Ya’acov Oryah’s 2022 Releases

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a launch event for Ya’acov Oryah’s current releases. The event was held in Tel Aviv at the loft of Borgogne Corwn.  This was a bit of a switch for me. I’m not usually invited to press-specific events with other wine and food writers. And specifically with Yaacov’s wines – where I usually taste them one on one or perhaps with one or two other people max – in a more informal setting. So it was interesting to see how others respond to the wines and to Ya’acov himself, who also had a far more rehearsed polished approach to presenting his wines to a table of 15 as opposed to just a few friends doing a deep dive on what Yaacov is currently working on. . [It was nice tasting with others who shared not just my passion for wine but also for writing about it… I wasn’t the only one at the table worried about writing notes and taking pictures!] Gratifying also to see that at least the Israeli wine and food world seems to “get” and appreciate Ya’acov on the whole. Anyhow all of this was interesting to be a part of, and I thank Ya’acov for including me. As always, please note, 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. As a part of this tasting, Ya’acov tasted through five of his wines with us and there were a number of additional wines that were set out at stations for us to taste through. I’ll start with the wines that Ya’acov tasted with us.

2022 Ya’acov Oryah, Light from Darkness (אור מאופל) –  On the nose, it’s all apple at first with a bit of funk behind. In the mouth, great acidity and nice apple on the outset with good mineral. Opens up with some funk. Very dry. Very light (just 10% abv). Very nice. (didn’t have a lot of time with this one). 91

2017 Ya’acov Oryah, A Spark in Darkness (ניצוץ באפלה)  – Sparkling Blanc de Noirs of the 2017 Light from Darkness– Zero Dosage –  Mousse is a bit weak here – great acidity. Really nice, crisp, green apple. Good length. Great finish – really long. If it had a little more complexity, it would be off the charts. It might gain that with time, but zero dosage sparkling wines don’t usually do well with aging. So I’d say drink this now for what it is – a really nice enjoyable sparkler that rivals most of what is out there currently in the kosher sparkling market. 90+

At this point Yaacov also mentioned that there are at least two other sparkling wines he will be releasing called Nitzot B’adama – two versions of the same wine both based on Silent Hunter 2017. Looking forward to tasting those in their finished forms.

We then moved on to what to another exciting release of Valley of the Hunters (עמק הציידים) Semillon. Yaacov is finally ready to release the 2017 and, as reference, we first sampled the legendary 2009.

2009 Ya’acov Oryah, Valley of the Hunters (עמק הציידים), Semillon – Alive and well! There is actually a nice cheesiness that has come into the wine. Still has great acid. Finally tamed down a bit. This is incredible, actually. Really beautiful stuff, though I can say, these bottles are hit and miss nowadays partly because I would guess a DIAM 5 cork was used rather than one rated to hold up longer. So while this bottle was in beautiful shape and had actually developed further than I had previously seen – I would not suggest holding this wine at this point. 92

2017 Ya’acov Oryah, Valley of the Hunters (עמק הציידים), Semillon For 2017, Yaacov changed vineyards to one he felt was superior (Zwebner in the Gush) – Now for me personally, this is a very interesting wine to taste. I had tasted the 2009 in 2016 or so – so at more or less the same age as this wine is now. I had also tasted this wine soon after bottling – and I had tasted Ya’acov SM 2018/2019 Semillons, which, while not the same vintage, certainly gave me another vantage point in how Ya’acov expresses himself through this variety. For the most part, this wine is in line with 2009 at this point in its evolution. The acid in this is the stuff I remember. The acid is still way out in front – and most of the profile matches.  Some of that green woodiness that is present in the 2018 Skin Macerated wine is present here also, making this wine just a bit more complex than the 2009.There is a wonderfully heavy mouthfeel that this wine has that is totally balanced by the excellent acid. If anything, the only thing missing is that funkiness that I remember the 2009 developing at an earlier stage. But still on the whole, the 2017 is the more complex wine.  It clearly should have a long future ahead of it (certainly that is what serving the 2009 was meant to impart). Will it go over a decade? Not sure, but I wouldn’t discount it. I hope Ya’acov used a better rated cork this time. 92 (but this may very well improve with age)

At this point Ya’acov served one last wine – but I am going to save that wine for last and take a brief detour of the other wines served. These were a bit hard to write full notes on as there was no area to really sit, taste through, and write – so my shorthand impressions will have to do. While there were a few other wines poured, I only focused on wines that I had not yet written notes on:

First up were two wines that had Flor develop during their production. Flor is a type of yeast film that is the primary characteristic of Sherry production in Spain. These wines are not going to be for everyone. Sherry is barely consumed at this point and is a very niche wine. These wines are interesting really for the wine nerds among us – that’s about it.

2020 Ya’cov Oryah, Alpha Omega, Anthology of Hope – A new Skin Macerated Anthology blend of 70% Semillon, 14% Roussane, 13% Chardonnay and 3% Chenin Blanc. Very light flor from what I remember Ya’acov saying. This wine is super dry. Very little fruit. It does have that sherry flavor and feel. In general, I do not enjoy drinking sherry. There is a single kosher sherry usually available (Tio Pepe), and it’s just not something I care for. I will say that this is MUCH better than that, but it’s not something that I can say I really loved. 87

2015 Ya’cov Oryah, Alpha Omega – I have written about the Alpha Omega/Melchitzedek blend many times. I must admit, I was unaware that Yaacov produced this wine in 2015. Now it is apparent to me that he must have been unsure of what to do with it after the flor developed.  Like the 2016 Alpha Omega and 2017 Melchitzedek, it has beautiful orange and clementine on the nose. In the mouth, this really is a true marriage of Melchitzedek and flor. All of those lush orange notes are there, but there is something even dryer and a nice yeastiness that makes for a very interesting drink. This is a serious wine. Will not be for everyone, but this one I liked. 90

I moved on to the 2 dessert wines he is releasing this year:

2021 Ya’cov Oryah, Alpha Omega, SMLV (Skin Macerated Late Harvest Viognier) – I absolutely loved the 2020. The 2021 is slightly less successful. It retains the overall profile of the 2020, although it is a bit sweeter and slightly less balanced than the previous vintage. Good acid. A bit heavier in the mouth – which personally I found disappointing. I actually really enjoyed how light the 2020 was. Still a solid wine.  90

2021 Ya’cov Oryah, Alpha Omega, SMLG (Skin Macerated Late Harvest Gewürztraminer) – I have made no secret that I really do enjoy Gewürztraminer in almost all of its forms. This is like Late Harvest Gewurtz on steroids. It has all of the tropical notes you would expect with a delicate yet firm backbone that the Skin Maceration gives the wine and ample balancing acidity. This one DOES have that wonderfully beautiful light body that I was hoping for. Really excellent stuff. Well worth stocking up on. 91.5

2020 Ya’cov Oryah, The Black Pinecone (האצטרובל השחור), Pinot Noir – This is the second release of this wine – though the 2019 was only distributed to friends and family I believe. Of all of the wines that I tasted after the primary tasting, this is the one I really regret not having the facility too taste properly. Unfortunately, the cheeses being served were being cut right next to where I was tasting, and I couldn’t get a good reading on the nose, but for the most part it was on point with nice cherry and a bit of herb. In the mouth at first it strikes as varietally true, but lacking intensity, but with adequate air, it opens up and the flavors start coming out with a profile more woody than fruit, with bramble and cedar flowed up by some nice cherry and raspberry and a bit of menthol. This wine definitely has potential and I plan on revisiting it again. Currently a 91+ (though it might be higher if tasted properly).

And now back to the main event. The final wine in Yaacov’s guided tour was something that I never really thought I would see. A varietal Chardonnay. Now before you say that you are sick of Chardonnay and have no interest in another Israeli chard that is either boring or just an oak bomb butterball, read this:

2021 Ya’acov Oryah, Ya’acov’s Playground, Single Vineyard, Chardonnay – Ya’acov went through the process of how this wine developed. Hot terroir usually needs acid correction. Often times, this doesn’t turn out well. Instead, he picks one part early to get the acid and another part to get the correct flavor profile. While that sounds good, it doesn’t really provide a perfect solution, as you can never know in advance the right proportions. Concurrently, as well know, Ya’acov has been playing with many different types of expressions – early harvest, late harvest, standard fermentation, barrels, Skin Maceration, etc. Last year, Ya’acov created two wines for our friend Simon called Tohu and Vohu – or Vim and Vigor in English. The story behind those wines is that Simon’s father came to his son in a dream holding two bottles of wine, Vim and Vigor – Simon then asked Ya’acov if he could create wines that sort of fit this dream. He did by creating two blends with the same varietals, one called Tohu or Vim, which was all about being full of unrealized potential and the other was Vohu or Vigor, which was all about realizing the potential. Each wine was a blend of the identical varieties, but in different proportions and formulations, two very different wines. Ya’acov decided to focus on Chardonnay and took this concept to the next level. He created 13 different expressions of Chardonnay – utilizing different types of fermentation, four different types of barrel, skin maceration, earlier harvest, later harvest, etc.  All from the same vineyard, same plots of Chardonnay. He then meticulously built this wine by blending them into a single wine. This wine truly was Ya’acov’s playground! The nose currently is closed, but the basic profile comes through with nice apple, lemon, and a hint of wood in the back. In the mouth – WOW! This wine unfolds. There is SUCH complexity here with wonderful green apple, lemon curd, a bit of oak, followed by some nice saline. That’s a nice Chard! I wish it was a touch colder – I think it was served almost at room temp. But even at the warmer temp, there is a wonderful weight to the wine that is also kept super lively by the acidity.  A beautiful wine. By far the most complex Israeli Chardonnay I have ever had. 92.5+ (Probably could have been higher if it was colder).

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