2012 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Lower East

July 27, 2014

Hello friends. Today we have an outstanding vintage of what is already a list-member darling, and one of the gateways into the greater Gramercy Cellars lineup:

This wine remains a ghost. You won’t find it in Gramercy’s tasting room. You will rarely find it sold outside the Pac-NW. Lower East is a gift, from Greg Harrington to his local supporters.

Most of it goes to restaurants, a reflection of Greg’s sommelier history (direct from Gramercy’s tech sheet: “The Lower East wines from Gramercy Cellars are created specifically for our friends in the restaurant industry.”) It allows somms all over Seattle to place a Gramercy wine on their list for $50-$60, as opposed to the $90-$100 that the rest of the lineup commands. But some gets allocated to retail channels, and especially to long-term supporters of the Gramercy portfolio.

I’ve already said on several occasions that 2012 is shaping up to be a marvelous vintage for value Cabernet (yes, I recognize that we’re pushing it on the term “value” here, but by Gramercy standards, I’m going to say this qualifies), and this is another bottle that makes a strong argument for that case. I haven’t tasted Gramercy’s high-end 2012 Cabernets yet, but they’re going to have to be damned good to top Lower East this year (and judging by Jeb Dunnuck’s recently-published barrel reviews, they are indeed damned good).

This was a bottle where I was stunned by the quality right up until I saw the vineyard sources, and then everything made sense. In 2012, Lower East comes from an all-star foursome, three from the Walla Walla Valley (Gramercy Estate, Octave, and Pepper Bridge), plus the outstanding Phinny Hill in Horse Heaven. The blend includes 24% Merlot, and the whole thing was raised entirely in French oak, 40% new.

What Lower East does beautifully, year in and year out, is to establish itself as a true four-corners Cab, with fruit (black cherry, blackberry), earth, savory/herbal (beetroot, rhubarb, mint), and barrel (mocha) notes in fine balance. Here we see winemakers who strive for elegance in a year that wanted to be a little fleshier. The result: a balanced beauty, at 14.2% listed alc containing just the right amount of generosity to the laser-pure fruit, and of course plenty of balancing structure, in both the form of blood-orange acids and toothsome black-tea tannins. If you’re looking to build a cellar of sturdy, ageworthy wines under $30, this would be an awfully nice place to start. Like every vintage of Lower East so far, it is polished, classy, and punches well above its price class.

First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Five Closeouts

July 24, 2014

Hello friends. I had to look back, but we’ve never used the term “closeout” in a Full Pull offer. Kind of surprising actually, and we’ll put an end to all that today.

So, a closeout, in the wine trade, is when an importer/wholesaler applies special discounted pricing on the remainder of the stock available for a particular wine. Often it happens if they have a new vintage of something on the water and about to arrive. Rather than confusing things by selling two vintages at once, it’s easier to just slash the price and move the wine.

Sounds great, right? So why then have you never seen “closeout” in a Full Pull offer? Because typically, it’s like 27 bottles of this, 14 bottles of that; basically extras-shelf or personal stash territory, not enough for an offer.

Furthermore, there are a *lot* of other reasons for closeouts. Stale inventory, need for physical warehouse space, the wine kind of sucks, etc. As you can see, some reasons are better than others. I’ve learned the hard way that closeouts are a minefield (witness my six remaining bottles of an off-dry 2005 Vouvray so heinous in its banality that I keep it around just to serve it to people I don’t like), and that tasting is a necessity.

Today’s offer overcomes both obstacles. First, there are hundreds of bottles of each of the wines available. And second, we’ve tasted through all of them (along with a bunch of other wines not selected), and these are the picks of the litter. None of them are particularly well-known properties; most of them don’t have anything in the way of press. If they did, they wouldn’t be closeouts!

But for those of us who enjoy the occasional treasure hunt in the value bin, today is Antiques Roadshow day:

2011 Esporao Arco Branco

Originally $13. This was the biggest surprise of the bunch. I fully expected to put this in the discard pile. I mean, a 2011 vintage Portuguese white? But what a delight it is, with plenty of peach and pear and apple fruit still remaining, and some nutty, raw-almond oxidative notes creeping in. As usual in Portugal, it’s a mix of indigenous varieties – Antao Vaz, Roupeiro, Viosinho – and unless you’re a native, that probably tells you absolutely nothing about the wine. Texturally, I’d say it drinks comparatively to Semillon or Savoie Altesse, with the fleshy creamy waxiness you sometimes see in those grapes. It’s eminently drinkable, all tree fruit and nut and spice. There’s still a solid spine of acid here, and it’s a wine that perhaps enchants most on its finish, a clean lick of seashore saltiness. Oh, and for Seattle food-lovers, it’s worth noting another vote of confidence for this wine: it’s on the glass pour list at Mistral Kitchen.

2010 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes Sainte Claire

Originally $27, and I’ll admit I bought some for the personal stash when it was discounted to $23. I’m kicking myself now, but I’m also buying more, because this is a beautiful, honest Chablis from a fine vintage that is just entering prime drinking and should drink great for what, another 15 years? It has the flint, the chalk, that smoky edge that makes Chablis so beautiful. On the day we tasted it, we opened it at 10am, and it was at 4pm that the flinty notes really exploded; a good sign. The palate has wonderful minerality, citric extract, chestnut complexities, and loads of intensity on a nervy, live-wire frame. It’s just electric in the mouth, and it finishes long and mouthwatering.

2011 Evening Land Vineyards Pouilly-Fuisse

Originally $31. Another surprise, because a) it has the Evening Land imprimateur; b) it’s Evening Land making white Burgundy, which is geekycool; and c) it has a positive review, which is always rare for a closeout wine: Wine Enthusiast (Roger Voss): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

Well, that review was published in the Nov 2013 Enthusiast, so we’re just about done with another year’s aging. It’s a rich, ripe Burgundy, with fleshy peach and papaya, mango and lemon curd fruit. But there are complexities beyond the fruit: attractive bready/leesy notes and chalky earth tones. The use of oak is judicious, but my word this is creamy as hell, drinking really new-world in its fruit impact. I’d save this as an autumn white; it’ll be perfect as days get shorter and jackets become important again.

2010 Ch. La Caussade Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (375ml)

Originally $14, and that still seems to be the best price available. This might be the best value of the bunch, but the trick is that you have to like sticky wines. Long-time list members might remember we offered a 2003 from this winery called “Sublime” (that one was a 500ml offered for $19.99 TPU); this is a very similar wine, albeit younger. It comes from Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (see Bordeaux map; we’re in region 32), across the river Garonne from much-more-famous Sauternes.

Basically, the region sits on top of a giant plateau of fossilized oyster shells. Here’s a picture to get your head wrapped around what this crazy terroir, this “soil” looks like. Because of its proximity to the river and its morning mists, it is also a perfect breeding ground for Botrytis cinerea, prized in sticky wines. This wine starts with a piercing nose of marmalade, fig, golden raisin, and pineapple upside down cake (with the brown sugar and the candied cherries). There are also alluring subtleties I’ll attribute to noble rot: caramel, tobacco leaf, even light mushroom. The blend is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon, and the palate presents a wonderful mix of sweet fruit, grown-up citrus-peel bitters, and balancing acidity. No surprise, this is on dessert pours in restaurants all over town. It also has crazy aging potential for a $10 wine.

2002 Boizel Champagne Brut Millesime

Originally $65, and the best current pricing I’m seeing available is $56. If it’s not the Caussade, then perhaps this is the best value of the bunch. It’s just so damned hard to find aged vintage Champagne on the market period, let alone at closeout pricing. This is 55% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier from an 1834-founded  Champagne house in Epernay, currently run by fifth-generation Evelyn Roques-Boizel. The color is a beautiful deepening gold, and the nose is already developing the complexity and alluring hazelnutty notes we expect from maturing Champagne. Look also for savory chicken stock, baking spices, and earthy peach and cherry fruit. In the mouth, this is a rich, fleshy, openly delicious Champagne, with plenty of ripe fruit and plenty of dosage. Far from the lean-and-mean Brut Zero/Brut Nature bottles that are in vogue currently, this seduces with its generous yellow fruits (peaches and nectarines) and its insistent complexities both nutty and bready. Such a lovely autumn and winter Champagne. There are plenty of lower-dosage Champagnes for the summertime; this is the one to save for the holiday season, for roaring fires and big family-and-friend gatherings.

We almost never get access to aged Champagne. The only other version we’ve offered is the ’96 Vesselle, and that was $79.99 TPU. This is likely a once-every-couple-years type of opportunity, and you can bet I’ll be stashing some away in the personal cellar.

Please limit order requests to 48 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2008 Full Pull & Friends Cabernet Sauvignon

July 21, 2014

Hello friends. Today we have the latest in our series of Full Pull & Friends bottlings. I also want to share that we submitted some of our previous FP&F wines for review, and I’m expecting to see the first wave of reviews turn up in August. That should be exciting, and we’ll be sure to reoffer any reviewed wines that are still available as those reviews are published (see the bottom of today’s offer for one such reoffer opportunity along with a pre-publication review).

One FP&F wine that is no longer available for reorder is our inaugural bottling, the 2007 Full Pull & Friends Cabernet Sauvignon. That one was decimated by a ceaseless stream of reorders, and is now completely sold out. The good news: it’s sold out just in time for the new vintage:

I suspect that those of you who enjoyed the 2007 are going to dig the 08 in equal measure. 2008 is a criminally overlooked vintage in Washington due to the hype of the 2007s. It was a marginally cooler year than 2007, but still well within the band of a normal vintage (the last one you could call normal for several years, with warm/fleshy 2009 and cool/lean 2010 and 2011 to follow). I’ve heard plenty of folks suggest that the 08s will age in more compelling directions than the 07s. In my experience, it depends on the winery, but ultimately, 2008 is a lovely, lovely vintage, and its character is on fine display in this bottle.

Just to confirm, this bottle does indeed come from “Winery Alpha,” as we’ve taken to calling our inaugural FP&F winery partner (we cannot disclose their name as part of our agreement, since our price is considerably lower than anything in their portfolio). And it comes from similar vineyards to the 2007 (two of the brilliant sites managed by Kent Waliser and Derek Way for Sagemoor Farms – Dionysus and Weinbau – along with a bit of fruit from Stillwater Creek) and was raised in a similar manner (28 months in French oak, 60% new, before spending another three-plus years in bottle).

The killer nose is all Cabernet, with deep bass notes of crème de cassis and earth lifted by complexities of violet, mint, and tarragon. A sultry black streak, somewhere between tar and espresso, rounds out a complicated and inviting nose. Much like with the 2007, what I love first and foremost about the palate is the texture, which possesses tremendous density and concentration without a shred of excess weight. It still drinks quite young, with most of the fruit remaining primary, and just a few hints of dried cherry and dried blackcurrant to suggest a wine approaching a middle phase. The structure remains formidable, a wall of English breakfast tea tannins guarding a core of earth-inflected fruit. It’s classy, classy juice, with all elements well-integrated and well-balanced. Drink it now (especially with dinner), or hold a few bottles and watch this evolve in fascinating directions.

As a reminder, the 2007 Cabernet received Sean Sullivan’s highest rating in Washington Wine Report. He has not yet reviewed this 2008; hopefully soon! Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2011 Manu Propria Cabernet Sauvignon Ex Animo

July 15, 2014

Hello friends. There is a fraternity in Washington of behind-the-scenes winemakers responsible for some of the finest wines produced in the state each year. They go by many titles: Assistant Winemaker, Production Winemaker, sometimes even plain old Winemaker (with the original winemaker moving to Director of Winemaking or Director of Production). I’m thinking of guys like Kevin Mott (Woodward Canyon), Andrew Latta (K Vintners), Dan Wampfler (Dunham Cellars).

And I’m thinking of Mike MacMorran.

Mike is a New Zealander who began working in Washington wine as a 2005 harvest intern at DeLille Cellars. That turned into Cellar Master and then Assistant Winemaker gigs at DeLille, after which he spent one year as Mark Ryan’s Assistant Winemaker before taking on the Winemaker title in 2009 (with Mark moving to Executive Winemaker). For the past five years, he has played a huge role in the success of Mark Ryan, and until recently, also served a crucial role as Force Majeure’s estate winemaker.

Basically, he has been one of the more important behind-the-scenes players in Washington wine production. And when the outstanding behind-the-scenes guys move out from the shadows, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention. Today we’re paying attention:

Manu Propria is Mike’s new winery, and at least for now, they have one wine. If you’re going to have one wine, a Red Willow Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a pretty good wine to have. Here’s what Mike Sauer (Red Willow owner/grower) says about the project: “We are honored that Mike and Rachel would choose to highlight wines from Red Willow. Mike, following the footsteps of David Lake, actively follows the seasonal progression of the grapes and chooses to emphasize terroir and vineyard identity. With friendship and common purpose, we look forward to this partnership in making wines of elegance and distinction.”

When Mike Sauer says that you’re following in the footsteps of the late, great David Lake, you’re probably doing something right. Production of the inaugural 2010 vintage was just 170 cases, and it sold out fairly quickly, especially after solid reviews from Sean Sullivan and Stephen Tanzer. Production of this 2011 has gone up. All the way to 185 cases. I missed that 2010, but this 2011 was just recently released, so we should have access to a decent parcel.

The Cabernet all comes from a 1991-planted block towards the top of Red Willow, all the way at 1260’ elevation. Mike raised it in a combination of new (60%) and neutral (40%) French oak, and it clocks in at 14.7% listed alc. The nose showcases the wonderfully leafy side of Cabernet, with tobacco and eucalyptus, thyme and tarragon, to go with a dense of core of blackcurrant fruit and smoky graphitic minerals. I found this particular aromatic expression of Cabernet absolutely seductive. The texture is managed wonderfully, conveying a real seamlessness and elegance, coating the palate without overwhelming it. The structure is pinpoint – bright 2011 acidity married to medium-grained espressoey tannins – suggesting a long and happy evolution in bottle to come.

This was already a winery on the rise after a strong debut vintage in 2010, and the buzz is only going to be confirmed by this sophomore effort. For those of us who love paying attention to the next big thing in Washington wine, Manu Propria bears close attention. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2012 Fausse Piste Syrah Garde Manger

July 13, 2014

Hello friends. One of the most exciting Washington Syrahs I’ve tasted in 2014 comes not from Washington at all:

We’ve been close to offering this wine a few different times in previous vintages, but happenstances of timing and quantity precluded us from doing so. Not this time.

Fausse Piste has been on my radar for a few years now as a winery worth tracking. Winemaker Jesse Skiles has an impeccable pedigree. He has a background as a chef, and until recently ran a restaurant called Sauvage in Portland (Portland is also the location of the winery). Before that, he was the chef for Owen Roe Winery, where David O’Reilly encouraged him to take up winemaking on the side.

I’ve only met Jesse once, and it was a few years ago, but I remember talking about Syrah, and I specifically remember his knowledge and enthusiasm for a number of different Washington vineyards. That passion is borne out in Garde Manger, which is sourced from a full seven different vineyards. The most prominent among them are Red Willow, River Rock (in the rocks of the Walla Walla Valley), Outlook (an Owen Roe estate site), and Ambassador.

Jesse’s stated goal with this wine is “to create a Syrah that has its feet planted in the northwest but has visions of Crozes-Hermitage,” and it’s worth noting the he spent time in the Northern Rhone between his Owen Roe and Fausse Piste stints. The clues are in place: a chef who appreciates savory flavors; a restaurant called Sauvage; an homage to Crozes-Hermitage. Yes, you guessed it: this is a briny, umami funkbomb, with a real wild (sauvage?) edge.

It starts with the vineyard selections, with River Rock clearly shining through. Then there’s the choice to include 80% whole clusters (stems and all), which helps contribute that wildness. And then the elevage in all neutral barrels, with no chance for any oak character to get in the way of all that beautiful funky fruit. This begins with huge olive notes – green and Kalamata – along with meaty bacon fat and corned beef, pure blueberry and huckleberry fruit, and a sanguine/mineral edge. It’s an extremely expressive nose, deeply appetizing and oh so savory. The palate continues the mix of fruit and umami tones, all on an impressively silken-textured mouthfeel. Wow, what a Syrah.

This is a winery on the rise, and I suspect if Fausse Piste was located in Washington, they’d already have acquired a whiff of the culty. Fortunately, with their off-the-grid location in Portland, they remain a hidden gem for Washingtonians. For now. First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2012 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Occultum Lapidem

July 9, 2014

Hello friends. Some of the most popular import wines we’ve offered so far this year have been the red, white, and pink wines from Bila-Haut, Michel Chapoutier’s project in the Cotes du Roussillon. Because of all that support, we have access today to a difficult-to-source-in-Seattle Bila-Haut parcel (difficult because of the combination of reasonable tariff and strong Wine Advocate review):

First off, here’s the review that has folks around town fighting over this parcel:

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Now, some reminders on this project: first off, the Cotes du Roussillon is a region that has for some time exported massive quantities of forgettable plonk, but has in recent years begun to develop a reputation as a source of French value. At the vanguard of the quality movement was none other than Michel Chapoutier, he of the multiple 100pt (Robert Parker) wines from the northern Rhone. I’ll reprint the excerpt from one of Parker’s introductions to Chapoutier in Wine Advocate:

High praise indeed, and when Chapoutier expanded his operations to the Roussillon in the early ‘90s, it was a big deal for the region. In addition to the entry-level wines we’ve offered previously, he also produced Occultum Lapidem, which is essentially a reserve wine, coming from his best Roussillon vineyards, on gneiss and schist and Kimmeridgian limestone.

The blend is typically about 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 20% Carignan, and I could not believe just how very savory/umami this wine is. The nose is all meat and mushrooms, something like browning short ribs deglazed with porcini stock. There’s a smoky whiff of peat to ramp up the complexity, and it all translates beautifully to the palate, a mouthfilling bridge wine (14.5% listed alc) that pairs those meaty elements to black cherry fruit, all rich deliciousness. It’s the saline savories that linger on the long finish, which has sneaky structure for a wine from this region. I agree with Jeb’s aging assessment; this should have years left in the tank.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2011 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series

July 7, 2014

Hello friends. I’m bumping today’s scheduled offer to Wednesday, as we’ve just been offered a reorder shot at one of the most strongly-reviewed wines in Jeb Dunnuck’s just-published set of reviews for Wine Advocate (Issue #213, published June 30, 2014):

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “($59); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.” [To put this into context, the five Cabernets receiving stronger reviews in Jeb’s annual report (two from Quilceda Creek, one each from Corliss, DeLille, and Upchurch) have release prices of $60, $60, $75, $115, and $140.]

Once that review came out last week, the wine essentially sold out in Seattle the same day. Fortunately, our wholesale partners were kind enough to set aside a chunk for our list members, in part as a thank you for our long support of Rick Small’s efforts. Basically, our hold evaporates on Wednesday morning, so please get all orders in by Tuesday night. We’ll try to include a buffer for latecomers, but no promises; this isn’t a big parcel to begin with.

We originally offered this on December 13 of last year, soon after its release. Here’s the excerpt from that offer:

For the second vintage running, Artist Series sees a sizeable chunk of Champoux fruit that usually ends up in Old Vines. Here it takes a plurality, at 30% of the blend, rounded out with fruit from Canoe Ridge (29%), Sagemoor (18%), Woodward Estate (12%), Hedges (6%), and 1-2% dollops of a few other sites.

It’s a full 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, and it shows, with a solid core of crème de cassis fruit, swaddled in barrel notes of woodsmoke and coffee, along with Champoux’s signature graphite/pencil-lead mineral tones. In the mouth, I immediately admired how this visits all the highlights of a cooler Cabernet vintage: beetroot, bay leaf, black olive. There is blackcurrant and blackberry fruit of course, but it’s merely a component of a complex overall blend. The finishing tannins (well-managed as always) are redolent of star anise and black tea, just lovely. I’ve been lucky enough to taste some Woodward Cabernets from the cooler 1999 vintage, and my oh my, if that’s any indication of what Woodward produces in cool vintages, this should have a fascinating decade or two ahead of it.

Again, please try to get order requests submitted by Tuesday night, and please limit those requests to 12 bottles. We’ll do our best to fulfill all requests, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.


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