2008 Baer Winery “Ursa”

June 30, 2011

Hello friends. Quick offering today, and then a rest for all those beleaguered inboxes out there. Our next offering isn’t scheduled until Tuesday, and in the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the long weekend and the beginning of summer, hopefully with an ice-cold white or rosé.

I have had a flood of requests for this since Tuesday, when Wine Spectator Advance was released. I haven’t tasted the wine yet (it was only released in mid-April), but previous vintages have been excellent, and the style here looks consistent with vintages past (five-varietal BDX blend, all from Stillwater Creek Vineyard, 80% new French oak).

Here’s what all the fuss is about:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

That review will appear in the August 31 Wine Spectator. Spectator looks at three main factors when putting together their Top 100: quality (score), price, and availability (production). As an example, the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet that took the top spot in 2009 was 95pts, $27, 5000 cases. Today’s wine is 95pts, $35, and about 1100 cases.

Do I think it will be the #1 wine of 2011? No. Spectator seems to spread the wealth around to many different regions, so I suspect it will be years before another Washington wine takes the top honor. But this is the strongest candidate I have seen this year to land in the eventual Top 100, and of course by the time that list is revealed in December this wine will be gone.

We’re moving quickly here, so I can set order limits at 12 bottles (reorder prospects are much murkier). We’ll do our best to fulfill all requests, and the wine should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

Two 09 Pinots from Patty Green

June 29, 2011

Hello friends. My first visit on my recent Willamette Valley research trip was with Jim Anderson at Patricia Green Cellars, and it was about as strong a start as I could have hoped for.

Jim and Patty worked at Torii Mor from 1993 until 2000, at which point they purchased and renamed a winery/vineyard that was then called Autumn Wind. Patty already had a sterling reputation in the valley, and her wines were immediately sought after. Many of the single-vineyard Pinot offerings are sold entirely through futures, and this is another set of wines that is quite difficult to source in Oregon but a little easier away from home.

To say that the winery has a broad selection of Pinot Noirs is the height of understatement. To wit: see the CellarTracker listing of Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noirs.

No, we didn’t taste the entire lineup (if we did, that would have been my first and last stop of the trip), but we did taste broadly, enough that a house style began to emerge. That style is very much Oregon, a cross between the haunting, earthy aromatics of Burgundy and the outrageously delicious fruit of the new world.

What Patty (the winemaker) and Jim (the cellarmaster) do that’s brilliant is this: they hold many variables constant so those that change (vintage, vineyard) shine through transparently. A few examples of constants: 1) fruit age: they limit their purchased fruit to vines that are at least 20 years old; 2) clonal selection: they source almost exclusively Pommard and Wadenswil; 3) cooperage: they use exclusively Cadus French oak.

This makes a tasting across multiple vineyards from one vintage (as we did with many of their 2009s) deeply exciting, because the differences (which are obvious) can only come from one place: terroir.

And that right there is what gets people excited about Pinot Noir: its ability, more than perhaps any other grape (Riesling advocates could put a good fight here), to transparently express the soil in which it’s grown.

2009 Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve

I want to start with the Reserve not because it is vineyard-expressive (this is the one Pinot in the lineup that comes from multiple sites) but because the pricing is just ridiculous. You can’t even call the $20 Oregon Pinot category a minefield. It’s more like a giant landmine with microscopic swaths of clear field. I mean, it’s not as scary as, say, $20 Burgundy, but it’s pretty close.

So when I taste strong Oregon Pinot Noir, priced for exploration, I go after it. This wine is always made in an approachable style, and 2009 was an approachable vintage, so this bottle is ready to go. Right now. Made from declassified barrels from many of the single-vineyard offerings, it’s rich and quaffable, with tannins pounded to a pillowy softness. Aromatics are awfully complex for this price point, with notes of smoke and forest floor wafting over the base of red and black berry fruit.

All told, it’s a lovely introduction to confidently-made, well-priced Oregon Pinot Noir.

2009 Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Estate Old Vines

Now we’re getting into the single-vineyard goodies, and what better place to start than with the estate vineyard. This bottling comes specifically from the oldest vines on the property (see location here), planted mostly in 1986 and 1987.

Much of Ribbon Ridge, including this vineyard, sits on a series of uplifted, marine sedimentary soils. In other words, this is former ocean bottom, for, oh, about 35 million years.

The Pinots that come out of this area can be glorious, and this is a fine example, with haunting aromatics. It’s all smoke and rock and roses on the knockout nose. The palate sees a continuation, with a big rock/mineral core lifted by red fruits. This is texturally classy as well, with fine-grained tannins conveying a real silken quality to the fruit. It’s a fine introduction to the Patty Green style, and a gateway drug for the higher-end single vineyard bottlings.

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

Two 2008s from Sheridan

June 28, 2011

Hello friends. I’m going to keep today’s offering short, as we have limited quantities on both these wines, and there has been massive interest from the list for previous Sheridan offerings. For more details on Sheridan, you can read previous offerings here, here, here, and here. The condensed, salient points: first, Scott Greer is a Yakima Valley vigneron, managing these wines from grape to bottle (all of the Sheridan wines come from the estate Sheridan Vineyards, planted in 1997). Second, he has developed a clear house style: richly fruited and lushly textured, unabashedly generous and unapologetically new-world.

The deal with today’s offering is that we’re essentially getting a pre-release parcel. These wines will not be officially released until autumn, and right now, the only people in Seattle with access are Sheridan Wine Club members and Sullivan’s Steakhouse. Because we’re getting in early (before the Wine Advocate scores are released; apparently Jay Miller just tasted the 08s last week), we’re getting a slightly larger parcel than last year. But it is the only parcel we will receive, and these will not be available for reorder.

2008 Sheridan Vineyard Cabernet Franc

100% Cabernet Franc from Sheridan Vineyards, this is frequently the most irresistible wine of the Sheridan lineup for me. Why? Because it has the savory character unique to Franc: a big, earthen mix of olive and beet and roasted tomato to balance all that lush, black fruit. Deeply concentrated and endlessly intense, this is one to stain the palate and linger.

Scores in Wine Advocate have been climbing the ladder for this wine. The last three vintages reviewed (2005-07): 90pts, 92pts, 94pts. (If my math is right, that means the 2011 vintage is poised to receive 102pts.) Here’s the review of the most recent (2007) vintage:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “[2007 VINTAGE]; [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts. [Note: this is for the previous, 2007 vintage].”

2008 Sheridan Vineyard L’Orage (BDX Blend)

About a two-thirds/one-third split of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this pushes the savories to the background, and the fruit really plays a beautiful starring role here. There is layer upon layer of sweetly-scented fruit here: blackberries, cassis, black cherries, raisins, veering with time towards tropical and even some stone fruit (there is something deliciously peachy about this wine), all swaddled in luscious barrel notes. This has sap and intensity to spare, and offers a finishing lick of cherry-black-tea tannins.

This, too, has been climbing the ladder. The last three vintages reviewed (2005-07): 90pts, 94pts, 95pts. Here’s the review of the most recent (2007) vintage:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “[2007 VINTAGE]; [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts. [Note: this is for the previous, 2007 vintage].”

As I mentioned, our parcel has grown a bit compared to last year, but our list has grown, too, so order limits can only climb a little. Please limit order requests to 3 bottles of each wine, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in 2-3 weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

Two from COR Cellars

June 26, 2011

Hello friends. Quick weekend offering for two of the most exciting wines I tasted during my recent trip to the Columbia Gorge AVA.

Luke Bradford is one of the young winemakers exploring the outer reaches of this AVA’s capabilities. After working harvests in Italy (Tuscany and then Sicily), he landed in the Columbia Gorge, where he took on assistant roles first at Wind River Cellars, and then with the Jedi Master of the Gorge, James Mantone of Syncline Cellars.

The time with James was clearly influential, both on the style of Luke’s wines and the vineyards he’s able to source. What I like about the COR lineup is that they’re honest, unfussy examples of grape and place, priced at a level that encourages exploration.

2010 Cor Cellars “Alba” (Celilo Vineyard)

Long-term list members know the way I feel about aromatic whites from Celilo Vineyard. The southern flank of Underwood Mountain might be the best marriage of site to grapes that we have in the state. We have previously offered Celilo Gewurztraminer (Dowsett Family) and Celilo Pinot Gris (Ross Andrew). This is a wine that combines the two (52% PG/48% Gewurz).

I have always liked this blend, but 2010 sets a new standard. For one thing, the grapes were picked on the same day and cofermented. And they were cofermented in an awfully cool vessel: a Nomblot concrete fermenter (this is what they look like). This is the fourth winery I know of in Washington using these concrete cubes (Cayuse, Syncline, and Buty are the others). The idea is that concrete gives some of the same oxygenating effects as oak without imparting any flavor; perfect for wines where the winemaker is seeking vibrancy and richness without overt oak.

And that’s exactly what we have here. With 12.1% finished alcohol, loads of acidity, and just enough balancing sugar (this drinks just off-dry), this is a killer summertime beverage. The nose is all Gewurztraminer: huge floral notes, lychee fruit, other tropical fruits, and an appealing muskiness to it all. The Pinot Gris comes through on the palate, with green apple and honey to pair with the more tropical notes from the Gewurz. And because it’s Celilo, there’s a lovely mineral spine too, with rocky vertebrae expanding into each sip.

2008 Cor Cellars Malbec

Here is a rarity: Columbia Gorge Malbec. (Did you think I was going to say “Washington Malbec under $20?” Because yes, that’s a rarity too).

In an only-in-the-Gorge story, Luke sourced these grapes from his UPS driver, who happens to also be the owner of Hogback Ridge Vineyard, a small site near The Dalles on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. To say it’s a small world down there might be a pretty severe understatement.

Regardless, this is lovely Malbec, with a terrific brambly intensity to its boysenberry and blackberry fruit. In my notes, I have “lively” written three times (hopefully a sign of this wine’s liveliness and not of my diminishing vocabulary). There are veins both savory (poblano) and bitter (grapefruit pith) running through this wine, which offers unexpected complexity and length at this price point.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($22); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 18+/20pts.”

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

2009s from Maison Bleue

June 24, 2011

Hello friends. In our most recent Maison Bleue offering, last August, I referred to winemaker Jon Martinez as a rising star. Jay Miller, writing in last August’s Wine Advocate, wrote: “Maison Bleue Family Winery may be the most compelling new producer uncovered in my 2010 trip to Washington.” He proceeded to review seven of Jon’s wines, with all scoring between 90 and 94pts.

I think at this point we can drop the “rising,” as Maison Bleue’s new 2009 reds put the winery squarely in the ascendancy. Here is Paul Gregutt writing recently about the new wines: “Maison Bleue’s Jon Martinez has put his focus squarely on Yakima valley vineyards. His newest wines are his best ever. He is sourcing grapes from superb sites such as Boushey, Olsen, Upland, and his own French Creek. Rhône varieties and blends are the stock in trade, and belong in the first rank of such wines being made anywhere in this country. The word is getting out, so if you want these wines, get on the mailing list now.”

Or, I suppose, get them here.

2009 Maison Bleue Grenache “La Montagnette” Upland Vineyard

We offered the previous vintage of this wine (93pts Jay Miller), and it was immensely popular, generating numerous reorder requests. I wasn’t able to fulfill most of them, as this wine sold out quickly (it has been months, in fact, since Jon has had any red wines available for purchase).

The vineyard source changed in 2009, as Jon has consolidated his entire vineyard portfolio to the Yakima Valley (previously this was sourced from Alder Ridge; now from Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain). The style, however, remains the same: this is the big boy of the lineup. Ripe, lush, penetrating fruit is the star here, as this saw only four-year-old barrels.

This already has a strong review from Rand Sealey, and it presents our second chance to play Guess That Score with Paul Gregutt’s blog.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

For an introduction to Guess That Score (and my rant about scores generally), see this offering. In this case, here’s Paul Gregutt from a recent blog post: PaulGregutt.com (Paul Gregutt): “($35); As fine a Grenache as I have yet tasted from Washington state, this aching purity of the fruit, married to the density, focus and minerality, is breathtaking.”

The strongest reviews I can find from PaulG for Washington Grenache are a pair of 93pts for the 2005 and 2007 Cayuse God Only Knows Grenache. So I’m pegging this in the 93pt-95pt range for its eventual Wine Enthusiast review, with a best guess of 94pts.

At only 104 cases produced, I suspect this will be long gone before that review comes out.

2009 Maison Bleue “Graviere” Upland Vineyard Rhone Blend

Clearly Jon has found a muse with Upland Vineyard, as this, Jon’s first GSM blend, also comes entirely from that Snipes Mountain site. Planted at elevations from 750-1300ft, the vineyard sits on gravelly soil, with stones ranging from the size of pebbles to cantaloupes. Here Jon has blended 50% Syrah with a quarter each Grenache and Mourvedre. Again, there isn’t a hint of new wood used here; all barrels range from three to five years old, so it’s the fruit that provides the intensity and the backbone for these wines.

Glass-staining purple-black in color, this displays real purity on the overtly pretty nose: it’s all boysenberries and blossoms. And this is a wine that stains the palate much as it stains the glass, with deep, intense flavors of blackberry and roasted meats. There are nuances of crushed rock, bark, and leaf that ramp up the complexity. The overall product is memorable, especially considering it is Jon’s first foray into this particular blend.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($40); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD] 19.5/20pts.”

Given the strong praise PaulG gave to La Montagnette, I was shocked to see that it was Graviere that was the choice for his Top Ten Washington Wines of May. And so, for Guess That Score, I can only draw one conclusion: that Graviere will receive a slightly higher score. I’m ranging this at 94pts-96pts, with a best guess of 95pts:

PaulGregutt.com (Paul Gregutt): “($40); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. ”

2009 Maison Bleue Roussanne “Soleil” Olsen Vineyard

Finally, a little treat for those of you who didn’t sample this the first time we offered it. This is a rarity – varietal Roussanne from Washington – and it’s drinking great right now. I grabbed what I believe is the final parcel of this in Western Washington, and it is set to receive a great review from Paul Gregutt in the July issue of Wine Enthusiast:

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

This wine already had strong reviews from Sean Sullivan (#20 in his Top Wines of 2010) and Rand Sealey:

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

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

These wines showcase breathtaking purity and a young winemaker at the top of his game. I wish I had endless quantities, but alas, it’s not the case. Please limit order requests to 6 x Montagnette, 3 x Graviere, and 6 x Roussanne, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. All these wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

2008 Obelisco Estate Red Wine

June 22, 2011

Hello friends. Our offering today is an estate-grown, Red Mountain, Cabernet-dominant Bordeaux blend, on discount, for less than $25.

Shall I drop the pen and walk away?

For those of you still with me, here’s the deal with this wine. It comes entirely from Obelisco Estate Vineyard, a newish site planted high on Red Mountain (here’s the location). These higher-elevation vineyards on Red Mountain are generating intense excitement, and bottles like this will only increase the buzz.

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

The winemakers for Obelisco are the Hedges team of Sara Goedhart and Pete Hedges, about as experienced a pair as you can find on Red Mountain. Because this is high-altitude wine, the alcohol is kept in check at 13.7%, and the natural fruit acids are just gorgeous here. Most red wines in the $20-$30 range are inappropriate for aging beyond a year or two. This is a clear exception, a wine that will easily hold up for 10-15 years.

But only if you can resist its youthful charms, and they are seductive indeed.

There is a goodly amount of Hungarian oak used for this wine, and I have to say, I’m quietly very attracted to Hungarian wood (not sure that sentence finished the way I intended). It costs nearly as much as good French oak, significantly more than American oak, and I can see why. It imparts on this wine a clear coffee-bean, café au lait aromatic note that perfectly complements the cassis from the 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. And it adds a sense of smokiness that is downright sultry.

Beautifully supple on the palate, it’s the silky texture that you notice immediately. Classy winemaking is at work here, and this is a balanced delight, with a fat tarry streak running down the middle of all that blackcurrant fruit. The Cabernet is rounded out with 25% Merlot and 5% Malbec, and the fruit seems to gain power across the palate, finishing broad and long. This is certainly one of the stronger QPR wines I have tasted this year and presents a rare chance to taste Red Mountain terroir at a manageable tariff.

The quality-for-price here makes this an attractive choice for weddings and parties this summer, so let’s open it up to 60 bottles, first come first served, and this wine should arrive in the warehouse in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

2007 Tero Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Windrow Vineyard

June 20, 2011

Hello friends. We have a special wine today, Cabernet Sauvignon from the oldest commercial Cabernet vines in the Walla Walla Valley:

This is another under-the-radar, rising-star Walla Walla Valley winery that you absolutely must know about. Anyone visiting the valley this summer would do well to make an appointment with Doug and Jan Roskelley to visit the beautiful winery that they have built in the vineyard. (Note: they have recently opened a Tero tasting room in the Marcus-Whitman hotel, but for the real experience, I implore you: get out into the vineyard if you can).

Windrow Vineyard (see location here) was part of the original Seven Hills Vineyard, planted in 1980. The original site was split in the mid-90s, and the parcel that was sold kept the Seven Hills name. The remainder became Windrow.

The name makes sense when you visit, as there is a regular breeze that blows through this southwest part of the Walla Walla Valley. It’s one of the factors that makes this such a suitable spot for Cabernet. Wind, as many of you know, causes grapes to develop thicker skins, which eventually imparts those wonderfully sweet tannins that we all associate with the best Cabernet bottlings.

And this is spectacular Cabernet, the flagship in a fine lineup of wines that Doug recently poured on a Thursday morning in the warehouse (nice way to start the day!). What is immediately striking here is the high tone of the outlandishly beautiful aromatics. We get plenty of dark, brooding Cabernet in this state, but a bottle like this, all full of violets and lavender and strawberry blossoms, is a rarity, and a revelation. It’s a wine with aromatics aching in their beauty, difficult to sip because sipping takes you one step closer to not being able to sniff again.

But okay, at some point you will just need to take the plunge, and then the carnival continues. Texturally brilliant, this presents depth and intensity, precision and power; the hallmarks of fine Cabernet. The fruit core is red cherry and strawberry, elevated by nuances of leaf and flower. Considering that this was Doug’s first vintage in the vineyard and the winery (after purchasing Windrow in early 2007), the achievement here is remarkable.

I suspect Doug is that rare breed who is simultaneously a fine farmer and a fine palate. Or, to put it more simply: he is a vigneron.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19+/20 points.”

The production is limited here (not surprising, I guess; the vineyard isn’t getting any bigger), at 268 cases, and very little of this finds its way to Seattle. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in 2-3 weeks, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.