2007 Gramercy Cellars Tempranillo “Inigo Montoya”

October 30, 2009

Hello friends. Greg Harrington is the kind of guy that invites a stranger to dinner. And I don’t mean out to dinner. I mean to a dinner in his home. (Oh, and I’m the stranger, in case that wasn’t clear.) While a part of me wants to stop the offer right there and let the inscrutable laws of karma work their magic, there’s a stronger part of me that wants to tell you more about Greg and this beautiful wine.

First the wine: Tempranillo, the great grape of Rioja, is planted sparingly in Washington, but Greg thinks he has found the right terroir for Tempranillo, and it’s in Walla Walla. Much of the fruit comes from Les Collines Vineyard, the high-elevation, high-tech vineyard I first described in the Kerloo Syrah offering, and this is the second year Greg has made this wine. The 2006 version was gone almost as soon as it was released, but even with that level of popularity, Greg tweaked the wine to improve it for 2007.

Blended with the Tempranillo this year is 15% Grenache and 10% Syrah. No new oak was used in the making of this wine, so we’re left with a pure expression of fruit, in the form of raspberries, cherries, and delicate streaks of tobacco. Furthermore, Greg takes acid very seriously (he is one of the first winemakers to pick come harvest time), and that makes the entire Gramercy lineup exciting.

A few readers who have been here since the beginning have asked why I so frequently reference a wine’s acidity. For me, acid is a hugely important component in wine. The best way to think about acid in wines is to compare it to seasoning in foods. The miracle of salt is that it makes foods taste more like themselves; it makes chicken taste more chickeny. It increases the inherent broccolanity of broccoli. Altogether, it enhances and strengthens flavors. When salt is absent, even good, well-prepared food can taste dull, and it is the same for acidity in wines. When you see a wine described as “dull” or “flabby” you can bet that wine has a dearth of acid. The right amount of acid (and Greg’s Tempranillo is a good example) makes a wine taste bright in your mouth. It enlivens berry flavors and makes them shimmer across your palate.

One person who could probably explain acidity better than me is Greg Harrington. He was a Master Sommelier by the age of 26 (no easy feat) and now spends a good chunk of his time each year teaching wine-related classes across the country. We’re lucky to have him spend the rest of the year making wine in Walla Walla, and I’m very pleased to have the chance to offer this outstanding wine.

We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2007 Rotie Cellars Southern Blend

October 28, 2009

Hello friends. I had planned to offer this wine later in the year, but I’m afraid that after November 1, there won’t be any left. On that day, the November issue of Wine Enthusiast will be released, and it will contain a 94-point score from Paul Gregutt for this wine. As far as I can tell, the only other Southern Rhone-style blend to receive a score this high from Gregutt is Bob Betz’s 2006 Besoleil (also 94 points); lofty company to be sure.

This is an impressive first release from Walla Walla-based winemaker Sean Boyd but perhaps not entirely surprising. He has been part of the winemaking gang behind Gramercy, Waters, Wines of Substance, and 21 Grams, and his philosophy seems shaped by that experience. Sean’s stated goal is “to make traditional Rhone Blends with Washington State fruit,” which to him means “lower alcohol, less ripe, less wood, balanced, finesse driven, mouth coating wines.”

While the bottle is labeled “Washington State,” all the fruit for this blend (55% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre) comes from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. During ripening season, this area sees 90-degree days and 50-degree nights. Those 40-degree swings help to develop both acid and ripeness in the Grenache, and the especially windy conditions along the Columbia River lead to thicker skins, which eventually add tannic complexity.

I tasted the Southern Blend last week over the course of three hours and found it compelling from start to finish. There was plenty of bright strawberry fruit on the nose, and that fruit was coated with a spice rub of peppercorns, ginger, and nutmeg. On the palate, it was autumn in a glass: barky, leafy, spicy red fruit that evolved with time into stony, mineral-laced cranberries. This wine sees no new oak, allowing the fruit to shine, and that fruit is fresh, vibrant, and lively.

Because of the impending high score, I would not expect this to be a wine that we will have available for re-order. Please limit order requests to no more than 12 bottles, and I will attempt to cajole Sean into sending as much wine our way as possible. Rotie Cellars is self-distributed right now, which means it might take a few weeks before we receive the wine in the warehouse.


2008 Trust Cellars Riesling

October 26, 2009

Hello friends. Poor Riesling. Of all the noble varietals, it has suffered the most in the past twenty years, victim of a flood of cheap German imports that masked the true beauty of the grape. Wine fashion comes in tides, and the ebb tides are where we find the values. At the turn of the 20th century (Riesling’s flood tide), the most expensive bottles on restaurant menus were typically Rieslings, and they could cost more than three times as much as a first-growth Bordeaux.  Here we sit, more than a century later, and the quality of the grape hasn’t changed; fashion has.

Of all the sentences opening with “I don’t like” that I have heard in tasting rooms, “Riesling” has been the dominant closer. And every time I hear it, I think to myself “you’re not drinking the right Riesling.” (I used to say it out loud, but that led to, well, mixed results). This is a grape that is fanatically versatile and can be rendered into bottles that hit the whole spectrum from dry to sticky-sweet. I love the entire range of styles. Because Riesling is typically acid-driven, its sweetness rarely comes across as cloying and in fact helps in crafting a balanced wine.

In short, I love Riesling, and I am determined to spread the love. Fortunately for all of us, Washington excels with this grape, so we will have many opportunities to sample. The first is from Steve Brooks of Trust Cellars. Steve is one of my favorite winemakers, and we’ll delve deeper into his inspiring story (of leaving a news production career to make wine in Walla Walla) in a future offering. For now, let’s focus on the Riesling.

This has an aggressively pretty nose of limes, tropical fruits, and orange blossoms. The palate is like biting into a perfectly ripe peach. There is a touch of sweetness (2 g/L of residual sugar; by comparison, Coca-Cola has 116 g/L of residual sugar) that is complemented by great acid, and the finish is stony and clean. Here are Paul Gregutt’s thoughts in Wine Enthusiast:

“[REVIEW WITHHELD]”

This is also the first (non-dessert) white wine ever to receive Sean Sullivan’s highest rating (two stars) in Washington Wine Report:

“[REVIEW WITHHELD]”

I’m pleased to offer this lovely, balanced wine as the first Full Pull Riesling. We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2007 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrahs: “In The Rocks” & “The Contender”

October 23, 2009

Note: Because I have such limited quantities of both these wines, I’m rolling them into a single offering. Order links for both wines can be found towards the bottom of the offering.

Hello friends. There was a faint chill of mystery in the air as I drove out Cottonwood Road to Reynvaan Family Vineyards last summer. While they had generated some buzz on wine message boards, I knew very little about the winery, aside from the fact that their first release would include two 2007 Syrahs. Most of the mystery evaporated quickly after I arrived. The Reynvaans (that day, I met Mike and Gale, along with their son Matt) are engaging people with good stories. For example: Matt, the winemaker, won his first job in the wine business on a golf shot. A principal at L’Ecole 41 Winery told Matt that if he hit his next shot within five feet of the pin, he could have a job. Matt missed the hole by ten inches.

We tasted through the Reynvaan wines outside, admiring their gorgeous vineyard at the foothills of the Blue Mountains and spitting our samples directly onto their gravel driveway (this was where I learned an important lesson: when spitting wine outside, keep the wind at your back). As I left, though, a bit of mystery remained. Even with Matt’s resume, these were awfully accomplished Syrahs for a first release. Also, the Reynvaans made a few references to a wine consultant, but at that time they wanted to keep his identity secret.

Later I understood why. This was no ordinary consultant; this was Christophe Baron, a vigneron who is a living legend in Washington. Wines from Baron’s Cayuse Vineyards are among the most sought-after (and difficult to find) in the state. Syrahs from Cayuse are gloriously funky, with aromas ranging from earth to manure, cabbage to bacon, pickle to olive; and there’s always plenty of generous fruit in the mix as well.

While the Baron influence is apparent in these Syrahs, the Reynvaans are creating their own style from their own vineyards. Both of these Syrahs are from the same vineyard, called “In The Rocks.” One carries the name of the vineyard, and the other is called The Contender.

2007 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah “In The Rocks”

On the day I tasted, this Syrah (co-fermented with Viognier; 14.4% alcohol) was the earthier of the two, driven by gorgeous notes of soil, tar, meat, and purple flowers.

2007 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah “The Contender”

The Contender (13.9% alcohol) was co-fermented with Marsanne, a much more unusual choice, and my notes have this as the brinier and fruitier of the two, with green olive and mineral notes giving way to waves of red fruits and stone fruits.

These wines are extremely limited. Once the Christophe Baron connection was revealed, most of the remaining stock was sold through the Reynvaan pre-release mailing list (if you try these wines and like them, you might consider joining that list; there’s no guarantee that we will receive allocations of future vintages).

We were lucky enough to be allocated a few cases of each of these wines, so please limit order requests to no more than 4 bottles (total for both wines), and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. If we sell out, wine-searcher seems to be showing a few more bottles, although they are more expensive than what we’re offering. The wine has already arrived at the warehouse and will be available next week for Thursday pickup.


2007 Animale Petite Sirah

October 21, 2009

Hello friends. When I was a kid, growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I used to ride my bike around our block. There was one house that stood out to me because of its decorative brick driveway. I always used to pause as I would bike past and admire the handiwork. Then, one day, I paused for a different reason: there were about a dozen police cars parked outside that very house, with sirens wailing. By the time I got home to tell my parents the story, word had already spread through the neighborhood: the basement of my favorite-driveway house was being used as a methamphetamine lab. I remember feeling stunned, and realizing for the first time that placid exteriors can hide unexpected interiors.

You may be wondering at this point what in the world this story has to do with wine. Well, after departing Matt Gubitosa’s Animale Winery, in the basement of his home in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, I was left with a similar feeling. From the exterior of this home, you would have no idea that inside, a man is toiling away to produce intense, concentrated wines from varietals that are largely rare in Washington. Driving back home after the visit, I was struck by the thought that each house I passed contained a private story. Most of their stories will remain unknown, but I’m happy to have the chance to share this one.

Matt has a day job with the EPA, so this is a man who is comfortable with the chemistry required to make fine wine. After years of home winemaking, he started Animale in 2001 by convincing a group of wine-lovers to fund his startup costs by investing in futures. They paid Matt cash up front for the rights to the first five vintages of Animale wines, and most of them re-upped when their term expired in 2007.

Animale only produces 200 cases of wine each year, and in 2007, that included 66 cases of Petite Sirah. This grape has become quite popular in California but is still a rarity in the northwest; so much so that Matt had to ask his partners at McIntire Vineyard (in Yakima Valley) to plant this varietal specifically for him. This is the third crop that has yielded grapes for Animale, and it is the first time that this wine is 100% Petite Sirah. Matt considers this Animale’s flagship wine, which is no surprise when you hear him articulate his winemaking philosophy.

He wants to make concentrated wines with plenty of structure, from both acid and tannin, and he wants those tannins to come from grapes, not barrels. The “Petite” in Petite Sirah comes from the small size of the berries. Small berries mean high skin-to-juice ratio, which in turn create the possibility for wines with serious tannic heft. The 2007 Animale Petite Sirah starts with hints of lemon zest and earth on top of a base of black and purple fruit. Each sip brings a rich mouthful of blackberry, orange, and spicy cocoa.

Not surprisingly, this wine also brings plenty of tannic structure, so if you’re in a rut where every steak is paired with Cabernet Sauvignon, this would be a brilliant wine to consider. Tannic wines go so well with steaks and other fatty foods because they effectively clean lipids off your palate. The mouth-puckering sensation that you experience while drinking a wine like this on its own harmonizes beautifully with rich foods. With each sip clearing your palate, each successive bite of steak will taste, well, steakier.

This is a delicious wine from a winery that is as quirky and boutiquey as they come; a winery that is part of the hidden city behind all those closed doors. Matt needs to save some of his Petite Sirah for his long-time restaurant accounts, so please limit your requests to no more than 6 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests.


2007 Chatter Creek Grenache

October 19, 2009

Hello friends. In September 2008, my wife and I spent three nights in St. Etienne de Tinee, a tiny town nestled in the heart of France’s Maritime Alps. We used the town as a base camp for short hikes along the GR5, a trail that runs from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. My enduring memories from this part of our trip, however, come not from our hikes, but from our meals (those of you who know me might not find this so surprising).

We ate all three of our dinners in the same restaurant: Le Chamois d’Or. The combination of simple, outstanding food (mostly crepes and salads) and warm, familiar service (“ah, our friends from Seattle”) made it impossible for us to stay away. Each meal began with an aperitif of Kir Bretogne (creme de cassis and cider from Brittany), and when the food emerged from the kitchen, it was always accompanied by a carafe of the house red wine, a Grenache-dominated Cotes du Rhone. The bright strawberry flavors and juicy texture of that wine are imprinted on my brain: a sensory memory of contentedness.

When I sampled Gordy Rawsom’s Grenache at his Woodinville winery, I was hit with a whack of nostalgia that rendered me practically inert for the next five minutes, as I was transported back to that tiny cafe in the mountains. The same spicy red fruits are there on the nose and the palate. The same youthful freshness and vigor are there. The color is light, the alcohol is low, and the acid is high. This is wine made (and priced) not for long cellaring or studious evaluation, but for mid-week, food-pairing pleasure.

Along with the Grenache (which constitutes 75% of the blend), this wine contains 14% Mourvedre and 11% Syrah. We will have it in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2005 Boudreaux Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

October 18, 2009

Hello friends, and welcome to mid-October: the time of Reeses Peanut Butter Pumpkins and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and the traditional start to the holiday-gift anxiety season. Between now and the end of the year, we will occasionally highlight wines meant to ease that anxiety (by giving them as gifts or perhaps by consuming a glass yourself to take the edge off the Black Friday blues). The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Boudreaux Cellars would make a wonderful gift (the bottles are gorgeously labeled and sealed with red wax) and an even better centerpiece on the holiday dinner table.

When I visited Rob Newsom (Boudreaux’s winemaker) this summer, I interrupted the construction work he was doing with his assistant winemaker, Tyler Vickrey. They had a pile of granite slabs, quarried from Icicle Canyon, and they had begun a four-year project to face the winery in that stone. Rob took a break from the work to chat with me (sorry about that, Tyler!), and when we were discussing the granite-facing project, he made the point that it’s a slow process, because “you gotta pick every stone.” It occurred to me after that conversation that this philosophy of patience and careful selection easily applies to Rob’s wines as well.

This bottle is a great example. It too is a four-year project. It is a blend of ten different superstar Washington vineyards (Champoux, Klipsun, and Loess, to name a few), with no single vineyard making up more than 18% of the blend. You gotta pick every grape, just as you gotta pick every stone, and it’s this kind of care that leads to exceptional wines.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]

If you need a little extra entertainment on a Friday afternoon, check out Gary Vaynerchuk’s shocked reaction to the 2003 vintage of this wine (fast forward to the 9-minute mark).

I find the palate on the 2005 generous and fascinating, with waves of flavors: dark-chocolate-covered cherries, tropical fruits, Dr. Pepper, brambly blackberries, baking spices. It’s also worth noting that, while this is labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon, it is 80% Cab; the rest is Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Sangiovese. That’s 7 varietals, 10 vineyards, 6 AVAs, 5 different types of oak. Before I die, just let me attend one blending trial with Rob Newsom.