Trending Upwards – 2010 Trends

#156 – December 30, 2010

As the Gregorian year comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on a number of trends in the kosher wine world that I have noticed over this past year – the majority of them positive. So, as a follow up to my Best Wines of 2010 newsletter from last week, I wanted to briefly share some of my observations with you as to the current state of the kosher wine world and where I see it going over the next 12 months. I note that not all of these trends occurred solely over the past year, and some have been a few years in the making.

Additionally, I have included some additional wines that are worth mentioning but just fell short of making the cut for last week’s 2010 “Best Of” list. I have also included a short list of wineries that have either massively improved this year, or are up-and-coming wineries I warmly recommend introducing yourselves to.

Increasing Sophistication

The biggest and most important trend has been the increase in appreciation of quality wine, sophistication and consumption among the kosher wine consumer. Over the past few years there has clearly been an explosion of interest among kosher consumers, manifesting itself in increasing awareness and consumption. While the increased consumption predominately occurs during Shabbat feasts, more and more people are drinking wine during the week, a trend I hope to see continue. A good indicator of this trend is the recently released annual Best of 2010 Wines – as selected by its customers. For the first time ever, more than half of the wines are truly great wines, which is a pleasure (I was also happy to see that the blue-bottled abomination was dethroned). With the massive increase in available quality wines at all pricing and complexity levels, this is a trend I only expect to continue. Another good indicator is the number of people shelling out $100 to attend Royal Wine’s amazing annual wine tasting (coming your way the end of February – details to follow soon).

Rising Prices

The flip side of the increase in sophistication is that prices of kosher wines have risen across the board. While I am not party to the pricing and retailing secrets of wines and the wineries that make them, I personally find the approximate 20% increase across the board in the prices of kosher wines to be unacceptable. Wines that used to be safely ensconced in the $10-12 range are now $15 and those that were $15-18 are now creeping over $20. A good indication of this is that I had far less YH Best Buys in this year’s newsletter than prior years.

Another related trend is boutique wineries making their first few vintages available for sale, are demanding $35-45 per bottle – totally outrageous pricing for a new/unproven winery. While I am sympathetic to the massive capital outlay required to get a winery off the ground – if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen – but don’t dump your costs on the consumer before you have proven yourself (and one high score from Daniel Rogov does not a good winery make). In my opinion, the over-pricing of wines in the US such as Bustan, Katlav and Tanya is a major contributor to their failing to gain traction. This is a shame given the improvement in quality of both Katlav and Tanya over the last coupled of years. While I believe that the increase in consumer interest is a primary driver behind these price hikes, it remains to be seen if they are sustainable given the top notch wines from proven wineries like the Golan Heights Winery, Dalton, Ella Valley and Yatir which are available at those price points.

It will be interesting to see the effect (if any) of recent vintage years on this pricing (while 2008 was a fabulous year it was Shmitta and very few Israeli wines were imported, and both 2009 and 201 are considered mediocre vintage years especially when compared the recent run of great vintages like 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008).

“Kay Syrah Syrah”

Looking over the newsletter and my tasting notes from 2010, I found that I have been drinking less and less Cabernet Sauvignon and far more Syrah, Pinot Noir, sparkling wine and unoaked Chardonnay (among others). The reason for this is twofold. First, most good Cabernet Sauvignon wines are released to the market far too early for drinking and typically need some cellaring time before they are ready. Given that 95% of wines sold are consumed shortly after they are purchased, obviously a lot of good wine is being drunk way too early which is extremely unfortunate. I get a lot of emails from people who splurged on something special only to find the wine bitter and not to their liking. Age the wines my friends – age the wines! On the flip side, most kosher Syrah and Pinot Noir wines are drinkable off the shelf and, while I have mature wines in my cellar, I tend to save those for special occasions or to be shared with fellow wine lovers – opportunities I have far too infrequently. Second, I enjoy drinking wine with food and Cabernet Sauvignon is typically a big, tannic and powerful wine that doesn’t go with as many dishes as the other wines I mentioned. I highly recommend drinking more Syrah – the ones from Ella Valley, Karmei Yosef and Yarden’s Ortal vineyard are especially good. The Shiraz from Carmel’s Kayoumi vineyard is also amazing.

Terroir and Variety

Another welcome trend is the increase in types of wines being available to the kosher consumer. Whereby we used to be restricted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, today kosher winemakers are successfully producing true French Champagne, Prosecco and other sparkling wines, Viognier, my favored grape – Cabernet Franc, magnificent Syrah, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sauternes and other delightful dessert wines, Port, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and many other interesting varieties. Israel’s talented winemakers continuously experiment with new varietals and blends to bring us the best the land has to offer, often competing quite successfully on an international scale. Israeli winemakers have also started to move away from the internationalized style of big rich and fruit forward wines and have started to explore producing wines reflective of the uniquely delicious Mediterranean flair with more restrained fruit and quiet elegance. Carmel is a among the wineries leading the charge on this with their aptly named Mediterranean wine leading the charge. This trend is only beginning and I would guess that it will take folks some time to decide what an “Israeli Wine” should taste like – but they need to as only that will get Israeli wine its own recognition outside of being “kosher” and allow Israeli wines to compete on a global level with wines from similarly situated (in the developing wine world) countries like Chile, Greece and Argentina.

Quality Control

While there is unfortunately still a significant amount of drek being pushed on the innocent kosher wine consumer, there is far less than in the past. In today’s market (pricing issue notwithstanding) there are far less undrinkable wines than in prior years. Improvements to technology, maturation of the kosher wine industry and increasing consumer interest are all among the major contributors to this welcome trend. Barkan’s Classic series which used to be atrocious is now a completely acceptable table brand with the Pinot Noir and Petit Sirah being standout wines (these wines are mevushal to boot). Carmel’s private collection series is another good example of this trend as are many of the Tierra Salvaje, Cantina Gabriella and Borgo Reale wines (not great by any stretch but affordable quaffers which is far more than they used to be). Additionally, more and more small and garagiste wineries are producing delicious wines in their first vintages (see the Weiss brother’s success with their Syraph and One|Two Punch).

International Acclaim

While Israeli wine is still primarily associated with kosher wine and rarely receives individual international attention, Israeli wines have been receiving more and more positive international press recently from all the big names in wine like Wine Spectator. Even Robert Parker has been (mostly) positively reviewing Israeli wines for the last three years. His associate, Mark Squires has been assigned to Israeli wines and once he figures out that those “green notes” are part of the positive aspects of Israeli terroir; he will score them even higher. While Castel seems to receive more international press than any other winery, Carmel recently took home one of the wine world’s greatest honors by winning Decanter’s best Rhone varietal award with their scrumptious Kayoumi, Shiraz, 2006.

Yossie’s Corkboard

On a personal note, I launched my companion website to the newsletter – Yossie’s Corkboard where you can subscribe to the newsletter and see some samples of my writings. Readership also increased from 650 subscribers to over 1000. This was also the first year in which I managed to publish a newsletter basically every week – with this edition being the 47th edition of 2010 (my prior record was 31). Hopefully this trend will continue, and if you know anyone who might enjoy this please have him or her sign up.

Most Improved/Improving Wineries to Look out for

New Wineries – Lookout for and Try: Gvaot, Karmei Yosef (Bravdo), Tzuba.

Most Improved / Improving Wineries: Barkan, Carmel, Odem Mountain, Psagot, Tanya and Teperberg.

As I mentioned above, I have included below a number of additional great wines I tasted this past year that have distinguished themselves either with their individualism or by just missing the cut to make into the 2010 “Best Of” list. In addition to the Covenant Solomon and Capcanes Flor de Flor I mentioned last week, another just-released wine that I haven’t tasted but expect will be on 2011’s “Best Of” list is the 2006 Hagafen Mélange – stay tuned.

Shabbat Shalom,

I “Almost” Made The List:

Binyamina, Late Harvest, Cluster Select, Gewürztraminer, 2008 and 2009
Brobdignanian, Grenache, 2008
Carmel, Appellation, Carignan, 2006
Dalton, Matatia, 2006
Dalton, Reserve, Wild Yeast, Viognier, 2009
Four Gates, Cabernet Franc, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2005
Four Gates, Chardonnay, 2004
Galil Mountain, Meron, 2006
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Ortal Vineyard, Syrah, 2004
Hagafen, Prix Reserve, Moskowite Ranch- Block 61, Zinfandel, 2006
Katlav, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dessert Wine, 2006
Louis de Sacy, Grand Cru, Brut Champagne, n.v.
One|Two Punch, 2008