NV Blue Mountain Vineyard Brut

July 26, 2012

Hello friends. Today we have cool-climate sparkling wine from the Pacific Northwest, made with traditional Champagne varieties, from estate-grown vineyards more than 40 years old.

Where in the hell, you might be asking, are we?

Yep: the Okanogan Valley of British Columbia (see location here).

Yes, that’s Canada, where the Mavety family planted Blue Mountain Vineyard in 1971.

No, I’m not going to make a big deal out of it, and no, it’s not the start of a slew of offerings for BC wines. The truth is, because of some tricky import-tariff issues, BC wines are usually terrible values to sell in the United States.

In this case, I’m not sure how many horse heads ended up in the beds of how many provincial officials, but somehow, this wine landed in the US with a truly compelling price for the quality.

And in our ongoing quest for vinous nirvana across the Pacific Northwest, we can’t let small things like national boundaries get in our way.

This showed up at a recent tasting I attended and was a total standout. I mean, don’t throw away your collection of vintage Champagne or anything, but this more than holds its own against wines like Cremants de Bourgogne that inhabit similar price points. When I taste sparkling wine made like Champagne, I generally evaluate three things: intensity, flavor profile, and texture.

I want the intensity to be high, and that’s the case; it coats the palate with its refreshing flavors. The flavor profile is outstanding: a combination of lemon, pear, and terrific autolytic grace notes of biscuit. And the texture is convincingly elegant, with a fine mousse and a seamlessness across the palate. For less than $25, this is more than enough for me. 61% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay, and 3% Pinot Gris (which is an acceptable grape even in Champagne, although many don’t know it).

With each passing year in the wine trade, my ability to be surprised diminishes. So when a wine shocks me in a positive way, as this one did, it’s a reinvigorating treat.

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.


Two 2010s from Sparkman

July 22, 2012

Hello friends. Today is a special day for me, and I want to pause for a moment and say thank you.

The third most asked question in the warehouse is: “What made you want to start Full Pull?” (second is: “Can you believe this [good/bad/sunny/rainy/windy/hot/cold] weather?” First is: “How’s business?”)

The answer is: I was looking for a way to keep doing what I love: writing about wine. When I surveyed the landscape back in 2008, the prospects of pure wine journalism were daunting indeed. And so I decided to give up a measure of journalistic purity by selling what I was writing about. My thought was: of the tens of thousands of wines produced in the world each year, I’m going to write about a couple hundred, so that still allows for plenty of discretion, ample editorial control.

Thanks to you all, I have been able to have my cake, and today I’m able to eat it too. The new August issue of Seattle Magazine contains a piece on the Columbia Gorge AVA that I was asked to write, and it marks the first time my writing has been published since the 1985 publication of The Duck That Lost It’s [sic] Way by the Scenic Hills Elementary School Press.

There is no doubt in my mind that the legitimacy conferred on my writing by Full Pull list members reading, sharing, and discussing our offerings played a major role in showing up on Seattle Magazine’s radar. Many thanks to all of you for helping me to bring this professional dream to fruition. And now onto today’s offering:
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Another week, another set of fine reviews in Wine Spectator Insider.

After a slow beginning of the year, with few Washington wines appearing, the reviews in Insider are coming fast and furious now.

Let’s revisit the analysis of the past five years of northwest wines showing up in Spectator’s year-end Top 100 list. Four 94pt wines showed up in the analysis, with prices ranging from $30-$58, so today’s wines fit comfortably in that range. The production range is 775-1553 cases, so both of today’s (at 223 cases apiece) are a little boutiquey as far as production goes. The closest comparable is probably the 2008 Efeste Syrah “Jolie Bouche” Boushey Vineyard (#15 in 2011, 95pts | $36 | 385 cases).

Congrats to Chris Sparkman. These reviews represent new high-water marks for his wines from Spectator. For some background on Sparkman Cellars, check out our first offering for Chris’ wines. I know exactly how many bottles of these I’m getting, and it’s not much. You’ll see that reflected in the allocation limits (3 bottles of each), and actual allocations might be more like 1 or 2 bottles:

2010 Sparkman Cellars Malbec “Preposterous”

Single-vineyard, all from Klipsun on Red Mountain, with 22% Syrah paired with the Malbec core. The new oak is dialed back (25%), and the cooler 2010 vintage moderates the warm climate of Red Mountain, resulting in 14.9% finished alc.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2010 Sparkman Cellars Syrah “Ruckus”

Also Red Mountain, from the king and queen vineyards of that AVA: Ciel du Cheval and Kilpsun. 89% Syrah and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, this sees a year and a half in 30% new French oak. 14.8% finished alc.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Please limit order requests to 3 bottles of each, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. Both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


2010 Maison Bleue Graviere Upland Vineyard

July 19, 2012

Hello friends. Well, so much for a quiet July.

Certain wines require snapping out of a mid-summer reverie, and this is one of them, likely (judging from e-mail traffic) our most eagerly-anticipated offering of the year:

First, a word on logistics, because I know this is going to be an *extremely* popular wine. I’m going to place my order on Monday morning, so please submit requests by end of day Sunday. You’ll see that I’m keeping the upper allocation limit relatively high (12 bottles). Apologies in advance if I have to under-allocate, but I suspect we’re going to snag a decent parcel of Graviere, both because of our list’s long-term support for Maison Bleue, and because I’m not sure anyone else knows this wine is about to hit the market.

How, you ask, do I know it’s about to hit the market?

Well, I have had the Sauron-style lidless eye of Full Pull trained on the Yakima Valley for months now, awaiting word of this wine’s imminent transit. My network of spies is vast and talented, and reliable sources tell me that, sometime in the next few weeks, a truck is going to summit Snoqualmie Pass with a pallet or two of Jon Martinez’s finest juice (let me pause here and say a special thank-you to one reliable source who knows who he is, on behalf of all our Maison Bleue-loving list members). Rather than waiting and confirming Graviere’s actual appearance, I’m sending this out pre-arrival style: a gamble, to be sure, but an educated gamble.

The great eye first turned towards Graviere in March. That’s when Paul Gregutt said the following on his blog: “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].”

Then, in May, Sean Sullivan weighed in on Washington Wine Report: “I[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).”

And then recently, within a few weeks of one another, Jeb Dunnuck of The Rhone Report and Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast published reviews of Graviere, in both cases the highest scores earned by Maison Bleue to date in those publications:

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Cellar Selection. 96pts.”

Among PaulG’s strongest reviews of 2012 so far, this will almost certainly earn a top ten spot on Gregutt’s year-end Top 100 list and stands a good chance at landing on one of Wine Enthusiast’s year-end lists as well.

Fortunately, when I had the chance to taste this recently, it was double-blind, because I suspect that served naked (the wine, not me), I would have been impacted either by confirmation bias (“it’s as good as everyone says it is!”) or emperor-has-no-clothes bias (“what’s all the fuss about?”). As it happened, this wine was a standout in the flight, an absolute stunner. I won’t add much to all the review verbiage above, only to say that Jon has found something special with this Upland Vineyard fruit, and there is an undeniably wild character to the fruits and savories that is deeply, deeply compelling.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. If our sources are accurate, the wine should arrive within the next 2-3 weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


Two 2009s

July 17, 2012

Hello friends. Since the release of last week’s Wine Spectator Insider, I have received a number of requests for the two wines on the list with the lowest prices. We have both wines today, but as I have mentioned in the past, nothing moves wine through the marketplace quite like a strong review from Wine Spectator, and both of these are moving fast. In fact, the Gun Metal will be a one-time-only deal; we get one shot, and no reorders will be possible, as the last available parcel has just shipped to western Washington. I even moved this offering up a day (it was scheduled for tomorrow) to be sure we get any at all. The Obelisco has slightly better availability (735 cases produced vs 400 for Gun Metal), but I suspect that one won’t last long either.

Several of you also asked me to look into my crystal ball and predict the potential for these two to end up on Spectator’s year-end Top 100 list. So I did what any applied-math-major-cum-wine-retailer would do: a proper statistical analysis.

And my conclusion, drawn from analysis of the past five years of northwest wines on Spectator’s Top 100 list: maybe.

While it pains me to give the equivalent of the weatherman forecasting a 50% chance of rain (the advantage: no possible way to be wrong!), that’s the best I can do. Spectator looks at three quantitative factors (I believe they also use a fourth, qualitative, fudge factor, but without setting up an unmanned drone in their offices, that factor will have to remain unpredictable) for their Top 100 lists: score, price, and production.

Ten 93pt wines showed up in the analysis, with prices ranging from $24-$58, so today’s wines fit comfortably in that range. The production range, however, is 900-6500 cases, so both of today’s are a little boutiquey as far as production goes. Probably the closest comparables are the 2007 Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley (#39 in 2011, 93pts | $32 | 1064 cases) and the 1997 Argyle Extended Tirage Willamette Valley (#25 in 2007, 94pts | $40 | 775 cases).

So, a lot depends on how the rest of the year goes for northwest wines being reviewed in Spectator, but I’d say each of today’s wines has a puncher’s chance at making the list. If you’re a gambler, have at it, and if you’re not, you could of course focus on the fact that these are strong wines from well-established boutique wineries (both of which have been featured in multiple previous Full Pull offerings), from the plush, approachable, openly-delicious 2009 vintage:

2009 Guardian Cellars “Gun Metal” (BDX Blend)

For the story on Jerry Riener’s background as a police officer and evolution into his role at Guardian Cellars, see our October 2010 offering of an earlier Gun Metal vintage. As with that one, this vintage of Jerry’s Bordeaux blend also comes entirely from the lovely Conner Lee Vineyard, and it is Cabernet-dominant, at 60% of the blend (the remainder is 36% Merlot and 4% Cab Franc). Conner Lee is a notoriously cool site, so in warmer years like 2009 it can produce something special:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($37); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

2009 Obelisco Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Mountain)

This is a winery on the ascendancy, a budding superstar on Red Mountain. We have previously offered their Red Wine, Merlot, and Syrah, but if Red Mountain is known for any single varietal, it’s probably Cabernet Sauvignon, and that’s what we have today. Recall that Obelisco’s estate vineyard is quite a ways up Sunset Road on Red Mountain, so they don’t get blasted by quite as many heat units as the lower sites (finished alc here is a moderate 14.1%). The tannin management is impressive here, and this mixes traditional Cabernet cassis flavors with lovely eucalyptus topnotes:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($40); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. Both wines should arrive in 1-2 weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


2008 aMaurice Cellars Malbec

July 15, 2012

Hello friends. Our recent aMaurice offerings have focused on Anna Schafer’s Bordeaux blends, but today we return to her true specialty: Malbec.

After several vintages working Malbec harvests in Argentina with Paul Hobbs of Vina Cobos, Anna released her first vintage of Washington Malbec (2005). That wine inspired Stephen Tanzer to declare it “certainly one of the finest malbecs I’ve tasted to date from North America.” High praise indeed, from a critic not prone to high praise. Since then, Anna’s Malbecs have only continued to improve, and this 08 is the strongest yet:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

[Note: no Washington Malbec has ever received a stronger review from PaulG].

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

While it doesn’t say so on the label, this is single-vineyard, coming entirely from Gamache. It combines wild mountain fruit (huckleberries, marionberries) with Malbec’s lovely, ferrous-tinged minerality, all swaddled in chocolaty barrel notes (40% new French). When I think good Washington Malbec, I think blue fruit and iron, and that’s what we get here. It’s a palate-stainer, super-intense and well-balanced, seamless across the attack, mid-palate, and lingering finish.

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.


Two 2008s from Tulpen Cellars

July 11, 2012

Hello friends. Today we have the remainder of the outstanding 2008 Tulpen portfolio: Sangiovese and Syrah. You might remember that we offered the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Coalesence (BDX blend) back in May, and I’ll include reorder links for those at the bottom of today’s offering.

Incredibly, today’s two wines might be even better values, coming in as they do at tariffs a couple bucks lower. They’re also smaller production, both coming in at less than 70 cases.

I’m going to paste the intro text from the May offering below, but to sum up my opinion concisely: Tulpen is producing some of the best quality-for-price bottles in Washington, and yet they remain, for now, a total insider’s winery, well under the radar (or, as winemaker Kenny Hart likes to put it: “If we were any better-kept secret, we’d be broke!”).

FROM MAY 6 OFFERING

These wines have become list darlings, and with good reason: they are among the best quality-for-price wines coming out of Washington right now, and Tulpen is a total insider winery. The wines have never been reviewed by Wine Spectator, nor have they been reviewed by Parker’s Wine Advocate. That has kept them (mostly) off the national scene.

Thank goodness.

The 07 vintage did get reviewed by Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast, so word is indeed getting out. PaulG, who spends much of his time in Walla Walla, tends to be ahead of the curve on these under-the-radar wineries, and he gave strong reviews (in the range of 91-94pts) to the entire portfolio of the 2007s.

The extra buzz generated by those reviews, plus the fact that total production went from 1200 cases in 2007 to just 400 cases in 2008, has upped the urgency level for me, so for these 2008s, I want to get in nice and early.

Now, a quick reminder on what Tulpen is all about. Kenny Hart is the winemaker, but first and foremost, Kenny is the vine whisperer of the Walla Walla Valley. He has planted a decent chunk of the valley’s vineyard acreage, and he actively manages sites for Abeja, Dunham, aMaurice, and Walla Walla Vintners. He launched Tulpen Cellars as something of a master class in winegrowing, figuring that to truly understand the full cycle of soil to bottle, vinification had to be part of his repertoire.

The results have been staggering.

It’s no surprise that many of the finest wines in the world come from the vigneron model, where one entity manages both the winegrowing and winemaking aspects of the process. The trick is precision control. Around harvest time, Kenny is in the vineyards every single day, tasting and testing. He is able to pick on the precise day he wants to. And, because Tulpen is boutique in size, his focus level can go beyond vineyard blocks, beyond vineyard rows, to individual plants. For his Tulpen wines, Kenny often mentions that he takes “the heart of the melon,” and it shows: the fruit quality in Tulpen wines is extraordinary.

Most of my tastings for Full Pull involve a glass, a spit bucket, and if I’m lucky, a handful of oyster crackers. Most of my tastings with Kenny involve a gourmet five-course meal that he prepares himself, frequently with ingredients that he hunted/fished himself. I write this not to inspire drool and rage and envy, but to underscore Kenny’s wonderful obsession with food, and wine, and conviviality.

There is something to be said for wine made with joy. And there is palpable joy conveyed in these bottles:

2008 Tulpen Cellars Sangiovese

From Lewis and Desert Hills Vineyards, this is a fine rendition of Washington Sangiovese, rich and rustic and dusty. A plush mouthfeel carries flavors of star anise and pomegranate across the mid-palate, but the finish is the star here, a wall of ripe, delicious grapeskin tannins, bringing flavors of black tea and orange-peel bitters. I’m itching to cook up braciole and crack a bottle of this; it’s born for Italian cuisine.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($24); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***/**** (Good/Excellent).”

2008 Tulpen Cellars Syrah

[Note: a little bird who tends to squawk reliable information about such matters tells me that one of the autumn issues of Wine Enthusiast is set to include a 93pt review from Paul Gregutt for this wine. 93pts and $24 is a dangerous combination, so let’s grab our share well before ink goes to page.]

A 5% Viognier coferment shines through here, bringing floral lift to the aromatics. Alcohol is a bit lower than previous vintages (14.8%), and this has a fine sense of balance. Ripe, brambly berry fruit (blackberries, raspberries) is interwoven with threads of coffee and cracked black pepper and rich earthy notes. This kind of complexity and intensity is near-impossible to find at this tariff, and it starts with the impeccable list of vineyards: Mill Creek (Abeja’s estate, and good luck sourcing Abeja Syrah), Lewis, Den Hoed, and Wallula.

[Note #2: this was the “What’s in the Bag” wine a few weeks ago for TPU members picking up, and we had as many right answers as I can remember. Why? Because this wine displays outstanding typicity for Washington Syrah.]

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($24); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: **** (Excellent).”

First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in a few weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.


Three from Rasa

July 8, 2012

Hello friends. We have three new wines today from budding cult superstar Rasa Vineyards.

Brothers Billo and Pinto Naravane debuted with the 2007 vintage, releasing their “QED” to some of the most rapturous praise I have seen for a debutante label (see our offering for that one here, which also contains the origin story for Rasa). Since then, the buzz has only continued to build, and the reviews have been positive for just about every wine the Naravane brothers release.

From the beginning, the focus of the Rasa lineup has been Rhone varietals and blends. Prior to the 09 vintage, the bulk of their Syrah went into QED or Principia (their reserve Syrah). Those two wines will continue to flourish going forward, but in addition, Billo has introduced micro-production releases of single-vineyard Syrah. Most of these get snapped up by the Rasa mailing list, but due to our list’s long support of Rasa, we have been granted access to small parcels. If anyone else has these west of the Cascades, I don’t know about it.

2009 Rasa Syrah “Occam’s Razor” Seven Hills Vineyard

Let’s go beyond single-vineyard. How about single-block? This comes entirely from Seven Hills Vineyard Block 10, in the Walla Walla Valley. And how about single clone? All Phelps here. When you narrow your grape selection to that extent, the production level is going to be miniscule; in this instance just 88 cases. This saw very little new French oak (20%, the remainder neutral), and finished up at 15.2% alcohol. As usual with Rasa, texture and tannin management are key here, the result a mouthful of liquid silk, full and rich with black and blue fruits.

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19.5/20pts.”

2009 Rasa Syrah “Doctrina Perpetua” Bacchus Vineyard

Again a single-block, this time Block 5 of Bacchus Vineyard, one of the terrific Sagemoor sites. Not a wine for the faint of heart, this clocks in at 15.8% alcohol and is reminiscent of some of the best Shiraz coming out of the Barossa ten years ago. It holds its alcohol well, never displaying overt heat, but this is indeed a full, full, full-bodied Syrah, velvety and concentrated. While there are times for the geekier, more austere wines, there are plenty of occasions for wines like this, that offer such easy pleasures. 179 cases produced.

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93+pts.”

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19.5/20pts.”

2010 Rasa Mourvedre “Vox Populi”

And one bonus wine. It’s 75% from Monette’s Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, the remainder from Alder Ridge, and this too is micro-production: 95 cases.

This wine was a real standout in a recent tasting. Just 20% new French oak (and 14.1% alc), so the beautiful Mourvedre fruit is the shining star. The aromatics present a good Mourvedre core of plum, leather, and spiced meat, and there is a beautiful vein of pink grapefruit wending through the nose and keeping things lifted and beautiful. More plummy fruit appears on the palate, along with subtleties of mineral and game. Unlike the two Syrahs, which are clearly new-world in character, this Mourvedre, if served blind, would have me scratching my head, because it’s a tweener. It could be Bandol; it could be Jumilla; it could be wildly appealing Washington.

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

We get one shot at these, and they’re all quite limited. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of each wine, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive at some point this summer, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.