Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

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Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Gabriel Geller » Sun May 06, 2012 9:41 am

Hello Folks,

Following the recent discussions on this forum, regarding the purpose of this forum, its future, meaning and such, I've been thinking lately a lot about Israel as an outstanding wine producing country. Whether or not this forum is/will be/should be Israel and/or Kosher wine oriented, please correct me if I'm wrong but is there any other Wine Country anywhere in the world producing as many different styles of wine as Israel, and that regardless of kashrut or politics, and while having such a low domestic consumption?

Israel is now producing close to 60 millions bottles/year while being the size of New Jersey. This figure is already quite impressive on its own, especially while considering the average consumption per capita which is only 8-10 liters. In comparison, Switzerland (populations of both countries being similar, about 8 million) is producing about 50 millions bottles/year with an average consumption/capita of 38 liters (I've actually read recently that this is also the average consumption rate in the Tel Aviv area only). But what I think, perhaps erroneously, is that it's exceptional that Israel is producing such a diverse range of wine styles, both new-world and old-world wines, inspired by the wines made all around the world such as France with practically every region represented: Cotes du Rhone style (Netofa, Dalton Alma SMV), Burgundy (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay), Bordeaux (Castel reds and so many more), Loire (Cabernet Franc), Alsace, California, Italia (Sangiovese, Barbera), Spain (Rioja (Tempranillo)), Portuguese (Douro), Chili (Malbec), Australia (Shiraz), South Africa (Pinotage), and of course now Israel as well (Mediterranean: Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, pick up your choice! :wink: ) etc.

So my question, again: Is there any other country in the world producing as many wines as Israel in so many different styles, and frankly, quite as successfully as what is done here? I think personally that it's exceptional and quite an achievement to be proud of. Perhaps I'm wrong yes, but if there really is, I'd find it hard to believe!

Thoughts?

Best,

GG
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Stacey B » Sun May 06, 2012 10:09 am

Very well said!
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Craig Winchell » Sun May 06, 2012 11:27 am

Interesting question, Gabe, and one where there is no easy answer. I think the comparison with Switzerland is erroneous because of Switzerland's unfavorable climate. It would be better to compare it to Greece for the similar Mediterranean climate. One could hypothesize that there would be similarities with surrounding Arab states were Islam not to have had an unfavorable influence upon wine drinking and production. But Islam does keep the states from Turkey to Egypt from becoming major players in this industry. Also coming into play is the chutzpah of the Israelis, to produce wine specifically for export rather than domestic consumption, as a means of exploiting a readily available Jewish market predisposed to a) buy Israeli whether Jews are religious or not, and b) predisposed to buy kosher if religious, with the growth of quality of Israeli kosher wines paralleling in timing that of the kosher wine market in general. Were it not for those 2 factors, Israel would have long ago packed it up. A third factor which has worked in its favor is the combination of lack of history producting indigenous wine styles, and comfort with the idea of utilizing technology. Had the area, like Italy, been subjected to hundreds or thousands of years developing indigenous local styles produced by family and community tradition, it would be spending its time defending and promoting those few rather than lightning-quick reaction to market forces, in the form of mimicking the popular wines of the day.

So it is realy not surprising at all that Israel is becoming a player in high quality kosher (and to a lesser extent nonkosher) wine. In fact, it is to be expected. The only question is whether it will continue, as the inevitable boom and bust periods of the market take their toll.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Gabriel Geller » Sun May 06, 2012 12:20 pm

Craig Winchell wrote:Interesting question, Gabe, and one where there is no easy answer. I think the comparison with Switzerland is erroneous because of Switzerland's unfavorable climate.

So it is realy not surprising at all that Israel is becoming a player in high quality kosher (and to a lesser extent nonkosher) wine. In fact, it is to be expected. The only question is whether it will continue, as the inevitable boom and bust periods of the market take their toll.

Hi Craig, shavua tov! The comparison was only for consumption and production rates, both countries have, if at all, very little in common indeed.

As to your question, whether will Israel continue or not to increase both production and quality of its wines, I've great confidence it will.

I'm able to notice that myself: the average Israeli is slowly (well, yeah, perhaps a little too slowly) becoming more and more interested into wine and looking for new, exciting and good stuff! As a matter of fact, a few Israeli guys here read our posts on this forum and mine in particular on a regular basis, some are even calling me once or twice a week just to chat about wine and exchange tips and advice.

The number of wine related websites in Hebrew just keep growing and so are the people here more and more subscribing to wine classes, attending wine tasting events. It's not just a fashion, it's a social evolution and Thank God for that! :D If I didn't believe in that myself I would have never become involved in this industry on a domestic level. Due to my relatively young age, I've not followed this industry for as long as Yossie Horwitz, David Raccah and certainly not Rogov zl or Adam Montefiore but I've been there for long enough to be able to state that. While in some European countries such as France or Switzerland where I grew up and received most of my (non-formal) wine education, the tendency is for a lower consumption and the focus moves toward less expensive wines, here it's the other way around.

A few years ago when you mentioned the price of a bottle as 50 shekels (about $15), most people were saying "wow that's crazy expensive! Why would you pay so much money for a bottle of wine?! I buy Carmel Selected, 5 bottles/100 shekels!". Today 50 shekels is considered by many if not most as inexpensive and you will start to "impress" someone with a price tag that would be not under 150 shekels or so. Putting money on good wine, enjoying wine in restaurants or at home at a dinner with friends on a regular weekday or with a good BBQ, is now becoming a common thing in Israel, even in a conservative city like Jerusalem. We're on the right path! :D
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Craig Winchell » Sun May 06, 2012 12:43 pm

So why is the average Israeli wine consumer spending so much money on a bottle of wine? Unlike your optimism, I tend to think of it as moderately tragic. The average Israeli has a somewhat lower standard of living than the average American, and tends to make less money. But necessities such as bread and milk and fermented dairy products tend to be subsidized, because people just cannot afford these basics without subsidies. But the cost of living at these reduced standards is far lower, so people don't seem to mind. Why, however, should they be spending their hard-earned money on luxuries like wine? Perhaps because wine is a more affordable luxury than some others (cars, beef, for instance). But why not save money so as to be able to afford higher-end luxuries? Perhaps higher than desirable inflation has a lot to do with that. But also, because the best strategy might be "Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow you will die!" I'm saddened by a society that would see consumption rather than saving. It's happening with young consumers here in the USA, and it's not a very optimistic philosophy.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Joshua London » Sun May 06, 2012 1:07 pm

Good discussion so far, and I'm pleased to hear that the Israeli wine culture is stronger than it used to be (and MUCH stronger than when I lived there in 1993-1994). That said, I think Craig is right about savings versus consumption. Diminished time horizons don’t necessarily indicate the philosophic approach he suggests, but overtime it can certainly create it and can certainly sustain and extend it. The consequences for a small and somewhat beleaguered nation like Israel can be far worse in the short-term than for a large, wealthy and culturally diverse nation like the United States. [Not that it has been a ride in the park here in the United States.]

Just to throw something small into the mix on the export sustainability front: I've heard consistently for the last 5 years or so from folks in the non-kosher US domestic wine trade that, from their perspective, Israeli wines are held back by several factors including:
(1) relative overpricing,
(2) political perceptions (re: conflict/occupation/apartheid),
(3) overall branding and, what I would paraphrase as, the "ethnic ghetto" of kosher -- not-necessarily the "stigma" of kosher (i.e., that it is "sweet and nasty") for while this is still prevalent in some quarters, this perception is fast fading, but the "ethnic ghetto" of kosher (i.e., it is only of interest to Jewish people for some religious or tribal identity thing).

So very few wine-bars or restaurants would even think to add an Israeli wine, and certainly there is almost zero expressed customer demand, but also that Israeli wine is generally relegated to the not so prominent "kosher shelf" (except where a known clientele/demand is present; and of course, only so much variety in Israeli wine will be put on that shelf unless the local market is responsive).

Most of the distribution and retail folks I've spoken with ignore issue #2, take for granted #3, and harp on #1; most of the restaurant and wine-bar folk focus on #1 and #2.

All of which suggests to me that the US market is likely to remain the Jewish market (I agree with Craig about the exploitation of this market, but keep in mind that this is willful too, and that so much of what this market does regarding Israel at the organized Jewish community level is also in part an exercise in willful exploitation).
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Craig Winchell » Mon May 07, 2012 10:21 am

I was hoping there would be more give and take on this topic, and that it wouldn't devolve to a conversation between me and Josh. But following through on his post, I find it difficult to believe that political considerations such as conflict/occupation/aparteid would have any real affect whatsoever, even with heavily consumer-oriented groups such as wine bar buyers. I would have thought it was more a matter of lack of a tradition of classic wine types that creates a real barrier to acceptance. That Israel is a Johnny-come-lately in the wine world cannot be denied, and perhaps timing is everything. The preponderance of "international-style" reds, all styles of which originated elsewhere, means there is no anchor, no style that Israel can call its own, forcing consumers to take it seriously. Its basic strength in reactivity is what I would have thought constitutes its major weakness, because it is little different than if Yugoslavia had developed a robust wine production after the fall of Communism, producing high quality wine which would add to an environment awash in wine. Such wines could gain a real market in low priced, high quality wine a la the Argentinian model, but otherwise would appeal largely to proud Yugoslavians living throughout the world. Even in the case of Australia, where concerted government effort led to branding throughout the world, largescale industry expansion and price inflation seems almost to have destroyed the Australian industry, even though the perception of both quality and distinctiveness remains.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Isaac C » Mon May 07, 2012 10:44 am

I would think that the biggest problem for the Israeli wines is that one can find so many wines of equal or better quality for much cheaper if they are not restricted to kosher, so why should stores, restaurants, or bars stock Israeli wines unless there is a specific demand for it? If I had to guess, of the few non-kosher restaurants or wine-bars that do stock any Israeli wines, most of them probably do it so that they can offer kosher/Israeli wines to Jewish customers who may like the idea of being able to drink "kosher wine" or support Israel. But that number is probably very very small.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Jonathan K » Mon May 07, 2012 12:18 pm

I agree with the reasons stated here as to what holds back the Israeli wine industry. It has been alluded to but a lack of an Israeli-specific varietal or at least a known varietal that produces something extremely unique when grown in Israel, significantly hinders growth of the industry to non- Jews.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Craig Winchell » Mon May 07, 2012 12:57 pm

So is Israel really an exceptional wine producing country, or just one with a favorable climate, tech savvy winemakers and a ready, though relatively small market? If the latter, can it avoid the pitfalls of overreaching, with potentially vicious boom and bust cycles and concentration of brands and sales into the hands of a few large producers (and one large marketing company)?
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Yossie Horwitz » Mon May 07, 2012 1:02 pm

Craig - if
favorable climate, tech savvy winemakers and a ready, though relatively small market
aren't substantial components in any Exceptional Wine Producing Country - what would be required to make Israel one?
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Joshua London » Mon May 07, 2012 1:51 pm

Glad to see more folks have jumped in.

Craig, I too would have thought the political considerations would not be all that significant, but in fact it is always one of the top three reasons given to me - especially when it comes to wine bars/restaurants. Keep in mind that this is hardly the result of a proper survey on my part, and for all I know this is as much the prejudice of the trade-folk conveying the data. What can I say, except, well, that's simply what I'm told (consistently over the last 5 years or so). I suspect that this factor is more significant in terms weeding Israel out of the list of competing bog-standard/internationalized wine options. Doubtless, the generally unfavorable price-point probably does this too, but I suspect for some there is additional value to moral posturing.

I think you are right about the lack of tradition being one of the issues, and I would agree that vibrant reactivity makes it difficult for folks not following closely to put their finger on "Israeli" wine as a type. Ont he other hand, speaking as one of those that watches Israeli wines closely, this reactivity keeps things interesting, at least casually so. The search for "terroir" or at least “authenticity” is more interesting, and has resulted in some excellent wines to date [like the Recanati Wild Carignan, Carmel Appellation Carignan Old Vines, Binyamina Reserve Carignan, etc.] -- but these may yet be little more than a blip.

Curious to see your response to Yossie.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Yossie Horwitz » Mon May 07, 2012 2:20 pm

While I agree that the political aspect somewhat hampers Israel's ability to market the wines on an international basis, the main factor is that Israeli wine is associated with kosher (the "ghetto" rather than "sweet" problem, as listed below). Given the substantially higher land and labor costs in Israel, I don't think Israel will ever be able to compete in the reasonably priced wine category that is ALSO mass-produced. As a result, its main interest to consumers who are not kosher-centric (I believe the market of pro-Israel supporters who are not also kosher centric and currently buy Israeli wines) will remain at the "curio" level for wines of interest like the Carignan wines Josh mentioned and the Mediterranean-like wines like Carmel's version of the Netofa blends. That said, I think Israel should do a better job of catering to the non-kosher pro-Israel as it is a potentially large market)
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby David Raccah » Mon May 07, 2012 2:24 pm

Israel for the kosher market is already feeling pressure with high prices, somewhat unreliable and unreproducible quality, from other countries and locals. In the non-kosher world, there is almost nothing pulling wine shops and restaurants to make large purchases of product! If you ever have the time, go to the Royal trade show and actually watch the reactions of the wine shop owners and sommeliers! They will mostly dislike the product and when they ask the price they are consistently, and not to the positive. Sure, there will always be the unique factor with Israel and its wine, but the repeat and large repeat buyers - is where the real effect is felt.

Sorry, as much as I love much of what Israel is doing, for the folks who have the ability to taste all and everything, Israel is a novelty. It has a few interesting and unique things going for it:

1) Unique blends that only Australia can match
2) A successful few wineries with worldwide appeal - that Royal and others are leaning on (e.g. Castel, Carmel - for high end, and maybe Flam)

Other than that, the wine world looks at Israel with eyes wide open, honest to the fault and brutal, which is fair. They look at Israel and ask, why Israel;? I have the rest of the world with world class product that is not sky high on prices and has the selection and uniqueness, and equally important, availability that Israel cannot match.

Even Royal is at a crossroads. They know well that their bread and butter comes from the religious community. However, they know their future lies outside of that and they need to find wines that compete completely on the non-kosher world stage.

Fun things to watch - that is for sure....
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby YoelA » Mon May 07, 2012 3:33 pm

I haven't been going to wine bars or tastings the way I used to, so have not had a chance to talk with people in the industry or others attending tastings. Consequently I can't comment on whether political factors play a part in this issue.

However, based on general knowledge of trends and the like, I'm inclined to agree with Isaac and David. People making up wine lists at restaurants, especially new ones, and wine bars, want to make a name for themselves and their place of business. Often they can (or at least try to) do this by assembling a list of unusual wines that they feel their customers will find interesting. This will be based on a decision as to exactly what approach they want to take. Some look for wines of new and interesting types or tastes, or from boutique wineries in unexpected places. Some look for wines that they feel will go well with certain types of foods (and there's often a lack of agreement among wine buyers as to which wines should go well with which foods) or with their chef's particular approach to the menu (and/or with his or her likes in wines).

All this requires some really good marketing to get these folks to taste the wines, e.g. Israeli wines, in the first place, in order to think about buying them, and I don't see that kind of marketing taking place here in the US. So I don't believe these folks have much exposure to Israeli wines to start with.

Then there are the less trendy, more established restaurants, who often rely on consultants to set up their wine lists, or on lists assembled by the distributors - and these will need some sort of incentive to promote Israeli wines ahead of those they have been promoting for some time. - or thoser in which they can make a better profit (see prices). Sometimes a type of wine takes off for a variety of reasons, e.g. Argentine malbec or torrontes or New Zealand sauvignon blanc or pinot noir - usually because it provides a pleasant tasting experience at a "reasonable" price - but Israeli wines for the most part don't do that, on either taste or price.

In addition, many of the non-kosher wines from "boutique" wineries in Israel are too high priced to catch anyone's attention. These wines often cost 80 - 120 shekels ($ 18 - 30) in Israel and more in the US. There are a lot of wines in that price category availoable here in the US, and a lot of effort to sell them, but no reason for anyone to particularly buy these Israeli wines here unless (a) they have had previous exposure to them or (b) they want to support Israel and the Israeli wine industry.

What Israel needs, and what some other countries have, is a wine marketing board that will market Israeli wines to the US market in an organized and intelligent way. No guarantee that this will succeed, but without some unified effort, marketing will continue on a haphazard basis, with reults that match. For example, wine writers only discuss Israeli wines at most twice a year - Pesach and Rosh Hashana. At most. So, again, no marketing of these wines to the general public (read non-Jews).

And note I haven't even gotten to any issues raised by kashrut considerations.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby David Raccah » Mon May 07, 2012 3:57 pm

Good point Yoel, though it will not be enough. Royal is trying to put together their Israeli wines into the IWPA, which is a conglomeration of the Israeli wines that they import. There is also the Israeli Wine Exporters that work on getting wine exported for all wineries in Israel, for a price of course! In the end, there is nothing in Israel like the Napa Valley Vintners: http://www.napavintners.com/about/ab_1_mission.aspx

The fact that Rober Mondavi is part of it and many others is what Israel is missing. Mondavi does NOT need the association, Napa Valley needs them. What Israel needs is a wholly encompassing association, kosher or NOT, that defines Israel - PERIOD. Still, even with that, the previously stated issues exist. Until quality overall improves, prices fall, and to some extent, marketing flourishes, Israel will continue to be scored poorly (ignoring the Ferrari wines) and the region will not sell.

Israel can sell well, some of the time, to the kosher market, but once it enters the world stage it is in a world of hurt - for now.

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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Yehoshua Werth » Mon May 07, 2012 5:18 pm

Amazing ..

How about looking for the wines that do work in each levels and focus our attention on wines that hold up price for quality on the Kosher Market that have worked outside the kosher market.

These wines I feel are very good Ex. in price point vs. Quality = to NON/Kosher Market-place.

2006 Carmel Kayoumi Shiraz was $40US and now $30 Decanter Gold Medal
2010 Recanati Yasmin Red/Whites $9 - $10 Just picked as best buy Robert Parker
2005 Hevron Heights Pardes $30 Many awards around the world
2009 Psagot Edom and for a 91-92 point wine by many different rating people $30 is not high..
2010 Yarden Odem Chardonnay for $18-$19.00 Organic and this good seems very solid.
2007 Tishbi Reserve Chardonnay. One of the Salesmen in the states was blind tasting stores side by side with Puligny Whites from France and the stores could not tell which was which at $23

These are only the first ones to come to mind.

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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby David Raccah » Mon May 07, 2012 6:33 pm

LOL!! As always Yehoshua you live in a world with blinder on, I swear how do you safely drive home? Go ahead get 30 of them, who cares? I can get you 30 from a single winery in a single region! Seriously, that is what I said above, which I guess you blindly ignored! There are a few QPR/super stars, not worthy of most wine stores of restaurants time. Remember, they have a business to sell wines, I as would guess you would know.

Man, sorry if this is a bit overhanded, but you need to get your hands off your happy juice and see the world with some realism.

Hoping you a good and successful day,
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Stacey B » Mon May 07, 2012 6:55 pm

David -This is a character assault. Yehoshua had mentioned some proven Israeli wines which compete fairly with wines of equal price , value and exceptional quality with those that are non-kosher and are outside of Israel. Perhaps you may want to re -read his post. I feel the tenor or your remarks though are over the top and insulting.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Craig Winchell » Mon May 07, 2012 8:06 pm

Yup, I'm inclined to agree that there's no need to attack someone just because of a disagreement of fact or opinion. I would really hate to think that we need a moderator to control what we can control by ourselves. Yehoshua has a different perspective, but ultimately we want the same thing- inexpensive, tasty wine we can drink, in this case kosher, since that's all the three of us can drink.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Alexander F » Mon May 07, 2012 8:15 pm

Indeed, no need to attack each other here. Getting back to original post, I think France grows more grape varieties than Israel and produces wider scope of wine styles. The style may differ even between the villages in the main region.
I also have doubts about success. Most of it was discussed above. Quality/price wise, I'd like to see local analogs (of any red varieties) of wines like Guigal, Cotes du Rhone at 5.20EU=26NIS, even at 30-35NIS that receive 90pts from RP, ST and other critics. Speaking of Alsace and other regions, Israeli wines often don't deliver the matching quality. Specifically, I didn't yet find Malbec as good as from Chili or Chardonnay as good as 1er or grand cru Chablis, Sangiovese is a joke compared to its better Italian brothers, none of the Rhone blends is even close to Cf du Pape wines, there is only Carmel Riesling that can stand near Alsace producers like Hugel, Zind, Pffafenheim etc etc. The horse power of the industry best wines is IMHO based on CS, Merlot and Shiraz. Focusing on producing those varieties in large scale and thus lower price would be great.

http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a201203152.html

There are many good wines and great wines produced and their number is growing, which is important. Perhaps the growing competition will lower the prices or improve quality of the lower segments.
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby David Raccah » Mon May 07, 2012 8:49 pm

Not an attack, what I tried to make clear, maybe in strong language, was that having 30 wines or 50 wines will not cut it.

1) Israel needs a large number, say 100 wines that score consistently at 90 or higher, that are below 30 dollars. Why? Because, you can get that from Bordeaux alone or from Cote Du Rhone, and many other places, let alone the entire Israel. Yes, of course Israel is smaller than just Bordeaux by a large margin, but to get respect, the region must consistently hit that QPR.

2) Israel needs to have 50 or more wines that consistently score 93/94/95 or higher and cost less than 50 bucks to 70 bucks, why - same as above.

That was what I said above, with a bit of extra hot sauce because the point continues to be lost inside the smoke screen of patriotism and personal marketing. I love Israel and its wines like anybody else here, I continually buy the wines, and write about the region more than anywhere else. In the end, what Israel needs will not be fixed here, but what can be fixed is for us and others to be REAL, and stop dreaming that because 7 wines off the top of one's head is good that it will make stores and restaurants buy Israel rather than the 100s of wine regions everywhere else in the world.

Please differentiate kosher form the real world. Kosher drinkers are like humans in an elevator, we are a captivated audience with not so many other places to go (that is for another thread). That is NOT the case for the rest of the world. I stated what I did because I have little patience for dreamy eyed idealism - please stay on topic and I will not lash out - :D

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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Yehoshua Werth » Mon May 07, 2012 9:03 pm

Awe the lore of our small world..

Very happy to have tasted 1970's Italian Wines, 1980's California Wines and happy to be now only drinking kosher.
Idealist Yes..

Truly think the world will see continual growth and like a Lebanese Arak, a Turkish Coffee, a Scotch Whiskey and a French Cognac; Israel with its massive growth of amazing grapes will show a bright star thru its wines as it does its technology and inovation.

Love be with everyones day and L'Chaim
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Re: Israel as an Exceptional Wine Producing Country?

Postby Craig Winchell » Mon May 07, 2012 9:18 pm

I must say that $30 for a bottle is high. For me, $20 for a bottle is high, and plenty like me have similar or lower disposable income (private schools and multiple kids, mortgages through the roof, etc.) In the nonkosher market, it is not unusual (although by no means commonplace) to find delicious $10-$15 bottles. Of course, one may need to purchase a case. $180 is a lot of money. For that, I'm not going to discuss nuance, or score, but the wine is going to be delicious. Indeed, Sara Bee, the kosher wine, is a mere fraction of that price, and is delicious. Let's see more in that price and deliciousness range, dry red, and I will be happy.
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Craig Winchell
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