Two from Buty

January 31, 2013

Hello friends. I originally had this offering lined up for late February/early March, but I recently learned that the February issue of Wine Enthusiast is set to include a strong review for one of the wines. Rather than wait and risk losing out, I’m going to shuffle the deck chairs… er, wait, that’s a Titanic reference, isn’t it? I mean I’m going to play a shell game… wait, that’s not it either. Abandoning all hope of metaphor, I’m going to rearrange the calendar so that we can access Caleb Foster’s lovely wines:

2009 Buty Columbia Rediviva (Cab-Syrah)

Caleb Foster founded Buty in the Walla Walla Valley in 2000 after many years working with Rick Small at Woodward Canyon. In the dozen years since, the winery has developed a reputation for consistent excellence, for focus, and for a house style that marries aching purity of fruit with nervy, tensile structure.

During Caleb’s time at Woodward, he worked regularly with fruit from Champoux Vineyard (and in fact still works with Champoux fruit at Buty). When it came time to establish estate vineyards for Buty, no surprise: Caleb looked to the Horse Heaven Hills, and settled on a Champoux neighbor: Phinny Hill (see location here).

Phinny – farmed by Dick Beightol, who helped plant Champoux in 1972 and has been growing grapes in this area for more than 40 years – is a bit higher up the slope than Champoux, a few feet that can make a big difference during frost events. The Thanksgiving 2010 frost that knocked out most of Champoux’s 2011 crop was much less damaging to Phinny. This part of Horse Heaven is warm and windy, so you get grapes that have ample physiological ripeness and thick skins, which lead to wines with delicious generosity of fruit and a wall of ripe grapeskin tannins.

Caleb was also among the pioneers in Washington for Cab-Syrah blends, establishing his Rediviva of the Stones (from the Walla Walla Valley) and this Columbia Rediviva (from Horse Heaven) to show off the power and grace these blends can display in Washington. In 2009, it is Cabernet in the ascendancy, at a full three-quarters of the blend. It’s a dense, juicy, palate-staining mouthful, with a core of cassis and raspberry fruit framed by lovely barrel notes of coffee and high-cacao chocolate. You could probably lay this down for a few years, but I find the ripe generosity of the 2009 vintage in fine form here, and I see no need to wait. A Buty red that presents immediate gratification? Yes please.

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

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

2011 Buty Semillon-Sauvignon-Muscadelle

The last time I visited Caleb Foster in Walla Walla, did we taste through the entire Buty lineup?

No we did not.

Instead, we tasted a blind flight of a half-dozen Bordeaux Blancs with several of Caleb’s friends and spent an hour discussing typicity in white Bordeaux.

Why did I love this? Let me count the ways:

1. I am a wine geek and enjoy being around my fellows. And only a wine geek would set up a Bordeaux Blanc tasting.

2. Nothing is more educational than tasting blind.

3. It is clear that Caleb is not making wine in a Washington vacuum. For his Semillon-Sauvignon-Muscadelle blend, it’s useful to explore the region that initiated these wines in the first place: Bordeaux. That’s not to say Caleb is looking to mimic white Bordeaux. On the contrary, I think he sees it as a jumping-off point. But still, to be able to put Washington winemaking into a world context is important, and this tasting displayed Caleb’s commitment to that ideal.

His SSM blend is, year in and year out, one of the best whites produced in Washington. I’ve only come to admire this wine more in the past few years, because I set aside a good chunk of our first Buty SSM offering (the 2008 vintage, way back in November 2009) for my personal stash and have been exploring it ever since. Let me say: age is kind to this wine. The 2008 is still on the ascendancy, picking up nuance and aromatic complexity. Most of us focus on reds for our collecting and holding, but whites can be extremely rewarding, because a) they typically cost less; and b) the aging windows can be considerably shorter. Going in on six bottles of this and opening one per year for the next half-dozen years would be a rewarding endeavor indeed.

If you decide to drink it young, you’ll find a lovely, vibrant mix of grass and clover, fig and honey, pear and peach. There are exotic notes to this that make me want to grab Thai takeout: something like lemongrass and Kaffir lime. It has the hallmark acidity of the 2011 vintage, and its aging in concrete allows the texture to pick up some weight without any overt oak influence. Instead, it’s the stunning fruit and mineral on full display.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

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

For the Columbia Rediviva, please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The SSM is first come first served up to 12 bottles, and both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

2011 A Portela Mencia Valdeorras

January 30, 2013

Hello friends. The wine trade in the northwest can be a really, really small world.

To wit: John House, the man behind the new Ovum wines project that we featured back in December, recently informed me that he is also the west coast sales director for Olé Imports and asked me if I was interested in tasting terroir-driven wines from Spain.

In our current era of over-oaked Rioja and over-extracted Ribera, terroir-driven Spanish wine is an oxymoron at worst, an anachronism at best. But John is a terroir freak (as evidenced by his hunting down of oddball southern Oregon Riesling vineyards for Ovum), and I was intrigued.

So we tasted through the lineup, and I came away deeply impressed. Olé has struck a rich, broad vein of Spanish reactionaries: winemakers making earth-driven wines during an age of cloying fruit ripeness. The broader wine press has taken notice, with no less than Robert Parker himself weighing in:

Wine Advocate (Robert Parker): “[TEXT WITHHELD].”

We’ll plumb the depths of the Olé lineup in the months to come, but let’s start today with one of the most exciting wines in the lineup:

Wine Advocate (Robert Parker): “($17); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

This is one of the rare Spanish wines that Parker reviewed himself (instead of delegating to Neal Martin), and that combination of score, price, and prose has made the wine difficult to source. Because of that, I decided to jump in on this as a short pre-order. The wine is scheduled to arrive in late February, so the wait will be a bit longer than typical for Full Pull. But the reward is a good one: our list has first dibs on a good chunk of the parcel, a chance to stake our claim before the remainder of the Seattle market jumps in.

The wine is 100% Mencia and 100% from a single vineyard called A Portela, high on a slope (nearly 2000 feet elevation) in the Galician town of Larouco. Let’s get oriented. Here is a zoomed-out map for context, and here is a zoomed-in map to see what a crazy, mountainous region this is. This picture helps to show how Larouco (and the vineyards) are cut into the mountain.

That mountain is made of granite and decomposing slate, which also comprise the soils of the vineyard. These non-nutrative soils give natural yields that are substantially lower than is typical for the region (35% of average). Low yield equals high concentration, important for Mencia, which in more fertile soils can produce light, pale, forgettable wines.

This wine is anything but forgettable. It starts with an expressive nose of black fruit, earth, and some funky truffle notes, aromatics that won’t be unfamiliar to lovers of Washington Syrah. Minerality is the center of gravity on the palate, a dense mass of cut-rock around which swirls raspberry and black pepper and lavender. There is nary a hint of oak here (this was done entirely in steel), and for such a young red, the mix of richness and vibrancy is a rare pleasure.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in late February, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

Two Classic Northwest Chardonnays from 2011

January 29, 2013

Hello friends. Every year in the northwest wine trade has its own personality, trends that seem to emerge out of the ether. Despite the fact that we’re not yet a month into the new year, I already have my first guess for one of the themes of 2013.


Everywhere I go, I hear about a new Chardonnay project. We introduced Array Cellars last year, a Chardonnay-only label that is set to release a handful of new wines this year. Charles Smith hired Brennon Leighton away from Efeste to start a Chardonnay-only label. Rumors are flying that Chris Gorman has plans to introduce a new label with a single wine, and that wine will be a Chardonnay.

I mentioned above that these trends seem to emerge out of the ether, but “seem” is the operative word. The truth is more complicated, and it usually looks something like this: Educated folks with good palates taste something they like that surprises them. “I didn’t know [INSERT VARIETAL] could be so good in [INSERT REGION],” they think. “We should be making that.”

So today, in advance of what I suspect will be a number of new Chardonnay labels set to emerge in 2013, I want to go back to the classics. One from Oregon; one from Washington. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that somewhere along the line, folks from these new projects tasted one or both of these wines, and a light-bulb went off. What they saw: proof of concept.

2011 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay “Arthur”

We have explored Veronique Drouhin’s entire available portfolio of Pinot Noirs, but one thing we have not yet explored is her work with the other great Burgundian varietal.

Until today.

The first Pinot Noir vines went into the ground at DDO in 1988, and it didn’t take long for Chardonnay to follow, just four years later. Those 1992-planted vines (see location here, in the heart of the volcanic red jory soils of the Dundee Hills) were 100% Dijon-clone, making them some of the oldest Dijon-clone Chardonnay planted in the new world. 1996 was the first vintage with usable fruit, so the release of this 2011 marks the 16th vintage.

As the vines enter their adolescence, recent vintages of Arthur have displayed more depth of character, more wet-stone minerality, and more complexity. All that, and the price has barely risen since the 2005 vintage. It’s a fine bridge wine between old-world and new (for a primer on DDO’s old-world roots, see our initial DDO offering). As usual, Veronique manages to meld Burgundian sensibility with the joyous exuberance of new world fruit.

It’s a smokey, sultry, saline Chardonnay, seemingly built for long-term aging capability but awfully appealing right now. Flavors run from citrus (lemon curd, lemon pastille) to stone fruits (nectarine, apricot) to something green and wild (cucumber, melon). And throughout courses a vein of minerality that keeps things refreshing and complex. As seems to be the case with the best Oregon producers, 2011 presents a thrilling vintage with bracing acidity whose only drawback is low yields and corresponding lack of availability. Because of that, we’re catching this just after release, so that we don’t miss out. No reviews yet, and I can’t speak to reorder opportunities for this one.

2011 Woodward Canyon Chardonnay

“2011 has proven to be one of the cooler vintages that we have ever experienced; a bit like 1984.” That quote from Rick Small helps underscore why he is one of Washington’s living treasures. How many other winemakers in the state could stare down a cool year like 2011 with the knowledge that they had seen it all before, twenty-seven years ago? Not many.

Rick and his production winemaker Kevin Mott have settled into a beautiful Chardonnay routine over the years. They work with two vineyards. The cooler Celilo (located here, in the Columbia Gorge) brings freshness, vibrancy, and ageworthiness through the power of cool-climate acidity. The warmer Woodward Canyon Estate (located here, in the Walla Walla Valley) brings lushness, generosity, and mouthfilling texture.

Having those two paints on their color-palette allows Rick and Kevin to adjust their proportions based on each individual vintage, and to make the most beautiful painting possible. In 2011, that meant two-thirds Celilo fruit and one-third Estate, aged in Burgundy barrels (approximately 20% new). It’s a lower-alcohol (13.3%) Chardonnay than many Woodward vintages, but still the more plushly-textured of today’s two wines. Aromatics mix Asian pear and lemon drop with notes of earth and cashew. The palate mixes tree fruits and stone fruits, and there are beautiful subtleties, leesy and earthy, that kept me returning to this glass over and over. Find some crab or lobster or seared scallop (or all three!) to go with this, and paradise on earth may be possible.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($44); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

First come first served up to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

1999 Dante Rivetti Barbera d’Alba Alabarda

January 28, 2013

Hello friends. I became deeply smitten recently with a wine that I would not have expected. So smitten, in fact, that I bought the entire (small) parcel remaining in western Washington (note: there does seem to be one additional parcel floating around NYC, so if we have to under-allocate, that’s another option).

Why, you ask, was this a surprising prick from Cupid’s arrow? Because it is just so rare to taste aged Barbera.

I can count on one hand the number of Barberas I have tasted with more than five years of age. And it seems like each time, I’m pleasantly surprised. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. After all, what makes Barbera so attractive in its youth (the grape’s high natural acidity, which leads to youthful juicy deliciousness) is the exact component that helps it to evolve in compelling directions with some bottle age.

That acid serves as a preservative, keeping the wine fresh as the flavors evolve. And because Barbera has low natural tannin, its aging curve is quite a bit faster than, say, a burly Barolo. So we can taste some of the wonderful tertiary flavors here in a 14-year-old wine that can take quite a bit longer to develop with other grapes.

In the glass, this looks almost like Nebbiolo, picking up some of that varietal’s classic orange tones near the rim. The nose is a beautiful example of a maturing old-world wine, with deeply crepuscular aromatics of fallen leaves and mushrooms interplaying with a lovely core of dried-cherry fruit. The palate repeats both the dried cherry and leafy notes, all on a frame that is still quite vibrant with all that good Barbera acidity. The tannins have softened and integrated completely. I don’t think this wine will evolve much from here, but it provides terrific immediate gratification for those of us who love mature flavors. Complex, evocative, haunting; as I said, I’m smitten with this one.

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine is already in the warehouse and is ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

2010 Rotie Cellars Northern Blend

January 25, 2013

Hello friends. Today let’s continue this week’s exploration of David Schildknecht’s first set of Washington reviews for Wine Advocate.

First, here is David’s introductory text for Rotie, a fine example of the depth of reportage at play:

And here is the review of this particular wine:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (David Schildknecht): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

This was a wine I was crazy about when we offered it on August 1, 2012. Here’s what I said then:

“Sean Boyd’s 2010s for Rotie Cellars are stunning. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sean is part of the pack of reactionary Walla Walla winemakers (reacting against high alc and big oak), and a cool, fresh vintage like 2010 plays right into his hands. Still, the invigorating quality of these two wines has knocked me for a loop both times I have tasted them… I can’t recommend these wines highly enough.

This blend of 95% Syrah cofermented with 5% Viognier has a big whack of fruit from SJR Vineyard, a new site down in the rocks. It shows outstanding rocks character: earthy, savory-bacony, with a wildly funky marine element. The palate is rich and brackish, all earth and olives and blue fruit. There are floral topnotes all over this from the Viognier coferment, and the whole package is gorgeous to behold.”

As 2012 progressed, my admiration for this wine only increased. For my palate, it was one of the finest Syrahs released in Washngton during 2012, and I’m thrilled that we have a chance to dive back in in 2013 and grab a little more before it’s gone. 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 spring shipping window.

NV Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

January 24, 2013

Hello friends. One of the restrictions in Washington’s liquor-privatization initiative was square footage: a retailer has to have 10,000 or more square feet in order to sell spirits. The purpose was purportedly to keep hard alcohol from being sold at gas stations, and unfortunately smaller-square-footage retailers like Full Pull got caught in the baleen of this clunky solution (I sent an inquiry to the WSLCB about whether this meant I could start selling Unleaded through a pump behind the tasting bar. Answer forthcoming, I’m sure.)

So for the time being, there will be no artisanal spirits flowing through Full Pull, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play on occasion in the realm of the great cocktails of the world:

This is an incredible beverage, one of the most eye-opening, revelatory drinks I had in 2012.

Think about how much we obsess about the type of whiskey in our Manhattans or the gin in our Negronis, and then think about how much mental effort we give to Vermouth.

Why sully a beautiful spirit with a pedestrian mixer? It doesn’t make sense, except for the fact that most of us have little choice. Most stores sell one crappy vermouth, and so that’s what we all use.

That was certainly true for me, until I tasted Cocchi at the end of an Italian import tasting last year. It exploded the entire idea of this category in my mind, and a bottle of Cocchi Vermouth has been in my house at all times since. Yes, it will seriously elevate the cocktails mentioned above (you’ll never go back), but for me, it is more frequently mixed with nothing more than a couple ice cubes and then downed as one of the world’s great aperitifs or digestifs. It’s a thrilling drink all by itself.

Now, a quick primer on Vermouth. There are only two protected geographical indications of origin for Vermouth: “Vermouth de Chambery” (in France) and “Vermouth di Torino” (in Italy). To put either of those phrases on the bottle requires stringent adherence to production standards, and you’ll notice that most Vermouths sold in the US do not carry either of those phrases.

Vermouth is wine that has been fortified (here to 16% alc) and aromatized. The fortification happens with neutral grape spirits, and the aromatization happens by steeping dry ingredients with the fortified wine in barrel until the aromas and flavors have been absorbed. The combination of dry ingredients is what makes each individual Vermouth distinctive, and so the best producers pursue extreme secrecy for their recipes.

In this case, Cocchi has celebrated their 120th anniversary by reintroducing the original (1891) recipe of founder Giulio Cocchi. It starts with Moscato (no surprise, given Cocchi’s location in Asti) and layers on the aromatics from there.

The first thing you notice when tasting this is that it seems both sweeter and more bitter than your average Vermouth. The intensity is ramped way up across all sensory axes, like going from candlelight to phosphorescence. Rhubarb, grapefruit bitters, cocoa powder, rosemary, lilac are just a few of the endlessly complex array of flavors. There is a wonderful medicinal quality to the palate. It’s a beverage for grown-ups, no doubt, and this particular grown-up can’t get enough of it.

First come first served up to 3 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

2009 Robert Ramsay Cabernet Sauvignon Upland Vineyard

January 23, 2013

Hello friends. I received a number of inquiries in the beginning of January about today’s wine after its appearance in the Jan 2 Wine Spectator Insider. Several of you asked about its potential as a 2013 Spectator Top 100 wine.

On January 2. The second day of 2013. Only 363 days to go.

All kidding aside, I applaud (and share) this level of obsession. And my answer is: I don’t think this is a very likely Top 100 candidate. The list-price ($30) and score (93pts) are a potent combination, but Spectator also looks at production levels, and this clocks in at a mere 139 cases.

Of course, that boutique level of production presents its own problems; namely, that there’s hardly any of this wine to go around. I have secured a chunk of the (small) remaining parcel in western Washington, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. So, this will be a one-time only offering, with no reorders possible. Apologies in advance if allocations are smaller than requests.

Okay, enough about future Top 100 lists and enough about logistics. What about the wine?

Let’s start with the raw materials. This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and all of it from Upland Vineyard. Those of us who care about Washington wine would do well to memorize the name Upland, because this site’s star is squarely on the rise. The vineyard represents the majority of the Snipes Mountain AVA. Let’s examine the map, because there are a couple items of note.

1. What crazy topography! Doesn’t it look like the alien mothership alighted on earth and dropped a mountain in the middle of the Yakima Valley? Surrounded by alluvial valley floor on all sides, Snipes Mountain is a seven mile long uplifted ridge, topping out at about 1300 feet. Its closest uplifted-ridge neighbor is Red Mountain, a full forty miles to the east, so Snipes presents unique terroir.

2. Vineyards are planted on both the warmer southwest aspect and the cooler northeast aspect, allowing for all sorts of different varieties to thrive here.

On that note, Upland has probably become best known in the past few years for its Rhone varietals. Maison Bleue’s La Montagnette Grenache and their Graviere GSM blend both come entirely from Upland, as does Javier Alfonso’s well-received Garnacha under his Idilico label.

Those Rhone vines, however, are newer plantings. The oldest material on the mountain (with the exception of a true curiosity: 1917-planted Muscat) is Cabernet Sauvignon. And 90% of today’s wine comes from that old block, planted in 1973, the year after Alfred Newhouse purchased the site (Alfred’s grandson, Todd Newhouse, now farms Upland). These are among the oldest Cab vines in Washington.

The remaining 10% comes from the (charmingly-named) “Dump Block.” [a quick aside: Come on, people. We can get creative here. Just because the vineyard block was planted where we used to dump our rusting equipment does not require us to call it the Dump Block. What about the John Deere Block? The Caterpillar Block? I’d even accept Rust Block. But Dump Block? Ew.]

Winemaker Bob Harris has crafted a Cabernet full of old-vine charm, balancing the components that make Washington Cab so attractive: fruit (crème de cassis, beetroot), earth (clean soil), herb (bay leaf), and barrel (dark mocha). From a warm vintage, this is accessible and open, ready to go right now for seekers of immediate gratification.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ****/***** (Excellent/Exceptional).”

Please limit order requests to 12 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 ready for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.