More Conventional than Wisdom

#218 – June 13, 2010

Although kosher wine consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated (fueled at least in part by the ever-increasing quality and quantity of the kosher offerings available), we are faced with a multitude of facts, tips and other information about the wines and what we are supposed to do in order to enjoy them properly.  While readers of this newsletter already know that the advice is to enjoy the wine you like in the manner that you enjoy, there are always general tips and suggestions that can assist in turning a pleasurable wine-drinking experience into an awesome one.  Unfortunately, many times this wisdom is outdated or irrelevant at best, and sometimes just plain wrong.

In this week’s newsletter I hope to debunk some of the so-called facts, and open your eyes with respect to some so-called conventional wisdom so that you can continue to enjoy vino in the best way possible.  I have also included some recent tasting notes on a few noteworthy wines I think you will enjoy.

(1)        Wine by the glass is a terrible deal.  Unfortunately this is true.  If you can conquer your fear of the restaurant’s wine list, you are most likely going to order a glass of wine since more people don’t expect to finish an entire bottle with their meal.  This is a really bad idea for a few reasons.  First, your choices are far more limited by the glass than by the bottle and usually only includes the more popular wines (typically those more sophisticated wine drinkers would prefer not to be exposed to).  Second, in many instances these bottles have been open for longer than is good for the wine, leaving you with less than a great drinking experience.  Lastly, you are being ripped off.  The price per glass is roughly equal to the wholesale price of the bottle (i.e. the restaurant sells one glass at the price it paid for the bottle, with the rest of the bottle being pure profit).  While still more expensive that what you would pay at your friendly neighborhood retailer or online purveyor (see below on paying retail), the price per bottle is a much better bargain.  Even if you don’t anticipate finishing the bottle, just take the rest home with you (see below on making the open bottle last).  And as long as we are talking about wine pricing…

(2)        Never pay retail.  Another very true statement.  While vexing for most wine retailers and despite the general (and mostly unjustified) rise in wine prices across the board, the power in today’s wine market rests with the consumer.  With the surge in internet wine retailing, partially assisted by continuously relaxed regulation, prices are in a true race to the bottom and one should never pay the suggested retail price for a wine (generally a truism about most consumer products).  These days any retailer worth his salt will match any other publicized price for any wines and there are a number of retailers out there with cut-rate prices on most wines.  Additionally, most retailers offer seasonal sales (usually around Rosh Hashanah and Pessach) as well as coupons and discounts throughout the year.  That said, finding a good and honest retailer with sound knowledge of the kosher wine world is a well-worthy endeavor.  Establishing a relationship with and frequenting such an establishment is almost always worth the few extra dollars you might spend on any given bottle of wine as they are usually good sources of advance information on new wines as well as sources for limited or hard to find treasures.  Fortunately readers of this newsletter don’t have to choose between the two as my Recommended Retailers Page lists a number of trusted wine merchants in the US and Israel who have great knowledge, selection and good prices and have offered readers of Yossie’s Wine Recommendations special discounts.

(3)        Scores are a good medium to base your wine-buying decisions on.  As you have noticed by now, I don’t score wines, preferring approach of only recommending those wines in my weekly newsletter that I think you will enjoy and allowing the detailed tasting notes to give a sense of how great the wine is.  The use of special Yossie’s Corkboard terminology like YH Best Buys, moshiach wines, Safe Bet Winery, Super Israelis and others provide additional guidance on any particular wine.  On a more philosophical note, one of the main reasons I don’t score wines is that I believe once a score is available, it is all a consumer sees / looks for, ignoring the verbiage of the tasting note which provides far more information than a number (or letter).  Tagging a wine with a 90 point score or higher will automatically make it desirable to the consumer.  Conversely (and much more problematic in my opinion), many consumers won’t look at wine if they are below 87-90 points which leads them to miss out on some terrific wines.  While this newsletter is too brief to cover the topic in detail (stay tuned for a coming newsletter), in short – rating wines is a [relatively subjective] art and not a science (regardless of how good or professional the taster is, the rating of a wine is subject to the taster’s mood, specific circumstances and other variables).  Scores give the impression that there is a fundamental difference between wines separated by 1-2 points, while the truth is that critics may deviate 1-2 points on the same wine in the same tasting session.  Talking about scores leads us to the second most trumpeted (and useless) marketing methodology.

(4)        Medals mean something.  Wineries, retailers and wine competitions love affixing stickers to their wines representing medals won by these wines in one competition or another.  Any winery’s website will be replete with a long list of every medal won by their wines over recent (and not so recent) years.  The reasons for this are both obvious and unfortunate.  While the deciding factor (besides price) in purchasing wines is the label, such medals are extremely persuasive in convincing the consumer that the wine must be good (“after all, it won a gold medal, didn’t it?”).  For the most part however, winning a medal in these competitions is utterly and completely meaningless for a variety of reasons.  For starters, these competitions are usually for-profit endeavors and, in many competitions, all you need to do in order to win a medal is to pay an entry fee!  Alternatively, there are so many categories, many of them obscure (best new Mediterranean white varietal between $6-7.50 anyone), that winning a medal for something is pretty much guaranteed.  Second, many of the top wineries don’t bother to enter these competitions, considering them, at best, a waste of time and leaving the prizes to the not-so-great wines and wineries.  Third, the public is only provided with a list of the winners, never the losers (i.e. one doesn’t know which wineries/wines entered the competition and were “beaten” by the winners) and rarely with the criteria for judging or even the judges themselves (panels of which are not always comprised with wine tasting experts to say the least).  Fourth, in many competitions the tasting conditions are far from perfect.  For more on the fallacy and unreliability of wine competitions including detailed descriptions of the problems arising in one of the world’s more respected competitions, see Daniel Rogov’s post on wine competitions on the Kosher &Israeli Wine Forum (f/k/a Daniel Rogov’s Forum).

(5)        Once opened, a bottle of wine doesn’t last.  While wines don’t last forever and tend to oxidize quickly once they have been opened, that doesn’t mean you have to finish your entire bottle in one sitting.  There are a few methods for preserving leftover wine which not only allow you to enjoy the remainder of a wine bottle the following night (or nights) but also allow you to enjoy the leftover wine from that bottle you wisely ordered in a restaurant instead of by the glass and took home with you at the end of the evening.  These gadgets include the VacuVin, PrivatePreserve and others.  Personally, my favored method for storing leftover wine from one day to the next (and rarely more than two nights) is to simply pour any leftover wine into one of the few empty half-bottles I save for these purposes, to cork the bottle and place it in my [regular] fridge overnight (an even better and more airtight option is to use a plastic water bottle, gently squeezing it until the wine rises to the top eliminating any internal air).  Works like a charm every time and is the cheapest of all the methods!

(6)        Expensive wine is nearly almost better.  While this newsletter spends an inordinate amount of time seeking out YH Best Buys and wineries that provide particularly good value for your hard-earned shekels, the truth is that, generally speaking and with few exceptions (like some boutique Israeli wineries), expensive wines tend to be better than moderately priced or cheap wines.  The price of any given wine (or most any other consumer product) is typically based on three things – production costs, supply and demand.  Production costs of the higher quality wines are generally higher than for lower quality wines.  The reasons for this are simple – good vineyards, staff, winemaking professionals, barrels and hi-tech winemaking equipment are necessary “ingredients” for wineries to produce wine of a much higher quality.  With better wines you have higher demand, resulting in lower supply.  Of course, wineries engage in substantial marketing hype around their wines and purposely limit production of specific wines in order to artificially create demand but generally speaking, this holds true.  To be clear, you can have good wine and cut-rate prices and great wine at decent prices (as we point out on these pages all the time) but for the most part, the better wines are more expensive.

(7)        Take note of wines you enjoy.  More a great tip then conventional wisdom, making a note of wines you enjoy is the best way to make sure you get to enjoy them again.  I often receive emails from folks trying to figure out which wine they recently had and enjoyed, usually involving vague descriptions of labels or names and requiring some detective work to figure out which wine it was.  While taking actual notes is the best way to preserve memories of special wines, I highly recommend at least writing down the full name and vintage of wines you enjoy and then following up with your local retailer to purchase a few bottles to enjoy again at home.  Alternatively, snap a picture with your smartphone and show it to your retailer next time you are shopping for some wine.

(8)        36 is too old for basketball.  While this “wisdom” was penned in the euphoric aftermath of the Celtic’s Game 5 win (which has since been severely deflated by their subsequent Game 6 and 7 losses), it remains a false statement and kudos to the Celtics for playing their hearts out as a team and never giving up!

Bazelet HaGolan, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010:  A nice wine from a winery that is back on an upward trajectory.  The wine has a nice nose redolent with rich black fruit, hints of bittersweet chocolate and a bit of herbaceousness.  More fruit on the palate is joined by some spicy oak and caramel held together by nicely integrated tannins that opened up nicely over a 15 minute period in the glass.  A medium finish rounded out this delightful little wine that is well balanced with only a touch of the relatively high 15.1% alcohol showing.  Drink now through 2014.

Recanati, Special Reserve, White, 2010:  I wrote about the inaugural 2009 vintage in newsletter #184 and the 2010 is a successful replacement and a welcome addition to Recanati’s great portfolio of wines.  Hopefully the increased interest in and sophistication of Israeli white wines will help convince folks that it’s worth paying premium prices for what is definitely a premium wine (it is priced similarly to the Special Reserve red blend).  A blend of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Viognier and 25% Sauvignon Blanc, all from Recanati’s top tier Manara vineyard, the wine was aged in French oak for eight months (followed by seven months of bottle aging prior to release) giving it a bit of spiciness, aging ability, oaky creaminess (from 50% malolactic fermentation), flinty minerals and a nice balance to the rich tropical fruits on both the nose and palate.  A relatively limited production of 4,000 bottles (of which only 600 were exported), so grab some while you can.  A great nose of peaches, apricots, grapefruit, lime and some spicy notes, lead into a rich and mouth filling palate of tropical fruits, more citrus notes, a creamy lusciousness well balanced by good acidity that keep everything together nicely.  Drink now through 2014.

Tulip, White Tulip, 2011:  A successful follow up to the first kosher vintage of this wine back in 2010, while changing the percentages of Gewürztraminer (70%) and Sauvignon Blanc (30%) from the 50-50% of the 2010 vintage and yielding a wine with more fruit on the aromatic palate including tropical fruits, lychee, melon and citrus.  A medium and slightly viscous palate is loaded with good acidity that keeps the rich fruit from becoming too much leads into a nice and slightly spicy finish.  Drink now through 2013.

Vignobles David, Reserve, Côtes-du-Rhône, 2010:  A very welcome addition to the enjoyable Côtes-du-Rhône village wine from the same producer.  A rich blend of 40% Syrah and 60% Grenache with blackberries, currant and dark cherries on the nose together with forest floor, espresso, grilled meat and wood that come together nicely after half an hour in the glass.  The medium to full bodied palate has more of the same with delightful minerals and earthiness, rich and gripping tannins that are already nicely integrated and smoky meat dominating the rich fruit and slightly spicy oak.  While drinking nicely now, the wine definitely benefits from some time to breathe and should cellar comfortably through 2016, perhaps longer.

Weinstock, Petite Sirah, 2010:  As with many lower-tiered Israeli wines, the better low-priced wines from US wineries tend to be the more obscure grapes (i.e. Petite Sirah and Zinfandel over Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay).  One reason for this is their lack of popularity prevents the winery from placing the higher quality grapes in a higher-tiered (and thus expensive) series since folks won’t pay a premium for relatively unknown varietals which leads to a boon for us wine enthusiasts.  The Petite Sirah from Weinstock is no exception at an approachable 13% alcohol and a nice nose of fruit, lavender, espresso, and hints of chocolate.  The medium bodied, soft and mouth filling palate is loaded with good red and black fruit, extra dark chocolate leading into a nice finish with plenty of tangy fruit, some warm spices, slightly smoky wood and more chocolate.  Not one for much further aging, drink now or over the next 12 months.