Ya’acov Oryah 2020 Portfolio Tasting

This is the last post that I “owe” from tastings that happened a couple of months ago.  As we say in Hebrew – Achron Achron Chaviv – which can be roughly translated as last but certainly not least – Ya’acov Oryah. As always, let me start by saying Ya’acov is a friend, and while I don’t think that impacts my impressions of his wines – I like to be up front about that and you can decide for yourself. Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate Ya’acov on the excellent recent write up of his wines in Forbes. It’s so nice to see him getting some recognition in the wider world of wine.

The notes below are comprised of two tastings I did a couple of weeks apart. The first was an early taste-through of the 2020 lineup. By early, I mean really early. For technical reasons, bottling happened rather late this year. This tasting took place a few weeks later (4-6) while I usually taste through these wines 3-5 months after bottling. This was more to get an initial impression of many of the wines, especially the Skin Macerated Whites, which have a tendency to change. The second tasting was at the launch of the 2018 SOB release. SOB stands for Special Oryah Blend and is offered en primeur. It is a limited release wine with two vintages already out, a third currently in barrel, and a fourth being harvested now. The wine started out as an idea that a few of us had to ask Ya’acov to make a private barrel wine for a number of us here in Israel and abroad who are fans of his. Eventually, realizing that we are out of our depth when it comes to giving meaningful input on things such as vineyard selection, the project morphed into Ya’acov experimenting with a somewhat unconventional blend. No rules. No predetermined styles or blends to conform to. Lucky for all involved, Ya’acov felt the end result was worthy of repeating – in fact, so much so that he increased production in the second year (the 2018 vintage) with intent for it to be sold as his flagship red blend. And that is where the wine sits in the portfolio today. It is what Ya’acov feels is his best expression of a red wine in his style. At the same time, as the launch was at the winery, Ya’acov took the opportunity to share some additional exciting barrel samples as well. The result – another crazy long Oryah post with 20 or so wines to go through. Buckle up, off we go…

Whites & Rosé

Even though we were tasting early, these whites were least impacted, as none of these see oak and, outside potential bottle shock for a couple of weeks, one can get a good handle on where these wines are going. For an explanation on some of the more eclectic names Ya’acov uses, see last year’s review.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Light from Darkness (אור מאופל) – Over the past couple of vintages, this wine has evolved and been refined – needing less and less time to show its full potential, becoming more elegant along the way. The name refers to the fact that this is a Blanc de Noir – a white wine made from red grapes, namely Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Barbera. This wine has a very pleasant mouthfeel, which tricks you into expecting a heavier wine – but it is anything but, coming in at only 10.5%. Everything about this wine is delicate. Where previous vintages showed green almost raw branch at this stage, here while there is green fruit – it shows as refreshing lime and lemon with some nice saline at the end. The acid is here of course, keeping everything lively – but really not overpowering at all. Perfectly balanced. This is my favorite vintage of this wine to date. Really great stuff.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Soulmate (עזר כנגדו) – Following up last year’s inaugural vintage – this wine hews pretty closely to its older brother. That’s a really good thing. This wine was my go-to white all of last year. Went through a TON. The wine was pretty closed to start – but after some coaxing, opened up. A blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, this medium bodied wine is just fun in a bottle. Some nice floral notes and ripe apple on the nose. In the mouth you get beautiful green apple and excellent near sweet pink grapefruit and a touch of slate. Great stuff again. Looking forward to spending some quality time with this wine this year as well.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah ABC – This is a new wine made exclusively for the wine club of Yaacov’s American importer – Liquid Kosher. The wine takes the Soulmate blend as a base and adds Gewürztraminer to a very nice result. The Gewurtz is not overpowering at all but on the nose rather augments the flora notes already present with a touch of spice. In the mouth, you have a bit of a fuller mouthfeel with green apples again. Instead of grapefruit, it shows slightly juicer and even a touch richer with sweet pomelo and a touch of spice. Really nice stuff. Sad that I won’t really have access to any more of it.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Silent Hunter (הצייד השקט) – This is one of my favorite annual releases. Now in its third vintage, the Silent Hunter is a blend of Semillon and Chenin Blanc. 2017 was off the charts good. 2018 was leaner and slightly more accessible off the bat – but still very good. 2019 is more in line with 2017 and is simply wonderful – but you really need to give this wine the time it deserves to get to where it needs to be. Minimum three years IMHO. In any event on the nose that great flinty minerality is back. Followed by sweet green fruit and citrus. In the mouth at the start without air, all you get is mineral and lemon. But let it develop and the wine starts to unpack with nice cut grass, straw and then pear before going back to citrus, primarily grapefruit and lime. The acid is crazy right now. The finish is almost never ending. On par with 2017 and might even surpass it in the long term IMHO.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Pretty as the Moon Rosé (יפה כלבנה)  – It’s been a tough year for rosés. Most rosés that I usually like don’t make the cut this year. Luckily that’s not the case here. Is it as good as last year? Probably not; I would say it’s a half step back. But all in all, its an enjoyable bottle and ahead of most of the competition. The blend for this wine has changed. It is now comprised of 45% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 15% Petite Sirah (as opposed to 2018’s 53% Petite Sirah, 29%  Mourvèdre, and 18% Syrah). Despite the change in varietals, Ya’acov has managed to coax out a very similar profile this year. On the nose, slightly funkier than last year with rhubarb, watermelon, and raspberry following. In the mouth, the body here is medium+, much like last year. Some people will like that, some people who associate rosé with light easy-going wines, will not. I happen to enjoy it very much, especially here where the wine is dry. Were the wine off-dry, my guess is this would be syrupy in my mouth. In any event, you get much of the same flavors as last year, rhubarb, a little funk, with excellent grapefruit and acid to keep it lively. Well done in this challenging vintage.

Reds

A couple of changes here – for the first time there was no Eye of the Storm produced. Too bad as I was a big fan, but so be it. The wine is likely to make a comeback in one form or another (see below). A lot of what Ya’acov does involves experimenting in getting a wine that he is happy with rather than fill a specific market need. In any event, 90% of the time I like where the experiments end up, so no complaints here. Also, after a seven year hiatus – the beloved Iberian Dream is back. In addition, I tasted some very exciting barrel samples. Here it goes.

2018 Ya’acov Oryah Duke Pontiff – The nose here is crazy red candied fruit and smoke. In the mouth right now, the Pinot is dominant with cherry all over the place. The smoke is not as heavy-handed as you would expect from the nose – really just adding an accent. You then get some very nice warm spice. The tannin here is provides a soft envelope around the wine – just enough to hold it together. The wine is definitely ripe – but it’s not over the top at all. Very nice and enjoyable even now, though from my experience, this will gain some depth and that cherry will die down a bit and allow some of the other fruit to express itself more.

2018 Ya’acov Oryah Iberian Dream – How I have been waiting for this wine. I have written countless times about the previous release from 2011. There it was released in two flavors – Reserva and Gran Reserva. While most people enjoyed the profile of the Gran Reserva, the reserve has proven itself as the one to watch in terms of ability to age and further develop. At a recent RCC, it went head to head with a real Rioja reserve and it was stunning to see how the profiles were so similar. So good things come to those who wait, and Yaacov decided to make only the Reserva this time around. On the nose now, you are getting a real meatiness. In the mouth, the wine shows clean, perfect, precise red fruit with a hint of umami in the back. The acidity here is crazy as well. The wine is clearly just a baby. We are a good 3-5 years away from its window – and based on the 2011, that window might extend into the next decade.

2017 Ya’acov Oryah SOB – As mentioned above, the SOB project (it stand for Special Oryah Blend) is something I have been lucky enough to be involved in from the beginning. This wine was tasted at the 2018 launch with a 2019 barrel sample to provide a mini-vertical for some context. The wine is a blend of five varieties – Carignan, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Grenache. Each year the amounts vary slightly, and the profile is being refined as we go along. When I first tasted this wine about a year and half ago, it was about a month after bottling and the Pinto was clearly dominant (much as it is in the 2018 Duke Pontiff right now). It presented overwhelmingly cherry. I thought to myself at the time – OK, nice enough experiment. Crazy blend. This will be an everyday quaffer. When I tasted again three months later, the wine had changed and gained depth with the cherry fading into the mix the wine then showing plum and chocolate. The wine has continued to develop, showing some excellent earth and a hit of tobacco that was not there before. All the time, the structure here has been impressive, with great acid and excellent firm tannin. It really drinks beautifully but it has plenty of room to grow. I have nothing to judge it by as the blend is unique and this is its first vintage – so how long can it go? Who knows. I can tell you though, that I have stopped drinking this and will only open my next bottle sometime in 2021 to check where it’s at. Very nice indeed.

2018 Ya’acov Oryah SOB – With one vintage in the bag, Ya’acov had an opportunity to tweak things here. At first, there was some talk about adding another varietal, but that did not come to pass. The percentages of the wines shifted slightly – but that will always happen. I’m not sure what he did differently, or if part of this is a matter of vintage year – this wine has none of that over the top cherry that the 2017 did at this stage of its development. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First of all the wine shows less ripe than the 2017 by far. On the nose you get great dark red berries, some sweet oak, chocolate, and nice spice. In the mouth, the wine is much more refined IMHO than 2017 was. The fruit is there in spades, but so is the chocolate, the roasted meat, and the spice. The acid keeps this medium bodied wine lively, with the tannin providing a wonderful firm wrapper. This is an elegant wine that has a ton of potential.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah SOB – Barrel Sample – I have resisted the urge to do barrel tastings of the SOB until now. I sort of like the surprise of learning this new blend – and as it really is unique, I didn’t feel like doing a barrel sample would really give me any direction as to where this wine was heading. Even after bottling, the 2017 has gone through crazy changes and is far from done. After tasting the 2019 from the barrel, I have not really changed my mind. The wine tastes wonderful, rich and layered. Can I point to where it is headed? Well, it likely has six more months in the barrel, so there is a lot of potential for various things to happen – each of these varietals can dominate at various stages – take the 2017 and how the PN was so clear on release, where from a flavor perspective, it has now moved to the rear. It now primarily can be viewed as contributing to the body as the wine has developed. What I can say is that at this stage its freakin’ yummy. If I had to guess, I would say that it is on the 2018 path overall. I guess it would be nice to do a barrel tasting right before bottling to gain better perspective. Looking forward to doing just that….

2019 Ya’acov Oryah GSM&M– Barrel Sample – Based on the first three varietals in this blend, I assume this is what will perhaps become the 2019 Eye of the Storm replacement. . Yaacov made us guess what the extra M was, and for the life of me I couldn’t. I guessed Marsellan out of desperation, as it seemed like it might fit the body profile. But I was wrong. The answer was Merlot! Intriguing as it’s not a varietal I associate with Yaacov. In any event, currently the Grenache is the dominant flavor here. This is a further riff on the Duke Pontiff idea – a blending of two different styles into a wine that may be greater than the sum of its parts. In this case, it’s CdP and Bordeaux as opposed to Burgundy. I’m not sure where the Merlot fits in – something wasn’t clicking for me in being able to discern it specifically. (I’m usually pretty good about picking out varietals in a blend.). But it’s still early, and the wine shows promise… Following this one with piqued interest.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Pinot Noir– Barrel Sample – Each year Ya’acov tries to make a varietal Pinot Noir. Once the wine is vinified though, he decides it is not ready for prime time and is sometimes used in various other blends (like the Duke Pontiff or SOB). This year might be the year that we finally see a varietal PN (which would be the first varietal red release under Ya’acov’s own label, if I’m not mistaken). Now, I have tasted what I thought would turn into a varietal PN from Ya’acov before, only to be disappointed to find out that at the end of the day the winemaker did not feel it worthy. This time though, I am hopeful for two reasons. First, over the last six months, I have tasted what I consider to be a significant improvement in Israeli Pinot Noir. We have G’vaot’s 2018 Gofna Reseve Pinot Noir and Vitkin’s upcoming 2019 Pinot Noir. Both of these are more true to the varietal than any of their respective prior releases, albeit in different styles. I am therefore hopeful that perhaps it’s Israel’s time to shine with this difficult grape. Second, the proof is in the bottle. I tasted both the 2017 and 2018 versions of what would have been this wine. There is a clear improvement IMHO. But then again, as I have noted previously, I am not the best at judging barrel samples – and in fact I would have probably bet on ’17-’18 as well. So I guess I’ll just remain hopeful that this is the year and not take it as a given just yet. Still it’s hard not to be excited by this.

Alpha Omega Skin Macerated Whites

As mentioned previously, this is the earliest after bottling that I have ever tasted Ya’acov’s wines, and on the Alpha Omega wines, that is significant as these wines absolutely need to be given time to develop properly. Still this was an interesting exercise, and I always appreciate the opportunity to taste wines at various stages.  So these are really only my first impressions. As has been shown, these wines WILL change and develop over time. I hope to revisit all of them once harvest is done, when we are passed the chagim and perhaps even the dreaded COVID 19. For now though, here are the notes which really are only a snapshot of wines that are way early on in their development.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Alpha Omega Roussanne – This bottle suffered from some sort of bottle shock. The S02 was very much present on the nose, giving it an aroma I associate with reduction. There were some other nice aromas there under the surface, but ultimately, sulfur is something I am sensitive to and I just decided to wait for another opportunity rather than taste this wine thoroughly (I even omitted it from the picture when I did the lineup!) – So here is the first victim of tasting wines WAY too early.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Alpha Omega Chenin Blanc – In general this is the most accessible of Ya’acov’s AO wines. That will likely be the case here as well. But for now, this wine felt muted to me. You had some basic Chenin flavors, green apples for the most part, but those crazy aromas that I have gotten in the past from this wine were simply not there at first and only were hinted at after some swirling. With time, the honeysuckle came out, as did some very nice minerality. All of that just shows you that there is very nice potential here but really it’s nuts to be drinking this now.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Alpha Omega Chardonnay – I’m going to sound like a broken record here. I know. But last year this wine was one of the most impressive. Developing ridiculously deep flavors of baked apples and cinnamon with time. In its present state the wine presents almost like a standard Chardonnay with tannin, if that makes any sense.  Not bad at all, but this close to bottling, it seems most unchanged in profile from what a standard white Chardonnay would taste like.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Alpha Omega Semillion – At this stage, this wine is a different animal than the 2018.  Whereas the 2018 was nearly impenetrable at my first tasting, the 2019 has clear discernable flavors of various orange and yellow citrus. Don’t get me wrong, the acid is still screaming – but it shows more pleasantly at this stage for sure. It will be very interesting to watch this develop next to its older brother – and next to the various upcoming Valley of the Hunters regular Semillon releases – and – for those who had access, to the various Jemma releases for Brut which are barrel-aged versions of this Semillon (making it a true “orange wine”.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Alpha Omega Viognier – This was the first wine in the lineup where you got that crazy dissonance that happens at times where you get that overwhelming floral sweet nose – in this case full of stone fruit (which worried me, as I am not a stone fruit lover in my wine in most instances) and beautiful floral notes. In the mouth, the wine is dry as can be. The fruit is absolutely perfect, followed by a really nice hit of white pepper and finally excellent saline. What I’m most happy about though (personally) – no walnut! That was the biggest problem for me on the last vintage. Of course, it could still yet develop – but so far so good. This was wonderful surprise.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Alpha Omega Gewürztraminer – The nose here is crazy. Sweet spice galore and rose petal. Really excellent – intoxicating almost. The flavors carry through in the mouth for the most part with luscious spice and honeysuckle, followed by a bit of the rose with very nice mineral and acid to hold it all together. Great stuff.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Alpha Omega Anthology of Spice – This year the blend has slightly changed and now consists of 55% Gewurtz, 25% Viognier, 15% Chardonnay and 5% Roussanne. Thigs here need time to fully integrate, but show great potential. The Gewurtz is clearly dominant in that the spice is really up front – mostly nutmeg and cloves. There is a great backbone here that is really impressive. The finish just keeps on going.  If I had to pick a long term #1 out of the Alphas – this would be it.

2019 Ya’acov Oryah Alpha Omega The First Anthology – This is a fun wine. Period. It is a saline monster, which keeps you reaching for more – which I love. It makes the wine weirdly accessible even at this early stage. There is some lovely apple here with excellent herbs and hay. I really enjoyed this wine as is.

Between these two tastings we went for quite a ride. 20 wines in all were tasted – and I am pretty sure there are others that I still haven’t had! (The restaurant Brut usually serves a Skin Macerated barrel aged Semillon called Jemma and red blend called Timrot Ashan – produced by Ya’acov exclusively for the restaurant — and there may be others I have missed). What can I say, the man is prolific!  My thanks to Ya’acov Oryah for being so generous with his time and his wines. Looking forward to following these up as they develop!

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