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?