2009 Buty Merlot-Cabernet Franc

July 30, 2011

Hello friends. We first offered this wine on February 23. I loved it back then (in that offering, I mentioned that it was in my top five wines tasted during my January Walla Walla trip), and since that initial offering, my love has been shared by several reviewers. So we’re reoffering the wine today, both in 750s and in splits (375ml half-bottles):

2009 Buty Merlot-Cabernet Franc

Original offering here.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($40); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($40); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

Shameful Self-Quoting from Original Offering (Paul Zitarelli): “Violets, sassafras, and black cherry give way to fine-grained tannins with flavors of cedar and green tea. Deep and powerful, this conveys intensity across the entire palate. A fine example of the muscular nature of Washington’s right-bank Bordeaux blends, without the need for massive new oak to prop it up.”

2009 Buty Merlot-Cabernet Franc (375ml)

I believe this is the first non-dessert wine we have offered in half-bottle format, so I have no idea what the general interest level is. We shall see, I suppose, and I would certainly consider seeking out more small-format bottlings if orders are strong here.

Splits serve all sorts of purposes. They’re easy to drink directly from bottle, they fit conveniently into many pants pockets, and they’re perhaps at their best as storage devices. Save your empty 375ml bottles, and when you drink half or three-quarters of a regular bottle, pour the remainder (funnels help here) into your split bottle for storage on the shelf or in the fridge. You’ll cut down the surface area that is exposed to oxygen, and your wines will stay fresher longer.

Finally, splits are just so darned cute to look at.

Please limit order requests to 12 regular bottles and 18 splits, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

Three Whites from 2010

July 26, 2011

Hello friends. Remember the last time we did a summer sampler offering? I didn’t either, so I had to go back and look: May 2. I’m not sure what witch’s brew of optimism, naiveté, and stupidity compelled me to tempt the northwest weather gods by offering a summer sampler on May 2, but the result was predictable: two months that only the Cloud Appreciation Society could love (Society motto: “We believe that clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them.” You may think I’m making this up. I’m not.)

But with summer rapidly emerging now, we all have pressing needs for the ultra-crisp white wines of the cool 2010 vintage. Growers that were able to avoid rot (noble and otherwise) in the vineyard ended up with low yields and with huge intensity at low alcohol levels. Here are three highlights from recent tastings of 2010 whites:

2010 L’Ecole 41 Chenin Blanc

The latest in our Save The Chenin series (series motto: “The way to save good, old-vine Chenin is to drink more good, old-vine Chenin.” Better or worse than the Cloud Appreciation Society motto? Jury’s out.), and to be fair, L’Ecole 41 has been the standard-bearer for Washington Chenin Blanc for some time now. Jean Ferguson, one of the founders of L’Ecole, was a huge Vouvray fan, and the winery has been crafting Chenin Blancs since 1987.

This comes from two equally old plots, both planted in 1979. The first is Willard Family Farms in the Rattlesnake Hills, and the second is Phil Church Vineyard, another Yakima Valley site. Fruit was allowed to hang until Halloween, and even still, the finished alcohol is just 13.5%. This drinks mostly dry, despite 1.5% residual sugar, due to the palate-thrilling amounts of acid (9.3g/l).

It’s a beautiful rendition of off-dry Chenin. Aromatics are mostly in the tree fruit family, with pear skin at the fore, but there are floral grace notes (lilac?) that lift this into rarefied air. Jazzy acids on the palate convey melon and hay, and present a wine that is undeniably refreshing.

2010 Tempus Cellars Riesling Evergreen Vineyard

We have offered the 2009 vintage of this single-vineyard Riesling, so those of you building verticals should pay attention here. Bottlings like this continue to stake Evergreen Vineyard’s claim as the finest Riesling site in the state. While Evergreen is right now part of the greater Columbia Valley AVA, there is a movement afoot to establish an Ancient Lakes sub-appellation, of which Evergreen would be the shining star. What is unique about this site is that it’s essentially a giant uplifted bed of caliche (calcium carbonate), and that soil seems to impart a minerality that makes us Riesling lovers swoon with delight.

This is, to the best of my knowledge, the driest Riesling produced from Evergreen. Residual sugar here is 1.3%, and finished alcohol is 12.8%. I first tasted this wine in a blind Riesling flight that included many of the stars in the Washington Riesling firmament. This was my highest-rated wine of the group, a focused, alpine beam of key lime, tangerine, and rocks. I loved it for its purity, its minerality, and its ridiculously fresh acidity.

I don’t have the associated text yet, but this wine will receive 90pts from Paul Gregutt in a future issue of Wine Enthusiast.

2010 Sleight of Hand Cellars Magician Evergreen Vineyard

Riesling and Gewurztraminer are like smoke and fire: where you find one, you usually find the other. So let’s stay up on the caliche rock and check out Evergreen Vineyard Gewurztraminer, courtesy of Trey Busch’s Sleight of Hand. He has been making the Magician since 2006, and while the blend of Gewurz and Riesling has changed (this year it’s a full 85% Gewurz), the constant has been vintage-by-vintage improvement.

Might as well complete the trio for you stat-heads out there: this one has finished alcohol of 12.5%, residual sugar of 1.1%, and total acidity at 8.2g/l. That acidity is lower than the other two wines, which makes sense, since the big G is a notoriously fatter grape than the other two. Because both the sugar and acid are lower here, this actually drinks quite similarly to the other two: just this side of dry.

There is nothing like good Gewurztraminer when it comes to aromatics. Like a flower-drenched fruit salad spilling out of the glass: grapey and tropical in turn. Grapes and limes and minerals dance across the palate, and this contains serious inner-mouth perfume. This drinks spritzy enough that I think there’s a touch of dissolved CO2 in there, and that (along with the vibrant acids), adds lift and cut to a thoroughly beautiful wine.

This is the only wine of the three that has yet been reviewed (who wants to wait around for reviews and sacrifice freshness?):

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

First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit), 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.

Two Wines from Blacksmith

July 22, 2011

Hello friends. I love the Blacksmith project from Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars. Intended to take advantage of unique opportunities on the spot market, this is a label where 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 bottlings are fireflies, blinking in and out of existence so fast that you wonder if you really saw them at all. We offered the first Blacksmith release (a very cool Columbia Gorge Pinot Noir) back in November, and it has been awhile since the Blacksmith fireflies have blinked.

But here they are again, back for a moment in ephemeral glory:

2010 Blacksmith Chardonnay

Marie-Eve studied at the University of Dijon and worked at several Burgundian wineries before landing in our fair state. There are rumors, in fact, that it is not blood but instead Chardonnay that actually flows through Marie’s veins. Her Chardonnays under the Forgeron label are legendary, and this is a chance to access that style at a lower tariff.

We’re greeted here with a fine Chardonnay nose: one of those whiffs that could be nothing else. And honestly, at this price point, typicity is half the battle. The palate is a swirling mass of papaya, mineral, and green apple. There are biscuity subtleties here that lead me to believe this spent some time on its lees, which has also gussied up the mouthfeel. The body conveyed is medium: neither the fat style in vogue ten years ago nor the lean, steely style that is in vogue today (a reactionary movement that has, I’m afraid, veered into overreaction). No, this is right down the middle, with the textural improvements from the oxygenating effects of neutral barrels but without any overt oak flavors. Balanced, vibrant, and lovely, this is a clever bottle of Chardonnay.

2008 Blacksmith Merlot

Merlot is another varietal that has staked Marie’s reputation at Forgeron, although this can only barely be called Merlot. There are solid chunks (12% each) of Petit Verdot and Zinfandel in the mix, salt and pepper to season up a fine Merlot core. And this indeed smells and tastes like Washington Merlot, all red cherry pastille and eucalyptus. It conveys intensity and power rarely seen at a teens tariff.

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 2008 Pinots from Westrey

July 19, 2011

Hello friends. My final appointment during my recent swing through the Willamette Valley may have been my best. While Westrey wines aren’t exactly unknowns, I would classify them as underknown. I was turned onto Westrey first by the fact that two notorious finesse chasers, Allan Meadows of Burghound and Josh Raynolds of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, both give the Pinots consistently high marks. Here is Meadows in his most recent Producer Note for Westrey (from the January 30, 2010 Burghound):

“Co-winemakers, Amy Wesselman and David Autrey founded Westrey Wine Company in 1993. In addition to wide experience with various wineries in Oregon, they have also worked for Domaines de l’Arlot and Dujac. The wines consistently evidence real purity of expression and there is very little, indeed often no, overt oak influence. Retail prices are generally in the $20 to $30 range and I believe the wines represent fine comparative value for the money.”

I had the pleasure of meeting David Autrey, one half of the couple behind Westrey (Amy Wesselman is the other half) in their inconspicuous warehouse that sits less than 500 feet from Eyrie’s winery. I doubt that’s a coincidence, considering that David referenced David Lett as a major influence, and there are clear stylistic similarities between the two houses. Apparently winemaking osmosis is effective at distances under 500 feet.

Amy and David were both philosophy majors at Reed College in Oregon. So rest easy, mothers and fathers of philosophy majors: you have potential future winemakers in your midst. David worked the ’89 (Adam Winery; now defunct) and ’90 (Cameron) vintages in the Willamette Valley before spending the ’91 vintage in Burgundy at Domaine Dujac. Returning to the WV in ’92, David worked one more harvest (this time with Bethel Heights and Rex Hill), before launching Westrey in 1993 at a total production of 400 cases.

The current Westrey lineup includes Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and three single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. The Burgundian influence (earth, acid, elegance) is undeniable here. So too is the Eyrie influence. When David Autrey says that he and Amy “celebrate vintage variation,” that might as well be the ghost of David Lett talking.

Today we’re offering the Willamette Valley Pinot and one of the single-vineyard Pinot bottlings. Both wines are from the 2008 vintage. I have mentioned on several occasions that 2008 is generally regarded in Oregon as a beautiful, effortless vintage, but perhaps no one put a finer point on it than David Autrey, who described it as “a beer-drinking vintage.”

When you source Pinot from outstanding vineyards in a perfect year, what else is there to do but watch the fermenters gurgle happily and reach for an ice-cold brew?

2008 Westrey Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

This is an exciting one for me, because it’s 2008-vintage fruit from an outstanding producer, and we can nudge the TPU price just under $20. I’m hoping that many of you who haven’t yet dipped your toes in the water of Oregon Pinot will consider doing so here, as this is a strong example at this price point (as I have mentioned previously, under-$20 Oregon Pinot is a category to terrify the uninitiated).

Vineyard sources represent a broad swath of the Willamette: Oracle, Momtazi, Wilson Vineyard, and even a little Abbey Ridge. The nose here needs to be nudged out of some initial reticence, so giving this a little time in the decanter or the glass would probably be wise. But it doesn’t take long before this wine unfurls, a mishmash of black cherry and meat stick, with an alluring crème de menthe topnote. That minty freshness continues onto the palate, wending its way through a high-toned, fruity-earthy core. This could easily be mistaken for a nice bourgogne rouge and is priced to be competitive with that category.

2008 Westrey Pinot Noir Abbey Ridge Vineyard

Abbey Ridge Vineyard sits towards the northern reaches of the Dundee Hills. It is the highest-elevation site Westrey works with and consistently results in spectacular finished wines. I have tasted the 07, 08, and 09 vintages; all are high-pitched and delicate; all give the taster that come-hither look.

The vineyard was planted in 1977, making it one of the oldest in the Willamette Valley. It is also dry-farmed (the area gets enough rain to render irrigation unnecessary). Natural yields come in at between 2 and 2.5 tons per acre, yielding wines with real depth of character and earthy sensibilities. Of the eleven barrels in 2008 (271 cases total production), only three were new (27%), and so the oak aroma/flavor influence is fleeting if you can catch it at all. No, it’s the mountain fruit, and more to the point, the mountain soil, that plays lead role here.

The nose is downright stanky, with a wonderful musky funk, a profound earthiness, that kept me coming back to the glass again and again before taking a sip. Soil-driven all the way, this weaves in layers of red raspberry, sour cherry, leather, and spice. What is noteworthy on the palate is the inner-mouth energy. This explodes onto the palate and just won’t quit. A gorgeous example of confident winemaking and stellar raw materials: high-elevation Oregon Pinot at its funky finest.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Josh Raynolds): “($38); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

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

Two Cabernets from Seven Hills

July 15, 2011

Hello friends. Single-vineyard, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is rare. Many in the wine trade hew to the philosophy that Syrah is the grape for vineyard expression, Cabernet for varietal expression. Syrah tastes of site and Cab tastes of, well, Cab. Syrah for the intellectuals, Cabernet for the aesthetes.

Well who is looking out for those of us who want both: who want our brains and our senses tickled?

Casey McClellan; that’s who.

It takes chutzpah to make single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Much safer, many suppose, to flesh it out with a little Merlot, to juice up the aromatics with a splash of Petit Verdot. And thus in the pursuit of beauty, a little verity is sacrificed.

Fortunately, Casey McClellan is a vineyard savant, and he has been making wine for long enough (since 1988) that he has the confidence to let the vineyards speak for themselves. When trends in the late ‘90s and early aughts shifted towards higher alcohol and more oak, Casey stood firm, and it has been fascinating to watch the pendulum shift back towards his style (low-alc, low-oak, purity of expression) in the past few years.

He is a grower’s winemaker, mentioned unbidden by a host of vineyard managers, who all mention him as one of the earliest pickers and one of the truest conduits for the expression of their sites. He has access to some of the oldest blocks of Cabernet in the state, and we have two of those Cabernets today.

They are treated nearly identically: picked at similar brix such that the finished alcohol is 13.7% for one, 13.8% for the other; aged for 18 months in 40% new French oak and about another year in bottle before release. Both have proven aging curves of up to 20 years, and both can be delightfully fresh in their youths.

2008 Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard

From the 1980 block at Seven Hills Vineyard, among the oldest commercial Cabernet in the Walla Walla Valley. This is the more feminine of the two, built on a framework of grace and elegance, class and polish:

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

2008 Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Klipsun Vineyard

From the 1989 block at Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain, this is dense, dark, and brooding: a bit of yang to the Seven Hills yin. The tannins are more pronounced here, and while both wines sport a core of tight black fruit, the nuances here are more mineral-driven, compared to herb- and leaf-driven subtleties in the Seven Hills bottling.

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

We have discounted tariffs on these wines and access to decent parcels of both. First come first served up to 12 bottles of each, and the wines should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

2009 Idilico Garnacha

July 13, 2011

Hello friends. Today we have our state’s resident Spaniard, producing a Garnacha that we can price under $20. Let’s dive in.

There is a real sense of joy behind this new label from Javier Alfonso of Pomum Cellars (for more on Javier for our list newbies, check out our first offering of Pomum, back in November 2009). It’s there on the label (I don’t have a bottle shot, but the spare Idilico website gives a good accounting of the style). It’s there in the bottle.

We offered the inaugural release from Idilico, a 2010 Albarino, back in early May. Now that the sun is finally beginning to shine here in naked-mole-rat territory (note: that is a real picture of a Seattle resident emerging from his cave in early July), I have started to receive reorder requests for that brilliant white.

And, of course, by the vagaries of this beverage we hold so dear, the Albarino is sold out. Pretty impressive that 140 cases of a 2010 white released in May is sold out by the end of June, and you can bet Javier and the denHoeds will be planting more Albarino just as soon as they can find their backhoes.

But all is not lost. While we no longer have access to the white that you should be drinking while your burgers are on the grill, we now have access to the red that you should be drinking when your burgers come off the grill.

Javier’s first red wine under the Idilico label is a Garnacha (Grenache, for those Iberian-impaired among us). No surprise there, as Garnacha and Tempranillo are the twin queens of Spanish varietals. The goal with Idilico is to spread the gospel of Spanish varietals, and that means unfussy wines at accessible price points. The lineup will get geekier from here. Look for future bottlings of Monastrel, Graciano, Verdejo, Viura, and Mencia.

But today we have glorious Garnacha: a peppery pastiche of ripe raspberry fruit on the nose giving way to more pepper-dusted red cherry and raspberry on the palate. This displays fine purity of fruit and wet-stone nuances that belie the price point. It’s summer BBQ deck wine, and it wants to be drunk right now, in all it youthful vigor and freshness.

The vineyard source here is Upland on Snipes Mountain, a site that is proving its mettle when it comes to Grenache. It’s the same site Bob Betz uses for much of his Besoleil and that Jon Martinez uses for his Montagnette Grenache for Maison Bleue. Steeply sloped and south-facing, it’s a gravelly vineyard, and that minerality really seems to shine through in the Grenache grapes, which is why it’s so highly prized by Garnachaphiles.

Javier made exactly three barrels of this (all neutral barrels), so total case production is 74 cases. That, unfortunately, means order limits today and unlikely opportunities for reorders going forward. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. 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.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon

July 11, 2011

Hello friends. There have been two themes to much of the feedback I have received so far regarding our foray into Oregon wines: 1) where is this 2008 vintage everyone keeps raving about; and 2) can we see more examples of Pinot that veer more towards Burgundy than, say, California.

Well, squeaky wheels, here’s your grease, in both 750s and in rarer 1.5L magnums (note: a few of you have specifically requested the 07 Laurene as well. It won’t be the focus of this offering, but I will include it at the bottom):

2008 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

This paragraph in our inaugural Oregon offering seems to have piqued some interest:

“By 1970, The Eyrie Vineyards was producing wine, but it wasn’t until 1980 that the landscape shifted seismically. That was the year that Robert Drouhin included the 1975 Eyrie Vineyards South Block Reserve Pinot Noir in a blind tasting against many of Maison Joseph Drouhin’s finest Burgundies. Finishing in first place: one of Drouhin’s 1959 Pinots; and in second, two-tenths of a point behind, was The Eyrie Vineyards. That event set in motion the eventual move by Drouhin to establish an Oregonian outpost, which they did with the establishment of Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1987.”

The ‘80s have been eventful decades for the Drouhin family. In the 1880s, Joseph Drouhin founded Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune. One hundred years later, in 1987, the house expanded into Oregon.

Joseph’s grandson Robert was the true visionary when it came to Oregon. He first visited the area in 1961 and was intrigued by the potential of the marginal climate and gently rolling hillsides. The 1980 tasting mentioned above further cemented his interest in the region. And in 1986, Robert’s daughter Veronique (part of the fourth generation of Drouhins involved in wine) was graduating from the University of Dijon with her advanced enology degree. Rather than interning in Burgundy, she made the fateful decision to intern in Oregon, working the 1986 harvest with Adelsheim, Bethel Heights, and Eyrie.

While Veronique was at Adelsheim, Robert expressed to David Adelsheim that it might be interesting for his Maison to farm a piece of land in Oregon. Just a few months later, David alerted Robert to the availability of a 225-acre farm for sale that had been growing wheat and Christmas trees in the heart of the red jory soils of the Dundee Hills. The purchase was completed in 1987, and DDO was born.

Veronique never really left. She began DDO with the 1988 vintage, using purchased fruit and working out of Chehalem’s winery, and she has since produced every drop of wine that has come out of the Oregon Domaine. That first 1988 DDO Pinot prompted the following quote from UK critic Clive Coates: “Right from the beginning, one property seemed to be able to produce a wine which was purer, more cleanly fruity, and certainly more Burgundian than the others. It was, of course, Domaine Drouhin.”

The 1990s and 2000s have seen the establishment and maturity of much of the DDO vineyard holdings, and the wines have only grown stronger and stronger. The 2008 vintage was, by all accounts, a dream vintage. Some sample quotes from DDO regarding 2008: “Some years make you work very hard for what you get, others, like 2008, let you breathe a bit and appreciate how wonderful it is to make wine in Oregon.” “The fruit is hand-picked and brought to the winery in small totes for sorting (though virtually no sorting was required in 2008).”

This is the vintage where two different winemakers have repeated essentially the same quote to me: that a monkey could make good Oregon Pinot in 2008. But what about the top producers in a top vintage? Is there anything better?

The 08 is killer juice, one of those wines that’s fun for blind tastings, because half the group will be in the old world camp and half in the new. And in some ways, everyone will be right. This has immediate appeal on the nose, which is layered and complex. Black cherry and fig paste lead the way, but it’s the background saline/seaweed/umami notes that cause the double takes and the return to the glass over and over again. There is a fine sense of balance at work here, between savory and sweet, between fruity and earthy. It’s as fine-tuned as a Steinway, and brings as much aesthetic pleasure.

First come first served up to 12 bottles, 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.

2008 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (1.5L)

For those of you looking for a fine centerpiece to a cellar or dinner party, or for those looking to hold these a little longer, we have a limited number of large format bottles.

Please limit order requests to 3 magnums, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. 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.

2007 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir “Laurene”

Requests for this have come entirely from acolytes of Allen Meadows. Allen is the author of Burghound, he is a Pinot Noir savant, and he is a tough scorer (like Stephen Tanzer, it’s a good idea to apply about a 3pt curve when comparing his scores to other publications).

Laurene (a barrel selection of the best estate fruit, named after one of Veronique’s children) was the highest-scoring 2007 Oregon Pinot in Burghound:

Burghound (Allen Meadows): “($65); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. 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.