Wine Talk: A rogue and a scholar

A critic who set new standards for wine and culinary discourse in Israel, the late Daniel Rogov will be remembered for his exuberance and his expertise.

By
September 18, 2011 15:24
Daniel Rogov

Daniel Rogov 311. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz)

 
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Ifirst met Daniel Rogov in 1990 when he was writing for The Jerusalem Post. In those days I considered him primarily a food writer rather than a critic, and his writing was full of anecdotal, historical references. In a way, he was showing Israelis that food and wine were not subjects that entailed just eating and drinking but that they could be discussed, talked about and debated. It was, in a sense, an introduction to European-style culinary culture and gastronomy.

Gradually he evolved from being a food writer to being a critic. He became the leading restaurant critic in the country, exhibiting professionalism, knowledge, curiosity and passion. He was not just interested in the food at a given restaurant but also in the ambiance, the background and vision of the chef and the quality of the service. And, all the while, he was educating Israelis about the total restaurant experience.

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Later, he became more a wine critic. He brought the scoring system of 100 points to Israel and kept a massive database of wine scores, which he managed to maintain, even as the number of wineries and wines grew year by year.

He set high international standards for Israeli wine. However, when the wineries started producing what he considered international and world-class wines, Rogov was quick to reward them with high scores. Sometimes he was criticized for giving too-high scores, but he was a patriot as well as a critic and was biased in favor of his own country.

As Israel began to gain international third-party credit for the quality of its wines, so Rogov’s stock rose.

He became a brand as important as any in the wine industry and was credited abroad as being the voice of the Israeli wine renaissance.

He also wrote several books. Initially they were about food and then later focused on wine. Some foodies may remember the fun, irreverent The Rogue’s Guide to Israeli Cuisine, among others. His last book on food was Rogov at his best: Rogues, Writers & Whores: Dining with the Rich & Infamous. This was a gastronomic commentary on the opulent and outrageous by the master storyteller.

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It was his wine books that earned Rogov international fame. Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines was first published in the autumn of 2004. This book has reappeared annually seven times. I have found it abroad in the most unlikely places, often representing Israel where Israeli wines were not on the shelves of local wine shops. As such, he became a wonderful and effective wine ambassador for Israeli wines.

He diligently visited the large, medium and small wineries every year without fail. When he visited wineries, the comments about the coffee could be as biting as the reviews of wine. The person changing ashtrays was likely to be the busiest person. However, tastings were conducted in silence, the winemaker was listened to without interruption, and Rogov would write notes in tiny scrawl that only he could decipher. He was bringing the standards of the international wine critic to Israel.

Rogov had a guru-like following among his readers. I remember hosting Californian winemaker Robert Mondavi with Rogov at the Tapuah Zahav restaurant in Tel Aviv in 1995. At the next table we watched a man unfold a grubby, torn copy of a newspaper article.

He then ordered the exact meal that Rogov had reviewed. Even on a recent visit to my local supermarket, I saw someone with Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines in hand, checking reviews as he perused the wine shelves.

In the early years, Rogov was chastised by Jerusalem Post readers for reviewing non-kosher restaurants. He would argue that restaurant reviews for an international newspaper had to cover all views and tastes. Yet ironically, his Wine Discussion Forum gradually became the province of kosher wine drinkers from all over the world, who regarded him with the reverence of a hassidic wine rebbe.

Daniel Rogov was charming in an oldworld sort of way but always charismatic.

Even the most casual conversation was intellectually stimulating, entertaining and informative. Poised with the everpresent cigarette in one hand and a cup of strong coffee in the other, he would relish a discussion or debate and would always be ready with a story to cover any situation. He was a raconteur par excellence, and he only needed an audience of one to perform.

Within Israel, Rogov set new standards for wine and culinary discourse. His writing created the new aspirational standards, his reviews were a commentary on the progress, and then he faithfully reflected the wine and culinary revolutions that took place.

Rogov’s real name was David Joroff. In essence he was quiet, extraordinarily private and quite humble individual. I always felt privileged to be able to call him David.

The public persona of Daniel Rogov was his alter ego. Daniel Rogov was a giant who will be remembered as an integral part of the wine and food revolutions in Israel. As for David, the person and friend, I miss him terribly.

Adam Montefiore works for the Carmel Winery. He regularly writes about wine in international and Israeli publications.

adam@carmelwines.co.il

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