The Future is What You Make of It

#236 – January 3, 2013

This week’s newsletter should be viewed as a companion piece to newsletter #234 – “While Standing on One Foot” – which summarized the important events and trends the world of kosher and Israeli wine experienced throughout 2012. After last week’s interlude discussing the best and most exciting wines of 2012, we finish off my annual summation of the State of the [kosher and Israeli] Wine World In this week’s piece, I polish off my trusty crystal ball and discuss some of the trends and happenings I expect to see over the next 12 months within the wonderful and burgeoning world of kosher and Israeli wines.

As we start to creep up on the extremely busy pre-Pessach season, I suggest checking out my “Coming Events” page, which sets forth some of the more interesting and exciting wine related events coming our way, including a Recanati wine tasting with Gil Shatsberg and Royal Wine’s KFWE – easily one of the best kosher wine tasting events of the year and definitely the one with the best accompanying food! Hope to see you all there.

Given my consternation at culling from a truly spectacular field of great kosher wines from 2012, at the end of this newsletter I have included another 20 wines that missed making the list by the skin of their grapes – enjoy!

Wine Writing

As someone who writes about wine I am obviously interested in this topic. However, I am also an avid consumer of kosher and Israeli wines (henceforth referred to collectively as “IKOWs”) and enjoy reading about wine almost as much as I enjoy talking about, drinking and tasting wines. OK, that isn’t true – but I do enjoy reading about wine and the world of wine writing continues to undergo massive shifts, generally and specifically in our [much] narrower world of IKOWs. We have discussed the waning influence of Robert Parker in the past, the highly respected Andrew Jefford is of the view that “the wine writer is dead” and the proliferation of wine blogging all combine to diminish the relevance of one critic or another. In the world of IKOWs, Daniel Rogov z’l held sway and reigned supreme for years (discussed in depth in last year’s summaries, Part I and Part II) and with his passing, there is simply no Israeli wine writer (whether in English or in Hebrew) whose opinion carries anywhere near the influence he did. The era of demi-gods such as Robert Parker and Daniel Rogov z’l is over, never to return and no longer will one person’s voice, pen or palate hold sway over an entire industry. I believe this is a good thing and expect additional voices to come forth, each maybe focusing on different aspects of the relevant wine world. More opinions and information being provided is a good thing and, with the increasing sophistication and consumption of fine wines, highly desirable. Don’t misunderstand me – wine expertise is still needed and desired – simply not from any one person but rather there is much more of it to go around and more to choose from. Find a writer or critic with whose palate you mostly agree and use them as a benchmark.

Wine Scoring

Hand in hand with the decreasing importance of any individual wine writer is a substantial devaluation of wine scoring. While many consumers around the world still base their purchases on the scores any individual wine receives and wineries obviously tout the recent scores awarded to them by one publication or another, the public is slowly realizing that wine scores provide a false sense of precision and are usually substantially more subjective that they appear in their mathematical presentation. Another contributing factor to the increasing dissatisfaction with scoring is the steady inflation of scores we have seen over the years (rarely do you see wines getting really low scores and even previously passable scores such as an 87 [or its likely letter equivalent – B- or g-d forbid a C]). Saturation and inflation have set in: it now takes 94 points to move high-end wines; for 90 to make a ripple; scores of 89 or less have virtually disappeared from public view. Are there really no wines out there that make folks go yuck? While I believe this is a trend that will take longer to fully materialize (scoring is still relevant and, given its necessity and assistance in selling wine, will continue to be pushed by producers and retailers) – mark my words – its time is coming to an end.

Trending Varietals

While Cabernet Sauvignon continues to represent a significant percentage of total wine sold by many wineries, we are seeing more and more wineries experimenting with less popular varietals, sometimes with great success. I am no longer only referring to Syrah, the Southern Rhone varietal whose Israeli success I have been touting for years or my beloved Cabernet Franc, the Bordeaux blending varietal with which a number of Israeli wineries have [and continue to have] success over the years as single varietal wines, but rather the proliferation of other varietals such as Carignan, Mourvèdre, Barbera, Grenache, Gewürztraminer and even Touriga Nacional, all of which are being increasingly utilized in Israeli wines, sometimes with much success. Carignan seems to be doing especially well in Israel, perhaps due to its high acidity (and relatively indigenous nature), with top-notch examples being produced by Recanati, Binyamina, Yaffo, Carmel, Gat Shomron and others (many a time, the Carignan is the most impressive or interesting wine in the winery’s portfolio). Another varietal experiencing increasing quality and popularity is the delightful Gewürztraminer grape. While terrific Gewürztraminer has been available for a number of years, with the exception of the standard bearing Yarden version from the Golan Heights Winery, it was primarily in the form of late harvest dessert wines such as those delectable treats from Binyamina and Carmel, among others. In recent years a number of wineries have seen great success with dry (or semi-dry) Gewurztraminer wines, seemingly perfectly suited to Israel’s hotter climate (both from a grape growing perspective and a wine drinking perspective). Some great examples include those from Lueria and Gvaot, with Carmel, Tishbi and Binyamina also producing very nice examples.

In general, we are seeing a rise in the consumption of white wines and Rosé (which has also become very popular lately, with both dry and semi-dry versions experiencing resurgent popularity (stay tuned for a sparkling version from the Golan Heights Winery that should knock your socks off). As more and more quality white wines become available (including Elvi’s InVita, Sauvignon Blanc from Covenant, Ella Valley, Dalton and others, Viognier from Dalton and Galil Mountain and the slew of terrific white wines from Midbar winery (f/k/a Asif, which should finally obtain formal certification within a vintage or two)), I expect the kosher consumer’s consumption of these wines to continue to rise. Other interesting varietals with which a number of Israeli wineries are experimenting include the Portuguese varietals Tinta Cão (another varietal with high acidity – a big plus in Israeli wines) and Touriga Nacional (utilized in the T2 of the Golan Heights Winery and the Tinto of Domaine Netofa (whose coming 2011 vintage of this wine I enjoyed far more than the currently available 2010).

While IKOW producers have been producing sweet wines since the beginning of time (also here) and many wineries have historically thrown a hodgepodge of their grapes into a barrel to “develop” (i.e. rot) with the expected results, recent years have seen much care given to producing high quality dessert wines, including Adir’s Blush Port, Shiloh’s Late Harvest Chardonnay, Domaine Netofa’s Ruby Port, Gat Shomron’s Ice Wine styled wines and the Botrytis wine from Golan Heights (which unfortunately is no longer being made after the currently available 2007 vintage), a trend I expect to both continue and increase, especially given the premium pricing these wines can bring (resulting from the increased efforts required).

One fad of the wine world that has yet to catch on in the world of IKOWs is natural wines. With the traditional 5 year lag between mainstream and kosher wine trends, we may have missed the opportunity to see for ourselves what all the excitement was about. Maybe the movements most vocal local proponent – Alice Feiring – can help convince some kosher winemakers that we deserve some enlightened wine as well…]

As the [culinary and] oenophilic sophistication of the kosher consumer continues to grow, I refreshingly find many less consumers echoing the unfortunate “I only drink Cabernet Sauvignon” or “I don’t drink white wines” – a positive trend I expect to continue.

Less Alcohol / More Food-Friendly

The trend towards more Mediterranean-styled wines that are less ripe, lower in alcohol and thus more “food-friendly” that started a year or two ago primarily championed by Recanati and Carmel (and rapidly adopted by many other wineries) will continue. As people drink more often, the desire for leaner and more austere wines will grow.

More Export

A number of factors will contribute to the increased export of Israeli wines. Some of these include (i) the “too much wine” phenomenon we discussed last year, (ii) the incredible but Shmittah vintage of 2008 which couldn’t be exported to the US (but was heavily exported to other countries), (iii) increased production (also discussed in depth last year) and (iv ) minimal domestic consumption (a fact that causes great consternation amount Israeli wineries). (countered by the race to the bottom w/r/t pricing in the foreign markets)

Lower Pricing

Despite the general rising prices of foodstuffs and the increased expense in producing kosher wines which result in higher suggested retail prices for most kosher wines, the continued increase in online wine shopping will lead to even more competition between the various wine retailers, resulting in ultra-thin margins and incredible deals on many wines – you just need to know where (and when) to look. While this may be tough on wineries, importers and retailers, it is certainly a huge boon for the consumer, especially after years of nearly unstoppable price increases. As always, check the prices carefully and shop around – it’s a tough market out there and retailers continue to fight tooth and nail for every dollar.

Wineries Closing up Shop

As has been happening steadily for a few years, I expect many additional wineries to shut their doors. I note that when a winery closes up shop it isn’t something it typically advertises, but rather simply stops producing wines. Two primary reasons are that it is usually left with quantities of wine it must sell long after production has ceased and nobody wants to buy wine from a closed winery (other than at “fire sale” prices) and hope that it will be able to raise capital and reopen in a few years. In the interim, these wineries sell their grapes (or [nearly] finished wine to other wineries (in the event that they own their own vineyards). Over the past month I have heard about four wineries that have simply stopped making wine but continue to market their wines, some quite avidly with increased marketing and new labels and expect a number of additional wineries to join this list over the next 12 months.

Continuing Recognition on an International Scale

As Israeli wine continues to improve and exports continue to grow, I expect international recognition to grow and the slew of accolades for Israeli wines to continue. Despite the sale of the Wine Advocate the potential diminishing of its influence (including that of its Israeli correspondent – Mark Squires), I expect the major international wine publication’s to continue to review and score Israeli wines, leading to further penetration of the crucial foreign market. With respect to the Israeli wine industry’s Holy Grail – being marketed to consumers abroad as a region as opposed to kosher – still seems a little while off. In my opinion, until Israeli wines compete better on price and stand out for a varietal or style of wine, this will remain an elusive goal (albeit one in which the industry makes annual progress at a snail’s pace).

Yossie’s Corkboard

In the spirit of continuing improvement, 2013 will hopefully see some substantial additions and improvements to Yossie’s Corkboard. Some of these include the ability to comment directly on the articles, some additional interactive features to the kosher winery map, adding a “Blogroll” (links to some other top-notch wine blogs I enjoy and recommend) and a few other surprises. As always, I’d love to hear from you on any recommendations or suggestions for improvement.
As a reminder, in addition to the [more or less] weekly newsletter, I am also quite active on Twitter where I provide multiple links daily to the various new and exciting things happening in the wondrous world of wine – all in 140 characters or less (literally the most concise you will ever read me). You can follow me on Twitter here or, simply check out my weekly summaries of the best tweets of the week here.

Adir, Blush Port, 2010
Adir, Plato, 2009
Bazelet HaGolan, Chardonnay, 2011
Binyamina, HaChoshen, Odem Syrah, 2009
Bravdo, Coupage, 2010
Brobdingnagian, Grenache, 2010
Carmel, Limited Edition, 2008
Carmel, Mediterranean, 2009
Carmel, Kayoumi, Riesling, 2011
Castel, Rosé, 2011
Château Le Crock, Saint-Estèphe, 2005
Château Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien, 2005
City Winery, Aldo Spring, Cabernet Franc, 2010
Dalton, “D”, Petit Sirah, 2010
Dalton, Reserve, Shiraz, 2009
Domaine Netofa, Tinto, 2011
Ella Valley, Vineyards Choice, Petit Sirah, 2008
Flam, Blanc, 2011
Flam, Reserve, Syrah, 2010
Four Gates, Merlot M.S.C., 2008
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard – El-Rom, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Rom, 2008
Gvaot, Gewurztraminer, 2012
Gvaot, Masada, 2010 (and 2009 for that matter)
Hagafen, Roussanne, 2010
Hagafen, Prix, Oak Knoll Chardonnay, 2010
Hagafen, Prix, Cabernet Franc, 2008
Herzog, Special Edition, PS 2nd Edition, 2009
Herzog, Special Reserve, Chalk Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008
Psagot, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009
Ramot Naftaly, Petit Verdot, 2010
Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Syrah/Viognier, 2010
Shiloh, Mosaic, 2007
Tzora, Misty Hills, 2009
Yatir, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009