2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe

June 30, 2013

Hello friends. Here is Antonio Galloni, writing about GD Vajra back in autumn 2011:

Wine Advocate (Antonio Galloni): “[TEXT WITHHELD].”

Galloni has proven to be something of a savant. The “broader recognition” he mentioned arrived this March, when Wine Spectator gave Vajra’s 2008 Barolo Albe a 94pt review, vaulting it into a pole position for a spot in their year-end Top 100 list.

An insider’s winery in the Piedmont that is on the cusp of blowing up? Sounds like a perfect fit for Full Pull. Why then, you might ask, have we not offered the wines of Vajra before?

Simple: it has been years since Vajra’s wines have been imported into Washington state.

But that’s all about to change. One of our wholesale partners has picked up the Vajra reins and will be direct-importing the portfolio into Seattle, and we’ll have access to several of the cherries, beginning with today’s offering:

“Barolo” and “value” don’t generally go together, which helps explain why we offer them so rarely, but Vajra is a legitimate value in the Piedmont, and this Albe is a strong value indeed. I had a chance to taste it at a sneak-preview tasting, where it bested several of the $50-$100 Crus from other Piemontese producers, and immediately staked our claim to as much as possible.

At that point, the Seattle-bound parcel was on the MSC Mara, floating along in the northern Pacific Ocean. Because we made an early commitment, we were able to secure some aggressive pricing (this is front-lined at $42); hence our ability to offer a $35 Barolo today.

Now the container has arrived, and our stash is ready to hit the warehouse. The wine has classic Barolo aromas, with plump dark cherries, rose petals, and a big fat tarry streak running right down the middle. It’s gateway-drug territory into the world of high-end Nebbiolo, with just enough chew to the leafy dusty tannins to remind you you’re drinking Barolo, but with enough softness, pliancy, approachability to offer something that doesn’t need to be cellared for twenty years. I’m thrilled that one of the best value producers in the Piedmont is back in the Seattle market, and I’m even more thrilled that we can offer Vajra’s wines.

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2010 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series

June 28, 2013

Hello friends. We have an exceptional Cabernet today: a new vintage of an old favorite, and one that contains some secret stuffing that only heightens its appeal. [Note: since we’re into summer, we’ll also include a reorder opportunity for Woodward’s Chardonnay – now sold out at the winery – at the bottom of the offering.]

To talk about Artist Series in 2010, we have to talk about Old Vines Cabernet in 2010. What you need to know about 2010 Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon:

It doesn’t exist.

With the cooler vintage, Rick Small and Kevin Mott decided not to bottle Old Vines, instead rolling all those barrels (which normally wind up with an $89 tag) into the Artist Series program. What that means: this year’s Artist is chock full of old-vine Champoux Vineyard fruit (Champoux is 55% of the blend) and old-vine Sagemoor fruit (17%). The remainder mostly comes from Woodward’s Estate site in the Walla Walla Valley. It’s an especially poignant bottle, because very little Champoux fruit was harvested in 2011 due to frost damage, so this will be the last chance to taste any serious Woodward Canyon work with Champoux fruit until the release of the 2012s.

For me, this bottle is a total killer; a return to form for one of Washington’s foremost labels after alcohol levels had swung up significantly in recent years. This one clocks in at 14.1% alcohol, and opens with classic old Champoux aromas: a huge whack of graphite minerality, mixed with blackcurrant fruit and black brewed coffee. It smells like Champoux, and it drinks like some of those Old Vines bottles from the middle of last decade (2006, 07) that sent many of us swooning. There is an undeniable core of earth and mineral, soil and graphite, encircled by deep black fruit (cassis, blackberry). The texture is seamless and picks up steam, with a plump mid-palate rolling into an espressoey-tannin finish, with big Cabernet chew.

When Woodward Canyon is on with Cabernet, they’re *really* on. This is one of those bottles that could be slipped into a blind Napa tasting, or a blind Bordeaux tasting; it’s a total bridge wine between old world and new; a balanced, black-hearted beauty.

Only one review so far, but I have to think more praise won’t be far behind:

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

First come first served up to 12 bottles, 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.

2010 Famille Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds

June 27, 2013

Hello friends. Usually the pattern is: by the time Wine Spectator rolls out their Top 100 list in early December, the wines on the list are already sold out.

Today we have a rare exception, where we have access to one of their wines six months after the fact, and better yet, at a decent tariff (this began its life with a $24 tag):

Wine Spectator (James Molesworth): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.” [Note: #58 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2012.]

The Rhone Report (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90+pts.”

50/50 Syrah/Grenache blends can be tricky animals. Done poorly, and all the flavors just get muddled into anonymous red wine. But done well, as this one is, and you get the best from both grapes: meat and mineral and black fruit from the Syrah; leaves and pepper and plush red fruit from the Grenache. For lovers of complexity, this offers plenty for the tariff, along with a juicy, intense texture.

Famille Perrin (formerly known as Perrin Pere et Fils, which doesn’t really work when the fathers and sons start getting supplanted by the mothers and daughters) is a reference-point producer in the southern Rhone. Known best for their iconic Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the family has been on a tear in recent years, expanding their vineyard and wine holdings into the AOCs that ring CdP.

No surprise that one area of focus has been Vinsobres. This AOC (location here), is a total up-and-comer. It was olive country for much of its cultivated life, until a bad freeze in 1956 convinced many growers that perhaps vinifera would be more suitable. Vinsobres was only granted AOC status in the last decade, and it’s still relatively rare to see wines with the Vinsobres label.

As you can see from their vineyard map (yes, the Perrin family uses Google Maps for their vineyards; yes, this pleases me no end), their holdings are in the cooler foothills north of the village of Vinsobres. Here’s what the family says about the region: “We really like the terroir of Vinsobres, a beautiful village located near Vaison la Romaine; The vineyard is at an altitude of 300m and is situated for the most part on terraces. Vinsobres is particularly suitable for Syrah because it preserves the finesse which is often lost in more southern climates. It develops notes of violet, smoked meat and blackberries. Grenache is also suited to this terroir, full bodied and not heavy, with notes of black chocolate, cherry and typical Garrigue aromas.”

I’m not sure I could say it much better. This is a brilliant part of the world for growing Syrah and Grenache. I’m sure that as the AOC puts some miles on the odometer, the prices will rise accordingly. But for now, Vinsobres represents terrific value, drinking like baby Chateauneuf for half the price.

First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrived in a week or two, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Two from Cadaretta/Buried Cane

June 26, 2013

Hello friends. Do you guys know about the E-F Scale for Washington wines? No? Well, that’s because I just invented it.

It’s a measure of Desire. Desire = Enjoyment minus Frequency (D = E – F; easy to remember, right?).

For example, let’s look at Washington Viognier. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say my regular enjoyment is a 2, and the frequency with which I seem to taste it is more like a 7. So that’s a -5 on the E-F scale. Not good. Anything less than zero means I’m not thrilled when I see that category come across our tasting table.

How about Washington Chardonnay? That’s more like a +2 (7 Enjoyment minus 5 Frequency). Not bad.

For Washington whites, I’d guess the highest desire number on my personal E/F scale is white-Bordeaux (Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc) blends. E = 8; F = 2; D = (a whopping) +6!

Do I have tongue partway in cheek with all these numbers? Of course! But what I’m trying to get across is that there are categories in Washington that are over-represented, and categories that are woefully under-represented. Today we have one in the latter camp:

2012 Cadaretta SBS

Semillon-Sauvignon blends can be exceptionally beautiful in Washington, but there are so few of them. The one that gets the most press is DeLille’s Chaleur Estate Blanc, and this is an admittedly gorgeous wine. But. I can’t ignore the fact that their price has increased almost every year of the past decade, to where now this wine is flirting with a $40 tag. Not the most accessible tariff.

In more manageable price climes, there are two standouts. The first is Buty’s Semillon-Sauvignon-Muscadelle, an absolute killer in its youth that becomes profound with a few years of bottle age (a recent tasting of the 2008 was in such a beautiful place that it got me a little emotional). That one retails around $25, and while it used to be the under-the-radar companion to Buty’s more famous Conner Lee Chardonnay, I’d say it now has just about as much acclaim as its pricier brother.

The new under-the-radar wine in this category (where Buty was five years ago) is Cadaretta’s SBS. We’ve offered several vintages of this, and it seems to improve with each passing year. Winemaker Brian Rudin just seems locked in with this wine these days. While Buty’s blend favors Semillon, Cadaretta’s looks more like DeLille’s, with Sauvignon Blanc in the ascendancy.

This 2012 is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon, done entirely in stainless steel. Despite the low percentage, it’s the Semillon that shows on the nose, with its distinctive mix of figs and pears and cream. The Sauvignon Blanc adds nuances of grass and citrus. On the palate, it’s clear that Brian has embraced the warmer 2012 vintage. There is a lovely, creamy/lactic quality in the mid-palate, that carries the peach/pear/fig fruit and notes of beeswax.  A spine of limey acid keeps things bright, and balances out the lush richness of the fruit. It’s a well-balanced white that’s probably more appropriate in late summer/early autumn (and for sure on the Thanksgiving table) than right now, but it’s a wine I liked too much to sit on for that long. This will not be a sub-$20 wine forever (it’s too good), but it is now!

2009 Buried Cane Cabernet Sauvignon “Roughout”

And a little bonus wine from Cadaretta’s second label, Buried Cane. I’m hiding it down here at the bottom of the offering because well-priced Washington Cabernet Sauvignon is just about our list’s favorite category. Which doesn’t sound like a reason to hide it, until I mention the other important fact: we bought out the remainder of the Seattle stock, and there wasn’t much of it (as you’ll see by the meager order restrictions below.

In the cooler 2010 and 2011 vintages, sub-$15 Cabs are a green minefield, full of under-ripe, vegetal flavors. I like herbal nuance as much as the next guy in my Cabernets, but yikes, some of these are mean wines. Not true for 2009, which was a glorious vintage for cheap Cabs. Of course, most 2009s are now gone, which is why we jumped so quickly on this one.

From Alice Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope and Spring Creek in the Yak Valley, this opens with an expressive nose of black cherry, violet, and green tea. The palate has terrifically typical Cabernet notes: cassis fruit, violets, and a bit of mint and rosemary for freshness. I’d guess there’s very little new oak involved here; it’s all about lush Cabernet fruit. The intensity, depth, and grapeskin-tannin structure are all impressive at this tariff.

SBS is first come first served up to 12 bottles and will be delivered next week. For the Roughout (already in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup), please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests.

2008 Chateau Fontaynes Cahors “Bastien”

June 25, 2013

Hello friends. Today we find ourselves in the beating heart of old-world Malbec. Today we offer the infamous “Black Wine of Cahors.”

Malbec used to be widely planted across France, but a double-whammy separated by a century put a stop to any momentum that varietal developed. Phylloxera in the 1850s followed by a horrible frost in the 1950s was a combination enough to convince the Bordelaise that Cab, Merlot, and Cab Franc were safer bets. There’s still Malbec in Bordeaux, but it has mostly been relegated to a curiosity.

Of course, Malbec has thrived in the new world, and nowhere more than Argentina, where it produces a sea of drinkable, delicious, well-priced bottles, along with the occasional profound (and higher-priced bottle).

But Malbec has an older home in the southwest of France, as well, where it has never gone out of fashion. Cahors (see location on the map here, not so very far away from Bordeaux), aggressively replanted Malbec after the 1950s freeze, and when it was granted AOC status in 1971, adopted the stipulation that at least 70% of any wine bearing the Cahors AOC name had to be Malbec.

If they’ve had success in the vineyards, Cahors winemakers have had a bigger challenge in the realm of marketing. To start with, they have several synonyms for Malbec, including Cot and (very oddly, considering this is also a white varietal in Alsace) Auxerrois. And of course, because this is France, the bottles almost never actually say Cot or Auxerrois (let alone Malbec!) but instead say Cahors, which, unless you have a rosetta stone that translates French regions into grapes, doesn’t do most of us much good.

Despite the challenges, however, these are wines to seek out. Malbec expresses itself completely differently in Cahors, presenting a tightly wound ball of structure and mineral in its youth and gradually unfurling into something perfumed and compelling. Taste a Cahors next to an Argentine Malbec, and it’s hard to believe they come from the same plant. Further, because they’re poorly understood and poorly marketed, wines from Cahors can’t command prices that reflect their quality, which means the good ones can represent exceptional value.

We have a good one today. Chateau Fontaynes is a family-run estate on one of the terraces above the river Lot, and they produce terrific, unfussy Malbecs from their vineyards on clay/gravel/silica soils. This is their flagship Cahors: 100% Malbec from their best vineyards, held back for a few extra years to let the beast begin to relax its grip. It begins with a sultry nose of smoke, earth, black tea leaves, and blackcurrant. In the mouth, it’s hugely chewy, rustic, full of black everything: black fruit and black tea and black soil (alc is 13.5%). For anyone stuck in a Cabernet rut, this is a fantastic alternative, offering similar levels of structure and chew. Pairing this with a fat ribeye on the grill is a summer evening unto itself.

First come first served up to 12 bottles, 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.

Two from Efeste

June 24, 2013

Hello friends. Big changes have been afoot at Efeste. Beginning with the 2012 vintage, Peter Devison took over winemaking duties from Brennon Leighton, who was hired by Charles Smith for a Chardonnay project (for more details, see Sean Sullivan’s piece from December).

But before we get to evaluate Peter’s work, and whether the Efeste style will remain consistent, we can sit back and enjoy Brennon’s final two vintages at this winery where he burnished his reputation.

2010 Efeste Cabernet Sauvignon “Big Papa”

Big Papa is 100% Cabernet, and it’s where Brennon blends the best old-vine blocks that he works with. The average vine age is between 30 and 35 years, from Red Mountain (Klipsun and Kiona) and Sagemoor properties (Sagemoor and Bacchus). It sees 80% new French oak, contributing notes of woodsmoke to a lovely nose of dark fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant), fresh herb (bay leaf, rosemary), and green tea. The palate is truly succulent; clearly Brennon had no trouble getting ripeness in the cooler 2010 vintage. An attack of mint-tinged blackberry fruit gives way to a plump mid-palate, and then the powerful tannins take over, carrying the finish in a wash of black- and green-tea chew.

This is the most massive wine in the Efeste lineup, and typically takes years to fully unfurl. No reviews yet for the 2010, but the previous three vintages have received strong reviews (93pt and 94pt) from a number of critics.

2011 Efeste Chardonnay “Lola” Evergreen Vineyard

We’ve had a lot of trouble sourcing this in previous vintages. For years, it was a winery-only wine that would occasionally show up on restaurant lists, but not really at retail, so I’m pleased that we have access to a large enough parcel this year for a proper offering.

One thing that Brennon did well at Efeste was identify the importance of Evergreen Vineyard early on. Located here, in the newly-designated Ancient Lakes AVA, this is among the most important vineyard sites for white wines in Washington. I made the pilgrimage a few years ago, and it’s an incredible spot; essentially an uplifted bed of caliche rolling down to a series of pocket lakes. No vineyard in Washington is better at imparting insistent minerality to white wines. It happens in Evergreen Riesling, Evergreen Sauvignon Blanc, and yes, Evergreen Chardonnay.

Lola is 100% Evergreen Chardonnay, and has been a little culty/hard-to-source since Paul Gregutt’s glowing 96pt review of the 2009 vintage. This 2011 clocks in at 13.4% alc and presents a lovely, complex nose of pineapple, peach, wet-stone minerality, and leesy oatmeal. The palate is an intense, palate-coating mix of pineapple, lemon curd, and chalky minerals. The fruit is clearly new-world, but that kiss of minerality is an attractively old-world nuance.

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

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

2007 Owen Roe Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard

June 23, 2013

Hello friends. Today we have an Oregon producer who is best known for wines from Washington fruit, with a Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley. In California.

Confusing enough?

Perhaps this will help cut through the clutter: our tariff is nearly half off the release price of $42 and the current-going price of $43:

This was one of those deals where we were offered a screaming price if we took the remainder of the stock in western Washington, and it was an easy yes after we tasted it. If Full Pull were located in Portland or San Francisco, the deal never would have happened. In the twin hearts of domestic Pinot country, blowout tariffs on six-years-past-vintage high-end Pinot Noir just don’t tend to happen. The wines sell fine. But Pinot is a slower mover in Washington, allowing for the occasional screamer, and we were in the right place at the right time.

Solomon Hills Vineyard is a sister site to Bien Nacido, and it’s about as far west as you can get in the Santa Maria Valley, sitting on a bed of ocean floor sandy loam. Check out the location. You can see that this site gets as much maritime influence as possible, making it one of the coolest vineyards in the AVA as well (as evidenced by the 13% alc on this one, a far cry from the boozier Pinots from California’s warmer climes).

While 2007 was a notoriously challenging year in Oregon, it was a terrific year in the Central Coast of California, and this wine shows it. The nose is a lovely mix of raspberry fruit, earth, star anise, and lovely maturing balsamic notes. The palate continues the rich raspberry fruit and earth notes, but introduces a lovely marine element: a savory umami seaweed note that ratchets up the complexity. Well-balanced and in a lovely spot texturally, this is silky, intense, and long on the finish.

Allen Meadows, the Burghound, is known as a particularly exacting reviewer when it comes to scores. Domestic producers are generally thrilled to see anything from 88pts on up, and a 91 from the Hound is a fine achievement indeed:

Burghound (Allen Meadows): “($42); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

Gotta love seeing the “Drink 2012+” note when we’re sitting here in 2013. This is a rare opportunity to taste well-aged Central Coast Pinot at a fine tariff. Hard to say if we’ll move through the whole parcel in the first go-round, but let’s please limit order requests to 12 bottles for now, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine is already in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.