2010 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Temperance Hill Vineyard

September 28, 2012

Hello friends. We have a parcel of some well-priced, difficult-to-source Oregon Pinot today:

St. Innocent was another winery that really stood out to me at Oregon Pinot Camp. While I had tasted a handful of Mark Vlossak’s wines over the years, this was the first opportunity I had to concentrate on the entire lineup. And what a lineup! For lovers of clarity and terroir-expressiveness in their Pinots, this is a tough portfolio to top.

St. Innocent has been a Burghound darling, with Allen Meadows’ praise growing more and more effusive over the past few years (note: Meadows has not yet reviewed the 2010s). That has taken wines that were already tough to find and made them rarer still. St. Innocent sends one small shipment of their Pinots to Seattle each year, and they’re typically gone in a matter of months.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, 2010 in Oregon was an outstanding-quality, low-yield vintage, so supply pressure will be greater than ever. That’s why I have been keeping my eye on arrival reports, and now that this wine has hit the ground in Seattle, I’m turning around this offering as quickly as possible.

In the few times I have spoken with Mark, his emphasis is generally on terroir and texture. The terroir here is Temperance Hill Vineyard, an Eola-Amity Hills site, from blocks planted in 1984 and 1995 over an ancient volcanic uplift, on thin weathered basalt. It’s the coolest site St. Innocent works with, the last to harvest, and the finished alcohol here is 13%. Texturally, this reeks of class, with closely-shorn, ripe tannins. It builds energy across the mid-palate and into the finish. The intensity of the smoky, floral, red-fruited flavors is noteworthy, seemingly impossible given this wine’s ethereal weightlessness.

Wine & Spirits (Patrick Comiskey): “($32); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Please limit order requests to 6 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 during the autumn shipping window.


Two Library Rieslings from C.H. Berres

September 27, 2012

Hello friends. What should a winery do to celebrate passing the torch from father to son, from 20th generation of winemaker to the 21st? If you’re Weingut C.H. Berres, you should release some of dad’s library wines.

I have mentioned on a few occasions my opinion that Riesling is the finest value in wine today. At the beginning of the 1900s, the most expensive bottles on American restaurant menus were typically Rieslings. They could cost more than three times as much as a first-growth Bordeaux.  An yet here we are, more than a hundred years later, and the quality of the grape hasn’t really changed.

But fashion has.

Today, let’s go against the grain of fashion. If Riesling is the greatest value in the world, than library German Riesling is the greatest value within the greatest value. My personal stash is filled with quietly-snoozing German Rieslings. Why? Because where else in wine can you have a transcendent experience for twenty bucks?

When Markus Berres took over for his father Alfred, the estate decided to release some of their library stock accumulated during Alfred’s heyday in the 1990s. I recently had a chance to taste two of those releases, and they are extraordinary. We have them both today:

1993 C.H. Berres Riesling Spatlese Wehlener Klosterberg

A quick review of the pradikat system before we jump in. The terms relate to must weight (sugar content). While they don’t always correspond perfectly to sweetness (winemakers can ferment the wine to total dryness or let some residual sugar remain), they serve as a pretty good rule of thumb. And that rule of thumb, from driest to sweetest is: Kabinett –> Spatlese –> Auslese –> Beerenauslese –> Trockenbeerenauslese.

Now the wine, from Wehlener Klosterberg (which means Klosterberg vineyard located in the village of Wehlen; here’s a map), a site with stony soils, decomposing slate, and a high proportion of iron. It’s a Spatlese, so in its youth, it probably drank with noteworthy sugar. Now, twenty years past vintage, the sugar is well-integrated, and it drinks just off-dry, that sweetness more of a honeysuckle complexity than overt cane-sugar. It possesses a fascinating nose, with faint smoky petrol notes, as well as alluring gin-soaked juniper aromatics. The palate still has rippin’ acidity and a kind of minty freshness that I found utterly appealing. The complexity of age mixed with a frozen-in-amber feeling of freshness: tough to beat.

1997 C.H. Berres Riesling Auslese Urziger Wurzgarten

We’ve only moved around one bend in the Mosel (see map), but now we’re in one of the famous terroirs of the Mosel, the “spice garden of Urzig,” the height of glorious insanity. This picture from the Dr. Loosen website gives a sense of the vertiginous nature of the site, as well as its enormous iron content, turning the slate soil red. Here’s one more picture for good measure. I’m not sure I could even walk that vineyard, let alone pick it.

It’s a notoriously long-lived vineyard, and Ausleses generally age longer than Spatleses, so we’re earlier in this wine’s evolution. The quality here is breathtaking for the price. I will almost certainly squirrel away a case of this to experience over the next 30 years. Aromatics of honey, earth, sweet spice, and light smoke give way to a luscious, caramel- and honey-drenched palate. I got pineapple, and mango, and lovely blood-orange acidity. The acid-sugar balance is divine. The overall balance is impeccable. It’s an intense drinking experience, and a gateway drug into the wonderful world of old German Riesling.

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

1997 C.H. Berres Riesling Auslese Urziger Wurzgarten


2009 21 Grams

September 26, 2012

Hello friends. Today’s wine has eluded me for years, and I’m thrilled that our list now has access to one of Washington’s few cult wines:

This project, which began with the 2005 vintage, is a collaboration between three men: Jamie Brown, Greg Harrington, and Makoto Fujimura. For each vintage, Jamie and Greg select the finest three or four barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon in the cellars of Waters and Gramercy. The artist Fujimura then designs a front label for that vintage (the front label is art only; all the text and information is relegated to the back label). If you’d like, you can check out the gorgeous labels from 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.

And here is the label for the 2009, which I had a chance to sample on a trip to Walla Walla earlier this year. It is glorious Washington Cabernet, and its core comes from an unlikely source: Cold Creek Vineyard.

Cold Creek is owned by Ste Michelle Wine Estates, and they rarely let the old-vine Cabernet out of their portfolio (it typically goes into their highest end wines: Ethos and Col Solare). In fact, I’m not sure if anyone other than Jamie Brown is allowed to purchase Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. Regardless, this 1973-planted site contains some of the oldest Cabernet vines in Washington, and as this bottling shows, some of the best.

The nose is immediately seductive: violet, lavender, cassis, and good clean soil. On the palate, what you notice immediately is the incredible density, intensity, and purity of the fruit. All the elements of fine Cabernet are in place: flower, earth, leaf, and blackcurrant fruit. The tannins are ripe and oh so supple, providing lovely finishing chew and reminding you that this could be nothing but Cabernet. It’s a balanced beauty, a special bottle of wine.

Please limit order requests to 3 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.


2009 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Crau (375ml)

September 25, 2012

Hello friends. I love splits. You love splits. There’s much to love about splits.

It has been awhile since we have offered 375ml half-bottles, so let’s review the ever-growing Full Pull Wines List of Split Bottle Advantages:

  1. Perfect size for dinner for one. None of the guilt/shame/remorse of pounding an entire 750ml.
  2. Allows you to feel like a giant. (Note: to continue this feeling, pour from split directly into tiny sherry glass.)
  3. Need to sneak alcohol into a sporting event but don’t own a flask? Split!
  4. Avoid oxidation! Let’s say you just drank two-thirds of a regular, 750ml bottle. You could cork up that bottle and save it, or… you could pour it into your leftover 375ml bottle (a funnel helps here) and store it in your split. Your 250ml of leftover wine will get much less oxygen exposure in a split than in a regular bottle and will maintain freshness longer.
  5. Makes a darling flower vase.
  6. Easy to drink directly from bottle.
  7. Fit conveniently into many pants pockets.
  8. They’re just so damned cute, in the same way that puppies are cuter than adult dogs.

These aren’t just any splits, either, but come from arguably the most famous estate in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We have a hold on the entire remaining parcel in western Washington, and it’s not a large parcel at that. In most cases, wineries slap a surcharge on splits (they do the same for magnums; maddening!), but today we’re able to do the opposite: offer these at a discount. And these are wines where discounts are rare indeed.

The Brunier family has been making wine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape since 1898, and La Crau is their premier bottling. It refers to the La Crau plateau, a chunk of land crawling with the galets roulés, the famous rounded stones of the area (here’s a picture). The soil structure is deeply complex, which you can see in this picture. Layers contain alluvial deposits, limestone, silica, and red clay known as molasse.

The galets on the surface insulate the vines from both cold and heat, and provide perfect drainage for the roots. When the famous origin story of Cayuse Vineyards is told, it’s these galets roulés that leapt into Christophe Baron’s mind when he saw the cobblestones of the Walla Walla Valley, it’s this terroir that he knew from experience was perfect for Grenache and Syrah.

La Crau is a notoriously long-lived wine, and that brings us back to our list of advantages to 375ml splits. Let’s add #9, which is that splits hit the fast-forward button on the aging curve. The proportion of surface area exposed to oxygen is larger in a split, so the wines age a little faster. It’s not a dramatic effect, but it increases the odds that the wine will hit its peak a bit earlier.

A recent taste of this revealed exactly what makes Grenache so well-loved: a gorgeous core of red raspberry and fig fruit; a wild, savage, brambly character; dustings of white pepper; and swirling throughout, incredible complexities of herbes de provence: basil, thyme, lavender. You could certainly drink this now for its luscious primary character, and it’s perfect for a series of autumn meals. Throw some braised short ribs or a roast leg of lamb into the oven and crack a bottle, and a fine evening is sure to follow. Or, for the patient, La Crau will only continue to reveal untold glories with the passing of years.

Wine Spectator (James Molesworth): “($78 [Ed note: that is the price for a 750ml bottle]); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “[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.


Two from Va Piano

September 24, 2012

Hello friends. Way back in December 2009, we offered one of Va Piano’s Bruno’s Blends (see that offering for the backstory behind this label). Back then, Bruno’s Blend was non-vintage, a mishmash of varietals, and yet even with that, it was a mightily impressive value.

A recent tasting with Justin Wylie (Va Piano’s vigneron) revealed an evolution for Bruno in several positive directions: there is now a red Bruno’s Blend and a white Bruno’s Blend; both are vintage bottlings (2009 and 2011); and both are now dominated by one varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc).

Tasting these two wines, I was immediately thrilled with the quality-for-price on display. Then the news kept getting better, as Justin offered our list significantly-reduced tariffs. Even at the winery release price, these both represent fine value. At our tariffs today, we’re bordering on obscene:

2009 Va Piano “Bruno’s Blend” Red

Currently priced at $23 (if we get oversold, you might consider buying your remainder direct from the winery), this sees Cabernet Sauvignon at a full 82% of the blend, and much of it is declassified Va Piano juice from the higher-end bottlings. While Justin doesn’t reveal exact vineyard sources for this, you can expect to find Va Piano Estate, Klipsun, Seven Hills, and/or Portteus among the vineyards represented. The remainder of the blend is 14% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Syrah.

Two aspects stand out right away that you don’t see in $15 wine: typicity and complexity. This smells very much of Cabernet, with its combination of crème de cassis, earthy soil notes, and violet. The 2009 vintage, as usual, provides us with tremendous generosity of fruit. This is rich, with a core of cherry (fruit and blossom), persistent earthiness, and barrel notes of high-cacao chocolate. The tannins are present (this is Cabernet, after all) but very supple. This kind of classy management of texture is another rarity at this tariff. This will outdrink (and perhaps outlast!) many a $30-and-up Cabernet Sauvignon. Those of you with autumn weddings or holiday parties ought to pay close attention here.

2011 Va Piano “Bruno’s Blend” Sauvignon Blanc

The white gets the Sauvignon Blanc label, and it comes from two Yakima Valley vineyards: Outlook and Roza. On a normal day, this is an $18 Sauvignon Blanc.

A lovely, clean, typical Sauv Blanc nose of grassy grapefruit gives way to a palate that combines citrus, salt, and mineral. 2011 was the second of two years in a row of cooler vintages, and cool vintages in Washington tend to produce lovely, acid-driven white wines. Sauvignon Blanc is a nervy varietal to begin with, so the vintage fits the varietal nicely here. A terrific mid-week white, this could also find a happy place on the Thanksgiving table.

First come first served up to 60 bottles total (mix and match as you like), 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.


Two from Domaine de la Pepiere

September 23, 2012

Hello friends. The Pays Nantais is one of the special places in the wine world. While some places are special because of complexity, others are special for freshness, youthful vigor, transparency. The Pays Nantais, where the Loire River flows into the Atlantic Ocean, is the latter. This is the home of Muscadet, among the world’s great value wines (on this map, we’re in Region 3).

Domaine de la Pepiere is a benchmark estate for Muscadet. Marc Olivier began the estate in 1984, with a core of old-vines (40 to 80 years) that had been passed down in his family. While trends in Muscadet have been towards mechanized production and fast release, Marc stubbornly takes it slow.

He hand harvests and uses natural yeasts, and while many Muscadet producers bottle the previous year’s vintage in January, Marc generally bottles in May. That’s why his 2011s have just hit the Seattle market now. His vines are mostly on shallow soil with hard granite very close to the surface, exactly the kind of terroir that makes Muscadet shine.

Marc also really looks the part. That’s what I was thinking when I met him during his visit to Seattle in the spring. Here’s a picture of Marc (he’s on the left, with his partner in Domaine de la Pepiere, Remi Branger). An artist sketching out a prototype for a French winemaker couldn’t draw a better version.

2011 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie

This region produces almost entirely white wines from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. As usual in Europe, the wines in the region grew up to suit the foods in the region. In this case, we’re on the edge of the sea, so we’re drowning in shellfish and bivalves. Muscadet with raw oysters is one of *the* classic food/wine pairings (it’s taught on day one of Sommelier 101). The grape’s inherent brininess and subtlety and mineral tang perfectly complement a well-shucked oyster.

And that’s exactly what we have here (the wine, not the oyster): a vibrant, spritzy, minerally, sea-salt-soaked delight of a wine. This is honest Muscadet, transparently expressive of the place where it was grown. It should warrant high consideration for the Thanksgiving table this year. Because of its shimmering acidity, Muscadet is terrifically versatile with food, perfect for the Thanksgiving smorgasborg.

2011 Domaine de la Pepiere Cot “La Pepie” (Malbec)

As I mentioned, Muscadet produces almost entirely white wines, and in fact, if you want to use “Muscadet” on the label, it can only have Melon de Bourgogne. But Marc has a puckish quality, and he was determined to bend the rules. He has tried two side projects over the years: one to make moelleux (sweet) wines. That one failed. And another to make red wines. That one has been a happy, surprising success.

Because of the rules around labeling, this gets the more generic “Vin de Pays du Val de Loire” designation, but it also frees Marc up to be more playful with the label. It gets both the name of the varietal (Cot, a synonym for Malbec) and a picture of a dazed chicken (perhaps about to go into the pot with a bottle of Cot for a Coq au Vin?).

So yes, we’re looking at 100% Malbec from the Pays Nantais. A bit odd? Yes. Undeniably delicious? Also yes.

Aromatics are a pure laser bean of crunchy berry fruit and berry skin. This still has the Muscadet signature, which is to say: it’s a vin de soif; thirst-quenching, light-bodied, oh so easy to glug. The palate is unmistakably old-world, with measured austerity and lovely rockiness competing with the grapey, sappy fruit. Imagine licking a berry-soaked boulder and you’ll be getting close to the tasting experience.

First come first served up to 12 bottles of each, 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.


2009 Southard Syrah

September 21, 2012

Hello friends.

“[TEXT WITHHELD].”

“TEXT WITHHELD].”

I have been forwarded those two quotes, from Paul Gregutt’s fine blog, with alarming regularity since PaulG’s writeup of Southard in late June. PaulG does a real service to us Washington wine-lovers by unearthing these hidden gems scattered around our state.

It took a few months to source and taste the wines, and they are impressive indeed. We’re starting today with perhaps the most impressive wine in the lineup:

Scott Southard is purchasing grapes here from his cousins, the Lawrences, who farm Lawrence Vineyard on the Royal Slope. Right now, the Royal Slope is part of the greater Columbia Valley AVA, but I’d be shocked if this area does not eventually become its own AVA. As you can see on the map, the Royal Slope is one slope up from the Wahluke Slope, running north-to-south from Frenchman Hills down to Sentinel Mountain.

This may be the buzziest under-the-radar area for Syrah in Washington right now. It contains Stoneridge Vineyard, which Charles Smith uses to make Heart, Skull, Old Bones, and Royal City Syrahs (tariffs ranging from $100-$140), and I’m certain that the success of those bottlings has led to more Syrah vines going into the ground.

Lawrence Vineyard, however, was in the ground well before all that, first planted out in 2003. It is high-elevation Syrah, ranging from 1400’-1600’, and the results, from Scott Southard’s capable hands, are breathtaking. There are floral, citrusy topnotes that I would normally associate with a Viognier coferment, but here I suspect it’s just the extra elevation. Those notes add complexity to an effort already well-stuffed with layers of fruit and meat, earth and olive.

PaulGregutt.com (Paul Gregutt): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].”

No Wine Enthusiast review yet from PaulG, so no score; probably a good thing for us. Based on the verbiage, and some reviews of previous vintages, I’d range out a future score at 93-95pts, pretty close to unheard-of for a wine at this tariff. If I’m right, the wine will likely disappear the moment the Enthusiast review is published.

Let’s get in before that happens. 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.