(By Gabriel Geller)
While it's true that the modern Israeli industry was first started and initiated by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who founded Carmel Winery in the midst of the 19th century and imported to the Holy Land the first vines from its Château Lafite Rothschild in France,
mainly the Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc etc.), the real quality revolution started in 1984 when the young and newly established Golan Heights Winery released its first wine, the Yarden Sauvignon Blanc 1983, one year after Lebanon War I. Another year later, came out the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 that was widely acclaimed and gained multiple medals and international awards putting Israel on the world wine map. The rest is History.
A few weeks ago, I was invited by the winery as part of a panel of foreign writers to visit the state-of-the-art grounds and equipment of the winery, truly showcasing how world-renown Israeli high technology is implemented and utilized there, together with the experimented and skilled hands of the head winemaker Victor Schoenfeld and his talented crew, to create some of the country's best wine
I already knew how that winery is working and yet I was very impressed. They have a computerized system that allow them to constantly be in full of control of each and every one of their 9000+ barrels of wine, resting in their huge and neat cellars. As well, they have meteorological stations looking over all their multiple vineyards spread all over the Galilee and Golan Heights, helping them among many other things to better watch and decide when is the best time for the harvest to begin. After the tour, our group was invited to join Victor in the tasting room next to the winery's library, where are stored a handful of bottles of each and every wine produced by the winery since its inception more than 30 years ago. Despite my relatively young age, I've been lucky enough to have tasted and drank many, if not most of those wines and that's also why I was delighted to find out that they had popped a bottle of the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, a wine that was fascinating to taste again side by side with the latest 2010 release, an experience that was enlightening for us to notice the change in style operated by the winery over the past decade.
We were poured 17 different wines, however I won't publish here my notes for all of them but only for those I consider as the most interesting. Golan Heights Winery (GHW), Yarden, Blanc de Blancs 2007: This classic sparkling wine, made from Chardonnay in the traditional méthode champenoise, was always a favorite of mine and the currant release, the 2007, is in my humble opinion the best one so far. Light gold in color with a rich mousse and sharp bubbles. On the nose, fresh ripe green apples, notes of lemon custard and fresh-baked brioche. Medium to full-bodied with on the palate a crisp and fine mousse that streaks across the tongue with beautifully bracing acidity along with fresh almonds, lemon zest, juicy tangerines and a touch of butterscotchey-ripe apples lingering on the long, satisfying finish. Fantastic. 12.5% Abv.
GHW, Gamla Hashmura/Nature, Rosé 2013: While the Golan Heights Winery were the country's pioneers of Rosé in the early 1990's, long before the pink juice became the "hot thing" that it has come to be nowadays in Israel, the wine wasn't popular so it failed commercially and was discontinued and it's only now, with the praised and outstanding 2013 vintage, that they've again released such a wine. Using a combination of both winemaking methods to produce rosé wine, that is to say the bleeding "saignée" and skin maceration methods and based on Syrah with a dollop of Viognier (as is popular with the red wines of Côte Rôtie in the French Rhône Valley), this wine is a bright cherry in color with on the nose aromas of strawberry bubblegum, grape candies and raspberries. Medium-bodied with on the palate ripe strawberries and cherries, fine acidity, hints of melon and some sweet cherries rising on the moderately long finish. Not really my favorite style of Rosé and a bit too sweet for my taste but a fun wine that will certainly please many as an accompaniment to salads and barbecue during the hot summer. 13.5% Abv.
GHW, Yarden, 2T 2010: The third release for this Douro-style blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao, dark garnet with a light purple hue and showing jammy raspberry and prunes on the nose as well as pine and tobacco. Full-bodied with on the palate some very ripe red fruit, roasted herbs, sweet cedar wood and somewhat low acidity with tannins rising towards the finish. 15% Abv.
GHW, Gamla, Sangiovese 2010: Aged for about a year in French oak barrels, this Italian-style wine is cherry red in color with on the nose scents of strawberries, spices, dried flowers and toasted oak. Medium-bodied with on the palate tart red fruit, spices, plums and sour cherries with notes of vanilla and toasted oak, sharp tannins drying the mouth on the moderately long finish. A nice wine suited for meals such as pasta Bolognese, pizza and the such. 14.5% Abv.
GHW, Hermon, Indigo 2013: The second release for this wine, an Australian-style and unoaked blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Bright purple in color with on the nose green pepper, plums and red cherries with a touch of alcohol that blows off with some good swirling in the glass. Medium to full-bodied with lots of red and black berries, cherries and oriental spices with good balancing acidity and nice tannins on the moderately long finish. A nice quaffer for every day drinking, especially with cold cut and charcuterie. 14% Abv.
GHW, Yarden, Malbec 2011: Also the second release, and quite different from the 2010, should hit the shelves soon. Aged for 18 months in French oak barrels this Malbec shows a deep royal purple color with on the nose plums, blueberries and raspberries as well as lavender. Medium, perhaps medium to full-bodied with on the palate juicy berries, roasted herbs, fresh ground coffee and toasted oak with fine acidity and mouth-coating tannins on the long finish. Quite a fine wine and while the finish is a bit hollow I believe it's only a matter of time for the wine to fully come around. 14% Abv.
GHW, Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: The real flagship wine of the winery is this year more approachable than usual and yet quite good. Deep garnet towards royal purple with on the nose plenty of cassis, cherries and blackberries as well as a hint of earth and toasty oak. Full-bodied, the palate features loads of ripe blackberries and cassis as well as plums, Mediterranean herbs, some pencil lead and graphite with notes of cigar tobacco, good acidity and silky tannins rising on the long and mouth-filling finish. I think that exceptionally it's better to drink this wine now and over the next 4 years as it might not age as long and well as most its earlier releases.14.5% Abv.
GHW, Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon 1996: That was really glorious. It was a lot more than just alive, certainly at peak but not at all past it. Deep dark cherry red in color with on the nose ripe cassis, cherries, blackberries with a touch of toasted oak and wet earth. Full-bodied, the palate features a silky mouth feel with on first attack blackberries and cassis followed by black cherries, a touch of graphite and herbs with more black fruit coming through, balanced acidity and good tannins drying the mouth on the long finish with notes of dark chocolate. Very little to no sediments, a bottle in such conditions could last another 2-3 years. Well-done! 13.5% Abv.