The Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin Chardonnay, 2000 is a sort of a turning point for me. This premium (and fairly priced, I must admit) Chardonnay from the winery, unquestionably the pioneer of quality Israeli wines, has always received favorable reviews. Yet I seem to sense that this particular vintage is where a certain backlash against this New World style of Chardonnay started to take place among my friends and I.
The 2000 received scores locally that hovered around 90, one excited reviewer giving it a 94+ and comparing it to the best of any wine region in the world (which I always took be a comparison with Burgundy) and a drinking window going on until 2010. I must say the excitement was also echoed at the time in amateur tasting notes among my friends. Tom Stevenson included it in his list of "100 Most Exciting Wine Finds" in the 2005 edition of his annual Wine Report, but dampened the excitement by noting that "I would be going wild about a quality such as this from Israel 15 years ago but the wine world has moved on and I find it rather simple, lifted Chardonnay fruit with far too much oak..."
I can only speak for myself and for my close circle of fellow geeks but I find a growing acceptance of Stevenson's mini-crit. I've misplaced my first tasting note for the wine of three years ago, but I remember the oak was very obvious, but it was spicy oak, not sweet oak, and you could feel some nice fruit underneath. I suppose I scored it a 92.
Fast forward to March 2006. I felt it lacked some fruit as my otherwise favorable note shows:
A lovely, complex nose: oily, butter, baked apples, spices, toast. The palate is rich but perhaps not as complex as the nose; it is perhaps a bit tight, a bit overoaked, but it is deliciously spicy and mouthfilling. However, more fruit would have made it a true wonder. 90-91
The backlash I mentioned about had already started taking place because I remember being postively surprised because by the Katzrin 2000 because I was really expecting much less of it. The Katzrin Chardonnay, 2003 had come out and even fans were disappointed. One acquaintance started looking for buyers for his case of futures. The 2002 had seemed promising at the time of its release but friends were starting to complain of its toffee flavors. I thought it was was a well made wine of its particular style but noted it was not a style I'd rush out to buy. Though in a gust of exuberant folly I'd bought two bottles, the last finished off last fall when I noted:
Very ripe and sweet with tons of coffee and other heavy elements. This is, for me, a Bizarro Chardonnay.
Backlash at full throttle.
I thought that was the last of the Katzrin Chardonnay2000 for me until a 'lost' bottle turned up in one of my storage lockers. I was actually looking forward to seeing if perhaps the fruit had recovered but was wary enough to spring it on neophytes who did like it including my wife (whom I told to memorize the taste carefully because she would never taste it home again).
So here is my final note:
A wine that puts out way too much and with too much makeup (oak) and perfume (sweet oak) to be truly sexy.
It's easy enough to blame my growing sophistication and my exposure, since my initial purchases, to the great whites of Burgundy. But I don't think that's entirely it. Though Israel can produce Chardonnay of high sugar ripeness, it doesn't always achieve phenolic ripeness so many producers (not just GHW) spice it up with oak. The most depressing thing is I think GHW can probably come up with good enough Chardonnay in time, if they wanted to. Their Odem vineyard (source of their Odem organic Chardonnay, similar to Katzrin in price and style but with admittedly less oak) can probably come up with reasonably concentrated fruit flavors. It's certainly cold enough; I was there last spring and froze my fanny off in late morning. But I think GHW are committed to that certain style by now. They try to impinge it upon their recent Viognier releases as well , again toffee-ing up what could be decent fruit in time, with the added problem that Viognier is shorter-lived than Chardonnay and has an even smaller chance of integrating with the wood.
I must again stress that this is only my own personal experience with this series but numerous discussions about this wine tell me I am not alone. Only time will tell whether my social circle is representative.