Wine Talk

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • ADAM MON­TE­FIORE

Ear­lier this year, the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 2014 won a gold medal at the In­ter­na­tional Wine and Spirit Com­pe­ti­tion in Lon­don. It was a praise­wor­thy re­sult not only be­cause gold medals are ex­ceed­ingly rare for Is­rael at the IWSC, but it also proved a re­minder of an event 31 years ago that sig­naled the rise of Is­raeli wine for the first time. Then an un­known Is­raeli wine called Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 1984, made by an equally un­known Golan Heights Win­ery, won not only the gold medal but also the Winiarski Tro­phy. This was the first ma­jor award for an Is­raeli wine and the first out­ward sign of a wine rev­o­lu­tion in Is­rael.

In those days, the IWSC was the ma­jor wine-tast­ing com­pe­ti­tion, and for those on­look­ers who ob­served the re­sults, it was an as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mance. The sur­prise and shock was sim­i­lar to when China won a ma­jor tro­phy at the De­can­ter World Wine Awards (DWWA) a few years ago.

The Golan Heights Win­ery was founded in 1983 on the high el­e­va­tion of the Golan Heights. With only its sec­ond vin­tage, it won these pres­ti­gious awards. This was first time Is­rael put its hand up and said, “Hey, look at us!”

Here there was a stroke of luck. When its first three vine­yards were planted in 1976, two of them, Yonatan and Ra­mat Naf­tali, turned out to be two of the best vine­yards they had for Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon. This was not be­cause of vine­yard re­search, the view of an ex­pert agronomist or wine­maker in­tu­ition, it was more a heavy dose of good for­tune. This meant that the fruit go­ing into those early Yar­den wines was al­ready above par. This, al­lied to new world tech­nol­ogy, ex­per­tise from Cal­i­for­nia and a new de­sire to make the best wine pos­si­ble, was enough to trans­form Is­raeli wine.

MY PER­SONAL re­la­tion­ship with Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon cov­ered each stage of my ca­reer. In the 1980s I was still in Eng­land and heard about the Golan Heights Win­ery from Peter Hall­gar­ten, doyen of the English wine trade. He told me about the tech­nol­ogy, raved about the spec­ta­cle of the night har­vest, and I ab­sorbed all the in­for­ma­tion like a sponge. I was the wine buyer and mar­keter of wine for a group of 60 ho­tels, and I was quick to sup­port the Is­raeli win­ery where I could, though Is­rael was scarcely a house­hold name in the wine stakes. This was my in­tro­duc­tion to the qual­ity wines of Is­rael.

The Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 1985 was a rev­e­la­tion. It was the best Is­raeli wine I had ever tasted. I was proud that Is­rael could pro­duce a wine such as this. There is noth­ing like brown-bag­ging an Is­raeli wine at a blind tast­ing and then sit­ting back and watch­ing the re­ac­tion.

What is true now was also true then. When I made aliyah in 1989 I had al­ready worked for a few years with the wines and was in con­tact with the win­ery be­fore I made the big move. At my mem­o­rable farewell din­ner the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 1985 was served sand­wiched be­tween Cor­ton-Charle­magne Bon­neau du Mar­tray and Chateau Mou­ton Roth­schild. I still have the beau­ti­fully de­signed menu.

In the Nineties I was al­ready work­ing for the Golan Heights Win­ery and en­joyed show­ing the wines at in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions like Vin­expo in Bordeaux. The Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon al­ways had a high pro­file.

A spe­cial event for me took place in 1999. The Golan Heights Win­ery was in­vited to the New York Wine Ex­pe­ri­ence, which was the most pres­ti­gious wine event on the wine calendar. It featured the top 200 wineries in the world, and par­tic­i­pa­tion was by in­vi­ta­tion only. The Golan Heights Win­ery was the first Is­raeli win­ery ever to be in­vited.

When I ar­rived and looked around, I saw many of the world’s most leg­endary wines and wine per­son­al­i­ties, and there was I, rep­re­sent­ing Is­raeli wine. The Golan Heights Win­ery stand was near that of Chateau

Mar­gaux. It was like be­ing present at a pri­vate party at which all the wine gods were in­vited. The wine that was my part­ner in ex­plain­ing Is­rael to the world was the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 1996. I was im­mensely proud and ex­cited to be there, and the crème de la crème were able to taste this wine among the finest wines on earth.

Since then, Is­rael has reg­u­larly been in­vited to this won­der­ful event, but the first time is al­ways ex­tra spe­cial.

By the 2000s I was work­ing for Carmel Win­ery, a com­peti­tor to the Golan Heights Win­ery. In those op­ti­mistic days Carmel went through a qual­ity re­vival and came out with a series of sin­gle-vine­yard Caber­net Sau­vi­gnons. You may re­mem­ber the Ben Zimra, Kay­oumi, Ra­mat Arad and Zarit Cabs. The wines were pretty good, and it was an ex­cit­ing new path for Carmel in those days.

When we wanted to test our­selves and judge what we had achieved, we had to con­sider a suit­able com­peti­tor to blind-taste against, and I re­mem­ber we chose the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 2004. We con­sid­ered this to be the stan­dard for Caber­net in Is­rael. It is some­what in­dica­tive that the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon is as good as ever af­ter 32 vin­tages, while not one of the Carmel wines are made any more. Later, the same Yar­den Cab 2004 be­came the first Is­raeli wine ever to be se­lected in the Wine Spec­ta­tor an­nual Top 100, an­other mile­stone for Is­raeli wine.

I al­ways wrote about wine, and some­times in great de­tail about the Golan Heights Win­ery; how­ever, be­cause I was seen as a com­peti­tor, I was ig­nored. When I left Carmel and be­came truly in­de­pen­dent, I was wel­comed back into the fold. I was now treated as a wine jour­nal­ist. The first event I was in­vited to was one where the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 2013 was be­ing poured. Out of all the wines I tasted, it was the one that stood out, and it sym­bol­ized to me that Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon was still up there. The DWWA agreed and gave it the Plat­inum Tro­phy and 95 points! Talk­ing about a clos­ing of cir­cles, this same wine was be­ing poured a few weeks ago at the 2018 New York Wine Ex­pe­ri­ence, 19 years af­ter my breath­less de­but!

THESE DAYS the Golan Heights Win­ery makes many more wines than it did 30 years ago. Now there are pres­tige and sin­gle-vine­yard wines, which are made in tiny quan­ti­ties and are priced higher. How­ever, Vic­tor Schoenfeld, the wine­maker since 1992, still re­gards the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon as the true flag­ship of the win­ery.

Of course, he is right. To make tiny quan­ti­ties of a rare, strictly al­lo­cated wine is rel­a­tively easy. To make larger vol­umes of wine while main­tain­ing qual­ity is far more dif­fi­cult.

Not only is Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon re­garded as ar­guably one of the finest Caber­net Sau­vi­gnons in the coun­try, it also rep­re­sents out­stand­ing value, be­ing priced very rea­son­ably.

It is also a wine that can age, un­like the im­age of Is­raeli wines, which, as a gen­er­al­iza­tion, are given about a 10-12 year max­i­mum. The Golan Heights Win­ery re­cently hosted 12 Masters of Wine at the win­ery in Katzrin. The guests were given the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 1995 to taste blind. This is a 23-year-old wine! It was as­ton­ish­ingly youth­ful and showed in­cred­i­bly well, be­ly­ing the view that Is­raeli wines don’t age. Re­cently, I needed a wine for a 20th an­niver­sary and opened the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 1998. It was brown­ing, in de­cline, but it had a won­der­ful, del­i­cate, sen­sual bou­quet. It was an ab­so­lute de­light. Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon has proven to be one of the wines with the best record for cel­lar­ing over the long term.

The Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon is made from blend­ing fruit from the finest Caber­net vine­yards in the cen­tral and north­ern Golan Heights. The win­ery’s vine­yards are di­vided into nu­mer­ous blocs. Wines are grown, har­vested, fer­mented and aged in in­di­vid­ual lots, us­ing a data­base of cur­rent and his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion that make the Golan vine­yards ar­guably the most an­a­lyzed agri­cul­tural land in Is­rael. Only then are they blended to pro­vide an au­then­tic taste of the Golan Heights ter­roir.

The wine is usu­ally aged 18 months in small French oak bar­rels, 40% of which are new. If they pro­duce 300,000 bot­tles, it sounds like a lot, un­til you re­al­ize Chateau Mou­ton Roth­schild pro­duces the same. The wine usu­ally has deep ripe fruit aroma, and a silky, con­cen­trated char­ac­ter, a com­bi­na­tion of New World power with Old World el­e­gance.

I just heard that the Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 2014 has scored 91 points in the Wine Spec­ta­tor. Af­ter 32 vin­tages the wine con­tin­ues to be a sym­bol of qual­ity, con­sis­tency and a won­der­ful am­bas­sador for Is­raeli wine.

A great wine for me is not a dry tast­ing note but an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and a won­der­ful mem­ory. I per­son­ally have shared many mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences with this par­tic­u­lar wine. If there is one wine that rep­re­sents the story of Is­rael’s qual­ity wine rev­o­lu­tion, this is it!

(Photos: Courtesy)

SPE­CIAL MEM­O­RIES from four Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vugnons: the 1985, 1996, 2004 and 2013.

VIC­TOR SCHOENFELD, head wine­maker of the Golan Heights Win­ery for the last 26 years.

(Kfir Harbi)

THE GOLAN Heights Win­ery in Katzrin, pro­ducer of Yar­den Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon.

HIGH-AL­TI­TUDE, cool with vol­canic, basalt soil: The Golan vine­yards.

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