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DavidRhodes / wine / Daniel Rogov: Taste
Daniel Rogov: Taste
In going from winery to winery, wine event to wine event and talking to winemakers, employees and wine customers in Israel, one of the names that frequently comes up in conversation about wine is food and wine critic Daniel Rogov. His critiques in Israel pick apart the idiosyncracies of a restaurant's food, service and atmosphere with high praise, mixed feelings or maybe just desserts for the restuarants efforts or offenses. His wine reviews analyze the complexity, balance and expressiveness of a wine (or the lack there of) and describe a profile of flavors one might expect if they bother to take the time to savor and not gulp down their next glass or two. Every Wednesday, readers of the English version of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz (Tuesday in the Hebrew edition) can read his wine reviews. Every Thursday, they can read a resteraunt review. Since Haaretz is the Israeli affiliate of the New York Times (the International Herald Tribune), these articles can have widespread impact.
As Israeli wines and even it's restaurant scene have improved dramatically it's only natural that his reputation and stature have improved as well. It's almost as if you were selling people on Yugo's and Yugo's all of a sudden (or over 25 years) started to make a product that competed with BMW and Infiniti, they're bound to take someone more seriously or even just take more notice of the guy who was speaking about the potential of Yugo's all along. Not that his reputation has depended strictly on the performance of Israeli wines, he also has a small apartment in Paris and Florence that allows him to travel and write about European wines for other publications. As much as he's tied to Israel, he grew up speaking Russian, English and Yiddush, three languages not too uncommon for a kid being raised in the 40's in Brooklyn, New York.
Daniel Rogov at a cafe on Basel Street in Tel Aviv
Having moved to Israel, Christmas Day, 1976 he got to Israel well before the wine revolution started in Israel. He started to write about food and wine in Europe before starting to write in Israel in 1982 (just as vintages were being picked would find their way into game changing Golan Heights wines and soon after Tishbi wines). These two wineries started the dry wine revolution against kiddush wine and insepid bulk wine that then dominated the Israeli wine marketplace.
So, he has much perspective about Israeli wines as almost anyone having tasted each of these wineries evolve, older wineries revamp and newer wineries emerge. Yet, he's a very controversal figure in Israeli wine. Why, well to start he's a critic and critics give their opinions and the better the critic the more opinionated they might be.
Now opinions are subjubctive in nature even if some criticisms are more fact based than others. But additionally, the taste of food and wine is subjective as well, and rating the service or atmosphere of a restaurant maybe even more so. Having expressed his opinion thousands of times over almost three decades he's had the opportunity to engender praise and gratitude for positive reviews as well as scorn and antipathy for negative reviews. After 27 years he might even have several genrations of families who love him or hate him but if you're in either the restuarant or wine business it's diffcult to ignore his influence.
That being said, I have had the recent opportunity to debate Daniel Rogov on a few issues on another site about various issues about Israeli wines. It shouldn't have come to my surprise that he, like me, has a background in philosophy. Criticism is actually, like logic, a common theme in philosophy and our arguments online were poignant yet often dialectic. I can't say if either of us ever convinced the other of our views but we drew a lot of other parties into the discussions and at least brokered some debates that were interesting to follow and participate in (one was about the quality and perceived quality of mevushal wines and another was about whether a site promoting Israeli wines or Israeli wine writers should review Lebanese wines since they've been at a continuos state of war with Israel since 1948). I won't say who was on what side and how the discussion played out (so as not to rekindle the same debate) but the views others brought to it and their reasons were as much as interest to me as of Rogov's and mine but it's his participation in debating the merits of food and wine issues that gives a certain gravitas and magnitude to these discussions for his articles in newsprint cause people to stand up and take notice. Agree with him or not, I don't think Robert Parker is spending the time online engaging his readers the way Rogov does.
With my only contact at this point with Rogov (as he often signs his correspondance) being online, it was a result of a cancelled meeting one day in Tel Aviv recently that I followed up on an opportunity to meet this iconic figure in Israeli food and wine. We met at a local coffee shop on Basel Street (or Bazel Street... Tel Aviv maps and street signs are infamous for having multiple inconsistent English spellings of the same street on different street signs... I think Ibn Givrol might be the worst offender). Of course he preferred sitting outside, he's a reknown smoker (more about that later) though it was a dripping hot sticky humid summer day. We sat for about an hour with Rogov interviewing me at first as much as I interviewed him.
Daniel Rogov and David Rhodes at a coffee shop in Tel Aviv: Where's the wine at?
Although he is incredibly active on various internet sites, he says it's disturbing how anonymous some people remain in discussion forums and how cowardly it is to attack others who post their real identity while the attackers often hide behind screen names. So I guess, the fact that I not only posted my name and my contact information and that in our online discussions/debates my opinions may have seemed less based on conjecture than others, he agreed it would be good to put a face to who we were talking to online.
Now that being said, I was inately curious about how the meeting might progress. I had mentioned to him about how I had wanted to interview him for this site but I thought by our discussion on the phone it might be a pre-interview introduction more than anything else. Yet, the casual get together quickly gave way to the give and take of an interview and he was very careful to say what was on the record and what was not for publication. He often would interject with personal antecdotes that made for a quicker sense of familarlarity than otherwise might have happened at our first meeting and made for a less stuffy start to my afternoon.
Rogov has a certain charm about him that is disarming even though he can't seem or doesn't care to censor his comments for affect on how it might offend others. For instance, when I made contact with him and I asked him where he lived, he repsonded with "the Holy City", (then a pregnant pause) Tel Aviv. Now I thought it was funny but he didn't know me and I could see how it could offend others the wrong way and maybe as someone who's been a critic for decades his work and habits of expressing comments and opinions have given him a poetic license to always say what's on his mind. Friends of mine may say that I might exhibit a similar trait but maybe that's why writers need editors. In fact, some of his most vocal critics seem to be religious Jews living in Israel who wished he would refrain from reviewing non-kosher wines and non-kosher restaurants. Maybe his new book about strictly, the best kosher wines in the world will be seen as an act of contrition to the kosher consumer. With over 1300 kosher wineries in the world (there's only about 2-300 Israeli wineries many of them which are non-kosher) writng about world-wide kosher wineries might be even a more daunting task than writing exclusively about Israeli wines and Rogov does propose that he has probably tasted more kosher wines than anyone else in the world.
Now with only an hour or so for our first meeting (and I hope one day I'll be able to sit and actually drink wine with him instead of meeting over coffee) there was a lot of questions left unasked for another day but Rogov was good at cutting to the chase. In explaining what he saw as the role of the critic, he asserted that a critic should write "what you percieve as the truth." This opened up to the disclaimer that "...critics are not always right. We make mistakes. We're human". Yet, he proclaimed his "only boss is the readers" of what he writes.
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David Rhodes worked at wineries in California & Israel, hosted over 100 wine parties.as a sommelier & adviser for the SDSU Business of Wine program. He speaks weekly about wine on Rustymikeradio.com & writes for ESRA magazine. Israeliwineguy@gmail.com