Two Pinots from Stangeland

May 30, 2012

Hello friends. I had a chance recently to taste a pair of wines from a venerable Oregon producer that hasn’t been distributed in the Seattle market since the late ‘90s. Just recently, the wines reappeared on the scene, and they are lovely, well-priced windows into the world of the Eola-Amity Hills sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley.

Established in 2006, EAH is pretty easy to pick out on a terrain map: a cluster of hills just northwest of Salem, OR. The soils are a jumbled mishmash: some marine sedimentary, some volcanic, some flood deposits. The area should by all rights be warmer than it is, but the climate is moderated by winds ripping off the Pacific Ocean through the Van Duzer Corridor, a gap in Oregon’s Coast Range. Here is my attempt to show how this works, with the EAH AVA shaded in yellow and the blue arrows representing the Van Duzer winds. This cooling oceanic influence is one of the distinctive features of the area.

Stangeland Vineyards was among the earliest established in this part of the Willamette, planted by the Miller family in 1978. Larry Miller launched Stangeland Winery in 1991, and the focus since then has been on estate fruit and other purchased fruit from the EAH:

2010 Stangeland Oregon Pinot Noir

While this bottle is labeled “Oregon Pinot Noir” and bears the more general Willamette Valley AVA, 80% of the fruit comes from Eola-Amity Hills. It is from the 2010 vintage (vintage motto: excellent quality, miniscule yields) and is a fine introduction to the profile of the EAH. Aromas marry pure red raspberry and redcurrant fruit with clean earthy notes of pine and sage. It has a very high-toned floral character that I usually associate with the Wadenswil clone of Pinot Noir (although I don’t know the clonal breakdown here) and some nice cut-rock nuance unusual for this price point. The finished alcohol clocks in at just 13.1%, so this brings plenty of vibrancy and an easy-drinking character.

2009 Stangeland Pinot Noir Vermeer Vineyard

And now for something completely different. Different vintage, single vineyard, single clone (all Dijon), entirely different character.

The vineyard is Vermeer, located here in the EAH. As you can see on the map, this is about as high-elevation as you get in this AVA. The vineyard sits at 940 feet, and that helps explain why, even in a warmer year like 2009, the finished alcohol here still remains under 14% (13.8 to be exact).

If the Oregon Pinot bottling above was all about clean earthy notes, this one is about dirty earthy notes. Funky earth, with notes of barnyard and a whiff of manure, overlay the black fruit character (blackberry, black plum). Methinks there might be some brett present in this wine, not a bad thing in small doses, as many of us appreciate the wild, funky character brett can impart (cough, Chateau Beaucastel, cough).

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


Two 2010s from Renegade

May 29, 2012

Hello friends. We have dibs today on an exciting set of new releases from Trey Busch’s Renegade project.

This is an offering that underscores the importance of getting out into wine country. I was in Walla Walla in mid-April, and during my visit with Trey, he let me taste six different wines that were potential future Renegade projects. Two of them were knee-buckling good, and when I shared that opinion with Trey, he offered to let our list have initial access to the wines before the at-large market gets its shot.

At the time, based on the quality of the juice, I assumed the wines would be in the Renegade Reserve tier, which would have been $19.99 ($17.99 TPU). Instead, Trey has chosen to slot them into the main Renegade label, which makes these some of the finest QPR wines we have offered this year.

A 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. 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. Here’s what I’m permitted to say about these wines:

1. Both are single-vineyard, from the same young vineyard in the rocks section of the Walla Walla Valley.

2. The vineyard sells fruit to exactly two wineries, and they are two of the finest Rhone producers in Washington. These barrels came from one of those two wineries.

3. Finished alcohol is moderated by the cooler 2010 vintage: 14.1% for the Grenache and 13.8% for the Mourvedre.

2010 Renegade Grenache Walla Walla Valley

Trey wound up with 7 barrels, which translates to 175 cases. A stellar Grenache, this is stylistically right up my alley. The aromatics display wonderful focus and purity, a laser beam of strawberry fruit and strawberry blossoms. In the mouth, this manages the rare feat of being high-toned (the inner-mouth perfume is beautiful) while also displaying good richness and generosity of fruit. There is also a lightly meaty character, a savory nuance that reminds you where these vines live: in the cobbles of the ancient Walla Walla River.

If there’s a better domestic Grenache at this price point, I haven’t tasted it.

2010 Renegade Mourvedre Walla Walla Valley

The more limited of the two, with just 75 cases produced, and also the more rocks-expressive of the two: a riot of gamey, meaty notes, briney olives, and cracked pepper, much more about savory character than overt fruit, although there is a lovely plummy character in an understudy role.

I’m not so sure about typicity here (tasted blind, something tells me I’d lean more towards Syrah), but this one is more about sense of place than sense of grape, and it does sense of place exceptionally well.

Once these hit the open market, there’s no telling how fast they’ll go, so reorder prospects are fuzzy. But for now, wedding- and party-wine seekers: two more excellent candidate have arrived. First come first served up to 72 bottles total, and the wine should be delivered in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


Three Oregon Pinots

May 27, 2012

Hello friends. I just learned that the June issue of Wine Enthusiast is going to include some glowing Oregon Pinot Noir reviews from Paul Gregutt. We’re featuring three of those wines today, from two different wineries, from two very different vintages (look at the alcohol levels to see that 2009 was considerably warmer than 2010), and from three different sections of the Willamette Valley.

Once these reviews go mainstream, I suspect sales will be brisk for these wines. Let’s jump in before that happens:

2010 Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir Freedom Hill

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2010 Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir Savoya

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2009 Bergstrom Pinot Noir de Lancelotti Vineyard

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($63); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Please limit order requests to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), 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.


2009 Balboa Estate Syrah Redux

May 25, 2012

Hello friends. We have a reoffering today on what has proven to be one of the most popular reorder candidates of the year. The winery is getting towards the end of their stock (total production was just 150 cases), and I’d like us to have one more opportunity to access this stash, as something tells me the tariff may be increasing a bit in future vintages. After all, where else can you find single-vineyard, estate-grown, Walla Walla Valley Syrah from the rocks for less than $30?

Since our initial offering in January, two positive reviews have been published:

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 18.5/20pts.”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***/**** (Good/Excellent).”

For the full story on this wine, see our original offering. The condensed version: 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. 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. In 2009, the vineyard came up for sale, and Balboa purchased it, adding it to their estate program. I was delighted at the news 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.”

My original tasting notes: “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.”

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


2008 Poet’s Leap Ice Wine

May 23, 2012

Hello friends. A parcel of perhaps the finest ice wine ever produced in the northwest just appeared in western Washington, and I wasted no time pulling the trigger. I grabbed every available bottle, because the wine is just that damned good:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($85); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “($85) [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95(+?)pts.”

[Note: for both Gregutt and Tanzer, these are the highest scores ever bestowed on an ice wine from the Pacific Northwest.]

With only 84 cases of 375ml bottles produced, this is one of the true rarities of the Long Shadows collection, and it almost never moves through retail channels. Harvested at 4 degrees Fahrenheit on the morning of December 16 (my hands got cold just typing those words), this is single-vineyard (though it doesn’t say so on the bottle), coming entirely from The Benches Sonnet Vineyard (formerly Wallula).

It first appeared to me in a blind tasting back in January 2011, where it was such a standout in a flight of northwest dessert wines that I was certain it was a ringer: a German Eiswein or one of the ethereal Canadian Ice Wines from the Niagara Peninsula. I offered it soon thereafter, but that was at a higher tariff. I’m pushing the TPU price down a bit today in hopes of getting this beauty into as many hands as possible.

If you’re looking for food pairings, aim for the most pungent cheeses from the blue family or the richest pâtés. Anything else will be annihilated by the terrible beauty of this wine. Best, I think, to pair it with nothing but a glass and a group of good friends and family. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. As I mentioned, I already grabbed all this wine, so it is in the warehouse and available for immediate pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


Wine & Cider from Watermill/Blue Mountain

May 21, 2012

Hello friends. The Browns are the most important family in the Walla Walla Valley that you have probably never heard of.

They own and farm 75 acres of vineyard land in the valley, much of it in the coveted rocks area. But their grape holdings pale in comparison to their apple holdings: they farm a whopping 1200 acres of valley apple orchards.

Their tasting room is located in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, just across the border from Walla Walla.

[Quick history lesson: in 1868, construction of a mill was proposed in the area, so local residents decided to call the community “Milltown,” later shortened to Milton. The neighboring community offered free water to any new settlers brave enough to populate the area: hence the name Freewater. Not to be too hard on the forbears of the Walla Walla Valley, but seriously? You build a mill in town, and you name it Milltown, and then you offer some free water, and you name it Freewater? Where is the creative spark, old-timey western settlers? But okay, I’m willing to hand out a free pass, because, you know, all of us who grew up playing The Oregon Trail video game know that this part of the world, at that time, was a hotbed for measles, snakebite, dysentery, typhoid, cholera, exhaustion, drowning, and death-of-oxen. So fine, you used up all your creativity fording rivers and whatnot, but what about your great-grandchildren? In 1951, they voted to merge the two communities, and they had a chance to choose a name anew, something to reflect perhaps the cultural heritage of the area, or perhaps the natural beauty of the area. But no! They chose Milton-Freewater! What – was Freewater-Milton already taken?]

But I digress. Leaving the name aside, you should visit MF, and you should visit the Browns’ tasting room, which has on one side wines being poured under their Watermill label and on the other side ciders being poured under their Blue Mountain Cider label. We’re going to offer one of each today:

2008 Watermill Estate Cabernet Franc (McClellan Vineyard)

I swear 80% of the single-vineyard Cabernet Francs that come out of Washington come from Bacchus Vineyard. And so I get excited when I see one from someplace else, and even more excited when it’s good. This one, while labeled estate, is indeed actually single-vineyard, coming entirely from McClellan Vineyard, a 2003-planted site (location here) in the southwest corner of the Walla Walla Valley, adjacent to Windrow and Seven Hills.

Considering we’re tasting sixth-leaf fruit, this site has a bright future, because this is killer Franc. Cocoa powder and poblano aromatics give way to a wine that drinks texturally much like a Merlot – all suaveness and silk – but has the wonderful savory subtleties that could only come from Franc. There is loads of blackberry fruit, dusted with cocoa and mole-negro flavors. The tannins are combed to a fine sheen, and this punches well above its price class.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

NV Blue Mountain Hard Cider “Dry Creek”

I’m not going to change our name to “Full Pull Wines (and Ciders)” anytime soon, but if on occasion I taste a nice cider from this burgeoning movement in Washington, I won’t hesitate to offer it out.

The process for hard cider will look awfully familiar to wine lovers. Only certain types of apples make good cider, and they’re generally not good eating apples, because they’re high in acid and tannin. Those apples are harvested, crushed, and pressed, and then the pressed juice is fermented (sometimes to complete dryness; sometimes not). After a short period of aging, the cider is filtered (or sometimes not) and carbonated (or sometimes not).

Today’s Dry Creek offering comes from a blend of five different apples grown on the Browns’ Walla Walla Valley property, and while it’s listed as semi-dry, it drank quite dry to me. Aromas tend towards the appley, but there was some nice earthy-herbal nuance as well. On the palate, this is fairly fizzy, with nice flavors of leesy apple. Quite refreshing, and very easy to drink at 6.5% alcohol, this exists in a land somewhere between beer and wine. With its scrubbing bubbles and high acidity, this presents an intriguing substitute for sparkling wine.

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


Two from Black Cap

May 20, 2012

Hello friends. Our list’s support of the Eyrie Vineyards (starting with our first ever Oregon offering) has served us well, and it serves us well again today.

Jason Lett’s Black Cap wines are rare Oregon treasures. Few of these bottles ever leave Oregon, and I’m not sure they have ever been sold in Washington (I’m special ordering direct from the winery cellars). They are beautiful examples of a winemaker in complete command of his craft.

I have frequently seen Black Cap referred to as Jason’s “indie Pinot” project, and it always gives me a chuckle, because it seems to intimate that Eyrie is mainstream Pinot. Not exactly. But still, I get the point: Black Cap is where Jason is unburdened by the brand expectations that his father built with Eyrie. Black Cap is where he can experiment with alternate vineyards, alternate techniques.

And yet, in the end, the house style shares many traits with Eyrie: low oak and alcohol, focus and purity of fruit, expressiveness of place. But there are subtle differences: it’s as though Black Cap is where Jason takes Eyrie down the rabbit hole.

2009 Black Cap Pinot Noir

I think Katherine Cole, author of Voodoo Vintners says it best with the tags she applies to the winery in her Oregon Wine Insider’s Guide: Cult, Eco-Geeky, Hipster Cred, Sleeper, Terroiriste!, Up-and-Coming.

Yep; that about sums up Black Cap.

Made exclusively from ownrooted, non-irrigated Pommard and Wadenswil clones from two 1988-planted vineyards – Bishop Creek (Yamhill-Carlton District) and Eyrie Rolling Green (Dundee Hills) – the 2009 Pinot is native-yeast fermented and aged in French oak (just 15% new) for 18 months before bottling.

It really goes against type for the vintage. While many 2009 Pinots are ripe-and-ready for early drinking, this is something else entirely: more structured, more serious, more ageworthy. It starts with gorgeous perfumed aromatics: red cherry and red berry fruit dusted with flower pollen and mint leaves. The palate displays fine purity and energy (“zesty” was one of the descriptors in my note) to the flavors of red fruit and dried leaf and morel mushroom. The acid is so fresh that this would seem to possess an aging curve equal to the Eyrie Reserves: 20 years or more.

2009 Black Cap Chardonnay

Unusual indeed, a lineup where the Chardonnay is more expensive than the Pinot Noir.

But.

Not every lineup includes micro-production Chardonnay (usually 65-85 cases per vintage) produced entirely from David Lett’s original 1966 plantings of vines hand-carried (well, trunk-of-car-carried anyway) from California.

This is as old as old-vine Chardonnay gets in the pacific northwest, and resembles a Corton-Charlemagne more than it does most new-world Chardonnay. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect this wine to show its best until 2017 or later. It’s locked up tight at present, covered in baby fat, but the ingredients are all in place: a nutty, leesy, mineral-soaked nose; a full, intense, concentrated palate, with savory bready elements, along with more mineral and lemon curd and peach. Again, the best comparable for aging is probably the Eyrie Reserve Chardonnay (and this is more like a Reserve Reserve), and those go for 15 years without breaking a sweat.

These wines are quite limited, and I feel lucky that we’re getting any. Please limit order requests to 4 bottles of each, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines will have to ship up from Oregon, so they will likely arrive in 2-3 weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.