2007 Andrew Will Two Blondes Vineyard

April 30, 2011

Hello friends. Is it really over?

Today’s offering is (sniffle) our last of Andrew Will’s remarkable lineup of single-vineyard bottlings from the lovely 2007 vintage. It began last July, with Ciel du Cheval. In August, we offered Champoux and Sorella (Sorella is also from Champoux Vineyard). And then last month we offered Discovery Vineyard (admittedly not under the main Andrew Will label, but darn close in quality). For the grand finale, we have the one wine in the Andrew Will lineup from estate fruit; the one wine that Chris Camarda manages from grape to bottle.

Planted in 2000 here in the heart of the Yakima Valley adjacent to Sheridan Vineyard, Two Blondes is a vineyard coming into its own as the vines dig deeper into the rich subsoils of the Yak, and the 2007 vintage sets a new high-water mark for this bottling:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($58); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

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

As with most of the single-vineyard bottlings, the new oak is dialed down here, at just 35%. For me, this is a sign of confidence in the depth of character inherent in the fruit here, and it helps allow the fullest expression of the vineyard to come through. The Ciel bottling shows the elegance of Red Mountain; the Champoux bottling shows the dark power of the Horse Heaven Hills; and this, this transparently, honestly shows the palate-staining intensity and balance of the greater Yakima Valley.

No need to rehash the aroma and flavor profiles mentioned above. I want to focus instead on the head-turning texture. The first thing you notice about this wine is that it is mouthcoatingly strong across the entire palate. Immediately pleasurable on the attack, it gains steam across the mid-palate and is going full throttle by the time it reaches the never-ending finish. The tannin management here is beyond classy, and the resulting grapeskin tannins are blasted into fine-grained, delicious oblivion.

Please limit order requests to 9 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in 1-2 weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

Two Wines from Bunchgrass

April 29, 2011

Hello friends. A poem to begin today’s offering:

Bunch Grass #36

– Robert Sund

I have gone on at some length (here, here, and here) about the history of Bunchgrass Winery. One piece that I haven’t previously touched on: Roger Cockerline named the winery after Bunch Grass, a book of poetry written by his friend, the northwest poet Robert Sund, after working a wheat harvest in Eastern Washington in the late 1960s. It’s a beautiful collection of odes to that landscape, and for those interested, it’s included in Sund’s collected poems.

We have two new releases today from this perennial list favorite. I have offered every Bunchgrass wine made available to me since launching Full Pull. I see the winery as one of the Walla Walla Valley’s true hidden gems. You have to be in the know to know about Bunchgrass.

For one thing, their tasting room is open for just three hours each week (Saturdays, 1-4PM), and that’s only from April through December (those hours make TPU look positively expansive by comparison!). For another, the winery has a long history in the valley. While it officially launched in 1997, founder Roger Cockerline had been growing grapes and making wine at home with Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson (the duo behind Walla Walla Vintners) since the early ’80s.

And finally, the wines just don’t show up outside of Walla Walla. To the best of my knowledge, we’re still the only source for Bunchgrass in the Seattle market (production levels are small, and they want to sell most of their wine through the tasting room). The next closest place to find them is in Woodinville, but you’ll have to dine at the Herb Farm to do so.

2008 Bunchgrass Triolet

Is there a classier Bordeaux blend made from Walla Walla Valley fruit for less than $30?

This is brilliant juice, 62% Cabernet Sauvignon (from Dwelley, Pepper Bridge, and Seven Hills Vineyards), and 35% Cabernet Franc (all Dwelley fruit, in the Blue Mountain foothills). A dollop of Petit Verdot rounds out the blend.

The breeding is apparent immediately in the mouthfeel, which is silky, pretty, and downright elegant. There are no parts out of place here; everything is in proportion. Aromatically, you find a compelling violet topnote hovering above classic Cabernet cassis notes. The palate presents a strong core of pulsing cassis fruit, framed by elements of smoke and toast, pickle and bitters. Just lovely, and with complexity to spare at this price point.

2008 Bunchgrass Syrah Morrison Lane Vineyard

Many of you will remember Morrison Lane Vineyard as the source of the 1998 Seven Hills Syrah we offered in early March. This is the oldest commercial Syrah vineyard in the WWV, planted in 1994 by Dean and Verdie Morrison on a soil base of cobbles and deep silt/sand loam. While Syrahs from this site have shown their merits on the aging curve, this bottle is dangerously appealing in its youth, a black-hearted siren whose call is not easily ignored.

This is a relative rarity, as there are only a few single-vineyard bottlings from Morrison Lane. Bunchgrass’ winemaker, Bill vonMetzger, also makes one for Walla Walla Vintners, and K Vintners has a version as well (a bit pricier than this, however).

The profile from Morrison Lane is dark, dark, dark. The briney olives are black; the fruit is black (blackberries, black cherries). So too is the chocolate (dark cocoa powder). Even the meaty, brushy notes have durk, sultry undertones. Still, there is lift here from the citrusy acids, so this never comes across as heavy or clumsy, instead conveying balance and pleasure.

Mix and match as you see fit up to a limit of 18 bottles total, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. Bunchgrass is self-distributed, so it may be 2-3 weeks before the wine arrives, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2007 Woodward Canyon Merlot

April 27, 2011

Hello friends. Something in my gut tells me that Merlot has turned the fashionability corner, and it’s bottlings like this that help make the case for this fine varietal.

Washington’s northern clime has always been a good fit for Merlot, which in warmer regions can turn out overly soft, characterless bottles. The best versions here marry Merlot’s ripe, delicious fruit with serious texture and aromatic complexity. And this is one of the best versions, among the highest-rated Merlots ever from Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($39); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

I just wrote at length about Rick Small and Woodward Canyon two weeks ago in the offering for their Estate Red (reorder link below, and while we’re at it, I’ll also include a reorder link for their 2009 Chardonnay, a dazzler that only continues to improve with time in bottle), so I will focus here on the wine itself.

The backbone (59%) is Weinbau Merlot. Weinbau Vineyard, the only site in the Sagemoor portfolio on the Wahluke Slope, is perhaps best known for its Cabernet Franc, but there are some old Merlot vines planted there as well, and Rick Small has been sourcing them for years. The remaining Merlot (26% of the blend) comes from Spring Creek Vineyard, located about as far east as you can get in the Yakima Valley without running into Red Mountain (see location here). Finally, some heft, grip, and textural muscle are added with the 14% Cabernet Sauvignon from Champoux and Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyards.

What’s immediately noticeable about this Merlot is its complexity. The traditional Merlot center of gravity is here: black cherry and dark chocolate. But swirling around the center are all sorts of wonderful subtleties: green olive, grain, bark, licorice, smoke. No doubt this is a bottle that demands contemplation and double-take sniffs, but oh the intellectual/sensual rewards in store here. Simply, this is smashing Merlot.

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

Two Sangioveses from Cavatappi

April 25, 2011

Hello friends. New vintages today for some old list favorites, a pair of Sangioveses from a 25-year-old Washington winery that almost nobody knows about.

2009 Cavatappi Sangiovese

Peter Dow launched Cavatappi Winery in 1987 in the basement of CafĂ© Juanita, his Kirkland restaurant, after an early-’80s trip to the Piedmont turned him onto the idea of in-restaurant wineries. His cuisine was Italian, and so too were his wines; he was one of the earliest winemakers to work with Washington Barbera, and Nebbiolo, and, of course, Sangiovese.

To this day, the winery’s roots in the restaurant world remain evident. These wines are much better known among the sommelier set (they are food-friendly restaurant dreams) than among retailers. So while you won’t find these wines sitting on too many retail shelves, they are well-known among the insider trade gang here in Washington.

The first of the two Sangioveses is Peter’s entry-level play. He correctly foresaw interest in a well-priced version of the grape, and so he partnered with the Milbrandt brothers and Gordy Hill at Wahluke Wine Company to produce this Wahluke Slope Sangiovese, all from Milbrandt-farmed sites. Everything about the making of this wine was done to encourage fruit freshness. It spends just 6 months in barrel (all neutral) and 6 months in bottle before being released to the world.

Is it the most typical Sangiovese in the world? No. Is its vibrant fruit deliciousness undeniable anyway? Yes indeed. This has the character of a good, villages-level Beaujolais, light in body but heavy on red fruit freshness, with some mineral, spice, and herb to keep things interesting. It’s a near-perfect summertime red. Put a little chill on this, and you have a serious porch-pounder, all ready for that Seattle sunshine that can only be days around the corner (all Seattlites now shaking heads and grimacing).

2006 Cavatappi Sangiovese “Molly’s Cuvee”

Molly’s Cuvee is where Peter’s Sangiovese gets serious. It’s a blend of two of the finest vineyards in the Yakima Valley (and the entire state for that matter): Mike Sauer’s Red Willow Vineyard at the western edge of the Yak, and Dick Boushey’s Vineyard further to the east. Both vineyards have their Sangio blocks trellised using Geneva Double Curtain for vigor control and sunburn protection.

Peter remains judicious here with the new oak, at a tiny 10%. A sultry, funky nose introduces this wine, with notes of fungus, rich soil, and black licorice. The palate displays wonderful Sangiovese typicity, a mish-mash of sour cherry, licorice, and angostura bitters. The acids add a fresh tartness to the flavor profile, and the overall mouthfeel is rustically delightful. I’m not sure I have tasted a stronger Washington Sangiovese at this price point.

First come first served up to 12 bottles of each wine, and all the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

Two from Mark Ryan

April 24, 2011

Hello friends. We have two wines today from Mark Ryan Winery, one of the pioneering wineries of the Woodinville warehouse scene that has since exploded:

2008 Mark Ryan Syrah “Wild Eyed”

Mark McNeilly began Mark Ryan Winery in 1999 after working jobs in the other two tiers of the three-tier system. His time spent working in restaurants and distributors helped hone his palate (few people taste more frequently and widely than distributors) and allowed him to emerge in the early part of the last decade with a house style that seemed already fully-formed.

Mark is a devotee of ripeness, and there is no denying the sheer pleasure, the wonderful indulgence, of a Mark Ryan wine. One of the most distinctive wines in his lineup is this Syrah, first produced in the 2003 vintage and seemingly improving with each passing year.

Many of you may remember that Mark was chosen by Grand Reve Vintners to produce their Collaboration Series III, which is Ciel du Cheval Syrah. I’m guessing that choice was made largely on the quality of Mark’s Wild Eyed Syrah, also from Red Mountain.

A cross-section of some of the finest sites on Red Mountain (Ciel, Klipsun, Kiona), this is a full-throttle example of the raw power and seductive beauty of Red Mountain Syrah.The 2008 vintage was a cooler year by Washington standards, but this remains a lush, ripe, sensual Syrah (14.6% alcohol). There is an undeniable sense of harmony among all the big elements here: big creamy fruit, big toasty oak (16 months in 70% new French, the remainder once-filled), big delicious tannin.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

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

2008 Mark Ryan “The Vincent” (Cab-Syrah)

This is an opportunity for those of you curious about the Mark Ryan house style at a lower tariff. It is a blend of Syrah (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40%). The Syrah is purchased juice “from our friends” (and when it comes to vineyards, Mark has some high-quality friends). The Cabernet was vinified in-house at Mark Ryan, and based on their usual Cabernet vineyard suspects, it likely comes from Ciel and/or Klipsun.

Priced at the magic point where restaurants can offer the wine as a glass pour, I presume that was the main target for this bottling. Regardless, it’s a lovely introduction to the winery. The nose displays a peppered-bacon Syrah profile, and the palate is wide open, with generous flavors of cassis, berry, and lavender. It finishes with an alluring lick of raspberry compote.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($20); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: + (Good).”

2007 Reasons Cabernet Sauvignon

April 22, 2011

Hello friends. Today’s wine presented a mystery that took awhile to unravel.

It first came to my attention on December 6, 2010. That’s the date that Paul Gregutt released his Top 100 list for 2010. On that list, there was only one winery I didn’t recognize, sitting there at #45: Reasons, and their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Within the next few months, two unrelated list members happened to try this wine and go out of their way to sing its praises to me, exhorting me to just try the wine.

At Taste Washington, that’s exactly what I did. And the wine was excellent, an honest expression of Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet from some of that AVA’s finest sites (Champoux, Phinny Hill). But that only deepened the mystery, because how did a winery I had never heard of source Champoux and Phinny fruit in a great vintage?

Well, the story starts with a project called Double Canyon Vineyards. Wine Spectator first wrote about this project in 2008, when a group based in Napa (and also behind Archery Summit in Oregon) purchased and planted a large swath of land in the Horse Heaven Hills (in the same neighborhood as Champoux). The idea at the time was to both sell fruit and make wine, and there were going to be exactly two wines, which would be priced at $80 and $105. And then, in autumn 2008, as we all know, the economic landscape shifted seismically, and suddenly launching a winery with bottles at those prices seemed unwise indeed.

So the winemaking operation stalled, and that left barrels of vinified juice (Champoux and Phinny had both sold Cabernet grapes to Double Canyon while they waited for their own grapes to come online), as well as the winemaker who vinified them. That winemaker was Ned Morris.

And Ned knows something of Cabernet, having studied with one of the great Cabernet masters in Washington: John Abbott of Abeja. Ned was the assistant winemaker at Abeja between 2002 and 2007, a stint long enough to develop familiarity with what it takes to make world-class Cabernet here in Washington.

Ned managed to gather some investors, secured custom crush and storage facilities at Artifex in Walla Walla, and poof: Reasons was born. So what seemed on its face like a wine that had emerged, fully-formed and delicious, right out of the ether, had in fact seen a long and twisting tale to its release.

When you set all the twists and turns aside, what you’re left with is Cabernet from a glorious vintage, sourced from what can only be considered the cru sites of the Horse Heaven Hills (including some fruit from Double Canyon itself), and produced by an expert with the grape:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

PaulG is spot on here. This is so beautifully Cabernet; it really could be nothing else upon sniff or swallow. Elegant, grippy, and downright beautiful, it’s a laser beam of Cabernet cassis, framed by notes of earth and herb.

This is a fairly limited wine, and our initial parcel will require me to limit order requests to 4 bottles. We’ll do our best to fulfill all requests, and the wine should arrive within the next 2-3 weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2006 Dunham Syrah

April 20, 2011

Hello friends. I just got final confirmation on the tariff for this parcel (I double- and triple-checked, because it seemed too good to be true), and my fingers are clambering over each other to hit the send button.

By my count, this is offering #269 from Full Pull, and I’m hard pressed to remember a better deal than today’s, in terms of the quality of the juice for the price. On the one hand, it’s a sobering reminder of the state of Syrah in the general marketplace. But on the other hand, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get some serious Syrah juice into the hands of folks who cannot normally sample from this producer’s portfolio.

As we all know, the world was a very different place in 2006, and economic conditions were such that it made sense to produce 1,647 cases of $45 Syrah. Five years later, means and fashion have changed. That is one important thing to remember: wine is subject to strong shifts in what’s fashionable. The fact that Syrah is less fashionable now than it was in 2006 has nothing to do with its inherent quality.

And the quality here is awfully good. Eric Dunham is one of the longest-tenured winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley. He launched Dunham Cellars with a 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon, after several years working as the assistant winemaker to Marty Clubb at L’Ecole 41. Since then, the winery’s reputation has continued to grow, in large part because of the quality of their estate vineyards.Three of those estate vineyards comprise this Syrah: Frenchtown and Double River Vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, and the phenomenal Lewis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 89pts.”

PaulG’s note is from 2009 (I believe this wine also received 89pts from Harvey Steiman at Wine Spectator; two 89s are another reason for the substantial price drop), and a recent tasting revealed a wine that has retained its elegance and seen some of its sharper edges polished to a fine sheen. Two additional years in bottle have softened up the acids and further integrated the savory notes from lees and barrel. Amazing that this price drop is occurring just as this wine is entering its prime.

I tasted a bottle earlier this week and was immediately greeted by lovely, high-toned blue fruit aromas, with secondary notes of peppercorn, game, and bramble. On the palate, this displays loads of character and intensity, and an undeniable sense of balance. There is blue/black fruit. There are cola notes (a Lewis Vineyard standby), and this finishes  long and spicy.

If you’re looking for a wedding wine or party wine this summer, this deserves serious consideration (it sports a classy label too). Use it as your house red and watch the visits to your home dramatically increase in frequency. I’m going to open this up to 60 bottles, first come first served. I’m sure restaurants and retailers will go hard after this wine, so I can’t speak to availability on reorder. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.