2007 Nota Bene Syrah Columbia Valley

August 31, 2011

Hello friends. A form of collective madness has taken over the world, and we sane few are the beneficiaries.

Sometimes, when I’m presented with these opportunities, when beautiful Washington Syrah is being discounted just as it’s opening its peak window of drinkability, collective madness seems like the only explanation.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: wine is, in many ways, fashion. And isn’t fashion a form of collective madness? As Heidi Klum says: “One day you’re in, and the next day, you’re out.” (finally, after 331 offerings, a chance to quote a German supermodel!)

In 2007, Syrah was very much in, and a lot of it was produced. Now, in 2011, Syrah is out. Has the inherent quality changed? Of course not!

If this sounds like grousing, it’s not. I love the fact that wine is a fashion business, because those of us willing to go against the grain can find sterling opportunities, and that’s what we have today: a wine that was $30 on release, well-reviewed, from the beautiful 2007 vintage, and now on serious discount:

Tim Narby was, at one point, the Grape Procurement Officer for the Boeing Employee’s Wine and Beermaking Club, which has to be one of the sneaky-coolest jobs in the state. That position opened up access to incredible vineyards, and Tim took those contacts with him when he launched Nota Bene in 2001.

The Syrah in this wine, for example, comes from Stillwater Creek Vineyard (same source as much of Corliss Syrah) and Stonetree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. The 8% Grenache is also Stonetree and the 8% Mourvedre comes from Heart of the Hill on Red Mountain.

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

What you notice right away with this wine is that everything is perfectly proportioned; nothing is out of balance. It has all the components that make Washington Syrah compelling – rich, delicious fruit, nuances of soil and funk, roasted meat and roasted nut, black and white peppercorn – but none of the edges are rough. Some of that is quality winemaking; some of it is time in bottle. The end result is an integrated, balanced glass of wine. It just doesn’t make sense that this would cost less than $20, except in a world that has gone collectively mad.

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

2008 Rasa Vineyards Creative Impulse DuBrul Vineyard

August 29, 2011

Hello friends. Everyone who tastes this wine goes crazy for it. It was #4 on the just-released Seattle Met Magazine Top 100 list put together by Sean Sullivan. Jeb Dunnuck of The Rhone Report, who reviews (duh) Rhone varietals, took the time to make special mention of it in his recent newsletter. And Paul Gregutt will have the following review in September’s Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 97pts.”

Over the course of the summer, I have received a steady stream of requests for this wine, which has lately turned into a full-throated roar. It’s the real deal; an absolute jaw-dropper, and I just received confirmation on a small parcel, so here we go:

The Wine Enthusiast review puts the Creative Impulse into rarefied air and practically guarantees it a top-three place in PaulG’s end of year Top 100 list. Already a limited wine (at just 120 cases produced), the vast majority of this will be sold through Rasa’s private mailing list, and I consider us extremely lucky to have access to this small parcel; a result, I suspect, of our list’s support of Rasa from the beginning of Billo and Pinto Naravane’s adventure.

And in fact, my experience with this wine starts at their beginning, and at my own. During my first research trip for Full Pull, back in summer 2009, I made an appointment to taste through the Rasa wines with Billo. At the time, they didn’t have a winery (they were working out of Artifex), so we met at Billo’s new house in Walla Walla. The living room was filled with moving boxes, a white grand piano, and not much else.

But the dining room had everything we needed: a table, chairs, stemware, and spit buckets. We tasted through the lineup, which at the time was only the 2007 QED and 2007 Principia (both, of course, ultra-impressive). And as I started to say my goodbyes, Billo told me he had something else he wanted me to try, and came back with two glasses: the first a barrel sample of DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; the second a barrel sample of DuBrul Vineyard Merlot.

Even back then, it was obvious he was onto something special. The aromatics were insanely exotic for such young wines, and the structure was breathtaking. “I’m thinking,” Billo said, “of blending the two into a single-vineyard DuBrul bottling.” Two years later, Creative Impulse has arrived.

Despite its unparalleled reputation among Washington winemakers and wine insiders, I suspect that DuBrul Vineyard is still something of a hidden gem. To give you some sense of the quality of this site, planted in 1992 in a cool part of the Yakima Valley by Hugh and Kathy Shiels, I’d refer you to this Wine Spectator article, where Quilceda Creek winemaker Paul Golitzin says the following in regards to losing Champoux fruit this year due to frost damage: “To make up some of the loss we have contracted with DuBrul Vineyard for [some] Cabernet and Merlot.” When Quilceda Creek comes calling for your Cabernet and Merlot, you’re growing some serious fruit.

I had a chance to retaste the Creative Impulse recently (this time out of bottle), and oh the joy. There is an aromatic exoticism that is hard to pinpoint exactly, but it is alluring beyond measure. The flavors are a fruit smorgasbord of berry and citrus, and there are grace notes of mineral and cocoa and coffee, but what really gets me (and everyone else) is the texture. In the mouth, this contains such energy and vibrancy that I really do consider it a joyful wine. We’re lucky to live in a world with many beautiful objects of art, and this is one of them (and even better, you can drink it; every try to lick a Van Gogh painting? unpleasant to say the least!).

Now, some logistics: First, please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. This is a pre-release offering, and the wine is scheduled to arrive in the warehouse sometime in early November, at which point it will be available for pickup and will likely make it in time to ship during the autumn shipping window.

Three 2008s from Mark Ryan

August 26, 2011

Hello friends. I know many of you have enjoyed the Guess That Score game, where we set aside our self-serious hand-wringing about wine scores and enjoy the fun of prognosticating Paul Gregutt’s future Wine Enthusiast scores from comments in his blog. We have played the game three times now, and today we have our first results. When the September issue of Wine Enthusiast is released, it will include a review of the 2008 Mark Ryan Dead Horse. In honor of our first results, I’m reoffering that wine, as well as two others from Mark Ryan reviewed in the September Enthusiast:

2008 Mark Ryan “Dead Horse” (Red Mtn BDX Blend)

My original guess: 95pts. Here is the review:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

And my original tasting notes: “Dead Horse is one of three Bordeaux blends that Mark makes from Red Mountain (Long Haul and Water Witch are the others). It’s Cabernet-dominant, at 62% of the blend, rounded out with 15% Cab Franc, 12% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec, and all of it comes from the stellar duo of Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun, the yin-yang of elegance and power in the heart of Red Mountain. At its center sits a large core of Red Mountain minerality, all iron and earth, swaddled in barrel notes (92% new French here) of mocha and cream. The tannins here are prominent, ripe, and openly delicious. The surprise of this wine is its aromatic profile, whose prettiness and delicacy, whose lovely notes of lavender, strawberry, and raspberry bramble, belies the beast ahead.”

2008 Mark Ryan “Water Witch” Klipsun Vineyard (BDX Blend)

The Water Witch is a single-vineyard bottling, all from Klipsun on Red Mountain, and this blend too is Cab-dominant, at 62%, rounded out with 31% Merlot and 7% Malbec. This sees 20 months in 92% new French oak.

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

2008 Mark Ryan “Long Haul” (Red Mtn BDX Blend)

Here we have Mark McNeilly’s right-bank Bordeaux blend: 63% Merlot and 22% Cabernet Franc, rounded out with Petit Verdot and Malbec. It’s a beautiful cross-section of Red Mountain, including barrels from Klipsun, Ciel, Kiona, and Hedges.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

This wine also recently received Sean Sullivan’s highest rating:

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

Mix and match as you see fit up to 18 bottles total, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. All the wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

2009 Syrahs from Reynvaan Family Vineyards

August 24, 2011

Hello friends. This has a great chance to be our most popular offering of the year. Judging from the volume of e-mail and in-person questions I receive about Reynvaan, and the buzz that has continued to build this summer with the release of their massive Wine Spectator scores (several 95s) for the 2008 vintage (long-since sold out), it’s the only conclusion I can draw. And why not? The wines are spectacular.

Because of the staggering demand for these wines, I want to discuss logistics first. I need to place my final order on Tuesday, August 30, so please make sure all order requests are submitted by end of day on Monday, August 29. The wine should be delivered on September 14 and available for pickup on September 15 or any Thursday thereafter. They will ship during the autumn shipping window, and will almost certainly be unavailable for reorder.

Now, many of you know the story at this point and can skip ahead to the wines themselves. For those that don’t: in mid-2009 the Reynvaan family revealed that Christophe Baron (of the incomparable Cayuse Vineyards) had been consulting on their winery project since 2004, and that he had been involved in vineyard site selection, varietal selection, farming practices, and elevage. The news sparked a firestorm of demand for the wines (the 2007 vintage, their first, was about to be released) that hasn’t let up since.

It’s important to note that, ultimately, this is the Reynvaan family’s project. Matt Reynvaan has moved into the vigneron role with aplomb and is involved in every step of the winemaking process, in the vineyard and in the cellar. While stylistic comparisons between Cayuse and Reynvaan are inevitable (the two portfolios certainly both explore the earthy, funky, mineral, savory side of Syrah), the two labels are distinct to be sure.

The Reynvaan portfolio has attracted a massive, cult-like following in part because they push the outer limits of cofermentation, including as much as 11% white Rhone varietals in the coferment. The resulting aromatics are astonishing, and these wines display incredible energy and elegance in the mouth. They are gorgeous wines, among the best produced in the northwest, and I’m thrilled to have worked with the Reynvaan family since their first vintage. They are bottling magic in the cobblestones.

I tasted all four of these wines with Matt Reynvaan yesterday, and I recommend them without reservation. A mixed case would be best, as these are distinctive, and each is a must-smell, must-taste wine.

2009 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah “The Unnamed”

All of these Syrahs come from In The Rocks Vineyard. The differences are the barrels of Syrah selected for stylistic distinctions, and the amount of white grapes cofermented. The Unnamed sees a whopping 11% Viognier coferment, and this is typically the most open and accessible of the wines in its youth.

2009 is no exception, and if you go with a mixed case, this is the one to open first. It is already glorious in its aromatics, all smoke and earth and flowers and charred meat. In the mouth, it’s the most lithe and energetic of the lineup, with the softest tannins. While there is fruit here (cherry, apricot), the flavors truly run the savory gamut: seaweed, rare beef, green olive. Like all the Reynvaan wines, this contains a sturdy mineral spine.

Please limit order requests to no more than 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests.

2009 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah “In The Rocks”

The proportion of Viognier is cut in half (5%) compared to The Unnamed, and Matt Reynvaan here seems to be picking barrels with a deeper mineral cut and a fuller mouthfeel. Rare beef, iron, and smokey cherries on the nose give way to a wonderful palate: ultra-intense, and seeming to linger forever, this is a truly bloody swallow, all salty and sanguine. Remarkable.

Please limit order requests to no more than 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests.

2009 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah “The Contender”

In previous vintages, this is the wine that takes the longest to open up. It’s built that way, coming from the most structured barrels and containing the most textural heft. Contender also sees a coferment with the more rare Marsanne, and here, in the third vintage, the results are predictably beautiful. Aromatics are peppered slab bacon, olive, and rocks, and the texture here is something special. Full, rich, almost creamy in its lusciousness, this is a seamless Syrah wave crashing across your palate. The tannins get nice and chewy on the finish, and this is the wine with the longest aging potential.

Please limit order requests to no more than 4 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests.

2009 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah “Stonessence”

The new addition to the lineup, this is the first 100% Syrah produced under the Reynvaan label; a different animal from the others to be sure, and the most limited of the bunch. The pitch-elevation given to the other three from their white Rhone coferments is not in existence here. The result is a lower-toned bottling, more brooding. Dark and alluring, it contains a blacker fruit profile than the others and conveys a real sense of liquefied mineral: a mouthful of dirt and rocks.

Please limit order requests to no more than 3 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests.

Again, all the wines should arrive by September 14, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

2007 McKinley Springs Cabernet Sauvignon

August 22, 2011

Hello friends. A new, and excellent, vintage of Cabernet today from a list favorite: McKinley Springs. What’s not to love about this producer? They farm 2000 acres in the Horse Heaven Hills and sell 99% of their fruit. They can be choosy with the fruit they keep, and the vineyard is the main profit center, not the winery, so they can price their wines at levels that provide incredible quality for the money.

The McKinley Springs folks hit a rough spell recently, as the Thanksgiving 2010 frost that swept across the state seemed to hit the Horse Heaven Hills worst of all. Very little, if any, fruit will come off the vineyard in 2011, but in the meantime, we still have several vintages to work through, starting with the beautiful 2007.

A combination of the old (1980-planted) block and some newer parts of the vineyard, this has 9% Petit Verdot in the blend as well, and spent 22 months in 50% new wood. All the beauty and depth of the 2007 vintage is on display here, and as usual, this delivers class well above its price point. Wonderfully Cabernet with its combination of berry and cassis fruit, earth and herb, and barrel notes of coffee and dark chocolate. Tannins are ripe, fine-grained, and delicious.

Also, it’s worth noting that the 2007 vintage sees a bottle-design change to a cleaner, more modern label. I couldn’t find a label shot for the Cabernet, but it looks just like their Petit Verdot label.

These are good candidates for weddings and large parties, so let’s open it up to first come first served up to 60 bottles total. The wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

Three 2010s from Teutonic Wine Company

August 21, 2011

Hello friends. There has been a great deal of buzz during the past year or two about the Teutonic Wine Company, and their wines have just become available in Washington for the first time. Tasting through the lineup, I can see what all the fuss is about. The first thing that emerges is focus. There is a clear house style at play here, a stylistic consistency that isn’t always easy to find.

I was pretty well-smitten by their motto alone: “All cool climate, all the time.” Be still my heart. Here is how they go on to describe their house style: “Our house style is represented by wines that are lower in alcohol (typically 9% to 12% alcohol by volume), and higher in acidity. Wines with this profile are more elegant, have greater nuance and pair well with many foods… We believe that wine should always complement food. Fresh acidity, moderate alcohol content and focused mineral notes in our wines make them pair well with seafood, pork, lamb, wild game or dishes with good amounts of fat and salt. All our wines are spontaneously fermented with indigenous yeast cultures in neutral French oak barrels. Using the natural yeast from the individual vineyard sites allows the flavors of the terroir to express itself in the wine. Because we only use neutral oak barrels to ferment and age our wines, their unique characteristics will never be masked behind the flavor of oak. When you pair our wines with wild game, mushrooms, truffles and other earthy flavors, you discover how beautifully they complement each other.”

What is clear when you read that description is that there is a strong vision at work here, the kind of vision that only comes from tasting broadly. And indeed, winemaker Barnaby Tuttle worked as a general manager and wine steward in a Portland restaurant for many years, during which he developed a relationship with German importer Edwald Moseler and became obsessed with the beautiful, electric, esoteric wines Moseler was bringing in. Essentially, Barnaby’s goal is to achieve similar levels of clarity and beauty with new world fruit.

What is clear when you taste through the lineup is that the execution matches the vision.

2010 Teutonic Wine Company Pinot Gris Maresh Vineyard

From the beautiful vines at Maresh Vineyard in the Dundee Hills, all 30 years old or more, these are specifically harvested from the north-facing section of the vineyard. Most winemakers prize south-facing slopes for their extra heat units, but Barnaby is true to his slogan – all cool climate, all the time – and north-facing slopes are indeed cooler.

Just 100 cases produced, and like all the wines, this is fermented in neutral barrels with wild yeast from the vineyard site. The finished alcohol is 11.7%, and there is just enough residual sugar here to balance the acid; it’s noticeable (just barely) and lovely in the honeyed kiss it plants on the pear-skin/mineral frame. Texturally, this is electric. Nervous and tensile, this is an acid-head’s delight.

2010 Teutonic Wine Company Silvaner David Hill Vineyard

Let’s raise the geek flag up the flagpole and fly it proudly! Even in Germany, Silvaner is a relative rarity these days, produced in varietal form most prominently in Franconia. In the United States? A CellarTracker search revealed two bottlings: the first a 2005 Somerset Ridge Silvaner Oktoberfest from that capital of American wine production, Kansas; the second this 2010 from Teutonic.

Amazingly, the vineyard they’re sourcing here has 45-year-old Silvaner vines, and there’s very little of this to go around; just 51 cases produced. But what a delightful way to build towards the Wine Century Club! In Germany, Silvaner is often regarded as having even more of a mineral/earth backbone than Riesling, and that’s the case here. This is minerals and rocks and hay first; fruit second (melon and apricot mostly). The finished alcohol is 9.75%, and this drinks a touch sweeter than the Gris. A true palate-expander, this is good for the intellect and the senses.

2010 Teutonic Wine Company Rose of Pinot Noir Laurel Vineyard

Barnaby has been quoted as saying that this is “the world’s lightest Pinot Noir,” and he might be onto something. Tasted blind (and blindfolded) I would almost certainly call this as Pinot; it has all the characteristic hallmarks: pie cherry, forest floor, mineral, and spice. All of that loveliness sits on another beautifully-structured, low-alc (10%) framework. I always run out of Rosé by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, and I always regret it. Not this year. This year I’m setting aside a six-pack of this Rosé. It’s about as perfect a complement as I can think of for that meal. Of course, if we get any hot days (I saw a quote that Seattle has had a grand total of 6 hours above 80 degrees this summer), I intend to chill this down and maybe drink it directly from the bottle. At 10% alcohol, one can consider such excesses.

Small-production as well, with just 87 cases, this was of course picked specifically for Rosé (you’re not going to get 10% alc from saignee juice) and all comes from Laurel Vineyard, a cool-climate site in the Chehalem Mountains.

I suspect this is the beginning of something special. Feel free to mix and match as you see fit, up to 24 bottles total, 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.

2009 Black Labels from Andrew Will

August 19, 2011

Hello friends. Finding bright spots amidst all this economic doom-and-gloom is not easy, but certainly Andrew Will’s development of their black label bottlings has to be considered a silver-lining result of the recession.

Rather than bulk off the barrels that don’t fit precisely into the terroir-driven, single-vineyard bottlings, they have repurposed that juice into the black labels, which are released about a year ahead of the top bottlings. So while all the single-vineyard Andrew Will wines are on 2008, the black labels are on 2009.

There are two primary benefits to all of us here. First, we get to sneak-preview the 2009 vintage (warm, open, generous). And second, we get to access Chris Camarda’s winemaking prowess at tariffs that would have boggled the mind during the boom years.

2009 Andrew Will Cabernet Franc (Black Label)

Just to make it clear, there is no purchased juice here; this is all Andrew Will vinified juice. So what does that mean in the case of the Franc? It means the fruit sources are pristine: Ciel du Cheval and Two Blondes vineyards. There is a small amount (5%) of Ciel Merlot here as well, which was cofermented with the Ciel Franc before blending with the Two Blondes. The winery doesn’t own cheap oak, so you know this is seeing some Taransaud (albeit a smaller proportion of new barrels than the top-end bottlings).

What makes Franc so lovely is its unique ability to mix the savory and the fruity, and each Franc has its own version of those savories. Here it tends toward black licorice and fennel seed and poblano pepper, a lovely dance partner to the bing cherry fruit. Ripe and round, chocolatey and brambly, this is wide open for such a young wine, and it indicates a vintage that will be beautifully accessible in its youth.

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

2009 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon (Black Label)

A combination of Two Blondes and Discovery Vineyards (here are the details from a previous offering on Discovery, a Champoux neighbor and rising star vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills), this is a beautiful example of what I think the 2009 vintage is going to be known for; in a word: exuberance. The aromas and flavors are positively boisterous here, and this is unmistakably Cabernet, with a solid, ripe core of blackcurrant. There are mineral nuances, and a lovely sense of grip and chalk to the texture. It’s a sappy, substantial wine.

It’s also the more limited of the two wines, and in fact, we have access to the last parcel available in western Washington. This one will not be available for reorder. Like the Franc, I’m going to set the upper order limit at 12 bottles, but this one will not be first-come-first-served and may end up being allocated. We’ll do our best to fulfill all requests, and the wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.