A Wine Critic Felled Before His Time


‘Cher Colleague.”

With those two mere words Daniel Rogov, the critic who helped shape Israel’s wine revolution, had welcomed me to the fraternity of wine writers — and told me that he wanted me to buy him dinner.

When I started writing the “Fruit of the Vine” column in this newspaper more than six years ago, Rogov became my mentor, patiently answering all of my questions, and teaching me all the minutiae I needed to know in order to be a proper wine critic. A few days after my first column was published, Rogov, who died of cancer last week in Tel Aviv, sent me an e-mail with the subject: “Cher Colleague.”

In the note he explained that “in the French and Swiss universities, when a person receives his/her first academic appointment, that person is under obligation to buy a fine dinner for the first of the professors on staff who greets him/her as ‘cher/e colleague.’” (Although whenever we dined together thereafter, he never once let me pick up the check.)

Rogov, who was in his 70s when he died on Sept. 7, had been Israel’s leading food and wine critic. He was a prolific author who, in addition to writing a regular wine column in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, had written numerous books on food, tourism and, of course, wine.

While I had known that Rogov had been suffering from cancer, and did not have very much time left, his death was nevertheless a shock. As I read the e-mail informing me of his passing, I was reminded of James Boswell’s comments, in his “Life of Johnson,” on the death of famed actor and playwright David Garrick, noting that his death was “striking” because “there was a vivacity in our late celebrated friend which drove away the thoughts of death from any association with him.”

Like Garrick, Rogov was imbued with this rare sort of vivacity.

A week before his death, he was treated to a celebratory tribute in his honor attended by hundreds of Israel’s leading food-and-wine professionals and fans at a Tel Aviv hotel.

At the tribute’s end, to the sounds of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way,” the principals of the Israeli wine world “lined up, like at the entrance to a wedding, to hug, kiss and convey the love and affection they felt for a very special man,” the Israel Wines-Pride of Israel (www.wines-israel.co.il/len/) blog wrote in a detailed report on the event posted four days before Rogov died. “Thank you Daniel Rogov for all you have done for Israeli wine and food. Thank you for being the great personality you are. You have had a great effect on the Israeli wine industry in particular, and your knowledge, love of wine and humor has touched wine lovers everywhere,” the post concluded.

Daniel Rogov, whose given name was David Joroff, was born in the small Belorussian city of Mogilev, in the mid-1930s. While he was still a very young child, his family, fearing the oncoming war, immigrated to the United States. Their papers only got them as far as Mexico, so the family crossed into the United States illegally. Rogov, once told me he was proud to be able to call himself a “wetback.”

The Joroffs settled, and prospered, in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, where the young Rogov developed a lifelong love for egg creams and Coney Island hotdogs, and where he also developed his strong, lifelong Brooklyn accent.

After finishing high school, Rogov moved to Paris, and that city of lights was to become one of the great loves of his life. Rogov was a great raconteur, and many of his anecdotes took place in Paris. From speaking of the cafés and museums, to telling the story of how he and a girlfriend had lived in a room above a once famous brothel — whose prostitutes would dote on the young couple living above them — there was always an intensity about him when he spoke of Paris.

In 1976 Rogov moved from Paris to Tel Aviv, and one of the first people he met there was Rahel, the woman who was to become his wife of more than 30 years.
While in Paris, Rogov, had started writing about food and wine for American magazines and newspapers. When he moved to Israel, he continued to write about food and wine, first for the Jerusalem Post and later for Haaretz. As a wine critic his move to Israel was very timely, for it was at a juncture when the then-handful of Israeli wineries were looking to expand beyond merely making sweet, sacramental wines. As a critic, Rogov helped shape Israel’s wine revolution, and helped convince the world that Israel had started to produce good wines that were worth drinking.

It was after he had moved to Israel, that David Joroff adopted the pen name Daniel Rogov. Joroff was a shy, private man, and the use of a pen name, I think, gave him a greater sense of privacy. He chose the name Rogov in homage to a 19th-century Russian aristocrat whose colorful life story appealed to his sense of whimsy.

However, Daniel Rogov was not his only pseudonym. He also wrote under the names David Gershon and David Louison. During the early 1980s he even wrote a series of travel books and cookbooks that were “co-authored” by all three of his pseudonyms.

In the last decade of his life, particularly after he started publishing his annual “Guide to Israeli Wine” in 2004 (the last issue of which will be published, posthumously, early next year), Rogov became ever more influential as a wine critic. In one of our last conversations he told me that “if I give a wine a high score like 93, within a few days it can be sold out [in Israel.]”

I first came into contact with Rogov about a decade ago, and like so many of his latter-day friends, we met through his Internet wine forum (which is currently hosted at www.wineloverspage.com/forum/village). We soon started an e-mail correspondence that ended only a few weeks before his death.
While wine and food was the main focus of our correspondence, as time went on we started to discuss a broad range of topics, from literature and history, to favorite fishing spots. Although we met in person a handful of times, it was through e-mail that our friendship grew.

While Rogov may have become a cosmopolitan Israeli, there was a part of him that was forever a New Yorker. “The greatest compliment I ever had in my life,” Rogov once told me, “is the day I opened an e-mail with a picture of a back of a New York City bus in Brooklyn. On the bus was an ad for a Herzog Special Reserve wine with [the text] ‘Daniel Rogov Score 92’ and my photograph … You know you’ve made it in life when they put your picture on a New York City bus!”

Daniel Rogov was both my friend and mentor, and I shall miss him terribly. Adieu, mon cher colleague.

Gamliel Kronemer writes the Fruit of the Vine column for the paper. JTA contributed to this article.