Two Wines from Grand Reve

July 19, 2010

Hello friends. This is turning into a truly exciting July. First, we had our inaugural offering from Andrew Will, one of Washington’s longest-tenured superstars. And now, we have our inaugural offering from Grand Reve, one of our state’s newest superstars. This offering includes a unique chance to delve into the Grand Reve library and a striking Syrah that many of you have been clamoring for.

Grand Reve has been compared to Long Shadows. While both projects do involve a series of winemakers working with top Washington fruit, that is where the similarities end. The intention of Long Shadows is to match top winemakers from outside of Washington state with exceptional vineyards from all over the state. The intention of Grand Reve is to match top winemakers from *within* Washington state with Red Mountain’s most spectacular sites.

The first item to tackle when explaining Grand Reve is the difference between the short-term and the long-term. The long-term involves one of the most heart-pounding vineyards in the state and a vineyard manager who walks the line between passion and obession. Ryan Johnson, who also manages Ciel du Cheval, Quilceda Galitzine, DeLille Grand Ciel, and Cadance Cara Mia Vineyards (that is one hell of a portfolio), partnered with Paul McBride to purchase and plant a vineyard near the apex of Red Mountain. Inspired by the vertical vineyards of Cote Rotie, Ryan planted a true mountainside vineyard on Red Mountain. Running from 960 to 1230 feet (Red Mountain tops out at about 1400 ft), this site required yeoman’s work with a pickaxe and backfilling with rocks just to get the end posts into the ground.

It is a stunning site to see in person (as I did with Ryan back in April). This first picture should help situate those of you familiar with Red Mountain, as that is Col Solare on the left-hand side of the photo, and well below the Grand Reve Vineyard. These other two pictures (here and here) give a sense of the steepness and rockiness of the site. This is a painful place to go to work: windy, steep, ankle-breaking territory where one block has been designated as “El Terror” by the vineyard workers (the site also includes “El Guapo” and “El Hueso”).

But Grand Reve Vineyards is the future. 2010 will mark the first harvest for the vineyard, so it will be years before we see any bottles from this site. The present is Ciel du Cheval, where Ryan carefully manages selected blocks and then presents them to a variety of winemakers. This is the Grand Reve “Collaboration Series,” and each Series corresponds to a specific winemaker. Collaboration Series I wines are all made by Ben Smith of Cadence; II by Ross Mickel of Ross Andrew; III by Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan; IV by Carolyn Lakewold of Donedei; and V by Chris Gorman of Gorman.

Grand Reve was chugging along quietly and cultily until October of last year, when Jay Miller published the first reviews of Grand Reve wines to appear in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. The scores for the four wines reviewed (all long-since sold out) were 95, 95, 96, and 97, and any chance to continue chugging along quietly dissipated in a flash.

2004 Collaboration Series I (Bordeaux Blend)

Two of the reviews referenced above were for the 2005 and 2006 Collaboration I. This is Ben Smith’s series, and it is always a Cabernet-dominated Bordeaux blend. The 2004 vintage was the first in the series, and only 120 cases were produced. It never had a formal release, has never been reviewed by a major publication, and has been used by the winery as something to pour at the tasting room when all their other wines are sold out. But the folks at Grand Reve have agreed to part with a parcel for us, and I couldn’t be more pleased. This is a chance to see where it all began, and they’re keeping the pricing the same as it was upon release.

The blend here is 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 18% Petit Verdot. That is a whopping amount of PV, but the Ciel version of this grape is special. There is a little, 3.5-acre block of this, planted in 1998 and fan-trained, and there is a story (possibly apocryphal, but I doubt it given the number of different people who have told it to me) that Jay Miller tasted a Betz Family Winery Petit Verdot barrel from Ciel and declared that he would score it 97 to 100 points were it to be bottled as a stand-alone varietal.

This saw 70% new French oak and was bottled in mid-2006, so we’re looking at four years of additional bottle age as well. The wine is gorgeously integrated and drinking beautifully. This is one of those wines that unfolds layer after layer with time in the glass: fresh Rainier cherry, blackberry, ginger, orange peel, clove, mocha, and caramel. This is exotically perfumed on the nose and the palate and conveys balance, integration, and serious length.

2007 Collaboration Series III (Syrah)

When we offered Rasa’s Principia last month, many of you read through Jeb Dunnuck’s entire issue of The Rhone Report, and I almost immediately began receiving requests for the other 96-pt wine, Grand Reve’s 2007 Collaboration Series III. Fortunately, Grand Reve has been kind enough to offer us a parcel, and we have it at an excellent price.

This is 100% Ciel Syrah from Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery. It saw one-third new oak; the remainder neutral. This is a dark beauty: a palate-staining road-licker of a wine filled with asphalt and brambles. A combination of elegance and power, this has a silky mouthfeel and streaks of iron, earth, and citrus. The finish brings sweetly luscious fruit tannins. The structure here is noteworthy; this is a wine that has a long, promising life ahead of it.

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96 pts.”

Please give us your maximum request up to 8 bottles of the 2004 Collab. I and 12 bottles of the 2007 Collab. III, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. We should have these wines in the warehouse in 1-2 weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


Three Wines from Nicholas Cole

July 16, 2010

Hello friends. Today’s offerings continue the theme I presented on Monday: that wineries react in many different ways to difficult economic times. These are serious price drops on older vintages (2005 and 2006) from Nicholas Cole, and recent tastings of all three show wines that are coming into their respective primes. Pricing adjustments send bottles scurrying off shelves as knowledgeable consumers pounce on value opportunities. So rather than spread Nicholas Cole offerings out over time and risk losing out on one or more, I will present multiple wines today and let you pick and choose as you see fit.

We’ll keep the focus on the wines today, but briefly, Nicholas Cole Cellars is a Walla Walla winery whose first vintage was 2001 and whose focus has been mostly on Bordeaux blends from a combination of estate vineyards and other outstanding Washington sites. The house style is rich, dense, and luxurious: palate stainers to be sure.

2005 Camille

The warmth of the 2005 vintage lends itself to winemaker Mike Neuffer’s style. This is the best dark chocolate bar you have ever eaten, in liquid form. Soft, dark, rich, and loaded with mocha, black fruits, and earth notes. Generous and delicious. The well-integrated French oak (65% new; 35% neutral) adds warm spice notes.

Paul Gregutt’s first review of this wine (in Wine Enthusiast) gave it 91pts at a $50 price point. He then had a chance to re-taste it as part of a vertical, which he wrote about in his blog:

PaulGregutt.com (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

2005 Michele

A Cab-dominated blend, this is again a symbiotic match of winemaking style to vintage. Everything about this wine is dark and dense: roasted espresso beans, high-cacao chocolate, asphalt, and the blackest of blackberries. The oak regimen is again all French, again about two-thirds new, and again adds warming spices.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19.5/20pts.”

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92 pts.”

2006 Dauphine

From the Wine Enthusiast review below, it seems this wine was quite compact in its youth. My recent tasting revealed a wine that has opened up, with generous aromas of earth, blue fruit, smoke, and black peppercorn. This manages to convey the usual Nicholas Cole richness, length, and seriousness, but there is a mineral-tinged vibrancy here as well and a lovely brambly quality to the fruit. The 50% new French oak here adds chocolate on the finish.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91 pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($49); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

First come first served up to 18 bottles of each. We should have these wines in the warehouse in less than a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


2009 Syncline Gruner Veltliner

July 14, 2010

Hello friends. Celery seed. Lentil. Corn. Hay. These might sound less like wine tasting notes than like feed bucket ingredients, but they are indeed frequently-apt descriptors of Austrian Gruner Veltliner. Gruners from Austria can be outrageously compelling: savory, site-expressive, and driven by acids so wonderfully bright that my salivary glands have just been forced into action by the mere sensory memory of Gruners past. GruVees have for many years been consumed in the United States only by unapologetic wine geeks, but many of those geekerati are sommeliers, and so in recent times Gruner has established a toehold on restaurant wine lists, with one or two well-priced bottlings showing up on menus. They have gained momentum as inexpensive, food-friendly alternatives for consumers bored with their usual white wines.

There is exactly one site in Washington growing Gruner grapes that are ready for commercial production. That site is Underwood Mountain Vineyard, adjacent to Celilo in the Columbia Gorge AVA. And there are two producers that have access to these grapes: Viento (an Oregon producer) and Syncline.

This is James Mantone’s second crack at the varietal. For the 2008 vintage, he made just 125 cases from third leaf fruit (we received less than a case of this and offered it in an end-of-year Odd Lots offering). Because of the popularity of the 2008, he was able to up the output of the 2009 to 220 cases; still small production, no doubt, but large enough to (hopefully) last out the summer.

There is a segment of the wine trade that will hear about this wine and say, “yes, Washington *can* grow Gruner. But *should* they?” This is the same segment that believes Washington’s future success will depend on its ability to identify and market a signature varietal; and that any niche varietals can only dilute the overall brand. Well, when I look into my crystal ball, I don’t see a future where Washington is uni-varietal. I see a future where specific AVAs (and even vineyards) are associated with certain appropriate varietals. The southern slopes of the extinct Underwood Mountain volcano have shown remarkable affinity for cool-climate white varietals. Celilo has been producing world-class Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and cool-toned Chardonnay for decades. Underwood Mountain, while younger, has already shown great promise in its Rieslings and in this Gruner.

This will, I predict, be a wine bought initially for novelty and then reordered for quality. And it’s a chance to watch a brilliant winemaker learn a new grape and evolve accordingly. The acids (which were pronounced to the point of dominance in the 2008 vintage) have been tamed and in 2009 serve as a flavor delivery vector for all that tasty Gruner fruit: citrus, slate, salt, and a green note that for me fell somewhere between the rind of a fresh watermelon and the tang of freshly-grated celeriac. This conveys more richness than the 2008 but retains its minerality and bone-dry, refreshing character.

First come first served up to 12 bottles. We will have this wine in the warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.


2006 OS Winery Red Wine

July 12, 2010

Hello friends. Generically-labeled “red wine” is one of my favorite categories, because it requires extra legwork to dissociate the screaming deals from the shrieking plonk. We first explored this category with the 2006 Dumas Station “Cow Catcher” Red Wine. That one turned out to be 100% single-vineyard, Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon despite its modest labeling. Today’s wine has an equally intriguing backstory and is actually something of a sequel.

In previous vintages, the “Red Wine” from OS came from their press juice and was an inexpensive alternative to their higher-end labels (Ulysses, BSH, R3). And 2006 started no different: the original wine (2006 OS Red Wine 1: The Phantom Menace) was press juice. Given our current economic climate, it’s perhaps no surprise that the original sold out post-haste. But then Bill Owen and Rob Sullivan made a bold decision: to release another round of 2006 Red Wine (with a different logo to distinguish the two wines).

Today, we present 2006 OS Red Wine 2: Attack of the [Wine] Clones. This is the rare sequel that clearly bests the original, because this second version is all free-run juice and was made entirely from declassified barrels of 2006 Ulysses and 2006 R3. Those of you who know Ulysses and R3 will realize that these bottles contain Cab, Merlot, and Cab Franc from Sheridan, Klipsun, Champoux, Ciel de Cheval, Dineen and Meek Vineyards. And to top it all off, rather than raise the price to correspond to the increase in quality, OS *lowered* the price by a few dollars.

There are reviews of the 2006 Red Wine in Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, and Wine Spectator, but I suspect they may all refer to the original. The only review I feel comfortable sharing is Paul Gregutt’s from a recent article in the Seattle Times. There’s no score, but this is Gregutt’s Pick of the Week:

Seattle Times (Paul Gregutt): “($18); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].”

This is bewildering wine for the price: one of the most consumer-friendly responses I have seen to recessionary times. Savory, saline, and sweet in equal measures, this brings waves of dark, generous fruit wrapped in barrel notes of mocha and caramel. The density, intensity, and palate-weight here are nearly impossible to find at this price point.

First come first served up to 36 bottles. We will have this wine in the warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be available for immediate pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


2009 Stevens Winery Sauvignon Blanc “Another Thought”

July 9, 2010

Hello friends. Another day, another chance to sample a piece of Red Mountain land. On Wednesday, it was Ciel du Cheval. Today, it’s Kilpsun Vineyard. While this bottle is labeled simply as “Yakima Valley,” it is indeed 100% Klipsun Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Because Stevens’ entire portfolio comes from the Yakima Valley (Red Mountain is actually a sub-AVA of the Yak), Tim and Paige Stevens have chosen to label their entire lineup consistently.

Nevertheless, today’s offering is actually not so different from our Andrew Will offering earlier in the week. Both come from winemakers with expertise in Red Mountain. And both are expressive of a small piece of terroir in this fine AVA. Klipsun Vineyard was planted in 1984 by Patricia and David Gelles, and they continue to own and manage the vineyard today. The site is best known for its massively-structured, intensely-delicious Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But Sauvignon Blanc from this site is outstanding as well.

Because Red Mountain is so hot, I had braced my palate for a ripe, tropical, lush Sauvignon Blanc when I arrived at Stevens Winery. Instead, I tasted a wine with a notable sense of balance. The nose is pure Sauvignon Blanc: a summery combination of mown grass, grapefruit, and minerals. The palate finds veins of minerals running through a core of citrus fruits and green fruits, and there is a refreshing grassiness here as well. The intensity of this wine is shocking, especially at its reasonable alcohol level of 13.9%. When I asked Tim where all that power comes from, he noted first that these are 20-year-old vines (he sources a tiny, 0.8-acre block), and second that the yield in 2009 came in at a lilliputian 2.3 tons/acre.

After years of working with winemaking luminaries (Chris Camarda of Andrew Will and Scott Greer of Sheridan Vineyards, to name a few; you can see the thread of Yakima Valley weaving through those winemakers, right?), Tim produced 100 cases of Cabernet Franc from the 2001 vintage (at a recent release event, that 2001 Cab Franc was poured, and I’m pleased to say it was drinking beautifully). Since then, Stevens has expanded by leaps and bounds but has maintained focus on Yakima Valley, nurturing relationships with classy vineyards like Sheridan, Dineen, DuBrul, and Meek (and, of course, Klipsun).

And like Klipsun, Stevens is probably best known for red wines. But the whites (Stevens also makes a lovely Dineen Vineyard Viognier) are sneaky-good and small production (only 120 cases of this Blanc were produced). Stevens whites rarely last out the summer, as they’re quickly snapped up by mailing list members and other insiders, rarely making it onto retail shelves. First come first served up to 12 bottles of this great summertime wine. We should have it in the warehouse in a week or two, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.


2006 and 2007 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval Blend

July 7, 2010

Hello friends. I’m quite pleased with today’s offering, as it marks the beginning of our relationship with one of Washington’s finest producers, a winery that has been on the Full Pull target list for some time now. Over the coming weeks and months, we will explore several nooks and one or two crannies of the Andrew Will portfolio, but as a starting point, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to offer two glorious vintages from one of Washington’s fabled vineyards.

Chris Camarda is a legitimate terroirist (please note the extra ‘i’ – we don’t need Chris landing on any watch lists). Some sample quotes: “I believe that an individual piece of property can form a signature.” And, “I believe that if Washington is ever to be considered a great wine region we need to establish the characteristics of our geographical areas and the characteristics of each vineyard in those areas.” And, “We are trying to let the vineyards reveal themselves.”

The last quote is so poignant and evocative, and it reveals a world-view that puts the winemaker lower in the pecking order than the vineyard. It’s as though each piece of land has a truth and a beauty that it wants to show us, if the winemakers can just serve as a proper conduit. There’s something magical in that.

Chris began Andrew Will in Seattle in 1989 but has been on Vashon Island since 1994. In the mid-’90s, Robert Parker wrote a series of glowing reviews of Chris’ winemaking style, and his star hasn’t stopped rising since. Much of Andrew Will wine is sold through their well-established mailing list, and the rest is set aside for selected restaurants and retailers.

Ciel du Cheval is, by now, a familiar vineyard to Chris. He has been working with the fruit since the early ’90s, and his long commitment to the site gives him access to some of its oldest vines (1976-planted Merlot; 1982-planted Cabernet Sauvignon). Ciel is an exceptional Red Mountain vineyard, certainly among the pantheon of Washington sites. Some pictures snapped during my last visit there (one, two, three , four) show the age of the vines and the non-nutritive nature of the soils; a potent combination.

You could imagine that, after twenty years of crafting wine from this vineyard, some laurel-resting would be in due order. Instead, Chris and his team continue to innovate, motivated I’m sure by the ongoing desire to allow Ciel to fully reveal itself. They have recently taken to a new style of oxygen introduction during fermentation, replacing open-top fermenters and punch-downs with closed-top fermenters and a series of “punch-ups” using forced air. This additional, gentler oxygen exposure allows the wines to be more approachable in their youth without compromising their ability to cellar. And, as you’ll see from the blends below, Chris continues to tinker from year to year, always trying to read the vintage and most truthfully express what Ciel wants to say in a given harvest year.

2006

A remarkable bottle, this was broad, lush, integrated, and deeply satisfying in a recent tasting. All the classic Ciel notes are present: a quarry’s worth of rocks and minerals overlay red fruit, orange peel, licorice, and a dusting of cocoa powder and baking spices. The texture is silky, the citrusy acids add wonderful lift, and the finish, which seems to go on forever, is evocative of a sun-drenched patch of soil.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].  95 pts.”

2007

I recently learned that the August issue of Wine Enthusiast will have the following review from Paul Gregutt:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($53); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96 pts.”

This will be one of the highest scores Gregutt has ever given to a Washington Bordeaux-style blend, and it puts Andrew Will into lofty company. Only Quilceda Creek, Leonetti, Cayuse, Betz, and Charles Smith have been scored higher among Washington wines. And it is a score well-earned. More youthful than the 06, this takes time to open, but when it does, it really does, unfurling aromas of black cherry, licorice, coffee cake crumble, cinnamon, and soil. The palate is notable for its intensity, its focus, and its many layers: fruits both traditional (black cherry, blackberry, citrus peel) and unusual (guava), exotic spice (there is a strong star-anise element here), a deep vein of minerality, and green-tea tannins on the seemingly never-ending finish. Like the 2006, the new oak is restrained here: just 1/3 new Taransaud barrels.

The 2006 is nearing the end of its run, and the 2007 is doubtless going to be in high demand when that Wine Enthusiast review is published. But I think our timing on this is good, so feel free to request up to 24 bottles (combined between both vintages) and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We should have these wines in the warehouse in 1-2 weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping


2008 Grenaches from Chatter Creek and Maison Bleue

July 6, 2010

Hello friends. Grenache can be vinified in a full spectrum of styles, and today’s offering presents two ends of that spectrum. If you have a stylistic preference already, then this should be an easy decision. But if you’re still new to this delightful grape, the price points on these wines invite a comparative tasting. Maybe you’ll come to the same conclusion I have: that both ends of the spectrum have their time and place, and that each can bring distinct pleasures.

2008 Chatter Creek Grenache

Here we have a shimmering, light-bodied Grenache (with dollops of Syrah and Mourvedre). Gordy Rawson, who for years worked with the late David Lake at Columbia Winery, is a stubborn winemaker in the best sense of the word. Despite trends in the early part of the last decade towards later picking, higher alcohol, and lower acids, Gordy continued pumping out Euro-styled (pre-Parkerization), food-friendly wines at fair prices. No doubt that trend-bucking cost him points and dollars, but it also stamped him as an iconoclast and certainly earned my admiration.

This Grenache is a perfect example of the house style: light enough in body and color that it could be mistaken for Pinot Noir, with delicate aromas and flavors of fresh strawberry, raspberry, and pie cherry. Faint leesy notes of bread and mixed nuts show up in the background, as do notes of Provencal herbs. The acids are racy and mouthwatering; for those of you tiring of salmon-Pinot pairings, this would be a wonderful match for a Copper River filet.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($18); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 88 pts.”

2008 Maison Bleue Grenache “Montagnette” Alder Ridge Vineyard

This is a wine where a recent price drop under the $20 threshold makes it very attractive. I suspect the price might creep back up after Wine Enthusiast publishes its September issue, which will include a 92-pt score from Paul Gregutt for this wine. As far as I can tell, only one Washington Grenache has ever scored higher in Enthusiast, and that one, from Cayuse, is nearly impossible to source.

Maison Bleue is an exciting, relatively-new winery in Prosser, focused almost entirely on Rhone varietals. Paul Gregutt cited Jon Martinez in his blog as a winemaker who is doing a lot of things right, and after tasting the Maison Bleue portfolio, I’m inclined to agree. Along with using purchased fruit, such as the Alder Ridge Grenache (85%) and Syrah (15%) that comprise this wine, Jon also purchased and is in the process of rehabilitating French Creek Vineyard. He is avoiding adjustments like acidification and watering back, and he’s keeping new oak to a minimum (this Grenache saw only 3-year-old French barrels).

Alder Ridge is a major vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. At 815 acres, it is the second largest vineyard in the AVA (Columbia Crest is the biggest). You can see from my ongoing Google Map project that the vineyard slopes right down to the Columbia, with the Grenache block occupying one of the southernmost portions of the site.

This is not a Grenache that will be confused with Pinot Noir any time soon. At 15.4% alcohol, it’s much closer to Chateauneuf-du-Pape than it is to Burgundy. This displays the raw aromatic power of the varietal, with big whiffs of braised meats, roasted nuts, and white-pepper dusted plums. The fruit is ripe, dark, and nothing short of delicious, with loads of earth and garrigue as well.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 18.5/20 pts.”

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