Two from Tempus Cellars

Hello friends. We have two wines today from a list-member favorite that remains a bit under the radar despite the rumblings of building buzz.

2009 Tempus Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley

While the label on the bottle says Walla Walla Valley, this is actually single vineyard, coming entirely from Mill Creek Vineyard (location here). This is an important site in an important part of the valley. The Mill Creek drainage is the vineyard vanguard in the Walla Walla Valley right now, with more and more new vineyards being planted here all the time. Much of the appeal comes from the ability to farm in this area without irrigation, and Mill Creek Vineyard is indeed dryland-farmed (by none other than Kenny Hart, winemaker at Tulpen Cellars and the vineyard savant of the Walla Walla Valley). It has proven to be an exceptional site for Syrah, with other bottlings from the vineyard garnering huge reviews and subsequently becoming quite difficult to source.

Even Joe Forest, the Tempus winemaker, didn’t get much fruit – only enough for 3 barrels (79 cases) – and most of it is already gone. I figure the interest level in Syrah from this site (especially at this price) will be high enough among our list members that I decided to grab every remaining bottle in western Washington. Once our stash is gone, that’s the end of the 09 vintage for this wine.

Joe raised this Syrah in used French oak for just shy of two years, and it has now had nearly another two years in bottle. I’ve mentioned lately that Washington Syrah hits a sweet spot at about five to six years past vintage, but let’s make an exception for 2009. A ripe, fleshy vintage, it’s one where the wines seem to be coming around nice and early, and that’s the case here. The vintage wants this wine to be a hedonistic pleasure bomb (witness the 15%+ alcohol, which is carried well here; there’s no overt heat), but the vineyard won’t quite allow it, adding grace and complexity and making for a balanced overall package. It contains a dark-hearted riot of aromas and flavors: blackberry, black olive, tarry asphalt, dark rich soil, dark chocolate. By the time it rolls into its espresso-laden finish, you will have exhausted every black/dark adjective in your brain. Stuffing and generosity galore for the tariff, and a fine way to experience a tough-to-access valley vineyard.

2012 Tempus Riesling Evergreen Vineyard

While Eroica and Poet’s Leap continue to garner the majority of the national press, there are a handful of boutique Riesling gems coming out of Washington, and this is among the best of them year in and year out. Joe jumped onto the Evergreen Vineyard train early, and he’s been riding it ever since. We’ve offered the 2009, 2010, and 2011 vintages, and I know this bottling has huge fans among our list members. It’s consistently among the driest Rieslings made from Evergreen fruit, with a  nervy, refreshing character that holds deep appeal.

This is also the first bottle we’ve offered that contains the new Ancient Lakes AVA on the label. You can see how the AVA – approved in 2012 – got its name pretty quickly by looking at Evergreen’s location on our vineyard map (or flyover). The site is wild and well worth a visit. Walk a few steps past the end of the vineyard rows and you’ll wind up dropping off a cliff and swimming in one of the Ancient Lakes. It is an extreme spot to grow wine grapes, with its cliffside location and its soil dotted with massive chunks of caliche (calcium carbonate deposits).

That caliche seems to impart a minerality on every Evergreen bottle that makes we Riesling lovers swoon with delight, and that’s certainly the case here. Look for aromatics that combine chalky mineral with lime zest, tangerine, and mango. The palate is just off-dry (1.1% RS to go with 12.7% alcohol), with loads of extract, a nervy mineral character, and luscious citric fruit (lime, orange, grapefruit). It’s a citrus salad dusted with crushed rock. Yum. Despite the fleshy 2012 vintage, this is all nervous energy and electric intensity.

The Riesling is first come first served up to 24 bottles. For the Syrah, please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The Syrah is already in the warehouse, and the Riesling should arrive in a week or two, at which point both will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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