Israeli wine is in great shape and there has never been so much international recognition as there is now. Not so long ago, the Wine Spectator wrote its first cover story about Israeli wine. Jancis Robinson MW, arguably the world’s number one wine critic, visited Israel for the first time. The Institute of Masters of Wine sent an official visit to learn about Israeli wine.
Israel has approximately 70 wineries exporting these days. Exports have reached and passed US$ 50 million and the first official Wines of Israel consortium is now being launched by the Israel Export Institute. Israeli wines receive scores ranging from 93-94 points in publications like Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, the Wine Enthusiast & Wine Spectator, and win gold medals and trophies in the major international wine tasting competitions. Furthermore, Israeli wineries have been awarded four stars in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. It would appear all is rosy in the garden.
However, not according to two very respected critics, who have recently been very critical about Israeli wines. Both are very serious wine tasters, with long experience of tasting Israeli wines, so it is worth taking considering their comments carefully.
The first is Mark Squires, who is the wine taster of Israeli wines, on behalf of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. This is still one of the most important wine publications in the world and Mark Squires is one of the leading wine experts on Israeli wines. He called his latest essay on Israel, “a case of tough love.”
He commented about the prices of Israeli wines in America. He notes: “too many really pricey wines here simply underperform in their context.” He specifically mentioned a number of wineries with “very pricey wines, with splashy marketing like huge bottles and special cases.” He goes on: “…presentation, packaging and price sure does not mean you get an exceptional wine….. In fact, this type of marketing backfired in my eyes.”
Tellingly, regarding quality, he says “nothing in this report made me think of awarding 95 points for a wine.” (So far, the glass ceiling for Israel in his publication is 94 points.) At the lower end of the market he said “it’s hard to find drinkable things.” He made the point that the middle category does perform but “if you have trouble competing well both at the high end and low end, that’s a recipe that will leave you with a wine industry that has trouble gaining traction.” Wow, strong stuff, but just wait.
David Raccah is a blogger, who is entertaining, opiniated and blunt. He is one of the leading wine critics of kosher wines in in America. He is experienced and out of concern, has made comments that make Mark Squires seem like a pussy cat. In his Kosher Wine Musings, he recently headlined an article: “Red Israeli wines are essentially dead to me, the white wines are not much better.” He started his appraisal “another year and another disappointment for Israel wines overall.”
He tasted 2017 whites and commented: “they all had a serious lack of complexity and acid.” As for reds, he referred “to the sad progression of date juice.” He goes on to say “the wines all taste the same….nothing differentiated them from the next wine..” To convey his state of mind over Israeli wines, five wines were listed consecutively in his notes with the following comments:
Classic Israeli date juice
Corked Israeli date juice
Oxidized Israeli date juice
More oxidized Israeli date juice.
Raisiny Israeli wine.
Pithy and to the point. This is someone not enamored with Israeli wine! Amusing and sad to read in equal measure. One should also take into account it was written by someone, who described one wine as “dead, oxidized and disgusting.” Many critics choose not to speak badly of the dead. However, his is a very honest, personal opinion of how he views the current situation, written almost as a plea for more authenticity and individuality.
Both Mark Squires and David Raccah have many years’ experience of Israeli wine. They are not newbies. Furthermore, they have both given Israel their fair share of good write ups in the past. Their comments are meant to be constructive, and it is certainly rare to find two respected experts so critical at the same time. Their comments make hard reading and provide food for thought for everyone who cares about Israeli wine. There are also many great comments about Israeli wine at present, but you do not learn from compliments. Let us hope wineries are listening.