Efeste 2009 Riesling Evergreen Vnyd 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon “Big Papa”

November 15, 2010

Hello friends. Two quickies from Efeste today; one a reoffer, the other a wine where we snagged the last remaining parcel in western Washington. Ever since Brennon Leighton left his post as the Eroica winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle to take over winemaking duties at Efeste, this winery’s star has been rising. The latest in a string of praise was a series of strong reviews from Paul Gregutt in the November Wine Enthusiast, and we’re offering two of those reviewed wines today:

2009 Efeste Riesling Evergreen Vineyard

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($16); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($16; [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 18.5/20pts.”

First come first served up to 18 bottles, and we should have the wine in the warehouse in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2007 Efeste Cabernet Sauvignon “Big Papa”

Our parcel of this excellent wine is tiny, so I’m not going to say much here. It’s 100% Cab from a series of old Washington vineyards (31% Kiona, 31% Weinbau, 25% Klipsun, 13% Sagemoor), and Brennon used all indigenous yeasts and 87% new French oak here.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($47); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($45; [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

Please limit order requests to 2 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests (I’m afraid allocations are more likely to be 1 bottle than 2; if so, there might be a small amount still available directly from the winery). The wine should arrive within the next week or two, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

McKinley Springs 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Syrah

November 15, 2010

Hello friends. Today we present two new releases from our friends at McKinley Springs Vineyards. Of course, “new” is a relative term, as McKinley Springs is nearly Corlissian in their release schedule, holding back their wines for years before setting them free.

A one-paragraph refresher for those of you new to the list: McKinley Springs is a 2000-acre vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, just down the street from Champoux. The oldest blocks were planted in 1980, but they only began making wine under their own label in 2002, with James Mantone of Syncline providing early consulting services for winemaker Doug Rowell.

We have offered a number of McKinley Springs wines, and I see them as one of Washington’s strongest value entrants. Because the winery is not the profit center (that would be the vineyard; McKinley Springs still sells the vast majority of their fruit), they can afford to let their wines sleep and, when released, to price them at consumer-friendly levels. Both of these wines were $24 at release but have seen recent price drops that make them exceptional values:

2005 McKinley Springs Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a blend of the 1980-planted old block referenced above, and some of the more newly-planted Block 17. It’s 92% Cab and 8% Petit Verdot, aged for just shy of two years in a combination of French (80%) and American (20%) oak, 50% new.

The brooding nose still smells relatively youthful, with aromas of dark cocoa powder, plum, and dried cherry. This tastes like a much more serious effort than the price indicates. Complex notes of blackcurrant, espresso, asphalt, and mineral are carried in a chalky-textured, palate-coating wave. The finish is awash in chewy, cola-flavored tannins.

Although the 04 and 06 versions of this wine have reviews, there are none for this vintage. First come first served up to 18 bottles, and the wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2006 McKinley Springs Syrah

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($24); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

This is a coferment with 3.5% Viognier, and the Syrah is about half from the “Espresso Block” that James Mantone uses for his Syncline McKinley Springs Vineyard Syrah. Just 25% new oak here (a combination of 3/4 French and 1/4 American). Espresso and blueberry dominate the nose, and the palate sees streaks of iron running through the blue-fruited, Americano flavors. Like the Cab, this has head-scratching structure (grippy, medium-grained, coffee-flavored tannins) for the price.

First come first served up to 18 bottles, and the wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2005 Corliss Estates Red & Cabernet Sauvignon

November 10, 2010

Hello friends. Another limited release today from another Walla Walla winery getting cultier by the year. Much like with our Reynvaan offering from last month, I have to mention that guaranteed access to these wines in the future comes only with a spot on the winery mailing list. While I’m pleased to have the chance to offer these wines today, the future holds no certainties.

By now, the Corliss story is well known (if you don’t know it, see Paul Gregutt’s fine blog or our May offering of Corliss’ 05 Syrah, which includes pictures taken at the remarkable Corliss winery). The guiding philosophy is patience. Extended barrel-aging (nearly three years for these wines) and bottle-aging (another two years) lead to wines that are well along the path to integration upon release.

Stephen Tanzer caused a stir in July when he wrote the following on his blog: “Finally, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley from Corliss Estates, which I tasted in barrel, holds out the potential to become one of the greatest cabernet-based wines yet produced in Washington State, although I should note that this wine is not slated for release until the fall of 2012. Ten years from now it will be fascinating to taste this superb wine next to the outstanding ’07 flagship cabernet from Quilceda Creek.”

Tanzer is a critic known for holding the line on scores. His highest score for a Washington wine has been 96pts (that was a single barrel of 2005 Syrah from Cayuse), and he has only given a handful of 95pt-scores over the years. As reference points for the 2005 vintage, Tanzer scored the 2005 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon 93pts and the 2005 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 94pts. So the favorable reviews for the Corliss wines below put them into lofty company indeed.

Furthermore, it’s exceedingly rare to see Tanzer and Jay Miller duplicate scores. Tanzer is widely-believed to favor elegance and class, while Miller is thought to favor concentration and volume. That these wines appeal to both men makes sense upon tasting them. Winemaker Kendall Mix has crafted wines that convey density while maintaining vibrancy: no easy feat.

The varietal compositions for these two wines are not really so different. The “Corliss Red” is two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, while the “Cabernet Sauvignon” is three-quarters Cab; and both wines are rounded out with the remaining four Bordeaux varietals. The vineyard sources are where they differ. The Red contains a large portion of fruit from Corliss’ estate vineyards on Red Mountain, and it shows that AVA’s distinctive dusting of cocoa powder. The Cabernet, on the other hand, has no Red Mountain fruit but is instead dominated by old-vine Dionysus Vineyard fruit, along with several of the other Sagemoor properties (Weinbau, Bacchus).

My palate, in past Corliss vintages, has given a slight edge to the Red, which has been  more approachable upon release. In this vintage, they’re about even. The Red is soft, rich, and generous, with the oak well-integrated and the nose well along the path to complexity. Aromatic notes of chocolate Riesen, black cherry, and ruby red grapefruit give way to palate-staining flavors of chocolate, cassis, espresso, and roasted nuts.

For those with patience (or a big decanter), the Cabernet Sauvignon promises untold glories ahead. Right now, it presents a brooding profile of cassis, cedar, mint, and a faint whiff of barnyard. There is more minerality, more turned soil, and more prominent tannins here.

2005 Corliss Estates Red (BDX Blend)

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($65); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($65); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “($65); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”
2005 Corliss Estates Cabernet Sauvignon

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “($75); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($75); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($75); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

Our parcels are quite limited in size, so I will need to limit order requests to 4 bottles of Red and 3 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. We will do our best to fulfill all requests, and both wines should arrive within the next 1-2 weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

2007 aMaurice Cellars Horiuchi (Red BDX Blend)

November 8, 2010

Hello friends. The Schafer family has a plan. Having planted a vineyard up Mill Creek (near Leonetti’s Mill Creek Upland site and the new Walla Walla Vintners vineyard) in 2006, the plan is to continue using purchased fruit and then transition towards estate fruit as the vines come online.

Anna Schafer may have just thrown a monkey wrench into that plan.

From the start (2004), Anna’s winemaking has shown talent and great promise. But this bottle represents a breakthrough. It is promise delivered: a stunning wine whose polish and elegance usually come with a substantially higher tariff.

Much of the blend (42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc, 21% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot) comes from the four vineyards in the Sagemoor Farms portfolio: Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus, and Weinbau. These are old vineyards (the oldest blocks were planted in 1972) that have experienced a remarkable turnaround under the management of Kent Waliser. A recent visit with Kent revealed a dedicated, passionate, meticulous farmer. It is clear that he intends for the Sagemoor sites to regain their status as some of Washington’s premier vineyards, and bottles like this will only help the cause.

A few Walla Walla vineyards round out the blend: Tokar Vineyard (another Mill Creek site whose Cabernet continues to gain prominence) and Frazier Bluff (planted only to Petit Verdot and Malbec, this is the source of the PV in the blend). The nose is hugely expressive, with gorgeous floral elements flanking notes of strawberry and pink peppercorn. Seamless on the palate and loaded with inner-mouth perfume, this presents a mouthful of silky red fruits that ride a wave of citrusy acids. The fine-grained tannins convey green-tea flavors, and this finishes with a kick of dark-chocolate and cinnamon. Classy juice indeed.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

That score-price combination is rarely seen from Paul Gregutt and makes this an instant contender for a high slot on Paul’s upcoming Top 100 list. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive within the next week or two, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2009 Blacksmith Pinot Noir

November 7, 2010

Hello friends. This weekend’s offering is single-vineyard Pinot Noir from an up-and-coming vineyard, made by an honest-to-goodness Burgundian, and it’s $11. Shall I stop there? (Nah.)

Marie-Eve Gilla’s enology degree comes from the University of Dijon, in the heart of Burgundy, and her first practical winemaking experiences took place in Burgundian wineries, where she no doubt aided in the production of beautiful Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Since launching Forgeron Cellars in 2001, she has developed a reputation for her Chardonnays, which are consistently beautiful.

What about Pinot Noir?

As I have mentioned in the past, Pinot Noir is one of the rare varietals not widely suited to Washington. Its fate, it seems, is that of a niche varietal, hanging on in small, odd, climate pockets more suited to its notorious nuances. One such pocket is the Columbia Gorge, and more specifically, the flanks of the extinct Underwood Mountain Volcano.

The steep-sloping Underwood Mountain Vineyard (see the terrain map here) is far too cool for heat-loving varietals like Cabernet. But it is a handsome match for cool-climate varietals. The adjacent Celilo Vineyard, planted in 1972, has proven the merits of this mountain for grape-growing. Underwood Mountain Vineyard’s vines are still young by comparison, but this is a vineyard on the ascendancy (note: I will include reorder links below for two of our previous offerings that contain Underwood Mtn Vineyard fruit, for those of you looking to more fully explore this terrain).

Marie-Eve first started sourcing Chardonnay grapes from Underwood Mountain a few years ago, using them to add an electric acid spine to her Chard. And now, she is using Underwood Pinot as a way to launch her new Blacksmith label. The (quite appealingly designed) label is intended to take advantage of unique opportunities on the spot market. The varietals and vineyards won’t be consistent from year to year but will instead represent Marie-Eve’s opportunities to purchase quality grapes at affordable prices.

These are young vines, and Marie-Eve has taken what the vineyard gives her and crafted a young, fresh, vibrant wine. This bottle is not meant to be pondered for its endless complexities; it is meant to be enjoyed, now, for its freshness, vigor, and overt raciness. The alcohol is 13.6%, and this was aged in 100% new French oak, but only for 9 months: just enough time to add a kiss of smoky top-notes. The acid is the star here, and it carries delicate notes of summer strawberry and cherry blossom. Without question, this wine will be on our Thanksgiving table.

If you have never gone swimming in Washington’s Pinot waters, this wine is priced at a tariff that makes it hard not to dip a toe in. And it’s fairly limited. With just 196 cases produced, I suspect the wine will move quickly at its price point. But we’re getting in early and can offer decent allocations. First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 Trust Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley

November 5, 2010

Hello friends. As I have mentioned several times, Les Collines Vineyard is a rising star for Syrah in the Walla Walla Valley. Many winemakers (Greg Harrington at Gramercy, Billo Naravane at Rasa, and Ryan Crane at Kerloo, to name a few) prize the ethereal aromatic complexity that this vineyard provides. But few produce quality Syrah at this price point that incorporates Les Collines fruit.

Steve Brooks has always been a strong Syrah producer, but this 2008 Walla Walla Valley Syrah is his strongest effort to date. He has developed a clear handle on Les Collines Vineyard over the years. And here he seems to have taken what the vintage gave him (cooler weather) and made something beautiful: a bright, lower-alc (13.8%) Syrah that is nakedly expressive of the Walla Walla Valley.

Along with the Les Collines Syrah (36%), there is another 36% from Old Stones Vineyard. The 2008 vintage was the first commercial harvest (at third leaf) for Old Stones, an estate vineyard for Waters Winery planted down in the rocks. In previous years, Steve blended a little Cabernet into his Syrahs for an acid kick. This year, he rounded out the funk-factory Les Collines and Old Stones fruit with Syrah from the cool, tiny, 1.3-acre Davidson Vineyard.

For the story of Steve’s transformation from a miserable CNN-news-producing caterpillar to a radiant wine-producing butterfly, check out our offering for the previous vintage of this wine. And one quick reminder: I wrote the tasting notes for the current releases of Trust wines, so don’t be surprised if this note looks eerily similar to what’s on Steve’s website.

This wine smells like the Walla Walla Valley, with hallmark savory notes of turned soil, rosemary, roasted mushrooms, and grilled bread. But there is plenty of dark, delicious, black fruit here as well, on both the nose and the palate. In the mouth, this is seamless: strong on the attack, mid-palate, and finish, with its flavors of blackberry and earth. There is lovely inner-mouth perfume here, and citrusy (orange-peel) acids that add lift and make this wine absolutely mouthwatering.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive within the next week or two, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2007 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

November 3, 2010

Hello friends. As a rule, here is what the word “Reserve” means when you see it on a wine bottle:


With no legal definition around the word, producers are free to use it as they see fit, so it is an oft-abused term, not easily parsed. This is one of those instances (akin to seeing “Red Wine” on a bottle) where there’s no substitute for knowing exactly what’s in the bottle and exactly what a winemaker means by “Reserve.” Here is how John Abbott describes Abeja’s Reserve program:

“At Abeja, a reserve is a wine of very limited production that reflects the absolute best of an outstanding vintage. We select our favorite barrels from our finest lots and blend them to make a wine that captures the special nature of the vintage and embodies our vision of classic Cabernet Sauvignon produced from grapes grown in Washington State.”

And here’s how you know he’s serious: John has been making Cabernet Sauvignon at Abeja since 2001, and this marks just his third Reserve release (2002 and 2005 were the others). In more vintages than not, there is no Abeja Reserve. It is cause, then, for celebration when one of our state’s Cabernet gurus deems a vintage worthy.

Even in a normal year, this would be a limited wine, but this been an abnormally good year for Abeja. Having already built a sterling reputation for Cabernet, it was Abeja’s Syrah that generated the biggest buzz this year, with Harvey Steiman scoring this $32 wine 95pts in Wine Spectator (I’m setting the over/under at #8 for Spectator’s Top 100). I’m certain that review swelled the ranks of Abeja’s mailing and waiting lists, which will only put more pressure on their allocated wines.

In September, Paul Gregutt devoted an entire blog post to the 2007 Abeja Reserve Cab (if you have time, please read the entire post; in it, John Abbott articulates exactly how he develops a Reserve). Here is the tasting note portion:

paulgregutt.com (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]”

Over the course of a glorious recent weekend in Walla Walla, I had the chance to taste both the 2005 and 2007 Reserves. Both wines reek of class. They are deft, balanced, beautiful bottles that represent among the purest Cabernet expressions I have tasted from Washington. Please limit order requests to 3 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive within the next week or two, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.