We purchased this wine as part of an offer of “futures” from the Golan Heights Winery. Therefore, it was purchased on the basis of trust that this winery would produce a quality product worth the price. So far, we have done this only twice in the past and not been disappointed. This wine was purchased along with Yarden Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The other purchase of wine “futures” was from another high quality, well managed, and trusted winery located in the Judean Hills, Castel Winery. Both of these wine producers are our favorites for consistently high quality wines.
Yarden’s Chardonnay grapes are grown on the northern Golan Heights at elevations above 900 meters, or 3,000 feet. The 2011 grape growing season was the coolest and wettest since 1997, with 30% more than the average annual rainfall. The rains in Israel fall from November through April of the following year, and, interestingly enough, the annual amounts are recorded for this season and not for a calendar year. Sometimes, the spring brings rains and sun as the grape vines leaf out, causing an overgrowth of vegetation that shades out the grapes, delaying their maturation. This 2011 vintage brought a chilly spring, preventing excess vine growth that could have resulted from the wet soils. Also, harvest began about two weeks late, well into October, and resulting in over 25% of the fruit still not harvested by the end of the month. As is described in the Yarden website, “after waiting out the rains of early November, we brought in the remainder of the fruit by mid-month, literally minutes before a six-day rain system hit.” Sometimes excess yields of fruit cause a decrease in the quality of the wine, but this year brought average yields of high quality grapes, producing a quality wine. This wine was aged “sur lies” for nine months in new French oak barrels. Ahhhhh, herein lies one aspect of the art of oenology, using various techniques to influence the flavors. This particular technique involves aging the wine on its lees, or exposing the aging wine to dead yeast cells and other grape solids including the skin and the seeds. The process adds many compounds, each of which has its effect. Polysaccharides enhance fruitiness and give mouth-feel that conveys the perception of heaviness and weight, sometimes described as “creaminess”. Amino acids boost flavor and aroma, particularly on the finish of the wine, and they interact with oak. Not only do they sweeten up the raw woodiness of oak, they also modify some of the wood esters, mellowing them.
We opened this wine and were embraced by earthy aromas of grasses and trees. You must excuse me when I state that my taste buds spoke of slate and granite mineral flavors intertwined with a background of Granny Smith apples. The Yarden tasting notes, which I read only after recording my own reactions, also included “hints of mineral and spice.” I apologize for using a taste descriptor that does not readily relate to something that we usually place in our mouths. Indeed, it is hard to describe what the minerals slate and granite taste like, but if you can imagine placing a few pebbles in your mouth that you have plucked out of a cold swift running brook, perhaps you can experience this taste. Others have said of Chardonnay that it is “flinty,” a taste and smell that’s in the air when a piece of steel is hit against a piece of flint, and meaning that it has a hard, dry, and clean taste. The French call it “gout de pierre a fusil,” or that characteristic odor that came from the muskets of the infantry of the seventeenth century. Recently this has been the subject of a hotly contested discussion on the WineLovers.com Israel and Kosher Wine Forum. Some do not believe that minerality is a valid wine taste descriptor and others vigorously defend its use. If you are interested, it is worth reading the well balanced, and well written article in the Wall Street Journal by Lettie Teague. The author doesn’t take sides, but in the end, it is clear how she feels. I agree with her. What do you think?
The bottom line here, is that this is a very good wine. I rate it an B**. Its cost in San Diego and New York, depending on whether you buy a case or a single bottle varies from $33 to $38. Unfortunately, I cannot find what I paid for it as a purchase of a six bottle future. I’ll do a bit of research and try to correct this of information which is lacking.