Three from Efeste

November 30, 2012

Hello friends. We have the return today of a list favorite: Brennon Leighton’s “Big Papa” old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition, I’m going to include reorder opportunities for Brennon’s two 2011 whites that many of you have been asking about since Tanzer’s latest set of reviews were released (yes, a 92pt score from Tanzer is an impressive achievement indeed):

2009 Efeste Cabernet Sauvignon “Big Papa”

Big Papa is 100% Cabernet and uses some of Washington’s best old-vine material: about half from Red Mountain (Klipsun and Kiona) and half from Sagemoor properties (Sagemoor and Bacchus). It sees 85% new French oak, contributing notes of woodsmoke, sweet grain, and high-cacao chocolate to the lovely Cabernet fruit aromas of crème de cassis and violet. The wine positively explodes with dense, rich, palate-staining layers of cassis and blackberry, plum and cherry, salted chocolate. I even picked up some more exotic fruits like guava, papaya, orange peel. A big wine to begin with, in this fleshy vintage it’s a total hedonistic pleasure-bomb: dense, intense, and long. This one will, I suspect, be well-loved by big papas and big mamas alike.

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

2011 Efeste Riesling Evergreen Vineyard

Original offering on May 16, 2012.

My original text: Evergreen does great with Sauvignon Blanc, great with Chardonnay, great with Pinot Gris. But it has built its reputation on Riesling. As the main source of both Eroica and Charles Smith’s Kung Fu Girl, this is an ambassador vineyard for Washington Riesling, and bully for that. Here Brennon chooses an off-dry style. At just over 12% alc and just over 1% RS, this drinks like a fuller-bodied Mosel Kabinett. There is plenty of chalky minerality, of course, and the fruits are mostly in the citrus family: think lime and tangerine. A minty topnote keeps things very fresh, and this pulls off double duty: refreshing and intense in turn.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

2011 Efeste Sauvignon Blanc “Feral” Evergreen Vineyard

Original offering on May 16, 2012.

My original text: When Brennon worked for Ste Michelle, they used Evergreen fruit to form the core of Eroica, and when he landed at Efeste, he continued working with the vineyard. This Sauvignon Blanc, made entirely with “feral” (non-commercial) yeasts, has garnered something of a cult-like following in the Seattle market and is, to the best of my knowledge, the only Evergreen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc on the market. There is a wild greenness to the nose, redolent with grasses and clovers. The palate presents a heady mix of the three “gr”s of fine cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc: grass, grapefruit, and gravel. It’s a little austere, a little funky: far far away from the more tropical Sauvignon Blancs that dot much of the new-world landscape. Not for everyone, but those of us who like this tend to *really* like it.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

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

2005 Arzuaga Ribera del Duero Crianza

November 29, 2012

Hello friends. Our list has dibs today on a price drop for a lovely, well-aged Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero:

This wine began its life at a $35 price point on release in 2008. Now, nearly five years later, as the wine is entering peak drinking window, we’re able to massage the tariff down under $25.

It’s a time-limited deal that was offered to our list after I expressed enthusiasm for the wine at a recent tasting. I need to send numbers on Monday morning, so please try to submit order requests by the end of the weekend. We may be able to fulfill some reorder requests, but those will likely be at something closer to a $30 tariff.

I had a few reasons for expressing enthusiasm after tasting this. For one thing, while we have offered a good chunk of Spanish Tempranillo, most of it has been from Rioja. I had been looking for a good, typical bottle from the Ribera, and this fit the bill. Another reason is bottle age, and that’s a reason to love Spain generally. How many 2005s do you see on the shelves as current releases? It’s a real pleasure to let someone else do the cellaring for us, so that we can access the wine when it’s meant to be accessed, at the peak of its powers to please.

And finally, I wanted to offer this particular Ribera because it provides an opportunity to talk about oak. Most fashion trends in wine tend to be binary affairs. “I like” or “I don’t like.” Oak is no different. In the ‘90s, it was cool to be pro-oak (“I just love this buttery Chardonnay”). Nowadays, the anti- camp is ascendant.

But like most things in wine (and, I suppose, life), a binary evaluation does not do justice to the myriad shades of grey. Spain is a fine example. Good producers in Spain make judicious use of American oak. In a cruel twist, it seems more challenging for domestic producers to use our homegrown oak, where it frequently imparts aggressive aromas of dill and other pickling spices.

In Spanish hands, however, and swaddling Spanish Tempranillo, it can really sing, especially when it has as much time to integrate as this wine has. You can see the evolution in the aromatics, where what was once more overt woodsmoke and vanilla bean has now softened into notes still woodsy but now more subtly fungal (like fresh-dug chanterelles) or leafy (like pipe tobacco). It’s the perfect complement for Tempranillo’s core of red- and black-cherry fruit. On the palate, that core of cherry fruit continues, surrounded by maturing notes of mushroom and leather and soil. The structure here – citrus-pith acids and softening, fine-grained tannins – is in fine balance with the fruit and the alcohol (14%).

Bodegas Arzuaga is located here, on the western edge of the Ribera, with 370 acres of estate vineyards (planted about 90% to Tempranillo, and the remainder to Cab and Merlot) interspersed with a wild game reserve. Wild boar is the most populous animal on the reserve, and if you’re thinking that they like to serve a wild boar shoulder roast with a pitcher or two of this Crianza, you’d be correct.

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.

2010 Proper Syrah Redux

November 28, 2012

Hello friends. One thing we like to do during the holiday season is to reoffer, when available, wines that have been especially resonant with our list members over the course of the year. Gifts for others; a gift for yourself; a first crack at the wine for list newbies: all valid reasons to jump on these reoffers.

And we’ll start with the wine that, judging by reorder requests and general chatter through e-mail and in person, may be our most popular offering of 2012:

Pasted from our original offering on September 12:
Hello friends. “Baby Cayuse” is the first thought that crossed my (joyously stunned) mind when I opened a sample bottle of today’s wine.

My second thought, after I saw the tariff, is unprintable for a family-friendly wine offering, but it was a two-word phrase, and it started with “holy.”

In a summer that has seen a series of increasingly exciting new entrants to the Washington wine scene, Proper may be the most thrilling of all.

Why? Well, 1) because this wine displays a crystalline expression of funky Walla Walla Rocks terroir that I have only previously seen in wines from Cayuse and Reynvaan; 2) unlike Cayuse and Reynvaan, this winery does not (yet) have a closed mailing list, so the wines are actually available; and 3) did I mention the price?

Run, don’t walk, to this one. Once these wines get submitted to Paul Gregutt, and to Harvey Steiman, and to the slew of other professional critics who have lavished praise on Christophe Baron’s and Matt Reynvaan’s wines in the past, it’s going to be game over. Our only advantage is the element of surprise.

What do you want to hear about first: the wine or the story? Let’s start with the wine, because I love writing tasting notes for wines that display that funky rocks character. Here we go on the aromatics: charred meat, blood, green olive, ash, seaweed, blackberry. And then on the palate, we get all of the purity and balance that I’m beginning to associate with the best wines from 2010. But it’s the umami character, the rocks signature, that really takes your breath away here, a savory stew of meat and brine to complement all that wonderful fruit. Super-intense, with a finish that just won’t quit, this is outlandish wine, perhaps the most exciting bottle I have tasted in 2012.

The story starts with two partners (David Houle and Conor McCluskey) from Colorado who love earthy, funky wines. Great admirers of Christophe’s work at Cayuse, they jumped at the chance to purchase a cherry orchard around the corner from Cayuse Vineyards. In 2007, the cherries went out, and the vines went in (all Syrah). Their next important decision was hiring a winemaker, and they couldn’t have chosen better: Sean Boyd of Rotie Cellars, notorious Rhone freak and lover of earthy, ethereal Syrahs himself.

Third-leaf fruit in 2009 produced 50 cases, most of which went to friends and family. The 2010 vintage produced 450 cases, and the wine has just recently been released. Sean Sullivan kindly shared a pre-publication review with us. Look for an extended writeup on Washington Wine Report later today.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($36); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ****/***** (Excellent/Exceptional).”
I also just learned that Rand Sealey’s December issue of Review of Washington Wines will contain his first review of Proper:

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($36); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

Please limit order requests to 24 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a few weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window (or possibly spring, depending on where you live).

2003 Nada Barbaresco “Rombone”

November 27, 2012

Hello friends. I’m a risk-averse entrepreneur. Odd but true.

I’m not the serial-entrepreneur type with another dozen business plans in my back pocket should Full Pull go the way of the wooly mammoths. I always figured if this venture imploded, I’d happily return to a more traditional office life.

This averseness to risk expresses itself in Full Pull’s wine buying, in that we rarely purchase a parcel until it’s already pre-sold.

Rarely, but not never.

Sometimes we’ll take a calculated gamble, if the wine and the deal are good enough. In this case, the wine was outstanding and the deal even better, so we purchased every last bottle available in Washington (and, I suspect, the United States).

If our list supports the gamble, great. And if not, our houseguests better get used to guzzling prime-drinking, decade-old Barbaresco.

On release, this was a $74 wine. Now, as a library release, ten years past vintage and right in its prime, we can massage the price below $50. That’s the “great deal” portion of the willingness-to-gamble equation.

Now, the “great wine” portion. Here is Galloni writing about Nada in a summer 2012 Wine Advocate issue: “Bruno Nada is one of the most underrated and overlooked growers in Piedmont. His are among the few wines that actually deliver on the vision so strongly advocated by the modern school in Piedmont, which is to say wines that drink well early and age.” Nada’s production is small to begin with (330 cases in the case of today’s wine), and only a fraction of that micro-production is exported to the US.

As much as I love Barbaresco (it’s in the running as my desert island wine), they can be frustrating wines to write about and offer because they’re so damned unapproachable in their youth. That’s why today’s wine, which combines a producer who emphasizes early drinking, a vintage whose warmth encourages early drinking, and a raid into the library stash, is so very appealing.

It’s a good strategy, when exploring wine categories, to focus first on warmer vintages, because they tend to push the fast forward button on the aging curve. While many Barbaresci hit their stride 15-25 years past vintage, warmer years like 2003 produce earlier peak-drinking windows. And that’s exactly what we have here.

No need to cellar endlessly. No need to decant for hours. This is glorious, expressive, drinkable Barbaresco from the moment the cork is popped. The aromatics are beginning to develop the tar-and-roses character so famous in this region, intermingling with more primary elements of spiced black cherry and blood orange, and a refreshing mentholated topnote. The palate has a core of rich cherry fruit from this generous vintage, but the bottle age shows itself in all the complementary complexities: loads of earth and dust, mushroom and leather. The acid spine and tannic heft (typically the main factors against drinking Barbaresci in their youth) are here integrating beautifully, contributing to a finely-wrought sense of balance.

This drinks right at early-to-mid peak for my palate. It’s certainly ready to go right now, but setting aside a few bottles to drink over the next five years would not be unwise. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. As I mentioned, the wine is already purchased, in the warehouse, and available for immediate pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

Two 2010 Pinot Noirs from Cameron

November 26, 2012

Hello friends. Late Autumn 2010 in the Willamette Valley was like one long 4th of July. Air cannons exploded all over the valley, as desperate growers tried to drive off ravenous hordes of migratory birds descending on late-hanging, cool-vintage Pinot grapes.

A Hitchcockian horror story, to be sure, and a pity that the birds got as much as they did, because those were some magnificent grapes. And that’s the story of the 2010 vintage in Oregon: high quality, with crystalline purity, but extremely low yield.

With a vintage like 2010, vigilance is required in buying. Because yields were so low, 2010 Pinots from the best producers hit the Seattle market and are gone before you know it. That’s why we have jumped in close to release on 2010s from Eyrie, from DDO, from Crowley, from St. Innocent.

And now, today, from Cameron.

I could go on at length about Cameron, but I have a better suggestion: watch this beautifully-produced video chronicling Cameron’s 2012, from January all the way through harvest. Warning #1: there is a bit of profanity, so it’s on the border of NSFW. Warning #2: after watching this video you will likely want to leave your life behind and move to Oregon to make wine.

For those of you who don’t have 12 minutes to spare for video-watching, a quick summary of Cameron: founded in 1984 by marine-biologist-turned-winemaker John Paul, who worked stints in New Zealand, California, and Oregon before launching Cameron; totally focused on sustainable dry-land farming; produces Pinot Noirs that are frequently confused with Burgundy when served blind; has developed a culty reputation, such that most of the small production never makes it out of Oregon.

Today we have John Paul’s two wines that come from Abbey Ridge Vineyard, among the finest vineyard sites in the Willamette:

2010 Cameron Pinot Noir Arley’s Leap

As far as I know, only two wineries currently make Pinots from this fruit: Westrey, which purchases a small amount of the fruit each year, and Cameron, for whom Abbey Ridge is one of two estate sites (Clos Electrique is the other).

Abbey Ridge Vineyard was planted in 1976 at 500-700 feet elevation on the red volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills (location here). That makes it one of the oldest commercial vineyards in the Willamette. It was planted by Bill and Julia Wayne, in hopes of farming Pinot fine enough to sell to David Lett at Eyrie Vineyards. They did eventually sell fruit to Eyrie, but by 1984, the majority of the fruit was vinified under the Cameron label, and in the late 1980s, John Paul (Cameron’s winemaker) began producing a single-vineyard Pinot from this site.

Arley’s Leap is a younger, 1990-planted block of Abbey Ridge Vineyard. The name of the block commemorates a jump made by Arley, a dog belonging to the Waynes, from a second-story hotel balcony during a vacation to Victoria, after being startled by a small cat. Remarkably, and fortunately, Arley survived his leap.

Much of the clonal selection in the vineyard is Wadenswil, the beautiful high-toned aroma-bomb of the Willamette. As a high-elevation, cooler site, Abbey Ridge sits on the climatic cusp, which is exactly where many of the world’s finest Pinot Noirs begin. In a cool year like 2010, the alcohols end up at Burgundy levels – in this case 12.3%. The aromatics are stunning, with a big marine element – kelp and seashell – mixing beautifully with crunchy red fruit and violet. It’s a gorgeous, deeply appetizing nose, and the palate delivers what is promised, with laser-like purity and focus to the mineral-drenched red fruit. As an introduction to the glory of Abbey Ridge, this can’t be beat.

2010 Cameron Pinot Noir Abbey Ridge Vineyard

Now we move into the older vines of the property, and into one of the best dollar-for-dollar Pinots produced in Oregon each year. The complexity and intensity are ramped up here, and now we see that lovely umami seaweed element dancing with cut rock and smoke and incredible floral notes. The palate has that “sauvage” character, a sense of wildness to the mountain berry fruit, underscored by subtleties both sanguine and minerally. It’s a complex pastiche of flavor, with real depth of character and profound sense of balance.

You have to wonder about the aging curve for a wine like this, with old-vine material, sneaky tannins, and loads of fresh acid on a 12.6%-alc frame. 30 years? 50 years? It’ll be hard to find out, because this wine’s youthful vigor conveys immediate charm. Killer, killer juice, and for Oregon Pinotphiles, a wine not to be missed.

First come first served up to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you like). 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 Long Shadows “Pedestal” Merlot

November 25, 2012

Hello friends. I had plans for the past three days. Plans to ponder that age-old question: brussels sprouts inside the leftovers sandwich or outside?

Thanks to the fine folks at Wine Spectator, those plans were scrapped. Instead, I had to make a snap decision (brussels sprouts inside, if you must know) and spend the rest of my time trying to secure a parcel of the wine that many of you have been clamoring for: the highest-ranked Washington wine on Spectator’s recently-released Top 100 list:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

#11 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2012.

We’ve written at length about the Long Shadows project before. Today we’ll keep it shorter, and focus specifically on Pedestal, which is the Merlot project with Michel Rolland, who built his reputation first in Pomerol and then as a consulting winemaker all over the world. This vintage of Pedestal is 83% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The main vineyard sources are several of the Sagemoor properties (Dionysus, Weinbau) along with Conner Lee and Tapteil, a powerhouse site on Red Mountain.

I’ll admit: negotiating parcel size during Thanksgiving weekend is no easy task. I’m still not sure what the final number is going to be, so I’m going to set the order limit (optimistically) high, at 12 bottles. If our parcel ends up being towards the lower end of expectations, allocations may be considerable lower than that. Apologies if that’s the case, but I’d like to advocate for as accurate a picture of our list’s demand as possible. 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

November 21, 2012

Hello friends. James Mantone was into Rhone varietals before it was cool, and while other producers in the state race to play catch-up, he is teaching a master class. With his latest set of releases, he cements Syncline as one of Washington’s most thrilling wineries.

And here let me pause and implore you, as I seem to do every time we offer Syncline: visit the Columbia Gorge. Syncline is the flagship winery for this region, but the entire area is just majestically beautiful. There is no finer aesthetic landscape in Washington for wine touring. The crowds are sparse, the wineries are friendly, and there’s a laid-back ethos about the place, fueled in part, I suspect, by the (now legal! at least on the Washington side of the river) blue cloud of marijuana smoke that drapes itself gently onto the Columbia River as it rolls through the gorge.

When “green wine” makes its way onto the scene in Washington, as it’s bound to do in a post-Initiative-502 world, I’d be willing to wager the first bottle will come from the Gorge.

But in the meantime, the whites and reds are nothing to sneeze at:

2011 Syncline “Subduction Red” (Rhone Blend)

Call it what you will: the canary in the coal mine (for poor vintages); the crystal ball (for good vintages). Either way, Subduction Red is the vanguard, always among the first serious red wines to be released from a specific vintage.

It’s Syncline’s table wine, and it contains six different Rhone varietals: 39% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 9% Carignan, 7% Counoise, 2% Cinsault. It is raised in a combination of French barrel (only about 5% new) and Nomblot concrete cubes. The result is a wine with a real sense of vitality, of joyous exuberance. This is a Washington version of a vin-de-soif, with a juicy, refreshing character to the spicy, mineral-soaked raspberries and cranberries. At 13.5%-alc, this would be a killer Thanksgiving option as well.

2011 Syncline Marsanne Boushey Vineyard

I know, I know. I said in a recent offering that Syncline was focusing their white program entirely on Gruner Veltliner and Grenache Blanc. But when Dick Boushey offers you his pristine Marsanne fruit, what are you going to do? Say no?

I should think not.

So James and Poppie decided to make a one-off, single-vineyard, varietal Marsanne. This is not a permanent addition to the lineup, and that’s fine with me. Sometimes these ephemeral bottlings are the most poignant anyway.

This is the same Marsanne fruit that went into Jon Martinez’s Petit Joie bottling for Maison Bleue (that of the 94pt scores from Advocate and Rhone Report), and it is something special. Aromatics combine notes of raw almond, mineral, and orange blossom, and the plush texture and intensity of flavor make me think this would be a fascinating alternative for folks in a Chardonnay rut.

2010 Syncline “Cuvee Elena” (Grenache Blend)

Cuvee Elena is Syncline’s flagship wine, a barrel selection made with elegance of texture and depth of character in mind, and in 2010 a blend mostly of Grenache (57%) and Mourvedre (32%), with small amounts of Syrah, Counoise, and Carignan. Vinification is complicated enough that I’ll just quote James directly: “Grenache, Counoise and Carignan were de-stemmed, inoculated in small open tops with manual pigeage then aged in neutral barrels. For Mourvedre and Syrah, inoculated fermentation occurred in 33 hectoliter concrete cubes, with a max temp of 81 degrees, twice daily pump-overs and early delestage. Syrah was also fermented with 20–30% whole clusters This bottling is 100% free run juice that was put directly into 4–7 year old barrels, some in 700L size.”

I’ve fallen for this cuvee over the years, because it consistently has this leafy Grenache character that I find deeply compelling. There are aromas of cherry, and lavender, and tree bark, giving way to a palate-staining mouthful of crushed rock, briary raspberry fruit, and mulling spice. There is a fresh sense of menthol on the finish, like a cherry Ludens. But above all, it’s that leafy character, something autumnal, crepuscular, that keeps me going back to this one again and again.

First come first served up to 18 bottles total (mix and match as you like). The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.