My recent visit with Yaacov Oryah and the white and orange wine factory

Anyone who has enjoyed an old white wine from Yaacov Oryah’s mind and hands can understand my choice of title. As long as you were not born in this century, of course (OMG, do not bring up the abomination that was the remake).

Yaacov Oryah has had many wineries that he has worked for, made wines for others, and/or consulted with. The official list that I know of is Asif Winery, Midbar Winery, Yaakov Oryah, Ella Valley, and now Psagot, where he is the head winemaker.

For the longest time, as long as I have known the man when we first met at Midar Winery in 2013, I have been struck by his passion, drive, and single-mindedness in creating great white wines in Israel.

Yes, Mr. Oryah can make fine red wines, like the 2011 Yaacov Oryah Iberian Dream, Gran Reserva, and Reserva, the Claro wines he makes for a restaurant called Claro, and others. Still, what I really crave and admire are the white and orange wines.

I have already spoken at length about Mr. Oryah here so I will concentrate on the 2019 releases. Also, if you think that the names of Yaacov Oryah wines are a bit whimsical, then good for you! You are starting to get a glimpse into the operation that is Yaacov Oryah Winery, a blend of whimsical genius, alchemy, great winemaking, and downright unique color all wrapped into a unique lineup of wines that define Mr. Oryah himself.

Orange wine factory

Mr. Oryah keeps saying that the white wines on the market today are a stripped down version of what a white wine should be. Sure, Europe has superstar white wines that can last decades, but that requires unique soil, fruit, terroir, and of course, history. In Israel, where the only thing that really sells well is date juice, that kind of wine is a dream. Still, Mr. Oryah thinks that he can create wines that are still quite unique indeed.

I have had the 2009 Midbar Semillon, and though the tasting in 2016 did not show well, that wine continues to blow me away in tasting after tasting. A Semillon that is 10 years old, and may now finally be reaching its limits. It is not a white wine covered in oak makeup, it is a wine that is pure and truly professional. It is what Mr. Oryah thinks can be done in Israel with white varietals. Yet, each and every year he makes more and more crazy wines. Each one is a data point for a growing list of wines that he sees as potential suitors for the wines he dreams of building.

Until he creates the perfect wine, the wines and data points he is building along the way, are getting better and better. The map and path he is building are not pointing towards another mass produced winery. The data points point towards a more precise and surgically built winery. Where plots or even rows of vines may well define the data point for his dream wine.

Factory of the future

When I heard that Mr. Oryah was creating 10 Orange wines (only 9 are publically available, the other is for a restaurant), four white wines (the varietal Semillon is for a later date), and one rose wine, I thought – I need to taste these!

So, Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered, and I made our way to the only real place to taste wine in Jerusalem, the Red and White Wine Bar. Yes, I have spoken about Mark and the bar before. It is still kitty-corner from the beautiful Mamilla hotel (8 Shlomo HaMelech Street at the corner of Yanai Street). Mark is still the ever present and mindful host, and while we tasted through 20+ wines, Mark was there with us through every wine, with food, heady music, with an uncanny ability to feel the room and timing throughout it all. I really feel horrible that I never had the time to go back to the bar and hang with Mark for an evening and watch him ply his trade, teaching the world about the world of Kosher Wine while serving great food and playing really fun music. Hopefully, next time!

I have spoken about orange wines in the past. Orange wine is simply the process of leaving white grapes to ferment on their skins, like red wine. To Mr. Oryah it is the truest expression of a white varietal and one that Israel can use now to create great white wines, while it searches for more data points on the path for Israel’s white varietals of the future. He calls the wine line Alpha Omega (AO) because it is greek for A to Z, to represent that this wine has it all, skin, pulp, and seed, not juice white juice, like most white wines are made.

The skins add more than just a bit of color, they add a huge amount of natural phenolics, along with tannin (yes tannin in white wine), and then it adds a few extracurricular notes, that some could find challenging. Notes that are defined as nuts and other aspects of reduction or oxidation. The point though is that the Alpha Omega line is a showcase of control and experimentation. Many of the wines show the proper and incredible next step beyond white wines we all know. The rich and layered complexity that skins add without some of the extracurricular notes. Some of the wines show those notes and many will find them wonderful, like myself, but in all, it is a show of control, experimentation, and more dots on the plot to a richer future.

Again, my comment above is very clear, this is not the blueprint for a mass-produced or even midsized winery. Mr. Oryah himself says that this was done of a whim, in many different cases, like the Anthology of Spice – it just fell into his lap. Here was an incredibly insane Gewurtztraminer that could not live on its own, worse no one wanted it because it was so offensive in its acid and spices. The vineyard owner was going to let them rot. Mr. Oryah could not let that happen and the outcome is one of the best “white” wines I have tasted in some time from Israel. In ways, it reminds me of the epic 2016 Netofa Tel Qasser, White. Not in taste as much as in its chutzpah, in its brazen disregard for the norm, for blazing a trail and adding yet more data points on the map in the mind of winemakers like Yaakov Oryah and Pierre Miodownick.

Can a winery exist on wines of this nature? Can you build an orange brand with 10 bottles? Can people follow it well enough, can they grasp the hidden genius that is in plain sight? To these questions, I do not know, I am simply a person who appreciates great wine, and a person who can see clear as day, that Yaacov Oryah is a man who creates great wines. My hope is that these data points point towards a future that Mr. Oryah can continue to build upon, a future that is truly bright while being whimsical in name and play.

My many thanks to Mr. Oryah and to Mark for their incredible hospitality and kindness with their time, space, and wines! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2018 Yaacov Oryah Soulmate – Score: 91 (QPR)
This wine is a blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Chenin Blanc. The name comes from a play on how the two components truly come together to create a wine that is greater than its parts. The nose on this wine is lovely, showing more chard than Chenin, with green apple, yellow apple, and quince from the Chenin, with lovely yellow blossom, and hints of orange. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun, an acid bomb, with loads of natural acid, mineral galore, with lemon/grapefruit notes, followed by lovely fruit focus and fruit structure that is quite precise and professional. The finish is long, green, and mineral-laden, with slate, saline, with green notes of gooseberry, and lime focus. Bravo!! Drink by 2021.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Light From Darkness – Score: 91
This wine is a Blanc de Noir, hence another play on words – Light from darkness. The wine is a blend of 33% Grenache Noir, 31% Cinsault, 24% Syrah, and 12% Mourvedre, a white GSM. The nose on this wine is very interesting, with slate, mineral, yellow plum, and lovely funk. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows currently like notes of a Chenin Blanc, with mineral, hay, and saline galore. The finish is long, green, with yellow and green apple, fun funk and mineral. WoW!! Drink by 2021.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter – Score: 92 to 93
The play here is that the Semillon “Hunter is a play on words within the play on words, as Hunter Valley, Australia is home to some of the best Semillon in the world) is silent now behind the Chenin Blanc. The wine is a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% Chenin Blanc. The nose on this wine is lovely, and very unique, with elegant funk, rich mineral, showing great smoke, flint, and slate galore. The mouth on this is lovely with more of the mineral, incredible slate, intense saline, lime, lemon Fraiche, fruit focus, backed well with piercing acidity, screaming rock, and lovely layers upon layers of mineral, grapefruit, citrus, pear, and gooseberry, with passion fruit hiding out. The finish is long, with more slate, mineral, acidic, and crazy tart citrus lingering forever! Bravo!! Drink until 2024.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Pretty as the Moon Rose – Score: 91 to 92
The wine was meant to be another Blanc de Noir, but God had other plans, and so Rose it is! Once it was a rose that was meant to be a white, well we have pretty AS white, get it? White moon. It also plays off the name of one of my favorite John Hugh movies, but that is TMI.
The wine is a blend of 53% Petit Sirah, 29% Mourvedre, and 18% Syrah, another rose or white from Rhone. The wine opens slowly, but with time it opens to cherry, raspberry, rhubarb, and pomegranate. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is awesome, it has a great core acidity, with loads of funk, mad quince, green apple, and lovely pomegranate, with rich salinity, with tart green fruit, with dry apple, and loads of hay and straw. The finish is long, green, apple, quince, and acid core, with salinity madness, and funk, that carries the dry fruit into the long saline driven and slate finish. Drink now.

2017 Yaacov Oryah Eye of the Storm – Score: 90+
Eye of the Storm is a very personal term that Mr. Oryah gave this wine. To say his life has been complicated and difficult at times would be an understatement. Throughout it all, the vineyard – his first, of these grapes, dating back to his time with the first winery, Asif, has kept a watchful eye with a constant view of the power of hope and for what the future holds.
This wine is a red blend of 42% Syrah, 36% Grenache, 11% Mourvedre, and 11% Cinsault. The nose on this wine is sweet, but controlled with smoke, blueberry, root beer, and roasted animal, with loads of blackcurrant, and roasted herb. The mouth on this wine is ripe but controlled, with a nice roundness, that fills to show more smoke, earth, with loads of boysenberry, cassis, and lovely coffee, with milk chocolate, sweet fruit, nice tannin, and great acidity. The finish is long, tart, sweet, ripe, and roasted animal, with coffee, and blue notes lingering long. Drink by 2023.

2016 Yaacov Oryah Eye of the Storm – Score: 90
Eye of the Storm is a very personal term that Mr. Oryah gave this wine. To say his life has been complicated and difficult at times would be an understatement. Throughout it all, the vineyard – his first, of these grapes, dating back to his time with the first winery, Asif, has kept a watchful eye with a constant view of the power of hope and for what the future holds.
The nose on this wine is still ripe, with nice boysenberry, ripe blue fruit, with red fruit, and smoke, and mineral. The mouth on this wine is nice, round, and ripe, with green notes, ripe raspberry, candied fruit, with mineral, saline, blackcurrant, dark cherry, graphite, and good earth. The finish is long, green, ripe, sweet, but balanced with acid, nice tannin, and earth, and mineral. Nice. Drink by 2021.

2017 Yaacov Oryah The Duke Pontiff – Score: 91
Back to the whimsical names, this wine is a blend of 49% Pinot Noir, 21% Syrah, 18% Grenache, 6% Mourvedre, and 6% Cinsault. In other words, 49% Burgundy and 51% Rhone. Officially, the Duke in this relationship is less in proportion than the Pontiff, but I am getting ahead of myself. Duke is for the Duchy of Burgundy (represented by Pinot Noir here), while Pontiff is for the Chateauneuf de Pape, the classic blend of the Rhone Valley.
The Pinot Noir works out and saves the wine for me, it calms the wine down. The nose on this wine smells like a Cali Pinot Noir, with blue notes from the Syrah, and Mourvedre. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is well made, round, but also balanced with great acidity, nice fruit, dark and red with great smoke, tart fruit, and really nice chocolate covered coffee beans, with sweet oak, and nice tart cranberry, and dark cherry. The finish is long, green, red, and smoky, with sweet oak, dark raspberry, more cherry, green notes, and lovely oak, and dark chocolate and tobacco, lingering long. Drink by 2021.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Viognier, Alpha Omega – Score: 91 to 92
The nose on this wine is lovely with peach, apricot, with rhubarb, with no floral notes, and sweet spices, and white pepper. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely, showing complexity, with layers of nuts, walnuts, spices, stone fruit, with crazy spices, nutmeg, sweet oak, and more pepper, and smoke, with flint, and slate. Lovely!!! Drink by 2022.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Chardonnay, Alpha Omega – Score: 92
The nose on this wine shows green apple, zucchini, parsley, and mint, with spice, and more herb. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is herbaceous, with mint, parsley, loam, earth, with more apple, quince, sweet white cherry, and white chocolate, with a lovely unctuous and layered mouthfeel, showing layers and complexity, with great saline, mad acidity, with intense minerality, slate, and flint, followed, by more herbs, and yellow pear. Bravo!! Drink by 2022.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Semillon, Alpha Omega – Score: 91 (for now)
The nose on this wine is smoky, funky, green, flinty, with orange notes, with crazy sweet spices, and dry apple, with orange peel, and lemongrass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has nice tannin but backed by crazy acid, but it is too young, showing dry quince, Asian pear, with intense saline, lovely cloves, nutmeg, sweet baking spices, and loam, with tart nectarines, and green notes. My hope is that the complexity will come with age, for now, I would let this lie. Lovely! Drink from 2020 until 2026.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Roussanne, Alpha Omega – Score: 91
The nose on this wine is funky and filled with blossoms, honeysuckle, and honeyed notes, showing nutmeg, smoke, with sweet notes of orange, and yellow fruit. The mouth on this wine is very different, with crazy saline, acid, followed by smoke, lemon, with orange notes, and sweet herb. The finish is a bit short but lovely and the acidity lingers, with sweet notes of quince and yellow apple.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Chenin Blanc, Alpha Omega – Score: 92
The nose on this wine is incredible, showing funk, smoke, hay, flint, mineral, and loads of yellow apple, with sweet spice, and pear. To my mind, it shows what I dream of when I think Chenin Blanc. The mouth on this medium+ bodied wine is lovely, layered, with mineral, more saline, orange, yellow pear, crazy hay, straw, with a rich and unctuous fruit structure, showing beautifully, with sweet tannin, acidity off the charts, smoke, orange peel, pith, and sweet notes of herb and basil, lingering long with yellow blossoms, saline, acid, and slate galore. Wow!! Drink by 2023.

2018 Yaacov Oryah The First Anthology, Alpha Omega – Score: 92 to 93
The play on words here is slightly dependant upon the Hebrew Language, which is a large part of Mr. Oryah, of course. First Anthology in Hebrew is האסופה הראשונה, with Asif and Asufa being base in nature. The components of first skin macerated white blend, made in the אסיף winery, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc. This wine is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Viognier, and 20% Chenin Blanc. This wine is an homage to Yaacov’s first Orange blend at Asif.
The nose on this wine is a smoke and funk monster, with lovely Viognier nose, showing honeysuckle, honeyed notes, with yellow apple, white pepper, and sweet herb. The mouth on this medium+ bodied wine is incredible, layered, rich, unctuous, and extracted, with crazy saline, acid, with sweet herb, elegant, and precise, wow, so well balanced with nice tannin structure that gives way to pear, apple, and fruit structure that flows into lemongrass, and citrus. The finish is long, green, lime, limoncello, and foliage/garrigue. Lovely!!! Drink by 2024.

2018 Yaacov Oryah The Anthology of Spice, Alpha Omega – Score: 93
This wine is a blend of 50% Gewurztraminer, 40% Chardonnay, and 10% Roussanne. The 50% Gewurztraminer found here is the fruit that I spoke about above, fruit that was going to be wasted for just being itself, heady and spicy. As an Homage of an Homage, yeah more play on play on words, the wine talks to the original AO of old, while also staking this epic spicy fruit to two sturdy partners that add so much, while letting the Gewurtztraminer be itself, without being offensive.
This is not a pineapple juice wine, this wine is more about the Gewurztraminer’s spice, with control, floral notes, blossoms galore, with rose hip, and jasmine-like notes, with apple, and earth. The mouth on this wine is beautifully tannic, great structure, showing a crazy fruit/spiced/mineral structure, with smoke, funk, with crazy layers upon layers of the spices, tannin, with rich extraction, with even more tannin structure than the previous wines, showing spice, nutmeg, cloves, crazy allspice, and floral notes, that give way to roasted herb, dry hay, straw, and green/yellow apple lingering long with melon, more grass, lemon, and spice galore lingering long. WOW!! Drink by 2025.

2018 Yaacov Oryah Gewurtztraminer, Alpha Omega – Score: 92 to 93
This is not the same Gewurtztraminer found in the Anthology of spice. This is fun, this nose is a Rorschach experiment. The nose on this wine is lychee, rose hips, rose petals, melon, with hints of pineapple, smoke, funk, and rich spices galore. The mouth on this wine is crazy rose, layers upon layers of floral notes, spices, incredible tannin structure, with tangerine, orange peel, with more extraction, with even more spices than the Anthology of spice, showing rich unctuous fruit, crazy and intense spice, with incredible layers of spice, more yellow pear, and citrus, with sweet orange, and herb galore, with slate, mineral, graphite, and herb lingering long with acid core. WOW! Drink by 2024.

2017 Yaacov Oryah Melchizedek, Alpha Omega – Score: 90+
With so many of the new AO (Alpha Omega) wines, the name AO was undermined. To give proper respect to the AO blend of old, Mr. Oryah added an homage to the Melchizedek, the priest/king that blessed Abraham after the war with the 4 kings. He was a man that was just and a person who understands life, he served Abraham wine and bread, simple but to the point!
This wine is a blend of 40% Viognier, 34% Roussanne, and 26% Semillon. The nose on this wine is crazy, reduced, and really special, with pure notes of nuts, walnuts, almonds, with flint, hay, straw, and smoke, followed by funk and earth. The mouth on this wine is round, balanced, with good acidity, sweeter than the others with orange notes, nectarines, Orangina, rose, and floral notes, and relaxed tannin. Nice. Drink by 2024.

———————————————– Psagot wines —————————————————

2018 Psagot Chardonnay – Score: 88
The nose on this wine is solid, quince, apple, with nice sweet oak, and pear. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is oak dominated, with fruit, and spice, with apple, and sweet orange notes, and spices. The finish is long, sweet, oaky, and spice. Drink now.

2018 Psagot Viognier – Score: 89
This is a peach and apricot bomb, with not enough mineral, showing nice bright fruit, and herb, with honeysuckle. The mouth on this wine is simple, not as layered, with good acid and peach. The finish is long, green, and peachy, with spice, and floral notes. Drink now.

2018 Psagot Gewurtztraminer – Score: 90
This wine is a bit off-dry, which breaks the rule of the evening, but nice, with classic Gewurztraminer style, with sweet pineapple, orange, tropical notes, nice spices, and loads of fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fruity, and it starts to show a lot of RS (Residual Sugar), but with air that calms down and the spice comes out, it is balanced well, with crazy salinity, acidity, and guava, and melon, are a bit too much, but nice. The finish is super long, crazy acid, saline, and a load of slate. Nice. Solid! Drink now.

2018 Psagot Rose – Score: 87
The nose on this wine is funky, with cranberry, quince, tart fruit, and rich herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rhubarb driven, with saline and acid, with sweet and tart fruit, all over the place. Nice enough. Drink now.

Posted on May 1, 2019, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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