A tribute to the legendary Daniel Rogov including a review of the Mosby Kosher Plum Brandy Slivovitz.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week September 21, 2011
The wine world has sadly become a little less interesting with the recent passing of Israel’s preeminent wine critic Daniel Rogov earlier this month. Rogov (as he preferred to be called) arrived on the Israeli wine scene just as there was a growing interest in quality improvement.
As the wine and food writer for Ha’aretz since 1984, his encyclopedic knowledge and erudite journalism is credited as a primary reason Israeli wines have gotten so much better. A contributor to several international wine publications and as the only foreign wine critic with his own show on French television, Rogov was also greatly responsible for advancing Israeli wines in Europe and the US. Both his “Guide to Israeli Wines” and “Guide to Kosher Wines” were the essential handbooks for anyone interested in these subjects.
Intensely private about his personal life (“Rogov” was a pseudonym), he was otherwise extraordinarily generous with his time, wisdom and experience. An unabashed smoker and epicure, Rogov had the unusual ability to be critical while being kind, recognizing that the faults he perceived were in the wine and not in the winemaker. His modesty, warmth, hard work and intellectual honesty along with his beautifully written prose will be greatly missed.
Rogov moved to Israel the year the first really good Israeli wine was made; the 1976 Carmel Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Therefore it seems almost poetic that one of the last wines Rogov reviewed was also from Carmel. He described the Carmel Mediterranean 2008, a blend of Carignan, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Malbec and Viognier as “gentle and elegant.” Perfect words that also describe the person who wrote them. May his memory be for a blessing.
Spirits-wise, our thoughts drifted to an opinion poll Rogov once took of his online wine-board devotees: does whisky “match well with the majority of foods on which we normally dine?”
His own answer was: “a resounding no.” As he put it “whiskey, like Cognac, Armagnac, [and] Calvados, is far too alcoholic and too dominant in flavors and aromas to match well with food.”
He lost us at “no,” but offered some common ground when he went on to enumerate finger-food exceptions: “snacking say on sushi, falafel (not as a sandwich but as a finger food), deep-fried keftedes, and other finger foods accompanied by a piquant or even hot sauce … . Also perhaps with a platter of sharp cheeses – and once again, with apologies to none, those cut in bite-sized cubes and eaten with the fingers.” Sounds like a solid, if eclectic, array of kiddush foods to us.
Never too far from his Jewish roots, Rogov added: “Another rare exception for me for hard whisky or brandy with food might be Slivovitz with gefilte fish (with quite hot horseradish). Oh yes, in honor of my paternal grandfather, Slivovitz with pickled or matjas herring.” Slivovitz is simply plum brandy, and is something of an acquired taste, though perhaps this is also true of most pickled herrings. Rogov was fond of both, particularly when waxing eloquent and nostalgic over his pre-Israeli Jewish culinary experiences. Unlike herring, however, most of the widely available kosher Slivovitz leaves quite a bit more to be desired.
This is understandable. Most of the market for Slivovitz in this country was poor, blue-collar immigrants from Yugoslavia, Hungary, and other Central European countries. When these folks drank, they were serious. They wanted sliv that eased their troubles, as cheaply as possible. This, it most certainly will do … after a fashion. Among many Jewish immigrants from Central Europe, Slivovitz was simply the spirit most familiar, and so kosher and kosher for Passover versions were available soon after Prohibition, and widely available after World War II.
Today, much of the demand for Slivovitz remains among these immigrants and their descendants, and the occasional Jewish twinge of nostalgia for what was drunk in the “old days” if not exactly in the “old country.”
Thankfully, there is a new, decidedly well-made Slivovitz out there: Mosby Kosher Plum Brandy Slivovitz ($55; only 86.6 percent proof). Back in 2008, a small but respected wine and spirits producer named Bill Mosby met Jonathan Hajdu and Gabriel Weiss, two kosher winemakers who have worked extensively with Herzog Wine Cellars, Covenant and other kosher wine producers. Mosby had been making eau-de-vie from raspberries, strawberries, plums, grapes, and the like for years, but wanted to try his hand at a kosher run of Slivovitz. Hajdu and Weiss had already begun making their own kosher wines under the supervision of a local Orthodox Rabbi named Yonah Bookstein who, as it happened, had been pining for really good kosher Slivovitz ever since ending his sojourn in Warsaw, where he had access to handcrafted kosher Slivovitz from Budapest.
As Rabbi Bookstein eloquently put it in one blog entry: “Hand-crafted Slivovitz is unlike vodka is every way. It is delightfully aromatic, bathing your mouth in ripe plum essence. It rolls down the back of your throat without a burn. You can drink it at room temp or cold, without a chaser, mixer, or anything else to divert your taste buds from the experience … I made a promise to myself that someday I would make a real slivovitz like we used to drink back in the old country.”L’chaim.