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
Like last year, 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 a 93 or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR. I also included some of the best wines I tasted this year – they are at the bottom.
We are returning with the “wine of the year”, and “best wine of the year”. Wine of the year will go to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. This year, it is one of the QPR Kings of 2018. Yes, last year, we had a single QPR King, this year, there are a few. Why? Because as I will discuss in my year in review, 2018 was about having more solid wines than having GREAT wines. Sure there is a clear Best wine of the year, which is revealed below, but 2018 will be remembered for having MANY very enjoyable wines, rather than a few GREAt wines.
Also, yes, the Wine of the year and the Best wine of the year, both made by Royal wines, such is life, and I could care less for the most part.
Again, the list is missing wines I have yet to taste, like the 2015/2016 Chateau Pape Clement, which I am sure would have been on this list if I had tasted them. There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year – blame that on the poor crop or rose wines overall, they did not even crack the interesting list. Also, this year, we were given a bounty of top wines and finding the list this year was really a task of removing then adding.
The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2015 and 2016 French Grand Vin wines a bit early! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.
Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites, we had no new wines from Germany. Thankfully, we had Domaine Netofa and Yaccov Oryah Wines to come to the rescue. On top of that, we had another EPIC year for 2016 Herzog Chardonnay, Reserve, Russian River. This year, quite deservedly, it cracked the top 25 wines of the year! The new Chablis is also nice, but the winner in the “very close” section has to be the 2016 Koenig Riesling – Bravo guys!
Some of these wines are available in the USA, some only in Europe, and a few only available in Israel.
Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
The 2018 kosher wine of the year – we have a TIE!
This one was a NOT a no-brainer to me this year. It was really hard. I wanted to give it to the 2016 Chateau Larcis Jaumat, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, straight up, but it is already sold out, between me and Gabriel Geller, we sold that wine out in no time. So, instead, we will share the winner with the almost impossible to find, aforementioned Larcis Jaumat, along with another from Europe, the 2015 Cantina Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, which is also QPR superstar as well! Congratulations to Cantina Terra di Seta and Royal Wines, and to Chateau Larcis Jaumat, along with an elevated nod of the chapeau to Menahem Israelievitch for finding and curating this wonderful QPR winery tucked into a corner of Saint-Emilion! Bravo!
2016 Chateau Larcis Jaumat, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – Score: 92 (Crazy QPR)
This wine starts off open and then closes so tight like an oil drum, this thing is nuts. The wine is made of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, a classic right bank wine from Saint-Emilion. The nose on this wine is really bright, ripe, and intense, with rich intensity, mushroom, earth, but so much redolence, the nose is far more open than the mouth, showing rich blackberry, dark plum, and rich vanilla, followed by herb, mint, rosemary, and green notes galore. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is crazy rich, it does at times remind me of Benyo’s Merlots with a fair amount of blackcurrant thrown in, which is never found on Benyo wines, but the mad acid, rich mouthfeel, closed tight fruit structure has me reminded often of a Four Gates wine, with intense notes, they scream because of the acid, that gives way to rich tannin structure that is searing and yet inviting, with rich cranberry, cherry, and crazy earth, that will give way to mushroom and forest floor with time. The finish is long, really long, lingering, and intense, with gripping tannin, acid, tobacco galore, mounds of blackcurrant, vanilla, herb, foliage, and green notes, that give way to a gripping mouthfeel that will crush anything, with tar, menthol, and more earth. OMG, this Benyo in France! Wow!! Drink from 2021 to 2030.
2015 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico – Score: 92
The nose on this wine is ripe, at first, the wine starts off with heat, but that blows off, but it is also well balanced, with lovely earth, mineral, dirt, with dark cherry, coffee, and lovely dark fruit. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is beautiful, complex, well layered, with rich concentration, nice extraction, all balanced and plush, with rich blackberry, currant, lovely mouth draping tannin, with lovely foliage, and some nice earthy and fruit bite. With time, it shows its ripeness, but also intense minerality, saline, graphite galore, and lovely tannin structure. The finish is long, green, and ripe but balanced, with lovely acid, great texture, that gives way to more coffee, graphite, scarping mineral, and light almond bitterness on the long finish. Bravo!! Drink 2019 to 2023.
The 2018 best kosher wine of the year!
This one was really tough. First of all, the one I chose is not available yet for purchase in the USA. Also, in terms of score, it did not beat out the 2016 Chateau Giscours, 2016 Chateau Lascombes, 2016 Chateau Du Tertre, Margaux, 2016 Chateau Montviel, or 2014 Chateau Tour Seran, Medoc (NOT Mevushal), or the 2014 Chateau Cantenac Brown, which I somehow missed from last year’s top wines. In the end – for its sheer awesomeness it beat out a very crowded field. In the end, the winner of the BEST kosher wine of 2018 goes to the 2016 Chateau Malartic, and it deserves the crown – bravo!!
2016 Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, Pessac-Leognan, Grand Cru Classe – Score: 94
The 2016 Malartic-Lagraviere is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot (at least in the non-kosher version). Wow, the nose is really ripe, not what I expect from a Malartic, but still lovely, with chocolate, black fruit, earth, and lovely hints of umami, with sweet oak, earth, and sweet blue fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered, and concentrated with nice control, expressive, with blackberry, blueberry, and what a change, Malartic with blueberry! Showing more raspberry, earth, and rich fruit, with a truly incredible plushness, that gives way to a rich mouth coating tannin that drapes and lifts the mouth, showing a precision, and an incredible professional touch, with plush fruit, loam, and lovely saline. The finish is long, and plush, with more blue, green, and red fruit, with leather, and power that belies its youth, a wine that will push long into its life, with tannin, licorice, and graphite/mineral that lingers long, Bravo!! Drink from 2025 until 2035. Read the rest of this entry
Having just posted my take on where Israel’s wines are at this point, especially in regards to red wines, there is still a silver lining, the white wines from top Israeli wine producers. Those include Vitkin, Domaine du Netofa, Capsouto, Covenant Winery Israel, Tzora Winery, and of course Yaacov Oryah’s not so well known masterpieces of white wines.
You can read my last post on Yaacov Oryah and his wines here. I visited Israel for a short trip, but I was sure to contact Yaacov and he was very kind to make time to meet once again at the lovely Red and White Wine Bar of Jerusalem. The bartender is the owner, sommelier, coffee bean roaster, and the cheesemonger – Mark Arnold Jam.
The wine bar is one of those few bars that is very particular about what wines are served on their menu. They have top flight wines from Castel, Flam, Gvaot, Adir, Psagot, Matar, and Yaacov Oryah. Of course, not everyone is on the same page as I am, so they have wines from other Israeli wineries, but the majority are wines I would drink! They also have great food, his menu consists of omelets, cheese, and butter (from Naomi Farm in the Golan), great bread, fresh pasta, and fish dishes. However, do not forget the great dessert options as well!
The overall feel of the bar is old school, but equally current, with a bartender that understands food, service, and wine are all intertwined into a single vision that is focused on people first, wine and food second. The bartender is the owner, sommelier, coffee bean roaster, the cheesemonger – Mark Arnold Jam. If you ever get the chance to sit down for an hour in this lovely place you will quickly find that his last name equates well to his musical tastes. Mark gets the vision and he is a one-man show that weaves poetry, music, an old school vibe, and great food and wine knowledge into the ideal renaissance man at your service!
When we arrived for the tasting, I was joined by OU, AD, JK, and NA, along with Arnold and of course Yaacov Oryah. We were there to taste the wines he released recently for 2018. Yaacov’s white wines are pure joy, he gets what works, for people like me, and for others as well. The wines are always enjoyable, well made, balanced, and really rich and layered. The only con to the wines may be the price, but hey greatness comes at a cost.
Yaacov is currently the head winemaker at Psagot Winery and he also makes wines under his own label and some special wines just for restaurants around Israel. His winery is proof that Israel can make great wines. It is further proof, that for now, Israel may well be better served to concentrate on white wines than red ones. The 2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter, to me, is the best white wine I have tasted this entire year. Better than the 2017 Jean-Pierre Bailly Pouilly-Fume, Sauvignon Blanc, or the other top white wines from 2017. There is no denying it, Semillion in the hands of Yaacov, is like lead in the hands of an Alchemist. The other white and orange wines he made this past year are also quite impressive. Truly a tour de force – Bravo!!!
My many thanks to Yaacov Oryah for allowing me to taste all the current wines and to Mark for letting us spend some time in his lovely wine bar! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2017 Yaacov Oryah Light from Darkness (אור מאופל in Hebrew) – Score: 91 to 92
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Tempranillo. This is a classic Blanc du Noir using beautiful Rhone Valley grapes.
The nose on this wine shows beautiful and crazy aromatics, with great notes of tart lemon, yellow Apple, with straw, mineral, and lemongrass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is joy, showing great acid and a tactile mouthful with screaming tart peach, fun and tart lime, with screaming grapefruit, tart, and juicy nectarines, and mineral galore. The finish is long, green, and joyous with more citrus, rich salinity, slate, and rock. Bravo! Drink until 2020.
2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter (הצייד השקט in Hebrew) – Score: 92 to 93
From what I have tasted so far, this may well be the best white wine of 2017 from Israel, and maybe around the world, though I have others still to taste from Cali and France. This wine is a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% Chenin Blanc. This wine’s name is a nod to Hunter Valley in Australia, and its ability to create Semillion based wines that last forever.
The nose on this wine is a crazy flint bomb, with dry quince, sweet and spicy ginger, rich saline, and paraffin, with rich yellow plum, apple, lemongrass, honeydew, honeysuckle, followed by rich floral notes, and rich mineral. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is an oily texture with rich fruit, showing lovely mineral, with a mouthfeel of rich earth, straw, and crazy grapefruit with lemongrass and rich pear, all balanced by an acidity that is off the charts. The finish is long, mineral-driven, with more floral and green notes, with incredible acid, dry quince, and floral notes lingering long. Bravo!! Drink by 2030.
2017 Yaacov Oryah Chenin Blanc, Alpha Omega – Score: 91
Another vintage and another Orange wine from Yaacov. In 2017 he made one orange wine. In 2018, he will be making 10 of them!!!
The nose on this wine is almost pure funk! Really funky, nutty and really floral with straw, mad honeysuckle, and rich sweet nectarines, with crazy yellow plum. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and intense with an oily and crazy mouthfeel, that comes at you in layers and hits you with balanced tannins that give this wine an incredible structure, the tannins, and the acid combine to pucker the mouth with funk madness. The middle of the wine shows that lovely nutty characteristic of orange wines, showing with almond and halva, followed by with honeyed fruit and hints of oxidation. The finish is long acidic, and earthy, with green notes, spice, ginger, and lovely almond pith and orange peel that lasts forever. Bravo!!! Drink until 2024.
2016 Yaacov Oryah Alpha Omega – Score: 90
This wine is a blend of Roussanne, Semillon, and Viognier, that sat and fermented for three weeks on the white grape skins.
The nose on this wine is really fun and crazy, with intense richness and lovely fruit, white chocolate, raspberry, with floral notes galore, and rich orange blossom with orange and rich mineral and spice. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is crazy rich, mouth coating, with lovely nectarines, more yellow plum, with intense acidity, showing rich oak and butterscotch, balanced well with mouth-drying tannin, quince, and more floral notes. The finish is long, sweet, and tart with crazy graphite, saline, and tannin that give way to orange fruit, and cloves and sweet spices. Fun! Drink until 2024.
2016 Yaacov Oryah Eye of the Storm (עין הסערה in Hebrew) – Score: 89
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The nose on this wine shows lovely blue and black fruit, with a smoke bomb redolence, followed by tar and rich roasted animal fat, with a huge pile of blackcurrants. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is tar driven, with chocolate and tobacco, with a long and balanced wine finish showing a bit of green, with loads of ripe and juicy blueberry, slightly pushed blackberry, and lovely tobacco that lingers long. Nice! A bit too ripe for me, but very well made. Drink until 2023.