Two from Buty

March 30, 2012

Hello friends. Another set of highly-allocated new releases today, this one from Caleb Foster at Buty. Quick reminder on our allocation scheme for high-demand, low-supply wines like these: We favor breadth over depth, so that everyone gets one bottle before anyone gets two. And our formula for prioritizing allocations includes list tenure, overall orders, frequency of orders, and recency of orders, among other factors; it’s like the BCS formula, only less scrutable.

I’ll keep this relatively short, since these are scarce, but Caleb Foster founded Buty in 2000 after many years working with Rick Small at Woodward Canyon. In the dozen years since, the winery has developed a reputation for consistent excellence, and for focus. The lineup has been at six wines for many years now: two whites and four reds, three released in the fall, three released in the spring. Today’s offerings come from the most recent spring release, and show a winemaker at the peak of his creative powers:

2010 Buty Merlot-Cabernet Franc

This used to be a little easier to source, but Paul Gregutt’s 94pt review in Wine Enthusiast for the 2009 vintage has made this one more challenging to bring in. Yields were down significantly in 2010, and only 220 cases were produced, so there is barely any of this to go around. Another notable development for 2010 is that this is single-vineyard. Although not listed on the bottle, it comes entirely from Conner Lee Vineyard, a terrific site outside of Othello (location here), east of the Wahluke Slope.

Always the most immediately approachable of the Buty reds, this blend of 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Franc is all about the mouthfeel for me. Texturally, this is plush and silky and so eminently drinkable, but there is enough good 2010 acid to keep things lively too. The flavors seem very Merlot to me: good pure plum and black cherry fruit, dusted in high-cacao chocolate and coffee. The Cabernet Franc appears more on the fringes, adding bay leaf and poblano complexities. The whole package hangs together well, balanced and beautiful.

2009 Buty “Rediviva of the Stones” (Cab-Syrah Blend)

This one has always been difficult to source, as it comes from the coveted Rocks area of the Walla Walla Valley. Caleb has two “Rediviva” wines in the lineup. Both are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah; the Columbia Rediviva from Phinny Hill Vineyard, and this Rediviva of the Stones from LeFore, Morrison Lane, Les Collines, and River Rock Vineyards. It’s mostly Syrah cofermented with a little Marsanne. Those two combined comprise 77%, and Cabernet Sauvignon makes up the remainder.

This is the most aromatically expressive, openly beautiful Rediviva of the Stones that I have experienced from Caleb. Perhaps the Marsanne coferment adds that extra oomph to the nose; regardless this is a glorious pastiche of white flower petals, earth, seaweed, and black fruit. There is plenty of the umami character that many associate with the rocks: a real savory meatiness that kept me returning to the glass over and over. Caleb was one of the first in the valley to play with Syrah-Cabernet blends, and this bottling feels like, after nearly a decade doing it, he is close to achieving mastery of these types of wines.

No reviews yet for this one either, although previous vintages have received some rapturous reviews and strong scores, and I’m certain that if I wait for the publication of reviews, this will be long gone.

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles of Merlot-Cab Franc and 6 bottles of Rediviva, 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.

Summer Sampler

March 28, 2012

Hello friends. Our Rosé offering from a few weeks ago sent me a strong message: even if the warmth of a Seattle summer sun is still far away, we’re already there in our minds.

Today, then, we have a big grab-bag of summer-appropriate bottles: one Rosé, four Whites, and one Red. Grab two bottles of each and you have a thirst-quenching mixed case of lively wines just waiting for the right camping trip or BBQ.

I specifically selected these for warmer climes and times; you won’t see any ponderous Chardonnays or heavy Syrahs today; these are all brisk and energetic. While each probably merits its own offering and a proper writeup, I’m going to hit these rapid-fire style, because let’s face it, you should probably be working right now and not reading about mouthwatering wines and thinking about rafting down a cool river with the sun on your face and a cooler towed behind you with wines that you may or may not decide to drink right from the bottle and that may be consumed in the raft or perhaps in the river itself if the river spirits grab you and… woah, what just happened there? Okay, onto the wines:

2011 Syncline Rose

Hard to make an argument for a more consistently-excellent Rosé produced in Washington. I have already received a dozen inquiries about when this would be released. April 1 is the answer, and it will be ubiquitous in Seattle right up until the point when it disappears (late August, if we’re lucky). It’s a blend of just about every red varietal Syncline makes, and I liked James Mantone’s descriptors for what each one adds, so I’ll include them:

“The Pinot Noir base (33%) provides strawberry and refreshing acidity, Cinsault (17%) offers the unmistakable aroma of rose water and violets, Grenache (17%) contributes juicy strawberry and musky watermelon rind aromas and flavors, Mourvedre (9%) imparts its characteristic spice to the mix, Counoise (9%) and Carignan (15%) yield fresh acidity and ripe berry notes.”

The color is lighter than the past few vintages, a beautiful pale pink. There is a good summery core of watermelon and pineapple, and while this has plenty of acid, it also has an attractive creaminess to the mouthfeel. That makes me think this could last throughout the summer and even make it onto a few Thanksgiving tables this fall (only eight months away!). There are subtleties of straw and bay leaf to ratchet up the complexity a bit, but who really needs complexity here? In the end, isn’t Rosé one of life’s simpler pleasures?

2010 Cedergreen Cellars Sauvignon Blanc

Kevin Cedergreen’s winery is an under-the-radar gem, and I have always been especially enamored of his whites. He only makes two: a Chenin Blanc (which we have previously offered), and this single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Spring Creek Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. 2010 was such a wonderful acid year for Washington whites, and so makes a great vintage for Sauvignon Blanc. The acidity here is positively spritzy, and it carries ultra-refreshing flavors across the palate: key lime and grapefruit, kiwi and grass. There is a taut mineral spine to this that is so refreshing, and a perfect foil to all manner of bivalve and mollusk. Pass the oysters, please.

2010 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Blanc

Most of you already know how I feel about Eyrie (hint: good). For those who don’t, these two offerings (here and here) should provide some background material. I would say Eyrie is best known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. This is the hidden gem of the lineup, a wine that rarely leaves Oregon and one we’re lucky to source.

Pinot Blanc is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir. In other words, you have a vineyard full of Pinot Noir, and all your vines have red grapes, except for one cane, whose grapes are all white. Weird, huh? And then a few geneticist/vigneron types propagated these mutant vines into vineyard blocks all their own. Voila Pinot Blanc! Lovely aromatics of melon, red pear, and cut hay give way to a palate whose mouthfeel is just about perfect. It has palate weight, density, and intensity without ever coming off as heavy (the jazzy acid helps); perfect for summertime. The core flavors are peach and pear, overlain with lightly floral orange blossom nuance. A rare little treasure from the cellars of Eyrie. Find a plate of seared scallops and don’t hesitate.

2010 Abacela Albarino

A few of you inquired about this after I mentioned it in last week’s Abacela Paramour offering, and it is a beauty. As I mentioned, Earl and Hilda Jones have focused on Tempranillo and Albarino since launching Abacela in 1994. All estate grown (because where the hell else are you going to find Albarino in Oregon?), this is an honest expression of the varietal, which finds its main home in Rias Baixas, along the northwest coast of Spain. Nice and spritzy, this is almost too easy to drink, a brisk mix of citrus fruits – grapefruit and lime mostly – with a dash of tarragon and mineral brine to ramp up the complexity. Another good foil for oysters, or perhaps a bowlful of garlicky steamed littlenecks.

2010 Adelsheim Auxerrois Ribbon Springs Vineyard

Auxerrois (like Pinot Blanc) is most frequently seen in varietal form in Alsace. It also has a long history in Oregon, with the first clones brought over in 1977, and Adelsheim has grown Auxerrois since the mid-80s and bottled it varietally, I believe, since 2003. There are only a handful of wineries producing varietal Auxerrois in the United States, so this is a tasty rarity.

Single-vineyard, from Ribbon Springs in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, it presents a distinctive cool-climate character, with a clear mineral note to the aromatics. The acidity is simply thrilling here, and it carries waves of alpine fruit across the palate. It’s almost minty in its freshness, and it easily cut through a recent, simple dinner of cream of cauliflower soup. Lip-smacking, refreshing, and oh so easy to glug.

2010 Sineann RTW (Red Blend)

This shouldn’t work. I’ll say that up front. When I saw the blend, I shuddered, because mixing Pinot Noir (more than 50% of the blend) with bigger grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel is usually a recipe for vapidity. Somehow, the finished package works here. It is, as winemaker Peter Rosback notes, “essentially all the Sineann wines we made in 2010 combined. That’s right – the Old Vine Zin, the Resonance Pinot Noir, the Baby Poux Cab and more.” Certainly it would be difficult to find a wine from vineyards this good, cropped at such low yields, at anything approaching this price. And if the blend is a little odd, so be it! This is summer wine, meant for easy drinking, not endless contemplation.

My first note on this was “great summer red.” And that was in February. Amazingly, the Pinot character shines through, despite all the other blenders in the mix. It has that nice Oregon Pinot character of red and black fruits, interwoven with smoke and bramble and forest floor. In my notes, the adjectives for texture/mouthfeel explain why I pegged this as a summer red: suave, energetic, mouthwatering, juicy. Putting a light chill on this, as you would for a Rosé, would not be out of the question.

First come first served up to 72 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit), and the wines should all arrive in the next week or two, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

Three from Force Majeure

March 26, 2012

Hello friends. Our usual Monday morning offering has been delayed until afternoon as I put the finishing touches on negotiations for this difficult-to-source parcel. I think you’ll find it was worth the wait.

We have a very limited set of new releases from Force Majeure today (formerly Grand Reve; name changed under threat of a trademark lawsuit). For those of you who don’t know the tale behind this winery, our first Grand Reve offering has the full story.

Since those first releases, the quality of the winemaking has continued to increase, the buzz has continued to build, and the allocations have continued to become more competitive. Apologies in advance if we have to send sold-out allocation notices, but we’ll do our best to fulfill what we can.

2008 Force Majeure Collaborations Series IV (BDX Blend)

Series IV is made by Carolyn Lakewold of Donedei, and it is a right-bank Bordeaux blend, with a spine of old-vine Ciel du Cheval Merlot (60%). The remainder is Ciel Cabernet Sauvignon (26%), Cabernet Franc (12%), and Petit Verdot (2%). Only 187 cases produced, and for me, this is always among the most immediately-approachable of the Grand Reve lineup, lovely in its purity, elegance, and finesse.

No reviews yet for this one, but the 2007 received 94pts Jay Miller (Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate).

2009 Force Majeure Collaborations Series II (Syrah)

Series II is made my Ross Mickel of Ross Andrew Winery, and it is returning to its roots. In its inaugural vintage (2006), it was a Northern Rhone-styled, Syrah-Viognier coferment. Then in 2007 and 2008 it was a Southern Rhone, GSM blend. Now, with 2009, it returns to an homage to Cote Rotie, with 98% Ciel du Cheval Syrah cofermented with 1% Ciel Viognier and 1% Ciel Roussanne. Again, total production is just 187 cases.

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96-98pts.”

2009 Force Majeure Collaborations Series VI (Rhone Blend)

2009 is the inaugural vintage for Collaboration Series VI, made by James Mantone of Syncline Winery, and Series VI now becomes the GSM blend for Force Majeure. Or, perhaps to put it more accurately, an MGS blend, as the proportions are 48% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, and 24% Syrah, again all Ciel du Cheval fruit.

This is the most limited of the three, at just 140 cases produced, and it has yet to be reviewed by any of the major publications.

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles IV, 1 bottle II, and 4 bottles VI, 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.

Two from Abeja

March 25, 2012

Hello friends. New vintage today of one of the ambassador Cabernet Sauvignons produced in Washington (and a bonus wine from the same producer):

2009 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley

Year in and year out, this is one of my favorite wines produced in Washington. The mission statement at Abeja is telling: “the relentless pursuit of extraordinary Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon.” While the winery has branched into small production of other varietals (one of which we’ll offer below), Cabernet remains the beating heart of Abeja.

It has been almost two years since I shared John Abbott’s backstory. Time to rehash it I think: John Abbott is one of Washington’s most experienced winemakers. Lucky us; but for a few happy contingencies, he could have been one of Oregon’s most experienced veterinarians. It was during his time as a pre-vet at Oregon State University that he happened upon sensory evaluation work in the Food Sciences department. Soon after, he traded in ungulates for grapes, transferring to Fresno State’s Viticulture and Enology Program. After post-grad stints in Napa making Cab at Pine Ridge and Pinot Noir at Acacia, he moved to Washington in 1994 to make wine from the nascent Canoe Ridge Vineyard. He remained at Canoe Ridge, making outstanding wines (the Merlots from this site were especially well-received) until 2001-02, when he began Abeja.

Abeja is one of the true class acts in Washington winemaking. It begins with the growers. Kenny Hart (winemaker at Tulpen Cellars) manages Abeja’s estate Heather Hill and Mill Creek Vineyards (Heather Hill Cab appears in this blend). The purchased fruit in this Cabernet comes from old-vine fruit at Sagemoor (Bacchus, Dionysus, and Weinbau), all carefully managed by Kent Waliser, along with Red Mountain Cabernet from some of the Corliss and Hedges Family holdings on the mountain.

The production facility is breathtaking, and a stay at the Inn on the grounds is a terrific experience if you can manage a reservation. The Abeja mailing list is one of the few closed lists in Washington, and that list snaps up much of Abeja’s production each year.

Fortunately, we are able to get a little.

The 09 vintage presents itself with a very pretty nose, all lavender and violet and crème de cassis, swaddled in barrel notes (60% new French) of cocoa and cedar. The purity is what you notice immediately upon taking a sip. This is a silky laser beam of Cabernet fruit, so plush on the attack and so creamy in the mid-palate. The finish contains just enough fine-grained tannin to remind you that this could only be Cab. Generous, energetic, and openly delicious, it remains a benchmark Washington Cabernet at this price point.

Abeja Cabernet is a good stretch wine. For those of us who keep most of our purchases to the $30-and-under set, this is worth considering as a special occasion bottle. It’s beautiful to look at and to taste. It’s glorious in its generously-fruited youth but can take on plenty of subtlety and complexity if you choose to cellar. It’s classy, classy wine.

2010 Abeja Chardonnay

Normally Abeja Chardonnay contains a hefty chunk of Celilo Vineyard fruit, but 2010 was a cool year everywhere, and in already-cool regions like the Columbia Gorge, it was a challenge achieving full ripeness (don’t be surprised if you see a lot of sparkling wines made from Celilo and Underwood Mountain fruit from the 2010 and 2011 vintages). So for 2010, Conner Lee Vineyard achieves a starring role, at 85% of the blend. The remainder is from Abeja’s estate Mill Creek, and this gets the new-world luxury treatment: 40% new oak and full malolactic conversion. The result is a creamy, luscious Chardonnay, driven by stone fruit and kiwi, with good leesy complexities and with plenty of 2010 acidity to keep things lively.

While the Cabernet is too new for reviews, Abeja’s 2010 Chardonnay is not. The following review is set to appear in the April Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($36); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts. Editor’s Choice.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($36); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

First come first served up to 18 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.

2006 Saint Laurent Syrah

March 23, 2012

Hello friends. We’re smack in the middle of a virtuous cycle for mature Washington Syrah.

I think most of us know more examples of the opposite: the vicious cycle, and its extreme cousin, the death spiral. That is thanks, in large part I suspect, to the specific schadenfreude of local news producers (“Tonight at 7: why your next flush of the toilet could be fatal!”).

But virtuous cycles; those are nice: self-reinforcing feedback loops in a positive direction. To wit: on February 17, we offer a 2003 Syrah from Dunham Cellars. Our list embraces it. Word gets out: the Full Pull list supports good, mature Syrah. I get a phone call from the folks at Reininger with an offer for all their remaining, recently-located 2006 Ash Hollow Syrah. I taste it; it’s killer; we offer it on February 24, and it’s a hit. We have to under-allocate lots of list members (sorry!). Word gets out: the Full Pull list *really* supports good, mature Syrah at a discount. And I get another phone call…

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($21); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

That review was written in 2009, so why is this wine still available three years later (and at a discount)? The answer is again about the vagaries of the wine trade, and distribution specifically. Saint Laurent’s portfolio had languished in the book of one western Washington distributor, so in the past few months, they jumped ship, and their new partners are looking to build the brand and blow through some of these older vintages.

Lucky for us, because according to Harvey’s “[WITHHELD]” note above, we’re living through the middle of the peak drinking window. Right now. And having tasted this wine recently, I have to agree with him. The aromatics are clearly maturing, all brackish and briney, with sultry aromas of sea salt, and green and black olives. The palate still retains some plum and blackberry fruit, but the savories are on the ascendancy here, and a glorious ascendancy it is, with olive, ham hock, and mushroom notes swirling through the palate. This displays complexity and integration that only bottle age can bring.

Saint Laurent is a lot like Fielding Hills: a fruit-growing family on the Wahluke Slope (apples, cherries, blueberries) takes that experience and branches into wine grapes. They farm the land, they make the wine from their single vineyard, and they fly well under the radar. Six-year-old, single-vineyard, estate-grown Syrah from the Wahluke Slope, at a discount? Yes please. First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2010 Owen Roe Syrah Ex Umbris

March 21, 2012

Hello friends. One of the Pac-NW’s strongest value Syrahs is back with a new vintage, and this one isn’t going to last long. The afterglow of the previous vintage’s accolades is proving to be a powerful force.

We offered the 2009 vintage last October, correctly predicting that it would eventually earn a high place on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list. It ended up at #25, and fortunately, many of us stocked up before that year-end list was released, because after that, the wine was gone in a blink.

Because 2010 was a cooler vintage, yields were down significantly. That, combined with the continuing buzz from the Top 100 placement, explains the small price increase and why the new vintage is quickly becoming difficult to source.

Difficult, but not impossible.

Given our support of this winery in the past, we have access to a sizable parcel, but it’s unclear to me when our hold on the parcel will evaporate, so prospects for reorders are murkier.

Pan-Washington Syrah, this comes from vineyards across the Yakima and Columbia Valleys and Horse Heaven Hills. A recent tasting revealed a wine very much in keeping with the Ex Umbris character: smokey, brambly Syrah, with a notable wildness, a “sauvage” character to the delicious raspberry fruit (the bottle design, which many of us love, remains the same as well). This positively bursts with energy and verve; it’s a joy to drink.

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

Two 2009s from JB Neufeld

March 19, 2012

Hello friends. Can Cabernet Sauvignon express terroir?

That is the question Justin Neufeld (winemaker at Gilbert Cellars) is trying to answer with his own JB Neufeld label.

We expect 100%, single-vineyard Syrah, but 100%, single-vineyard Cabernet is more rare. Why? In part, because there is a persistent belief among the trade that General Consumer (sort of sounds like a military shopper) prefers their Cabernets to be models of polish, beauty, seamlessness. And so we blend the hell out of our Cabernets, fill in any perceived holes, and pump out bottles of dull perfection.

Fortunately, our list falls far afield of General Consumer, and is as interested in vineyard expression as in beauty (or, perhaps we see true vineyard expression as its own form of beauty). So wines like this are a perfect fit. We offered these two wines from Justin’s inaugural 2008 vintage last year, and I’m pleased to offer the encore vintage today:

2009 JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon DuBrul Vineyard

DuBrul fruit (the estate site for Cote Bonneville) has long been prized by in-the-know Washington winemakers, but in 2011 it vaulted into public consciousness with the revelation that Quilceda Creek had contracted with DuBrul to purchase Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to replace their freeze-damaged Champoux fruit.

It is a fascinating, variegated site in the Yakima Valley (location here), that always seems to impart exotic aromatics to its Cabernets and Merlots. Here, Justin gets just 150 cases-worth, aged in two-thirds new French oak. The sweet-savory nose includes pimenton, golden beet, and dusty notes, and a minty topnote. This has a very Cabernet mouthfeel, with good grip to the fine-grained, green-tea flavored, finishing tannins. It’s ripe and tasty, a strong mix of ripe blackcurrant and earthy notes.

2009 JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon Artz Vineyard

Artz is a site on Red Mountain (located here) farmed by Klipsun’s vineyard manager, Fred Artz. And this Cabernet has good Red Mountain character, with a nice loamy minerality under-laying rich red fruit. The tannins are a bit finer than the DuBrul, and a bit flintier in flavor. You can tell from the aromatics that this is Red Mountain (a warm region) in a relatively warm year, with a pure core of brambly raspberry jam and some grace notes of cardamom and clove.

The production here is slightly bigger than the DuBrul, but 225 cases is far from large-production. The overall production for JB Neufeld is similar to last year, and that 08 vintage only lasted a few months. I suspect it’ll be the same with the 2009s, but we’re getting in early here, so allocations should be okay.

First come first served up to 18 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.