By Yossie Horwitz
Over the last few years, a common theme I’ve heard from my readers is that kosher wine prices have gotten too high, with the rate of increases no longer justifiable. While the COVID-driven supply chain issues impacting the pricing of goods globally can claim some responsibility in this regard, the issues started long before the ongoing pandemic (or endemic) and are far more attributable to factors relating to the kosher wine market than the inconsistency or unavailability of truck drivers or cargo ships.
In addition to general inflation and global economics, the primary driver of upward cost is the ongoing explosion of interest in quality wines among mainstream kosher consumers, including those who, for years, were content to imbibe wines more akin to alcoholic soda than true table wines—such as the Bartenura Moscato d’Asti—and have recently begun to dip their toes into the quality kosher wine market.
I recall not long ago when $100 was a near-taboo price point for wines, with very few readily available commercially made wines carrying that tag, and any such wine was expected to be truly magnificent along with some real cellaring potential. Since its 1990 inaugural launch, the Golan Heights Winery’s flagship Katzrin was the standard bearer for the $100 kosher wine.
The winery has turned out truly special wines every few years since then, accompanied by a handful of French wines curated by smaller producers and targeted towards a very narrow wealthy crowd able to enjoy such luxuries. French wines tend to cost more than Israeli for several reasons, including the exorbitant cost to make kosher wine in locales far from communities in which Shabbat-observant workers are readily available.
But during the world’s recovery from the Great Recession in 2009, mainstream kosher consumers started to express a growing interest in and appreciation of quality kosher wines. Consumers then began to show a willingness to spend for quality and exclusivity, and prices started to move in accordance with what the market could bear, with the former $100 benchmark rapidly moving closer to $150 and higher in recent years.
There has begun a proliferation of such wines from many wineries. In some cases, wineries perceive a need to offer an uber-premium wine in the $100 range, (similar to the need each winery feels to offer a rosé, regardless of whether it makes any professional sense to do so) and others simply want a piece of this lucrative market. Regardless, while hurting the wallet, oenophiles benefit from the growing proliferation of wines in genres and from wine-growing regions whose previous offerings were paltry at best.
This new willingness to spend has provided producers with the incentive to reach higher. One example of this is the return of a kosher version of Château Pontet-Canet, whose 2003 kosher vintage has long been considered by the kosher wine cognoscenti as one of the world’s best kosher wines ever produced. Doing so properly required building a complete-yet-miniscule kosher winery on premises, enabling the kosher version to be produced in the same manner as the non-kosher run from a winery that has achieved near-cult status in recent years.
These efforts make the then-pioneering efforts to ensure that the 2015 Château Leoville-Poyferre contained the exact same blend as its non-kosher sibling seem quaint by comparison. Other examples include the confidence to produce an ever-increasing portfolio of ranked Cru-Classe Bordeaux and small-batch productions of quality Burgundies in amounts never seen before on the kosher market.
With consumers jostling over small batch and highly allocated productions, we have seen the upper-tier price point rise from the now-laughable $100 to over $250 a bottle, with no end in sight. And it isn’t only the French producers. A number of additional wines reaching this upper echelon of quality (and accompanying pricing) hail from California, including the Marciano Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Herzog’s Generation IX Cabernet Sauvignon from the acclaimed Stags Leap vineyard.
Another area in which we are seeing some great leaps forward is Italy where the [the Tassi Brunello] recently achieved a 97 point rating from James Suckling (while I place little value in scores generally, kosher wines placing this high is reflective of our little world’s growing stature among the general wine public), and in Spain, where Elvi Wines, long a champion in the affordable wine space, produced a super-premium this year from Clos Mesorah in the form of the 2016 Sublim. However French continues to rule this perch with Chateau Pape-Clement, Smith Haut Laffite and recent productions of the acclaimed Le Dome and Pontet Labrie from Chateau Teyssier.
While red wines tend to garner more attention and higher price tags due to their popularity and increased costs to produce, the long-neglected (among kosher consumers) white wine genre is also finally starting to get some serious love at the higher end. It wasn’t long ago that an excellent bottle of viognier from Israel’s Yatir Winery languished on the shelves due to its $40 price tag, a hard-to-believe occurrence given the excellent white wines being purchased in droves these days by discerning customers.
Some of these wines include the newly available white blend from Chateau Malartic (arguably the best kosher white wine produced this year), along with two uber-premium sauvignon blanc wines—one from Covenant Winery under their flagship Solomon label and the other from Marciano Winery under their flagship Marciano Estate Label. We have also been blessed this year with two Meursault wines (one from Liquid Kosher’s Andrew Breskin and the one from Ralph Madeb of M&M Imports) returning to a well-missed genre which hasn’t been around since the 2004 vintages.
So where does all that leave the regular folks who prize high quality wine, are upset by the continued proliferation of maddingly mediocre overpriced wines, but are unable to drink Marciano Estate or Pontet Canet on anything like a remotely regular basis (or ever)? Thankfully some countries are holding the line, and while we have seen some supremely pricey reds coming from Italy and Spain, those two countries continue to be the standard bearers for wines providing supreme QPR (quality price ratio). And for that, dear reader, please read my accompanying article, “Better Wines for Less.”