2007 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval Blend (Redux)

April 30, 2012

Hello friends. As Andrew Will prepares to release their 2009 single-vineyard blends, I have just crossed paths with a small, well-priced parcel of a favorite from two vintages earlier. It looks like most of the other folks dipping into this parcel are sommeliers, who will doubtless stash this away in their restaurant cellars for years to come. But let’s not let them have all of it.

It’s an open question, which of Andrew Will’s single-vineyard bottlings is best. Two Blondes has its advocates. Some prefer one of the two Champoux wines (Champoux and Sorella). But many love Ciel best of all, for its lovely expression of this Red Mountain stalwart.

A recent tasting of this (when I found out the parcel was available, I asked for a sample as quickly as possible) revealed a wine still exalting in its youthful glories, and likely still several years from entering peak drinking. Amazing how much goodness is locked up in those Red Mountain tannins. The aromatics are more expressive than I remember from my last tasting of this (we originally offered it nearly two years ago, and it has been awhile since I opened a bottle), offering a mix of pie cherry, orange peel, spicy leather, and Red Mountain soil/mineral. The palate is seamless and well-balanced; all the components seem fine-tuned, and ready for many happy years of maturation. It’s knee-buckling good.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96pts.” [note: this was also #9 on PaulG’s Top 100 Washington Wines For 2010.]

Wine & Spirits (Patrick Comiskey): “($68); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($68); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

I’m certain this will be the last time we have access to this wine, but let’s see how much we can lay claim to. 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.

Three from Renegade

April 27, 2012

Hello friends. Let’s let poet and Cabernet enthusiast Alfred, Lord Tennyson open this offering (excerpted from Locksley Hall):
That last line seems to be especially true this year. In the last two weeks, I have heard from no fewer than five Full Pull list members that marriage plans are afoot. Wedding wine has been the subject of each inquest, and when I ask about the type of crowd expected, variations of a similar theme emerge: “this is going to be a group of big drinkers.” I believe this list knows how to celebrate.

In honor of all the impending nuptials and other summer parties, we have today’s offering: three new wines from Trey Busch’s Renegade project; one white, one pink, one red, and all priced under $10. Rocking parties have been made from less than this:

2011 Renegade Chardonnay

First, 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 frequently signs a non-disclosure agreement regarding the source of the juice.

All I know about the source for this Chardonnay is that it comes from four different vineyards, and one of them is Evergreen. I also know that it was done all in stainless steel, and that the finished alcohol is a moderate 13.2%. What I don’t know, but suspect from the texture, is that this went through at least partial malolactic conversion and likely saw some lees-stirring. There is a creaminess to the mouthfeel that points me in that direction. Aromas and flavors are very much cool-climate Chardonnay, mostly tree fruits (pears, apples), with notes of green plantain as well. It’s medium-bodied and easy-drinking: a lovely mid-week sipper, and priced accordingly.

2011 Renegade Rose

Nine times out of ten rosé wine at this price point will be saignee juice, bled off from must whose destination is red wine. These are easy to pick out because they either have high alcohol (14%+) or notable sugar.

More rare at this tariff (and more favorable to this palate) is wine made from grapes picked specifically for rosé, and that’s the case here. The alcohol here is 12.5%, and this drinks dry. I’m not sure why any winery needed to sell this juice to Trey on the bulk market, because I have certainly tasted rosé in the $15-$20 range that I didn’t like nearly as much. No matter; we’ll take it.

The blend comes entirely from Rhone varietals: 87% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 3% Grenache. The aromatics are very summery, a combination of watermelon flesh and watermelon rind. The palate is a summer fruit salad, with notes of honeydew, watermelon, and banana. There is a eucalyptus topnote that keeps things fresh, and this drinks with plenty of energy and briskness. Add one hot deck and one cold fridge for a small summer ecstasy.

2011 Renegade Red Wine (Columbia Valley)

The new Columbia Valley Red is out, and Trey could have labeled this Cabernet Sauvignon, as it comprises a full 80% of the blend. The remainder is 19% Merlot and 1% Malbec, and all Trey will say is that this comes from vineyards in the Yakima Valley and on the Wahluke Slope. I have some guesses, but I’m not going to share them here (seeing as how I’d like to continue offering Renegade wines in the future).

And really, at this tariff, we’re probably overthinking things if we need to know the source of every last grape. This one is more about sensual pleasures than intellectual pursuits.

I’m guessing, judging from this wine’s profile, that it saw little (if any) in the way of new oak. What this has going for it is wonderful purity of fruit, with good Cabernet aromas of crème de cassis and black cherry. There is unexpected complexity, too: a nice nuance of pipe tobacco. When I see 2010 Cabernet, I worry a little, because it was a cool year, and Cabernet is a thermophilic grape. But this must have come from warm sites, because it has plenty of richness to its flavors of ripe black cherry and black olive. The fruit here seems to be punching well above its price class.

Wedding planners, summer party planners, have at it. First come first served up to 72 bottles of each. The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 aMaurice Night Owl

April 25, 2012

Hello friends. To find one of the frontiers in Washington winemaking, head east out of Walla Walla along Mill Creek Road. You’ll pass K Vintners and their estate Phil Lane Vineyard. Then you’ll pass Abeja, and their estate Mill Creek Vineyard. Further up the drainage, you’ll find Leonetti’s Mill Creek Upland Vineyard, Figgins Estate Vineyard, Tokar Vineyard, and the source of today’s wines: aMaurice Estate Vineyard (location here).

As you go east, you pick up elevation (Mill Creek runs right out of the Blue Mountains), and you pick up rainfall. Enough rainfall, actually, that several growers are playing with dryland-farming their sites (no irrigation). Most of the plantings along Mill Creek are new. This is indeed a frontier, and an exciting one, with most of the vineyards sitting on a deep bed of Walla Walla silt loam. As the vineyards in this subsection of the Walla Walla Valley begin to come online, there is excitement in the air: a chance to taste a new piece of terroir.

This estate vineyard was a long time coming. The land, like much of the Mill Creek drainage, had previously been planted to a wheat-pea rotation, which rendered it essentially unplantable. For two years, the vineyard was handed over to one of the secret wizards of the Walla Walla Valley (that is, if you’re comfortable with your wizard being a former crab fisherman with a monumental handlebar mustache). Rick Trumbull is an important player in the Walla: the master of compost. I have stood next to Rick and his football-field-sized piles of compost. I have shoved my hand into a compost pile to feel the heat. I have, I’m proud/horrified to admit, tasted Rick Trumbull’s compost.

The compost is brewed into a “tea,” and that compost tea is sprayed onto sad vineyard sites. A few years later, after these soil adjustments, those soils turn their frowns upside down. And at that point, in 2006, Rick passed the baton to a familiar figure: Kenny Hart. Kenny, who many of you know from his winemaking work at Tulpen Cellars, planted and manages many of the vineyards in the Mill Creek drainage, including this one. The vineyard sits on a solid 10 feet of wind-deposited loess, interspersed with a layer of caliche. The site went into the ground in spring 2006, so the 2008 vintage represents third-leaf fruit, the first usable grapes to come off this exciting new site.

The production levels are miniscule, and most of what was made was immediately snatched up by aMaurice’s mailing list. I’m not sure if anyone else in town has access to this, and our parcel is far from large. Even with a small parcel, I wanted to jump on this. Intellectually, I find new terroirs irresistible, and Anna Schafer’s winemaking has never been in finer form.

For those of you who have enjoyed Anna’s artist series wines over the years (the Tsutakawa, the Horiuchi, the Tobey), this is the estate version of those wines. It’s another beautiful bottle to look at, and it’s dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (43% each), rounded out with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Production is a miniscule 87 cases.

This is so fresh and high-toned, a departure from many of the BDX blends that dot the Washington landscape, which tend to be quite a bit riper and richer. The fruit aromatics are evocative of wild mountain berries, and there are loads of floral notes: lilac, rose, lavender. Again, this possesses beautiful, subtle elegance in the mouth, all petals and earth and redcurrant. The tannins are ripe and delicious, adding a finishing tarry streak that compels a quick return to the glass.

Please limit order requests to 4 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.

Two Burgundian Varietals

April 23, 2012

Hello friends. For lovers of Burgundy’s two grand varietals, today’s offering should be a treat:

2010 L’Ecole 41 Chardonnay

There are many problems with sub-$20 Chardonnay. Some are oak-chipped into buttered-popcorn oblivion. Some are lean, mean, green. Some are so flabby, so lacking in acid, that they just sit there in your mouth, so unobtrusive that you forget they’re there, until you go to swallow and nearly choke on the flavorless swill lazing about on your palate.

Too harsh?


But it helps explain why, when I taste a Chardonnay under $20 that delivers the goods, it stops me in my tracks.

L’Ecole 41 is not a cult winery. It’s not an unknown quantity just coming onto the scene. It’s not flashy; it’s not brash. Some of our Washington wineries like this, our stalwarts, can get lost in the shuffle of the next new thing, and what a shame that would be, because this is a winery with 30 years of experience, operating at the peak of its powers.

L’Ecole is probably better known for their reds, but I have always been crazy about their whites. What they have done over the years to raise the bar for Washington Semillon and Washington Chenin Blanc has been outstanding. And then we have today’s Chardonnay.

I remember when I visited Evergreen Vineyard a few years back and drove along the Chardonnay blocks, most of the end-posts were labeled “L’Ecole 41.” That certainly helps to explain why this Chardonnay is so good: its spine comes from Evergreen, perhaps our state’s finest white-wine vineyard, a site that seems to impart its cut-rock caliche minerality on every wine it touches. This wine balances those minerals with peaches and citrus and cream, and dustings of nutmeg and clove. There is an alluring leesy texture that meshes well with all that 2010 acidity, and the finished package contains balance and complexity rare for this price range.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($20); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2009 Cameron Pinot Noir Arley’s Leap

We have been lucky to have access to John Paul’s Cameron Pinots, which are rarely allowed to leave the greedy clutches of Oregonians. All from non-irrigated vines, all from indigenous yeasts, all raised in small cooperage, these are among the most exciting wines produced in Oregon.

Arley’s Leap is a younger, 1990-planted block of Abbey Ridge Vineyard (location here), whose original plantings went into the ground in 1976. The name of the block commemorates a jump made by Arley, the loyal dog belonging to vineyard owners Bill & Julia Wayne, from a second-story hotel balcony during a vacation to Victoria. Why did Arley make Arley’s Leap? He was startled by a small cat. (note: Arley survived his leap, so this story does not venture into the macabre.)

While the wine is named Arley’s Leap, this bottling is honestly more like the cat than the dog: it’s the feisty youngster scaring the pants off the older contenders. Priced at levels well below the top-end Abbey Ridge and Clos Electrique bottlings from Cameron, it’s worth remembering that this 2009 represented 20th leaf for the Arley’s Leap block: not exactly young vines.

The aromatics are captivating: a big kick of earthy/mineral notes, then garrigue-dusted strawberries. The palate sees a beautiful core of citrus-tinged pomegranate and strawberry fruit, with good wet-rock nuance adding complexity. Lovely and elegant in the mouth, with alcohol that is quite low for the vintage (13.1%), and with lipsmacking acidity. It goes against type for 2009, many of which are ripe-and-ready. This is the rare 09 that seems built for the long haul, and is a fine example of one of the most exciting pieces of terroir in the red volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills.

First come first served up to 12 bottles of Chardonnay and 6 bottles of Pinot Noir, and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 Olsen Estates Golden Berry Select Riesling

April 22, 2012

Hello friends. Among the many incredible values that have been part of the Olsen Estates fire sale, this is among the finest: a new discount on the most labor-intensive wine produced in Washington, a wine that you could cellar for 30 years.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

We first offered this more than a year ago, and at that time, the wine was still at full price. Even at $55, I thought this was a fine value. Its technical stats were almost spot-on with Ste Michelle’s Eroica Single Berry Select, the only other TBA-style wine produced in Washington: similar alcohol, residual sugar, and total acidity. The Eroica bottling, however, is $200 per split. And let’s not even get into what a German TBA will cost you.

The reason this style of wine gets so pricey has to do with the labor involved. TBA stands for Trockenbeerenauslese. Translating from the German, this means a late-harvest selection (auslese) of dried (trocken) berries (beeren). Important distinction to keep in mind: it’s the grape berries that are dry, certainly not the wine.

What dries the grapes out is a lovely fungus called botrytis cinerea: noble rot. It punctures small holes in grapeskins, through which much of the grape’s water content evaporates, leaving concentrated juice behind. And if botrytis spread evenly throughout a vineyard, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t even spread evenly through a grape bunch. What is required then, for picking a true TBA-style wine, is to have highly-skilled pickers make multiple passes through the vineyard, selecting individual grape berries that are completely botrytis-affected. That is exactly what happened in Olsen’s 30-year-old Riesling blocks, during mid-November 2008.

And so you’ve paid your fungus hunters to pick perfect berries, but now the fun is just beginning, because after pressing a tiny amount of highly-concentrated juice from each berry, you then have to get the wine through fermentation. And wine that comes in at 67 Brix takes a loooooooooooong time to get through fermentation. In this case 368 days: a year, and then another three days for good measure! When it finally finished, the alcohol sat at 7.1% and the residual sugar somewhere between 400 and 500 g/L.

It is one of the most difficult wines in the world to make. It takes chutzpah to even attempt it, and the fact that Olsen pulled it off so spectacularly only adds an additional shade of sadness to the fact that the winery went out of business. Still, if you’re going to go out, this is a wine to go out on.

Once I learned about the impending discount, I cracked open a bottle from my personal stash (I had put a bunch of bottles away at the original price), to check in on its progress. And wow, this is a singular tasting experience indeed.

The color is taking on amber tones with glints of orange. The nose is exceptionally aromatic and still quite primary, with notes of marmalade, sweet peach, honey, sea salt caramel, and white flowers. Some of the maturing botrytis notes of sweet pipe tobacco are beginning to emerge as well. On the palate, texture must be the first discussion point. This is beyond unctuous, without question thicker than real maple syrup. You could certainly pour it on your pancakes for an Haute Lumberjack Breakfast. The weight is exceptional, and this stains every inch of the palate with its honeyed goodness. There is mouthwatering acidity to balance all that sugar, and the finished package is truly something to behold.

Now, a quick word about pairing, since the question of when to open these bottles is a stumbling block for many of us. First: put the dessert course down, and step slowly away. This bottle is the dessert, and there is no reason to serve this with anything else sweet, unless you’re actually trying to rot the teeth out of your skull. If you’re serving this with food, find one of two things: either the sharpest cheese the monger carries (something in the bleu family works great), or the richest, silkiest pâté available (the texture pairs perfectly, and the salty-savory aspect complements the wine’s sweetness in a swoon-worthy manner).

This is the crowning achievement of the too-short-lived Olsen Estates Winery, and I’m hopeful that this lower tariff will make it more accessible. Sadly, there’s not much of it, so please limit order requests to 1 bottle, 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.


2006 Balboa Sayulita Redux

April 20, 2012

Hello friends. Most negotiations for parcels that end up as Full Pull offerings take place as you’d expect. I’m in tux and tails, and the winemaker presents his/her wares out of chalices of gold and crystal. I peer through my monocle at the red nectar below. I bury my proboscis deep into the goblet, gasp, exclaim: “what a delightful bouqet!” I pronounce it BOO-kay. I take a sip, swirl, spit onto the bearskin rug, and immediately faint (thank goodness for the ample padding of bearskin to break a fall). Upon revival, I proclaim: “I want all of it!” I add: “And half off!” The winemaker bows or curtsies, depending on local custom: “Then have it you shall.”

And then the occasional negotiation happens with a handshake over pitchers of beer at a neighborhood bar. Today’s offering happens to fall into the second camp.

This wine is sold out. Has been for a year. At least that’s what I thought when, one pitcher of pale ale into an evening at the Duchess Tavern, I told Tom Glase that his 2006 Sayulita is one of my favorite wines to ever come out of Washington.

“We still have some at the winery,” he said.

“I want all of it!” was my response (that line happens in both scenarios).

“Then have it you shall,” he replied. Okay, he probably didn’t say it like that, because he’s not Yoda, and as it turned out, I didn’t quite get all of it. Tom kept two cases for himself, because he, like me, and like everyone who touches this wine, loves it.

I first offered it more than two years ago, in January 2010. It comes from what was then LeFore Vineyards, and what is now Balboa Estate Vineyards. They have since purchased this exceptional vineyard in the Rocks area of the Walla Walla Valley, in part because of the rousing success of 2006 Sayulita.

Here was Paul Gregutt’s review from December 2009: Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($40); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Since then, Sayulita has only had more time to integrate and evolve. It’s brinier and funkier than ever, all olives and bacon fat, sweet pea and turned earth. The blend is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Syrah, one of the most successful Cab-Syrah blends I have tasted. The Syrah dominates the aromatics, and the Cabernet kicks in mostly in the realm of texture, adding integrated fine-grained tannins, a nice finishing chew, and some cassis richness. It’s a killer bottle, and I remain stunned that we have access to another parcel. This will be the last of it, unless you can buy Tom Glase a pitcher of beer and convince him to part with a bottle from his two cases.

Please limit order requests to 2 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine is already in the warehouse and is ready for immediate pickup or shipping.

Two from Sleight of Hand

April 18, 2012

Hello friends. Another in our continuing series of highly-allocated new releases, today from Trey Busch at Sleight of Hand.

This also continues the afterglow trend I mentioned in our 2010 Owen Roe Ex Umbris offering, where strong reviews for the previous vintage have bled over into strong initial sales for the following vintage, making the wines even more difficult to source. Despite the fact that Trey’s 09s have not yet been reviewed, they are already allocated to the point where my parcel is just barely big enough to warrant an offering. Fortunately, our list has a demonstrated track record of support for Trey’s wines (including offering the 2008 vintages of both of today’s wines), or I suspect we would have been shut out entirely.

2009 Sleight of Hand “Archimage” (BDX Blend)

Trey’s right bank Bordeaux-style blend, in 2009 this is an even 50-50 split of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The Merlot comes entirely from Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. The Franc comes from three sites: Chelle den Millie (a 1994-planted site in the Yakima Valley that is one of Basel Cellars’ estate vineyards); Blue Mountain Vineyard (owned by Corliss Estates and the source of their Tranche Cabernet Franc); and Red Mountain Vineyard (another Corliss-owned site on – you guessed it – Red Mountain). The blend was aged in 50% new French oak for just shy of two years.

For me, Archimage is all about the mouthfeel. The texture is soft, silky, elegant, carrying waves of tobacco-scented red cherry flavors. It glides seamlessly across the entire palate, a beautiful mix of fruit and earth.

2009 Sleight of Hand “Illusionist” (BDX Blend)

Illusionist is Trey’s Cabernet-based blend, and in 2009, Cab makes up two-thirds of the wine, the remainder split between Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The sources for the Cabernet Sauvignon are again the Corliss tandem of Blue Mountain Vineyard (located here, in the deep-loess soils of the eastern Walla Walla Valley, adjacent to one of Leonetti’s estate vineyards) and Red Mountain Vineyard (located here, in the sandy soils of Red Mountain).

Start with density and richness from BMV, and tannic power and class from RMV.  Then blend Syrah from Dunham’s Lewis Vineyard, which adds red raspberry and cola notes, and a little Blue Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Franc for tobacco-leaf topnotes. The previous vintage of this blew up when someone (Spectator, I think?) gave it a rapturous review, and again, I expect this to be gone before we’re reading any reviews of the current vintage.

As I mentioned, our parcel is not very large here, so please limit order requests to 2 bottles of Archimage and 2 bottles of Illusionist, 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.