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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. Read the rest of this entry

A birthday party long in the makings

Well, this past weekend I had a long-delayed birthday party at home, with friends and great wines. In honor of my birthday, I made the classic Tunisian Friday night dinner, but without all the classic trimmings; Couscous with boulettes.

This was one of my better couscous for a few reasons. First of all, the axiom – more is better, is truly meant to describe how much chicken you should throw into a chicken soup recipe. Second, I threw in a bunch of onions, zucchini, and ground up – oven roasted – mushrooms into the meatball recipe. Sadly, the makoud was lacking, because I refused to douse it with oil and eggs. The age old Tunisian cooking rule holds very true to makoud, if the dish does not look like an oil spill, you have done it all wrong. In this case, the lack of 12 eggs and an easy hand on the oil made for more of a potato mash than a souffle.

With that, the rest was up to me and Benyo, from Four Gates Winery to handle the rest of the wine duties. ER and HK brought apple cobbler dessert, while SR and JR brought some dessert that was hijacked by Rochel for later consumption. Fear not, they both know the drill, some things that are dessert based, never make it to the table, they are essentially Teruma to the goddess of the house. Read the rest of this entry

Another Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon Friday night with friends

Three weeks ago friends came by for a shabbat as they were visiting the area for a doctor’s conference. The most entertaining part of the shabbat (food wise) was JP’s dietary requirements. The good news was these requirements were not a full group requirement (three total in the posse), but rather a diet need of just JP. The group was fantastic, and the table dynamic was really quite interesting. One of the other guests at the table, who was also hosting the group for lunch the next day, thanked me for introducing the group to them, so yeah they are ok folks.

The interesting fact about JP is that not only is this man vegan (100%), but he is also gluten free. Those two requirements combine to make quite a potent 1-2 punch! Still we worked it out! Once again I went with two pots of trusted Sausage Stew, one with sausage and one sans the sausage! To pump up the Umami flavors I pan fried portobello mushrooms and Tempeh, separately that is. Overall the food approach worked well I think, but the wines were the real winner of the evening – it was a dinner of beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines along with a couple of outliers.

The last dinner we had with guests was also a Cabernet night, but we still had more wines we wanted to try. So, JP was very kind to bring a fantastic wine – a bottle of the 2007 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin, what a wine! It was velvet in a bottle, with still gripping tannins, but mouth coating and plush with layers of complexity and secondary notes coming into form.

Before I rant on my epic fail wine, the two 2007 wines were both brought by guests and they are insane wines. The 2007 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin is pure heaven. The 2007 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon is lovely, really special – but a step behind the Castel GV.

Now on to my rant, the entire night was a home run (at least wine wise), except for my one EPIC fail! You see I trusted people who told me that a wine was really good, and having had an earlier vintage of this wine, I assumed this they were correct. Well, what can I say, I wasted a TON of money of wines that are really not that special at all (with clear date leanings). Look, I know I am a bit more old world in nature than some, but when the entire table, JP, JR, Benyo, and others just say NO (think the upcoming elections), the wine was barely touched, all I can say is EPIC FAIL! The wine was the 2008 Falesco Marciliano Umbria IGT, which pales horribly in comparison to its younger sibling the 2006 Falesco Marciliano Umbria IGT, which I had in NYC last year. The wine is NOT flawed structure wise, but it is overripe, parker-ized, and pushed so hard that it shows. Interestingly, I was given a bottle of the same wine, from a different channel (hand imported it from France to Israel and then home). It will be interesting to see if the issue is the wine or the import/storage manner of the wines I bought – before I got my hands on them.

The outcome of this unfortunate purchase, is a new and I hope fruitful direction I will use in wine buying going forward. I WILL NEVER BUY A WINE I HAVE NOT TASTED. PERIOD! It does not matter if the wine will sell out, nor does it matter if my closest wine confidant says it is good, DO NOT CARE! I have had too many large losses, this past 12 months, from using my old approach, to continue using it any longer. Last year alone I spent countless dollars on promises of my friends and wine aficionados, BAD MOVE! The only person who knows what I like, is me, and therefore, I am happy to have less good wine than more bad wine. Read the rest of this entry

My top kosher 25 wines of 2015

wall of wineWell, I have posted my year in review, and now I wanted to get to my top wines for 2015. Please beware that I know I missed many wines and that this list does not include wines that I have tasted that are not available on the open market – like older Covenant Wines and the sort.

I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored an A- or higher. Anything less would not be on my list.

On an aside, there continues to be a whole mess of madness around wines notes and scores, even the Jewish Week weighed in on the matter. So, let me explain this really simply – go look at some of my recent blog posts – they talk about some nice enough wines, but wines I would not specifically buy. They have all the nice words and such, which were all true and to the point. But without the final value score, I can tell you a Cabernet is full bodied with good fruit and spice – and you may say cool I want that – but then I would say well, yeah but it was not complex or layered. You could try to reason that out of the words I wrote, because the words complex and layered are missing. However, the simple fact that it was scored a B+ or whatever, would have told you that it is not always a wine worth going after (unless it is the Terrenal or such where it gets a QPR moniker).

My point being that wine notes – without a proper context (AKA a real score) – is like looking at a wedding hall through a slit in the window. Sure you can “see” the hall, but are you really sure you want to get married there? I never scored wines to tell people to listen to my score. I score wines to set the context and to always read the notes to see if that sort of wine works for you!

OK, enough of the darn score rant for the day, back to the matters at hand, being wines of the year. The list is long – get over it. It is a list of wines that I would buy, have bought, and will buy again – simple enough I hope. I did not differentiate by another other criteria or aspect – if it was solid (A- or higher) it made the list. I hope you enjoy!

2013 Elvi Wines Clos Mesorah – Score: A- to A
This is the flagship wine of Elvi Wines (though the Herenza Reserva may have a word to say about that) and it is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, and 20% Syrah. Elvi Wines makes 7K of these bottles. The wine was sourced from vines that are 20 to 100 years of age. The nose on this wine is insane and intoxicating with aromas of watermelon, root beer, ripe boysenberry, blueberry, along with chocolate and black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with layers of concentrated fruit, with an attack of blue and black fruit, balanced perfectly, showing great elegance, along with mad mineral, graphite, slate, rich and freshly tilled earth, along with deeply concentrated black fruit. The wine is the perfect example of elegance and balance with ripe fruit that flows into a plush mouth made from mouth coating tannin and rich fruit structure. This is truly a wine speaks for itself. The finish is long and intense, showing rich roasted animal, lovely mushroom, and floral notes. With time, the wine shows mad barnyard, mushroom, and even more loamy dirt. Bravo!!!

2010 Elvi Wines Herenza Rioja Reserva – Score: A- to A
There are only 4K of these bottles made and each one is a true gift! The wine is closed and slow to open, but with time and a fair amount of decanting, the nose shows of mad soy sauce (like the 2009 Herenza Reserva), chocolate, richly tilled earth, loam, along with crazy mushroom and mad mineral. This wine is the epitome of umami, showing intense layers of umami with white summer fruit, cranberry, craisins, blackberry, pomegranate, and tart cherry in the background with mounds of earth. The finish is intensely long and dirt filled, with  dark chocolate, licorice, blueberry and red fruit. BRAVO!!!!

2012 Chateau Haut Condisas, Medoc – Score: A- (and much more)
The 2011 was very nice, but the 2012 a slight step up. The nose on this wine is rich and redolent with lovely dirt, dark black fruit, barnyard, earth, and mushroom. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, ripe, and in your face with nice chocolate, mad toast, mouth drying tannin, all wrapped in crazy acid, but bigger and riper than the 2011, almost Israeli in nature, but classically French controlled, with blackberry, raspberry, plum, with mineral and graphite. The finish is long and dirty, with hits of herb, along with layers of concentrated fruit, more mad mineral/earth/dirt/mushroom with dried raspberry, and rich garrigue. WOW! BRAVO!

2010 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Listric – Medoc – Score: A- (and more) (CRAZY QPR)
This wine is on the list for its insane value and its goto ability above all wines from France for the price! The 2010 was a nice wine – but the 2012 is even better! The nose on this wine is lovely with rich dirt, cherry, crazy tart and juicy raspberry, followed by more dirt and mineral galore. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and still young but give it time, the acid is impressive along with nice spice, mouth coating tannin that is gripping along with lovely blackberry, cassis in the background, along with crazy mushroom, and layers of fruit and earth and forest floor that come at you and do not give up. The finish is long, with insane acid and more mouth drying tannin, more earth, dirt, tart lingering fruit, and lovely mineral/graphite. The fruit and mineral lingers long – BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

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