2006 Syzygy Syrah

May 13, 2010

Hello friends. We have an opportunity today to access the final parcel of SYZYGY’s 2006 Syrah. The winery has already moved on to the 2007 vintage, and there’s not much of the 2006 left. We will receive one shipment of this wine, and whatever we don’t pluck is likely bound for the SYZYGY library.

I will admit that my state when I arrived at SYZYGY on a Saturday morning in April was one of undercaffeinated grumpiness. Their little house by the airport was my first visit of the day, and I had purposely left time to grab coffee beforehand at the Walla Walla Roastery. Apparently every winemaker and other business owner at the Walla Walla Airport had the same idea, because the line was out the door. I had to abandon my caffeine dreams; good for my palate purity but bad for my mood. Fortunately, Zach Brettler turned out to be human caffeine: a hyperkinetic dervish whose excitement about his winemaking craft and its results was palpable and contagious. Within minutes of listening to Zach talk about SYZYGY, I felt like I had sucked down a triple Americano, and I was ready to face the day.

SYZYGY (pronounced a little like “wizardry”) was bonded back in 2002 as just the 27th winery in the valley. Despite being middle-aged by Walla Walla Valley standards, SYZYGY has flown under the radar to some degree. They are self-distributed and retain the right to be choosy about which restaurants and retailers carry their wines. Their reputation for quality (especially with Syrah) was established early on, and they have a dedicated customer base that seeks out their wines. Of course, the name has always drawn attention. Zach, an astronomy enthusiast, chose the winery name for its description of the harmonious alignment of seemingly disparate bodies; not a bad metaphor for the winemaking process.

(Okay; I feel compelled to interrupt this offering with two fun facts about SYZYGY: 1) it is the second-shortest vowel-less common English word; damn you, “rhythyms”; 2) it is the title of a poorly-received Season 3 episode of The X-Files, where the alignment of certain planets caused people born on January 12, 1979 to go crazy.)

For Zach’s Syrah (always 100% varietal), the alignment takes place among three Walla Walla Valley Vineyards: Les Collines, which brings its trademark savory notes and inner-mouth perfume; Seven Hills, a warmer site that adds rich, lush black fruit; and Morrison Lane, a 1994-planted Syrah wundersite that adds meat and brine. Around harvest time, Zach flits constantly about these three vineyards, tasting grapes and looking for that perfect balance of ripeness and acid.

This is a lovely, seamless combination of these three exceptional sites. The result is meaty, brambly, peppery Syrah: chock full of black fruits, martini olives, smoked meats, and a kick of cayenne. There is purity and freshness here; a wonderful expression of Walla Walla Syrah that received accolades from two publications not known for singing the praises of Washington Syrah.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($33); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93 pts.”

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “($36); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91 pts.”

As I mentioned, this is the last shipment coming to western Washington, so this wine will not be available for any reorder requests. First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive within 2-3 weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 Seven Hills Riesling

May 11, 2010

Hello friends. Although I shouldn’t be, I’m stunned that I can offer this wine at under $10. I say I shouldn’t be stunned because this is the latest in a long line of signs that, despite Riesling’s adoration among the wine trade and wine geeks, its resurgence is slower among the public at large. Well, thank you, at-large public, because it gives those of us who treasure this greatest of all white grapes the chance to stock up at unfathomable prices. This is a wine that will probably evolve and bring variegated pleasures for the next 15 years, and it’s under $10. Amazing.

I appreciate all of you who have come along on this tour d’08 Washington Rieslings. This is 08 Riesling number seven, and it might be our last, judging by the number of 09s starting to hit the market. If you haven’t tried any of the 2008 Rieslings from Washington, you owe it to yourself to do so. The acid development in the white wines of this vintage has been so beautiful; a perfect foil to the natural fruit sugars of Riesling.

As I have increased the numbers of vineyards I have visited, I have taken note of just how frequently Casey McClellan’s name comes up unbidden. Growers and vineyard managers always mention him as someone whose wines express the terroir of their sites, and they always mention that he is the first winemaker to pick grapes at harvest time. Clearly, this is a man for whom natural acid is important. Those of you who sampled Casey’s 2007 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard blend (which we offered in February) can attest to that point.

Acids are critical here, as this is the highest-RS Riesling we have offered to date. Our sensation of sweetness does not actually correspond directly to levels of residual sugar, but instead to the balance of acid and sugar. Here, the impression of sweetness is actually quite similar to the other Rieslings we have offered (all with residual sugars between 1% and 2%), because the acid is so wonderfully zingy. It’s also worth noting that the sugar here is not the artificial variety that we taste so frequently in our sodas and candies. This is natural-fruit sugar, akin to biting into a perfectly ripe peach. There is nothing fake or forced about this wine’s sweetness: it is easy, clean, rich, and delicious.

The expressive nose shows waves of peaches, ginger, sea salt, and dust. Tasting blind, I might guess this as a Gewurztraminer, as it has some of the spicy, floral, lychee notes associated with that varietal, along with more traditional peachy, limey Riesling flavors. The sense of balance and the briskness of the mouthfeel are impeccable. Vineyard sources are Evergreen, Willard, and Snipes.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($14); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90 pts.”

First come first served up to 60 bottles (this would be a killer wine for a summer wedding). This wine should arrive in the warehouse on Wednesday, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2007 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon

May 10, 2010

Hello friends. Exciting offering today on a wine that, in many years, never even reaches retail channels. Abeja’s is one of Washington’s finest Cabs, and most of it is eagerly devoured each year by the Abeja mailing list (note: this is one of our state’s few closed mailing lists; if you try this wine and love it, I recommend getting on Abeja’s waiting list, as I can make no guarantees that we will have access to future vintages of this wine). The broadly-appealing style is remarkably consistent from vintage to vintage, but 2007 was a special year for red wines in Washington, and it shows here.

The official release of this wine took place on May 1, but I had a chance to taste a pre-release bottle in April with the charming Molly Galt at Abeja’s beautiful barn. The appointment-only tasting room is one of the most gorgeously-situated in the state; well worth a visit on your next Walla Walla sojourn. Abeja also has an inn that provides some of the most highly-regarded accommodations in the valley.

While Abeja produces a broad portfolio of wines (including wonderful estate-grown Syrah and Viognier), Cabernet Sauvignon has always been the focus, and it remains so (part of Abeja’s mission is the “relentless pursuit of extraordinary Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon.”) Each year since 2001, Abeja has produced a Cab. In years that winemaker John Abbott considers extraordinary, Abeja produces a Reserve Cab as well. So far, only two vintages (2002 and 2005) have made the cut, but 2007 will be the third (the 2007 Abeja Reserve Cab will be released this fall): a testament to the quality of the ’07 growing season.

John Abbott is one of Washington’s most experienced winemakers. Lucky us; but for a few happy contingencies, he could have been one of Oregon’s most experienced veterinarians. It was during his time as a pre-vet at Oregon State University that he happened upon sensory evaluation work in the Food Sciences department. Soon after, he traded in ungulates for grapes, transferring to Fresno State’s Viticulture and Enology Program. After post-grad stints in Napa making Cab at Pine Ridge and Pinot Noir at Acacia, he moved to Washington in 1994 to make wine from the nascent Canoe Ridge Vineyard. He remained at Canoe Ridge, making outstanding wines (the Merlots from this site were especially well-received) until 2002, when he began Abeja.

I have tasted a number of vintages of Abeja’s Cab, and there is a notable house style: layered and balanced, rich and generous. The wines are never unapproachably tannic and always have an irresistible vibrancy in their youth. Of course, aging these wines brings subtle pleasures, but I have never had much patience with Abeja Cabs; when I spot them in my collection, they give me that come-hither look, and my notoriously-poor skills in self-denial are shattered.

The 2007 is exceptional. It dances across the palate with layers of rich fruit, earth, and barrel: cassis, charcoal, oreo, mineral, and loads of espresso. The acids are bright and lovely. The texture is creamy, with fine-grained, well-managed tannins. This gains momentum across the palate and is strongest on the long, intense finish. A bottle filled with untold pleasures. Several vineyards comprise the wine: most notably Abeja’s estate Heather Hill Vineyard, Wallula Vineyard, and old-vine Sagemoor fruit from Bacchus, Dionysus, and Weinbau.

Because we’re jumping in so soon after release, I can open this up to 18 bottles, first come first served; but this is unlikely to be available for long-term reorder. The wine should arrive in the warehouse Wednesday, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (MAGNUM)

I also have access to a miniscule parcel of Magnums (1.5 liters) of the 2005 vintage. From a warm year, recent tastings of this reveal a ripe, densely flavored masterpiece that is hitting its stride right now. This would be a wow bottle to pull out for a dinner party (Abeja has a very aesthetically-pleasing label).

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93 pts.”

Please limit order requests to a maximum of 2 Magnums, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. These bottles should also arrive in the Wednesday, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2005 Corliss Estates Syrah

May 8, 2010

Hello friends. I’m invading your inboxes on a weekend because I just received confirmation on a small parcel of one of the most difficult-to-source wines in Washington. And that small parcel could get a little larger if we act quickly.

Corliss Estates was a project shrouded in secrecy for many years. Michael Corliss and Lauri Darneille purchased their winery building in 2000, but little was known about the venture until recently. There were whispers of entire vintages discarded in the pursuit of exceptional quality, but there was no confirmation until 2008, when Corliss announced the release of their 2003 vintage. At that point, they revealed that, yes, they had discarded the 2001 and 2002 vintages. The audacity of the venture dawned quickly on the Washington wine community, as we all realized that Corliss had five vintages in bottle and barrel before releasing a single wine.

I won’t get into much more detail about the Corliss history (Paul Gregutt summed it up perfectly on his blog), but I can tell you a little about the present.

Although the winery is closed to the public, I was able to secure a visit in April. From the outside, the former bakery building is unassuming. Inside, the scope and seriousness of the operation start to come into focus. A quiet stairwell leads down from the well-appointed ground floor to the expansive cellar, a hidden piece of nirvana for winemakers and wine-lovers. There is room after room of barrels, tanks, and quirky winemaking equipment (that is an egg-shaped, concrete fermentation tank). There are large sections of the cellar devoted entirely to library stock (20% of each vintage goes immediately into the Corliss library, not to be released until at least 10 years after vintage date). There are recessed alcoves filled with never-released large format bottlings.

In short, this is a dream facility, with all the right tools in place to create dream wines. Along with the Syrah, the wines offered to the Corliss registry have included a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Red Wine (Bordeaux-style blend). The first vintage of Corliss Syrah (2003) received 93 pts from Tanzer, which is unheard of for a debut wine. Since then, Corliss Syrahs have been exceptionally difficult to find, and that will certainly include this vintage, which also received 93 pts from Tanzer (the only Washington Syrahs to score higher come from Cayuse and Betz).

The main vineyard source here is Stillwater Creek, a wonderful site at the base of the Frenchman Hills northwest of Royal City. This area, north of the Wahluke Slope but south of the Frenchman Hills, has future AVA written all over it. Right now, it is part of the greater Columbia Valley AVA, but the Syrahs coming out of this area (including Charles Smith’s 100-pt Royal City Syrah) have been turning heads. Corliss sources two blocks of Stillwater Creek Syrah: one a hill-bottom block; the other a hill-top block. Close to each other as the crow flies, these two blocks have an elevation difference of nearly 500 ft (this is one of Washington’s steeper vineyards, with the grade measured at 22% in some sections). The hill-top site is especially non-nutritive, causing the vines to dig deep to find sustenance and adding wonderful complexities to the finished wine.

This is absolutely palate-staining Syrah: dense, dark, and distinctly salty. The saline character is riveting, as is the aromatic profile, which includes roasted nuts, flint, blackberries, cherry blossoms, and loads of minerals. Vibrancy is the watchword here, as this positively hums in the mouth, pulsing like a neon sign with its dark, rich berries and background hints of orange peel and cocoa. The oak (larger puncheons – one-third new – were used here in place of barriques to moderate oak influence) has been well-integrated with time in barrel (30 months) and bottle (almost two more years). This persists on the palate and lingers effortlessly.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93 pts.”

Please limit order requests to no more than 6 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests (at the size of our current parcel, allocations are more likely to be 1-3 bottles). We will have the wine in the warehouse later this week, possibly in time for Thursday pickup. If not, it will be ready for pickup or shipping by the first of June.

Bunchgrass 2007 Triolet, 2007 Syrah Morrison Lane Vineyard

May 7, 2010

TEMPUS RELEASE: Winemaker Joe Forest will be at the warehouse today (3-8 PM) and tomorrow (1-6 PM) pouring the newest Tempus wines. Please RSVP to emily@fullpullwines.com if you’re interested in attending.


Hello friends. Two new releases today from Bunchgrass Cellars, a small producer in Walla Walla with a big history. We first profiled Bunchgrass in January. As a reminder, this is a winery that sells almost all of their stock through their mailing list and tasting room. Their tasting room is only open a few hours each week on Saturday, and that’s only from April-December, but wine-lovers find them anyway, drawn in by the quality of their vineyard sources and winemaking (Bill vonMetzger, the winemaker, cut his teeth at K Vintners and is currently making wine for Walla Walla Vintners in addition to the Bunchgrass gig). Outside of Compass Wines in Anacortes and our little SODO warehouse, you won’t find these wines west of the Cascades.

2007 Bunchgrass Triolet

This is Bunchgrass’ Bordeaux blend, and it is all from the Walla Walla Valley: 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Petit Verdot. Half of the Cab and all of the Cab Franc come from Dwelley Vineyard, an under-the-radar site planted in 1999 in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. The vineyard sits above the frost zone that threatens Walla Walla’s lower-elevation sites. The remainder of the Cab comes from the valley’s stalwarts – Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge – and the PV comes from Frazier Bluff Vineyard.

I had the chance to experience this wine over the course of four days. It was lovely upon initial opening and then continued to improve, hitting its peak on day four. This bodes quite well for the Triolet’s future. A gorgeous mix of sweet and savory, this is richly layered wine: blackberries, licorice, herbs, and Oreo cookies. The mouthfeel is bright (plenty of acid) and creamy, and the finishing lick is all spice and fruit. A delicious, pleasurable wine; one of the finest, most balanced Bordeaux blends I have tasted at this price point from Washington.

2007 Bunchgrass Syrah Morrison Lane

This is 100% Syrah, all from Morrison Lane Vineyard. That vineyard, planted in 1994 (if there’s an older Syrah vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, I don’t know about it) and farmed by Dean and Verdie Morrison, sits adjacent to Forgotten Hills and is best known for the Syrah made by Charles Smith at K Vintners (that bottle, however, retails for $45). I recently tasted a 2002 Morrison Lane Syrah from K and it was in great shape; almost obscenely aromatic. This is a vineyard that produces Syrahs for the long haul.

The Bunchgrass Syrah from this site is deep and brooding, with notes of black olive, bittersweet chocolate, and asphalt. Just a dark, dark profile. Tightly wound, this unfurls its beautiful black glory after a few hours of aeration.

The parcels allocated to us are quite limited. Please keep order requests to a maximum of 3 bottles of Triolet and 2 bottles of Morrison Lane Syrah, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. If we are forced to under-allocate, I would suggest ordering directly through the winery. We have already received our only parcel of these wines, so they will not be available for reorder, but they are ready for immediate pickup or shipping.

2008 Long Shadows Riesling “Poet’s Leap”

May 5, 2010

Hello friends. Year after year, the Poet’s Leap from Long Shadows is among the finest Rieslings produced in Washington. In a vintage like 2008, which was pitch-perfect for high-acid white wines, the results are sublime.

The idea behind Long Shadows is to allow outstanding winemakers from outside of Washington to work with our state’s finest vineyard sites. In the case of Poet’s Leap, the winemaker is Armin Diel from Schlossgut Diel in Germany’s Nahe Valley. He has been crafting Washington Riesling under this label since 2003, and a recent tasting of that 2003 vintage, filled with petrol and peaches, confirmed that Diel had cracked the code of Washington Riesling right from the beginning.

The current vintage is sourced from stellar vineyards scattered across the Columbia Valley, including Wallula and an old-vine block (1972) of Dionysus. The compelling nose offers rainwater, wet stone, peach, pineapple, and the barest hint of petrol. This comes across as dry (despite 1.4% RS) and wonderfully generous; the flavors are apricot, orange rind, and minerals; the acid is perfection. Flavors linger on the finish; a gorgeous dance between fruit and rock. 12.9% alc.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($20); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94 pts.”

We’re getting close to the release of the 2009 vintage, so the possibility of reorders is uncertain. Right now we have access to a goodly parcel, so I will open this up to 24 bottles, first come first served. With that big score, however, I cannot guarantee the availability of this wine on reorder. We should have the wine in our warehouse next week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.

Three Wines from Dusted Valley

May 3, 2010

Hello friends. It has been a very good spring in Dusted Valley. Chad and Corey have rolled out successful redesigns of their website and their label (we discussed their old label in a Stained Tooth Syrah offering). In March, Northwest Wine Press named Dusted Valley Vintners their Washington Winery of the Year. And on Saturday, the May Wine Enthusiast was published, containing a raft of strong scores and Editor’s Choice nods.

Rather than spread Dusted Valley offerings over time and risk losing out on these wines, I’m going to offer several of their best-priced, most delicious wines today. We have competitive prices on these, and from my perspective, this winery produces some of the best quality-for-price bottlings in the state. Here are three of them: (Note: while the Cab and Syrah are likely to be available for reorder, the Grenache is extremely limited and will not be available after this offering)

2008 Dusted Valley Grenache

Just 175 cases of this produced, and it’s 100% Grenache, from Stone Tree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope and Lonesome Springs Ranch in the Yakima Valley.

The nose hits the whole spectrum of red fruits: strawberries, raspberries, and pie cherries. Black cherry driven palate, with mint and white pepper dustings. This is pure, focused, youthful, and juicy; ready to go right now.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 89 pts.”

2007 Dusted Valley Syrah Walla Walla Valley

Note: this is not the Stained Tooth bottling, which comes from the greater Columbia Valley. This is the Walla Walla Valley Syrah (350 cases produced), mostly from Spofford Station Vineyard. That site is one of my favorite in the valley, capable of producing Syrahs that perfectly marry earth and fruit.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92 pts.”

2007 Dusted Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley

Extremely rare to see Walla Walla Valley Cab at this price point. Most of it comes from DV’s estate Sconni Block Vineyard. Sconni is slang for Chad and Corey’s home state of Wisconsin, which is also the source for some of the tight-grained oak barrels used in aging. This is 93% Cab, rounded out with dollops of Cab Franc and Malbec.

Dark and rich; positively bursting with black cherry liqueur, dark chocolate, and espresso. The tannins are smooth and rounded, and the acids are moderate. This is eminently drinkable.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($26); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92 pts.”

We should have these wines in our warehouse next week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.