2008 Obelisco Merlot

September 30, 2011

Hello friends. If I owned a vineyard in Washington, I’d be planting Merlot right now.

One of the happiest trends of this year has been the resurgence, at least among this list, of Merlot, and there may not be anyplace else in the new world better suited to the varietal. Washington Merlots can be complex, muscular, beautiful; like suppler versions of Cabernets.

There is a clear track record of success growing Merlot on Red Mountain. Single-vineyard bottlings from Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval have proven over the years to be ageworthy and sometimes profound. So it’s no surprise to see a new crop of wineries tackling Red Mountain Merlot. What is surprising is the price.

Many of the best bottles of Red Mountain Bordeaux varietals and blends start at $40, so it’s a pleasure to see single-vineyard Red Mountain Merlot at this tariff. Obelisco Estate is planted well up Red Mountain (you can see its location on our vineyard map; unfortunately Google has changed the functionality of linking to My Maps, so you will need to change to terrain view, click Obelisco Estate Vineyard on the menu on the left side of the screen, and zoom in yourself). Even if you can’t see the map, I can tell you that this is one of the higher-elevation vineyards.

The result is Red Mountain Merlot (with small portions of Cab, Malbec, and Syrah) at 13.7% alcohol. This drinks like a slightly riper right-bank Bordeaux. The tannins have depth and a fine-grained character that is compelling, and there is a real sense of grip and chew in the mouth. Flavors are very much Merlot: red plum and red cherry, dark chocolate and dark coffee.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

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.

2007 RiverAerie Syrah; 2008 Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

September 28, 2011

Hello friends. I have received numerous requests for both of today’s wines, I assume from diligent readers of Wine Spectator Insider, where each has received a strong writeup. Both come from skillful winemakers who spent many years at Ste Michelle before pursuing their own labels, and both provide excellent value for money:

2007 RiverAerie Syrah

RiverAerie is Ron Bunnell’s second label (Bunnell Family Cellar is the first), and some of the wines in this portfolio can be stunning values. Ron was with Ste Michelle from 1992 to 2004, and left as the Head Red Winemaker. He took his vineyard contacts with him, and those have served him well since. This comes mainly from the Milbrandt holdings on the Wahluke slope, and it is a lovely expression of Washington Syrah.

I was entranced by the high-pitched character, which presents a noseful of strawberry, raspberry bramble, and even some rose petals. There is a briney suggestion of olive that nicely frames pomegranate and white pepper flavors.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($22); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

2008 Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

Novelty Hill is one of Mike Januik’s two wineries (the other is called, well, Januik Winery). The focus for Novelty Hill is their estate vineyard, Stillwater Creek, and that indeed forms the backbone of this wine. There is also fruit from Alder Ridge, Weinbau, and Chandler Reach in the mix, and the blend includes 9% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. A very caffeinated nose (coffee bean/espresso/mocha) leads into a dark, rich, mouthful of crème de cassis, kirsch, and smokey coffee.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

For you future Top 100 chasers, it’s worth noting that this bottling has made the list twice: in 2003 (91pts | $22 | 2,150 cases) and 2006 (92pts | $25 | 3,888 cases). This year’s stats: 91pts | $25 | 4,846 cases.

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

2006 Corliss Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Wine

September 27, 2011

Hello friends. This is another offering where we might be running into demographic challenges. Our list grows; acclaim for the winery grows; demand for the wine grows.

And our allocation holds steady.

Seems ripe for a Malthusian Catastrophe, no? Regardless, these wines are too good to pass up.

The Corliss story is one familiar to many of us. The guiding philosophy is patience, and the winery has the resources to allow for extended barrel-aging (33 months) and bottle-aging (another two years) before release. Essentially, the winery does much of the cellaring for us, allowing us to be well along the path to maturity and integration when we access these wines.

The winery is ultra-impressive, well worth a look if you can score an appointment. An innocent-looking above-ground footprint belies the labyrinthine cellar below, which includes scores of tanks, roomfuls of resting barrels, and entire alcoves of never-released large-format bottles.

In sum, it’s the kind of winery where exceptional wine can be made, under the right guiding hand. And by 2006, Kendall Mix (who has since left the winery) had been at Corliss Estates for four vintages, and it seems as though he was reaching the peak of his powers:

2006 Corliss Estates Red Wine (BDX Blend)

In every vintage, it seems the professional reviewers favor the Cabernet (usually by a single point), and in every vintage, I seem to just barely prefer this, the Red Wine. Without question, it’s the more open, the more accessible of the two right now, and perhaps that’s the source of my affection. A true five-varietal Bordeaux blend, with solid chunks of each of the five, this has 30% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec and 10% Petit Verdot. A large portion of the Red typically comes from Corliss’ estate vineyards on Red Mountain, and that shows through here with its dusting of Red Mountain cocoa powder.

The texture is stunning here; all class, with any rough edges smoothed out by skillful winemaking and time in bottle. It’s silky in the mouth, notably sensual: a real bringer of textural pleasure. The fruit profile is red here – red plum, red cherry, redcurrant – and there is a lightly smokey-roastey note, likely from luscious, integrated French oak, that ramps up the complexity. Tea-leafy tannins, pounded to pillowy softness, are the final kiss from this beauty.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($65); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2006 Corliss Estates Cabernet Sauvignon

The backbone of this bottling is 85% Cabernet from the old vines at Stillwater, Bacchus, Dionysus and Weinbau. The remainder is small amounts of the other four BDX varietals. As usual, this is the more serious, more brooding, more dark-fruited of the two wines.

Everything about this wine is dark. The fruit is blackberry and black cherry. The tannins (more prominent, more chewy than the Red Wine) are redolent with black tea. There is a dark earthiness to this, like dark-red beets growing in rich soil, that is truly alluring.

With air, a light mentholated note emerges, which adds wonderful lift to all those brooding flavors. And again, this is near-flawless texturally, with a fine sense of balance and a real seamlessness across the palate. Despite all the bottle age already, this is probably one to lay down for a few years, or one to give vigorous aeration before serving.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($75); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles of each wine, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

2008 Hestia Cellars Syrah

September 24, 2011

Hello friends. It has become harder and harder to get the jump on professional reviews. Everyone seems to have access to Wine Spectator Insider. Everyone seems to hit refresh at Wine Advocate until Dr. Jay’s scores finally appear. So where is the next frontier?


We have previously featured reviews in Paul Gregutt’s blog (which took something of a summer hiatus but is now back up and running) a few times, and now it seems that Harvey Steiman of Wine Spectator is also writing a blog that sometimes provides sneak peeks into his reviews of Washington wines.

In a recent entry, he said this about Hestia Cellars: “[TEXT WITHHELD].”

That Malbec is sold out, but we have access to the Syrah, which is set to receive the following review in the October 15 Wine Spectator:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.” (note: that price/score/production combination at least gets this wine into the conversation for Spectator’s year-end Top 100. I’d put it as a longshot right now, but it has a puncher’s chance.)

Hestia is something of an insider’s winery. Shannon Jones, who left Washington Mutual for UC Davis’ winemaking program in 2007 (nice timing), has pursued a breadth strategy with Hestia’s distribution. The result is that his wines are available, and have developed followings, in such far-flung climes as Korea, Japan, and Montreal. Because the winery hasn’t been laser-focused on the Seattle market (as many Washington wineries are), Hestia still flies a little under the radar around these parts.

That said, the winery shouldn’t be a stranger to list members. We have offered four of their wines in the past, but it has been about a year since our last Hestia offering, so I’m pleased to jump back into the portfolio today, starting with this Syrah.

A combination of Stonetree Vineyard (a scorching site on the Wahluke Slope) and Andrews Ranch (adjacent to McKinley Springs in the Horse Heaven Hills), this also has a 3% Viognier coferment from Andrews. Shannon is using all used oak here and is aiming for the meaty, savory side of Syrah.

That effort has succeeded. This has a spicy, leafy, sanguine nose; very much savory Syrah aromatics. The palate has an attractive salumi character that nicely complements the flavors of blue fruit and espresso. A fine sense of balance is conveyed here: between savory and fruity, between richness and vibrancy, between complexity and outright deliciousness.

A quick note before we get into allocations: the folks from Hestia have offered an inside look at the winery during crush, which should take place during the next few weeks, for anyone who orders a bottle from this offering. If you’re interested, please e-mail me directly and I’ll get you hooked up.

First come first served up to 12 bottles total. 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 Renegade Grenache

September 23, 2011

Hello friends. I just got confirmation that this wine has landed in Seattle and am turning this around as quickly as possible. I have set some aside, but the truth is, I have no idea how much interest there will be, as we’ve never offered Grenache at a tariff this low.

In the interest of speed, I’m going to borrow language from our most recent Renegade offering to explain what this project, from Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars, is all about:
A winery is sitting on barrels of wine that it doesn’t want to release under its own label. In our current financial climate, there are a myriad of reasons why this could be the case. Regardless, Trey purchases the barrels, bottles the wine under his Renegade label, and sometimes signs a non-disclosure agreement regarding the source of the juice.
In this case, here’s what we know: the wine comes from a vineyard in “the rocks” section of the Walla Walla Valley. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s not Cayuse Vineyards. Otherwise, there are a number of possibilities, as new vineyards are popping up in that area all the time. CellarTracker sleuths might be able to narrow it down, but it’s going to be a challenge. We also know that production level is miniscule (just 72 cases); that this saw no new oak; that it’s low-alc (13.3%); and that it’s priced at a level rarely seen for this varietal in Washington.

Better yet, it tastes great. The aromas are very much Grenache: the holy trinity of red fruit, white pepper, and underbrush (garrigue for you Francophiles). On the palate, vibrancy is the watchword here, as this has real verve and energy in the mouth, carrying flavors of strawberry pastille and red licorice. Grenache can be a real chameleon. We have had plenty of offerings lately for big, rich versions of the grape. This, instead, is Grenache treated like Pinot, with all the delicacy and beauty contained therein. An absolute slam dunk for the Thanksgiving table, and easily one of the most exciting sub-$15 wines I have tasted this year.

Please limit order requests to 8 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. These are almost certain not to be available for reorder. 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 2009s from Gramercy Cellars

September 21, 2011

Hello friends. Out of necessity, this will be a quick offering today. The first (and only?) parcels of these wines have just arrived in western Washington, and the buzz for this release has been steadily building all summer, as strong reviews have piled up for Gramercy’s 2009 vintage.

We have extolled, at length, the virtue of Greg Harrington’s winemaking (plenty of grist for the mill in our offering archive for those interested). Here I will just say that the 2009 vintage was always going to be an interesting one for Gramercy: a warmer, riper vintage for a winery that worships at the altar of cool-climate wine. The most recent Gramercy release letter underscores this point: “While you may hear that the 2009 vintage was a warmer vintage, we consistently picked a bit earlier to insure balance, elegance and finesse.  Greg feels 2009 is really a watershed vintage for us. Viticulture in each of our vineyards was truly dialed in and we picked each block at the optimum time. We concentrated on acid and seed ripeness, instead of sugar and flavor.”

It’s also worth noting that the 2009 vintage brings Gramercy to their target production level of 4000 cases. With production flattening out and acclaim continuing to grow, these wines are only going to become more difficult to source. But today, I’m sneaking this offering out before I suspect most folks know the wine has made it to this side of the Cascades. Today we can be a little greedy:

2009 Gramercy Cellars “Third Man” (Grenache Blend)

Always the ripest, most modern wine of the portfolio, in 2009 this GSM blend is unabashed in its deliciousness. Pepper dustings and sagebrush frame a core of ripe, red fruit. It’s a bowlful of raspberries-and-cream. Syrah from the cool-climate Minnick Vineyard provides a citrus-peel acid kicker, and keeps this fresh and vibrant.

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

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93+pts.”

2009 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley

This is 95% from Les Collines, with the remainder from the acid-boosting Minnick site. Brambly, untamed, animalistic; this is a fine aromatic expression of the wild nature of Les Collines. Textural brilliance is the first thing you notice on the palate, with tannins pounded to a fine powder and a thrilling seamlessness to the whole package. Then you notice the flavors, a fine pastiche of brambleberries, portabella, espresso, and graphite.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Seattle Met Magazine (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. #13, 100 Best Washington Wines 2011.”

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93-95+pts (Tasted from Barrel).”

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of each wine, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

2008 Cabernets from Woodward Canyon

September 19, 2011

Hello friends. I want to dive headlong into Rick Small’s Woodward Canyon portfolio today. This offering will include two new wines and reorder opportunities for two previous offerings, both of which just keep drinking better:

2008 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series

It can be easy to take Woodward Canyon for granted. Like a comfortable old sweater, the winery can be pushed to the back of the dresser, while newer models grace the front. But two actions bring the winery back to the fore. The first is speaking to Rick Small, whose depth of knowledge, whose refreshing candor, whose seemingly limitless enthusiasm for his craft, can snap any jaded wine taster to attention. The second is tasting the wines, which are consistently spectacular.

I love pouring Woodward Canyon’s Cabernets blind, where it is a rare tasting that does not see them identified as luxury Napa Cabernets. Then the bags come off, and they are revealed to be from Cali’s northern neighbor, at a fraction of the cost.

We’ll start today with Rick’s Artist Series Cabernet, a series started in 1992 with the goal of showcasing both Washington Cabernet and Pac-NW artists. This year’s pleasing label comes from Lisa Snow Lady, and the stuffing inside comes predominantly (76%) from Champoux Vineyard (the blend, which also includes 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Syrah, is rounded out with fruit from Spring Creek, Woodward Estate, Sagemoor, and DuBrul Vineyards).

There is something especially poignant about offering Champoux Cabernet right now. The vineyard suffered widespread damage during last year’s Thanksgiving frost and will likely yield next to no usable fruit in 2011. I guess it serves as a reminder that life is full of contingencies. There’s no universal law that we will always have Champoux Cabernet crafted by Rick Small, and that knowledge adds an ephemeral character to this wine.

This sees less new oak than the Old Vines bottling and tastes very much of Champoux, which I associate with a combination of mineral/graphite notes and Italian bitters. Those flavors provide a compelling counterpoint to the notes of fruit (black cherry, blackcurrant) and barrel (oreo, cola). The tone here is medium, and grace notes of lavender even sneak into the picture with time and aeration.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($49); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

2008 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Old Vines

The 2007 vintage received 95pts from both Paul Gregutt and Sean Sullivan. Neither has yet weighed in on this vintage, but the 2008 was reviewed in the recent Advocate:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($79); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

This is the biggest, showiest Cabernet I have ever tasted from Woodward Canyon. At 16.5% alcohol, it is a hedonist’s delight, to be sure, and it comes from some of the oldest Cabernet vines in the state. This wine has been made since 1981, and Woodward Canyon is one of the four winery partners who purchased Champoux Vineyard in 1996 (Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, and Powers are the others). One of the privileges of ownership is access to the 35-year-old Block 1. That’s 45% of the blend here, with most of the remainder coming from the equally old vines at Sagemoor Vineyard. There’s also a 5% splash of Petit Verdot from Woodward Canyon’s Estate Vineyard.

Ripe and rich, warm and spicy, this moves the black cherry/cassis flavors to the fore, with the mineral and graphite notes squarely in the background. Reasonable people can disagree, and I’m going to disagree with Jay Miller’s drinking window here. At this level of ripeness, I see no reason to wait 5 years to open these. This is modern, delicious, mouthfilling Cabernet, best enjoyed, in my opinion, in youthful resplendence.