The winemaking team at the Golan Heights Winery enjoys nothing more than surprising us. In 1984 we were not only surprised but almost shocked when the first releases from the winery demonstrated that it was indeed possible to make world-class wine in Israel. In 1987 and 1989 they surprised not only us, but the entire wine world, by walking away with the most highly valued awards at the two most prestigious wine competitions in the world, the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London and at Vinexpo in Bordeaux.
By the end of the 1980s everyone knew that the red and white wines of Golan's Yarden series were by far the best in the country, but they surprised us once again in 1990 with the release of their first Katzrin wine, the first Israeli wine to ever earn 95 points.
Not content to rest on their laurels, the next very positive surprise came when the winery released the first single vineyard wine in the country, a 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon from the El Rom Vineyard.
Wines made from grapes harvested from a single vineyard are usually very special indeed, so special in fact that at each harvest the winemaker has to decide whether the grapes are precisely of the quality that is demanded. If they are below par, the wine will not be released in that given year.
More than that, once a vineyard (or even a segment within that vineyard ) has been determined to offer grapes of significant quality, special attention is given to those vines and because of this such wines often reflect a specific gout de terroir (soil, micro-climate, prevailing winds and even the angle at which the sunlight hits the vines ).
Two single vineyard wines made from the same variety, even from vineyards separated by only a few hundred meters, may thus show equal quality but very different personalities. Beware though, for some small wineries have jumped on the single vineyard bandwagon and are also now also using the designation.
That designation may or may not indicate anything related to quality for some of those small wineries have only one vineyard and mentioning that on the label may indicate a wine that is not very special at all. Best bet with small wineries is to judge not by the labels but by the reputation of the winery and your own previous experience with their wines.
Golan currently releases four single vineyard red wines - a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, a Syrah and a Pinot Noir and one white wine, a Chardonnay. Depending on the vintage year and the winemaker's decisions, the red wines may come from different vineyards in different years, some of those with names as romantic as Odem, El Rom, Yonatan, Ortal, Marom Galil, Kela and Tel Fares, not each of which will appear every year.
The single vineyard Chardonnay, now released annually, always comes from the organic section of the Odem vineyard.
Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, El Rom Vineyard, Yarden, 2007: Full-bodied, with still-firm tannins and notes of sweet cedar wood integrating nicely. Opens with a near-chocolate nose, parting to make way for raspberries and then to aromas and flavors of black currants, wild berries and bitter oranges. Fine balance and structure, with tannins and fruits rising simultaneously on the long finish. Approachable and enjoyable now but best 2013-2020, perhaps longer. NIS 184. Score 93. K
Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Yonatan Vineyard, Yarden, 2007: Generous spicy oak on the nose and on the first attack, with firm tannins, both of which are starting to settle in now. Opens to reveal wild berry and currant fruits, supported nicely by notes of roasted herbs and black olives and then, on the long finish, mocha and berry fruits rising together. Best 2012-2020, perhaps longer. NIS 184. Score 92. K
Golan Heights Winery, Blanc de Blancs, Yarden, 2005: It's delicious, it's delightful, it's delovely. A sparkling wine, made by the same method used to make Champagne. With a long mousse, sharp, well-focused and long-lasting bubbles, as brut-dry as one could hope for, opens to notes of yeasty white bread, goes on to show tropical and citrus fruits all on a lightly floral background. Long, generous and elegant. Drink now-2018. Score 91. K