we have another 5 solid years to finally get the Hareidi community behind a real shmita option. And if I am asking for too much – can we fix this stupid mevushal problem already? Either remove the need or improve the options – because what we have now is useless at best.