Three from Mark Ryan

November 28, 2011

Hello friends. What a vintage 2008 has been for Mark Ryan. Bold wines, stellar press, swift sales.

We previously jumped in on the Dead Horse, Water Witch, and Long Haul, and because of our list’s support of Mark Ryan this year, they set aside their last handful of cases for their two remaining 2008s. These 08s will not be available for reorder; after this, it’s onto the 2009 vintage.

And speaking of that 2009 vintage, before we get into the big guns, here’s a quick sneak-preview of 2009, courtesy of The Vincent:

2009 Mark Ryan “The Vincent” (Cabernet Blend)

We offered the 2008 vintage of this previously, and as a reminder, this is an alternate label (here’s what it looks like) for Mark Ryan that is mostly targeting restaurant glass-pour lists. While the higher end of the Mark Ryan portfolio is all about structure and density, the Vincent is more of a ripe-and-ready wine, especially in a warm vintage like 2009.

A grapey, brambly nose leads into a plump, juicy palate. Soft in texture and generous in flavor, this is an easy mouthful of blackcurrant, black cherry, and espresso. The blend here is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 20% Merlot. And then the final 10% has some nostalgic value. It is Red Willow Vineyard Lemberger, the final vintage before these vines were torn up and replaced (I assume with Cabernet or Syrah, both of which fetch a heftier tag than poor old Lemberger).

2008 Mark Ryan Syrah “Lost Soul” Les Vignes de Marcoux Vineyard

This may be the smallest-production Mark Ryan wine on the market. At just 3 barrels, total production here was 75 cases. It comes entirely from the 1992-planted Syrah block at Les Vignes de Marcoux, which is Mike Sauer’s vineyard across the street from Red Willow. The aromatics are killer, with smoked pepper-bacon, lavender, and smashed rock all competing for attention. This also struck me as Mark’s most accessible 2008, as this brings plenty of pleasure right now, and the tannins are powdery and pillow-soft. 33% new oak; 10% whole cluster; 14.6% finished alc.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].  19/20pts.”

2008 Mark Ryan Cabernet Sauvignon “Lonely Heart”

Not much of this was made either; just 150 cases. Five of the six barrels are Klipsun Cabernet; the other barrel is Ciel du Cheval Petit Verdot. Aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak, this is a luxury Cabernet, built for long-term success. The structure here is massive; this finishes with a wall of black-tea tannins. Underneath, there is a wonderful core of dusty minerals, and cassis, and black cherry, but it will be years before they completely unfurl.

In the December issue of Wine & Spirits, this will appear in their Year’s Best Cabernet section:

Wine & Spirits Magazine: “($85); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($85); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

The Vincent will be first come first served, up to 24 bottles. For the other two, please limit order requests to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. All three wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


2007 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve

November 27, 2011

Hello friends. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

Remember last month, when we offered two wines from Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Cellar Selections of 2011? In that offering, I said “as is endemic with year-end lists, many of the wines featured are no longer available.” While that statement is true in general terms, it turned out not to be true about the highest-placing northwest wine on the list.

Soon after that offering went out, a little bird whispered in my ear that a parcel of the #15 wine on that list was still available, and better yet, at a reduced tariff:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($58); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

Please limit order requests to 6 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 available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


2008 Saviah Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley

November 25, 2011

Hello friends. The planets have aligned today. (No, this is not a reference to the perfect Thanksgiving leftover sandwich I’m about to create, although a stuffing eclipse may have just taken place). This Walla Walla Valley Cabernet was already on a deep discount for November and December. And I just learned that it is set to receive a strong review in the December 15 issue of Wine Spectator:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

Many WWV Cabernets have a backbone of Pepper Bridge fruit, or Seven Hills fruit, or both. It’s a real intellectual-sensual treat, then, to taste this wine, which comes predominantly from McClellan Estate Vineyard. Planted in 2003 adjacent to Windrow Vineyard (feel free to check it out on our vineyard map), this is farmed by the Brown family behind Watermill Winery. Because Rich Funk (Saviah’s winemaker) did some consulting winemaking for Watermill during their early days, he still gets access to this lovely fruit.

Rich keeps the wood (50% of the French oak is new here) and alcohol (14.1%) in check, and this is a fine expression of valley Cabernet. Wound pretty tightly (2008 is that kind of vintage), this really began to shine after about 4 hours open. It nails the balance of savory (golden beet, rhubarb) and sweet (golden raisin, cherry, creamy chocolate) that can make Cabernet so alluring. At this discounted tariff, it’s an easy buy (how many Cabernets from Walla Walla Valley fruit are available for less than $20?), and my understanding is that the price will go back up in January, so this may be available for reorder, but likely at a tag closer to $30.

First come first served up to 36 bottles. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


Three 2008s from Gorman

November 23, 2011

Hello friends. First off, a quick reminder that *we are closed tomorrow for the Thanksgiving holiday*. As you can imagine, Thanksgiving, a day centered on food and wine, has long been my favorite holiday of the year. It thrills me to think that some Full Pull offerings will be showing up on your Thanksgiving tables, and I will be thinking of you all (thankfully) when I tuck into my turkey.

Now, a quick turnaround today on a few Gorman wines that many of you have clamored for, but that I have had some trouble sourcing. Two of the wines are new offerings, and then I’m going to tack on a reoffering of Evil Twin for those of you who weren’t on the list when we offered it in March (or for those of you who need to restock). That first offering has background info on Chris Gorman, for those unfamiliar with this rising-star producer.

All of these come exclusively from top Red Mountain vineyards. All are aged in 100% new French oak. None are shy with alcohol. There is a house style here, to be sure: a hedonist’s dream of concentration, extraction, intensity:

2008 Gorman Winery “Bully” Cabernet Sauvignon

This is mostly Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with a bit of Petit Verdot:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

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

2008 Gorman Winery “Albatross” (Cabernet Blend)

All Kiona Vineyard, and just 145 cases produced, this is a two-thirds/one-third blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($80); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($80); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

2008 Gorman Winery “Evil Twin” (Cab-Syrah)

Two-thirds Syrah, one-third Cabernet, all from Red Mountain:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


Two 2009s from Animale

November 21, 2011

Hello friends. I’m going to borrow from our first Animale offering, which is more than two years old now, because it was a fun one to write, and most of you weren’t on the list at the time:

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When I was a kid, growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I used to ride my bike around our block. There was one house that stood out to me because of its decorative brick driveway. I always used to pause as I would bike past and admire the handiwork. Then, one day, I paused for a different reason: there were about a dozen police cars parked outside that very house, with sirens wailing. By the time I got home to tell my parents the story, word had already spread through the neighborhood: the basement of my favorite-driveway house was being used as a methamphetamine lab. I remember feeling stunned, and realizing for the first time that placid exteriors can hide unexpected interiors.

You may be wondering at this point what in the world this story has to do with wine. Well, after departing Matt Gubitosa’s Animale Winery, in the basement of his home in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, I was left with a similar feeling. From the exterior of this home, you would have no idea that inside, a man is toiling away to produce intense, concentrated wines from varietals that are largely rare in Washington. Driving back home after the visit, I was struck by the thought that each house I passed contained a private story. Most of their stories will remain unknown, but I’m happy to have the chance to share this one.
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Then I went on to tell a little of Matt’s story. He has a day job with the EPA, and after years of home winemaking, he started Animale in 2001 by convincing a group of wine enthusiasts to fund his startup costs by investing in futures. They paid Matt cash up front for the rights to the first five vintages of Animale wines, and most of them re-upped when their term expired in 2007.

Matt’s case production is constrained by the size of his basement, which can hold about 8 barrels. That translates to 200 cases each year, and the lineup varies, according to what fruit Matt likes best in a given vintage.

2009 Animale Winery Petite Sirah

One wine that has not varied is Petite Sirah. Matt had PS grapes specifically planted for him at McIntire Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. The vines first came online with the 2005 vintage, and Matt has made this wine ever since. It has been a pleasure to chart the evolution of the vines as they dig deeper into that Yak-Valley soil.

I’d probably call Petite Sirah Matt’s flagship wine. That is, if you can use that term for a wine whose total production is 65 cases. The grape, which is grown much more widely in California but is a rarity here in Washington, yields a wine that is an inky, glass-staining, black-purple. Aromatically, loads of exotic spices and black fruits come spilling up out of the glass. This is a big, concentrated mouthful, full of spicy fruit. It’s ripe and rich, to be sure, but there is good vibrancy here (17% Cab Franc helps provide an acid kicker), and brambly, leafy nuance. The tannic chew on the back-end is reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon, and PS is always a fine alternative when you’ve had one too many Cabs. 14.4% finished alc, in case any of you are afraid of the blowsy versions that can sometimes come out of California.

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a few weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

2009 Animale Winery Petit Verdot

Welcome to micro-boutique winemaking. Production here is a single barrel (24 cases), all from Doc Stewart Vineyard (one of the Gilbert estate sites), also in the Yakima Valley. Matt only makes PV in years where he really loves it. He made it in 2006 and 2007, but skipped 2008, and now it’s back.

This is 100% PV, with clear care and attention given to tannin management (if you’re not careful, PV tannins can overwhelm, but that’s not the case here). A nose full of purple flowers gives way to a sappy, grapey palate, with a nice vein of rock running right down the middle. This is a big wine (14.9% alc), with plenty of richness, but it does convey a fine sense of balance.

I don’t know what kind of voodoo Matt used to get Dr. Jay to review a 24-case-production wine, but here you go:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

Please limit order requests to 2 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a few weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


Two Oregon Pinots

November 20, 2011

Hello friends. Two very different Oregon Pinots on the docket today:

2008 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir “Laurene”

If you had been standing on the corner of Ballard and 20th mid-day on October 18, you would have witnessed a strange scene:

A woman pulls a bottle of wine and two stemless glasses out of the backseat of a car. She pours the wine, and hands the glasses to two men standing nearby. They look at the wine. They bend their noses into their glasses and inhale deeply. They smile at the wine. They smile at each other. They taste the wine, but they don’t swallow. Heavens-to-Betsy; they spit the wine into a gutter! What fresh form of madness is all this?!

My friends, this is guerilla winetasting.

When the chance comes along to taste DDO Laurene from Oregon’s best vintage in who-knows-how-long, you don’t make demands. You don’t get all snobby and ask for things like a roof and four walls. What you do is grab your notebook and pen and run to whatever car’s backseat contains this treasure trove.

That’s what I did. That’s what my fellow taster did (he’s the lead sommerlier for one of Seattle’s best steakhouses). And the wine delivered. I could have tasted this wine on the moon, through a straw-hole in my spacesuit, and this wine still would have showed well. An earthy, forest floor nose gives way to a super-structured palate, filled with cherry pit, mineral, and dried flower. Pure Oregon Pinot all the way.

I know this is a wine many of you have been waiting for. It’s the flagship wine from DDO, a selection of the finest barrels from the estate vineyards of one of Oregon’s ambassador wineries (for details on this history of this Burgundian outpost, see our first DDO offering from back in July), and it’s from the epic 2008 vintage.

This already has some strong press, as well (albeit from two critics who are reticent when it comes to points). It received one of the strongest reviews ever given to an Oregon Pinot in IWC (Tanzer’s publication has handed out a handful of 94pt scores; those are the only wines to do better), and only two Oregon 2008s have scored higher from Burghound:

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Josh Raynolds): “($65); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Burghound (Allen Meadows): “($65); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

Please limit order requests to 12 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 during the spring shipping window.

2010 Northwest Vine Project Pinot Noir

If the DDO is a bottle to cherish, this is a bottle whose price and texture beg to be drunk. Right now.

Northwest Vine Project is another distributor project, similar to the Brand Cabernet Sauvignon that many of you have come to love. Distributors can sometimes be painted with a broad, and negative, brush (this was especially true during the recent Initiative 1183 campaign), but the fact is, we are lucky here in Seattle to have a handful of exceptional small distributors.

Triage Wines is one of them.

Triage has a great import business (if you see a Gruner imported by Triage, don’t ask questions; just grab it), and they also team up with a collection of outstanding Pac-NW vintners (David O’Reilly of Owen Roe, James and Poppie Mantone of Syncline, and Andrew Rich of, well, Andrew Rich, for example) on the NW Vine Project. This is a project to properly serve underserved categories in the marketplace. One of those was under-$15 GSM blends, the target of NWVP’s 2008 Red Splendor, which long-term list members might remember from an April 2010 offering. Another is under-$15 Pinot Noir.

Talk about a minefield. Under-$15 Pinot is a scary category, where the positive end of the spectrum usually generates adjectives like “anonymous” and “inoffensive” and the negative end generates no adjectives because your tongue has just been burned out of your mouth by the hyper-acidic hell-broth passing for Pinot Noir.

So it’s a real pleasure to taste a wine like this: straightforward, honest, and clean. Made by Laurent Montalieu of Solena Estate, the aromatics are reminiscent of a Passetoutgrain (Burgundy’s Pinot Noir/Gamay Noir blends): bright red fruit, with a dusting of spice and just enough mineral complexity to pleasantly surprise at this tariff. It’s a fresh, clean, inviting nose to be sure, and the palate continues the story: light, fresh, and vibrant, with tart red fruit, fine acid-alcohol (13.5%) balance, and a squeeze of Angostura bitters on the back end.

First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


2006 Reininger Helix Sangiovese

November 18, 2011

Hello friends. I’m sure many long-term list members will be smiling when they see the wine we’re offering today. I know I did when I tasted the new vintage:

Last October, we offered the 2005 vintage of this wine, and it was like one of those indie films that starts small, builds big buzz, and then winds up as a mainstream success. Folks initially ordered one or two bottles, then came back and ordered a case. And told their friends to do the same.

The wine is great, and the story is admirable. This is single-vineyard Sangiovese, even though it doesn’t say so on the bottle. Reininger uses the Helix label for any of their fruit that comes from outside the Walla Walla Valley, and this all comes from Stillwater Creek Vineyard, on the Royal Slope. And what the folks at Reininger have learned (to frustrating effect, I’m sure) is that this particular patch of Washington soil expresses itself through Sangiovese in a wall of tannins. Now every winery has cash-flow temptations, and I’m sure the ideas of a) selling off the juice on the bulk market; or b) releasing it in its enamel-stripping youth, both had their allure. But Chuck Reininger is an experienced producer, and he decided to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And thank goodness he did, because micro-oxygenation slowly chips away at that wall of tannins, and the result (five years later!) is a wonderfully rustic Washington take on the great wines of Montalcino and Chianti.

Like last year, the winery has reduced the price (by a solid chunk) for the holidays. Like last year, this is a brooding, masculine wine, lined with earthy, savory streaks of red chard and beet and graphite, and finished with those toothsome tannins, all black tea and chamomile. And like last year, this has a strong review from Paul Gregutt (actually, a bit stronger for this new vintage):

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

This is one of the hidden gems of Washington, and I know this wine has serious fans on the list, so let’s open it up to 24 bottles, first come first served. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.