Before I start – a bit of a disclaimer – I consider Ya’acov Oryah a friend. That really does NOT impact what I think of his wines at all – but I think it’s important to be up front about that when writing about wine and people expect objectivity. Now that that is out of the way, on to the matter at hand.
This past Thursday night I had the pleasure of tasting through all of Ya’acov Oryah 2018 releases (outside of those that were made exclusively for the restaurant Brut which is not Kosher, though those wines are – I might have to go there to pick up some to taste). Besides being the winemaker for P’sagot, Ya’acov has gained a reputation as one of the premier white wine makers in Israel and that is where his focus lays primarily with his private label wines – though there is one red in the mix usually, his GSM blend called Eye of the Storm, and this year is no different.
2017 Light from Darkness – (or in Hebrew אור מאופל) – which is Ya’acov’s play on words for his Blanc D’Noir. This is the second release of this wine. It is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre & Tempranillo. The 2016 edition did not have the Tempranillo in the mix. While I liked the 2016, even now people still say it’s drinking a bit young and on release it was quite austere. The 2017 is FAR more approachable and just drinking beautifully right now. Some funk on the nose but overall refined and smooth, less green than last year. The Tempranillo seems to have rounded off some of the edges here. Still excellent acidity as last year with some stone fruit on the nose (nectarine maybe?) and some nice fresh citrusy goodness again in the mouth. As the 2016 has started to gain complexity, I would assume the 2017 will as well – but of course it is also enjoyable now – so it’s a big win. Here is the catch – and it won’t be the first time you see it in this post – you can’t buy this wine. While not made exclusively for one restaurant, this pre sold to a number of restaurants – a couple even being kosher (in Jerusalem either at the Mamilla Hotel or at Angelica or in Hertzlia at Herbert Samuel). I would have bought this in a heartbeat if it was available. So this was sort of a tease – but a yummy one.
2017 Saignee d’Orange – 100% Unoaked Chenin Blanc , the name of this wine is also a cute allusion to what it started out as….. Ya’acov wanted to produce an varietal orange wine of Chenin Blanc. After very limited contact with the skins Ya’acov “bled” off a portion of the juice and made this white wine. Traditionally, when performed on red grapes, whit would be the Saignee method of making a Rose. Here the grapes were white and the intent was an orange wine – hence the name. While cute, the name is probably confusing. In this case though,marketing won’t make much of a difference as the wine “suffered” the same fate as the wine above and is already gone. The wine, much like its name is delightful. Super lean and floral as opposed to fruity, with acid in balance and not overpowering. Some nice ginger and something like pear with great minerality. Had we enough glasses, I would have loved to have tasted side by side with it’s Orange Wine brother – and were it available for purchase maybe side by side with a few other Israeli CB’s like the Domaine Netofa. Note to self, – ask Ya’acov early in the season whats coming and get a taste before the restaurants….
2017 The Silent Hunter (in Hebrew הצייד השקט) – Finally a wine available for purchase (if you are quick and Ya’acov doesn’t change his mind)! The name is a play on Ya’acov’s Hunter’s Valley Semillon of which there was a 2009 and will be a 2017 in about 5 years (you can read about both of them here). The Hunter’s Valley itself is an homage to Hunter Valley Semillon of Australia which produces low-alcohol, long living version of this wonderful varietal. The Silent Hunter is a blend of Semillon (60%) and Chenin Blanc (40%). The acid here is just CRAZY for those of you who are wine geeks the TA here is 8.5 with a ph of 315!) Let me share the first 3 words of my jotted notes after tasting “Holy crap! Incredible!” The wine is a powerhouse. With a touch more weight than the straight CB above given by Semillon but all of that floral loveliness given by the CB that is not present in the Hunter’s Valley. I was blown away. This wine was my favorite white of the night – and remarkably, Ya’acov has about 400 bottles left. Unfortunately, he is not sure that they will be for sale. Why? Well both the CB and Semillon can age – and Ya’acov thinks that this wine is in its infancy. He was willing to part with some now – but I have a felling he is going to hold part of whatever is left. So if you want in, better get in touch now. before it disappears for a few years. (As an aside Ya’acov also bottled some of this as a sparkling wine – and with the acid and flavor profile as they are, I would guess it would also be a huge winner…..)
We then moved on to the orange wines which Ya’acov has been experimenting with for the better part of a decade. He has released wines in this range – titled Alpha Omega – for the last two years. As I have noted to Ya’acov in private and at tastings – I was NOT a fan of wither vintage. The 2014 felt like work trying to understand with the the tannin and tea notes interesting but not really enjoyable per-se (for me) – while I found the 2015 downright unpleasant. I am happy to say that both orange releases this year are finally “there”. Just shows you, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again – and what a payoff….
2017 Alpha Omega Chenin Blanc – Wow what a nose. It almost presents as a desert wine -with crazy honeysuckle. Then you taste it and – boom – an incredible dissonance between what your brain expects and what your mouth tastes. It actually took my breadth away. While less tannic than the “flagship” Alpha Omega, that tannin is still there front and center. I happen to think that the CB is a better fit for the “orange treatment” – giving it a slightly lighter and leaner body which I think made it a more easy fun drink – but with plenty of complexity that is typical of Ya’acov’s orange wines. The notes in the white version are intensified in some ways but with the honeysuckle giving balance. This is supposed to be the first in a series of varietal orange wines. I have to say, I am looking forward to the others.
2016 Alpha Omega – Like previous incarnations, this is a blend of Roussanne, Viognier & Semillon. On the nose, very similar to the AO-CB but maybe with a touch of flint – which carries through in the mouth as well. This wine is also more viscous and full bodied as well. There is some flint in there with some sweet citrus. Made for a a really interesting drink. While for drinking now I probably prefer the CB, I would love to see where this is holding in 6 months to a year.
2016 Eye of the Storm (in Hebrew עין הסערה) – This is the 3rd release of this GSM blend. I was a huge fan of the 2014 which was a smoke monster and super yummy. 2015 was nice, but really not in the same league. The 2016 is much more in line with the 2014 having some of that smokey profile, but slightly dialed back. The rest of the gang is back as well, with the sour cherry and earth and red juicy fruit all there backed up with some nice acid and tannin. What else could you want? Regardless of preference for the 2014, I have a feeling this will appeal to a wider range of drinker – and will also pair better with a wider range of food.
2008 The Old Musketeer – No change here from previous notes. It is IMHO one of the very best desert wines out there. Really a beautiful way to cap off the evening.
A guest, not knowing that we would be enjoying the Muskateer also brought 2 desert wines. The Or from Tzora is a perennial favorite and never disappoints – though it really is not in the same league as the Muskateer and the 2016 is still VERY young. This was my first experience with the Castel.
2016 Tzora Or – Not much has changed in the week and half since I last had it – still excellent 😉 .
2015 Castel Muscat – So after tasting 2 of the best white kosher desert wines – this bottle really fell flat. There are some nice tropical notes with lychee and pineapple up front. And the wine is not cloying with a bit of acid balancing out, but ti doesn’t come close to the two wines that preceded it – and quite honestly is not as good as the Carmel Sha’al Late Harvest Gewurtz or even the Binaymina Late Harvest Gewurtz either of which can be had for 30-45% less than the Castel.
In general I don’t post about where to purchase a given wine as most wines are sold through stores. In this case the wines are sold directly via the winery – and the winery is really a part time venture as Ya’acov has a day job. So, if you are in Israel and would like to purchase, contact Amit Arieli at 050-77-8205. Abroad, you can look Ya’acov Oryah up on Facebook.