Four from Mark Ryan

June 29, 2012

Hello friends. Last year was a watershed year for Mark Ryan.

Just in 2011, the winery was called one of Washington’s cult producers by Paul Gregutt, named Winemaker of the Year by Seattle Magazine, and included in Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2011.

Before last year, the Mark Ryan lineup was difficult to source. Now, it’s becoming near-impossible. Think of it like a babushka doll. The outer layer isn’t that big (production for today’s wines is in the range of 100-300 cases). Take away that outer layer; that’s the Mark Ryan wine club’s allocation. The next layer: that’s wine held back for direct sales from the winery. Now we’re left with wine allocated to the trade, except oops, take away another layer, because the preponderance of that wine goes to restaurants. One more layer removed for the handful of other retailers that receive some, and we’re left with a doll small enough to cook into a king cake: that’s our allocation.

Here at the intersection of low supply and high demand, time is of the essence. Our list gets one shot at the new Rhone releases, so I’m lumping all four into one offering. No reviews on any of these yet. In fact, most of the print publications are two vintages behind. By the time the accolades do start pouring in, these will be long gone:

2011 Mark Ryan Viognier

Washington Viognier can be a deeply unpleasant category at times, but this was a real head-turner. A 50/50 blend of Ciel du Cheval and Red Willow Vineyards, done 80% in neutral barrels and 20% in stainless steel. The warmer Ciel fruit provides the richness and mouthfilling peach flavor. The cooler Red Willow adds minerally undertones, acid pop, and subtleties of flower and ginger. Finished alc is 14.2%.

2010 Mark Ryan Syrah “Wild Eyed” Red Mountain

Now onto the reds, where we’ll go from highest to lowest production. This Wild Eyed Syrah is the highest-production of the three…

…at 268 cases. As I said, quite a limited lineup.

This Syrah represents a marriage of the king and queen of Red Mountain vineyards, coming as it does from Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval. It sees 45% new French oak (the remainder neutral) for 16 months, and clocks in at 14.9% alcohol (a relatively cool year by Red Mountain standards). A core of red fruit (redcurrant, red raspberry) is swaddled in a series of barrel notes: vanilla, smoke, tobacco. Rich, ripe, and intense, this is the one of the three that I would most recommend holding onto for a few years before opening.

2010 Mark Ryan Syrah “Lost Soul” Red Willow Vineyard

The Wild Eyed Syrah above comes from Red Mountain, at the far eastern edge of the Yakima Valley. Lost Soul, on the other hand, comes from Red Willow, at the far western edge (see location here, zoomed out so you can see Red Mountain far to the east). Since escaping from the clutches of a long-term Columbia Winery contract, Red Willow has rocketed towards the top of the list of most important Syrah vineyards in the state. Bob Betz’s Cote Patriarche comes from Red Willow, as does Owen Roe’s Chapel Block Syrah, both legendary.

This version from Mark McNeilly is a stunner. It sees less new oak than the Wild Eyed (closer to 30%), so the fruit is really the star here. And what fruit it is! The nose presents a savory swirling mass of mixed olives, roasting marrow bones, and rich black fruit. The palate is wonderfully intense and concentrated, more black fruit mixed with rich earthy notes and sea salt. I went back to this one again and again; it’s a superstar wine in the making. Just 225 cases produced.

2010 Mark Ryan Mourvedre “Crazy Mary” Red Mountain

“Like Bandol with a Botox injection,” my notebook reads, and I see no reason to edit that tasting note here. For lovers of Mourvedre (86% of the blend, rounded out with 14% Syrah), this is an irresistible bottling. Again all Ciel and Klipsun fruit, all Red Mountain, and at just 170 cases produced, this is bordering on micro-boutique. Done entirely in massive 500L puncheons (about 60% new, the rest neutral).

So, back to Botoxed Bandol. Bandol because it shares that region’s intoxicating Mourvedre combination of spicy leather, plum, roasted meat, and black pepper. Botoxed because, unlike Bandol’s imposing wall of tannins, this Washington version is ripe (15.1%-alc) and rich, with supple tannins that make it oh-so-easy to glug right this minute.

Again, a quick reminder that this is a one-and-done deal, with no opportunities for reorders. Please limit *total* order requests to 24 bottles (mix and match as you like), 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 autumn shipping window.

Two from Beast (Buty)

June 27, 2012

Hello friends. Over the years, I have received a number of requests for Caleb Foster’s Beast wines, none of which I could fulfill. The Beast, I had to reply, was winery-only.

Until now.

Recently, Caleb has begun to allow outside access to the Beast. The alter ego to the tightly-focused Buty portfolio, Beast is where Caleb can be more playful, more experimental. The wines are generally released a bit younger than the Buty lineup, and they tend to be incredible values: gateways into the broader Buty lineup, chances to dip toes into the Buty water at compelling tariffs.

2009 Beast (Buty) “Wildebeest” (Cab-Syrah)

The backbone of this Syrah (45%)-Cab (40%)-Malbec (15%) blend is the outstanding Phinny Hill Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, and getting to taste Phinny fruit at this tariff is a rare treat indeed.

I’m not sure I have tasted a more openly delicious wine this year, and certainly not at an under-$30 tag. Deep and rich, with pillowy-soft mouthfeel, this combines blackcurrant fruit from the Cab with blueberry and olive from the Syrah. It’s ripe and well-balanced, not a wine that requires acres of aging, but instead one that offers untold glories for those of us looking for immediate gratification. For me, this tastes like something twice as expensive.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2010 Beast (Buty) Riesling “Sphinx” Wallula Vineyard

We all know the two whites that Caleb makes for Buty: a Chardonnay and a Semillon/Sauvignon/Muscadelle blend. But like most Washington winemakers who care about great white wines, Caleb heard the siren call of Riesling.

What he has produced here is a singular Washington Riesling, the driest version I have tasted to date. It comes entirely from the biodynamically-farmed section of Wallula Vineyard, and it is a nervous mouthful of acid and mineral. For those of us who love the bone-dry style of Austrian Rieslings, this is a wine to cherish, full of intensity and citric vigor.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

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

2010 Kevin White Winery Syrah “En Hommage”

June 25, 2012

Hello friends. I love it when a plan comes together.

Kevin White is a long-time Full Pull list member, and way back in 2010, we started talking about his potential winery project. At that time, he mentioned a series of mentors: Jon Martinez (Maison Bleue), Hugh Shiels (DuBrul Vineyard), and Leroy Radford (Baer / Flying Dreams). When I heard that list, I knew this was a project whose evolution deserved attention.

Now, nearly two years later, Kevin’s plan has come to fruition, with the release of his inaugural wine:

I’m not going to go into too much detail here, as this wine is quite limited: 100 cases produced, most of it already sold, and just a tiny parcel set aside for our list (thankfully!). Sean Sullivan recently wrote a typically thorough profile of the winery, for those of you who are looking for more depth.

The stated goal for the winery is “crafting traditional old-world style wines with complexity and balance that pair extraordinarily well with food,” and Kevin’s favorite wines come from Cote Rotie and Barolo, so that should give you a sense of the style and texture he’s after.

This Syrah comes entirely from Olsen Estate Vineyard, a site Kevin prizes for its ability to retain acidity even while accumulating a generous helping of Brix. It’s a lovely inaugural bottling, a beguiling mix of black cherry and stone. There is indeed a nice kick of Olsen acid that keeps things extremely fresh and vibrant. The alcohol is 14.9%, but this drinks with a briskness that belies that stat. It’s nervy, energetic, and presents a fine complement to a wide range of foods.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: **** (Excellent).”

As I mentioned, this is quite limited, and it will not be available for reorder. Please limit order requests to 3 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. 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 Long Shadows Cabernet Sauvignon “Feather”

June 24, 2012

Hello friends. Like the Rocky Mother offering from a few weeks ago, today’s wine had a strong review that came out months before the release of the wine (in this case, in the February issue of Wine Enthusiast). It’s easy to let wines like this slip through the cracks, and there’s a chance I’d be guilty of doing exactly that myself.

That is, if it weren’t for the steady trickle of requests from conscientious Full Pull list members, like a human Microsoft Outlook reminder, snoozed forty-seven times until, finally, it’s ready:

Long Shadows is one of the treasures of Washington wine, a visionary effort by Allen Shoup (former CEO of Ste Michelle Wine Estates). His idea was to pair the best grapes of Washington with the best winemakers from the rest of the world: a grand experiment to see how the state’s fruit holds up to a variety of winemaking styles. The experiment has been an unmitigated success, helped in large part by resident winemaker Gilles Nicault, the Woodward Canyon veteran who has thrived under the challenges of shepherding seven different wines with different winemakers to completion each vintage.

Feather is the Cabernet Sauvignon of the lineup, and the partner winemaker is Randy Dunn. Dunn is a Napa Valley legend who established his reputation at Caymus in the late 1970s before establishing Dunn Vineyards in 1979. He has been making exquisite Cabernet from Howell Mountain and the greater Napa Valley ever since, and for Allen Shoup to attract him to the Long Shadows lineup back in 2003 was a real coup.

Something I have admired about the Feather project from the beginning is that each vintage has been 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. No fleshing it out with Merlot, no salt and pepper from a splash of Petit Verdot; just pure, honest Cabernet. The backbone comes from the Wahluke Slope, a combination of Stone Tree Vineyard and the old vines at Sagemoor’s Weinbau. It’s rounded out with fruit from the Shoup-owned Benches (formerly Wallula), in the Horse Heaven Hills. The dense fruit and suave texture are the stars here, the flavors a ringing bell of Cabernet purity, all cassis and star anise. Wonderful finishing grip tells you this could be nothing but world-class Cabernet.

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

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

Three from Syncline

June 22, 2012

Hello friends. “I think these are going to be our two white varietals going forward.” Hmmm… what could those two varietals be?

Chardonnay and Viognier? That would make sense. Both popular, marketable grapes.

Riesling and Pinot Gris (or, better yet, Grigio)? Sure, we’ve all heard of those.

Chenin Blanc and Semillon? Okay, getting geekier, but still reasonably accessible.

As it happens, today’s winemaker is James Mantone of Syncline, and the answer is none of the above. Instead, we’re going to have to go more obscure. Much more obscure.

If you’re James Mantone, the grapes you’re referring to could only be Gruner Veltliner and Grenache Blanc.

[Note: for those of you less inclined towards overt geekery, see the bottom of the offering for a bonus red from Syncline, set to receive a nice review in the July Wine Enthusiast.]

2011 Syncline Gruner Veltliner Underwood Mountain Vineyard

For those of us who love Syncline, today’s offering helps explain why. While many wineries are reactive, hewing to the whims of wine fashion, James and Poppie have always been proactive. They make wines that excite them, and trust enough in their instincts to feel confident that buyers will follow.

To wit: Gruner.

The great, savory white grape of Austria has found a home in Washington, on the southern slopes of Underwood Mountain Vineyard (location here). The vines first came online for production in 2008, and we have offered every vintage since. As far as I know, it’s still the only Gruner produced in Washington.

James is a talented winemaker, and it has been a real pleasure watching the evolution of Syncline’s Gruner. The acidity, which in the early years could border on shrillness, has here been tamed into something beautiful. Gruner’s savory character is here expressed in aromas of straw and hay, lovely counterpoints to the citrus and apricot fruit. The body is beefed up a little compared to previous vintages, too, and the whole package is notably more accessible. As a summer/autumn white, this is tough to beat, and because of its savory side, it pairs with tough-to-complement foods like artichokes and asparagus. It’s also a beautiful oyster wine, for those of you so inclined.

2011 Syncline Grenache Blanc Boushey Vineyard

This is the new addition to the lineup, and it comes entirely from Boushey Vineyard. Dick Boushey is, of course, a man who knows a thing or two about Rhone varietals, and he has been planting some of the more obscure white Rhone vines (Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul) over the past few years.

James used all neutral barrels with occasional lees stirring and no malolactic conversion. The result is a wine that manages to combine a sense of richness with fine acidity. But more than anything, this wine is earthy, and that’s not something I usually say for whites. There is a rich earthiness here, and it interplays with fruit flavors of nectarine and green papaya. A revelatory bottle.

2010 Syncline Syrah McKinley Springs Vineyard

From Block 11 at McKinley Springs Vineyard, fondly known as the Espresso Block for the lovely espresso/coffee/mocha character it imparts to its Syrahs. Here James includes 25% whole clusters (stems and all) and ferments mostly in concrete (Syncline is one of the few wineries in Washington to have concrete vessels on hand).It’s a gorgeous expression of this fine Horse Heaven Hills site.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

The Gruner usually goes fast, with only 200 cases produced, and the Grenache Blanc is even smaller (135 cases). But we’re catching these right on release, so for now it’s first come first served up to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you like), along with 12 bottles of the Syrah. The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

Two 2009s from Andrew Will

June 20, 2012

Hello friends. I recently tasted through the new 2009 single-vineyard releases from Andrew Will, and, wow, what an impressive lineup it is. It is also as accessible a vintage as I can remember tasting from Andrew Will. In many cases, Chris Camarda’s wines take years of bottle age before showing their finest. These 09s, on the other hand, are positively resplendent in their youth. 2009 is an immediate-gratification vintage across Washington, nice to have after the sharper-edged 2008s. It’s a pleasure to have a vintage like this once every four or five years: a vintage that doesn’t require endless cellaring or decanting; one that glories in its youthful charms.

As we always do, we’ll begin with the two wines from Champoux Vineyard, one of Washington’s true superstar vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills. These two always seem to be the first of the lineup to sell out, and with strong reviews for both set to appear in next month’s Wine Enthusiast, there’s no time to waste:

2009 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard

The blend here is 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, and 7% Petit Verdot, from Champoux vines averaging 30 years of age. It sees about two years in barrel, all French, 35% new. A classic Champoux nose of black fruit and graphite leads us into a wine with gorgeous layering of fruit: crème de cassis, kirsch, and even venturing into some stone fruits and tropical fruits: a thrilling pastiche to behold. All of that fruit is cut with veins of graphite minerality, and this picks up incredible steam over the mid-palate and rolls into a chewy, black-tea-laden, ripe-tannin finish. This buckled my knees with its overt deliciousness.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($62); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

2009 Andrew Will “Sorella” (Champoux Vineyard)

Sorella, as it always does, comes only from the oldest sections of Champoux Vineyard (Block 1, Block 3, Circle Block), and the average vine age is 33 years, ancient by Washington standards. The elevage is the same as the Champoux: 35% new French oak for just shy of two years. The blend, however, differs: this is much more Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant, at 65% of the blend. It’s rounded out with 23% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. The nose is black, black, black: tar, graphite, and blackberry fruit. The palate is ultra-intense and concentrated, with loads of minerality and structure. It’s massive, a total powerhouse, and of the broad 09 lineup, this is perhaps the one that truly would benefit from some bottle age. A breathtaking example of the power and grace of old-vine Champoux Cabernet.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($75); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

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

2008 Obelisco Syrah Les Gosses Vineyard

June 18, 2012

Hello friends. Price drop today on a well-reviewed, single-vineyard, Red Mountain Syrah that was already priced well to begin with. The winery is looking to blow through the remainder of the 2008 vintage, and we’re the recipients.

For the time being, that is.

I have a hold on a parcel of the remaining wine, but I have to place my final order Tuesday morning, so please try to get order requests submitted today if at all possible.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90(+?)pts.”

Solid trio of reviews from three men whose palates do not always align: a sign of this wine’s broad appeal, I think.

This is the rare wine in the Obelisco lineup that does not come from their estate vineyard on Red Mountain. Instead, it comes from Les Gosses (location here), a site high on Red Mountain and farmed by the venerable Hedges family.

It’s a treat to taste Red Mountain Syrah from higher up the mountain. The aroma profile is very meaty, with big roast-beef notes married to red cherry fruit and coffee bean. A beautiful bridge wine between old- and new-world styles, this presents an earthy, meaty, minerally palate. While I find that some Red Mountain Syrah from further down the slope can be a bit ripe for my taste, a bit ponderous, this is something else entirely: brisk and fresh, with real structure and appealing finishing grip.

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. 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.