2009 Crowley Pinot Noir “Entre Nous”

October 31, 2011

Hello friends. Because of our lists’ strong support for Tyson Crowley’s 2009 Willamette Valley bottlings (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), we have been granted access to a rarer piece of the portfolio:

The winery shipped 20 cases to Seattle, which arrived last week. That 20-case parcel is it, not just for Seattle but for all of Washington, so time is of the essence here. Check out our first two Crowley offerings (here and here) for the full low-down, and here is the text from Jay Miller of Wine Advocate last year that added momentum to the Crowley buzz:


For those of you who tried the Willamette Valley bottling, here are the salient differences that warrant the additional few dollars:

1. Entre Nous (French for “between us”) is smaller production. Just 11 barrels were selected (7 from LaColina, 4 from Tuckwila; both vineyards are in the red Jory soils of the Dundee Hills), yielding 275 cases, compared to 575 cases for the WV bottling.

2. Entre Nous is a clonal selection. This is Tyson’s bottling that emphasizes the Wadenswil (pronounced “Veydensville”) clone of Pinot Noir. I understand it’s a little geeky to get into clonal selection, but I kept hearing Wadenswil last time I was in the Willamette. Winemakers get dewey-eyed when they talk about it. A Swiss clone, it was the original Oregon Pinot, making its way from UC-Davis to the northwest in the trunk of David Lett’s (Eyrie Vineyards) car in 1965. The 1975 Eyrie South Block Reserve Pinot Noir that put Oregon on the map was entirely Wadenswil. It’s a clone known for both gorgeously perfumed aromatics and a dark, dense, flavor profile: an alluring contradiction that has seduced many a Pinotphile, including Tyson Crowley.

3. As a fall release, Entre Nous gets three more months in barrel than the WV bottling. Of course, none of the Entre Nous barrels are new, so we’re not talking about imparting oak flavor; we’re talking about the beneficial effects of micro-oxygenation.

This has a nice, pure Oregon nose: black fruit, forest floor, mushroom. The palate boasts terrific energy, intensity, and lift. It cascades across the palate, a seamless wave of red and black berries, layered in with savory/saline elements. The alcohol is 13.5%, the acid profile is gorgeous, and the overall package conveys a sense of fine-tuned balance. Delightful.

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.

Two Stickies

October 28, 2011

Hello friends, and apologies to any dentists on the list. It’s sticky-wine day.

I love stickies.

I don’t know why I’m filled with an overarching sense of shame when I say that. Perhaps I can see into my crystal ball around January 1, 2012, when I step onto the scale and vow “no more stickies!” I may well have said something like that on January 1, 2011, but who can remember?

I would encourage you all to join me in this collective selective memory loss, because these wines are fiendishly delicious. For most of the year, it can be difficult to find occasions to share your stickies, but friends, this is the beginning of the holiday season, the most stressful time of the year, when the thought of finishing a long day by pounding a 375ml dessert wine seems less outlandish than during months 1-10. It’s also a time when we gather in large numbers, such that a 375ml sticky can be subdivided into shame-free (or at least shame-light) portions.

We produce a surprising number of dessert wines in Washington. Lots of them are mediocre. Some of them make me wish I had chosen a different profession. And some are sublime:

2008 Forgeron Cellars Late-Harvest Semillon 375ml

This one will look familiar to those of you on the list on November 23, 2010, when we offered it the first time. Imagine my surprise when, nearly a year later, I was offered another sample of this because it’s still available. What a treat to chart the evolution of this Sauternes knockoff (which, like all great knockoffs, is substantially less expensive than the original).

The flavors seem to be moving away from stone fruit and into tropical territory. I got mango, guava, and green papaya, all of it doused in rich caramel and fig paste. The sweetness is moderate here – not over-the-top – and there is a lovely squeeze of key-lime acidity that keeps everything fresh. Really a fine value, and this just keeps getting better. Pair this with a cheese plate and discover your own personal nirvana.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($14); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2009 Brian Carter Cellars “Opulento” (Port-Style) 375ml

Vintage two of a very exciting new project. We had to severely under-allocate the 2008, as our parcel ended up less than half the size originally anticipated. Fortunately, more vines came into production in 2009, so this should at least last through the holidays this year.

Opulento is as close as to a legitimate Ruby Port as you’re going to find in Washington. The reason is that Brian Carter, industry vet (30+ years in Washington wine) and blender extraordinaire, partnered up with growers at Upland and Lonsesome Spring Vineyard to plant the real-deal Portuguese indigenous varietals. So Opulento, in 2009, is 60% Touriga Nacional, 37% Souzao, and 3% Tinta Cao. Of those raw materials, 81% comes from Upland and the remainder from Lonesome Spring.

Aged for 22 months in French oak (20% new), this was fortified with 190-proof brandy up to a finished alcohol of 19%. Inky-dark, this is a total glass-stainer. Aromatics include kirsch, sweet grape, caramel, and pecan. On the palate, it’s a Ruby ringer: dark chocolate, caramel, nougat, and rich black cherry.

I don’t envision Washington challenging Portugal for world Port dominance any time soon, but as far as curiosities go, this one has serious appeal.

First come first served, up to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you like). Both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.

2000 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard

October 26, 2011

Hello friends. Ever since our troika of Seven Hills Winery library offerings back in February, March, and April (note: we have a few bottles of one of those still available; see reoffer at the bottom), there has been a slow-but-steady drumbeat for more. And, specifically, for Cabernet.

As it enters its second decade, this wine is drinking beautifully. An open nose of lavender, cedar, earth, and cherry kicks things off. On the palate, you immediately notice the silky texture. This is seamless, and it still drinks like a baby, with plenty of acid and chew still remaining. Flavors are dried raspberry, orange peel, and leather, and there is a light saltiness about this that I found repeatedly alluring.

It’s no surprise that this wine is holding up as well as it is. Casey McClellan built it that way. At 13.0% finished alcohol, this was clearly picked with enough acidity to support long-term aging. I think most of you know about Casey’s prowess by now, but for list newbies, here’s what I have written in the past: “Developing a house style is an evolutionary step in winemaking. It requires focus and commitment to produce, vintage after vintage, wines of a certain, notable kind. Casey McClellan at Seven Hills has a clear house style: acid-driven and texturally elegant, and he has stuck with that style as fashion trends have waxed and waned (certainly, in the early part of the last decade, he defied trends towards more alcohol and more oak; now, as he stands still, the pendulum falls back towards him). I consider Casey a grower’s winemaker. Vineyard owners and vineyard managers love him, because he picks fruit early and is single-mindedly dedicated to expressing those sites.”

This comes from the old block at Seven Hills Vineyard, Cabernet that is among the oldest in the Walla Walla Valley and that Casey himself helped to plant back in 1982. He has been making wine from Seven Hills since the early 1990s, so by 2000 there was maturity both in the vineyard and in the winemaking style, and it shows. I’m sure this wine will fade at some point, but it won’t be happening soon.

This comes directly from the Seven Hills Library. Please limit order requests to 3 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.

Two Maturing Washington Wines

October 25, 2011

Hello friends. We drink a lot of anxious teenagers.

Hrmph… Maybe that would work better as a simile. I’ll try again.

Hello friends. We drink a lot of wines that are *like* anxious teenagers. When we pop-and-pour reds from 2008, 2009, or (gulp) 2010, we’re mostly tasting potential, but we’re not seeing the finished product. It’s like watching a trailer for a great movie but never getting to see the film itself.

Well, today we have two full-fledged films. Er, two formerly-anxious teenagers that are now comfortable-in-their-own-skin twentysomethings. I think this is how you end up in the “Block That Metaphor!” section of the New Yorker. Better move onto the wines:

2005 OS Winery “R3” (BDX Blend)

OS Winery is an old list favorite that we have offered on numerous occasions (in fact, an OS wine was the fifth-ever Full Pull offering), but it has been awhile. The winery, founded in 1997 on Vashon Island and now in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, is the work of Bill Owen (O) and Rob Sullivan (S). They built an excellent reputation in the first half of the last decade, especially for their sumptuous reds, which sourced fruit from top vineyards across Washington. When the economy turned, they were left in a difficult position, as their reds started in the $30s and went up from there.

The result is a recent price drop on a wine that is hitting its stride beautifully (I know I’ve said it before, but it’s a mixed up business that we’re in, when these wines get discounted just as they’re hitting peak drinking). A maturing nose of leather and pickle-barrel leads into a wine with plenty of minty blackcurrant and blackberry fruit (2005 was a warm, ripe vintage, and there is still plenty of fruit left here). With time and air, a poblano-tinged Cabernet Franc character seems to emerge (despite being just 20% of the blend). As the wine moves into the back end, the integrating tannins leave an impression of soft leather.

This is one of those bottles at that lovely stage just on the precipice between youthfulness and maturity. And it is quite rare to be able to offer a tariff under $XX for a wine with fruit from Klipsun, Sheridan, Champoux, and Ciel du Cheval.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller) [From Summer 2008]: “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

2004 Kiona Sangiovese Estate

You might remember from our initial Kiona offering back in May that, due to a distributor shuffle, there is some older-vintage Kiona wine floating around the market. This is a very rare opportunity to taste bottle-aged Washington Sangiovese. 2004 was the freeze year for Walla Walla, but fruit on Red Mountain came in just fine. And this is all estate fruit, from Kiona, the original vineyard on Red Mountain (the original Cabernet plantings happened in 1975).

This would be a brilliant bottle to slip into a blind tasting, because it’s one of those classic Washington examples that skirts the line between old-world and new. Right on initial pour, you can see this has some age, as the color is starting to take on bronze tones. The nose is nice and appealing: earth and redcurrant and fennel frond. Picked at sugar levels that led to a finished alcohol of 13.5%, this must have had bruising acidity in its youth. Now, that’s softened into (still bright) flavors of pie cherry, pomegranate, and citrus peel. With soft, integrated tannins and a notable sense of balance, this is lovely right now.

First come first served, up to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you like). Both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.

Four 2009s from J.K. Carriere

October 22, 2011

Hello friends. We have an exceptionally rare opportunity today. While the entry level bottlings from J.K. Carriere (Provacateur, Vespidae) are frequently sold in Washington, the single-vineyard bottlings rarely escape Oregon’s clutches. Considering the support we have already shown for Crowley and Cameron, I suspect there is a sizable contingent of in-the-know types within our list when it comes to these culty Oregon Pinots.

This is a special order. None of these wines are currently in Washington, and in fact, none of these wines are released yet. They’ll be released November 3, and our orders will be considered along with J.K. Carriere’s wine club. We’ll get what I believe to be a one-time shipment. I’m open to placing reorder requests, but the speed with which these bottlings typically sell out makes reorder success unlikely.

For those of you unfamiliar with J.K. Carriere, well, the best thing to do would be to watch Jim Prosser’s videos, which start informative and turn hilarious. If you prefer the written word, here’s the brief overview: Jim Prosser has serious breadth of knowledge when it comes to Pinot Noir. He worked with the grape in New Zealand (Villa Maria). He worked with the grape in Australia (Tarra Warra and T’Gallant). He worked with the grape in Burgundy (Domaine Georges Roumier). And then he came home and worked with the grape in Oregon (DDO, Chehalem, Brick House, Erath) before launching his own winery in 1999.

His time in Burgundy seems to be the most influential on his winemaking style. Now there is an important distinction to be made between reverence and reference. Trying to be reverential to Burgundy when making wine in Oregon is a fool’s errand. Soils are different; microclimates are different. But being referential to Burgundy is more interesting, and that’s what Jim does. Like Pinots from Burgundy, his tend to be highly-structured, favor earth and acid over outright fruit, and transition from awkward youths into glorious maturity.

Because of this, Jim’s 2008s (from a highly-structured vintage to begin with) are practically untouchable for another five years. But 2009 is a more exuberantly-fruited vintage, making it a compelling vintage to access Jim’s style. A few of these can provide near-term pleasure, which is rare for this portion of the J.K. Carriere portfolio.

2009 J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir Antoinette (Temperance Hill Vnyd)

Antionette is a barrel select each vintage where Jim is looking for the most feminine, the most delicate, the highest-toned lots. In 2009 this happens to be single-vineyard, as all five barrels (two new, one once-filled, two twice-filled, all French) come from the 30-year-old vines at Temperance Hill (Eola-Amity AVA). A truly funky nose (earth, bacon fat, cracked pepper) reminded me of Syrah aromatics from the rocks in Walla Walla. But on the palate, this can be nothing but Pinot Noir, with an earthy core, and excellent depth and precision to the red fruit.

Winery notes (I don’t usually include these, but in this case, they are eerily accurate): “The wine is translucent cherry in color, with a nose of candied cherry, spice, smoke, oil-cured olives, soy sauce and dusty strawberries. Medium weight on the palate, it shows flavors of strawberry taffy, PEZ and cherry compote with nice grip. The wine fairly cuts the divide of sweet and sour, and will continue to further complex with time.” 123 cases produced.

2009 J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir Anderson Family Vineyard

From dry-farmed, 20-year-old Dijon clone grapes in the Dundee Hills, this was put into one new French barrel and three neutral. For me, this had a floral/mineral aromatic character that I found deeply compelling, and I returned to smell this over and over again. Nearly as high-toned as the Antoinette, and perhaps the most currently-accessible of the four.

Winery notes: “This wine is translucent cherry brick in color with a surprisingly evolved nose that opens to passion fruit, iron, orange, beautiful/sexy musk and brown spice. In mouth it transitions to rich ripe cherry-plum, blueberry and mocha with grilled game overtones. Overall it presents as round, medium weight and medium-light grip with a seamless structure that persists.” 97 cases produced.

2009 J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir Gemini Vineyard

From a block of Pommard-clone Pinot Noir planted in 1995 in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, this is the most limited of today’s offerings, with just two-and-a-half barrels produced. It’s a pure, focused, laser beam of cherry pit right now, and it moves us into the more tannin-structured section of the portfolio. This is one that has serious potential to gain complexity if you can resist its youthful charms.

Winery notes: “Rich garnet in color, this Pinot noir smells of a cherry-reduction sauce, resin and vanilla. The second hit is effusive fresh cherry-raspberry on a background of meaty sweet oak. The palate is perfectly ripe Bing cherry, mouthwatering melon and slight graham. Structurally it’s full and mouth-coating, with medium weight and medium plus grip. A great food wine.” 63 cases produced.

2009 J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard

In a red-fruited family, this is the black(-fruited) sheep. From the Willakenzie soils of Dick Shea’s famous vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton District, this yielded six barrels (two new, two twice-filled, two neutral) of wine. Dark and brooding, this is like the best slice of blackberry pie you’ve ever eaten.

Winery notes: “Deep, deep red in color it delivers a reserved nose of savory smoke, ultra ripe cherry-blackberry, resin and cracked black pepper. It roams the palate like a sweet, plush, late summer blue-blackberry pie, with savory cracklings on the side. The wine’s weighty frame is matched by good grip and a seamless structure that keeps it lithe, considering how substantial.” 144 cases produced.

Please mix and match as you see fit up to a *total* of 8 bottles (a 4-pack containing a single bottle of each would make quite a holiday gift for a Pinotphile), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. As I mentioned, these will be special-ordered from the winery, and they should arrive during the first week of November, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.

Two from Dumas Station

October 21, 2011

Hello friends. My bad.

I managed to let a vintage of a list favorite slip by us and sell out without offering it. After offering the 2006 and 2007 Cow Catcher Reds from Dumas Station, I missed the 2008. Released in March, it was gone by May.

Fortunately, my gaffe is mitigated by the fact that the 2009 is superior to the 2008. This has to be one of the stronger estate-grown Walla Walla Valley wines released at this price point, and there’s a reason why.

2009 Dumas Station “Cow Catcher Red” (Cabernet Blend)

Dumas Station is one of the great hidden gems of the Walla Walla Valley. The core of all their bottlings is fruit from Minnick Hills Vineyard, one of the rare vineyards in the rolling wheatlands between Walla Walla and Waitsburg. Jay DeWitt manages the vineyard and the winemaking, and from my first encounter with Jay, I have admired his dedication to farming and the focus and consistency of his portfolio. He has told me before that if his Cabernet and Merlot don’t match the house style in a given vintage, he won’t bottle them. Now lots of wineries say things like this, but when the rubber meets the road, financial requirements dictate a different policy. Not so for Dumas Station.

In 2009, the October freeze forced Jay to pick his Cabernet and Merlot at ripeness levels that would make his usual style for those bottles (with alcohols around 15%) impossible. Instead of a damn-the-torpedoes, bottle-it-anyway approach, a tougher decision was made: there would be no 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. There would be no 2009 Merlot. Instead, the juice would be declassified into the finest Cow Catcher ever made.

Unsurprisingly, this is also by far the highest-production Cow Catcher, at 850 cases (in a normal year, only a few hundred cases are produced, which is why the 2008 went so quickly). The winery did raise the price a few dollars, but they still must be taking a big financial hit by declassifying all that juice, and this still represents ridiculous quality for the price.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($24); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: * (Excellent).”

Along with the Cabernet Sauvignon (48%) and Merlot (15%), there is a solid chunk of Cabernet Franc (26%) and splashes of Petit Verdot and Syrah. The finished alcohol here is 13.5%, certainly low for Dumas Station, but plenty ripe in most of the rest of the world. The aromatics are lovely: plum, fig, and rich earthy soil. On the palate, this does convey the signature Dumas Station richness in flavors of golden raisin and black cherry, dark chocolate and espresso. The tannins are ripe and sweet, and this has a lovely silky texture and plenty of length. It’s awfully classy for a wine at this tariff.

2008 Dumas Station Estate Merlot

Well, we know there will be no 2009 Estate Merlot, so how about the 2008? I found this really seductive in a recent tasting, an excellent example of the Dumas house style. A luxurious nose of Kahlua, kirsch, brown sugar, and nutty oak gives way to a red-fruited (cherry and raspberry) palate. Luscious, silky, and long long long, this has the ripeness (14.7%) that Jay wants for these bottlings. It’s also quite limited, at just 190 cases produced.

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

First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit), and the wines should arrive in 2-3 weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.

2008 Figgins Estate Red Wine

October 19, 2011

Hello friends. Today we have a small amount of one of the most exciting new wineries to launch this year.

A few months ago, I had a dream day in Walla Walla that included a grand total of two appointments: Christophe Baron at Cayuse in the morning, and Chris Figgins at FIGGINS/Leonetti in the afternoon. While Chris and Christophe are different blokes in many ways, what connects them is their love of the land; their emphasis on the growing side of the viticulture/viniculture two-step. This seems to be a thread that is winding its way through the entire Walla Walla Valley, and what a fine trend it is, because there’s no way to make fine wine from middling grapes. Everything starts outside, in the soil.

And that’s where my meeting with Chris took place; not at the winery, but in the vineyard: specifically, the Figgins Estate Vineyard, which is the source of this wine. Planted in 2005 after some de rigueur water rights drama, they pulled fruit for the first time in 2007 and promptly discarded it. Not up to quality. So 2008 (fourth leaf) is the inaugural vintage for this new project.

Located close to Leonetti’s Mill Creek Upland Vineyard, this is part of the Mill Creek drainage section of the Walla Walla Valley that is being planted out extensively right now, and holds huge promise. The soils are deep, rich loess, and this area gets enough rainfall that dry-land farming (no irrigation) is possible in some years.

Very much a Bordelaise-style project, this is a winery with one vineyard (planted mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot) and one wine, which is a real rarity in Washington. It would be mildly terrifying to most, I suspect, to put all your eggs in one vineyard basket, but Chris Figgins has the skill and experience to make it work. For more information on this project, check out Paul Gregutt’s recent blog post, which includes some tasting notes too. The wine was also recently reviewed by Sean Sullivan (where it was #5 in the Top 100 for Seattle Met) and Jay Miller:

Seattle Met Magazine (Sean Sullivan): “($85); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($85); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Please note: our allocation this year is small, and there are no guarantees that we will continue to receive allocations for future vintages. This is a project where signing up for the mailing list is a very good idea. Please limit order requests to 2 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.