NV Borgoluce Brut Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG

April 30, 2013

Hello friends.

“…not far from the so called river Piave….we grant and donate…a land with goats, vineyards, meadows, grazing lands, woods, willows, stables, shores, banks, mills, fishing, hills, valleys, plantations, waters and courses of rivers, forests…”

With those words (written in Latin), King Berengario II granted a huge piece of land to the Collalto family. The year was 958 AD. More than one thousand years later, the family continues to work this spectacular piece of land, and the goats, vineyards, et al remain.

This is one of those spots on planet Earth that just looks like pure magic. I’ve spent the past thirty minutes drooling over a series of Borgoluce videos (the phrase “ricotta bellissimo” was almost enough to get me on a plane) that show how many different activities are going on at the estate.

The family is engaged in the following: raising animals (cows, pigs, sheep, goats, horses); making charcuterie (salamis, ossocollo, pancetta); making dairy products (buffalo mozzarella, ricotta [bellissimo!!], stracchino, caciotta, robiola, yogurt); milling grains (marano flour for yellow polenta, biancoperla flour for white polenta); producing extra virgin olive oil, producing honeys (acacia, wildflower); running an osteria; running an agritourismo.

And growing Glera grapes and turning them into ethereal Prosecco.

Borgoluce comes close to being a closed loop. They generate power through windmills, and the fertilizer for their vineyards comes from their estate’s “organic animal matter,” which is as nice a euphemism as I’ve seen for that particular item. The family is committed to sharing their piece of land in as many ways as possible, and that commitment is part of what makes this wine exciting.

I’ve tasted a lot of Prosecco this year, much of it pedestrian, but this was a real standout. With relatively low dosage, it drinks extremely dry, all chalk and mineral and lemon. It reminded me of sparkling wines from Savoie with its alpine character. But the aromatics definitely speak of Prosecco: lightly floral, delicate, peachy. The mousse is fairly aggressive in the mouth, a big whack of scrubbing bubbles to freshen up the palate and ready you for your next bite of food.

This is classy juice in a classy package, and I usually drink it unadorned. But I will admit that on occasion, an idea latches onto my brain like a leech. That idea: Bellini. And when that thought arrives, Borgoluce makes a Bellini about as delicious as it gets.

First come first served up to 24 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.

2010 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley

April 29, 2013

Hello friends. It was with some fanfare that our friends at Abeja announced that the release of their new Cabernet Sauvignon marked their 10th vintage of this wine.

My (incredulous) response: that’s all?!?

John Abbott’s Columbia Valley Cabernet feels like a wine that has been around forever, perhaps because it has become such a Cabernet ambassador for Washington. That it has only been around since 2001 is a striking reminder of how far Abeja has come, and how fast.

The “Winery” section of the Abeja website contains a grand total of three sentences: “Our winery is housed in what was once the mule and horse barn of the Kibler Farm. It is set up with state-of-the-art equipment and a small team who are passionately dedicated to quality. This is where our relentless pursuit of extraordinary Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon begins.”

In the past few years, Abeja has received accolades for plenty of other varieties as well – Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot – but ultimately, Cabernet is king at Abeja, and this is their flagship bottling. There will be no Cabernet Reserve in 2010, so all the old-vine Bacchus and Dionysus fruit that would normally be set aside for that bottling has been shifted here. There is also a chunk of Abeja’s estate Heather Hill Vineyard in the mix (I don’t know whether they plan to release a 2010 Heather Hill Cab), along with fruit from Weinbau and Hedges on Red Mountain.

Life is full of contingencies. I’m sure there’s another universe where I’m putting my applied math degree to use doing something, well, mathematical, and John Abbott is a happy veterinarian tending to Oregon’s cats and dogs. But in this universe, he abandoned his pre-vet studies, transferred to Fresno State’s Viticulture and Enology Program, made Cabernet at Pine Ridge and Pinot Noir at Acacia, moved to Washington in 1994 to join the nascent Canoe Ridge Vineyard, and launched Abeja seven years later.

And in this universe, I get to write about John’s wines, including this beauty. It starts with an it-could-only-be-Cabernet nose: blackcurrant and blackberry, earthy notes of good clean soil, and barrel notes of smoke and oreo. As usual with this wine, texture is the star. This is a seamless, hole-free wine, with a beautiful, plump mid-palate linking the attack (smoky, cocoa-dusted cassis fruit and silty minerals) to the finish (ripe grapeskin tannins – no easy feat in the cool 2010 vintage – full of espresso and black tea). I’ve had enough of John’s Cabernets to know that they age beautifully, but I find it difficult to age a wine like this, one that presents such generosity and intrigue in its youth. A standard-bearer for Washington Cabernet.

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

Two 2010s from Adelsheim

April 28, 2013

Hello friends. We have two wines from a seminal Oregon producer today: one is yet another shimmering 2010 Pinot, the other a rarer beast: a Willamette Valley Syrah:

2010 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Elizabeth’s Reserve

Adelsheim is part of the old guard of the Willamette Valley, and was especially influential in establishing the Chehalem Mountains as a viable growing area. Founded by David and Ginny Adelsheim in 1971 (here’s what they looked like then), they released their first commercial wines in 1978, and Elizabeth’s Reserve was inaugurated soon thereafter as a blend of the best barrels in the winery.

For me, Lizzy is one of a handful of reference-point wines for Willamette Valley Pinot each year (Eyrie Reserve, DDO Laurene, Westrey Abbey Ridge are a few others, and I’m sure I’m leaving several out), because it consistently and transparently expresses the vintage it comes from.

The 2010 vintage in Oregon was one of fine quality with crystalline purity but extremely low yields, thanks to insatiable birds that decimated the late-hanging vintage in October. With a low-yield vintage like 2010, vigilance is required in buying, as the good 2010 Pinots tend to hit the Seattle market and disappear. That’s why we’ve jumped in early on 2010s from from Eyrie, DDO, Crowley, St. Innocent, Cameron, and Patty Green, and that’s why we’re jumping on Lizzy today.

It includes barrels from twelve different vineyards. Six are estate; six are purchased fruit. Six are volcanic jory soil; six are marine sedimentary soil. The core comes from the Chehalem Mountains, back where it all started for Adelsheim, and the wine was aged in French barrels for about a year (34% new). It’s expressive of 2010 to be sure, with soaring airy aromatics of red cherry, violet, and rosewater. The palate has a beautiful, fresh (13.4%-alc) core of red cherry and rhubarb fruit, lifted by nuances of chamomile tea and citrus peel and dusty forest floor. This one is all about purity of fruit, transparency of place, and elegance of texture.

Wine & Spirits (Patrick Comiskey): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2010 Adelsheim Syrah

I was knee-buckled by this one. Willamette Syrahs are rare but not unheard of (I know Cristom’s version has multiple fans among our list members). They tend to be micro-production (251 cases here) and get snapped up in-state. We’re lucky to have access to a parcel of this, which will be special-ordered from the winery and shipped up for our list members. Adelsheim’s Syrah has never been sold in Washington before today.

So what is the character of Willamette Syrah? Well, imagine the lovechild of St. Joseph and Gramercy Cellars, and you’ll start to get the picture. This has plenty of old-world personality, in its low alcohol (12.9%), its black-pepper-dusted-steak nuance, its insistent mineral character. But there’s a succulence, a pure grapey-ness, to the boysenberry/blueberry fruit that would lead me away from Europe if I was tasting this blind. Bridge wines like this, that span the stylistic gap, are awfully compelling, and this has an honesty to it, a sense of unfussedness, that I found totally seductive.

It comes entirely from Calkins Lane Vineyard, the lowest site in the Chehalem Mountains (200ft elevation) that Adelsheim farms. The Syrah vines were planted in 2003, and they sit entirely on marine sedimentary soil. Terroir-expressive Syrah from a patch of land that used to be seabed under the shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean? Um, yes please.

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

Three from Force Majeure

April 26, 2013

Hello friends. We have an extremely limited set of new releases from Force Majeure today, limited enough that I’ll use this space to underscore our allocation policy:

Our allocations favor breadth over depth, so that everyone gets one bottle before anyone gets two. And our formula for prioritizing allocations includes overall orders, frequency of orders, recency of orders, and list tenure, among other factors; it’s like the BCS formula, only less scrutable.

Now, Force Majeure is the winery formerly known as Grand Reve (they changed their name under the gathering storm clouds of a trademark lawsuit). For a longer origin story of this outstanding winery, check out our inaugural offering. The short version:

1) All of today’s wines come from vineyards on Red Mountain managed by Ryan Johnson, the vineyard savant of Red Mountain and a partner in Force Majeure.

2) Each Collaboration Series corresponds to a different winemaker who collaborates with Ryan and Paul McBride to create a singular expression of Red Mountain terroir.

3) We’re catching these just on release, so no reviews yet, but Force Majeure has a track record of breathless reviews and big scores.

This is an extra-exciting release, as Force Majeure’s estate vineyards high on Red Mountain came online in 2010 (third leaf fruit), and two of today’s three wines include fruit from this site (including one bottling exclusively from Force Majeure Estate Vineyard):

2009 Force Majeure Collaboration Series IV (BDX Blend)

Series IV is made by Carolyn Lakewold of Donedei, and it is a right-bank Bordeaux blend, made entirely from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard fruit (location here). What makes this Series special is the Merlot. It’s from the 1982 block at Ciel, among the oldest vines on Red Mountain, and it forms the spine of this wine (61%). The remainder is Cabernet Sauvignon (23%), Petit Verdot (12%), and Cabernet Franc (4%). They only produced 163 cases in 2009, and for me, this is a hidden gem of the lineup. It seems to fly under the radar a bit, perhaps because Merlot is not as sexy as some of the other bottlings (Cab! Syrah!), but this is the fourth vintage of Collab Series IV, and it has proven extremely consistent in its purity, elegance, and finesse.

On that note, Paul McBride also opened the inaugural IV, from the 2006 vintage, and it was drinking beautifully, with many years still ahead of it. Clear evidence that this is a wine that will evolve in fascinating directions for those with the patience to cellar. For now, this 2009 presents a bridge nose between old world and new: dried plum, earthy soil, cedar, and minty topnotes. The palate is liquefied cherry cordial; absolutely delicious, and with just enough leaf and mineral notes to balance all the lush fruit. Classy-textured, this has structure and power to spare. It’s burly old-vine Red Mountain Merlot.

2010 Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI

Series VI is made by James Mantone of Syncline, and it is a Mourvedre-dominant (56%) Rhone blend, rounded out with 38% Syrah and 6% Grenache. This comes mostly from Ciel, but it also includes the outside, non-pilfered rows of Force Majeure Estate Mourvedre from the famous vineyard caper of 2010. Obviously the intention was to have quite a bit more Mourvedre from the estate vineyard in this wine, but the (still never captured despite a $5000 reward) thieves made that impossible.

Fermented in concrete and then aged in large puncheons, it presents a high-toned nose of violet, black plum, white pepper, and dusty sagebrush. There’s terrific Mourvedre character on the palate, a beautiful pastiche of plum, game, and grapefruit. It manages to take the best aspects of its warm region (the wonderful ripeness of Red Mountain) and its cool vintage (the purity and vibrancy of 2010) and combine them into a finely-tuned package. Perhaps the most energetic wine I have tasted from the Grand Reve/Force Majeure portfolio.

2010 Force Majeure Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from Force Majeure’s estate vineyard at the top of Red Mountain (location here). I walked (stumbled is more like it) this site with Ryan Johnson way back in April 2010 and snapped some photos. This first picture should help situate those of you familiar with Red Mountain, as that is Col Solare on the left-hand side of the photo, well below the Force Majeure vineyard. These other two pictures (here and here) give a sense of the steepness and rockiness of the site.

It’s a wild place, and it’s thrilling to finally taste wines coming off this site. Here Chris Gorman did the honors of the winemaking, and it certainly has his stamp: 15.3% alcohol and 100% new French oak, all Taransaud. An intense inky red in the glass, this presents a nose with kirsch, woodsmoke, star anise, and a real dusty character. It coats the palate with deep cassis and kirsch fruit and smoky peaty earth notes, rolling into a massive finish fueled by beautiful grapeskin tannins, redolent of english breakfast tea. It’s a powerful introduction to an important new Washington vineyard.

Please limit order requests to 6 VI, 4 IV, and 2 Cab, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

2003 Chateau La Caussade “Sublime” Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (500ml)

April 25, 2013

Hello friends. We’re on the banks of the river Garonne in Bordeaux, in an appellation known for sweet, botrytis-affected white wines made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re thinking we’re in Sauternes, you’re probably not alone.

But that’s not where we are.

Instead, we’re across the river, on its right bank, in the much smaller, much lesser-known, much more-frequently-snapped-up-by-the-Brits, much more-rarely-exported-to-the-United-States appellation of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (see Bordeaux map; we’re in region 32).

The region only has about 1000 acres under vine, and it is some of the craziest terroir in southwest France. Basically, the region sits on top of a giant plateau of fossilized oyster shells. Here’s a picture to get your head wrapped around what this “soil” looks like.

Because of its proximity to the river and its morning mists, it is also a perfect breeding ground for noble rot. Botrytis cinerea is a fungus that punctures small holes in grapeskins, through which much of the grape’s water content evaporates, leaving ultra-concentrated juice behind. It also imparts a flavor somewhere on a spectrum between caramel and mushroom, and if that sounds like a trip for the senses, you’re beginning to understand why reasonable people become unreasonably infatuated with these sticky wines.

I was thrilled to have a chance to taste this wine recently, because a) Sainte-Croix-du-Mont! Rare!; and b) it’s ten years past vintage. The wine did not disappoint. An 80/20 mix of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, clocking in at 13% alcohol, it dazzles the nose with botrytis-inflected complexity: smoke, tobacco leaf, damp earth, mushroom, marmalade. Glorious. On the palate, there is a lovely core of sweet fig and date fruit from the Semillon, tangerine, and a nutty almond finish. There’s also plenty of savory caramelized botrytis notes, and it drinks with plenty of energy, plenty of vibrant acid to balance the sugar.

You all know that I’m a total sucker for sticky wines, especially well-aged versions, so it likely won’t surprise that I went all-in and grabbed the entire remaining stock in Seattle. If we sell through that, there’s a parcel in Portland I can beg after, but no promises. Please note: this is a 500ml bottle, not a half- (375ml) bottle. Also, I didn’t even mention yet that we got a terrific deal since we took the whole parcel. A quick wine-searcher query shows $36.11 as the going price. Our tariff today competes well with that number.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine is in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

2009 Reininger Syrah Walla Walla Valley

April 24, 2013

Hello friends. We have a terrific tariff today on a Walla Walla Valley Syrah from a familiar producer:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($42); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

This is not the Helix line, which sources from vineyards across the greater Columbia Valley. This is from the main Reininger line, which is restricted to vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. In this case, it’s the king and queen of the valley: Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills. Those sites are much better known for Bordeaux varietals, so it’s a treat to taste how Chuck Reininger expresses these stalwart sites through the terroir-prism of Syrah.

Importantly, he uses a grand total of 0% new oak for the Syrah (this is all done in neutral French barrels), so it is unadulterated fruit that we’re tasting here, from the ripe, fleshy 2009 vintage. The alcohol comes in at 14.8%, and this starts out with an expressive nose combining blueberry, grape, hoisin, and some tarry/earthy nuance. After a few hours open, a briny green-olive note emerges that just won’t quit. Savory and wonderful. The palate is a rich mix of plump blackberry/blueberry fruit and savory/briny black olives.

It’s an attractive flavor combination, distinctive from other Walla Walla Syrahs I’ve tasted. It’s also polished, classy winemaking. The texture alone makes it clear that a steady, accomplished hand is at work here. Chuck has been working with these beautiful vineyards for many years, and it shows. 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.

2005 La Rioja Alta Vina Arana Reserva

April 23, 2013

Hello friends. In the early days of our foray into import wines, you could have called us Full Pull Rioja, and you would have been within a rounding error of being right. The timing just worked out that, right as we launched into imports, there were multiple mature wines available from a trio of producers that I adore: Lopez de Heredia, Ontanon, and La Rioja Alta. Our list members snapped up all three offerings.

Since then, crickets.

It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that these wines tend to arrive on oceangoing containers and very quickly get snapped up (mostly by restaurants). They’re mayfly wines, blinking in and out of existence, and they require quick action.

Which brings us to today.

A container just landed in Seattle last week, and it contains a series of goodies from La Rioja Alta, including this rare gem:

Of the two Reservas in the LRA lineup, La Arana is the more rare, the more difficult to access, so we did something we rarely do: we pre-bought as much of the wine as we could. I’d estimate we ended up with 75% of the container-load, with the remainder going mostly (entirely?) to restaurants. Prospects for reorders are unclear on this one. There may be future containers, but I didn’t want to count on it; hence the early land-grab. The wine will be delivered tomorrow and will be available for pickup two days from now.

Enough logistics; let’s dig into the wine. La Rioja Alta is seriously old-school. Here’s Neal Martin after a visit last year:

Wine Advocate (Neal Martin): “[TEXT WITHHELD].”

Well said, and these also age in exceptional directions, converging with Burgundy as the decades pass. The 2005 vintage was the last rated “Excellent” by the Rioja Control Board (see vintage chart here), until 2010, and it’s unclear to me whether LRA will produce another Arana between 2006 and 2009 or just stick with Alberdi and/or Ardanza.

Arana is unusual because of one component: Mazuelo. Aside from the $150 Gran Reserva 890, Arana is the only place in the LRA lineup where they use their Mazuelo grapes (here, 5% of the blend, with 95% Tempranillo). It’s a synonym for Carignan, and here it adds a backbone of acid, tannin, and spice, completely changing both the texture and flavor profiles of the wine. This blend spent three years in barrel (all neutral American) before being bottled in 2009, and has now spent an additional four years in bottle. Can any region compete with Rioja in terms of offering us properly matured wines that are ready to drink on release? This is a glorious, integrated mix of wild mushrooms, cherry and blood orange fruit, and star anise pods. With softening, dusty-earthy, medium-grained tannins, this is in a lovely spot texturally, tiptoeing a tightrope between elegance and rusticity.

Wine Advocate (Neal Martin): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine will arrive in the warehouse tomorrow and will be ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.