If there’s anything in the world of Oud that’s even rarer than Vietnamese Kyara, it is Yunnan Oud.
Yunnan Oud is so rare, I’ve only smelled one batch in my entire career. It’s so prized amid Chinese collectors it commands the same price as precious wild Vietnamese oils.
I am in Taiwan as we speak, in a futile effort to distill something worthy of Al-Saud and Al-Nahayan families who have requested our attendance at one of their festivities later this year, and the ground cost for producing any Chinese Oud is so silly I can’t even present it to Royalty.
My Taiwanese distiller hasn’t distilled anything from China for at least six years – and it doesn’t look like he’ll be doing anything from there ever again…
If you’ve never heard of Yunnan Oud, you’re not alone. Wild Yunnan oils are so prized, most distillations from there never even made it over the border… sold in obscurity to niche connoisseurs who collect them with even more zeal than they do kyara beads.
If you have enough money, you can buy kyara. Give me a million bucks and I’ll produce a 1 kg log within hours. But give me all the money in the world and I can’t help you find a single slither of true Yunnan Oud.
So what is it about Yunnan oud anyway? Why do all Chinese collectors hound it and pay the silliest prices for anything coming from China, such that no one but a Chinese baron can even come close to buying Chinese Oud?
There’s a sweetness to Chinese oud which cannot be found in any other type of agarwood. Smell deeply the amber and the musk… Pheromonal oomph you’ve never come across. A scent that’s extinct.
For someone ready to dive back into to the primordial pull of nature’s own cologne, boasting the ultimate refinement while addressing the wildest of human emotions, Chinese oud is the ultimate choice.
Its scent is not for the faint of heart, the unsuspecting nose, the uninitiated into the peculiarity of oud. Take raw musk, ground amber, infuse it with myrrh and frankincense, and you’ve got an idea of what you’re in for.
Thirteen years of gravity and vacuumed air, of molecular fusion and union, alchemized this oud into an olfactory pagoda of beauty that can never be captured in our day.
Fine Laotian Oud is its closest scent proxy, yet with a vibrant earthiness that’s closer to vintage Vietnam oils…
Think Laos 1987, marinated in dark cherry tobacco smoke, with a vintage oudiness that only comes with age.
Expect deep bass riffs packed with incense, pollen-powdered woodiness, orange peel, and wild animalics: A scent that sends you herding through the Himalayan foothills, compass set for Tibet.
So far as pricing goes, I want the Olde Ouds to be as accessible to every oud lover as possible. While $790 might not seem like a bargain, it is in fact more than that. For a thirteen year-old Yunnan – with no duplicate or replica anywhere in the entire oud collecting world – it is nothing short of an act of charity…
I am wearing Royale 5 – to my right there’s a charcoal burning Aceh 2001 oud chips, and to my left a plexiglass display I built specially for Ensar Oud bottles and chips – and I’m playing “Ode to Joy,” the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Honestly, I don’t know which one is flying my soul higher!…
In this atmosphere, I decided to write my Yunnan 2003 review! – I know… You haven’t shipped anything yet. I am not crazy and this is not the effect of the atmosphere around me! If Beethoven were still alive, what kind of music would he compose? No question, a masterpiece, simply because he is the master of classical music. So after all the great oils that you have crafted, Yunnan 2003 is bound to be the notes of a harmony dancing between the musical scale: a masterpiece. Simply because you are the master of the Oud Symphony. There are good oud producers out there, I am sure – I know one – but you are the master and I think this should be your name from now: Master of the Oud Symphony. At this point of trust, I am ordering before even reading your descriptions – and I think I am not the only one.
Thank you Ensar for making us so happy! Thank you for the enjoyment that we live in because of your oud oils! Thank you for the taste of Royalty that you’ve made available to us! Thank you for the reasonable prices! Thank you for everything you’re doing to make top grade ouds available! God bless you all and guide you! – Jalal, Canada
What an Oud!!! This one is just exceptional and words are limited regarding its beauty and scent complexity! I can tell you now that when it comes to the finest oud, Chinese people are not joking! A tiny amount on my wrist and the entire room is overwhelmed by this beautiful, sweet, musky, deep and unique scent! Another treasure in my collection and this one has a good place! Wowwwwww! – Mohamed, France
My least viscous but most ethereal oil from EO. Soaring top notes (but not harsh) of a feral barnyard, frankincense, and some myrrh… still soaring with wood, incense, and young white petals… add tobacco. Are you sure this isn’t an EDP? This oil is like the Hindi from Dhofar. As it dries down we’re back on terra firma. There’s sweet orange candy, resin, a tea note, less frankincense, more myrrh, more tobacco, a little fruitiness, oudiness, cream, citrus peel, almond oil, all of which start to fade away. – Curt, USA
There is nothing in my library that prepared me for Yunnan 2003. The scent is still an enigma to me. I really don’t know what to say about it other than it is magical. It brings me back to past autumns. I smelled it last evening and in the morning, and I picked up different things each time. I can’t wait to get to know this one, but at the same time it gives me such a good feeling maybe I should save it and not use it too often. I may save it for my camping trip this year like I did last year with Maroke Muah. I’m at work now, and the bottle is at home… – Matt, USA
Before I opened my bottle to test this oil, I brewed some vintage Yunnan pu-erh tea and had a sip. Why not? Both are from the same region of China. The oil opens with strong animalic notes, musk and ambergris, against the background of earthy/foresty scents – all presented in a good way. Amazing, especially paired with the strong musty and earthy aroma of the tea, of which the taste on the palate is somewhat smooth and refreshing softness. As for the oil, other facets of notes also come into play, namely dried orange peel, woods, fruits (ripe pears) and flowers (osmanthus). The scent then slowly develops over time into a harmonious and mellow cloud that entrances you – then it’s time for another sip of the tea… This oil extracted from Yunnan oud wood is far better than any well-blended perfume. Absolutely beautiful. – Kenny, UK
This is certainly a challenging oud perhaps best expressed as pheromonal and primal. Unlike other oils I have tried which in comparison have a certain level of ‘Perfume’, this is an oil with a serious attitude that initially I shied away from. But now every time I open the bottle for a hit or dare to swipe a little, it excites and thrills me with its power and complexity. ‘Sweet’, ‘musky’, ‘mossy’, ‘leather’ descriptions cannot effectively describe the scent profile, which I am still struggling to get my head around. – Jon, UK
A very close cousin to Laotian oud without the fecal nastiness. Dry hay notes. Very dry and somber. Middle notes seem to be where this oud is like an athlete. Trimmed and primed without too much fanfare. You don’t come across such profiles with everyone doing the ‘minty’ note trend. – Hisham, FL
Yunnan is a delight. With Yunnan, the distillation almost seems new age but ‘all’ the notes are so natural and complementary, as opposed to smelling wierd notes which came from who knows where. – Curt, USA
Yunnan is a beast. I need time to explore but I must tell you that smelling this oil has opened up a new dimension of perspective for me with regards to Chinese Exclusive. Somehow by comparing them, notes which I never remember experiencing in Chinese Exclusive have opened up to me… Masha Allah, tabarak Allah! – Taher, UAE
Please tell Thomas for me that I really appreciated his opinion on Yunnan 2003. It’s like Chinese Exclusive but without the sweetness, and matches the original EO write-up description of CE. A magnificent scent profile. It will be treasured (and worn!) – MI, USA
Yunnan 2013 is such an amazing oud with a surprisingly complex structure. Wow effect every minute to drydown. That musk, amber and myrrh composition is simply mysterious, along with incense. – Nizar, Germany
Yunnan is nice, similar in some ways to the Burmese profile oils I’ve smelt. It has dried hay, animalic orange peel, sweet smokeyness. – Habib, UK
A ma premiere rencontre avec le Yunnan 2003, je me suis senti comme un aventurier de “Voyage au centre de la Terre,” ce fantastique roman de Jules Verne qui m’a fait tant rever durant mon enfance. Sentir le Yunnan c’est comme une descente au coeur du bois, au plus profond de cette senteur mystique qu’est le oud. Un voyage entier, brut, sans retour. Une fois que vous avez goute au Yunnan, votre perception de ce que peut offrir le oud est change a jamais. Une nouvelle dimension s’offre a vous, en dehors de tout limite. Un voyage au centre du bois d’agar. – Thibot, France
Yunnan 2003 starts with a highly satisfying broad-spectrum animalic blast: domesticated barnyard, salty leather, and maybe bristly fur or remnants of antler and velvet. This blast is short-lived (about 5 mins) as hay, dusty tobacco, and ashes enter. There’s also a hint of mustiness, as from a coat closet that hasn’t been opened in months, but this fades, and there arises a persistent undercurrent of a sweet but mild-flavored fruit, say, apricots. Dry lemony frankincense gum emerges. The apricot comes to the fore, transforming into osmanthus. An unnameable earthy note persists, along with wafts of smoke, just managing to keep this oil from getting too ethereal. At hour 5, Yunnan 2003 achieves a plateau of clear frankincense and osmanthus, with hints of earth and smoke. It feels like reaching a clearing high in rugged mountains, surveying the valley and village below, touched by scents of nature and mankind in equilibrium. This aroma persists for several hours more.
My effort to describe the scent progression falls short of capturing the complexity of Yunnan 2003. I somehow expected very challenging feral animals (which I’d surely love), but Yunnan 2003 is more like having a philosophical conversation whose words you understand but whose meaning as a whole is mysterious and unfolds only little by little. Yunnan 2003 is assuredly growing on me; I’m very pleased to have this engaging oil and suspect that future wears will yield more discoveries, leading to love. – Jen, USA
I was fortunate enough to get a sample of Yunnan 2003. I feel fortunate as one of my passions is pu-erh tea (AKA Camellia Sinensis) from Yunnan. It feels really special for me to be able to try aquilaria sinensis oil from the same jungles. I however did not expect to really enjoy this oil. It did not really sound like a scent profile that I have really enjoyed in the past. Of course, it does smell very similar to Oud Sulaiman lII, an oil I was less than fond of. But where Sulaiman feels coarse, Yunnan feels much more refined and complete. While this is not something I could see myself wearing everyday, I am enjoying this oil quite a bit. – Brad, USA
After the complexity of the amazing Yunnan, other barn-style ouds I’ve tried thereafter are less appealing to me when compared to it. – Ammar, USA
It’s a challenge for me to wear this oil as my nose is not trained to this pronounced Arabian scent. I always find this ‘blue cheese’ opening but after 5-10 minuntes it changes to a heavy tanned leather. I am now in a cloud of old leather… like in a leather shop in the souk of Marrakesh. I get a note of fungi too. The projection is phenomenal… When you enter a room, it’s permeated by the scent immediately. – Jalil, France
Just when I thought there is nothing to match the scent profile of Chinese Exclusive, out comes Yunnan.
Yunnan is such a unique oil in its own right though… I would not call it an ‘Arabian scent’ as Jalil mentions. This oil totally brings a whole new dimension and perspective… After smelling it, my whole experience with CE changed in that I was able to distinguish more nuanced notes by virtue of a comparison oil. I would say they are both connoisseur’s oils… I value them both a great deal and highly doubt that anything comparable will reach the Oud scene again. – Taher, UAE
Yes, Yunann ‘03 is amazing – this oil is very much different than the typical barnyard smelling Hindis – it is like a musk perfume type of thing – a whole different type of smell than what most people who have never smelled Chinese Exclusive might think of when they think of ‘animalic’ or ‘barnyard’ type oud… – Josh, USA
What gets me about Yunnan 2003 is that there are no off-notes. Considering that this oil has already been aging for more than a decade, you would think that a wierd note or two might develop, but no, it’s so clean and spotless. I bet you that this oil was distilled by an expert local distiller who was very familiar with Yunnan agarwood and how it should be distilled. I like my oils thicker, but the bottom line is the scent. – Curt, USA
Big projection… and lasts forever on the skin… I applied it at 12AM and at 12PM I still smell it… What I smell is a beautiful smooth leather scent. This new experience with Yunnan 03 was all about the leather journey… from the tannery to the bag. – Jalil, France
I was the first one to say the Yunnan is a MUST. I can tell you also that I can find Ensar’s Royal Kinam scent 10-15 min after application… – Mohamed, France
I loved Yunnan 2003. Up until this point I have not really been a fan of this type of Oud. I did not expect to like it either. I only had a small sample from trade, that I really thought would only be for educational purposes. Now I wish I had bought a bottle. – Brad, USA
I am very happy to now have a bottle of the wonderful Yunnan 2003 in my small collection of ouds and what a fantastic oil this is! – John, UK
Yunnan 2003 is Sublime! Along with Port Moresby, I rotate them as my bedtime sniffs. My Hindis are for daytime. Yunnan 2003 is so purely essential, like everything good in the raw material was extracted, and everything less desirable was not extracted. Nothing smells off or not in-line, it’s clean and fresh. – Curt, USA
Yunnan 2003 is a bursting juicy aroma. The full composition hits me at once in a wholesome flurry of notes. It is a classic Chinese agarwood aroma right from the start – the subtle pungency at the heart with sweet florals on top and the all-pervasive undercurrent of vibrant musk. Yunnan is a very lively aroma that will dance with your senses. It bestows a sense of enthusiasm and light-heartedness, making it one of the more uplifting oils I have worn.
While some Oud oils are quieter, or more even-toned, Yunnan enthusiastically reveals the full spectrum of its aromatic accord, but in the most refined way possible. Initially, I notice a bright note that is crystal clear and smells just like sweet orange. Riding on top of this is a beautiful floral sweetness that makes me want to say honeydew, but it is more like honeysuckle – closer to the floral range than the fruity.
The vibrant texture of musk with a taste of amber to smooth its edge makes the aroma consistently intoxicating. At the heart of it all is the characteristic pungency that makes you think ‘Oud’. I call this the ‘root’ note – it is always present in high quality Oud oils. The ‘root’ note is that indefinable note that tickles your nose and resonates deep in the brain, making your eyes close. It keeps you coming back to your wrist again and again, as if you were searching for the word to describe this tantalizing note.
Oud is remarkable among essential oils, because it displays the complexity, beauty, and artistry of the finest perfumes within a single oil. How can one oil be so multi-faceted, so diverse, so well-composed? The finest natural perfumes remind me of an oil like this, but even then, it does not achieve the harmony, the depth, and the effect of a high quality Oud oil. Nature is really the best perfumer – and I am not aware of any oil that epitomizes this more than Oud oil.
I have not smelled many Chinese oils – and I always regretted not buying Ensar Oud’s Chinese Exclusive many years ago. There are a lot of Oud oils I did not buy, but I did smell a great number of them in samples. Chinese Exclusive is the one that always stuck with me, that I knew I should have acquired. It was unlike the other oils. The musky notes were a significant draw, but so was the way it preserved the pungency of Indian oils with a unique sophistication. Talk about wearability – forget your fruity Cambodian oils, the Chinese oils are among the most wearable I have come across. There is also a brightness in the aroma that is refreshing, a kind of citrusy zest that is irresistible. While some Oud oils have a warming effect on the body, I would say that Chinese Oud has a cooling effect and is one of the most balanced varieties. It is certainly more suited for the warm Hawaiian climate I live in, where I rarely find myself reaching for a heavy Indian Oud! But sometimes you want that pungency, that classic Indian Oud fragrance, that rich full-bodied aroma, which is where Chinese Oud strikes a brilliant balance.
All I know is that I will be interested to collect more Chinese oils as time goes on and as the opportunity presents itself. Yunnan is a fantastic oil and a joy to wear. And wearability is important – a good collection should have some unswipable bottles and some of the same quality that you feel no hesitation about putting on. That’s where Yunnan 2003 fits into my collection. – Neeshee, USA