2012 Ameztoi Txakolina “Rubentis”

May 31, 2013

Hello friends. We have the return of a list favorite today; the new vintage of the wine that kicked off our imports adventure last summer:

I’m going to excerpt broadly from last year’s offering, because it was a blast to write. The only update is that we pissed off a whole lot of restaurants who were glass-pouring the 2011 last August when we bought out the entire remaining stock in Seattle. As a result, everyone is stockpiling the new 2012, and it looks like it’s going to be sold out by June. So no waiting until August this year!

From last year’s offering:
Here is what you will do.

You will fly into Barcelona, and, despite the whimsical beauty of its Gaudian architecture, you won’t stay long. The countryside beckons.

You will board a train, and hours later, you will arrive on the coast, at San Sebastian. Because it’s one of the gustatory capitals of Europe, you’ll stay for lunch. This is your lunch.

Now full and sleepy, you will stagger to a bus stop. You will board a bus that you hope is moving in the right direction. This is your bus route.

You’ll exit your bus at Getaria, in the golden light of late afternoon. You’ll walk down the narrow streets until you find your hotel. This is your hotel. You’ll be greeted in a language that sounds more like Greek than Spanish.

This is the view from your hotel room window.

This is where you’ll eat grilled fish and octopus pulled from the Bay of Biscay that morning.

This is what your town looks like from above: a sea, a harbor, a small town, and vineyards. You’ll wonder why anyone would ever leave this place.

The next day, you’ll wander up the hills into the vineyards. This is what the vineyards look like. The vines will be trained taller than your head. You’ll ask what is being grown here.

“Txakolina” will be the answer.

You will fall in love with this place.


…if all the vagaries of modern life make a trip like this impossible, if jobs and kids and pets and adult responsibilities make a trip like this impossible, we can still visit these places.

That is the beauty of wine. It is a place, suspended in liquid form. It is a place we can visit in our senses as we sip. It is our astral projection. And it’s why I want to write about wines from all over the world. Including Txakolina.

Getaria is Basque country: not quite Spain, not quite France; its own animal. In the vineyards planted in the rolling hills above town, they grow indigenous varietals, like Hondarribi Beltza and Hondarribi Zuri. We’re a looooooooong way from Cabernet Sauvignon here.

The Ameztoi family is into its seventh generation of winemaking. Some of the vines are more than 150 years old. Over time, the wines and local cuisine have grown up together. And so the residents drink Txakolina like water, and what they don’t drink, denizens of Barcelona and Madrid gulp down. A miniscule amount makes its way into the United States, and that’s especially true of today’s specific wine, which has developed something of a cult following among the sommelier set in New York and San Francisco. Fortunately, a small amount comes to Seattle, also

Like a lot of Txakolina, this has a bit of absorbed CO2, so it is semi-sparkling. Unlike a lot of Txakolina, they have blended a bit of Hondarribi Beltza (a red varietal) into the mix, giving this a delicate pink color. Because Txakolina grew up with Basque cuisine, it is a terrifically versatile food wine.

Rubentis has been a house wine of ours for several years now. It typically arrives in Seattle in late spring, and we drink it throughout the summer, both as a cocktail and as a lovely pairing for all the PacNW’s seafood. It has made multiple appearances on the Thanksgiving table, where its low-alc, high-acid, food-friendly nature makes it a perfect foil for turkey et al. It has made multiple appearances on New Year’s Eve (semi-sparkling, remember?). It has made multiple appearances with breakfast.

It’s a wonderful wine, one of my favorites in this whole wide world; an inescapable expression of a small, very special place.

Not much has changed since last year, except for a new vintage, with new tasting notes. As usual, the nose is delightful: expressive and appetizing with its notes of pink melon, rosewater, and a mineral/salt-air tang that makes you want to hurry to the seaside as soon as possible. The palate is dry, a little fuller than the 2011, but still austerely-fruited, with the melon flesh and melon rind and green strawberries serving as grace notes to the core, which is all about chalky minerals, rippin’ acid, and light spritz.

The template in our house last year was to go through 6 bottles in summer, another 3 in autumn (2 on the Thanksgiving table), and the final 3 for the holidays. I see no reason not to repeat the feat in 2013. If any of my personal-stash bottles survive into 2014, I see no way to consider myself anything other than an abject failure. Please limit order requests to 12 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 spring shipping window.

2010 Echo Ridge Syrah

May 30, 2013

Hello friends. I don’t get surprised much anymore, especially when it comes to northwest wines. At this point in the venture, most of the map is filled in. But there are still a few dark areas, and exploring them can bring real excitement when they’re good.

I first tasted this wine at a trade event a few months ago, and my notes were so effusive, at the end of a long event’s worth of tasting, that I didn’t trust them. I put the wine on the schedule, and then I took it back off.

Rather than continuing to hem and haw over the veracity of tasting notes scribbled from a small pour, I asked the winery to send a sample bottle. We opened that bottle in the warehouse last week, and all doubts were erased.

This is the real deal. As far as new Syrah discoveries go, it’s the most exciting I’ve tasted in 2013, and it reminded me of my level of excitement when I first tasted Proper Syrah in 2012. It’s one of those offerings where the wine came first, and the research came second. And as usual, while there may be surprises, there are no accidents. As we dug deeper into the backstory behind the wine, its excellence became easier and easier to understand.

The major components for excellence in wine are the vineyard and the winemaker. The site here is Echo Ridge Vineyard, but it wasn’t always called that. It used to be called Flying B Vineyard, and it was an estate site owned by none other than Drew Bledsoe. He purchased the land in 2003 and planted the vineyard in 2006. As Doubleback was becoming closer to a reality, the focus became the Walla Walla Valley, and so they sold Flying B sometime in late 2010/early 2011 to Jay and Kim Bales, who renamed it Echo Ridge (it’s just outside of the town of Echo, on the Oregon side of the Columbia Valley [see location here]). For such young vines, the intensity of the fruit is outstanding, and this is a fascinating, underexplored part of the (waaaaaaay) south Columbia Valley.

And the winemaker happens to be one Billo Naravane, whose Rasa Vineyards wines are as hot as hot can be right now. This is a terrific opportunity to taste Billo’s tasteful winemaking style through the prism of a completely different Syrah vineyard.

This plays for sure on the funky/savory/briny side of Syrah. The nose is a glorious pastiche of boysenberry fruit, bacon fat, truffles, and picholine olives. It’s a funky, complex, inviting nose. The first thing you notice on the palate is mouthfeel, with its trademark Billo texture-management, all supple and silky. Then you notice the flavors, which mix fresh berry fruit, salty savories, and a lovely sanguine streak. The proportion of Echo Ridge planted to Bordeaux varieties (30 acres Cab, 10 acres Franc, 5 acres Merlot) is much higher than Syrah (a mere 4 acres). Seems a pity, because this shows a huge amount of potential as the vineyard matures.

Just 112 cases produced, but this wine is still flying well under the radar around here, so we should be good on quantities. For now. First come first served up to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2010 Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard

May 29, 2013

Hello friends. We originally had this slated for a mid-June offering, but after eyeballing depletion reports, I don’t think it would be wise to wait that long, especially with a positive Wine Spectator review looming in their June 30 issue.

Seven Hills is a long-time winery favorite of our list members, so I don’t want to take any chances. We’ll ask for a hold on the remaining parcel in Seattle. If we sell through that, it looks like the winery still has a stash remaining, albeit at the normal $45 tariff.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.” [Note: with the combination of score, price, and production level, I’d say this has a puncher’s chance at landing on the year-end Top 100 list; maybe 20% odds.]

The notion of Seven Hills can be confusing, because there is a Seven Hills Winery and a Seven Hills Vineyard. The winery works with fruit from lots of different vineyards, and the vineyard sells fruit to lots of different wineries. But in this case, it’s easy: it’s Seven Hills Winery working with Seven Hills Vineyard fruit.

That fruit is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from the old (1980s-planted) blocks at Seven Hills (location here), the queen of the Walla Walla Valley. Casey McClellan has been working with these grapes for a long time, and that comfort level shows. This is a confident, elegant expression of the vineyard through the prism of Cabernet: a mix of cherry and blackcurrant fruit, violet topnotes, and dusty earth, all wrapped up in a graceful, fine-tannin textural package. There’s no substitute for the depth of character that old vines bring, especially with Cabernet, where it shows itself in its concentration, its intensity, its ability to seamlessly wash over the palate.

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 next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Two from Nine Hats

May 26, 2013

Hello friends. Nine Hats purportedly refers to the nine different winemakers involved in the Long Shadows project, but what I think of when I see it is the number of different hats Gilles Nicault has to wear as the resident winemaker for all the Long Shadows wines. The John Duvals and Michel Rollands of the world fly in and fly out, but it’s Gilles who remains behind and cares for their babies.

This is one of the best value labels in Washington. Developed by Long Shadows as a destination for declassified juice from the high-end labels, it presents an accessible entry point to Gilles Nicault’s polished, expressive winemaking.

2008 Nine Hats (Long Shadows) Sangiovese

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: **** (Excellent).”

Thanks to a recent price drop, we’re able to beat the “can’t-be-beat price point,” and as usual, the price drop is coming just as the wine is entering peak drinking. This is essentially baby Saggi ($45), and we can suss out the origin of the fruit from Saggi’s Sangiovese barrels, which generally come from Boushey and Candy Mountain vineyards, along with several Horse Heaven Hills sites.

It begins with a deeply appetizing nose of rhubarb bitters, cranberry, and cherry tea and moves onto a complex, integrating palate loaded with leafy tea notes and earthy soil and deep black cherry fruit. The medium-grained tannins are softening up, but this is still a rustic, chewy, tasty Sangiovese. There’s a reason Italians drink a ton of Sangio to go with their food. There’s enough natural acidity and tannin to balance a wide variety of dishes (even acidic tomato-based pastas), and enough complexity to make it a pleasure to taste on its own. We offered this several years ago, and I thought it was a very good wine at a good tariff then. Now? I think our list members are going to be very, very happy.

2011 Nine Hats (Long Shadows) Chardonnay

And of course the Nine Hats Chardonnay comes from declassified, um… er… wait second; Long Shadows doesn’t have a Chardonnay! What the?

Well, it’s true that Long Shadows has no Chardonnay (sort of; they have “Dance,” but it’s not promoted as a member of the Long Shadows starting lineup), but they do own The Benches Vineyard, which means they own Chardonnay vines. Remember The Benches? It’s one of the most spectacularly situated vineyards (picture 1, picture 2) in Washington. I envision a conversation going something like this:

Gilles Nicault: Why do we keep selling our Chardonnay fruit?
Allen Shoup: Because we don’t have a Long Shadows Chardonnay project.
GN: But I am French. Chardonnay is my birthright! Chardonnay, and oozing cheese, and existential cats.
AS: What about a Nine Hats Chardonnay?
GN: Voila!

However the scenario played out in reality, this is a lovely new Chardonnay project for Washington. All Benches fruit, it clocks in at 13.4% alc and offers up an alluring nose of smoke, bread, and lemon curd; almost like a Blanc dec Blancs Champagne nose. I love the way this displays real richness of texture and creamy leesiness without the fruit ever seeming over-ripe. That fruit mixes stone fruit (peach, nectarine), tree fruit (pear), and citrus fruit (lemon), never venturing into tropical territory. This is a lovely choice as a summer-into-autumn white, and I suspect those of us with patience would see a fascinating evolution over this wine’s next five years in bottle.

First come first served up to 24 bottles (mix and match as you like), and the wine should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2008 Tintero Barbaresco

May 25, 2013

Hello friends. This was not today’s originally-planned offering, but we were offered a time-limited opportunity, and it’s a sweet one. If I had to summarize the offering with an elevator pitch (something I should consider doing more often!), it would be:

Barbaresco at a Langhe Nebbiolo tariff.

Barbaresco and Barolo are among the world’s most beautiful wines, and the top versions from the best vineyards command sky-high prices. It’s one of those categories that can be tough to get into, because honestly, who wants to do experiments with $50 bottles?

But a $20 experiment; that seems more palatable.

Tintero is a lovely producer, one of Kermit Lynch’s best import finds. The winery was founded when Pierre Tintero, a Frenchmen, moved to Piedmont in the early 1900s and married the widow Rosina Cortese, owner of a small estate near Mango (location here). Whether Tintero married under the aegis of Cupid or Bacchus is lost to the sands of time. Regardless, the estate with his name has lived on, and it’s now run by the third (Elvio) and fourth (Marco and Cinzi) generations.

I was so taken with this bottle, I actually reached out to the folks at Lynch to try to understand how this wine could be so good for so little. Here’s the response, from the supremely-knowledgeable Lyle Railsback: “Glad you got some and wish we had more to sell Seattle. Marco Tintero recently acquired this parcel in Barbaresco and had only 200 cases for us. The wine was so delicious and so cheap that we begged him for more. I visited his estate last year, he’s in the town of Mango on the ‘route de Moscato’. They’ve been farming organically since the 1940’s and make really typical, unmanipulated Piedmontese wines.”

Lynch has brought in terrific Moscatos and Langhe Rossos from Tintero for years, but this is the first vintage where the Barbaresco has been imported. When I taste Barbaresco at this tariff (rare), I keep my expectations moderated. Okay, that’s a euphemism; I keep my expectations low. Well, I’m happy to report that those expectations were blown away by this bottle.

First, it nails the haunting aromatic beauty that is the first key of honest Barbaresco. The classic tar and roses are there, melded with earthy soil notes and fresh red cherry. The palate displays a real earthy character to go with a core of red cherry and blood orange fruit. The management of mouthfeel seems way too classy for this price point. This has elegance, seamlessness, and intensity. The tannins, oft-aggressive in young Nebbiolo, are here fine-grained, redolent of citrus tea, and contribute to a lovely, lingering finish.

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 next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Two from Maison Joseph Drouhin

May 24, 2013

Hello friends. The Drouhin family has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. You can read the details in our first DDO (Domaine Drouhin Oregon) offering, but the short version is: when the Drouhin family set up shop in Oregon in 1987, it added a measure of global credibility to what was then still a nascent region, and the Willamette Valley hasn’t looked back since.

But if the Drouhin family’s roots in our region are deep, their roots in Burgundy are bottomless. Maison Joseph Drouhin was founded by Joseph Drouhin in the 1880s, and it is his great-granddaughter Veronique who helms the winemaking teams now, in both Burgundy and Oregon.

Our list members have had numerous opportunities to sample Veronique’s beautiful work with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Oregon. Today we have a chance to see the same varieties expressed through the prism of earthy Burgundy. And because of our list’s strong support for the DDO wines, we’re getting solid tariffs on both of these Burgs:

2011 Maison Joseph Drouhin Saint-Veran

This is a total gateway drug into the dangerous world (for your wallet, anyway) of White Burgundy. Saint Veran is the value garden of white Burg, an underrated gem of an AOC. As you can see on the Burg map, we’re a stone’s throw away from Beaujolais here, so this is the far southern end of Burgundy proper.

All of us who have done it know that going after high-end white Burg is akin to chasing ghosts. On rare occasions with Meursault and the Montrachets (Puligny and Chassagne) we can experience something profound. But in many more cases, they slip through our grasp, leaving us wondering: did we open the bottle too early? Too late? Did it get premoxed?

Chasing these stratospheric white Burgs is not for the faint of heart. But chasing Saint Veran? Much easier on the ticker. I haven’t tasted a better $15 Chardonnay this year, and I’m struggling to think of whether I’ve tasted any $15 white wine this year that tops this.

I love it for its transparent expression of Chardonnay from Burgundy. It’s honest, unfussy wine, rare in an over-fussed-with category. The nose is a ringing bell of Chardonnay purity: lemon curd, baked bread, hazelnut, and chalky mineral. The palate is a beautiful mix of lemon, chalk, and earth, with mouthwatering acidity and a texture that’s not too fat, and not too lean: just right. It’s so clear with a bottle like this that we’re in good hands; Veronique’s capable, classy hands, which have been working these grapes, from this dirt, for an awfully long time.

2010 Maison Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune

Most of the Drouhin labels use a straightforward, blocky font. The Saint Veran does. So does the Cote de Beaune Villages. But the wine we’re offering today is not the Cote de Beaune Villages; it’s the Cote de Beaune.

And the Cote de Beaune label looks an awful lot like Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches 1er Cru label.

This is not a coincidence, nor an accident. One of the more poorly-kept secrets in the wine world is that the spine of the Drouhin Cote de Beaune bottling is declassified Clos des Mouches. And in a vintage like 2010, that can mean incredible bang for your buck, and a chance to taste young vines from a 1er Cru vineyard at a sub-$30 tariff.

The nose starts out extremely expressive, right on cork pop, with lovely high-pitched notes of rose petal, red cherry, and silty minerals. With time and air, a smoky note emerges: peat and smoked paprika. The palate is a juicy, vibrant mix of crushed rock and raspberry, with nuances of blood orange and a finishing lick of cherry-pit bitters. This is a brisk, balanced expression of a memorable vintage in Burgundy. The textural class, the earthen/mineral complexities, the purity of fruit (only 10% new oak here); all glorious.

First come first served up to 24 bottles (mix and match as you like), and the wine should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Six from Syncline

May 23, 2013

Hello friends. Syncline is among Washington’s most thrilling wineries. The flagship winery for the Columbia Gorge (an amazing region I wrote about for Seattle Magazine last year), Syncline has released a number of fascinating wines in 2013. We’re a little behind with Syncline offerings, so we’re rolling them into a MEGA-Syncline offering today (we’ll at least limit it to single-varietal wines and skip the blends, but that’s still *six* wines!).

James and Poppie Mantone have been part of the Washington vanguard since they launched their winery. They were early adopters of Rhone varietals, are one of the few producers able to coax something lovely out of Washington Pinot Noir, and are now really pushing the boundaries of white varieties in the state.

For freshness, for purity, for transparency, Syncline is tough to beat:

2012 Syncline Gruner Veltliner Underwood Mtn Vineyard

The great, savory white grape of Austria has found a home in Washington, on the southern slopes of Underwood Mountain Vineyard (see location here). The vines first came online for production in 2008, and we have offered every vintage since. When David Schildknecht, the great lover of Austrian wines, first got his hands on Syncline’s Gruner (the 2011 vintage), he called it “as good as any I have witnessed from a North American Gruner Veltliner.” High praise from a man not prone to it. Gruners are outstanding food-pairing wines. Because of their savory side, they pair with tough-to-complement foods like artichokes and asparagus. They’re also beautiful oyster wines, for those of you so inclined. Picked after Halloween and still only coming in at 12.7% alc, this was fermented in concrete (cool!) and presents a balanced triangle of citrus (lemon, lime), savory (lentil, celery, snap pea), and saline. A total live-wire wine, intense and precise.

2012 Syncline Picpoul Boushey Vineyard

All from Boushey Vineyard, this is typically a blending component in Subduction White, but James got enough in 2012 to bottle it on its own. The one (memorable) time I had dinner at Dick Boushey’s house, a Picpoul (from McCrea, I believe) was the one bottle from his own vineyard that he chose to serve. If it’s good enough for Dick Boushey, it’s good enough for us! Done all in stainless and coming in at 14.4%, it offers a great mix of richness with the vibrancy Picpoul is known for (the name for the variety essentially translates to “lipsmacker” or “lip-stinger”, a reference to the grape’s copious natural acidity). This has lovely tree fruit (pear mostly), along with lemony acid and chalky/mineral cut. A curiosity, but a lovely one at that.

2011 Syncline Grenache

Frequently a club-only wine for Syncline, in 2011 it’s being released a bit wider. James sources Grenache from all over Washington: Ciel du Cheval and Force Majeure on Red Mountain, Northridge on the Wahluke Slope, McKinley Springs in Horse Heaven. It’s pan-Washington, and I love this style of Grenache: lighter-bodied, and all about being fresh, pure, and clean. Aromas and flavors mix classic Grenache notes of raspberry, green strawberry, and white pepper, and the texture is lovely, with a creaminess emerging in the mid-palate after a brisk, nervy attack. A delicious summer red.

2011 Syncline Mourvedre

From Coyote Canyon, Ciel, and Heart of the Hill, this offers a nose of brambly berry fruit, plums, leather, and grapefruit peel. A great core of plummy fruit sits at the center of the palate, shaded by complexities of meat and leather spice. This has zest and flair, a certain spiciness to its palate and personality.

2011 Syncline Pinot Noir Underwood Mtn Vineyard

This is the first time Syncline’s Pinot has come entirely from Underwood Mountain Vineyard (see the Gruner above for the link to the map). All the Celilo Vineyard fruit that formerly formed the spine of this wine has been transitioned into Syncline’s sparkling program (yum). With a listed alc of just 12.7%, this drinks like something at the intersection of Pinot and Gamay, of Oregon and Burgundy and Spatburgunder. Or maybe it drinks like Washington Pinot! It’s all crunchy black raspberry and blackberry and pomegranate fruit, interspersed with streaks of gravel and black pepper and clover. A vin de soif, with racy energy, taut texture. Should be fascinating to watch this one develop.

2009 Syncline “Scintillation” Blanc de Blancs Celilo Vineyard

Shocked that there’s any of this left, but a small amount remains. Originally offered on May 4, 2012. Original offering text: All from Celilo, this is a Blanc de Blancs, a 100% Chardonnay, and it smells like it (and a lot like BdB Champagne), all lemony and leesy. All that lees contact imparts the bready, biscuity aromatics that those of us who love Champagne hold so dear. The palate has a fine mousse, and there is wonderful length and intensity here. This is a fine opportunity to taste a collaboration between a vineyard manager and a winemaker deeply committed to making as fine a sparkling wine as Celilo’s terroir will allow.

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

First come first served up to 48 bottles total (mix and match as you like, with the possible exception of the Scintillation, which may get allocated), and the wine should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.