Two from Dunham Cellars

January 30, 2012

Hello friends. It’s not all about Syrah at Dunham Cellars.

Because of the combination of strong reviews and scarcity, our focus lately has been on the Syrah end of the portfolio, but the truth is, the entire portfolio is as strong as I can remember it being. There is a deeply positive vibe at Dunham right now. It starts in the estate vineyards, all managed by Kenny Hart. Many of you know Kenny through his winemaking at Tulpen Cellars, but he is above all else a farmer first, and his careful management of Dunham’s estate vineyards leads to immaculate fruit.

In the winery, the yin-yang combination of Eric Dunham (senior winemaker) and Dan Wampfler (winemaker) seems to be hitting its stride. Dan, who was hired in 2008 after time at Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Crest, brings a left-brain sensibility to Eric’s right-brain creativity, and the results have been pure magic:

2009 Dunham Cellars Riesling Lewis Vineyard

Several of you inquired about this one after seeing it on Paul Gregutt’s Top 100 list. Sitting at #24 on the list, it is the least expensive in the top 50. Here is PaulG’s review, which is set to appear in the February issue of Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($20); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Lewis Vineyard is quickly moving into the conversation of elite Washington Riesling sites with bottlings like this. We offered the 2008 vintage of this in May 2011 and a 2008 late-harvest from the same vineyard in September 2010. Both of those were outstanding, and to see the 2009 hit the same level of quality (perhaps even a smidgen better) is encouraging indeed.

At 12.4% alc and 2.3% residual sugar, this drinks on the boundary between a Kabinett and a Spatlese. The natural-fruit sugar is there, and it is balanced beautifully by citrusy acids. A lightly petroled nose gives way to a layered palate that seems to visit each category of fruit: tree fruit, stone fruit, even bordering on tropical. There’s something for everyone here, and the spritz from dissolved CO2 conveys real vibrancy to all those fruit flavors. This is becoming a standard-bearer for single-vineyard Washington Riesling.

2008 Dunham Cellars “Trutina”

This is drinking beautifully right now and will make a terrific companion piece for those of you who purchased the 1998 vintage through our library offering.

Equal parts (42% each) Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, the remainder Merlot, this comes mostly from estate vineyards (Lewis, Double River, Frenchtown), with some purchased fruit in the mix as well (Phinny Hill, Double Canyon). Usually when I’m referencing any of those vineyards, we’re talking about a wine whose tag starts in the $40s and goes up from there.

This Trutina is an exceptional value, and aromatically, the luxury oak treatment is apparent, with notes of coffee and cocoa powder weaving among black cherry fruit and graphite. On the palate, we find plenty of warm barrel notes framing some truly delicious fruit. It’s a dense, substantial Trutina, with concentration and power to spare.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($26); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

Both of the reviews above will be released in the February Wine Enthusiast, so for now, we have access to large parcels. First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit), and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

2008 Andrew Will Two Blondes Vineyard

January 29, 2012

Hello friends. Chris Camarda makes four glorious single-vineyard wines each year. For the 2008 vintage, we have offered three: Ciel du Cheval, Champoux, and Sorella (which is old-block Champoux).

Here is the fourth.

I almost waited too long for this one. Production on this was cut drastically, from 1500 cases in 2007 to just 800 in 2008 (properly reading the economic tea leaves, the winery pushed a solid chunk of their production in 2008 into the black-label bottlings). Only 6% of the 800 cases produced remain unsold, so we’re jumping in just in the nick of time.

Two Blondes stands out in this lineup for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the only estate fruit in the portfolio. A 30-acre site planted in 2000, it is tended carefully by the Andrew Will team, under the direction of vineyard manager Chris Hoon. Here is the vineyard map, and much of this wine comes from the Angle Block.

Perhaps because the vine age (8 years as of this vintage) is notably younger than the old Ciel and Champoux fruit, this is also the most accessible of the Andrew Will single-vineyards. For those of us who enjoy immediate gratification, this is a tempting bottle. While Ciel and Champoux are shy, reserved (haughty?), Two Blondes is warm, generous, open. To put it in Downton Abbey terms, Ciel and Champoux are Mary and Edith Crawley; Two Blondes is more of a Sybil.

This wine has its critical champions. First, Jay Miller weighed in:

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

Then, Jon Bonne, the influential wine critic for the San Francisco Chronicle (influential in part because he covers the entire west coast, such that Washignton and Oregon wines are compared to their Californian bretheren) included Two Blondes in his Top 100 of 2011. He doesn’t enumerate the list, nor does he provide scores, but you’ll notice that on the Cabernet, Merlot, and Blends page, Andrew Will is at the top of the list. (What? That list is alphabetical? No matter! Andrew Will is on top!)

San Francisco Chronicle (Jon Bonne): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].”

That’s a lovely tasting note, because it hits on the complexities that make this wine so thrilling: a drop of blood, a sprinkle of Spanish paprika, a whiff of mocha – all on top of a core of luscious cherry and berry fruit. It continues to be a real pleasure to watch this vineyard (and its neighbor, Sheridan) mature. With each additional year of vine age, the flavors seem to deepen, to resonate more powerfully.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. As I mentioned, we’re getting down to the end of this, so reorder prospects are murky. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

2009 Balboa Estate Syrah

January 27, 2012

Hello friends. In 2009, an important vineyard changed hands in the Walla Walla Valley, and we’re just now beginning to see the dividends of that sale.

LeFore Vineyard was planted in 1999 in the rocks area of the Walla Walla Valley. The first Cayuse Vineyard (Cailloux) was planted in 1997, so when LeFore went into the ground, no one had an inkling of the magic that would come from this cobblestony area of the valley.

Of course, after the success of Cayuse, a number of vineyards have been planted in the rocks, but none have LeFore’s vine age. Quietly, LeFore became an important fruit source to a number of Walla Walla winemakers. Caleb Foster used it for Buty’s Rediviva of the Stones (Cab-Syrah). Charles Smith used it for K Vintners’ Guido. And Tom Glase used it for the 2006 vintage of his Balboa Sayulita, another Cab-Syrah blend and one of my favorite wines we have ever offered through Full Pull.

You can imagine my delight, then, when I learned in 2009 that Balboa Winery had purchased LeFore Vineyard as its estate winery, and would immediately begin moving much of its production into fruit from that vineyard. I was delighted because Tom Glase had a proven track record coaxing the intoxicating funk of the rocks out of LeFore, but I was more delighted because of Balboa’s philosophy, which is to make “affordable, accessible wines,” and where that philosophy puts them in the price range spectrum.

In most cases, estate wines from the rocks cost upwards of $50, but Balboa sits stubbornly in the $20s with many of its wines, and that hasn’t changed with the incorporation of LeFore into the lineup. Certainly there are places where Balboa saves money – the barrels are all neutral and the wines are released young – but are those even negatives? For me, it only enhances our ability to really taste the fruit and earth from this special site.

I opened this bottle at 10am, and it wasn’t until about 4pm that the funk of the rocks came out to play (until that point, it was still a lovely, pure Syrah, with high-toned blue fruit and florals). But trust me: give this one a few hours open, and you will be handsomely rewarded as the savories and funkies arrive: green olive, seaweed, braised meat, iron; it’s a glorious pastiche of brackish aromas and flavors; a fine introduction to the rocks.

This wine is stunningly strong at this tariff, and it has not yet arrived in Seattle. Lucky for us, because once the word gets out that there’s Rocks Syrah in the $20s, this wine is going to fly (and there’s only 150 cases). In the meantime, I’m going to special-order this, and we have dibs before the rest of the world catches on.

First come first served up to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. This wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

Two 2009s from Gramercy Cellars

January 25, 2012

Hello friends. Two new releases from Gramercy Cellars today. One is an old standby. The other is a new addition to the lineup, which until today had only been available through the winery doors:

2009 Gramercy Cellars Tempranillo “Inigo Montoya”

An odd member of the Rhone-focused Gramercy lineup, no doubt, but I was never one to refuse a delicious oddity. This is Greg Harrington’s fourth vintage making Tempranillo, and he has settled into a style that pays homage to Rioja. The proportion of Tempranillo here (97%) is as high as it has ever been, and much like in Rioja, the majority of the barrels here are American (75%; the remainder French, and only 10% new).

All the Tempranillo comes from the Walla Walla Valley, a combination of Les Collines (89%) and Gramercy’s own estate vineyard (11%). Aromatically, it’s a slam dunk for Tempranillo, with its telltale combination of tobacco leaf, dark berry fruit, and spicy leather. Spanish Tempranillos often walk the line between old-world and new-world style, and this is no different. The moderate alcohol (13.5%) and notable structure (plenty of jazzy acid, and nice chewy tannins) suggest old-world, but there’s a ripeness to the fruit and to the tannins (here giving a suggestion of sweet pepper) that would perhaps push you towards the new world in a blind tasting. There’s something to like for everyone. For me, this vintage had a compelling umami character I didn’t recall from previous Inigos, upping the complexity and making this difficult to resist indeed.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).” [note: Sean Sullivan has shifted his ratings to a simple, 5-star system for 2012]

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

2009 Gramercy Cellars L’Idiot du Village (Syrah/Grenache Blend)

Move along.

Nothing to see here.

All indications have pointed to this being winery-only (to the best of my knowledge, no other retail or restaurant accounts in the United States are currently stocking this), so I inquired about a parcel as something of a lark. My surprise at hearing “yes” is exceeded only by my desire to hit send before anyone changes their mind, so I will keep this brief.

A play on a Cotes du Rhone Villages (a step up from Cotes du Rhone) and a play on, well, the village idiot, this is an 89/11 blend of Syrah and Grenache, which in 2009 is meant to showcase Les Collines Block 50, the infamous sprawl block; the wild beast of the Walla; the destroyer of worlds; the… okay, I’m getting carried away.

But this is an odd block of Syrah vines, trained differently than the rest, and it seems to express itself, when harnessed properly, in a note of wildness to the fruit; a sauvage character; a blast of black olive. Here we get wild mountain blueberries, dusted in cocoa powder, and this is notable for the almost Cabernet-like grip of the tannins. This is a chewy Syrah, with plenty of boldness to the flavor and structure, a rare Syrah that could complement your next porterhouse. It’s a fine introduction to an odd little piece of the Walla Walla Valley, and as far as I know, it’s not available anywhere else.

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.

2007 Cavatappi Sangiovese Molly’s Cuvee

January 23, 2012

Hello friends. We have offered many Cavatappi wines since Full Pull’s inception, and that’s no accident. It’s a perfect fit for our model: a 25-year-old Washington winery that few have heard of, started by a former Italian restaurateur and focusing on Italian varietals.

Today, we have the latest vintage of Cavatappi’s “high-end” Sangiovese (yes, they have a cheaper Columbia Valley Sangio, but this price, for five-year old, well-tended Sangiovese, is just ridiculous). Please note: I will also include reorder links for the current vintages of Barbera and Nebbiolo down below, for those who missed it the first time or are itching to reorder.

A wise man once wrote, “Every country gets the wine it deserves.”

That man was me. Thirty seconds ago. And some have questioned my wisdom.

But in the case of Italy, it’s true. Their indigenous varietals developed as their cuisine developed, in tandem. The wines serve as complements to food, to be sure, and I have even heard some Italians go so far as to refer to wine as playing the role of condiment.

When you consider the Italian palate (a vast generalization, I admit), there is certainly a comfort level with the acidic (think tomato-based dishes) and the bitter (think rapini, or better yet, think Negroni). And it’s the same for the wines. A good Sangiovese is going to have plenty of acid, and it’s going to have some savory, bitter notes.

I’d like to pause here for a moment and discuss the word “bitter.” Can we agree that this is not a pejorative when talking about wine? We grow up. Our palates change. Suddenly the Hershey’s Special Dark is better than the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. Why? Because we’re adults, dammit, and we like our adult flavors, which include bitters. I have been cautioned numerous times by folks in the trade to avoid the word “bitter” in describing any wine that I actually want to sell. Well-meaning, I know, but I think they under-estimate the buying public, and certainly the hyper-literate set that makes up the Full Pull list (sorry, it’s an election year; I couldn’t help the gratuitous pander).

Now, where was I? Oh, right: killer 2007 Sangiovese from Boushey and Red Willow Vineyards, two of the shining stars of the Yakima Valley. This starts with an alluring nose, all earth and black licorice and pressed flowers. The palate is very Sangiovese, very adult, with Campari and rhubarb to offset the lovely cherry fruit. My goodness, this is a lot of wine for the price.

No surprise, really. Peter Dow has been making this wine for years, and he has a chef’s palate (he began his career at Café Juanita, an Italian restaurant in Kirkland whose basement contained the original Cavatappi winery). That also explains why this is a wine much more regularly seen on restaurant wine lists than on retail shelves. A sommelier’s darling, but for us, a chance to play somm at home with our best, most rustic Italian cooking.

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

2009 Angel Vine Hellion

January 22, 2012

Hello friends. Today’s wine first caught my eye when Paul Gregutt’s Top 100 was released in late December. It stood out as the only red wine in the top 50 that was under $25, it’s set to receive a score of 93pts from Paul Gregutt in a future issue of Wine Enthusiast, and it had an inscrutable name that gave no impression as to what was in the bottle.

So I dug.

And I was pleased to find that I am still able to be surprised by the wacky world of wine.

Hellion, as it happens, comes from a winery in the heart of the Willamette Valley, where the folks at Angel Vine grow and manage a cool-climate Pinot Noir Vineyard, but where their real passion is hot-weather varietals from Washington.

Go figure.

Washington certainly needs champions for the triumvirate of hotties: Zinfandel, Primitvo, and Petite Sirah (before the wine police snatch me up, I am required by law to tell you that recent research has revealed a strong likelihood that those first two are actually both clones of a single Croatian varietal: the tongue-stumbling Crljenak Kaštelanski). And if that champion happens to come from south of the Washington border, then so be it.

Zins and Petite Sirahs have garnered huge acclaim in California, but the truth is, most of the Pac-NW simply isn’t hot enough to consistently ripen these thermophiles. But there are pockets that work, and winemaker Ed Fus has identified some of the best among them: StoneTree, Alder Ridge, Coyote Canyon, Les Collines.

As is frequently the case with these varietals, this is a massive wine: big fruit, big alc (15.5%), big generosity. It stains the glass, and ethers hit your nose before you even inhale. The aromatics present good Zinfandel/Primitivo typicity: for me a mix of brambly red berries, baking chocolate, and tomato leaf. Here is a plump wine indeed, but one that holds its weight beautifully. It certainly can work as a cocktail wine, with enough savory-sweet, sultry pleasures to kick off a party right. If you’re going to pair with food, think big and rich; anything else will be overwhelmed. This is the rare Washington wine that can win a staring contest with your next fresh-ground, thick-cut, medium-rare cheeseburger.

Here is PaulG’s review, which will be released with the February Wine Enthusiast: Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Once that review is released, this wine will likely be more difficult to source (only 200 cases produced), but in the meantime, it’s well under the radar. So, first come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

Two from Tero Estates

January 20, 2012

Hello friends. If a patch of land could talk, what would it say?

Doug Roskelley’s attempt to answer that question is the foundation for today’s offering:

2008 Tero Estates “Windrow” (Windrow Vineyard BDX Field Blend)

The patch of land is Windrow Vineyard, which contains the oldest commercial Cabernet vines in the Walla Walla Valley. Doug and Jan Roskelley purchased the site (adjacent to Seven Hills) in 2007 and built their estate winery on the premises. While they have since opened a tasting room downtown (in the Marcus Whitman hotel, actually), I would urge you to make an appointment and visit the winery itself. Along with its intellectual charms (seeing those gnarled old vines is a treat), there are the aesthetics to think about, and it is one of the most beautiful patches of the Walla Walla Valley.

As I think about it, this bottling too combines the intellectual and the sensual. The intellectual exercise is this: pick grapes in the exact proportion that they appear in the vineyard. Pick them on the same day. Throw them into the fermenter together. Wait.

This is a rare recipe, for two main reasons. First, winemakers like to pick different varietals on different days, because they can ripen at different rates. Second, winemakers like to keep their varietals separate as they go through fermentation, then blend the juice when it’s more of a known quantity.

Doing as Doug does here is dangerous (I think I just created a Walla Walla Valley tounge-twister!), because what’s done is done. Everything goes into the fermenter at once, and what comes out is what comes out.

It is an intellectual exercise, and a good one: what does this patch of land have to say?

And if it ended there, we could all still get geeked up about it and wax poetic to each other about the merits of terroir expression. But it gets better still, because the answer to the question is something lovely. In many cases, winemakers have to choose between something interesting or something beautiful. Here Doug has his cake and eats it too.

Noteworthy right away are the soaring, floral aromatics: lilac, lavender, and sappy fruit. On the bright palate, this is more mineral/floral than overtly fruity. The fruit that is there has a brambly raspberry character, and it quickly transitions into the ripe, gorgeous tannins, which carry suggestions of chamomile tea. Left brain and right brain, intellect and senses: all are satisfied.

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

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

2007 Tero Estates Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

I also received a few requests for this one, likely from subscribers to Rand Sealey’s newsletter, who noticed it as Rand’s first perfect score of 2012:

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($90); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 20/20 points.”

Please note: while the winery did indeed sell this only in 3-bottle wooden-box sets, we can offer it today a single bottle at a time. If you do order 3 bottles, we will include the wooden box free of any additional charges.

The aromatics announce a complex wine ahead, with fig paste, strawberry, cedar, and peppermint. There is excellent density here, and a seamlessness to the flavors, which present a fine array of dark, earth/mineral tones. This transitions into a seriously lengthy finish, which leaves the taster with a lingering impression of black cherry-inflected black tea.

This is a wine worthy of the reserve label. From three barrels originally destined for the Estate Cabernet program that stood out to Doug as especially worthy (all three barrels were new Vicard), the wine spent three years in those barrels plus another year in bottle before release. Reserves will only be made in exceptional years, and there will be none in 2008, and 2009 is looking unlikely. Only 20 cases are currently being released, so we’re lucky to have access to this beauty.

Please limit order requests to 3 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. This wine should arrive in a few weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.