Eleven months ago, I wrote in HaAretz (English Edition, 29 Aug 2007; Hebrew Edition, 2 Sep 2007) that "since it first opened its doors the Golan Heights Winery has stayed at the forefront of local wine leadership..." Now, about to celebrate its 25th anniversary, that seems truer than ever, the winery not only having triggered Israel's wine revolution but showing no signs whatever of tiredness, its best wines comfortably competing with many of the best of France, Italy, California and Australia.
This afternoon (Friday, 1 August) I attended a tasting to celebrate the official unveiling of the 2004 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the Elrom Vineyard. If there was a bittersweet moment to today's event it was that this may be the last time that I meet Shalom Blayer in his role as the winery's CEO. When we think of and discuss wines it is most often the charm of the vineyards and the talents of the winemaker and winemaking staff that come to mind. In a sense, that is a fully justified but somewhat romanticized point of view because we tend to forget that behind those in the vineyards and in the winery must be an organizing force, one that gives direction to the winery and to the staff and whose concerns also include promotion, distribution and yes, even sales of the winery's output.
In its quarter-century, the Golan Heights Winery has had three CEO's – Shimshon Welner, Yerucham Segev and Shalom Blayer, each of whom has taken the winery along its path and each giving new directions and continuing impetus. In the case of Blayer, that input has been not only to encourage the development of single vineyard wines, to increase exports, to continue the winery's expansion on a well-thought out and fully logical basis but of elevating Yarden, Katzrin and others of the winery's series truly international brands, respected not only within Israel but in many significant places in the world. I was privileged to raise a toast to Blayer at today's tasting and, as I said there, he has done a damned good job! More than that, he has proven himself a man of intelligence, of insight and of humor and, perhaps most important, as a person of the highest ethical standards. From an entirely personal point of view, Shalom has also proven to be a warm and most pleasant human being.
To Shalom go my wishes for continued success and satisfaction in whatever new endeavor he undertakes and to Anat Levi-Rushansky, the incoming CEO of the winery, my warmest wishes for a creative and productive future in her new role. Somehow, and perhaps that is reflected in part by the tasting notes that follow, I have no real fears for the future of the Golan Heights Winery.
In addition to tasting the 2004 Elrom wine, and in order to allow a comparison, three other wines were also tasted, the 2003 Elrom and the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the 2003 and 2004 vintages. Within the past few days, I also re-tasted each of these wines blind in my own tasting room. The notes that follow are entirely from my blind tastings, using today's tasting primarily as a "yardstick" with which to check both myself and bottle consistency. I found no differences between the two sets of tasting. For these wines and others, my compliments to senior winemaker Victor Shoenfeld and his well-tasted and well-proven winemaking staff. My tasting notes for these wines follow immediately.
Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Elrom Vineyard, Yarden, 2004: Showing every bit as well,perhaps even a tad better than at barrel and advance tastings. Developed in French oak barriques for 18 months, deep garnet in color, full-bodied, with firm tannins and spicy wood integrating well with fruits and despite its youth already showing elegance and finesse. Look for layer after layer of currant, blackberry and both red and black berries, those supported beautifully by notes of cedar, sage and tar, all leading to a near-sweet fruity finish that lingers on and on. Approachable now but best 2010–2018. Score 94. K (Re-tasted 28 Jul and 1 Aug 2008)
Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarden, 2004: Dark, almost impenetrable garnet, with generous wood in fine balance with acidity and fruits. Opens to show currants and crushed berries, those yielding to cherries, ripe purple plums and dark chocolate, all on a background of spices, asphalt and earthiness. Drink now–2016. Score 92. K (Re-tasted 27 Jul and 1 Aug 2008)
Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Elrom Vineyard, Yarden, 2003: My fifth tasting of this wine and no need to take back any of the good things I have said in the past. Intensely dark ruby towards royal-purple, full-bodied, with caressing tannins and a moderate oak influence. Opens with black currants, blackberries and minerals, goes to meaty, earthy and herbal aromas and flavors, and then to spices and a long and elegant fruity finish. Firmly structured with excellent grip and complexity. Approachable now but best 2010–2020. Score 95. K (Re-tasted 27 Jul and 1 Aug 2008)
Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarden, 2003: My earlier tasting notes hold firmly: Aged in French oak for 18 months and showing generous but gentle wood influence. Soft mouth-coating tannins support generous blackberry, back cherry and plum fruits and, on the long finish, hints of Oriental spices and a light herbal-tobacco sensation. Best 2009–2014. Score 93. K (Re-tasted 27 Jul and 1 Aug 2008)
Also included in today's tastings were the following wines:
Golan Heights Winery, Chardonnay, Odem Organic Vineyard, Yarden, 2006: Full-bodied, opening with subtle aromas of figs, pears and apples, going on to show a generous dash of smoky, toasty oak and then blossoming forth with pineapple, citrus peel and minerals leading to a long finish that is simultaneously creamy and bright. Drink now–2013. Score 92. K (Re-tasted 1 Aug 2008)
Golan Heights Winery, Noble Semillon, Botrytis, 2004: Bright, almost polished gold in color, with fine concentration and balance and developing deep honeyed botrytis-impacted spices and funkiness. On the nose and palate dried apricots, orange peel, toasty oak, and tropical fruits that come in towards the long caressing finish. Drink now–2018. Score 92. K (Re-tasted 1 Aug 2008)
And, as promised, a few surprises. Tasted or re-tasted not today but in my own tasting room earlier this week….
Yarden, Merlot, Ortal Vineyard, 2004: Dark garnet towards inky black, full-bodied, with once firm tannins and generous spicy wood integrating nicely now. Opens to reveal a tempting array of blackberry, raspberry, plum and cassis fruits, those supported nicely by hints of smoky cedarwood and chocolate, all leading to a gently spicy and notably long finish. Simultaneously complex, concentrated and elegant. Best 2010–2018. Score 93. K
Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005: Brooding dark ruby-red, full-bodied, with near-sweet tannins and spicy oak wrapped around black currants, berries, spices and a hint of dark chocolate. Look as well for enchanting hints of citrus peel and vanilla on the long finish. Fine balance and structure bode well for the future. Best 2010–2018. Score 92. K
Katzrin, 2004 : Dark garnet towards royal-purple, with orange and violet reflections. Shows generous oak and still firm tannins, those in fine proportion and well balanced by blackberry, black currant and cherry fruits, on a background of white pepper, Mediterranean herbs and, on the long and generous finish, hints of vanilla and peppermint. Drink now–2016. Score 92. K
Yarden, Blanc de Blancs, 2001: The best Blanc de Blancs to date from the winery. Made from Chardonnay grapes by the traditional methode Champenoise, this medium-bodied sparkling wine shows just the right balance between yeasty sourdough bread, peaches, citrus and minerals. With a generous mousse and sharp, well-focused bubbles that go on and on, this crisp and sophisticated wine goes on to a long, mouth-filling finish. Drink now–2012. Score 92. K
And the perhaps ultimate surprise for the day, that possibly to answer questions that have been posed earlier but which in fairness I could not answer until now…. Indeed, keep an eye out for three Merlot single vineyard wines – those from the 2005 vintage and including wines from Odem, Sha'al and Tel Faraj Vineyards. As for tasting notes – those will have to wait until the release of my 2009 book. The only hint I will give is that these will be wines most definitely worth seeking out.