May 25, 2024
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The Kosher Wine World: Wine Prices and What Is Up With Cabernet?

In one of my in-store tastings, I asked a gentleman to try a wine, priced about $20, to which he responded, “It’s all a scam, all wines taste the same.” He said it with such conviction, that I had to stop and doubt myself, “Wait, do they all really taste the same?”

This might shock the readers, but the gentleman was not totally incorrect. For him, those $70 wines taste a lot like the $15 dollar wines.

Until two years ago, in secret, I felt the same way about single malts. I could not tell the difference between entry level scotches and expensive ones. I once had the opportunity to try a 30-year-old Macallan, a $3,000 bottle. Yes, let that sink in. $3,000 dollars! (In Congo, the yearly average salary is $1,092, so next time you purchase a 30-year Macallan, in fact you are depriving three years of food from a household in Congo.) But back to our story: the 30-year-old whisky did not impress me—why would it? Up until that time the only scotch I tried was what was available at kiddush. While trying it, the thought did cross my mind: “Maybe this is a scam?!”

Let me start by saying, however, it’s not a scam. Quality wine (or more expensive wine) does not taste like ten dollar wines. For those who have not tried those other wines, they might not be able to distinguish the difference, but as people experience different wines, the difference becomes obvious. But first let me answer the question of what makes wine expensive, or what goes into the price of wine. Basically, the cost of grapes, plus the time they age in barrels. Therefore, wines that ferment in stainless steel tanks, and are bottled quickly after that, will be much cheaper than wines that age in oak barrels for a year or two.

There is a third reason for the high price of a wine, and that’s “because they can!” You are paying for a brand name, label appellation (Bordeaux, Champagne, Napa), and other marketing gimmicks.

Regarding the price of grapes (or fruit, as we call it in the industry): I started producing wine about 10 years ago, and one thing I learned very quickly, is that wine quality is based mostly (and by mostly I mean 90%) on the fruit quality. Come to think about it, like many other things; good steak depends on the quality of meat, rather than the chef, and so on. The most important aspect of the Twin Suns production, which Shimon, Gabriel, Larissa and I spend a lot of time on, is finding the best possible fruit. It’s a continuous discussion the four of us have throughout the year, talking to different grape growers and brokers. We don’t always agree, but the discussions are extremely productive and focus on fruit and wine quality only.

So, back to the gentleman who refrained from trying a $20 wine, why should we pay more for wine? I personally started learning about wine very late in my life. At the age of 28 I bought my first wine book and I bought five bottles of wine. My life was never the same again. Shabbat was not the same again, social gatherings were not the same again, shopping was not the same again, but most important—food was not the same again.

What is the main purpose of wine? Let me tell you a secret. No, it’s not to show off to your friends, or to find another reason to be a snob. The main function of wine is to complement the food which is served. Sommeliers learn for years about wine and go through hell and back to receive the certification, for the sole reason of pairing wine with food for its customers.

Which brings me to one of my biggest pet-peeves in the kosher wine industry. What is up with all those darn Cabernets? What do you pair your meat with? Cabernet. What do you pair your chicken with? Cabernet. What do you pair your pasta with? Cabernet. What do you pair your salad with? Cabernet? Really? I mean, come on!

My fellow Jews, please, next time, you pick up a bottle of wine, pick anything other than Cabernet. Let’s do a small exercise, decide what you will have for Shabbat or chag meal, and search what wine will pair with that meal. I promise it will change your life.

At the beginning of the year, Shimon and Gabriel Weiss released two Special Editions of Twin Suns, 200 cases each of Napa Cab and Mourvèdre. Both were extraordinary wines, with many similarities. Big, fruity, explosive, and both were sold for $37, a very fair price for such high quality. It took the Cab about four weeks to run out of inventory, outselling the Mourvèdre 5 to 1, yes you guessed it, because it said Cabernet on the label.

So, what is the lesson here? Try new wine! Red, white, rosé—it does not matter. Enjoy the subtle differences between them, pair your wine to complement your food, enjoy your Shabbat and Chag more.

The Gemara (Taanit) tells us that “Shmuel says, ‘Whoever denies himself pleasures is called a sinner”. If I understand this correctly, Shmuel says that drinking Twin Suns Special Edition Mourvèdre is a mitzvah.

Ami Nahari is CEO of The River Wine, which makes and distributes California’s Twin Suns wines, with Shirah’s Shimon and Gabriel Weiss as winemakers. The winery is named for Ami and Larissa’s “twin sons.” The River also distributes Tishbi, Bravdo, Shirah, and many other kosher wines.

By Ami Nahari

 

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