Only a few weeks ago, the Israeli wine was proud to host Jancis Robinson MW, one of the world’s leading wine critics, writers and communicators. She tasted Israeli wines as she would the wines of any other countries and referred to Israel as an Eastern Mediterranean California. She tasted kosher and non-kosher wines and it was not important for her to know which was which. For her, the kosher certification was irrelevant. She was tasting wine.
There are others though, who only see Israel strictly through the prism of kosher wines. These are Jews that observe the Jewish Dietary Laws and they may only drink wines that are kosher. For them the world is strictly defined but they are no less passionate about wine for that. Their interest in Israel is as the world’s number one producer of kosher wines, in terms of both quantity and quality, but they are also interested kosher wines from anywhere. They also need catering for.
The number of kosher wineries, kosher restaurants and kosher products has simply exploded in the last few decades. In the wider wine world, kosher wine is a niche and scarcely important. However the kosher world is exactly that; A world in itself. The major kosher brands are global brands…..but in the kosher context.
There are three main centers of kosher wine in the world. These are the cities of New York, Paris and Tel Aviv. Visit kosher liquor stores in New York, kosher hypermarkets in Paris and supermarkets in Tel Aviv and there is a bewildering wall of wines. It must be quite daunting to the regular consumer.
Despite the fact that kosher wine is indeed international, the shelves in these places look nothing alike. The French shelves will be mainly French wines, with a high proportion of red wines and rosés, many of them sold only in France. The Israeli shelves will be mainly Israeli wines. The American shelves will also differ though its selection is more international.
When I came to Israel there were less than ten wineries here. Today, there over 300, and countless more domestic wineries and garagistes. I remember when there were only two Israeli wineries exporting to America and today there are seventy. Once, only three countries made kosher wine and today almost every wine producing country produces kosher wine.
Some of the wines, particularly from Israel and California, are made by wineries specializing in kosher wines. Others are produced by famous names that decide to make a kosher cuvée. However the source of many other wines will be unknown, as they are private label wines made by an importer or distributor. Once, the kosher customer could be familiar with the main wines, because they were so few of them. Today they don’t stand a chance. How on earth do you keep up? The answer is with great difficulty.
It was not so long ago that the kosher wine industry had a media figurehead. This was the legendary wine critic Daniel Rogov. He published his annual Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines and also Rogov’s Guide To Kosher Wines. He also moderated his own forum (Wine Lover’s Discussion group) and became the ultimate guru like figure answering questions and prompting discussions. However the influence of the major guru-critic has since waned with the onset of bloggers and social media. Now everyone has an opinion which can be heard. There will probably never be another individual with the power to influence like Robert Parker in the wider wine world or Daniel Rogov in Israel and the kosher world. Those days have passed.
‘Wine Musings’ and ‘Yossie’s’ Corkboard are two blogs which try to keep consumers up to date, and they do a great job. David Raccah writes the Wine Musings blog which covers kosher wine and food. Raccah is a wine and food lover, overflowing with enthusiasm. Not for him the dry analytical approach. His passion oozes through in his writing. He writes the most detailed and adjectival tasting notes of almost anyone I know, with baskets of fruit and liberal handfuls of herbs and spices squeezed into each and every tasting note. He certainly gets more out of a wine than most, but what the reader gets is a pretty clear inkling of what this particular blogger thinks of a wine. He is a gourmet overflowing in personal, subjective expression of what a wine means to him, but he is consistent and informative and does not stand on the fence. As such he does great service to those who read him.
Yossie’s Corkboard and the well-known newsletter that is distributed, is written by Yossi Horwitz. The Horwitz style is different. He is a lawyer and writes like a lawyer. His pieces are long, wordy and careful. His reviews are less critical and more politically correct. But he is great at detail and covering the ground. If you want information as opposed to opinionated text, his articles are full of information…and you know the information given is likely to be correct. This is not to be sneezed at. I am constant shocked how many journalists can write incorrect information seemingly without caring. Both Raccah and Horwitz are up to date, regularly visiting Israel to touch base and feel the pulse of what is happening.
However the world of facebook has spawned a new medium. This is a place where everyone can be a critic. Wine is a broad subject. People don’t just like to drink wine, they like to read about it and just love to talk about it too. This gave an opportunity to Gabriel Geller that he took with both hands.
Gabriel Geller is someone who uniquely has experience of the three very different worlds of kosher wine. Since 2008 he has been around the wine trade absorbing information like a sponge. He is a European, born in Switzerland, who has worked in Israel and now settled in the USA. He speaks the three main languages of the kosher wine world, English, French and Hebrew, and now is even adding New York slang to his repertoire! He has experience in each world. In Europe, particularly in the French speaking part of Belgium, Switzerland and of course in France, he was a consultant and critic, dipping his toes in the wine world and allowing the passion to pull him in and he also did his fair share of writing. For a short time he had a wine shop in Jerusalem, specializing in wines from small wineries. Now in America, he works for Royal Wine the largest importer and distributor of kosher wine in the world. He is Director of Public Relations and Advertising with responsibilities for wine education within the company. I refer to him as the ‘kosher cosmopolitan’. His breadth of experience is an advantage.
He was a participant the Daniel Rogov forum. This was the forum from which Rogov signed off from in flamboyant fashion by writing his own obituary and having it posted to announce his death! Gabriel Geller saw the void filled by Rogov’s passing, and felt the need for the kosher conversation to continue. So in 2014 he founded two facebook pages in both English and French. One is called “Kosher Wine: Sharing and Experiences’ and the other, ‘Vin Kasher: Partage, Bons Plans and Conseils’. These groups together include no less than 6,000 members in total. Everyone is equal and can post which wines they like or dislike. Anyone can have an opinion, but the guru above all is Gabriel Geller who seems to have the definitive final say. Geller has the luxury of providing opinions without delving into tasting notes or giving information. It is most impressive that he has experience and an opinion on almost any kosher wine brought up in discussion. He was once quoted in an interview as saying: “I have an unusual sensory memory almost a photographic memory when it comes to wine. I can remember nearly all the wines I have tasted…without any written notes.” Wow…I don’t think I have never come across that before from the major experts I have met around the world. However, despite this knowledge and self-confidence, he does not over dominate the forum. I like the way he holds back, sometimes prompting to encourage discussion or cajoling with humor. However if someone wants a view, he provides his unreservedly.
As a result the following of the forum has increased and his status as the guru of this group has solidified. You would think his Royal connection would confuse the credibility issue, but Geller seems to have earned the respect of his followers and colleagues by being credible and honest.
Of course his wife Yael is also a partner here, being a very active contributor. Whereas Gabriel is diplomatic….sometimes, his wife is unfettered. She is up front, entertainingly frank, blunt and takes no prisoners. There is no grey area as far she is concerned. Everything is either very good or very bad. Part of the benefit of a facebook page is that it is not the United Nations. Together they make a great team. They certainly know their stuff.
The Kosher wine facebook page is the most current and immediate place to get information on kosher wines. It is also a great place to show off. Amusing to me to see how many people post a list of wines they are having for Shabbat or the next Festival. Woe betide the so called wine expert whose list is not long enough with enough quality wines! This brings out the peacock syndrome in people which is less impressive and I think they are missing the point of what wine is for, but it is a free world. It seems people just love to post look at me photos with lots of wines standing in a row.
The three musketeers together, provide a sterling service to the kosher consumer. Actually they do not overlap that much, and one complements the other. Kosher Wine: Sharing and Experiences, Kosher Wine Musings, and Yossie’s Corkboard are thoroughly recommended. However the Sharing & Experiences forum allows you to become personally involved, sharing, talking and learning from others. Chapeau to Gabriel Geller! I like the idea of making wine a participation sport and encourage kosher wine mavens to join it.
Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wines for over 30 years and he is known as ‘the ambassador of Israeli wines’. He writes a regular column called ‘Wine Talk’ for the Jerusalem Post.