Leonetti Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2008 Merlot

March 30, 2010

Hello friends. I was not planning to send out an offering today, but an opportunity just flashed across my inbox that is too good to pass up. It’s not every day that we get the chance to present wines from one of Washington’s cult wineries, and I don’t intend to let this one slip by.

The timing on this offering is tight. I need to place my order by 3 PM Wednesday (after that, these bottles will be released to other retail and restaurant accounts), and then we will receive this wine at the warehouse on Thursday. Because of the quick turnaround, I don’t have nearly the amount of time it would take to do proper justice to this winery. But allow me to paint some broad strokes (for more details, check out this excellent article by Paul Gregutt from 2006):

Gary Figgins bonded Leonetti Cellars in 1977 and has been producing premium wine commercially since 1978. Leonetti is absolutely the pioneer winery of the Walla Walla Valley. They were the first to set up shop in Walla Walla, and with their estate vineyards, they helped to establish a reputation for quality that has now drawn more than 100 wineries to the region. Gary’s son Chris is now the head winemaker, and the two “keep tweaking things in the vineyards and cellar as they move toward totally biodynamic farming. As usual, their wines are benchmarks against which others must be measured.” (Jay Miller, writing in Wine Advocate, October 2009).

Their wines are also difficult to find. One option is to join the waiting list for the Leonetti mailing list (the mailing list has been closed for many years). They currently estimate the waiting time at 5-8 years, so with any luck, you could make it onto the list in 2015. Or, for those of us with less patience, I present the following immediate gratification:

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

This will be a wine to sit on for at least five years (if you can resist!) and would make a good 21st birthday gift in 2028 for kids born in 2007:

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

Note: Sean was kind enough to send me his pre-publication reviews of these wines. Expect a full write-up on the Leonetti wines on Washington Wine Report in the coming days. It will likely be months, on the other hand, before we see reviews of these wines from print publications, but it’s worth noting that the previous vintage (2006) Cab received 96 Wine Enthusiast; 95 Wine Advocate; and 94 Tanzer.

2008 Merlot

Again, this is 100% Walla Walla Valley fruit, and again, this has plenty of built-in structure to age gracefully for many years.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].  Rating: * (Outstanding).”

The 2007 vintage received 94 WE; 93 WA; 92 Tanzer.

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This is a pitch-perfect example of the power of the Full Pull model. Because we have the agility to act quickly, we can grab a nice parcel of highly-allocated wine before it trickles down through traditional channels. That said, these wines are quite limited, so I’m afraid I need to limit order requests to 2 bottles of each wine. We will do our best to fulfill all requests, and as I mentioned at the start, we will have these wines in the warehouse by Thursday afternoon, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.


2004-2006 Couvillion Cabernet Sauvignon

March 29, 2010

Hello friends, and welcome to our new list members who played the “What’s in the Bag” game at Taste Washington over the weekend. Syrah and 2004-2006 were the correct answers, as we were pouring one of our most popular offerings to date: the 2005 McKinley Springs Syrah, a wonderful value at less than $15 (note: I will include an order/reorder link for that wine at the bottom of this e-mail). More than forty people correctly guessed the varietal and vintage; impressive blind tasting prowess!

For those of you new to the list, good primers about Full Pull were written by Wine Peeps in September (they subsequently named us their Best Wine Retailer for 2009) and Washington Wine Report in October. More recently, professional photographer Rasmus Rasmussen wrote about Full Pull in his Another Passion blog. That’s probably enough intro; now onto today’s offering.
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Today’s offering is deeply exciting: a unique opportunity to access rare, library wines and taste the entire Cabernet Sauvignon portfolio from an outstanding, up-and-coming producer. Our original Couvillion Cabernet offering (the 2006 vintage) was released on February 5. When I met winemaker Jill Noble to pick up the wine, we grabbed a cup of coffee, and Jill suggested the possibility of opening up her library to our list. Naturally I was ecstatic, but I was also a bit wary, as I have seen wineries bump their prices by 10%-30% per year for library wines. I understand that kind of library policy, since each year that passes is a year that the winery has to store the wine and not realize any cash flow. So when Jill agreed to offer us small parcels of the library vintages at their release prices, I couldn’t get the word “yes” out of my mouth quickly enough.

I profiled Jill’s work at Couvillion at length in the original offering, but the pertinent details are: Couvillion is an under-the-radar winery located up Middle Waitsburg Road north of Walla Walla (very close to Spring Valley Vineyards). The winery is open by appointment only, and is absolutely worth a visit. Jill worked with John Abbott at Abeja and Marie-Eve Gilla at Forgeron (two Cabernet Sauvignon experts) before launching Couvillion.

This will be our fifth vertical offering. We began with a 3-year vertical of Fielding Hills Merlot (2005-07) and have recently offered 2-year mini-verticals of OS Dineen Vineyard Syrah (2005-06), Efeste Evergreen Vineyard Riesling (2008-09), and Bunnell Clifton Hill Vineyard Syrah (2006-07). Much like those offerings, this is a single-varietal (100% Cab), single-vineyard (Sagemoor’s Dionysus Block #18) vertical. The raw materials and winemaking are nearly identical for all three years, so this is a wonderful chance to highlight vintage variation in the glass.

2004 Couvillion Cabernet Sauvignon

The nose here is an alluring mix of soil, dark fruit, and caramel. Like all three of these Cabs, this has an elegant mouthfeel that carries red fruit and earth flavors. The tannins here are almost entirely integrated, and the moderate acids keep things fresh. A long, mineral-driven finish rounds out this wine, which is drinking at or near its peak (and throwing a goodly amount of sediment; a good candidate for the decanter).

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90 pts.”

A relatively cool year, this was the vintage where the Walla Walla Valley was decimated by frost. Jill’s Sagemoor-Dionysus Vineyard source, in the Columbia Valley, was unaffected.

2005 Couvillion Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($27); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90 pts.”

The warmest of the three years, and it shows in riper fruit on the nose and richer fruit on the palate. Still, this is far from a fruit bomb, and instead shows the grace and finesse that can be achieved when Cab is harvested at moderate sugar levels. Dark fruit on the nose (black cherries mostly), with plum and spice notes on the palate. The acid is a touch lower than the 2004, and the tannins, while still medium-low, are a bit more prominent.

2006 Couvillion Cabernet Sauvignon

See the original writeup here. This has a very different nose from the first two, with notes of earth, smoke, meat, gravel, and tobacco. Spice notes from the new French Oak are interwoven with red and black cherries on the palate. Another cool year brings mouthwatering acids, and the tannins here are moderate as well. This is balanced, finesse-driven Cabernet. Like the 2004 and 2005, the wine manages to convey a sense of palate density without ever seeming heavy or jammy.

After our first offering of this, I did not think we would have access to another parcel, but Jill has agreed to steer some of this wine our way that was originally intended for the Couvillion library.

Essentially, all three of these are now library wines, so they are quite limited. Please keep order requests to 12 BOTTLES TOTAL (mix and match as you see fit), and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. As a reminder, Couvillion is self-distributed, so it might be 2-3 weeks before we have these wines in our warehouse, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2006 Tamarack Cellars DuBrul Vineyard Reserve

March 26, 2010

Hello friends. In several offerings, I have made mention of “the pantheon” of Yakima Valley Vineyards. To date, we have offered wines from Red Willow, Boushey, Sheridan, and Lewis Vineyards. Among the pantheon, that only leaves DuBrul Vineyard (nitpicker alert: DuBrul Vineyard is actually located in a sub-AVA of the Yakima Valley called the Rattlesnake Hills; sounds like a lovely place for a hike).

DuBrul is perhaps the least accessible of the Yakima Valley’s top sites. Vineyard designated bottlings are only made consistently by three producers: Cote Bonneville (the estate winery attached to the vineyard that made a splash last year by releasing their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon at $200, believed to be the highest-priced red wine ever from Washington), Owen Roe, and Tamarack (it’s worth noting that several other top-notch wineries – Woodward Canyon, Rasa, Stevens, Pomum, to name a few – also work with DuBrul fruit).

Hugh and Kathy Shiels planted DuBrul Vineyard in 1992 on a steep, south-facing slope. The soil is a thin layer of wind-blown loess over alluvial fan deposits. The site is also influenced by volcanic ash, and you can see from this picture how crazily heterogeneous the vineyard’s rocks are. Stressed vines make great wines, and that picture certainly looks stressful.

Tamarack Cellars, a Walla Walla stalwart founded by Ron Coleman in 1998 (14th winery in the WW Valley), is probably best known for their Firehouse Red, consistently one of the state’s best values. I was first introduced to their reserve line at Taste Washington 2009, where they were pouring the DuBrul Reserve and another reserve from Sagemoor Vineyard. Both were excellent, but the DuBrul took my breath away with its aromatic complexity. The nose just comes screaming out of the glass, bringing waves of blackberries, smoke, earth, and soy. This is a dark beast. On the palate, fresh acid carries a panoply of red and purple fruits, earth notes, spice, and cola. Fine, moderate tannins round out this stunner.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92 pts.”

Only 154 cases were produced, and this wine is sold out at the winery. We have access to a small parcel that I believe is the last to be had in western Washington. Due to the size of the parcel, we need to limit order requests to a maximum of 4 bottles. We will do our best to fulfill all requests, and we should have the wine in our warehouse next week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2006 Brian Carter Cellars Tuttorosso (Sangiovese Blend)

March 24, 2010

Hello friends. While many Washington wineries have chosen to focus on single-varietal bottlings, Brian Carter has consistently polished his skill at crafting complex, delicious blends. His current portfolio includes eight separate blended wines, and today’s offering consists of one of the most fascinating of those blends: a Sangiovese-driven Super-Tuscan.

Visiting with Brian Carter (which I did a few weeks ago) is like opening a history book on Washington wine. The 2009 harvest marked Brian’s 30th vintage in Washington. When he began working with Paul Thomas Winery in 1980, there were a grand total of 16 wineries in the state. So Brian has been here since the beginning. He was also here in 1996 when his Paul Thomas 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon scored higher than a 1983 Chateau Lafite Rothschild at the “Windows of the World” tasting in New York, one of the state’s early and important achievements.

Brian noted that his winemaking has evolved over the years. When he was fresh out of UC-Davis, he made “squeaky clean wines” with no wild yeasts and little time on the lees. Over time, he came to believe that good wines can be created this way, but not great wines; and he has adjusted his winemaking style accordingly.

Can you imagine the scene during blending trials for this wine? The Sangiovese (69% of the blend ) comes from three different vineyards (Boushey, Solstice, and Snipes Canyon; quick aside – is there any varietal Dick Boushey is not growing on his wonderful terroir?) scattered across the Yakima Valley. The Syrah comes from two separate sites (Stone Tree on the Wahluke Slope and Outlook in the Yakima Valley). Add in the barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon (Solstice Vineyard fruit), and you have six separate components.

Somehow Brian melds these into a seamless whole. He noted that the Sangiovese provides the vibrant acid; the 19% Cabernet Sauvignon provides some hefty tannic structure; and the 12% Syrah adds depth. From my tasting, the Sangiovese is dominant on the palate, with its lovely combination of bright red fruit (pie cherries, raspberries), earth, and acid. There are notes of brown spice, but with only 20% new French oak, those notes hover in the background.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].  90 pts.”

First come first served up to 12 bottles. This wine will arrive in the warehouse next week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2008 L’Ecole 41 Semillon Columbia Valley

March 22, 2010

Hello friends. Relatively brief offering today, as the winery and the price speak for themselves. L’Ecole 41 has been around since the early ’80s and was just the third winery to open its doors in Walla Walla. Its history with Semillon is almost that long: L’Ecole’s first vintage of this bottling was in 1984.

Semillon is a grape that ought to show up in more varietal Washington bottlings. It thrives all over the state (this wine includes grapes not only from the Columbia Valley AVA but also from the Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope, and Walla Walla Valley AVAs) and yields wines with a strong mix of complexity and accessibility. The great white wine grape of Bordeaux (where it is blended with Sauvignon Blanc), Semillon from Washington tends to combine some of the best features of Chardonnay (full body, richness, stone fruits and melons) and Riesling (strong acids, lime notes).

I find L’Ecole’s version unmistakable; there is a figgy, faintly leesy grace note (I believe this is the lanolin note Paul Gregutt references below) on top of the limes and melons. At Taste Washington 2009, L’Ecole’s Semillon (2007 vintage, I believe) was poured as part of the Which One’s Washington seminar, and several of us in the room were able to peg it under double-blind conditions (note: this is meant not as braggadocio but as a statement about L’Ecole’s consistency with their Semillon).

This wine has always been an outstanding value. With its recent price drop, it moves into house-white territory: a wine to keep around by the case that will deliver pleasure throughout the spring and summer months.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($16); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90 pts.”

Please note: this is the Columbia Valley bottling; not the Fries Vineyard or Seven Hills Vineyard bottlings, both of which see more new oak. Today’s offering is a blend of seven vineyards, but about 70% comes from three of them: Klipsun on Red Mountain, Rosebud on the Wahluke Slope, and Double River in the Walla Walla Valley.

First come first served up to 48 bottles. This wine will arrive in the warehouse next week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2006 and 2007 Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Clifton Hill Vineyard

March 19, 2010

Going to Taste Washington next weekend? So are we! Visit our booth (#401) and play the What’s In the Bag game for the chance to win some very cool bottles.

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Hello friends. It was a parenthetical reference I hadn’t considered all that deeply when I wrote it back on February 19: “Let’s head into what should be a spectacular weekend with two delightful wines from Ron Bunnell, one of Washington’s underground superstars (probably not underground for long, as Wine Spectator’s next issue has 93-pt scores for both of Ron’s as-yet-unreleased single-vineyard Syrahs from the 2007 vintage).” But it led a number of you to e-mail me, asking when those single-vineyard Syrahs would be released.  Good questions, certainly, because small-production, high-scored Syrah needs to be acted on quickly.

Much like with the OS Dineen Syrah from last week, my pursuit of a pending release has led to an opportunity to offer a mini-vertical. That makes three single-vineyard mini-verticals in two weeks: an embarrassment of riches in this season of vintage changeover for those of us dedicated to exploring Washington terroir.

Clifton Hill Vineyard is another Milbrandt-farmed site on the Wahluke Slope (I created another Google Map to show you its location). The vineyard slopes to the west, overlooking Sentinel Gap, a geological oddity where the Missoula Floods carved their way through the Saddle Mountains. Along with Syrah, there is Viognier planted at Clifton Hill, and the two grapes ripen at about the same time, allowing co-fermentation. In both vintages offered today, 3% Viognier was co-fermented with the Syrah, adding wonderful floral complexities to the wines.

2006

When I met with Ron Bunnell in December, we tasted through his 2006 Syrahs. After tasting the outstanding 2006 Boushey-McPherson Syrah (full of charred meats and smoked nuts), I thought I had my Syrah of the day. Then Ron poured the Clifton Hill, and I had to reevaluate. Along with floral notes from the Viognier, the Clifton Hill bottling had a savory character different from the Boushey, with notes of hay and wheatberries. The fruit from Clifton was brighter and more citric, with wonderful lift and unexpected flavors of stone fruits (peaches and apricots) to complement the bright red fruits. Syrah is so beautifully vineyard-expressive in Washington, and this Syrah hit notes that, in my experience, are unique to this site.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($42); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92 pts.”

2007

We were able to gain access to a pre-release parcel, so I have not yet tasted the 2007. The Spectator score demanded a fast go/no-go decision, and I am confident in the combination of world-class winemaker (as a reminder, Ron was the Head Red Winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle, where he worked from 1992 to 2004), expert growers, and fabulous raw materials.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($43); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93 pts.”

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles of each wine, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We should have these wines in our warehouse in less than two weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.


NV Mountain Dome Brut Rosé

March 18, 2010

Hello friends. Let’s kick off rosé season the same way we kicked off Full Pull: with a bottle from Mountain Dome Winery, Washington’s only dedicated sparkling wine house. (Note: for those of you new to the list or with reorder ambitions, I will include links at the bottom of this e-mail for our previous three Mountain Dome offerings).

I hope you will indulge me today in a little wine geekiness (education; I meant to say wine education). Offering a sparkling rosé gives us a chance to explore the winemaking processes associated with two fairly unusual types of wine: rosé wine and sparkling wine. While there are other, generally less-desirable ways to make rosé and sparkling wine, we will focus today on the tried and true: the saignee method for rosé and the méthode Champenoise for sparkling wine.

The grapes for Mountain Dome’s sparkling rosé (85% Pinot Noir; 15% Chardonnay) were mostly picked in 2004 and 2005, at 18-19 Brix (a measure of sugar level). Typical for sparkling wine, this is a relatively low Brix-level compared to still wines, so the grapes were low in sugar and high in acid. After harvest, the grapes were left to sit on their skins for about 13 hours, imparting a delicate pink color from the skins of the Pinot Noir grapes. At that point, a gentle bladder press was used at the top of the hill, and the juice (thanks to Mountain Dome being literally located on a mountain) ran down to the barrels and tanks below.

After primary fermentation, the resulting “base wine” was aged for six months in a combination of oak and stainless steel barrels. The next step is a Manz family favorite: blending trials, where base wine from several vintages is blended together and then bottled when the ideal blend is achieved. Along with the base wine, a new round of sugar and yeast are added to the mix, and the bottle is sealed with a crown cap to keep the resulting bubbles in the bottle.

Next, the bottles rest for awhile. In the case of Mountain Dome Brut Rosé, awhile is 4-5 years: time enough for bubbles to become finer and for the dead yeasts (lees) to lend bready aromas and flavors to the wine. After that sleepy Olympiad, the bottles are moved to the riddling rack, which sounds like a form of medieval torture but is in reality far less sinister. The rack moves the bottles from vertical to horizontal, slowly enough that the lees settle eventually in the neck of the bottle. Once the lees are safely in the bottle neck, that neck is frozen, and the lees are disgorged out the top of the bottle (along with the crown cap). The bottles are quickly corked and sealed, at which point they are ready to make their way into our homes, our cellars, our bellies.

Mountain Dome’s Brut Rosé is floral and rich, with big acid, fine bubbles, and a lovely palate of lemon, pineapple, and cracker. Put a bottle of this in the fridge before you go to bed on a Saturday night and wake up to Sunday-brunch nirvana. This has the delicacy to pair with your eggs and the richness and acidity to cut through your pile of bacon-stuffed French toast. Put the cup of coffee down; back slowly away; and pick up your Champagne flute.

First come first served up to 18 bottles, and this should arrive in the warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.