Golan Heights Winery Pinot

All my friends know I really hate the Yarden series' Pinot Noir. Fair chance the folks at GHW know it too; I've posted enough times about it on local boards I know they read. I have to make an exception for the debut from the 1999 vintage, which I liked around 2003 or so and though I've changed a lot in the 3-4 years since, I liked it for the same reasons I like the wines I like these days: grace, elegance, personality and the kind of modest complexity you can find in good wines on the lower rungs of the wine world.

But the 2000 was awful, totally lacking in structure and poured down the drain. I don't think it was an off-bottle; it was the same way at a tasting at the winery in May 2006 and I've heard similar opinions from friends whose taste I trust.

That same tasting at GHW showed my pal, the 1999, to have gone to Pinot heaven. I'll just quote my impressions from the tasting:

1999 - I liked it 3 years ago and I don't think I've changed. This wine simply didn't age well. It's got an interesting Pinot nose. I wrote down "not very clean but interesting" and it was; but it died in glass. The palate was never very healthy to begin with: heavy, sweet, unfocused.

2000 - Alcoholic, lots of ripe black fruit and oak. Flat and uninteresting. Someone next to me said it was concentrated. Fine, imagine concentrated and flat.

2001 - Same as the above but more drinkable.

2002 - Getting better, nice smoky notes. Better balance.

2003 - Even better.

2004 and 2005 barrel samples - Too young for me to talk about.

In all, I would characterize the Yarden Pinot Noir as a very dark-colored, sweetish wine and I'll be optimistic and say the 2003 showed promise.

Looking back, the 2002 and the 2003 are close to being well-made Pinot in a sort of international style. Certainly not Burgundy, but I'm not looking for that; I've tasted a couple of German Pinot Noirs that I liked and appreciated and they were even further from the Bourgogne model than thw Yarden PN was. But then again, what I liked about those German Pinots was their angularity, their otherness, their personality. And personality was something I never found in the Yarden Pinot, the 1999 nowithstanding. Almost as though that first vintage was a fluke, rays of character seeping through the cracks in the GHW machine.

Don't get me wrong, that machine makes some of the best reds in the country, applying all the technology at their disposal towards bringing out the best in Israel's most balanced raw material. But for whatever reason, the application of those same skills kills the Pinot fruit so I can't really tell if the Golan Heights are suitable Pinot country or not.

Somehow I'd never drunk or tasted the Gamla Pinot Noir until the 2004 vintage. Gamla, as is well known, is GHW's second series (third, actually, if you count the Katzrin series) and receives second-tier fruit - arguably as good as other Israeli vineyards' best - which then get less oak and pizazz. Which, surprisingly or not, is just what the GHW Pinot seems to need. What you get is a fun, unpretentious wine, that drinks nicely and speaks silently in favor of simple harmony over contrived complexity. It has pleasant red fruit with a touch of orange peel and smoke and some earthiness and meat in the background, with decent complexity and a slightly bitter finish.

Maybe the wrong wine has been hyped all these years?


Anonymous said…
Where did you taste those German Pinots? Can you get them in Israel?

Thank you
2GrandCru said…
The German Pinots are imported by Giaconda (www.giaconda.co.il). I've posted a couple of reviews. I didn't update the main post since it's not the main topic. Thanks for commenting and enjoy.
Anonymous said…
Hi Chaim,

Found out about your page from the Maariv piece and it looks impressive.
Regarding GHW's Pinots:
You took the words out of my mouth describing the Gamla Pinot, which on top of what you wrote I consider good value for money. Although lacking the old-world expression of the variety in the form of earthiness etc, they are indeed fun and accessible.

Regarding the Yarden I only tasted the 2003 so far and was not overwhelmed. I just recieved a numbered bottle of the '99 vintage purchased a week ago at the winery, your post made me even more curious about it and it will be opened soon (also for the obvious reasons...).

All the best,
Anonymous said…
As far as pinot goes, it is not a very good wine to age (relatively speaking).
3 weeks ago I tried a 97' from cote d'nuie (I will return with the full name and producer) from a 1st cru class and it wasn't that amazing as I thought it should be. defenetly not wothy the 250$ my restaurant wants for it.
So the GHW pinot is defenetly shouldn't be aged (talking about the 99)
I tried the 02 and 03, still not amazing. I can buy 2 Glil pinot for that money and get a very drinkable pinot without HOHMOT and DAWINIM of the yarden series.
2GrandCru said…
I'm not sure Pinot can't age. It's certainly a very old, on-going argument and Robert Parker for one would agree with you. But, four years ago, a wacky Israeli importer called Shimon Lasry imported a village Gevrey-Chambertin 1989 from a nobdy co-op domaine that no one had ever heard of that certainly aged gracefully. Nice blog you've got, by the way.
Anonymous said…
first of all, thanks!
second, I don't know what robert parker said about pinot's aging abillities, I just think that a grape with that thin skin would need a very long time in oak barrels to absorb the tanins and all the other factors that will allow him to age decently and that would probably kill all the grape and terooar notes in the wine.
just my humble opinion.
2GrandCru said…
Tannins aren't everything. Acidity can also serve as a preservative and Pinot has got that for sure. And a lot of winemakers in Bourgogne ferment the bunches whole, with the stalks, which probably makes up for the thin skin. I also guess that the cold climate means the tannins in the skin and stalks have a lot of time to ripen before the sugar levels peak which makes the wine less green and more balanced.

I'm not a winemaker so these are all hunches based on reading but something has to explain the concentration and closed, tannic feel of the few premier and grand crus I've tasted.
Anonymous said…
I agree re the Gamla Pinots. I just had the '02 vintage and though it developed really well and showed suprising complexity and elegance. Far better than the GHW '02. Clearly, its the oak that killed the fruit.