Wines of the Time ($20 and Under)

#112 – January 7, 2010

I frequently write about the ever-increasing selection of top-notch kosher wines available to the discerning oenophile that can stand proudly next to some of the world’s great wines. Drinking a Moshiach wine (a wine I would feel comfortable serving to the Moshiach would he ever happen to grace my doorstop with a slakeable thirst) is one of my favorite ways to celebrate the Chagim; and discovering, savoring and sharing a special wine is one of the greatest enjoyments any wine-lover can wish for.

That said, one pays for quality and the majority of great kosher wines require parting with a not insignificant amount of cash for the privilege of their company, something we cannot always afford to do. Luckily there are a substantial number of kosher wines that are readily available for the affordable price of $10-20. The problem is that most of these “bargain” wines are not really bargains at all since they are just cheap wines as opposed to good wines. Regardless of how “into” wine you are or how much you spend on any given wine, life is much to short to ever drink bad wine! As I frequently tell people, one of the main philosophies of this newsletter is to search out and recommend those well-priced wines that are excellent to boot. As much as I enjoy the fabulous Yatir Forest, for those of us with limited budgets I can’t always rationalize defend purchasing one bottle of the Yatir Forest 2005 over 6 bottles of the Yiron 2005…

As the kosher wine industry continues to improve (the previously horrendous Private Collection series from Carmel is now a very decent table wine), I am continuously and consistently impressed by how many good wines there are in the very reasonable price range of $10-20 and, even manage to find the odd great wine in that price range. While most of the truly fantastic wines (and more importantly, those with significant aging capabilities) are somewhat more costly, there are quite a large number of vineyards producing a wide variety of wines within that price range – all great news for the sophisticated kosher wine consumer.

In general, with a little preparation, advance knowledge and a few good guidelines, one can stock up on some high end wines. Below are some basic guidelines for ferreting out those wines that are both well priced and enjoyable as well. Please note that these should not be viewed as “set-in-stone” rules, but rather general guiding principals. I have also included at the end of the email a list of decently priced wines (between $10-20) that I enjoy and recommend.

While the majority of these wines provide neither the depth nor complexity of truly great wines, they are all good and provide a pleasant drinking experience. In addition to the issue of necessary frugality, sometimes I am in the mood for a casual glass of wine with dinner and don’t want to crack an expensive bottle (or make the effort in preparing the great meal such a memorable wine deserves).

1) In my opinion the winery that deserves the title of “Best Wine for your Shekel” is, without a doubt, the Galil Mountain winery. Not only do they produce the best wine at the $20 price point – the Yiron and Yiron Syrah, their regular series wines which include a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Shiraz, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé are all and always good.

2) Not far behind the Galil Mountain winery as a top-notch value producer is the Recanati Winery. Their table-wine Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are very well priced, good bets and reliable year in and year out. Their Reserve series also comes within the $20 price range and are very good (if somewhat unexciting) wines. Gil Shatzberg, the former senior winemaker at Amphorae has replaced Lewis Pasco as Recanati’s winemaker and has very quickly proven himself to be up to the task. Lewis brought class, sophistication and a distinct style to Recanati, and was a driving force behind its rapid ascension into the lofty company of Israel’s top wineries and Gil has continued to elevate the winery and imprinted the recent vintages with his signature style.

3) It is almost impossible to find a good (as opposed to drinkable – whatever that means) kosher wine for under $10. So much so that it isn’t worth trying to do so – it’s always worth spending the extra couple of bucks, guaranteed. You won’t regret it!

4) A wine from the table wine series of any top-tier winery is usually a pretty good bet for quality wine, as the better wineries tend to produce less drek than other wineries. Wineries I would mention in this regard include the Golan Heights winery (a great example is their Gamla series), Hagafen and the Herzog Special Reserve wines. As I mentioned last week, this guideline is equally applicable with respect to ordering wines in restaurants.

5) While there are plenty of great kosher wines from countries around the globe including France, Spain and the United States, when dealing the in the bargain basement price ranges, Israeli wines will usually be much better than their foreign counterparts.

6) If you are a white-wine lover in addition to preferring good value to quality ratios you are in luck. As a general rule, white wines are generally lower priced than their red wine counterparts. Among other reasons, this is a result of the increased effort (and related costs) involved in producing top shelf red wines, the increased aging time and the cost of the wine barrels used in the aging process. That said, while the foreign white wines available on the New York shelves tend to be the most recent vintages (2007 is currently available), the Israeli white wines tend to be of earlier, and sometimes no longer drinkable, vintages (2005 is still widely available and 2007 is the latest vintage for most wines while 2008 is the current vintage available in Israel (a Shmittah year).

7) This last tidbit is relevant to any wine drinker and not just those bargain hunters. Find yourself a good wine store and stick with them. A relationship with a wine proprietor can be very rewarding for both parties. Any self-respecting wine store will be happy to give a regular customer (irrespective of the amounts sent) a standard 10-20% discount (although some New York based stores seem to completely disregard this comment and smart custom) and can be an invaluable resource in your journey through the wonderful world of wine by assisting with discovering new wines, procuring rare and uncommon wines and providing a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Shabbat Shalom,

Great Bets under $20
For the most part the vintages listed are what are currently on the shelves of the wine stores I frequent and a number of online wine sellers. While the vintages of these wines are almost all good, avoid white wines over 1-2 years old (with the exception of top flight wines like those of the Yarden Series or the Castel “C” Chardonnay). Most of the listed wines would qualify as a YH Best Buy. There are other good bets out there – this is not intended to be a comprehensive list, as always this list is solely based on what I enjoy drinking and hope you will as well.

Barkan, Reserve, Chardonnay, 2006
Binyamina, Special Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Capcanes, Peraj Petita, 2007
Casa da Corca, Douro, 2005
Carmel, Appellation, Merlot, 2005
Carmel, Appellation, Chardonnay, 2006
Carmel, Sha’al Late Harvest, Gewurztraminer, 2006
Dalton, Barbera, 2006
Dalton, Reserve, Viognier, 2006
Dalton, Sauvignon Blanc Fume, 2006
Ella Valley Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, 2007
Galil Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz, 2006
Galil Mountain, Barbera, 2006
Galil Mountain, Avivim, 2006
Gamla, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Gamla, Pinot Noir, 2006
Golan, Cabernet Sauvignon
Goose Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, 2007
Goose Bay, Pinot Noir, 2007
Hagafen, Sauvignon Blanc, 2008
Hagafen, Lake County, White Riesling, 2008
Hagafen, Napa Valley, White Riesling, 2008
Ramon Cardova, Rioja Crianza, 2002
Recanati, Reserve, Shiraz, 2006
Tabor, Adama, Gir, Merlot, 2006
Tabor, Adama, Bazelet, Merlot, 2006
Teperberg, Meritage, 2006
Teperberg, Silver, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Teperberg, Silver, Merlot, 2006
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Viognier, 2006
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Odem Organic Vineyard, Chardonnay, 2007