The Great Experiment

Apologies for what will be a VERY long post – there was a lot to cover. Also – full disclaimer – Ya’acov Oryah is a friend. I don’t believe that impacts how I rate his wine, but it’s important for you to know that for the sake of transparency.

“The true method of knowledge is experiment.”

William Blake

While I get to take part in many organized tastings, none have ever been quite like what I participated in last week. The wines in question were primarily Ya’acov Oryah’s current lineup, which I have already tasted through with him from A-Z (or Alpha to Omega 😉) , not once but twice.  This time though we did something different. Ya’acov wanted to perform an experiment and taste through the wines over 3 consecutive to see how the wines changed over time, if they improved, declined, developed, etc. This was prompted by a discussion on Facebook where some people, who had bought wines from Ya’acov’s skin macerated Alpha Omega line, were finding them tough to appreciate.

I have to say, for those who are not prepared for what they will be tasting, I can totally understand why these wines are perplexing. The wines are prepared in a similar fashion to red wines, where the juice sits on the skins for an extended period of time.  The wine then begins to extract color, flavor, and tannin out of the skins.  This process provides the wines with much more depth, body, and aging potential – but also transforms them into a wine that really doesn’t resemble traditional white wines at all. When evaluating them at such a young age, you really are just scratching the surface – much the way you do when drinking a young high quality red from Bordeaux – you are tasting for potential, not really to enjoy it at this stage.  As part of the above mentioned Facebook discussion, my friend Yossie Horwitz of Yossie’s Corkboard advised those having a tough time to leave the wines open  for a full 24 hours to better appreciate them. This provided the wine-lovers in question with a much improved result.  The entire episode got Ya’acov thinking about how these wines might present in the future. While air does NOT replace time in terms of development of depth of flavor, it can help a wine “open” and be more expressive in its current state. Why is the wine closed? The very things that allow the wine time to develop flavor and act as a preservative (tannin, acid, etc.) , also inhibit the wine from exhibiting flavor when young. The wines sometimes just taste closed, where everything tastes muted – or, at other times, are wildly tannic or acidic – or both.  A general rule of thumb is that one day of air equals one year of bottle aging in terms of the wines being able to express their current flavor profile [nothing can really replace time in terms of creating depth of flavor, though air DOES help simulate it a little].

Ya’acov felt that in order to judge ageability we can leave these wines open over 3 days and come back to them see how they are doing after each day. The wines would be left without refrigeration and fully exposed to the air in the bottle without the use of a coravin or any air removal process – simply recorked.  The biggest challenge was finding 3 consecutive nights that were free for the 3 of us that were doing this (the third being our dear friend Simon who also graciously hosted us) – especially with Ya’acov being in the middle of harvest and Simon’s frequent travel. But we found the time and the results, while predictable in that the wines improved after being open, were absolutely revelatory. I have lamented before the lack of ageable kosher white wines.  I believe that Ya’acov may very well have single handedly changed the kosher white wine landscape with these releases. And it’s not just the Skin Macerated wines – the “straight” whites as well. All but one of them will likely go at least 5 years from harvest – and that is really a conservative number.  10 years is not out of reach either – Ya’acov’s last Valley of the Hunter Semillon is now 10 years old….

The wines that we tasted were all wines that were exported to the U.S. and are currently available for sale there. For the most part the “Day One” results matched my previous tastings – and for my full notes, you should re-read that post – as the notes here are more abbreviated and really here to chart the progression and differences between days only. The only wines not included in the above referenced post were 2016 Alpha Omega (which I hadn’t tasted in about a year, as well as 2 wines that Andrew Breskin of Liquid Kosher [Ya’cov’s American importer] sent Ya’acov to taste – the current releases of the Roses Camille wines –  and we added them to the experiment as well. Here is how the wines tasted:

2018 Whites

Light from Darkness (אור מאופל)
Day 1 – From my initial tasting in April, this wine has developed nicely. The nose is deeper and more aromatic with the green grass giving way to more funk. The wine has also picked up a bit more body, and that funkiness on the nose absolutely carries through in the mouth. The crazy mineral is still there but the fruit (primarily apple) is more distinct.

Day 2 – The nose here basically stayed the same, but in the mouth, while the same basic profile exists, the flavors have intensified and gained depth, and the wine has become bit more round.  

Day 3 – Pure apple juice on the nose. In the mouth, the wine is thinner – and while still holding on, some of the fruit has faded.

Conclusion – This wine will likely be at peak in 6 months from now and will stay there for another 6 months to a year before starting to decline.

Soulmate   (עזר כנגדו)
Day 1 – Where this wine has developed over the last year was in the nose – which was just so beautiful and full of apples and minerals.  In the mouth, the wine has not really moved significantly from where it was when I tasted it initially about a year ago! There is loads of acid balanced out by the medium body. The fruit is intense with lemon and tart pink grapefruit – and excellent lean minerality with a hit of saline.

Day 2 – The nose is the same, the body has gotten fuller – otherwise no real change

Day 3 – Again, No change in either the crazy nose or the mouth. It was all going strong. The wines was in perfect shape!

While our joint experiment ended after 3 days, I took a couple of bottles home and continued with them for as long as I could. This was one of the bottles I took.

Day 4 – The nose FINALLY dies down, but in the mouth, the wine is showing no hint of decline and is near identical to where it was on day 1!!!!

Conclusion – While this wine was initially marketed as a “drink now” seasonal bottle, I think it is safe to say that it has PLENTY of time ahead. Will it gain complexity or just stay super fresh? I don’t know. None of this stuff has any track record – but I would say it has at least 3-4 years ahead of enjoyment – maybe longer.

The Silent hunter (הצייד השקט)
Day 1 – The nose here is the most muted of the wines we have tasted until now. With a hint of smoke, maybe a bit of apple. In the mouth, acid is still screaming. Citrus and minerals kick in near the middle with saline closing it out. Wine is still presenting super-fresh and bright.

Day 2 – The nose is now almost totally gone, and the fruit has receded, leaving just an acid bomb. This got me worried.

Day 3 – Still no nose, but the wine is coming back. Fruit is more up front and is presenting now as rich – also has gained body. The acid still screaming, but just a touch more integrated and wine is gaining balance.

Day 4 – This was another wine I was able to take home for a 4th day – and wow  – was I LUCKY! Wine was now in FULL swing, Rich yet full of acid. This might be the best I have ever tasted it. Holy crap. Beautiful herbs, lemon, lemon curd, with that flintiness making another appearance. I WISH I had more of this to test further and push farther.

Conclusion  – this wine is in its infancy. Will likely begin to peak in 4 years – and hold for 2 or more after that. It is a pity to drinking this now. It is going to be so much more.

2018 Unoaked Skin Macerated Whites

Day 1 – This wine has changed significantly since my last tasting. First – the nose is in constant movement. I mean every 2 minutes it smells different. Funk, honey, citrus – each presenting as dominant for a minute or 2 before shifting. In the mouth saline is more dominant than the citrus, and the smoke was further back than I remember.

Day 2 – Nose STILL in constant movement. In the mouth the wine is leaner and more tannic. The saltiness is much more prominent – but in an oddly inviting way.

Day 3 – Nose is as before, in constant movement. In the mouth the tannin is more integrated. The salty/saline is really addictive here; it has me wanting to gulp the wine down. Really interesting as I wouldn’t think it would work this well.

Day 4 – Nose finally settles down to a funky honey type of profile. Mouth is the same.

At this point I had a choice – I had enough for one more tasting for the Skin Macerated wines and the Reds. I opted to skip day 5 and “burn” my last tasting on Day 6.

Day 6 – Nose is straight honey with no funk at all. The saline now comes in at the finish with more of the mineral up front with some nice herbal overtones as well. The wine is also a lot fuller bodied than on previous tastings. I absolutely love it like this

Conclusion – This wine is also in its infancy now. Personally, I would not open for 5 years…..

Day 1 – this wine is exactly as I remember it from my initial tastings. White pepper and walnuts. As I noted then, I have a real aversion to the bitterness in walnuts – and this has only gotten worse IMHO.

Day 2 – While the bitterness has receded and more of the stone fruit has come out to balance the pepper, the wine is no more than OK for me at this point. Not something that I would necessarily choose to drink.

Day 3 – Bitterness in the mouth has receded even further and the white pepper is sort of fruity. Nose has actually gained some depth.

Day 4 – Nose is dead but the wine now is actually tasty! White pepper is still there but not harsh at all. NO bitterness from the walnut. There is tart grapefruit flavor I am getting as well.

Day 6 – Barely a pour left in the bottle. Nose is slightly coming back, but still very faint – hard to pinpoint.  Tannin is now fading. The wine is holding up, but IMHO would likely not go much longer  – of course it was oxidizing at an credible rate with so little left in the bottle, it was all exposed to air over the course of 2 days since my last try. I really like this wine now. It has moved from white pepper to something else – perhaps more green, besides the grapefruit. Nice.

Conclusion – Really, this was the most perplexing of the wines that I tasted. It absolutely needs more time to develop. I would say it will likely be best in 3-4 years from now and hold for a year or so after that.

Chenin Blanc
Day 1 – By far the most accessible of Ya’acov’s Skin Macerated line. Presents exactly as it did in previous tastings.

Day 2 – No real change – Perhaps slightly rounder after a day.

Day 3  – Tannin now fully integrated. Otherwise sort of the same. Likely can’t go another day without declining. But still in good shape

Conclusion – Ya’acov knows his stuff. There is a reason he chose to make this wine in quantity. It absolutely can serve as a gateway wine for Skin Macerated whites. It likely has the most in common with its non-skin-macerated counterpart in terms of overall profile – but has so much more depth. It is likely fully developed – but isn’t going anywhere in the near future either – so enjoy!

Day 1 – This wine is now far more closed than it was initially – certainly on the nose where it is just overwhelmingly green. In the mouth it’s like drinking a young branch. The tannin is now just absolutely crazy – even more than the acid (which of course is not shy either).

Day 2 – The wine is slightly more approachable. The nose returns perhaps to where it was a few months ago. The wine is now perhaps drinkable with lovely toasted herbs – but really the tannin sort of clamps down. Would love to have this with food and see if I could get something to pair.

Day 3 – On the nose, we have gone back to green. In the mouth very similar to Day 2 overall but better with perhaps more herbaceous-ness and perhaps a bit more balance.

Day 4 –The nose is now almost vegetal. Now in the mouth, this wine is crazy. Crazy mouth coating tannin and great grassiness with some tartness. Really nice. But while more developed, it almost feels like it is more closed today than yesterday.

Day 6 – I’m getting what I think is asparagus on the nose. Not unpleasant – but unexpected. In mouth tannin is still super firm but more in the center. Unfortunately, still feels sort of closed, though there is a hint of fruit that was not there before and the herbs are slightly sweeter. I wish I had more to see how it keeps on going.

Conclusion – This wine is simply too young to be enjoyed by anyone right now. If you are tasting it, it is really just for experimentation. Put this guy away for 7 years and then revisit. Might be ready then – who knows.

Day 1 – this wine is more or less in line with previous tastings. On the surface (and nose),  it shares much in common with a traditional Chardonnay. But in the mouth, add to the tart green apple some sweet herbs – perhaps basil and some sage. Really a beautiful wine.

Day 2 – No real change on the nose. In the mouth the herb has moved more to baking spice – like nutmeg and cinnamon – and the apples have more of a baked type of flavor – I guess because there is no lemon to speak of, which your mind tells you to expect with the chard.  It’s almost like a deep baked apple pie effect.

Day 3 – The apples have receded a bit – and the lemon has come out – and so has some honey – but neither is sweet. Really interesting. While I would have loved to continue with this wine, this seemed to be Simon’s favorite bottle, and I left it for him to continue with.

Conclusion – Peak shmeak. This wine is absolutely enjoyable in its current state and will continue to develop over the next few years. When is it going to be at peak? It likely depends on what you are looking to taste. This is a classic wine where you want to get a few bottles and open one up once year – with the bonus being that you are not opening to judge whether or not it’s at peak but rather what surprises and flavors the wine will reveal at the specific point in time you are opening it.

Day 1 – Overall profile is identical to my notes from previous tastings – but MUCH more muted both nose and mouth. The biggest hit is on the spice. I cannot tell if the bottle is off, or simply that’s where it is at this stage. I was actually most disappointed with this bottle during the Day 1 tastings, as this has been one of my favorites until now.

Day 2 – Nose is exploding with lychee and rose water. In the mouth saline and tannin. Much less of anything else. Again disappointing

Day 3 – Same intense nose – and flavor is starting to come back.

Conclusion – This wine is a big question mark for me. I am really looking forward to my next opportunity to taste to see if this bottle was somehow a little off – or is simply developing naturally. I will withhold judgement until then. (Ya’acov believes that it is typical, and the wine needs at least a decade before its ready…..)

First Anthology (האסופה הראשונה)
Day 1 – Presents pretty much exactly as my previous notes.

Day 2 – Nose is more muted, but the wine has AMPED UP. I mean more of everything, fruit, herb, spice tannin acid. Just crazy. Loved it

Day 3 –The profile is the same, but the flavors are more even more structured, with each taking a bit longer to unfold. That amount of time though actually seemed to create the perception of something lacking somewhere in the mid-palate. Tannin is also firmer.

Conclusion – This is another wine that I can say is enjoyable now – though is likely in its infancy. I didn’t take it home for further tasting, but I am pretty confident that the wine really will improve for at least 4 more years. I really liked the direction it is headed in.

Anthology of Spice
Day 1 – To me this guy is in the same boat as the Gewurtz to an extent, it is all there but muted. Less so than the Gewurtz, but same presentation.

Day 2 – Nose turns to candied pecans. Mouth is much the same a little more honey than I was expecting.

For the next 2 sets of wine, we were able to taste 2 consecutive vintages across the 2 days. The conclusions will be provided for both vintages together.

Oaked Skin Macerated Whites

2016 Alpha Omega
Day 1- This is the only one of Ya’acov’s wines that I hadn’t tasted in a while. In my notes on its release, I mentioned hoping to have the opportunity to taste in 6-12 months or so. 18 months later is pretty close, and this wine has developed really nicely. The nose is honeysuckle, with candied pecan and almonds. In the in the mouth, beautiful clementine and mandarin orange with that line of flint running down the middle. Tannin and acid both still plenty assertive here. Let’s also not forget the body which is lush.

Day 2 – No real change from day 1. Nose was perhaps slightly diminished

Day 3 – .All of the flavors described are much deeper. Nose was back though. Something seemed to click here, in that the wine had a completeness to it. It could be because on Day 3 I tasted the 2017 first and this seemed like a progression.  Really beautiful bottle.

2017 Melchizedek (מלכיצדק)
Day 1 – This is where the vintages and order of tasting makes a difference. On day 1, I tasted the 2016 first and the 2017 second. It made the 2017 (which has a VERY similar profile to the 2016) taste somewhat diminished.  I couldn’t get past it.

Day 2 – Huge blunder – did not look at my notes from the previous night and simply drank the 2016 first. Same result. I can say the wine really didn’t change much though. Nose here I thought was still as full as the night before

Day 3 – Finally got it through my thick skull to taste this first. Huge difference. The wine presented the nicest of all 3 nights IMHO. Really nice viscosity but the acid keeps it fresh. Tannin still VERY assertive.

Conclusion – .  Here you can really have proof of concept in what time does as opposed to air. Both of these vintages are the same basic blend with perhaps slight differences in percentages and other technical aspects. But Ya’acov is creating a profile  that now carries through from vintage to vintage. That extra year in the bottle has given this wine a depth of flavor not felt in the 2017. But I can say, based on my tastings last year of the 2016 at this stage and my tastings of the 2017 earlier this year, I have no doubt the 2017 will equal his brother if not surpass it. How much time do these wines have? It’s a huge guessing game. Neither of them seemed to deteriorate at all. But really it’s a guessing game. Each of these has 4 years at least – but likely much longer.


2016 Eye of the Storm (עין הסערה)
Day 1 – This wine has become something truly tasty. No real change from my tastings this year, but to see its progression, you can see my post from last year on this wine. Moving nicely.

Day 2 & Day 3 – Overall, there was no significant change that was unexpected. It actually held up rather well despite not being built for the long term. Slightly diminished by day 3 – but overall in good shape for this much unrefrigerated exposure.

2017 Eye of the Storm (עין הסערה)
Day 1 – as opposed to the 2016, this wine presented a bit more forcefully than it did in April. Same profile – but it tasted a little rougher. Overall, I would say it’s more balanced than the 2016 but requires more time to settle.

Day 2 – The air helped this guy dramatically. Some of the edges have smoothed out. Otherwise, no real change.

Day 3 – Slightly diminished, but overall held together OK. No other really change.  

Day 4 – Tannin is there, but the wine has deteriorated, losing much of its flavor. There was barely a pour left here, so the increased surface area hitting the air combined with the lack of refrigeration, etc., really took its toll here.

Conclusion – this is now the 4th consecutive vintage that I have tasted. Each of these wines has been different, with common themes running through them all. IMHO, there has been improvement year over year with all of them (except for the 2015, which I didn’t like, and which was a tough vintage in Israel overall). For the purposes of this experiment, the wines held well, taking  into consideration that these are not built for long term aging. I would say that the 2016 is best now over the next 2 years – with the 2017 best in 6 months to a year for at least 3 years following.  

2014 Echo de Roses Camille
Day 1 – The wine presents ripe and dark rich fruit on the nose. In the mouth though I was utterly shocked. It tasted like a Bordeaux table wine – and not a particularly good one. Out of balance and with something almost metallic in the background. I was not a fan.

Day 2 – Nose actually improved for me. More balance. Not as overwhelmingly rich. In the mouth though, barely any movement.

Day 3 – Finally this wine was something enjoyable. Is it great? No. but it’s an absolute improvement. Overall dark red and blue fruit, a little earth with some sweet basil.  Nothing wrong here that I can pinpoint – but nothing that I am running to get either.

Conclusion – This is my only tasting of this wine, but based on Raccah’s experience tasting this wine twice (here and here) and getting different results, I would have to chalk this up to bottle variation on this wine….

2012 Domaine Roses Camille
Day 1 – This bottle is a whole different ball game. Nose is exactly what you would want – mushrooms and rich moist dark earth followed by the fruit. In the mouth It presents really ripe AND fruit forward and not at all what I would have expected. It’s big, fruity, and well made in almost a NW kind of way. I don’t mind it at all, but I could see people being really shocked by the way its showing.

Day 2 – Still showing nicely overall, but really still not there in terms of what you would expect it to be. You can sort of see where this wine might go though. There is some tobacco, earth, and chocolate now that follow the ripe red juicy fruit. Again – I liked it, but you can tell it needs time.

Day 3 – Wine has shut down completely. I actually preferred the Echo to this in its current state. Tried swirling, shaking, whatever. Nothing.

Day 4. – Tannin is nuts, but wine is coming back. Now showing much more Bordeaux in profile. Dark brooding and muscular though. With pencil shavings, earth, some baking chocolate, and a little bit of sweet herb  – with the  ripe red fruit more in the background. Really nice.

Conclusion – This wine is really a baby. Wait another 3 years for it really start to show the way it should.  Based on previous vintages of the Domaine, I would say it has a good 10 years after that – though really this wine seems very different that the 05/06 so who knows.

Final Thoughts

Few people get to do what we have done – especially if you are not working in the business. The wines we drank are not cheap – and we basically burnt through 16 bottles purely for the sake of education and experimentation. The results though were well worth the effort. Much of what we assume to be true of kosher wine is based on what is currently available and how it has performed. But these skin macerated wines have no track record in the kosher world – so it’s a constant guessing game – and hopefully this takes just a little bit of the guessing out of it and gives people a sense of just how long these wines can likely go, how much development to possibly expect  – and, perhaps most importantly, how much potential they have. On the “straight” white front, I think with Ya’acov now producing multiple vintages of the same wine, we are starting to see consistency and are learning what to expect from his wines, and quite frankly what we should be expecting from other quality producers. Perhaps the days of lamenting the lack of ageable kosher whites are over….This was a lot of fun. My thanks to Ya’acov Oryah and Andrew Breskin for the wines and to Simon Jacob for hosting this little piece of craziness.

Happy drinking (and experimenting) everyone.

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