2007 L’Ecole 41 Apogee, Perigee

September 30, 2010

Hello friends. Through a few coincidences and some good luck, I have had the opportunity during the past year to taste several older vintages of Apogee and Perigee, L’Ecole 41’s flagship wines. The results have been stunning. While it is easy to crack these bottles in their youth and enjoy the freshness of the primary fruit, these are wines that offer clear rewards to the patient. I tasted the 2002 vintage, which is in a real sweet spot right now. There are echoes of primary fruit, but secondary aromas (cedar, leather, manure) are beginning to come to the fore. These could easily be confused with Bordeaux when tasted blind (for me, the Perigee had an especially old-world nose). I also tasted the 1997 Apogee, where the primary fruit had receded mostly from sight, leaving a delight of dried, pressed flowers, dust, leather, and soil.

Marty Clubb has a remarkable record of consistency, producing strong bottles every year. But in a beautiful vintage like 2007, his wines can really shine. With recent price drops on both wines, these become excellent cellar candidates that will really begin to shine (if my recent tastings are an accurate indication) in the 2014-2020 window. This is an especially interesting year to sample both bottles, because the varietal composition is nearly identical, with both wines comprised of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The differences come almost entirely from the vineyards.

2007 L’Ecole 41 “Apogee” Pepper Bridge Vineyard

Apogee, first produced in 1994, comes from Pepper Bridge Vineyard (see its location on the Google Map here). For me, this is generally the more generous and approachable of the two wines in its youth.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

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

2007 L’Ecole 41 “Perigee” Seven Hills Vineyard

Perigee, first produced in 2002, comes from some of the older blocks at Seven Hills Vineyard. You can see on the Google Map that Seven Hills is not so far away from Pepper Bridge. But the two vineyards experience different microclimates, and in 2007, the fruit for Perigee was harvested a full two weeks before the Apogee fruit. A deeply classy wine, this is elegant and a little less giving right now, but its structure and minerality indicate a fascinating life ahead.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

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

First come first served up to 24 bottles of each, and both wines should arrive within the next week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window (scheduled to begin October 11).


2007 Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon

September 28, 2010

Hello friends. Earlier today, Gary Vaynerchuk did a Washington wine-themed episode of WineLibraryTV for the first time in months. In it, he freaked out (starting at about the 5:20 mark) over the 2007 Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon, rating it 93pts and guessing that it was a $50 bottle (all three wines were tasted blind). Long-term list members may remember that this is a wine we have long-since championed, first offering it way back on December 3, 2009 (here is that offering).

Many people mistakenly call Amavi a second label for Pepper Bridge Winery. This is not the case (the ownership groups do not precisely overlap), but the wineries do share the same winemaker (Jean-Francois “I’m Swiss, not French!” Pellet), many of the same vineyard sources (Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, Les Collines), and the same world-class winemaking facility. Typically, Amavi wines see a bit less new wood and are released younger than Pepper Bridge wines.

I have spent some time with JF, and he is a passionate, meticulous winemaker (not to mention a ringer on the petanque courts). His achievements with the Amavi label have been exceptional, and I continue to wonder if there is a better estate-grown Walla Walla Valley Cab for under $30.

Rather than continuing at any greater length, I’m going to push the send button and encourage you to watch the video. Amavi was already getting towards the end of the 07 vintage, and GaryVee has a track record of rapidly depleting the Washington wines he favorably reviews. Fortunately, our model allows us to get this offering out on the same day as the video, so we should be able to grab our parcel before the more traditional channels catch wind of this.

Let’s limit order requests to 12 bottles, and I will do my best to grab as much wine as possible and fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window (scheduled to begin on October 11).


2009 Tildio Riesling

September 27, 2010

Hello friends. I recently spent a mixed day visiting Lake Chelan. With the Lake Chelan AVA newly established in 2009, hopes for this area are running high. This is a unique wine region in Washington, influenced more by Lake Chelan than by the Columbia River. Further, Chelan has a built-in summer tourist base that is the envy of every other wine region in the state.

That advantageous tourist base also provides challenges, as it is easy for wineries to emphasize a lifestyle experience (read: a glut of Tuscan-villa-styled tasting rooms) over serious winemaking. But there are several wineries doing it right (seriousness in winemaking, restraint in pricing), and they deserve our support. Tildio is one such winery.

Katy Perry has been making wine for more than twenty years (a veritable eternity by Washington standards). After graduating from UC Davis in 1991, she had stints at Mondavi, Benziger, and Stag’s Leap before returning home to Washington (Katy lived on Phinney Ridge in Seattle until she was 9) to take a position with Chateau Ste Michelle. While at CSM, she worked on the Eroica project with Ernie Loosen and Eric Olsen, helping to create both the regular bottling and the famous Single Berry Select. This is a winemaker who knows her Riesling.

In 2000, Katy and her husband Milum purchased a plot of land in the Four Lakes area just off the north shore of Lake Chelan. The location (which you can see here) sits at about 1100 ft and slopes gently southwest. Between 2001 and 2003, Katy and Milum planted the property to a series of varietals and then hand-built a winery and tasting room in 2004 and 2005. They are moving towards a vigneron model, where they control their wines from grape to bottle.

That was the model for this 2009 Estate Riesling, which is a vibrant joy to drink. From vines planted in 2002, this is done in a mostly-dry style (just 0.9% RS and 12.9% alcohol). Alpine in nature with its notes of cut rock and Ricola, this finishes with cleansing, grapefruity acids.

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

I also need to give a quick call-out to their gorgeous bottle design, which wonderfully integrates the Kildeer bird after which the winery is named. The birds nest in the vineyard property each year, but Kildeer Winery sounded a little too aggro, so Katy and Milum decided to use the Spanish word for Kildeer instead.

First come first served on this up to 12 bottles. The wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window (scheduled to begin on October 11).


2007 Champoux Cabs from Januik, Fidelitas

September 24, 2010

Before today’s offering, a quick opinion on a potentially-destructive bill making its way through Congress: For the longest time, I thought House Resolution 5034 was a promotional ploy by HBO to generate buzz for their new Prohibition-Era drama Boardwalk Empire. As a “Return to the ’20s!” message, HR5034 is quite effective. Sadly, it turns out that HBO is not involved, and this is instead a real effort by the National Beer Wholesalers Association to limit consumer access to wine.

The main effect of this bill, if passed, would be to exclude wine retailers from the protections offered by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, thereby allowing states to discriminate against out-of-state retailers. In short, it is a protectionist land-grab by a group unwilling to accept modernity.

As you can imagine, it is difficult for the NBWA to generate any legitimate arguments for this bill. Here is their effort: “Inconsistent rulings in these cases [alcohol-related court cases] demonstrate the judicial confusion about congressional support for state alcohol laws.” Luckily, we have an institution specifically designed to handle inconsistent rulings and judicial confusion. Ladies and gentlemen; the Supreme Court of the United States!

NBWA continues: “The system allows for laws to be changed and challenged, but the proper place for this to take place is in the statehouse, not the courtroom.” Um, really? I think I’d prefer laws to be challenged and decided by the group that *doesn’t* receive massive amounts of lobbying dollars and campaign contributions.

If you value your access to a broad selection of wine producers, I urge you to contact your representatives (which you can do using this form from Free The Grapes).

Other useful links: Tom Wark writes about HR5034 here and here. John from Wine Peeps chimes in here. The Stop HR5034 website is here and Facebook Page is here.

Now, onto today’s offering.

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Hello friends. I have secured small parcels of two oft-requested wines from the recent Wine Advocate reviews. Clearly there is great interest in Champoux Vineyard (and in the excellent 2007 vintage), and why shouldn’t there be? This is terra incomparabilis for Cabernet Sauvignon in Washington. It is a rare, talent-rich cadre of winemakers that gets access to this fruit. That cadre includes Mike Januik and Charlie Hoppes, two men with strikingly similar backgrounds.

Chateau Ste Michelle keeps a timeline of their history, and the 1990 entry reads as follows: “Mike Januik is named Chateau Ste. Michelle’s head winemaker (continues through 1999). Charlie Hoppes named assistant winemaker and later becomes the red winemaker (through 1998).” Both men did extensive work at Ste Michelle in the ’90s, all the while helping to grow Washington’s reputation. Both men eventually left to start their own wineries (Januik Winery launched in 1999; Fidelitas in 2000). And both men leveraged their vineyard contacts to produce remarkable wines under their own labels.

2007 Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2007 Fidelitas Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

If Full Pull is still around in 2032, I promise to host a comparative tasting of these two wines to determine the accuracy of Dr. Miller’s drinking windows. We can all ride to the warehouse in our flying cars.

Both of these wines are 100% Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Please limit order requests to 9 Januik and 6 Fidelitas, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. Both wines should arrive within the next week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


2007 Buty Columbia Rediviva (Cab-Syrah)

September 22, 2010

Hello friends. Some of the best vineyards in the state can be found in the Horse Heaven Hills, so why does this AVA remain less well-known than Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley, and Yakima Valley? Well, to visit those AVAs, you can stay in Benton City, Walla Walla, and Prosser. To visit the HHH, your accommodation choice is pretty much limited to glamping at Alexandria Nicole. The AVA is remarkably beautiful: a series of south-sloping, gently-rolling benches high above the Columbia River. It is also remarkably remote. Many residents drive to Prosser (60 minutes away) for services, and the area is actually more accessible from Portland than from Seattle.

James Kinney is credited with naming the area in 1881. A homesteader in the area, he saw his horses munching on the slowly-swaying grasses in the area and declared that it was “horse heaven.” He was less successful with his attempts to name his town Kinneyville (must have been a modest man). In 1884, residents changed the name to Prosser Falls, which was eventually shortened to Prosser. Yes, this will all be on the quiz.

The main climatic characteristics of the area are that it’s warm and windy. The warmth helps to ensure consistent ripening from year to year (especially important in cool vintages like the one we’re currently experiencing), and the wind thickens up the grape skins, which leads to strong tannin structure in the finished wines. Geologically, we’re looking at an area that was repeatedly hammered by the Missoula floods, which left gravel bars and heterogeneous flood sediments in their substantial wakes. On top of that base is a layer of sandy loess.

Champoux Vineyard is without question the most famous site in the AVA (and perhaps the entire state), but Phinny Hill is generating intense buzz lately. Dick Beightol planted Champoux Vineyard in 1972 (back then, it was called Mercer Ranch), so he has been farming wine grapes in the area for nearly forty years. He planted Phinny Hill just above Champoux, which you can see on the Google Map. Caleb Foster (Buty’s winemaker) has been working with this fruit for years, and 2006 marked the first vintage that his Columbia Rediviva came entirely from Phinny (note: I hear there are still a few bottles of that 06 floating around the market, so I will include a reorder link at the bottom of this offering for those who want to create an instant mini-vertical).

While the Columbia Redivia has traditionally been the Cab-dominated of the two Redivivas, in 2007 Syrah won a close majority (52%). This is a warm site in a relatively warm year, so the wine is more approachable than the 06 in its youth (relatively-speaking of course; this is still a brooding wine). An absolute palate-stainer, dense and intense with its layers of dark fruit, earth (soil, rock, and truffle), and barrel (butterscotch, dark chocolate). I have tasted this wine on two separate occasions and have been easily seduced both times.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($48); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].  93pts.”

Just released on September 1, so we can open it up to 24 bottles, first come first served. This wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


2009 Sheridan Vineyard La Belle Blonde

September 20, 2010

Hello friends. Here is what Jay Miller had to say about Sheridan Vineyard in the recent Wine Advocate: “TEXT WITHHELD.”

High praise indeed, and well-deserved. We have been on the Sheridan bandwagon for some time now. In December, we offered their 2006 Mystique (sold out, I’m afraid), and in March, we were the first west of the mountains to receive the 2006 L’Orage (still available; please see reorder link at the bottom of this offering). Scott manages his wines from vine to bottle, and he has a recognizable house style (unabashedly generous) that meshes perfectly with the fruit he pulls from his vineyard.

Of all the non-dessert whites in the recent Advocate, only two scored higher: 2009 Maison Bleue Marsanne, which we offered a few weeks ago, and Cote Bonneville’s (remarkably good) 2008 DuBrul Chardonnay. Both wines received 94pts, but they retail at $33 and $50, respectively.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($25); REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD. 93pts.”

This is a full-throttle white that falls squarely under the Sheridan house style. Exceptionally full, rich, and generous, with gobs of fat, ripe fruit swaddled in creamy barrels. Unfortunately, this wine has become extremely limited since the publication of the Advocate review, so I will need to limit order requests to 3 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. This wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window (tentatively scheduled to begin on October 11).


2008 Andrew Will Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon

September 17, 2010

Hello friends. Today marks the fifth offering that I’m lumping under the Signs-of-the-Times label:

SOTT I: 2006 OS Winery Red Wine
SOTT II: Nicholas Cole Portfolio
SOTT III: 2007 Long Shadows Nine Hats
SOTT IV: NV Envious Winemakers Woodinville Red

SOTT V is a doozy: a chance to experience Chris Camarda’s expertise at price points that are not generally associated with Andrew Will. When it comes to Bordeaux grapes, the general rule at Andrew Will (at least for the past decade) has been to favor vineyard over varietal. These wines are the exception, as Chris and his team recognized an opportunity generated by our current economic climate and pounced on it. These wines contain the same stuffing that goes into the higher-end bottlings, and much of the elevage is similar as well (the Merlot, for example, spent 22 months in Taransaud barrels). They are released earlier, of course, and like many 08 reds, benefit enormously from oxygen exposure.

2008 Andrew Will Merlot

Here are the vineyard/varietal sources for this bottle: 50% Ciel du Cheval Merlot; 25% Two Blondes Merlot; 15% Ciel du Cheval Cabernet Franc; 10% Two Blondes Cabernet Franc. If you’re having a “does not compute” moment when looking at those vineyard sources and that price, you’re not alone. Ciel is a spectacular Red Mountain Vineyard, and Two Blondes is the Andrew Will Estate site, which abuts Sheridan Vineyard in the heart of the Yakima Valley.

Chris Camarda built his reputation on Merlots in the ’90s, and his comfort level with the grape is obvious here. Driven by aromas and flavors of red cherries, dust, and mint, this has the structure uniquely endemic to Washington Merlot. The sweet, chewy, pipe-smoke flavored tannins are an openly delicious capper to each sip.

2008 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon

Another jaw-dropping set of vineyard sources: 40% Two Blondes Cab, 30% Champoux Cab, 10% Discovery Cab, 10% Merlot from Ciel du Cheval and Two Blondes, 10% Cab Franc from Ciel du Cheval and Champoux.

This is the more brooding of the two wines. While the Merlot is openly friendly from the pull of the cork, this Cab holds cards closer to its chest. The profile is dark, with loads of blackcurrant, blackberry, asphalt, and herb. Minerals and chalk are streaked across the palate, and this has a compelling salty character as well. Dense and grippy with its drying, tea-flavored tannins, the mouthfeel is classic Cabernet.

Who knows if these black-label bottles will continue to be produced after the 2008 vintage? For now, though, we can stock up. First come first served up to 36 bottles of each wine, and both wines should arrive within 1-2 weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window (tentatively scheduled to open on October 11).