2008 Grand Reve Collaboration Series V (Grenache)

October 30, 2010

Hello friends. Grand Reve is releasing a new wine today. Given the buzz that has been building around this winery for the past year, I don’t want to wait a single day before sending this offering out the door.

One important consideration before we go any further: It seems, from recent Grand Reve mailers, that the winery is about to close their mailing list. I have been privileged to partner with Paul McBride and Ryan Johnson on several releases now, and I certainly hope that will continue. But I can make no guarantees that we will be able to source future releases. Purchasing three or more of these bottles direct from the winery, however, gets you onto their “Allocation List” and guarantees access to future releases. Worth considering.

This is the inaugural release of Collaboration Series V (for full explanations of the Grand Reve model, see Sean Sullivan’s Focus Report or our initial Grand Reve offering. In short, each Series corresponds to a different winemaker (I = Ben Smith; II = Ross Mickel; III = Mark McNeilly; IV = Carolyn Lakewold). And Series V sees Chris Gorman (of Gorman Winery) working with the finest Grenache from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain.

I have not yet had a chance to sample this wine, but critical reviews have been consistent, and this is clearly a big, rich, delicious bottle of Grenache:

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

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Only 100 cases produced, and going into today, only 40 cases remained at the winery. Please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. This is not a wine likely to be available for long-term reorder. The wine should arrive within the next week or two, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 Hestia Cellars Merlot (Stone Tree Vineyard)

October 29, 2010

Hello friends. Stone Tree Vineyard is hot. As in, first-fruit-to-come-in-each-year hot. As in, rare-Washington-vineyard-that-can-ripen-Zinfandel hot (we have offered some of that Zinfandel in the past). It sits on a south-facing slope at the base of the Sentinel Mountains, where it is regularly blasted by squintworthy eastern Washington sunshine throughout the summer and fall.

In warmer years (like 2007), Merlot can be a tricky proposition at Stone Tree. Because the varietal has a propensity to move from ripe to overripe in a blink, it is not well-suited to warm sites in warm years. But in a cooler year, like 2008, a vineyard like Stone Tree can produce lovely Merlot, with physiological ripeness at reasonable sugar levels. And that’s exactly what we have here.

This shows all the best characteristics of Washington Merlot. It has hefty palate-weight, fine-grained tannins, and plenty of complexity. The nose is a mix of turned soil and cherries, and it leads to a silky, balanced palate that carries flavors of mint, cherry, and tar. The wine was aged entirely in one -year-old French oak, which adds lovely subtleties of biscuit and chocolate. A sense of vibrancy is conveyed from the attack through the mid-palate, and onto the finish.

Many of you participated in our offering of Hestia’s 2007 Boushey Vineyard Merlot. That wine sold out quickly, but those of you who received a bottle know of winemaker Shannon Jones’ talent with Merlot. First come first served on this up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2005 Reininger Helix Sangiovese

October 27, 2010

Hello friends. Every once in awhile, we’re able to unearth a parcel of buried treasure: wines that get lost in the shuffle at some point and for years sit quietly in a winery or wholesaler warehouse, waiting patiently to find happy homes. This is one of those parcels, and it comes with recent confirmation on an excellent tariff.

What we have here is five-year-old, single-vineyard Sangiovese from an excellent Walla Walla producer. Reininger launched their Helix brand to represent the greater Columbia Valley (the Reininger line contains Walla Walla Valley fruit). This Sangiovese comes entirely from Stillwater Creek Vineyard, an outstanding site on the Royal Slope (don’t be surprised if Royal Slope is Washington’s next designated AVA). This is the same vineyard Corliss Estates uses for much of its Syrah program.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

It’s important to note that this review was published in December 2008, which means the wine was probably tasted in late-summer 2008. And it turns out Paul was spot-on: the wine did (and does) have a long life ahead. A recent tasting revealed a dark, masculine, rustic Sangiovese, with grippy tannins that are still quite prominent all these years later and acids that seem to have calmed considerably. The fruit profile has become darker and less tart, and that fruit is laced with earthy streaks of tar and chard.

This is a rare opportunity to examine the aging curve for Washington Sangiovese at a price point that is awfully accessible. First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 Shooting Star “Blue Franc” (Blaufranksich)

October 25, 2010

Hello friends. Why is Beaujolais so popular around Thanksgiving? Yes, part of it is the massive marketing machine. But it also has to do with the inherent qualities of the Gamay Noir grape. To wit: the grape produces relatively low-alcohol wines (which can help you avoid being openly drunk by the time the turkey is carved) that are acid-driven and food-complementary (it’s not easy pairing the gamut from herb-stuffing to sweet-potato-marshmallow-surprise to jello salad).

To the best of my knowledge, Washington does not currently have any commercial Gamay Noir vineyards in production (that statement almost guarantees the following e-mail from a producer: “Paul – FYI we have three rows of 25-yr-old Gamay planted at 1800 ft on a northeast slope on Snipes Mountain. Production is 25 cases per year. Shall we ship you a sample 187ml bottle?”). But we do have Blaufrankisch.

It’s more likely that you have heard of Blaufrankisch by its other name: Lemberger. Over the years, many producers have moved away from that name and its associations with a cheese whose pungency has been favorably compared to the feet of a backpacker celebrating the completion of a twelve-day hike by dancing barefoot through a field of goose droppings. Blaufrankisch, fortunately, has no such associations.

This is another wine made in California by Jed Steele using older, Yakima Valley grapes from Washington (we offered his Washington Aligote back in June). Jed has been making a Washington state “Blue Franc” since 1995, and this bottling compares favorably with a Villages-level Beaujolais. The alcohol is listed as 13.5%, but for my palate, it drinks in more of the 12.5%-13.0% range. Lovely aromatics of ginger, clove, cherry, and mineral lead to a delicate, perfumed, acid-driven palate. Soft and elegant, this wine is born to be with food.

Washington does not produce very many light-bodied reds, so this is a good palate-expanding opportunity. For those of you whose tastes run towards Pinot Noirs and Gamay Noirs, Blaufranksich is a varietal worthy of exploration. First come first served up to 18 bottles, and this wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 PB Wines

October 23, 2010

Hello friends. Quick weekend offering, as I just gained access to a parcel of these wines at a very attractive tariff.

Rasa Vineyards produced a dazzling debut portfolio last year with their 2007 QED and 2007 Principia. But even with all the outstanding reviews these wines have received, it’s difficult launching into this economy with wines that start at $50 and go up from there.

So Pinto and Billo Naravane (the ‘P’ and ‘B’ behind PB Wines) made an accurate assessment of the landscape and decided to launch a new brand that could introduce the Rasa style at a lower price point. This strategy is decidedly reminiscent of the 2008 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon that we offered last month. In both cases, we’re looking not at declassified juice, but instead at fruit originally intended for the higher-end brand. In both cases, the elevage is the same, but the wines are released a bit younger than the main brand. And in both cases, the real winner is us: the greater wine-loving community.

Both of these wines are windows into the Rasa house style: Syrah-driven, with liberal use of native-yeast fermentation, judicious use of new oak, and unwavering attention to tannin management and mouthfeel:

2008 PB Wines Kiona Vineyard Blend (Syrah-Cab)

This is single-vineyard wine from Kiona Vineyard. Kiona is the cream in the Red Mountain oreo, with Ciel du Cheval to the east and Klipsun to the west (see map). Full-bodied and generous, this is a compelling mix of brambly fruit and savory notes.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($38); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

2008 PB Wines Syrah

This gets the Yakima Valley label, as it is comprised of 86% Minnick Vineyard fruit (a site prized by several of our state’s Syrah luminaries, including Gramercy and Waters). The remainder is Les Collines (9%) and Portteus (5%). There is plenty of delicious fruit here, interspersed with layers both sanguine and savory (meat, charcoal, and tar).

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($32); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].  91pts.”

Frequently, when wineries launch a second brand, it is at case production levels in the thousands, designed to generate big cash flow as quickly as possible. That’s not the case here. The Naravane brothers only produced about 200 cases of each of these wines, so they still fall squarely in the boutique category. First come first served up to 12 bottles of each, and the wines should arrive within the next week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

2009 Nefarious Cellars Rx-4 (Rhone Blend)

October 22, 2010

Hello friends. We’re well into fall now. The official start to the season came, of course, on October 7, when Café Campagne began serving their cassoulet. (What? Normal people measure seasons by astronomical phenomena and not by restaurant menus? Hrmph.) It’s a time of year when we begin to seek out autumnal wines, and Rhone blends frequently fit that bill, with their leafy, barky, underbrushy aromatics.

Today’s offering is a terrifically autumnal wine. I first tasted it over the summer, thought it was lovely, and was then very pleasantly surprised when the price was revealed (this category usually starts in the $30s and goes up from there). While many of Washington’s Rhone Blends are GSMs (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre), this bottling ditches the ‘G’ in favor of Counoise and Cinsault (two bit players in Chateauneuf-du-Pape). Counoise is usually added for spice and acid; Cinsault for bouquet.

This is also one of those sneaky-single-vineyard wines. While not labeled as such, this comes entirely from Westhill Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. Westhill is a neighbor to Stone Tree Vineyard and is owned and managed by the Wade family, who have already established a sterling reputation on the Slope for their Fielding Hills Winery and Riverbend Estate Vineyard. Rx-4 is a field blend, which means that all four varietals were harvested from Westhill on the same day and went into the fermenters together.

The result is a bright, expressive wine, with flavors that pop. No new wood was used here, so it’s the fruit that shines. The pronounced nose brings notes of white pepper, grapefruit, and violets, with forest-floor undertones. The acids are vibrant and citrusy, and the finish is all chalk, bark, and cocoa. Only 150 cases were made, so there’s not much of this to go around.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

Nefarious Cellars continues to be the most impressive producer working in Lake Chelan. Dean Neff makes this wine (as a reminder, he makes the reds, and Heather Neff makes the whites). We offered Heather’s 2009 Stone’s Throw Riesling back in September, and it has received some rave reviews from our list, so I will include a reorder link at the bottom of this offering. I’m sure we can tack some Riesling bottles onto our Rx-4 order. First come first served up to 12 bottles of Rx-4, and this wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

New Releases from Bunchgrass

October 20, 2010

Hello friends. Today we present another portfolio from a small, self-distributed Walla Walla producer (Note: This will not be the last of the Walla-Walla-winery-new-release-themed offerings either. It’s the legacy of the old Cayuse release weekend, which used to be the first weekend of November, and which became the de facto fall release weekend for much of the valley).

Here is the list of places where you can source Bunchgrass wines west of the mountains:
Compass Wines (Anacortes)
Water to Wine (Gig Harbor)
The Herbfarm Restaurant (Woodinville)

And, of course, Full Pull Wines. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only source for these wines in the Seattle market. We got in early on the Bunchgrass revival, writing about them as our first offering of 2010. As a reminder, this is a winery started in 1997 but recently energized by a new winemaker, Bill VonMetzger (the production winemaker at Walla Walla Vintners). Since Bill has taken over, the wines have begun turning heads.

Paul Gregutt blogged about Bunchgrass last October, noting that “very little wine is made, but it is exceptional.” And then Stephen Tanzer, a man not prone towards effusive praise, wrote the following in his blog: “Bunchgrass Winery, which has rarely impressed in my past tastings, caught my attention with its 2007 reds this year following a change in ownership and winemaking.”

I’m not surprised that Tanzer found the Bunchgrass portfolio compelling. His is a palate that favors restraint and elegance over hedonism, and these wines are classy indeed. I tasted a sommelier friend of mine on the three wines and posited that they displayed a clear house style. While I hemmed and hawed on what exactly that style was, my somm buddy nailed it: “Graceful,” he said, and graceful they are.

2007 Bunchgrass Syrah Lewis Vineyard

I know the 2006 vintage of this wine was well-loved by many of our list members, and the new vintage is equally delightful. The palate displays wonderful intensity with no rough edges. The signature Lewis Vineyard note of Dr. Pepper is alive and well here, framed by notes of roast beef and black cherry. This is probably the chewiest of the three wines with its fine-grained, black-tea tannins It’s 100% Syrah; 100% from Lewis Vineyard.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].  18.5/20pts”

2008 Bunchgrass Malbec Frazier Bluff Vineyard

Paul Gregutt loved the 07 vintage of this wine, scoring it 93pts in Wine Enthusiast and placing it #29 on his Top 100 list for 2009. As far as my research goes, that is the highest score Paul has bestowed upon a Washington Malbec; strong praise to be sure. Like the 07, the 08 comes entirely from Frazier Bluff Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. This site, owned by Joe Frazier (no, not the one who said “Boxing is the only sport you can get your brain shook, your money took and your name in the undertaker book.”), is mostly planted to Petit Verdot. Exactly nine rows are planted to Malbec, and Bunchgrass gets the entire lot, which translates into a whopping 75 cases of wine.

Washington Malbecs have a tendency towards blueberry pie. This bottling avoids that. There is a sleekness and a high tone to the boysenberry fruit, and a lovely interplay between that fruit and the grace notes of iron and stone, leaf and bark. Soft and silky in the mouth, this is almost too easy to drink. An entire glass is gone before you know it.

2007 Bunchgrass Cabernet Sauvignon Windrow Vineyard

I’m sipping this wine as I write the offering. It has now been open for 48 hours, and it remains on the ascendancy. Windrow Vineyard Cabernet is a real treat. You may remember from our Tero Estates offering that this is the oldest commercial Cabernet vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, and it shows in the depth and weight this wine possesses. The blend contains 80% Windrow Cab, and the remainder is Cab from Tokar Vineyard, another site gaining rapid prominence in the valley (it’s not too far away from Leonetti’s Mill Creek Upland Vineyard).

The wine strikes a remarkable balance of fruit, earth, herb, and barrel. Layers of crème de cassis, composted earth, and dried sage are interwoven in this acid-driven Cabernet (the tannins are there, but not prominent). This has years of gorgeous, useful life ahead of it. The production level here is another miniscule 75 cases , so this is another limited wine (frequently sold out by the end of the year).