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.

Which brings us to Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines 2010: The World’s 500 Best kosher Wines. The format and production values of this handy pocket guide are modeled after the Israeli guides, and likewise are destined to become a new annual series. The scope is geographically expanded to the whole world, rather than just Israel, so the content was somewhat arbitrarily contracted to “the five hundred best kosher wines that I have tasted or re-tasted during the last year.” Rogov also stipulates that he is only including wines that scored 85 points or more. Though it goes unsaid, the list seems to have been further whittled down so as to limit the dominance of Israeli wines.

There is not a single Israeli wine scoring below 88 points in this guide, yet his Israeli guide has them in abundance. Other distinct inconsistencies of inclusion arise as well. The excellent Israeli Bustan Winery, to take but one example, has 10 entries – all kosher and all scoring 90+ points – in the 2010 Israeli guide, but only four in his 2010 kosher guide. Why?

Presumably Rogov and his publisher have excellent reasons for such decisions of inclusion and exclusion, but no hint of any of these is included in this edition. Hopefully future editions will be greatly expanded and include a little more explanation.

Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines is an annual must-have for lovers of the best in kosher wines. Its publication marks a true milestone in the development of a genuine culture of kosher wine, and hopefully forever shatters the myth that kosher wine is necessarily inferior.

Taken together, Rogov’s guides offer the kosher consumer the most comprehensive, intelligent and authoritative guide to kosher wines available anywhere. What better gift for the wine imbiber in your family?

Joshua E. London writes about food, wines, and spirits, and is the author of Victory in Tripoli: How America’s War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation.


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