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Guiding the Kosher Wine Consumer

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Looking for a great gift for the wine maven in your life? Look no further. Daniel Rogov has what you are looking for with his latest two hardbound, pocket-sized guides: Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines 2010: The World’s 500 Best kosher Wines (The Toby Press; November 1, 2009; 145 pages; $19.95), and Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines 2010 (The Toby Press; October 1, 2009; 485 pages; $19.95).

Rogov is the weekly wine and restaurant critic for the Israeli daily Haaretz. Even though he is not an observant Jew and is not remotely mindful of kashrus in his daily life, Rogov’s name has become increasingly well known in kosher wine circles. The reason is simple: in the course of evaluating thousands of wines from around the world, he tastes and reviews more kosher wines than any other published critic. Despite that a great many Israeli wineries actually produce non-kosher wines, a massive amount of very fine kosher wine is produced in Israel – all of which is tasted and reviewed by Daniel Rogov.

This is not an insignificant point, for the value of these two guides rests on the strength of Rogov’s professional critical judgment of wine in general, and of kosher wines in particular. That’s why his name is in the title. It is one critic’s view, and is perhaps a little idiosyncratic.

The value of the 2010 Israeli wine guide, the 6th annual, is fairly straightforward. Rogov reviews nearly 2,000 wines from about 150 wineries, all of which are ranked and described. Rogov also includes useful discussions of the history of wine production in Israel, Israel’s diverse wine- growing regions (a detailed map is included), and a brief discussion of the current Israeli wine scene. Also included in this handsome volume is a glossary of wine terminology, and contact information for all the wineries in the book. It is compact, comprehensive, and very easy to read and use as a reference for future purchasing and for helping one decide what to drink and when.

The tasting notes in both books are intelligent, concisely written and helpfully communicative – as these things go. That is, each review gives one a very clear picture of Rogov’s perception of the wine’s sensory characteristics (fruits, flowers, spices, etc.) and relative charms (balance, elegance, personality, etc.). The wines are further evaluated on the familiar 100-point scale favored by Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator.  Rogov provides a key: 96-100 points is a “Truly great wine”; 90-95 is “Exceptional in Every Way”; and 85-89 is “Very Good to Excellent and Highly Recommended”; and so on down the line to objectively undrinkable (0-50).

If Israeli wines are of any substantive interest, Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines 2010 is an essential pocket guide. If kosher wines are your primary interest, however, the Israeli guide alone is great, but not perfect. After all, so many wines are not kosher. Those who self-select to drink only kosher wine have no need for intimate knowledge of non-kosher Israeli wine.

Why, you might ask, are so many Israeli wines not kosher? They are, after all, made by Jews using kosher ingredients (grapes) in the Holy Land itself; so what could be wrong, right? Wrong, unfortunately. Among the key components to producing kosher wine is that those handling the process, from crushing the grapes until sealing the bottled final product, are Sabbath observant. Obviously, this also means that no winemaking can be done on the Sabbath. Many non-observant Israeli winemakers are not interested in such restrictions, or in the potential compliance headaches of conforming to the rabbinic supervision entailed in obtaining official kosher certification.

Joshua E. London

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