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Cellar Defenders and Hidden Gems: Better Wines for Less

By Yossie Horwitz

Kosher wine consumers in the know, like regular readers of my newsletter, have long been aware of a subcategory of wines able to provide great bang for the buck while also remaining relatively affordable. These are wines perceived to provide very good value for their price tag, with the phrase “high QPR” as a well-meaning yet misleading acronym for “quality price ratio.”

While a literal interpretation of the moniker would include expensive wines as well, provided they are worth such a high price, the characterization is most often used to describe entry-level priced wines that punch significantly above their weight(price tag).

When I write about these wines I often describe them as “cellar defenders” (wines that help “protect” cellar-aging wines from being consumed too early by a desire for quality wines on a regular basis), “hidden gems” (wines hiding in plain sight, among a slew of similarly priced wines of far lower quality for their series/label) or even as a “case for everyday drinking” (and part of my near annual lists of a baker’s dozen wines, all sufficiently well-priced to be enjoyed as a daily tipple).

Finding such proverbial wheat among the proliferation of near-dreck chaff, has long been among my greatest pleasures as a wine writer catering to the mainstream budding kosher wine consumer.

Historically, the unfortunate reality was that the chaff significantly outweighed the wheat in this regard, with a pretty small number of wines fulfilling this very important niche. The list included Galil Mountain’s Yiron, the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon from the Golan Heights Winery and the Peraj Petita from Spain’s Capcanes Winery.

Other hidden gems could be found among the entry-level Baron Herzog or Barkan Classic series.

In addition to specific producers known for producing high-QPR wines like those above, and wines sourced from affordable wine-growing regions, a good source for better value wines are those made from lesser known or appreciated grape varieties (often referred to under its other name of “any variety not called cabernet sauvignon”).

Look for varieties like merlot (often priced lower than its cabernet sauvignon sibling within the same series), pinot noir, petite sirah, cabernet franc, zinfandel and riesling. The consumer preference for other wines helps keep prices lower for these “esoteric” varietals, while the winery’s inability to market a higher-end version created a qualitative arbitrage for these varieties in the lower-priced series.

As the number of kosher wines on the market exploded to more than 5,000 different wines annually, the amount of chaff has correspondingly increased as well. However, the good news is that we have also been blessed with a growing number of these high-QPR wines, including from traditional and less unexpected sources.

The wide range of affordable wines from regions like Spain and Italy is to be expected. In Spain, Elvi Wines is leading the charge across a broad spectrum of appellations and price points; there is also the recently released—and very non-kosher looking—Bodegas Faustino Rioja. In Italy, Terra di Seta reigns as QPR king across its entire portfolio, accompanied by a number of wines from Cantina Giuliano; and the wines imported by Brooklyn-based M&M Imports provide a number of attractive options too. There has also been a recent and pleasantly surprising explosion of affordable high-QPR French wines. These include Chateau Larcis Jaumut, Castelbruck, Cantaloupe and Forcas Dupree

Israel also has a number of producers with a wide range of high-QPR wines including Recanati and Dalton, with Domaine Netofa recently moving into that space as their U.S. pricing was recently adjusted to a more reasonable range.

With white wines generally costing less to produce than their darker-colored brethren (less use of expensive oak barrels and quicker time to market, which reduces the carrying cost) and continuing to be less popular in the market, they provide a fertile ground for high-QPR wines as well.

This has been a boon to white wine lovers such as myself, allowing us to acquire higher-end wines for lower prices. While their popularity continues to grow, it still lags well behind that of red wines among kosher wine consumers, a trend I hope continues to evolve given the amazing white wines available today.

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