By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)
(WINDSOR, ON) – Yes we are aware of the multitude of threats to Israel over the years. Kidnapped athletes, hijacked airplanes, rocket attacks on innocent civilians, bomb attacks at bus stations and nightclubs. The latest threat appears to be the potential nuclear capability of Iran. But as we move off politics into wine is there a threat to Israel as a producer of Kosher wines? It would, at least ostensibly, appear so.
I have seen Italian, South African, New Zealand, Spanish and French Kosher wines popping up as Passover approaches. I see this as Israeli wine under threat. Whether it is taken seriously by Israeli wine producers is difficult to determine without conversing with them and discussing the threat. Are the popping up of non Israeli Kosher wines a harmless threat like Iraqi Scud missiles or are they serious threats like Iranian nuclear warheads?
I can’t say unless we talk with Israeli wine producers but I venture to suggest unless there is Israeli investment in its non-Israeli competitors the wineries in Israel should be a bit worried. On the other hand if Israeli wineries are more concerned about producing world class wines as opposed to the best Kosher wines the threat of non-Israeli Kosher wines may be nothing but a figment of my imagination.
There can be no doubt about the quality of Israeli wines but can their “Kosher competitors” be taken seriously? Let’s take a look and see what some of the competition is up to. Not to spoil the conclusion but I am less than impressed to put matters politely.
This Spanish Kosher Cava has loads of bubbles. They are not tiny nor are they huge. You can tell from the word “go” just by looking at it you are not drinking champagne but that isn’t fatal as it’s made the same way champagne is and it’s much cheaper. Classic yeasty notes of freshly baked almond biscuits, lemon and lime with some good minerality. In all the fresh baked aroma there is a bit of a funk and earthiness which might take a bit of getting accustomed to as Cava is usually a bit crisper. Also the effervesce is somewhat demure considering the sharpness and bite of most Cavas. On the palate lots of toast with some asparagus sneaking in. Short finish. This seems out of synch with the traditional sharp and crisp Cava. (Castel d’ Olèrdola, Cava, Spain,KP 750 mL, $18.95,LCBO # 00267369, Windsor Square Rating 84/100).
If Spain can take a crack at Kosher wines well then France can too! This Syrah from the Rhone has a bit too much prune and stewed fruits on the nose although thankfully in the background blushing a bit is some vanilla and raspberry which creeps up and becomes the sweet spot of the wine. It gets a bit lost in mid palate and a bit too jammy and has certain candy cane elements. The finish is not big and unlike many Rhone wines made with Syrah no pepper and spice. On the palate good sour cherry, fig and vanilla. Not much complexity but not a turn off. Just another wine in a crowded wine world and atypical of a Rhone red. (Le Mourre De L’Isle, KP, 2010 A.C. Côtes du Rhône, Domaine de la Castre, Saint Hilaire D’Ozilhan, France, 750 mL,14%, $16.75, LCBO 00128124, Windsor Square Rating 82/100).
Matters are not improving much with an Italian Kosher Moscato which like the Spanish Cava above has some funkiness on the nose along with some caramel candy coated apples. But mostly it just smells like old wine spilt on the floor. On the palate not much better with weak apple notes. None of the apricot and peach notes one expects from a Moscato. It’s a “Mevushal” meaning it’s been pasteurized to a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit and considered a “higher level of Kosher” more often in Israel exported than consumed locally. It can be served by non-Jews and still be considered Kosher. This one is a dud and produced by some nameless numbered winery. ( Les Floréales Moscato, KP Mevushal, I.C.Q.R.F.490/Re, Italy, 750 mL,6%,$11.95, LCBO # 00272096,Windsor Square Rating 69/100.)
We move on to an Italian Kosher red from Tuscany. A powerful looking plummy fed colour suggests this might be a tannic palate buster. Unassuming cherry, coffee and choco notes with some juicy sour cherry lingering about suggestive of Sangiovese grapes. Pleasant enough but far from excellcento! Kit Kat chocolate on the palate with strong espresso notes and some dusty black cherries. The tannins give a pretty decent grip to the vino but it’s not as tannic as its colour might suggest. A short finish but a bit thick and slurry. Quaffable indeed. Memorable no. It has a certain utilitarian neutrality that just might suit a diverse Passover crowd of all ages. Unfortunately I do not score based on practical utilitarianism but if I did I might score this as “Passover Brilliant”. Its label suggests it’s bottled by an anonymous sounding “F.G. S.pA” suggestive of some nameless outfit. (Borgo Reale 2007 Toscano Rosso, IGT Toscano, Bottled by F.G. S.p.A, Diano D’Alba, Italia, KP Mevushal, $25.95,LCBO # 00218461, 13.5%, Windsor Square Rating 84/100). This is overpriced wine.
Let’s move on to a Kosher South African Chardonnay with a light gold colour and rather toasty on the nose. The oak obfuscates the apple pear aromas desperately trying to flash their personality. The end result is best described as a simple and low keyed smokey wine despite the oak on the palate and nose. Good acidity but not bracing. The finish is short. As the wine warms up there is an odd Baked Alaska note creeping in and give me a pleasing uniqueness like this but a nasty funkiness starts dominating the wine. Unfortunately there is very little chutzpah in mid palate. Once again an inoffensive wine ( if served cold enough) that might just make everyone content at Passover! (Backsberg 2011 Chardonnay, W.O. Paarl, South Africa, KP Mevushal, $17.75,LCBO #00156661, 13.5%, Windsor Square Rating 72/100). Contentment does not make great a wine. Again I think this wine is overpriced. Now it really didn’t help that the defective screwcap caused the bottle to slip out of my hands and crash to the floor leaving a spinning bottle and foaming funkish wine on my wood floors.
I am growing very weary of Mevushal wines. I have just about reached the end of my patience with a Mevushal Sauvignon Blanc. Personally I am no great fan of Sauvignon Blanc but I admire its wonderful tropical aromas when made correctly in South Island New Zealand. Instead I get old maple syrup that has been sitting in a pile of dirty dishes in some frat house. Cat urine on the palate with cooked cabbage and apple cider vinegar. I can’t go on with further descriptions on this. I can’t even be sure this is wine or fruit juice that has been sitting cooking in some tanker truck caught in a heat wave waiting for a ferry that will never come as the union of sailors has called a strike! ( Goose Bay South Island 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Spencer Hill Estate, Nelson, New Zealand, KP Mevushal, $19.95, LCBO # 00028134, 13.%, UNRATED BY WINDSOR SQUARE). I am returning this to the LCBO. Swill.
Given these Kosher wines I think it is safe to say Israel is safe for the moment. The competition appears to be floundering!