2005 McCrea Cellars Syrah Boushey Grand Cote Vineyard

November 30, 2009

Hello friends. Quality Syrah, like Riesling, is another area where we can find exceptional value due to wine’s fickle fashion trends. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Syrah has suddenly become a bit passé. Let the perpetually hip fight it out over top-shelf Cabernet while we snap up delicious, terroir-expressive Syrah at drastically-discounted prices.

This is a bottle that contains the work of two true pioneers in Washington wine. Doug McCrea, the winemaker, was well ahead of his time in recognizing the potential for Rhone varietals in Washington. Starting in 1990 with Syrah and Grenache, Doug has since moved on to explore the full range of the Rhone, including more obscure varietals like Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. One of Doug’s longest-lasting and most fruitful relationships has been with Dick Boushey, the winegrower for this bottle. Boushey Vineyard, in the Yakima Valley, produces deeply exciting Syrahs with a full spectrum of savory notes: truffles, dirt, roasted nuts, and smoked meats, to name a few.

I have sometimes identified the “Boushey funk” (a note that I think of as someplace between a charcuterie plate and a truffle-hunting pig) in wines where as little as 15% comes from this vineyard. In this case, 100% of the wine comes from Boushey Syrah grapes, and it’s the “Grand Cote” portion of the vineyard: a steep, south-facing slope that contains some of the oldest blocks at the site. Planted in 1994 at 800 feet elevation, this is a cool site, frequently harvesting more than three weeks after sites on Red Mountain. At a recent McCrea tasting, this bottle was an absolute standout, exploding out of the glass with aromas of slow-roasted meat, shitakes, and dark red and blue fruits. It has been critically praised as well:

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I’m going to open this up to 24 bottles per person (this would be an outstanding wine to serve at a large event or a dinner party), and we’ll see how much we can get our hands on. We should have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2006 Cadence Camerata (Cabernet Sauvignon) Cara Mia Vineyard

November 24, 2009

Hello friends. In late 2003, if you had been walking along the dusty undulations of Red Mountain, you might have stumbled upon a strange site: men digging 8-foot-deep pits into the ground; 31 pits in total. You might have wondered what they were up to: Exhuming bodies? Digging wells? Hunting treasure? As it happens, these men were indeed treasure-hunters, albeit of a nerdier kind: geologists creating a vineyard soil map from the strata of each of the 31 pits. The geologists found three major soil types. The first, sandy loam, came as no surprise, as this soil constitutes much of Red Mountain. The other two soil types were astonishing: cobblestones and clay. Ben Smith, the owner of all this dirt, had happened upon rich Red Mountain terroir, and it seemed his luck had finally changed.

The story really begins in 1997, a year of two important events in the history of Cadence Winery. First, Ben entered four wines into Boeing’s annual winemaking competition for employees (Ben was a Boeing engineer at the time). I have mentioned previously that the Boeing Winemaking Club has been a launch-pad for a number of Washington wineries, so this contest is a competitive event, making it all the more shocking that, when the four finalist wines for Best In Show were revealed, all four were made by Ben Smith.

‘97 was also the year that Ben and his wife purchased more than ten acres of land on Red Mountain. Through his home winemaking, Ben had determined that Red Mountain produced the type of fruit that matched his winemaking style. The only drawback to the land was a lack of water rights, but this is a no small issue on bone-dry Red Mountain. When Ben began the water-rights application process, he was told it could take years and even then could end in rejection.

Perhaps the most common response to that kind of bad news would have been to put the brakes on the winemaking project. Instead, Ben punched it, launching a winery that would focus on Red Mountain Bordeaux-style blends, even if they couldn’t yet come from his land. He sourced fruit from the best vineyards in the area (Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, and Tapteil), and set about making layered, expressive, lovely red wines.

This perseverance paid off handsomely. In autumn of 2003, as Ben was fermenting his sixth vintage of fruit from Tapteil Vineyard, the owner of the vineyard (Larry Pearson) called with shocking news: it turned out that Larry actually owned the water rights to Ben’s land and was happy to transfer those rights to Ben as soon as pens could hit paper. It didn’t take long after that before those geologists were pocking Ben’s land with 31 pits. The vines went into the ground in 2004, and 2006 is the first vintage from Cara Mia Vineyard.

Camerata is 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, with just one barrel of Cabernet Franc thrown into the mix. It has stunning depth and intensity for a vineyard so young and bodes extremely well for vintages to come. I sampled this over the course of three days and was amazed to watch the layers emerge: fruit (berry, orange); then barrel (espresso, soy); then flowers; then earth; then herb. The acid is lively, and the palate reveals a saline intensity of flavor that beautifully complements the sweet tannins, satisfying the same craving that causes us to mix our peanut M&Ms with our popcorn at the movies.

Ben’s wines are built for aging (which is why I wanted to sample over multiple days). He picks relatively early, which gives his wines beautiful acidity and enhances the leafy, herbal side of Cabernet Sauvignon. Ben believes that it’s those aromas that, with time, turn into alluring notes of leather and tobacco. Like all of Ben’s wines, this garnered great critical acclaim, scoring 90 points or higher from Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Tanzer. Spectator (while not the highest score) hits it closest to my experience of the wine:

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Cadence just released the 2007 vintage of this wine, which will doubtless be excellent as well, but I asked Ben to part with some of his limited, remaining stock of 2006. For me, there is joy in tasting the beginning of the new chapter in this story of land, luck, and perseverance.

Please limit requests to a maximum of 6 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. If we sell out, it looks like some other retailers have bottles on hand (LINK: http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/cadence+camerata/2006/usa), although the prices are higher. We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2008 Nefarious Cellars Riesling “Stone’s Throw”

November 23, 2009

Hello friends. As a great philosopher once said (sang): “Darling, I don’t know why I go to extremes.” Well, I know why we go to extremes when looking for wine: because it’s on the outer edges that we find some of the most intriguing bottles (of course, it’s also where we find some of the most unpalatable bottles, but I drink those so you don’t have to).

Heather and Dean Neff planted their estate vineyards at the bottom of the Methow Valley, on the extreme northern edge of the Columbia Valley AVA. They named the vineyards “Rocky Mother” (the Syrah block) and “Stone’s Throw” (the Riesling block). Those names are a good indication of the soil type. Let’s just say that by the time the vineyard planting was completed, the Neffs had the added benefit of a large stone wall skirting the vineyards.

This is inhospitable territory. Rocky Mother (planted in 2004) yielded a minute amount of Syrah in 2006 (if you see any of this in a local wine shop, don’t hesitate; it is outstanding), no Syrah in 2007, and another small crop in 2008. Riesling from Stone’s Throw (also planted in 2004) has yielded a bit more, although production has always been small (108 cases for the 2008). And right from the start, this vineyard has produced outstanding, mineral-driven Rieslings, scoring 90+ from Wine Enthusiast in all three of its vintages (2006-08).

Heather is the white wine-maker of the couple (Dean handles the reds), and she has a steady touch with this grape. There is a small amount of residual sugar here (1.6%); low enough that some tasters think it was vinified completely dry. When I tasted the wine (over the summer in the Neffs’ lovely tasting room overlooking Lake Chelan), I got loads of minerals and fresh peach skin on the nose, followed by a mouthful of gravel and minerals, interspersed with more peaches and fresh tangerine.  The acid here is gorgeously vibrant.

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First come first served; max 12 bottles per person. We will have this wine in our warehouse in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2006 Dusted Valley Syrah “Stained Tooth”

November 19, 2009

Hello friends. I have mentioned in previous offerings fashion’s impact on our ability to find wine values, noting that there are great buys to be had among grapes (like Riesling) that are currently a bit out of vogue. What about fashion in labels?

Dusted Valley Vintners is the brainchild of Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson, two Wisconsin natives who married a pair of sisters, abandoned jobs in medical sales, and settled in the Pacific Northwest to make delicious wine for a living. The connection to the cheese-head state is still evident in their use of Wisconsin oak barrels and in the name of their estate vineyard (Sconni Block). This is a terrific, up-and-coming, Walla Walla winery that only had one problem: their labels did not convey the quality of the juice inside the bottle.

This is a problem they have fixed, coming out with an entirely new label for the 2007 vintage. But some of the 2006 vintage remains, and that is where the value can be found. If you find a bottle of the newly-released 2007 vintage of this wine, you will notice that the price is $26, more than what we’re offering here for the 2006 vintage. The pricing difference between these two vintages comes not from more expensive grapes or more expensive barrels; it comes from better labels.

The nose on the 2006 Stained Tooth Syrah (great name, eh?) is fascinating. Imagine an early spring morning where you just happen to lay down on the ground and push your nose right up to the base of a bunch of violets (what – this isn’t your typical early-spring morning activity?). You get the violet flower itself, a bit of the stalk, and plenty of the rich soil at the base.

Wine Spectator scored this wine 90 points, but I’m more in agreement with the text from Wine Advocate’s 89-point score:

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First come first served on this with a maximum of 12 bottles per person. We should have the wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2007 Pomum Cellars Tinto

November 17, 2009

Hello friends. Today’s offering is a great example of the power of our buying model. Here we have a well-priced, small-production Tempranillo blend, where the winery mailing list snaps up the vast majority of the wine. A tiny parcel (you can count the cases on two hands) is allocated to the distributor, with the idea that most of it will be bound for restaurants. But not if we get our hands on it first.

You probably don’t need to be a rocket scientist to make great wine, but it can’t hurt. Javier Alfonso’s day job is at Aerojet, an aerospace propulsion company where he is an engineer. Somehow he also manages to find enough time to make world-class Washington state wine. Perhaps it’s because Javier has experience having his feet firmly planted in two different worlds. Javier was born in Sunnyside (right in the heart of Yakima Valley, his mother’s home), but from the age of two months until 1995, he lived in Ribera del Duero (the famous Spanish wine region and home of his father’s family). In 1995 he returned to Washington to pursue an aerospace engineering degree at UW, and he has been here ever since.

Javier makes a Bordeaux-blend called Shya that has received rave reviews (Gary Vaynerchuk freaked out about the 2005 Shya, helping to put Pomum on the map), as well as a Syrah and a very small amount of Riesling. We will likely offer all of these wines at some point, but I had to start with the Tinto. Javier first produced this Tempranillo blend in 2006, releasing exactly 26 cases. I was lucky enough to get my hands on three bottles, all of which are long gone, victims of their own deliciousness.

The 2007 Tinto is 72% Tempranillo, with the remainder split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Fortunately, production of the Tinto is up in 2007, but only to 197 cases. As I noted, most of this will go to Pomum’s mailing list (it is nearly impossible to find Washington Tempranillo at this price, so the list snaps it up in bulk), and the rest will be sold mostly to restaurants. But we have dibs on as much of this as we can get if we move quickly (And we are moving quickly. This was only released to the Pomum mailing list on Saturday. I got several tastes of the 2007 Tinto at the release party, and it was singing: sweet aromas of black cherries, pipe tobacco, and green tea; on the palate, more black cherries and a delightfully resinous, forest-floor character; moderate acid – which comes mostly from the DuBrul Vineyard Merlot – and light grip on the finish).

Let’s limit requests to 6 bottles per person and see how much Tinto we can get. We will do our best to fulfill all requests, and we will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


Long Shadows Multi-Vintner Six-Pack

November 16, 2009

Hello friends. Today is a landmark day for all of us who support Washington wine. Wine Spectator revealed their Top 100 Wines of 2009 this morning, and the #1 wine is from Washington: the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Congratulations to winemaker Ray Einberger and his team for this impressive achievement. In total, 9 of the Top 100 come from Washington, which is a remarkable statement about the quality and value of wines from this state.

To celebrate, let’s start the week off with a bang. I had grand visions of spreading out Long Shadows offerings over the course of the year, but now that Wine Advocate and Tanzer have both weighed in favorably on the entire portfolio, it seems wiser to act quickly. And the folks at Long Shadows have made it easy to do just that by putting together an attractive wooden gift box of six wines for the holidays. Today we’re going to offer the gift box, as well as single bottles of Sequel Syrah.

Long Shadows is a visionary effort by Allen Shoup. Allen formerly ran Stimson Lane, which encompassed Chateau Ste Michelle, Columbia Crest, and a number of other wineries. His idea was to pair the best grapes of Washington with the best winemakers from the rest of the world: a grand experiment to see how the state’s fruit holds up to a variety of winemaking styles.

Seven years in, the experiment is an unqualified success. That the entire portfolio just received 90+ scores from Jay Miller and Stephen Tanzer (two thoroughly divergent palates) is a testament to the broad appeal of the lineup:

2006 Feather
Cabernet Sauvignon from Randy Dunn, Napa Valley
93 pts Advocate , 91(+?) pts Tanzer
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2006 Pedestal
Merlot from Michel Rolland, International Wine Consultant
94 pts Advocate, 91 pts Tanzer
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2006 Pirouette
Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated (54%) Bordeaux-blend from Philippe Melka & Agustin Huneeus, Sr., Napa Valley
92 pts Advocate, 92 pts Tanzer
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2006 Sequel
Syrah from John Duval of Penfolds Grange fame in Australia
93 pts Advocate, 93(+?) pts Tanzer
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2006 Saggi
Super-Tuscan blend from Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, Tuscany
92 pts Advocate, 92 pts Tanzer
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2005 Chester-Kidder
Red blend (mostly Cab-Syrah) from Allen Shoup and Gilles Nicault, resident winemaker for the Long Shadows portfolio
93 pts Advocate, 92 pts Tanzer
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Please limit requests to a maximum of 3 gift boxes and 12 bottles of Sequel, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We should receive the gift boxes in early December, and the individual bottles of Sequel should arrive as early as next week.


2007 Memaloose Cabernet Franc

November 12, 2009

Hello friends. I mentioned in the Domaine Pouillon offering earlier this week that the Columbia Gorge AVA spans both sides of the Columbia River. Well, no winery in the gorge exemplifies that fact better than Memaloose. They have vineyards on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the river, and their winery is named after an island in the river smack between their two vineyards. (A quick aside for the history buffs on the list: Lewis and Clark landed on Memaloose Island on April 15, 1806 on their trip back up the Columbia River after seeing the Pacific.)

The winery itself is absolutely worth a visit if you’re in the area. It is situated in the foothills above the gorge, and the combination of stunning views of Mount Hood, entrancing scents of pine and sagebrush, and joyful sounds of bocce balls clunking together were almost enough to keep me there for the whole afternoon. Even better, the winemaker has a point of view that meshes perfectly with his growing area. Brian McCormick (another graduate of the UC Davis winemaking program) wants to make low-alcohol, dry, food-friendly wines with very little oak influence. I mentioned on Monday that the gorge is a cool growing area, so trying to craft red wines with more than 14% alcohol there presents a real challenge. Instead, Brian produces wines with alcohol levels around 13%, including this Cabernet Franc at 13.0%. (note: small amounts of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon are blended in)

Cabernet Franc is a fascinating grape. When harvested at high brix, it can produce ripe, lush wines that are nearly indistinguishable from its genetic relative, Cabernet Sauvignon. At lower brix, like in this example, it shows its distinct savory character, which comes through in notes that run the green gamut from herbal to vegetal. This is a, lithe, lean, athletic wine, where the high-acid, peppered-blue-fruit palate is crying out for food.

Several of you have asked for a red wine appropriate for the Thanksgiving table to complement the white wines already suggested. Instead of waking up on Black Friday and hitting the mall, I would prefer to heat up some leftover sage-infused stuffing and pour a glass (or two) of this.

Only 165 cases of this wine were produced. Please limit requests to 12 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We should have the wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.