YARDEN SINGLE VINYARD
When writing about Israel's largest wineries, it's fruitless to write about all their dozens of different wines in one article so its prudent to taste their wines throughout the year. At the Israwinexpo 2012 in February , the Golan Heights Winery featured several Chardonnays and Syrahs including their premium Single Vineyard selections. On March 16th, they offered up a wider array of Single Vineyard varietals at Wine Route stores throughout Israel.
Living within walking distance, I stopped by the Ra'anana Wine Route and as one might expect on a Friday in Israel, there was a large crowd gathering to buy wine before the Sabbath. And with Passover just a few weeks away, it's also the busiest season for wine purchases in Israel as gifts and to fill the traditional minimum four cups per person at a Passover seder dinner. So there was about a dozen wine enthusiasts at any given time to distract the one charming pourer trying to serve us all and field my "wine writer" queries.
With a little more patience than I would normally exhibit at a larger exposition, I got to taste all the wines offered. First, was the 2010 Yarden Odem "Organic Vineyard" Chardonnay which I recently had tasted in Tel Aviv. It's from organic vineyard but not an "organic certified" wine because sulfites are used in making the wine as with most commercial wines. There's just too many things that can go wrong when making wine for a large producer to risk not using sulfites which prevent micro-organisms from playing havoc with a wine before it reaches the relative safety of a bottle. This Chardonnay exhibits what has long been the standard bearer of Chardonnays in Israel and other New World wine regions such as California or Australia. With a malolactic secondary fermentation, the wine has subdued fruit in favor of promoting a fuller body and being what some might call a "butter bomb" with additional notes of vanilla from 7 months in new French oak. Hints of green apples, pear and melon still shine through but are less evident than in Chardonnays from other wineries veering towards more Old World roots without malolactic or only partial malolactic fermentation. Tzuba, Odem Mountain and Lewinsohn Chardonnays provide some of the best examples. Yet, for those who like the New World style Chards Golan Heights under their Yarden label make some of the best and are on sale at the Wine Route for 72 NIS, a good value for a premium Israeli white wine.
On to the reds, first up were two out of the three Single Vineyard Syrahs I had tasted last month. Where many wineries call their Syrah Shiraz or the other way around depending on their marketing preferences, these grapes hail from French clones and the Yarden Syrahs do resemble northern Rhone or even California Syrah's more so than Australian Shiraz's; so, the names fit. The two Syrahs offered were the 2007 Yarden Syrah Yonatan Vineyard and the 2007 Yarden Syrah Avital Slopes. Both were being offered on sale at 116 NIS although they can be found for 150 NIS elsewhere. The Yonatan Vineyard is located at only 400 meters (about as low as you go in the Golan) in the central Golan and its warmer days delivered ripe flavors of blueberry and blackberries with accents of subtle smokiness and black pepper. The Avital Slopes at 1000 meters (over twice the elevation of the Yonatan) and its cooler clime delivered 15% alcohol level like the Yonatan yet aroma wise the Avital brought forth earthier and more savory Rhone like traits than the Yonatan and the fruit exhibited more raspberry and strawberry than its fraternal vintage twin (or triplet if you consider the third Syrah in the series not being poured at this tasting).
Two Merlots would follow. The 2007 Yarden Merlot Odem Organic Vineyard and the 2006 Yarden Merlot Kela Vineyard. These are great examples of Israeli Merlot at their finest and how many Golan Heights Merlot's are as big if not bolder than many Cabs (check out Odem Mountain and Bazelet HaGolan Merlots if you don't believe me). The high altitude of their source grapes promise long seasons and ripe fruit. The 1100 meters of Odem beckon red plums and hints of clove while the fruitier Kela from a warmer 700 meters offers up plum, cranberry , a fuller body and a fruity red cherry finish.
Even though it was not on sale at this tasting, those attending (including me) were awarded with a taste of the 2008 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon El Rom. It's selling elsewhere in the 150 to 200 NIS range, according to our hostess Ryia, and the El Rom was proof positive that Yarden is a triple threat with desirable Cabs, Merlots and Syrah in their top tier of single varietal wines. The El Rom vineyards are also in the 1000 to 1,000 meter range proving that altitude can make up for latitude. Black currant, blackberries and pipe tobacco were evident but it will unexpectedly (for those unfamiliar with Israeli premium wines) appear to be more subtle and nuanced than the Merlots from the same winery and the lower alcohol level (14.5%) than their Syrahs make it a more food friendly wine as well.
Last, but not least, was my first taste of a wine I predicted was being made before it was announced by the winery. Last year when Yarden released its 2008 Yarden 2T, a dry red made from Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao (two classic Portuguese red varietals) it didn't take more than a split second for me to guess there had to be port style red to follow which they released as T2 (T squared). Even though these grapes do make distinctive dry table wines they're far more famous worldwide as base grapes for fortified wines. Three years is a relatively short time to release a port which can often easily age for decades. I look forward to see how this vintage and future vintages age and if the Golan Heights under Victor Schoenfeld masters red dessert wines as he has proven to do with the widest selection of white dessert wines of any commercial winery in Israel (Muscat, Moscato, Botrytis, Heightswine,etc). I look forward to writing more on this wine as a separate article after interviewing the winemaker.
Ah, So Much Wine, So Little Time.
David Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org