2018 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!! Though there were more solid wines last year, which we will talk about below.
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 2018 of the Economics of kosher wine
Nothing has changed here. Israel is even worse than it was in 2017. Red wines from Israel were undrinkable last year, (with maybe one exception), and the white wines were boring for the vast majority, excepting for a few very nice ones listed below.
I will say that Herzog has stepped up its game. While the 2014 wines were great, 2015 were riper and less interesting. Four Gates is always the same – mostly great wines with a mix of a few misses. Shirah Winery and Hajdu Winery have both moved to the darker side, with riper and more fruit-forward wines that are not as unique as they used to be, though Hajdu has been releasing some nice Italian wines. Hagafen Winery continues to make the lovely Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and sparkling wines. 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! Sadly, Capcanes has gone to the dark side as well. There is a new winemaker, and so far the wines are clearly riper, and less balanced than previous vintages. The 2015 and 2016 Peraj Ha’Abib are not for me at all, and the Peraj Petita is also showing the new style that I cannot recommend. Thankfully, we have Elvi Wines, which is showing far more control and I am waiting to taste the new wines. Personally, Terra Di Seta may well be the best winery out of Europe. They have consistently delivered quality wines, at incredibly reasonable prices. Bravo guys!!!! There is a reason why one of their wine was chosen as one of the wines of the Year for 2018!
In the end, there are far too many wines out there. Far too many that are not worth the price, and worse many that are so old on shelves, that they do not deserve the glass they are in. The issue has improved slightly, but in the end, there are still too many older roses lying around, and far too many white wines that have two more vintages ahead of them.
Essentially, there is too much garbage out there. If the roses do not move within a year, it is upon the importer and stores to work out a deal and get rid of the stock. If white wines like average Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, and so on, are still around after two years, get rid of them. None of these older vintages sitting on shelves is helping the wineries, importers, or stores! The longer bad stuff lies around the more people think white wines are not good. It is not like dropping the wine to 4 dollars will help. Rip the bandaid off and move on.
Which takes us to the next subject – QPR (Quality to Price Ratio). I am more than happy to extol when there is a new good wine that is worthy of the QPR moniker. I wrote about this in my yearly review of QPR wines of 2017 and AGAIN in this year’s top QPR wines of 2018.
To be fair, quality is improving, but with the ever-growing list of kosher wines in the wild, the QPR options are shrinking in comparison. The top line wines in 2018 shrunk, in comparison to the epic top wines of 2017 and 2016, mostly because 2014/2015 French wine stalwarts are showing better right now than the 2016 French Superstars, at this moment.
Still, there were many high-quality wines in 2018, the issue lies in the price! The prices are getting out of control. That along, with the poor quality of Israeli wines is shocking.
I hear it all the time, people think I am too hard of Israeli wineries, that I do not understand the public interest for simpler wines. So, let me be 100% clear again – Israeli wineries are not creating anything unique. The wines they do create are all similar in style. Take an average Carignan, Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah, varietals that are created by almost any winery in Israel, and taste them blind. Take the wines out of their bottles put them into similar bottles, and try to pick out the Cab, the Merlot, the Syrah, DO IT! If you are honest, you will find these wines do not taste like Cab or Merlot, or Carignan. They do NOT! They all taste the same, too much oak, too much fruit, and nothing unique.
The Israeli wine landscape is NOT a new issue. This is what France went through in the 80s. Their wines were not overly ripe, in the 70s, they built balanced wines, with maybe a bit of greenness that could have used a bit of more time on the vines. But those days, that was not in vogue, so wineries built the wines as they had for centuries. Along comes Parker in 83 and all of a sudden, a warm year turns France into a Parker nation. This is old news, I am not adding anything here, but Parker’s palate drove a generation or two of winemakers to create alcohol bombs. Now, the non-kosher market is pushing back, they are demanding balance, they are demanding more control and less fruit-forward wines.
Time will come when winemakers will wake up and all of a sudden, flabby, unbalanced, sweet, and over-oaked wines will fall out of favor. At that time, all of those that chased the golden ring will regret it. Their names will be associated with wines people do not want. Until then, Israel, enjoy the date-juice, enjoy the overripe, out of balance, and 100% not unique wines. Sell to the masses, but realize there is always a cost to selling out, sadly it comes when you least realize it.
French wine costs
This issue is not new. I posted about this when I traveled through Bordeaux with Menahem Israelievitch. I have also spoken about this issue here, and not much fallout is visible yet, so far so good. That was late 2016, and the kosher 2014 vintage was just released. The prices on the 2014 vintage were high, but in a zone that worked and there was even a QPR or two, like the 2014 Chateau Montviel and the 2014 Les Roches de Yon Figeac.
I told people to buy LOTS of 2014 because while 2015 and 2016 were being hyped up like crazy, the 2014 prices were far more reasonable. Also, the 2014 vintage will show, in the future to be a more controlled and fruit focused vintage, in comparison to the hotter 2015 and 2016 vintages. Still, no matter how much I warned people, and myself, by the way, I am still shocked at the 2016 vintage pricing.
The 2016 Bordeaux wines are expensive – simply stated. They are beautiful, but man the pricing will shock you. Already we are seeing the 2016 Chateau Le Crock, it is weighing in at 70 dollars a pop! What??? Yup, that is a nice pop for the wine, though it is quite nice in 2016. The shocker, the knee-buckler will be the 2016 Chateau Malartic. It will show up somewhere at 150+ dollars a bottle. That will be close double the price of what the 2014 vintage was selling for!
The real question is what will happen to the 2017 and 2018 vintages. Look at Wine Spectator’s take on the 2017 vintage. Giscours, which had a kosher run made in 2017, will be only slightly lower than the 2016 vintage! Remember that kosher wines have the same price at the Bordeaux Primeur, which happens every March, plus the extra costs of supervision. I explained kosher wine costs for Bordeaux in my post on my visit to Bordeaux.
So, that means the 2017 Giscours will be at the same price as the 2016 Giscours, give or take, while even the most positive of wine critics, think the 2017 vintage is NOT as good as 2015 or 2016, but a bit better than 2014! The reason for Giscours is because of the lack of wine. Giscours, like many in 2017 was affected by the early frost.
Time will tell, Maybe Royal will eat some of that, who knows. However, this is clear, I personally have almost no more appetite for these prices, and yeah I love French wine! We have yet to see the 2018 Bordeaux primeur, but it will NOT be less than 2017, that is for sure. My guess is between 2017 and 2016. Which means, this is going to get crazy really quickly. Bordeaux does not care, they sell the wines just fine, between the Negociants, and the New world of Asia, things move fine. The issues overall for the new vintages is that China is slowing down, and the younger generation (AKA Millenials) here in the USA, see Bordeaux as an old and dated locale.
So, will the 2018 vintage just go up in price? We will know in three months. For now, the facts are simple, the 2016 vintage is crazy expensive, while also being impressively good. Royal did not make tons of it, they are controlling the urge to create every wine they can, and they are making what they do produce, in limited quantities. So, the 300 pounds Gorilla, of the kosher wine world, will be fine. My fear is for others, that made wines in 2015 and 2016 and may not have the capital to sell them.
The economy of kosher French wine
I touched on this in my article on the new Vignobles K wines that were made kosher.
Still, the fact that Cedev made only two runs of Vignobles K wines, is not good for the kosher wine business, respectfully. Look, you cannot make one or two one-off vintages from a winery and expect people to buy that? In the world of product, consistency breeds respect, and respect breeds purchases. Sure, I will buy a one-off, but I will not stock up on it. Why? Because that is more of a curiosity than a desire to see how the wine evolves.
Kosher wine producers need to build a consistent pipeline of wines, because even more than what I THINK, than what the average consumer thinks, what REALLY matters, is what the winery thinks! The more kosher wine producers create a respectable product, the more kosher wine we will see from other wineries. Wineries already see kosher as a headache, but they do it for many reasons, chief among them being the desire to work with people they respect, the very Jews that work to make kosher wine. That, along with the extra bump that kosher wine producers need to pay, above the primeur cost, call it the kosher tax.
So, given the basic tension that already exists between kosher wine producers and famous Chateaux in Bordeaux and France, consistency tells the Chateaux that these folks are serious. They are here for the long haul. Still, the scariest part is when a Chateaux sees their 2015 or 2016 wines selling for less than they sell it! That can happen if the wine producers are hard up for cash and do not have the cash flow or network to sell these wines.
I am not talking about ANY kosher wine producer, I truly have ZERO ideas about any kosher wine producer’s finances or capacities. I am only bringing up the issue because even Royal, in the early years of 2nd Millenium, was looking at walls of kosher French wine and they had really no ability to move it. Thankfully, they had the ability to hold the line, and now we have great wines again. Will others have the ability to sell all of the 2015 and 2016 kosher French wine out there?? Will they have the cash flow? Only time will tell. Will there be enough people willing to buy the 2016 vintage given the primeur prices and the kosher wine tax?? Time will tell!
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 wall upon wall of 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. I can pick on Israel and their wines all day, but the one thing they do correctly, is they get out there, and SELL! I see them at wine stores in Israel, France, and the USA. My Facebook page is filled with Israeli winemakers in all countries selling their wares.
Well, the fact that Royal Wine Corp. is the biggest Gorilla in what almost feels like an ant farm when describing the tens of other small wine importers, is scary.
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?
However, even more, in my opinion, is once those wines are in the states, is it the importer’s job to make sure those wines are available everywhere??
Furthermore, and this cannot be understated enough, Royal now commands maybe 90% of all the wine I buy. That is a terrifyingly large number of wines. Why is that scary? Well, because I can still not buy vast swaths of Royal’s wines in Chicago or Los Angeles. The insane focus on the east coast is out of control. Take for example a very good friend who wanted to buy a case of the lovely 2017 Pacifica Riesling, a very nice wine, and a wine that would sell GREAT in Chicago, especially at its price point and the fact that it is mevushal. He could not buy it, PERIOD! He went to a well-respected wine store, that sells 95% non-kosher wine, Binny’s, and he asked them to get him a case of the wine. They tried and could not buy it. To make matters worse, Binny’s can get the other wines from Pacifica, just not the Riesling! It is this kind of arbitrary coverages of wines that really drives people crazy. Thankfully, kosherwine.com does ship to Chicago, and they stock and happily ship the fun wine.
The same story goes for Los Angeles. The wine coverage there is horrible. And that goes for Royal and all the other importers. In the end, the only real options we have are kosherwine.com and onlinekosherwine.com. The other wine stores on my blog ship, but the overall cost of the wine is cheaper with kosherwine and onlinekosherwine, as they have no storefront, and their shipping is either free or discounted.
Now, when you control supply how can you truly gauge demand? When I talk with Kosherwine and others, there is a LOT of demand from California, and I guess that is the only real way to play it out here. Sadly, the idea of going to a wine shop in LA does not really exist. The bright light is The Cask in Los Angeles. The pricing has changed and is now far more competitive, though the selection while nice, is really limited. Glatt Mart is essentially dead, it has little to nothing going on there. While, Western Kosher, has a nice selection, the wines there clearly do not move well. So, is the lack of wine selection and movement because people do not buy wine at stores in LA? I do not think so, when I was in those stores the word was, we want more, we want to have NYC like wine stores. I replied, support the Cask, support Western, prove you want it, and maybe it will happen. Until then, there is Kosherwine and OnlineKosherWine.
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 and Los Angeles areas, but that is something we can all work around, thankfully.
Online Taxation is going to reach a peak this year
A simple follow-on from the previous discussion of online merchants like onlinekosherwine and kosherwine is taxation. On June 21st, 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of retail establishments. In the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court said times have changed to such a degree that online retailers no longer qualify for “an arbitrary advantage over their competitors who collect state sales taxes” by claiming they don’t have a physical presence in a state.
So, why do I bring this up? Well, Kosherwine is already charging me California tax on my orders, and I am sure other online establishments will be joining them soon enough. When that occurs, it will go farther towards evening the playing field with brick and mortar merchants, and maybe they will have a chance to compete. Still, online merchants do not have storefronts. Time will tell if it helps with the war between online merchants and brick and mortar merchants for the souls and dollars of kosher wine buyers.
White and Rose wines
I must say, that in hindsight, and after tasting more than one hundred white and rose wines, the year was OK. There were a few options that I bought both in Rose wines and White wines from the 2017 vintage. Israel had 9 wines that were ok to nice. Tzora’s Judean Hills, Vitkin’s Grenache Blanc, Dalton’s Sauvignon Blanc Fume, and Covenant Israel’s Viognier, Tabor’s Roussanne. Along with Domaine Netofa’s Chenin Blanc, white and Tel Qasser, white. With Yaacov Oryah taking the best white wine from Israel award for 2018, with his 2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter (הצייד השקט in Hebrew) and his Yaacov Oryah Light from Darkness (אור מאופל in Hebrew).
Nine wines that I could score 90 and over from hundreds! Again, a score of 90 for me, means I MAY buy it. 91 and over and I am in, and only 5 of those 9 scored a 91 and higher. NINE wines out of hundreds is really a very bad batting average. The Rose market was even worse, with TWO wines I could buy. The 2017 Domaine Netofa Latour, Rosado, and the 2017 Recanati Gris de Marselan.
DISCLAIMER!! None of these roses are very interesting at this point, the review here is a wrapup of the wines from the 2017 vintage, but I would not buy a single Rose wine from anywhere in the world at this point of time, even if there are 2018 Roses being released soon or already. I will wait until March or April 2019, to drink a rose again.
In the end, between rose and white wines, Israel had the highest number of wines that scored 91 and above, with 7. They were the:
- 2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter (הצייד השקט in Hebrew) – Score: 92 to 93
- 2017 Domaine Netofa Tel Qasser, White – Score: 91 to 92
- 2017 Yaacov Oryah Light from Darkness (אור מאופל in Hebrew) – Score: 91 to 92
- 2017 Tzora Judean Hills, White – Score: 91 to 92
- 2017 Domaine Netofa Chenin Blanc – Score: 91
- 2017 Domaine Netofa Latour, Rosado – Score: 91
- 2017 Recanati Gris de Marselan – Score: 91
Followed by France’s 6 wines:
- 2017 Jean-Pierre Bailly Pouilly-Fume, Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 92 (QPR)
- 2017 Chateau Guiraud ‘G’, Sec – Score: 92
- 2017 Petit Guiraud, Sauternes – Score: 92
- 2017 Les Marronniers Chablis – Score: 91 to 92 (mevushal) (QPR)
- 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild Rose – Score: 91 (QPR)
- 2017 Chateau Roubine, La Vie en Rose – Score: 91 (QPR)
Then USA’s 2 wines:
And Spain’s one but really great QPR wine – maybe the white QPR wine of the year, IMHO:
- 2017 Ramon Cardova Albarino, Rias Baixas – Score: 91 (White QPR Winner of 2018)
So with such a long list of wines, one would say this is a smashing success of a year, right? Well, that is what makes 2018 such a conundrum. There were so many horrible wines out there, and thankfully there were quite a few nice wines as well. If we look with the glass-half-full mindset, yup, 2017 was actually an OK vintage, from a white wine perspective.
There were enough QPR wines that are still available on the market and there were even two solid roses. Sadly, again, given the vast number of wines that this list was widdled down from, you could say it was a disaster, or you could be positive about it. You decide! I think it was a good year because we finally have a reasonably priced and lovely quality white Bordeaux wine, along with a white Loire Valley, and a Chablis, all from the 2017 vintage!!! Throw in a crazy well priced 2015 Bordeaux from Grand Barrail, along with impressive Rieslings, like the 2016 Koenig and Carmel Riesling, and the crazy 2014 Carmel Riesling, (2014/2015/2016 wines so they are not on the list above) so yeah, last year was a good year for white wines, IMHO.
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, nice label, and good kosher supervision! The product or quality is not important. How do I know? I stood at KFWE last year, again, pouring wine, and watched people ignore Elvi drink 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.
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, means that while some make some good wines, none are worth my time for real. 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 in any way, as I stated above.
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 of 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!
So where are we after another year in the world of kosher wine? The answer, nowhere good in regards to Israel’s wine quality, and nowhere good in regards to the distribution issues that still exist.
In regards to the wines, I bought last year, overall it is better. There are more options available, and more unique wines out there from different regions and different wineries.
Sadly, to me, the overall issue that is still a major problem in the world of kosher wine is pricing. Yes, there have been some strides made, but they are few and far between. We need more reasonably priced wines and we need some control over the ever-rising prices of the French Bordeaux wines, after three years of solid to epic vintages.
My hope for next year is the same as it was last year, and the year before that, which is, more great wines for under 10 to 20 dollars – RETAIL! Bravo to the QPR winners of 2018 – I just wish the list was longer. Next, we need to get kosher wines to the midwest and 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 4 solid years to finally get the Hareidi community behind a real shmita option.
Thanks for reading this blog and here is to another great Gregorian year to you all, filled with success, health, and the financial wherewithal to pay for the crazily priced wines that are thankfully growing in number out there!
Posted on January 8, 2019, in Israeli Wine, Kosher French Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Industry and tagged Year in review. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.