Two from Powers

February 29, 2012

Hello friends. Along with Paul Champoux, four Washington wineries have ownership stakes in Champoux Vineyard, undeniably one of Washington’s cru Cabernet sites (see location here on our vineyard map), and these four wineries have access to the filet of the vineyard. Quilceda Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon ($135) and Woodward Canyon’s Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon ($80) both contain a backbone of Champoux Cab. Andrew Will’s Sorella ($74) comes entirely from Block One Champoux fruit. And now, from the fourth partner, comes today’s wines:

2008 Powers Champoux Vineyard Reserve (Cabernet Blend)

My only disappointment with this wine is the quantity available. It’s limited enough that I don’t want to go on at great length. I will say that Powers has been working with Champoux fruit since 1992, and that this is the debut vintage of this specific reserve wine, which is a tribute to the vineyard. The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc, and 23% Merlot, all Champoux fruit, and all in new French oak.

We had a sample bottle open in the warehouse on a recent Thursday, and it was fascinating to watch the wine evolve over the course of the day. It took about 4 hours open for the Champoux character to emerge: a graphite, charcoal, low-toned darkness. Champoux Cabernet is a dark-hearted beast indeed, and that shines through here, in all forms of carbony blackness. The palate is awash in blackcurrant, good clean earth, and high-cacao chocolate. I love this for its notable balance (14% alc), its fine, dusty tannins, its minty vibrancy.

Due to the parcel size here, please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests.

2008 Powers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sheridan Vineyard

From a grand cru site in the Horse Heaven Hills to a rising star of the Yakima Valley. This is a terrific tariff for fruit of this quality.

What I find compelling about Sheridan Vineyard Cabernet is its densely packed layers of fruit. Here you get berry, cherry, cassis, and then we venture into stone fruit territory (peaches, apricots) and even some tropical notes (mango). It’s a compact pastiche of fruit. This also has some of the notorious Sheridan tannins on the back end. After that wash of fruit on the attack and mid-palate, the finish is a wall of chewy tea-leaf and espresso-bean tannin.

While I couldn’t find reviews of the Champoux blend, this one was reviewed (in barrel) by Jay Miller before leaving Wine Advocate:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. (91-94pts; Barrel Sample).”

Quantities are better on this, so we can open it up to first come first served, up to 12 bottles. Both wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


Two from Tranche Cellars

February 27, 2012

Hello friends. Two new releases from Tranche Cellars today: a Chardonnay that is set to receive a big review from Paul Gregutt, along with a bottling that is turning into a (no joke) cult Washington rosé.

2008 Tranche Cellars Chardonnay (Celilo Vineyard)

It’s time for the return of everyone’s favorite game: Guess That Score.

This is 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. If we get it right, our list can jump on these before the official reviews are published and the wines grow scarce.

So far, we have played the game three times, and here are the results to date:
1. May 18, 2011. 2008 Mark Ryan Dead Horse. Our guess: 95pts. Actual published result: 95pts.
2. June 24, 2011. 2009 Maison Bleue Grenache La Montagnette. Our guess: 94pts. Actual published result: 94pts.
3. August 3, 2011. 2009 Sineann Merlot Champoux Vineyard. Our guess: 94pts. Actual published result: 94pts.

Not bad! I’d say our crystal ball, to date anyway, has been free of astigmatism. Perhaps pride really does goeth before the fall, but let’s jump again anyway. This was at the top of PaulG’s list of Top 10 Northwest Wines of the Month for January:

PaulGregutt.com (Paul Gregutt): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].”

The first sentence is our best clue. From my research, it looks like the strongest review PaulG has published for a Chardonnay with substantial Celilo fruit is the 2009 Woodward Canyon Chardonnay. Two-thirds Celilo fruit, this garnered a 96pt review from Gregutt, his strongest to date for a Washington Chardonnay. The “none better than this” phrasing above makes me think that he considers this Tranche Chardonnay the equal of that 09 Woody. But I’m going to hedge my bet, since that Woody Chard was not *entirely* Celilo fruit. I’m putting the range at 94-96pts and my best guess at 95pts, which would be a remarkable review for a Chardonnay at this tariff.

Remarkable, but not entirely surprising to those of us who have followed Tranche Cellars. Tranche, a sister winery to Corliss Estates, was originally launched with a laser focus on white varietals. That focus has since broadened to include reds (and rosé!), but the quality of the whites has never been better. Part of the reason is that the Corliss philosophy of lengthy barrel- and bottle-aging has leeched into the Tranche portfolio. 2008 was a glorious vintage for white wines in Washington, with near-perfect fruit-acid balance, and to see a 2008 Chardonnay just now being released into the market gets my blood pumping.

I had a chance to taste this last week, and it’s clear that a few extra years in bottle have knocked all the knees and elbows off this wine. It’s now a satiny bridge between white Burg and new-world Chard, a mix of peach, earth, biscuit, and vanilla bean. Leesy and luscious in the mouth, where you notice the density and intensity, the sheer palate weight, but it never gets heavy, propped up on a foundation of Celilo Vineyard acidity. Thrilling Washington Chardonnay from the Columbia Gorge, and there’s not much of it: just 160 cases produced, and this will be gone in a blink when PaulG’s review is eventually published in Wine Enthusiast. Rand Sealey will also be weighing in positively on this one, when he releases his March issue:

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

2011 Tranche Cellars Rose “Pink Pape”

The inaugural (2010) vintage of this was the buzziest Washington rosé of last summer, sold out well before temps climbed into the 80s in Seattle. For year two of the Pink Pape project, production has barely grown, and demand is substantially higher. The result: this wine is going to be sold out on release; unbelievable for a 400-case rosé.

I know it’s tough to imagine, considering it snowed in the Puget Sound yesterday, but meteorologists seem quite sure that summer is going to arrive sometime before 2013. Think of it: a sky uncluttered with clouds; a full sun spreading its munificent warmth on bare arms and legs; a pile of charcoal unhurriedly smoldering. And you.

But which version of you?

The version with foresight, who was able to calmly look ahead and order rosé in February that you won’t drink until July? The version who is the envy of friends and family and neighbors alike because you have the pale pink, refreshingly dry, Syrah/Grenache/Cinsault Tavel ringer, the one that smells of summer, of pineapple and watermelon, that one with mouthwatering spritzy acid and low alcohol (12.9%) and a stony spine?

Or the doofus version, the schmohawk version, the one who overvalues spontaneity and so on that fateful July day has to run to Safeway and grab the closest pink beverage, which turns out to be a jug of Barefoot White Zinfandel, which upon opening is revealed, to the horror of friends and family and neighbors alike right before they make their excuses and leave your BBQ, to be a bottle of alcoholized, melted-down pink cotton candy?

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles of Chardonnay and 3 bottles of rosé, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. These wines are both set for a March 1 release and will arrive during the first week of March, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


2006 Reininger Syrah Ash Hollow Vineyard

February 24, 2012

Hello friends. We interrupt your regularly-scheduled offering for an unexpected treat. This was not on the docket for today originally, but it’s an act-now-or-lose-it parcel, and I’m choosing to act now.

It was not a difficult decision: Washington Syrah, from a venerable producer, six years past vintage, at a deep discount. Yes please.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($41); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Why, you might ask, would a wine of this critical pedigree still be available now, and on discount? The answer is some inside-baseball industry geekery, and it revolves around Tiger Mountain Services.

TMS is the most important player in Washington wine that you have never heard of. They are a warehousing/logistics service, located in Kent, and they store a mountain of wine for hundreds of winery clients, in Washington and elsewhere. I can’t tell you the number of times a winery has said to me something like: “well, we only have four cases at the winery, but there are another fifty at Tiger.”

The scale of the warehouse, and the sheer amount of wine, is staggering. And not surprisingly, things get lost. If you take a look at this video of today’s wine originally being loaded into Tiger Mountain, you’ll see how cases can easily get misplaced.

Recently, the folks at Reininger took a physical inventory of their stock at Tiger, and what was once lost is now found: 17 cases of their renowned Ash Hollow Vineyard Syrah. Fortunately, because our list has shown great support for Reininger wines in the past, the winery thought of us as an appropriate destination for the wine.

Okay, so cool story up until this point, but it gets better, because this wine is wild. Ash Hollow is a tricky vineyard. It’s the westernmost in the Walla Walla Valley, the first vineyard you pass as you head into town from Seattle, and it’s as finicky as they come, subject to both frost and drought. Chuck Reininger has only been able to make a single-vineyard Syrah from this site in two vintages (05 and 06), and it’s not for lack of trying; the vineyard is just a dainty, delicate piece of earth.

But.

When it’s on, it’s really on, and this is a stunning expression of west-Walla terroir, something like Cayuse-meets-Cornas. Harvey Steiman, in his review above, is spot on, with his descriptors of olive and mineral and stone. The nose is intensely briney and sanguine, all black olive and blood, funky earth and truffle salt: truly an aromatic roller-coaster. The palate is low-toned, dark and brooding, with umami (soy/salt/pickle juice), meaty, blackberry, wet-stone flavors, and a finishing lick of cocoa nibs. This saw no new oak, so the savory character of the vineyard is on truest display here. I have seen this aroma/flavor profile from vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley before (Cayuse Vineyards, other sites in the rocks, Forgotten Hills, Morrison Lane), but never from this particular section of the valley.

Those of you who have enjoyed the Waters Forgotten Hills Syrahs, or the Reynvaan Syrahs, or Christophe’s work with Cayuse, should pay close attention here, as this bottling introduces Ash Hollow as a potential new funk brother. We get one shot at this parcel; no reorders, I’m afraid. Please limit order requests to 8 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.


Two Wines from Cadence

February 22, 2012

Hello friends. We offered Ben Smith’s Camerata back in December, one of two wines he makes from his estate Cara Mia Vineyard on Red Mountain (location here). Since then, I have been fulfilling a steady stream of requests for the other Cadence wine from Cara Mia: Bel Canto. I had Bel Canto on the books for a March/April offering, but since there seems to be so much interest (buoyed recently, I suspect, by its high place on Sean Sullivan’s Top Wines of 2011), let’s accelerate the schedule.

I’m also going to include Coda, Ben’s entry-level BDX blend, which is always one of the finest values to come out of Washington.

2008 Cadence “Bel Canto” Cara Mia Vineyard (BDX Blend)

Recall what Stephen Tanzer has written about Cadence: “These are some of Washington’s most Bordeaux-like wines, and Cadence is now firmly in the top tier of the state’s producers: recent vintages have brought sweeter fruit and greater density of material without any loss of structure or verve.” – Stephen Tanzer, Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, Nov/Dec 2010.

His 2008s are ultra-impressive: tightly-wound structure balls, with layers of pleasure packed in behind walls of acid and tannin. These are wines to age (3-5 years) or decant (3-5 hours) before opening. Bel Canto is the right-bank blend from Cara Mia, here 67% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot. The Franc is on full display here, all earth and savories: there’s good clean soil, beetroot, and bay leaf. The granular tannins are noteworthy, adding a dense lushness to the flavors.

This claimed the #9 spot on Sean Sullivan’s recent list:

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).” [Note: Sean Sullivan has shifted his ratings to a simple, 5-star system for 2012]

2009 Cadence “Coda” (BDX Blend)

Coda serves dual roles. For Ben Smith, it’s a destination for juice that does not fit into his four single-vineyard bottlings (along with the two wines from Cara Mia, he also produces a Ciel du Cheval bottling and a Tapteil Vineyard bottling). For the rest of us, it’s a sneak preview of the next vintage of Cadence wines, and more generally, a sneak-preview of the next vintage of Red Mountain fruit (all Ben’s grapes come from Red Mountain).

The blend for 2009 is 34% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Petit Verdot. In terms of approachability, it seems 2009 might be the polar opposite to 2008. This is quite accessible, its nose a lovely dried-flower mélange of lavender and violet. Ripe, floral-accented red berry and plum greet you on the palate. The tannins are pounded to a fine sheen, providing a barely-noticeable whisper of finishing-grip. While this is indeed an approachable bottle by Cadence standards, it still has Ben Smith’s fingerprints. This is super-classy juice for this tariff.

First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit). Both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


Two Oregon Pinots

February 21, 2012

Hello friends. I have an idea for the next mockumentary from Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show): participants in wine judging competitions. The title: Sitting in Judgment. What say you, Hollywood?

Seriously, it has been a trip getting invited to judge some of these competitions. It’s a heady mix of seriousness, passion, pomposity, insecurity, and borderline paranoid schizophrenia; in short: a story of the human condition.

In addition to the unbridled glee I get from observation (the people-watching equivalent of sitting in a sidewalk-facing Parisian café), there is an important added benefit: I get to taste a lot of wines, and taste them blind.

And at the end of the day, when the evaluations are submitted and you get your wine-decoding key, there is real excitement to learning the identity of the wines you loved (and, of course, a darker excitement/dread at learning the identity of the wines you loathed).

Recently, I participated in a blind tasting flight of 23 Pinot Noirs, and at the end of the day, I was horrified and thrilled to see that I had never heard of one of the Pinots I had scored highly: horrified because it punctures a hole in my theory that I know every serious Pinot producer in the Pac-NW; and thrilled because it’s always exciting to discover something new.

A few weeks, and a few reams of research later, that one wine led to two:

2008 River’s Edge Pinot Noir Barrel Select

My first tasting note during the judging (there’s not a whole lot of room for comments): good pure red cherry; fantastic right-down-the-middle Oregon Pinot Noir.

Digging deeper into this producer, I know why they were unfamiliar to me. They’re located in the Umpqua Valley, one of the few Pinot-producing regions in Oregon not part of the greater Willamette Valley. The Umpqua is three hours south of Portland, so it’s a little out-of-the-way as far as growing regions go.

The good news for us: because the Umpqua doesn’t have the brand recognition of the Willamette, the quality-price ratio is excellent. To wit: this comes entirely from estate vineyards planted in 1972! 1972?!? That’s ancient by northwest standards. And, this is a barrel selection, representing the 20% of barrels deemed best-of-vintage by the winemaking team.

I was able to taste this again (non-blind) and write a more extensive note. The wine was just as impressive, mixing lovely red Pinot fruit (pie cherry, pomegranate) with good seaweedy-umami notes and some light barrel complexities (just a touch of mocha from the 30% new oak). There’s good brightness to the flavors and a textural suaveness that is very 2008-vintage. The flavors have wonderful old-vine density at moderate (13.6%) alcohol. If this is representative of the Umpqua Valley at large, I’ll be needing to plan a trip as soon as possible.

2009 Longplay Pinot Noir Lia’s Vineyard

The broker in Seattle who covers River’s Edge also covers this producer, another one unfamiliar to me before tasting. I will admit I was seduced, before tasting, by the packaging and by the motto: Analog Wine for a Digital World.

This bottle comes from the winery’s estate Lia’s Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains (one of my favorite Willamette sub-AVAs), and in the glass, it could be nothing but Pinot, with the telltale ethereal pale red color. It smells like Oregon: that inviting combination of red fruit and forest-floor savories. But in the mouth it walks like the line between old world and new, with fine mineral complexities surrounding a core of cherry and citrus-pith fruit.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($24); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

First come first served up to 18 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit). Both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


2010 Renegade Reserve Malbec

February 19, 2012

Hello friends. We have first dibs today on a killer new Renegade project from Trey Busch.

Only 40 cases of this are available. Because of our list’s long, strong support for the Renegade program, Trey has offered us as much of that 40-case chunk as we can handle. If we have demand for all 40 cases, we get all 40 cases. Any leftovers will be sold, as futures, to other restaurant/retail accounts. This wine will, for certain, be completely sold out by the time it hits the ground in Seattle (early March).

A quick reminder of what the Renegade program 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 (whose main label is Sleight of Hand Cellars) purchases the barrels, bottles the wine under his Renegade label, and sometimes signs a non-disclosure agreement regarding the source of the juice.

In some cases, there is very little information about what’s in the bottle. In this case, I have managed to wrangle, cajole, beg a good bit of information out of the head renegade. Here’s what we know:

1. This is single-vineyard, and we know the (outstanding) vineyard source: StoneTree. I just wrote about this Wahluke Slope vineyard (located here), farmed by Tedd Wildman, a few weeks ago, and it’s amazing to see this site continue to skyrocket up the charts of important Washington vineyards.

2. We know the vintage, 2010, the first of two cool vintages in a row in Washington. A vintage that was nervewracking for most of the summer, it ended up with enough nice weather in autumn to turn the tables, becoming a potentially classic vintage in the mold of 1999: long hang-times, good ripeness at moderate alcohols, terrific acid set. Recall that StoneTree is one of the warmer sites in Washington. Warm site, cool year, balanced wine.

3. We know the barrel regimen: The wine spent 15 months in exactly two barrels, both of them 3-year-old French; not exactly neutral, but far from new.

4. We know this was originally intended for a winery in the Walla Walla Valley.

5. We know the wine will be delivered in early March and will not be available for reorder.

This is a seriously strong Malbec, strong enough that Trey has bottled it under the “Renegade Reserve” label. Where there have been many Renegade wines, I think you can count the number of Reserves on one hand.

Putting together this offering has been like something out of a John le Carre novel (Tinker, Tailor, Winemaker, Malbec?). Bits and pieces of information have emerged over time. A sample was overnighted to me from Walla Walla, arriving in an anonymous brown shipper. When I opened it, the bottle looked more suited to olive oil than wine and had a “Ray’s Boathouse 50th Anniversary” label on it.

But the juice inside was magic.

My issues with Washington Malbec have never been about quality; only about price. This bottle has both: high quality and competitive tariff. It’s a fine reminder of the potential that this grape has in Washington. When it’s at its best (like this bottle), it blurs the line between Malbec’s old-world home of Cahors and its new-world stronghold of Argentina. Here you get glimpses of a fine Cahors – a big rocky-mineral spine, chewy black-tea tannins – and the generosity of cocoa-dusted fruit we’ve come to expect from Argentine versions.

A beautiful wine to look at, it’s positively resplendent in its youthful, inky, glass-staining black-purple. The aromatics speak of something exotic to come: flinty minerals and mountain berries and violets and English breakfast tea. There is a sense of depth and palate-weight without heaviness; this exudes balance and class rare for an under-$20 tariff.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in early March, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.


Library Wines from Dunham Cellars

February 17, 2012

Hello friends. I had the privilege in 2011 to participate in an unforgettable library tasting at Dunham Cellars. As you can see by this picture, the breadth of the lineup was staggering, with much of this stalwart Walla Walla winery’s history laid bare on that table.

What the picture cannot convey, of course, is the quality of the lineup. That’s what I’m here to do.

Our dive into the Dunham library began last October, when we made their 1998 Trutina (back then called Trey Marie) Full Pull’s second-anniversary offering. Today we present the sequel, containing even more oldie-but-goodies (our version of Cocoon 2, I suppose): another chance to step backwards in time.

2001 Dunham Cellars Trutina (Cabernet Blend)

While the 1998 was Merlot-dominant, this 2001 vintage is Cabernet-dominant, at 70% of the blend (the remainder is Merlot and Cabernet Franc). To give you a sense of the value here, the release price, back in 2004, was $28. Today’s TPU price is…

$28.

Essentially, the fine folks at Dunham have offered us a free ten-year cellaring program. What can we do but say thanks and quickly grab our wine before they change their minds?

Paul Gregutt called this wine “very Bordeaux-like” in a 2004 review, and it has evolved that way too, with the savory side of Cabernet on full display. The nose is driven by root-vegetable (beetroot, carrot) and poblano notes, intermingling with blackcurrant. The well-developed palate brings cassis, dried berry, oregano, and pipe tobacco, all on a frame that has retained much of its juicy vibrancy. A fine, well-priced example of a Washington BDX blend with mature aromas and flavors on full display.

2001 Dunham Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon “VII”

Let’s stay with 2001, but move up the ladder a bit. Dunham’s 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (VII in their numerclature) was released with a $45 price point, and we’re again able to match that tariff.

100% Cabernet Sauvignon here, and the vineyard sources include some serious all-stars from the Walla Walla Valley (Cayuse En Cerise, Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills), Yakima Valley (Lewis), and Rattlesnake Hills (Portteus).

The aromatics indicate a wine a little less advanced along the aging curve than the Trutina. The fruit is more prominent here, in the form of dried cherry and dried peach, and it pairs beautifully with a savory, golden-beet note. Finished alc was just 13.3%, so this was harvested with plenty of natural acidity still in place. That acid has served as a fine preservative for a core of black cherry fruit. There are grace notes of cola spice, graphite, and leather to ramp up the complexity, and this seems just about at peak to me. I’d drink it up in the next 2-3 years.

2003 Dunham Cellars Syrah Double River Vineyard

This was the biggest surprise of the library lineup, without question. First off, I never knew this wine existed. To the best of my knowledge, Dunham made its Columbia Valley Syrah and its Lewis Vineyard Syrah and that was the extent of the Syrah program.

Wrong.

In two vintages – 2003 and 2005 – they produced a single-vineyard Syrah from another of their estate sites: Double River Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. This 2003 (only 187 cases produced) has a finished alc of just 13.6%, and it is aging beautifully. It’s also beautiful to look at, graced with one of Eric Dunham’s vibrantly-colored artworks on the front label.

The character was completely different from the other wines on the table, and is the closest to the Cayuse/Reynvaan funk I have seen from outside those two portfolios. The aromatics come spilling out of the glass before you even get close to it: pork belly and bloody sanguine notes and loads of briney black olives. This is an umami special, all porky and bloody and seaweedy. There’s just a whisper of blackberry and citrus left to remind you of this wine’s younger, more fruit-filled days; it’s clearly the savories and funkies on the ascendency. A unique, mature Walla Walla Valley Syrah.

Please limit order requests to 6 Trutina, 4 Cabernet, and 3 Syrah, 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.