About 4 or 5 years ago, I was visiting the Galil Mountain Winery and tasted their newly produced Viognier, a grape variety that I didn’t know existed. I immediately knew that I had found what proved to be one of my favorite wines, certainly my most loved white wine from our area. The wine was, and has continued to be year after year, alive with bursting flavors of fruits. Tasting it is like putting one’s head into a bouquet of freshly picked fragrant flowers. And it has none of the bitterness or roughness of some lower quality white wines. All this for less than $10 when purchased at the winery. Subsequently I learned that two other wineries in the region, Golan Heights Winery and Dalton Winery, also produce wine from this varietal. However, the Galil Mountain Viognier is fermented only in stainless steel containers, whereas the others are partially fermented in oak casks. The Golan Heights ferments 60% in wood casks and Dalton 40%. Also the Dalton Viognier is fermented with “wild yeast” in the barrels and combined with commercial yeast fermentation in the stainless steel tanks. It is my opinion that the exchange of flavors which takes place in the oak barrels detracts from the fruitiness of the taste. It adds something from the wood which they say, accents “those flavours with sweet notes of vanilla and caramel.” The Dalton Reserve Wild Yeast Viognier and the Golan Heights Yarden Viognier sell for twice the price of the Galil Mountain Viognier. And to my taste, the cheapest one tasts the best. Perhaps it is because I love the bursts of fruity flavors in my mouth which are not suppressed by partial fermentation in oak casks.
At a recent gathering to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, we opened a Dalton Viognier from 2009, to which I give the highest of praise. It tasted wonderful, especially as I had been a bit disappointed in the 2009 Viognier from Galil Mountain Winery as opposed to the previous years. All agreed that this Dalton Viognier wine was wonderful. We then opened a Yarden Viognier and we all agreed that it had a slight vinegary taste. The color also seemed slightly brownish. So we opened another that was purchased at the same time less than one week earlier, and it was also what we considered “tainted.” When we went up to the Golan Heights Winery a few days later, they tasted it and said, “This is fine.” They even brought out a bottle from their tasting room for compareison. The taste was the same to us — that is, a bit “off.” As the tasting room bottle had been opened the week before, they opened a fresh bottle and lo and behold, it was the same to us. Is this the way the Golan Heights Yardan Viognier is supposed to taste? Were their taste buds tainted? The jury isn’t in yet. Why don’t you buy the three and do a comparison tasting for yourself? Let me know what you think.
Incidentally, after our experience at the Golan Heights Winery, we went to Kibbutz Yiron to the Galil Mountain Winery and were given a taste of their 2010 Viognier. It is absolutely FANTASTIC! It reminds me of my original experience with this variety here in Israel and I love it.