Odd Lots

December 22, 2009

Hello friends. This will be our last offering for 2009, and it is an offering of odd lots. When I was starting Full Pull over the summer, one of the requirements on my liquor license was to have at least $3000 of inventory in the warehouse at any time. To build up to that amount, I bought some parcels of wines I knew I would offer in the coming months. In the case of the wines below, the wineries and distributors sadly sold out of the wine in the mean time, leaving me only able to offer the tiny amount I procured in my original purchase.

Both of these wines are extremely limited, to the point that I will ask you to limit order requests to a maximum of 1 bottle of each wine. These will be sold on a first come first served basis until we’re sold out.

2008 Syncline Gruner Veltliner Underwood Mountain Vineyard

Gruner Veltliner is the great white wine grape of Austria, where it makes high-acid, bizarrely-beautiful white wines with distinct vegetal notes of lentil, corn, and hay. As far as I can tell, Syncline (whose Cuvee Elena we offered last week) is the only Washington winery currently producing Gruner. It comes from Underwood Mountain Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA, and it only hints at the vegetal nature of the varietal, with some background grassy notes. This is a tart, acid-driven bottling with lots of citrus notes, and it shows best with food. A great bottle for those of you (I include myself in this group) who like to geek out to obscure varietals.

2006 Ross Andrew Syrah Boushey Vineyard

I have previously sung the praises of Boushey Vineyard and the funky Syrahs that it produces. This is one of the most reasonably-priced bottlings of Boushey Syrah in the state, and it’s made by a man who has a deep comfort level with the vineyard. Ross Mickel was the assistant winemaker at Betz Family Winery for years before branching off on his own. During that time, he helped to craft the Betz La Serenne Syrah, which always comes from Boushey Vineyard fruit. Smoked  meats on the nose, and the palate brings a core of sweet, black cherry fruit framed by notes of iron and other minerals.

As a reminder, please limit order requests to a maximum of 1 bottle of each wine. These wines are already in the warehouse and could be picked up during our open hours today, Wednesday, or Thursday.

We’ll be back with more offerings in early January. In the mean time, happy holidays!


2006 Sheridan Vineyard Mystique

December 21, 2009

Hello friends. One of my favorite stops on my trip through Eastern Washington last week was at Sheridan Vineyard. You might remember this vineyard from Full Pull’s fifth offering, the 2004 OS Winery Ulysses, which was all Sheridan Vineyard fruit. We have received more reorder requests for Ulysses than for any other wine we have offered; a testament, I believe, to the power and quality of the vineyard source.

Sheridan Vineyard was planted in 1997 by Scott Greer, a self-taught vigneron. His vines are entering their teenage years, and like teenagers the world over, display a mix of maturity and youthful vigor. Walking the vineyards, two characteristics were especially notable: the age of the vines (which you can clearly see are coming into maturity from this photo snapped at the vineyard last week) and the elevation of the vineyard (at 1200 feet, it sits in a mostly frost-free zone high above the Yakima Valley).

Before this trip, I had only dipped my toes into the Sheridan water, sampling at various times the OS Ulysses, Andrew Will’s Sheridan blend (which Chris Camarda has made since 2002), and a few wines from the Sheridan label. Now, having gone through a more comprehensive tasting of the Sheridan Vineyard wines, I believe that this 76-acre site is ready to take its place in the pantheon of Yakima Valley Vineyards (alongside Boushey, DuBrul, Lewis, and Red Willow). The combination of vine maturity and a thin-soil terroir that produces naturally low yields (around one ton per acre) leads to wines with concentration, density, and a tremendous sense of palate-weight.

All of Scott’s wines have been disappearing rapidly since the October issue of Wine Advocate was published, where Jay Miller scored all seven Sheridan wines 90 pts and higher. None have moved faster than the Mystique, with its soaring quality-price ratio. It’s clear from Scott’s pricing choices that he wants his wines to be tasted. While other wineries making Sheridan blends price their bottles in the $40-$50 range, the Mystique comes in at less than $30. What remains of the 2006 Mystique is a 14-case parcel in western Washington, and our list has first dibs on as much of it as we want.

I mentioned in the Ulysses offering the signature minty note that I see in Merlot from this vineyard, and in the Mystique, that mint note absolutely sings (I’m shocked that Jay Miller doesn’t mention it in his review; to me, it’s prominent and lovely). The palate here is black, deep, and concentrated, and the spearmint flavor on the mid-palate adds a freshness and lift to the dense fruit. The barrels are all second-use, pushing oak notes far into the background. This is a well-structured wine with plenty of acid and grip, suggesting the potential for long-term aging or short-term enjoyment with food. During the Sheridan tasting, I returned to this wine over and over. At this price point, it’s shocking to find such a delicious, complicated bottle from a single vineyard of this quality.

Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91 pts.”

First come first served up to a maximum of 18 bottles, and definitely unavailable for long-term reorder. We will receive this wine in our warehouse Wednesday afternoon, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2007 Fielding Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Riverbend Vineyard

December 18, 2009

Hello friends. Today’s offering is another example of my best-laid plans being turned to dust by the combination of high score and impending scarcity. Having just offered a Merlot vertical from Fielding Hills, I had planned on holding out for a few months before offering their Cabernet Sauvignon. Then I saw Paul Gregutt’s annual Top 100 list, and sitting right there at #6, practically winking at me, was the 2007 Fielding Hills Cab.

There are plenty of Top 100 lists this time of year, but for Washington wine-lovers, none is more anticipated than Paul Gregutt’s, which focuses entirely on Washington wines and only allows one wine per winery on the list. I was pleased to see several older Full Pull offerings make the cut (#s 14, 30, 58, 59, and 77), and I will include re-order links at the bottom of this e-mail for each of those wines (note: we will do our best to procure more, but it is likely that several of them are sold out).

After digging around a little more, I discovered that Fielding Hills’ 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is set to receive a 95-pt score in an upcoming issue of Wine Enthusiast. This is the highest score to date for this outstanding winery, and let’s put it in perspective. Here are the producers of Washington Cabs that have received higher scores from Wine Enthusiast: Quilceda Creek; Leonetti; Betz; Abeja. That’s an awfully short (and spendy) list.

The Wades were kind enough to allocate us a few cases of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and that is all we’re going to see (this will not be available for any re-orders). Please limit order requests to no more than 3 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We took possession of the Cabernet Sauvignon when we picked up the Merlot verticals, so this is already in the warehouse and available for pickup during our extended hours next week and enjoyment during the holidays.


2007 Syncline Cuvee Elena

December 16, 2009

Hello friends. Robert Parker’s statement that the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone “may be the most compelling vintage of any viticultural region I have ever tasted” has unsurprisingly sent the prices of Chateauneuf-du-Pape soaring. Instead of chasing the crowd (and those prices), how about a 93-pt CdP-style blend from one of Washington’s Rhone pioneers and best producers?

There seems to be no shortage of interest in Washington Grenache. We have offered two examples prior to this (Chatter Creek Grenache and Rotie Cellars Southern Rhone Blend), and both have been gobbled up in quantity. And I can understand why: the varietal (although finicky, difficult to grow, and dreadfully susceptible to frost) produces wines with aromatic complexity, terroir expressiveness, and a juicy joyfulness that is difficult to replicate.

This particular blend is a full 70% Grenache (the remainder is 17% Mourvedre, 9% Carignan, and 2% Cinsault and Syrah), and it is the flagship wine of Syncline Wine Cellars. Syncline is the anchor tenant of the Columbia Gorge AVA, with many visitors to the area going specifically to visit James and Poppie Mantone. This couple, who together handle winemaking, wine-selling, and management of their young estate vineyard, met during the 1997 harvest in the Willamette Valley.

Their first foray into Washington winemaking was a 1999 Pinot Noir from Celilo Vineyard. While they still make a tiny amount of Pinot Noir (and perhaps Washington’s only Gruner Veltliner), their real focus has been on Rhone varietals. Early on, it was predominantly Syrah, out of necessity. Over time, James and Poppie have coaxed growers into planting the more obscure Rhone varietals, all of which wind up in this blend (named after James’ grandmother).

When I tasted this (during my one-day Columbia Gorge wine binge), I was immediately struck by the freshness of its red fruit. The acid here is so vibrant that it adds a bracing clarity to each of the many flavors: strawberry, game (likely from the healthy dose of Mourvedre), white pepper, and autumn leaf. The finish here is creamy and luscious, inviting further sipping and contemplation.

[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]

I will open this up to a 12 bottle maximum, since many of you seem to snap up Grenache by the caseload. We will do our best to fulfill all requests, but this is a small-production (275 cases) blend that is sold out at the winery and had fewer than 20 cases remaining at the distributor before the big score in Parker. It is unlikely to be available for long-term reorder, but if we do sell out, there is another small parcel floating around Eastern Washington. What we can procure should arrive in our warehouse next Monday morning, in time for pickup during our extended hours next week.


Two Sangioveses from Cavatappi

December 14, 2009

Hello friends. I’m sending today’s offering from my cozy room in Walla Walla, where I just spent a snowy three-day weekend tasting many wonderful wines and hearing many compelling stories from about 15 different producers. Along with the usual varietal suspects, I sampled Malbec, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Carmenere; many exciting expressions of Washington terroir that we will be offering to you in the coming months. Now I’m off to the Yakima Valley for two more days of research, but before I go, here is a tasty offering to start the week.

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Today’s wines are from one of Washington’s oldest wineries (first vintage: 1987). Although Peter Dow has been making Cavatappi wine for more than 20 years, this is still an insider winery. Cavatappi flies under the radar in part because their wines are much more likely to show up in restaurants than at retail (also because they are rarely submitted for scores; I found a 90-pt score from Tanzer for the 2003 Molly’s Cuvee, but not much else). And perhaps that makes sense, since Cavatappi’s origins are deeply tied to the restaurant world.

Back in 1984, Peter Dow was the chef/owner of Cafe Juanita, a Kirkland restaurant featuring the cuisine of Northern Italy. After visiting the region himself, Peter was inspired by the number of restaurants in the Piedmont that were making their own house wine, and so he set about developing a winery in the cellar of his restaurant. Because there were so few of the Italian varietals planted in Washington at the time, Peter also had to develop partnerships with growers to put those vines into the ground.

In its early years, Cavatappi sold all its wine through Cafe Juanita, but over time, they began allocating small portions of the wine for sales purposes. Most of that went to restaurants, as chefs and sommeliers quickly recognized that Peter was making wine intended for drinking with food. By 2000, Peter had sold Cafe Juanita (it remains a well-regarded restaurant in Kirkland), but Cavatappi lives on, with most of its production still landing on restaurant wine lists.

I recently had the chance to taste both Sangioveses in the Cavatappi lineup. These two examples are such fascinating (and different) expressions of Washington’s take on the great grape of Tuscany that I want to offer them both. There is little oak (almost entirely neutral wood, with just a few two-year-old barrels used) to get in the way of exploring the fruit. Opening these two bottles side by side is an educational experience; each of the two manages to tickle the brain and the palate.

2008 Cavatappi Sangiovese

Pale red color here, with aromas of sweet watermelon and minerals, along with delicate black notes of licorice and tar. The palate is juicy and vibrant, full of red fruit and a streak of tar continuing down the center. This is young, light-bodied, and eminently drinkable. 13.5% alcohol, and all fruit comes from the Wahluke Slope AVA.

2005 Cavatappi Sangiovese Molly’s Cuvee

This is the older brother: deeper and more brooding. The cranberries and pomegranates here seem covered in resin and brambles, adding an herbal complexity. While the palate is richer than the 2008 bottling, this is still an acid-driven wine; fresh, lively, and meant for cutting through all variety of meals (tasting this made me want to put down my glass, run home, and immediately start making a batch of pasta Bolognese). Medium-bodied, this comes in at 14% alcohol, and the vineyard sources are impeccable: Red Willow and Boushey – two superstars of the Yakima Valley.

First come first served on these bottles up to 12 of each. We should have these wines in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2007 Chateau Rollat “Sophie”

December 10, 2009

Hello friends. Today’s offering is another one of those insider wines that tends to get released and then disappear off the shelves quickly (people who know about this wine snap it up en masse). Fortunately, we have access to a pristine little parcel.

Chateau Rollat’s wines are styled in a decidedly Old World fashion; relatively unusual for Washington. This styling comes in large part from consulting winemaker Christian LeSommer, whose other stints in the wine world include time at Chateau Latour (a first growth estate in Bordeaux) and Chateau D’Yquem (the famous Sauternes producer). The wines, which are more about elegance, finesse, and structure than outward expressions of fruit, are not for everyone. But fans of these wines tend to be passionate with their praise and quick with their wallets. They seem to be quickest with Sophie, perhaps because she is the lowest-cost and most immediately-approachable red in the Rollat portfolio. While the mid-level “Rollat” and the high-end “Edouard” need several years in the cellar or hours in the decanter to reveal all their beautiful layers, Sophie is ready to be enjoyed right now.

Sophie is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc from Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge Vineyards in Walla Walla. I opened a sample bottle in the warehouse last week with a friend, planning to try one glass each for tasting-note purposes. We ended up polishing off nearly the entire bottle. Oops.

The nose here is markedly pretty, with creamy milk chocolate and floral notes of both petal and stalk (perhaps the Cab Franc influence). The palate hits plenty of soil notes, along with luscious barrel flavors of peanut brittle and coffee, all interlaced with streaks of pomegranate. There is enough acid and grip to suggest that this wine will truly shine in the presence of food. It is built to complement (and not to overwhelm) a well-cooked meal.

Let’s save the story of how owner Bowin Lindgren wooed Christian LeSommer from France to Walla Walla for a future offering. I think this is already enough verbiage for a parcel of this size. Please limit requests to a maximum of 6 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.


Two Sparkling Wines from Mountain Dome

December 9, 2009

Hello friends. Those of you who were on the list for our first offering know of my appreciation for the Manz family and their Mountain Dome sparkling wines. Now, as we approach the time of year most known for uncorking bottles of bubbly, let’s return to Washington’s only dedicated sparkling wine house.

Here we have both ends of the Mountain Dome spectrum: their entry-level non-vintage (NV) Brut, and their top-of-the-line NV Cuvee Forte. The winemaking for these two bottles is similar: a blend of many different vintages, with the still wine fermented partly in stainless steel and partly in oak before undergoing secondary fermentation in bottle. The main difference between the two bottles is age:

NV Mountain Dome Brut

The NV Brut (predominantly 2006 vintage) is bottle-aged for about 18 months on the lees (yeasts). It is released young and shows its youthful vigor, with citrus-driven flavors and hints of earth and spice. The label is steeped in whimsy, decorated with a wide variety of the gnomes that also dot the Mountain Dome winery property.

NV Mountain Dome Cuvee Forte

The Cuvee Forte (predominantly 2000 vintage) is typically bottle-aged for 5-8 years on the lees. This longer-term aging leads to finer bubbles, mellower flavors, and the lovely, bready notes that are frequently associated with Champagne. This wine has an alluring nose – with a blindfold on, I would probably guess red wine, from the delicate aromas of red fruit, flowers, and earth. On the palate, there’s no doubt that this is a rich, luscious sparkling wine, with lots of bready flavors and background notes of candied pineapple.

There is a richness to both these wines that comes in part from the (fairly unusual) technique of fermenting a portion of the wine in oak. Erik Manz (the winemaker at Mountain Dome) picked this up from his time apprenticing in France at Vilmart, a venerable Champagne house that started slinging fizz in 1890, and one of the few Champagne producers to use oak. Erik’s apprenticeship at Vilmart ended in 1999, at which point he went home to work full time with his father at Mountain Dome, just in time to be deeply involved in the 2000 vintage that makes up most of the Cuvee Forte.

First come first served on these bottles up to 36 of the NV Brut and 24 of the Cuvee Forte. We should have these wines in our warehouse in less than a week (well in advance of December 31), at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.


NV Va Piano Vineyards Bruno’s Blend V

December 7, 2009

Hello friends.  Here’s some grease for you squeaky wheels who have been asking for more great red wines under $20 (on that note, I have been very happy to hear that so many of you are enjoying the Stained Tooth Syrah from Dusted Valley.

While the direct translation of Va Piano is “go slowly,” that is not what we did when I visited winemaker Justin Wylie in Walla Walla. Indeed, I had trouble keeping up with Justin as we blazed through his barrels: 2008 Syrah from his estate vineyards; 2008 Syrah from Portteus Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills; 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 1 of his estate vineyard: it was enough to make my head (and palate) spin, but I wasn’t surprised that we had to move fast. Justin is one of those rare specimens who handles (and excels at) both winegrowing and winemaking duties: a busy vigneron who seems as comfortable on his riding tractor as he does in his barrel room.

Justin has kept Va Piano focused since its first releases (2003 vintage), producing consistent, excellent Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. But I have always had a soft spot for his less consistent release: Bruno’s Blend. This blend (always a combination of different grapes and different vintages) seems to be the place where Justin allows some playfulness into his winemaking, and this sense of whimsy and joy translates into the glass.

Each new release of Bruno’s Blend is adorned with a painting by a man named Bruno Segatta, a one-man philanthropic whirlwind who travels the world selling his paintings to support a number of charitable causes. As a student at Gonzaga University, Justin met Bruno, who at that time ran the university’s Italian exchange program, and he now supports Bruno’s work by donating a portion of the proceeds generated by the blend.

As with each release of Bruno’s Blend, the painting on the outside of the bottle is beautiful. Fortunately, what’s inside is equally good. Two-thirds Syrah, with the remainder split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this is driven by bright red fruit aromas and flavors. There is a surprising amount of structure (moderate acid and fine-grained tannins) and complexity (background hints of dust and mint) here, especially for the price point.

First come first served up to a maximum of 6 bottles. 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 Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon

December 4, 2009

Hello friends. For years now, my wife and I have been flying to Utah every winter for Christmas dinner. Her grandpa opened the first Japanese restaurant in Salt Lake City, and he still knows his way around the kitchen (this is a man notorious for terrifying his daughters’ high school dates by greeting them while sharpening his largest knives). A huge, garlic-studded prime rib roast is the Christmas tradition, and it is not visions of sugar plums that dance in my head but visions of a large table filled with caveman slabs of beef and chalices of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon. The thought is almost unbearably beautiful. Let me collect myself. Okay.

Last year, the wine I brought (smuggled?) to dinner was the 2006 Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon. The quality-to-price ratio of this wine is off the charts. It is nearly impossible to find estate-grown, Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon for under $30, but Amavi consistently pulls it off. This feat is possible because Amavi is similar in many respects to a second label for Pepper Bridge Winery (the ownership has some overlap but is not exactly the same). The two wineries share the same winemaker (Jean-Francois Pellet) the same outstanding vineyard sources (Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, Les Collines), and the same gravity-flow winemaking facility. The main differences are that Amavi wines see less new oak and are released a bit younger.

Each week on our Thursday pickup night, we place one of our open bottles in a paper bag and ask our tasters to guess the varietal, age, and origin of the wine. The 2007 Amavi Cabernet was in the bag two weeks ago, and it was fascinating to see so many tasters guess the varietal correctly (not surprising, considering what a pure expression of Cabernet Sauvignon this is) but guess the age wrong (many guessed 3-5 years old; some 6-9 years old). I suspect it’s because this is already developing interesting secondary notes of spice and cigar box that suggest an older wine.

[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]

If you’re looking for a well-priced Walla Walla Cab that can stand up to the big roasts that roam the holiday landscape, this would be a wonderful choice. For those with especially big families, we’ll open this up to a maximum 12 bottles per person; first come first served. We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2005-2007 Fielding Hills Merlot Vertical

December 2, 2009

Hello friends. I’m incredibly excited about today’s offering, which gives us all a unique opportunity to taste the passage of time. Perhaps no wine-drinking experience produces more breathless anticipation among wine lovers than vertical tastings (note: a wine vertical is a series of different vintages of the same wine; a mini-vertical is usually a two-year series and a regular vertical is three or more vintages). I take any chance I can get to participate in vertical tastings because they are so educational. It’s a little like algebra: you hold some variables constant in order to solve for the others.

To me, the most enlightening verticals are those made primarily from a single varietal and a single vineyard. Verticals of this nature reduce the variability to one factor – vintage – and afford us the uncommon opportunity to taste time in our glasses. Unfortunately, verticals are as rare as they are alluring. In most cases, you need a) the patience and space to purchase and cellar several vintages; or b) the good sense to make friends with people from group a). In this case, Mike and Karen Wade at Fielding Hills have agreed to dip into their limited library of back vintages, which allows us to eschew a) and b) in favor of instant gratification.

Those of you who pay close attention to Washington wine will know of Fielding Hills, but for our more casual readers, this might be the best Washington winery you have never heard of. The Wades have no tasting room at their Wenatchee winery. They are extremely selective about who sells their wine, so it only shows up in a few retail shops and restaurants (and disappears quickly thereafter). Much of their wine is sold directly through the winery, based on word-of-mouth praise and a scintillating series of scores and reviews.

Mike Wade had worked in agriculture for years before becoming a vigneron. (In fact, he is still involved with a company that owns apple and cherry orchards and packing warehouses, which makes harvest time extra lengthy and extra hectic in the Wade household.) After a period of increasing interest in winegrowing and winemaking, Mike took the plunge in 1998, tearing Red Delicious apples out of one of his orchards on the Wahluke Slope and planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah. Riverbend Vineyard yielded its first commercial harvest in 2000. Two years later, Mike quietly sent his 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon to Wine Spectator, who scored it 91 pts (an exceptional review for third-lead fruit). And thus Fielding Hills was on its way.

In visiting with the Wades, one aspect of their winemaking that struck me is their attention to cleanliness. Mike estimates that he spends one-third of his time sterilizing equipment in preparation, one-third doing the actual work of winemaking, and one-third sterilizing equipment again for cleanup. Sterilization is certainly not the glamorous part of winemaking, but it’s that kind of attention to detail that elevates wine to greatness. And these are indeed great Merlots, showing the kind of heft, depth and complexity that is not frequently associated with this varietal:

2005

The warmest vintage of the three, and it shows in the lushness of this wine. Nose of Junior Mints and cherries, with a silky palate bringing flavors of cherry liqueur and mocha.

[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]

2006

The coolest vintage of the three, especially around harvest time, leading to brighter acid across the state’s wines. This nose has more cocoa, with just a hint of mint and a new topsoil element emerging. The acid is lovely here, and this feels delightfully juicy in the mouth. The cherries are more of the pie-cherry variety, and there is an intriguing savory element here – toasted wheat?

[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]

2007

Generally considered an ideal vintage (and likely Washington’s best of the decade), the summer of 2007 was hot and steady, allowing for excellent ripening. Cooler conditions arrived in September and October, leading to outstanding flavor development without excessive alcohol.

Intriguing nose reminiscent of an excellent tawny port, with background notes of red fruit. This is the youngest of the three, and the barrel notes are most noticeable here, in the form of brown spices that overlay the rich cherry fruit. Although the review is as-yet unreleased, this wine is set to receive 93 pts from Wine Enthusiast.

As you can imagine, access to these older vintages makes this offering extremely limited.  Please limit requests to 3 verticals (9 bottles total), and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. Those requesting full verticals will have priority access to this parcel, but if you’re interested in mini-verticals or single bottles, please e-mail me, and we will see what we can do. Fielding Hills is self-distributed, and I expect to meet the Wades to take possession of the verticals by December 13. At that point, the wine will be ready for pickup or shipping, just in time to make a wonderful gift for the holidays.