Two 2011s from Eight Bells

September 30, 2013

Hello friends. Two more thrilling explorations of Red Willow Vineyard today from our friends at Eight Bells. They’ve turned into a real list-member favorite, an up-and-comer that still flies mostly under the national radar but is developing quite a local following.

In my opinion, there are two main reasons why our list members have fallen hard for this winery: 1) their continuing focus on Red Willow Vineyard, one of the finest pieces of terroir in Washington; and 2) their pricing structure, which favors more accessible tariffs than we’re used to seeing for Red Willow fruit.

Located towards the far western edge of the Yakima Valley (location here), Red Willow was originally planted by Mike Sauer in 1973. Many of Mike’s plantings over the years were done in conjunction with the late Master of Wine and long-time Columbia Winery winemaker David Lake, and for many years, much of the fruit was contracted to Columbia. In the past decade, as more boutique wineries have been able to gain access to Red Willow fruit, the reputation of the vineyard has grown and grown. Betz Cote Patriarche. Owen Roe Chapel Block. Mark Ryan Lost Soul. These are Red Willow bottles treasured by Washington wine lovers.

And quietly, the guys from Eight Bells are entering the conversation as well. The timing of their winery launch was impeccable, coming just as Red Willow was looking to take on boutique winery partners. Among the three Eight Bells partners (Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd and Frank Michiels), there were decades of winemaking experience as amateurs (Tim is the most experienced, having crushed his first fruit, from Sagemoor, in 1980. He is also a PhD Chemist, and the winery includes a full lab: quite rare for an operation of this size) before they went commercial in 2009, so they knew outstanding fruit when they saw it. And they pounced.

Most of Eight Bells’ wines are sold direct through the winery (which is hidden in plain sight in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle) or the Eight Bells wine club, and only a handful of restaurants and retailers have discovered these beauties. Lucky for us.

2011 Eight Bells Sangiovese Red Willow Vineyard

From plants that went into the ground in 1994, we’re now looking at Red Willow Sangiovese vines approaching 20 years of age. The nose is airy, refreshing, all cranberry and mineral and violets, smelling something like a Cote de Brouilly. The palate embraces the cool 2011 vintage and is fresh as can be, carrying crunchy berry fruit and crushed rocks on a juicy, vibrant, 13.1%-alc frame. It’s appetizing, refreshing; Sangio done as a vin de soif. I started thinking Thanksgiving the moment this wine passed my lips.

2011 Eight Bells Syrah “8 Clones” Red Willow Vineyard

We offered the 2010 vintage of this, which was called “Clonal Block.” The winery changed the name to “8 Clones” after receiving complaints that the name was too close to “colon block,” which still makes me giggle childishly as I write it, even weeks after hearing it for the first time. Some days I’m more of an adult than others, I suppose.

Regardless, this is a terrific project. Mike Sauer and David Lake set up four experimental vineyard blocks at Red Willow, and Eight Bells gets three of them, including the “8 Clones” block, which, as you probably deduced already, contains eight different clones of Syrah. This is the only place to taste this specific piece of Red Willow terroir, and it’s a beauty. The nose is glorious, interweaving marionberry fruit, bacon fat, white flowers, and green olives. The mix of rich fruits and meaty/briny/umami savories continues on the palate, which finishes with a lick of salty mineral tang. The mouthfeel is lovely, silky, with a sense of inner-mouth perfume that goes on and on through the lengthy, grin-inducing finish.

I know the 2010 vintage had serious fans on our list, and this is the equal of that wine. It’s also a rare chance to taste Red Willow Syrah at this tariff, so for those of you who usually keep purchases to $25-and-under, let me suggest that this is a fine bottle for a splurge.

First come first served up to 24 bottles total, 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.

Three 2010s from Rasa

September 29, 2013

Hello friends. Today’s set of new releases from the growing-ever-more-culty Rasa Vineyards will not be officially released until November 1, but the Naravane brothers have seen fit to let our list members have an advance screening. We should be able to have these wines in our warehouse within the first week or two of October, and they should ship during our autumn shipping window.

These bottles would make fine holiday gifts, as the higher end of the Rasa lineup can be very difficult to source outside of the winery itself. Because our list has grown up with the Naravane brothers’ project, and we’ve all been enthusiastic supporters from the beginning, we get access to small parcels.

Since these are limited, I’ll keep my own verbiage to a minimum, but I will weigh in to say again that what’s special about these small-production wines from Rasa is that they hit both the left and right sides of the brain, lighting up intellectual and sensual receptors in turn.

2010 Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon “Plus One” Kiona Vineyard

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

Wine Advociate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

To each his own. While Jeb clearly preferred the burlier 09 vintage, I’m a huge fan of this 2010, which is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the old vines of Kiona on Red Mountain (location here). The eucalyptus topnotes from the cooler vintage are a perfect foil for the core of blackberry/blackcurrant fruit. For me, it packs all the delicious density and complexity of the 2009 on a lower-weight, lower-alc (13.4% frame). It drinks like a wine that will evolve in interesting directions for a very, very long time.

2010 Rasa “Creative Impulse” DuBrul Vineyard (BDX Blend)

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

Wine Advociate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

As usual, Billo has captured the exotic, sultry, earthy side of the incomparable DuBrul Vineyard (location here). About two-thirds Cab one-third Merlot, it offers up stunning breadth of descriptors: currant and beetroot, mint and cucumber, exotic spice and loamy soil: the list goes on and on. One of Washington’s best expressions of a singular vineyard.

2010 Rasa “In Order to Form a More Perfect Union”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).”

Wine Advociate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

A 43/41/16 blend of Cab, Merlot, and Cab Franc, it mixes the two vineyards referenced above with several of the Sagemoor properties (Dionysus, Bacchus, Weinbau). Oh to sit in on a blending trial for this wine someday, because those raw ingredients are something special. Better yet, Billo has created a wine that is better than the sum of those outstanding individual components. In my opinion, Jeb’s review on this one is a touch conservative.

It starts with a soaring nose of violets and crème de cassis, profoundly floral and just beautiful to sniff. The palate is an ultra-intense mix of cassis, cherry, peach, and mango fruit, streaked with peppermint and espresso and silty mineral. The dense layering is immaculate, the flavors live-wires of intensity, and again, like the best of the 2010s, this carries no extra weight. It’s impossibly sleek, oh so classy, among the very best expressions of this cooler vintage that I have tasted to date.

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of each wine, 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 ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2012 Le Cantine di Indie Vino Rosso del Popolo

September 26, 2013

Hello friends. I was recently asked by Seattle Magazine to describe my best restaurant experience of the past year (for their Meet The Press section; I’ll have two articles in the November issue), and my answer was the degustazione tasting menu at Cascina Spinasse. It’s a wildly hedonistic prix-fixe that covers every single antipasto, primo and secondo on the menu, a veritable orgy of rustic, toothsome Piemontese food.

If I were to go back and do it all again, this is the bottle of wine I would bring:

Langhe Rosso is a killer category, and the only thing holding it back is the fact that the Piemontese drink most of it themselves. We get plenty of exports of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, bottled varietally. But the declassified blends of the three grapes, the ones that are vinified unfussily and well-loved by the locals for their food-friendly rusticity and early-drinking character and easy-on-the-wallet price? Those stay home. Mostly.

Fortunately, the folks at Indie Wineries (a terrific importer of small-production, hand-crafted wines) managed to talk one of their Piedmont producers into bottling a Langhe Rosso just for them. They created a new label (Le Cantine di Indie) and called the wine Vino Rosso del Popolo: red wine of the people.

We offered the 2011 vintage last winter, and it was a surprise hit, a target of regular reorder requests. It’s been sold out in the Seattle market for awhile, so I was happy to see it reappear with a new vintage.

If you look closely at the small print on the label, you can determine who is actually making this wine. The pertinent text: “Estate Bottled By: Eugenio Bocchino – La Morra – Italia.” Bocchino is a tiny producer who farms biodynamically and makes a full range of Barolos, Barberas, and Dolcettos. I’m not sure if a single American reviewer has written a word about Bocchino. He’s still well under the radar here, but not so much in Europe, where some high praise from no less than Jancis Robinson has put the Bocchino wines under a measure of sales pressure.

The blend is 50% Nebbiolo and 30% Barbera from Bocchino’s estate vineyards, blended with 20% Dolcetto from a neighboring farmer. Like last year, the nose has been completely co-opted by the Nebbiolo, with its red cherry and leather spice, its streaks of tar and flower and citrus oil. The palate balances ripe cherry and grapey fruit from the Barbera and Dolcetto with balancing leafy Nebbiolo notes. It’s such an Italian glass of wine, with its citrus-pith acids and cherry-pit bitters. This project is a gift, a little marvel, bone-dry and deeply earthy.

It’s a bottle that screams “autumn” to me. Changing leaves, crisp nights, and a warming glass of Langhe nectar. First come first served up to 24 bottles, and 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 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve

September 25, 2013

Hello friends. Our offering comes later in the day than usual, but it took a few hours to lock this down, and I don’t want to wait until tomorrow morning.

Today has been one of those days where the Full Pull model hums along, when our vast network of wine spies really comes through in the clutch.

Right around noon, the first spies (our list members) reported in. “Have you seen today’s Wine Spectator Insider,” they asked? Why no, no I hadn’t (what can I say; some of you are faster than me), but I quickly opened it up to find the following:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($65); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

This is a big deal when it comes to Spectator and Oregon Pinot. In their entire history, they have only given three Oregon Pinot Noirs stronger reviews (a 96 and two 97s). Considering the score, price, and production (6000 cases), this is the strongest candidate of the year from the entire PacNW to land on the Spectator Top 100 list. I’d be actively surprised if it doesn’t.

After seeing that review, I began reaching out to our second set of wine spies (our industry friends), and soon learned from one particularly helpful little bird that the winery had just put a whole mess of this wine on a truck bound for Seattle, the first shipment of the new vintage. It’s set to land one week from today, and I’m guessing the demand will be high. Hence the desire for the quick turnaround.

The bad news, of course, since the wine won’t be getting here for another week, is that I haven’t tasted this vintage. But given the pedigree of the winery, our list’s history with the winery (we’ve offered the 2007 and 2008 vintage of this wine previously), and the stunning, crystalline quality of the 2010 vintage (whose only drawback, as I’ve said many times, has been low yield and hence limited availability), I’m confident that we know the quality we can expect here.

Time to stop talking and hit send. Please give us your order requests with no upper limits (since I don’t yet know what allocations will look like, why not advocate for as much wine as our list actually demands?), and the wine should arrive in about two weeks, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Three from South America

September 24, 2013

Hello friends. South America is annoying me lately. In a good way. They’re annoying me because they’re messing up my plans.

The plan when expanding into imports was: keep the focus mostly on old-world wines. The thinking behind that was that we have the new-world style pretty well covered in the Pacific Northwest. And focusing on Europe for imports added a limiting factor to a category that otherwise covered, well, all of planet Earth.

But that hasn’t stopped us from tasting bottles from every corner of the world making wine. Recently, several South American bottles have bubbled up to the surface, and despite the fact that they’re messing with my stated plans, I can’t help loving them. So today let’s take the full tour of our southern neighbors, with three wines from three different countries:

2011 Los Vascos (Lafite) Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserve

This is Chateau Lafite’s Chile project. They own a 580-hectare vineyard (located here) planted mostly (85%) to Cabernet Sauvignon, and split between 50 year old blocks and blocks that they replanted after purchasing the site in 1988.

As you’d expect from Lafite (they of the $200+ bottle), this punches well above its price class. It’s three-quarters Cabernet Sauvignon, which brings its classic notes of pencil lead/graphitic minerality, blackcurrant fruit, and savory notes of sweet pepper and bay leaf. A 10% dollop of Carmenere adds nuances of dried herb and tomato leaf. The palate impresses foremost texturally. This is a far cry from the bottom-shelf supermarket Cabs that dominate Chilean exports. It’s silky on the attack, but the tannic structure takes over on the finish, which is all lovely Cabernet chew. I love all the concentration here without excess weight or ripeness. The balance is impeccable, and the entire bottle reeks of class; no surprise given the parties involved.

2012 Bodega Noemia de Patagonia Malbec “A Lisa”

Let’s move away from the norm for Argentina (Mendoza Malbec) and head someplace wilder. Patagonia. The name evokes jagged rocks amidst swirls of changeable clouds down at the bottom of the world. It doesn’t evoke vineyards, but they’re down there nevertheless, in this case a biodynamic site in the Alto Valle del Rio Negro (see Rio Negro location here).

There is an undeniable “sauvage” character to this wine, a wildness to the zesty, brambly, mountain-berry fruit that is deeply attractive. The palate combines red raspberry fruit, terrific cut-rock minerality, and an savory/umami quality, something like a teaspoon of tomato paste in a stew. My biggest complaint with Malbec (90% of the blend here, rounded out with Merlot and Petit Verdot) is that it can often be a little one-note, so the complexity here is what really got my juices flowing.

Delicious wine from a fascinating part of the world, and it has a string of strong reviews in previous vintages: 92pts Wine & Spirits for the 2010, and 91pts Wine Spectator (Nathan Wesley) / 90pts IWC (Stephen Tanzer) for the 2011.

2010 Artesana Tannat-Merlot

And now let’s ratchet up the geek factor further and venture into Uruguay. Artesana is located on Uruguay’s south coast (location here), the South American vanguard.

Uruguay is one of the twin hearts of the varietal Tannat (Madiran in SW France is the other). As you have likely deduced from the name, this is a grape with no shortage of tannic heft. Here Tannat is blended with Merlot for softening purposes, which is great, because Tannat’s main difficulty has always been texture. Its flavor is consistently compelling, with a real smokiness to its meaty-cherry aromas, evoking brisket slow-cooking over smoldering charcoal. A strong streak of meatiness runs throughout the palate, complementing the black cherry and star anise notes. The rustic Tannat structure takes over on the finish. This has chewiness for days. Pass the steak!

2010 Southard Syrah Columbia Valley

September 23, 2013

Hello friends. Hard to believe it has only been about a year since our first Southard offering. The winery has vaulted very quickly to best in show for many of our list members when it comes to value.

I have to give full credit here to Paul Gregutt. It was his blog post, back in June 2012, that first alerted me to something special happening with this winery. Some sample quotes:


We proceeded to offer their 2009 Lawrence Vineyard Syrah, their 2010 Red Wine (a Syrah/Mourvedre blend), and their 2010 White Wine (Viognier/Roussanne), and all three became list darlings, frequent targets for reorder. All three of those are now sold out, and we haven’t been able to offer a Southard wine since February, so I suspect this is going to be a popular one:

This Syrah is a story of two slopes.

The first is the Royal Slope, not yet an AVA (although I expect that to happen soon) and one of the hottest (in terms of buzz) areas for Syrah in Washington right now. It is the home to Lawrence Vineyard (location here), which comprises about half of today’s bottle. The Lawrences are Scott Southards cousins, so it’s a family affair. First planted out in 2003, Lawrence is a high-elevation site, ranging from 1400’-1600’, and Syrah from there has been really well-received (including the 09 Southard Lawrence Vineyard Syrah; $25 and 93pts Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast).

Down one slope is the Wahluke, a more established area and already an AVA of its own. At the top of the Wahluke Slope we find Stonetree Vineyard (location here), one of the hottest (in terms of temperature) sites in Washington, important in a cool vintage like 2010. It’s a poorly-held secret that Stonetree was the source for most of the Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that was #1 on Wine Spectator’s 2009 Top 100 list. It’s a special vineyard, becoming more important with each passing vintage.

The grapes from both sites were foot-stomped with no destemming and raised in barrel (only about 15% new) for just shy of two years. The result is a terrific value, offering an escape if you’ve had one too many lean-and-mean Syrahs from the 2010 vintage. This is anything but, offering terrific lushness and density, notable fruit intensity. Ripe black cherry fruit, brewed coffee, nuances of silty mineral and maple syrup: it’s all here, carried on a plush, inviting frame. Another wonderful value bottling from a winery that is rapidly developing a stellar reputation for such things.

First come first served up to 24 bottles, and 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 Soos Creek Artist Series (BDX Blend)

September 22, 2013

Hello friends. Is anyone in Washington making more dazzling wines (especially factoring in price) than Dave Larsen at Soos Creek? His 2010 vintage seems to be an unending collection of stunners. We’ve already offered his Ciel and Champoux Vineyard blends this year. Ciel is already all sold out, and Champoux can’t be far behind, so I’ll attach a reorder link at the bottom.

Today we’ll dive into another one of his glorious 2010s:

Some Champoux fruit shows up in Dave’s Artist Series, and this is also the destination for beautiful fruit from the Sagemoor family of vineyards (Weinbau, Dionysus). It’s the bottle in the Soos portfolio that most consistently showcases Cabernet Franc, here a full 49% of the blend. Most of the remainder is Cabernet Sauvignon, with just a dollop of Merlot rounding out the blend. But it’s the Cabernet Franc that shines here, with its unlikely combination of earth and flowers. It’s juicy, open, absolutely delicious, and true to both the vintage and the varietals.

Several of you noticed this wine’s high place (#10) on Seattle Met’s 100 Best Washington Wines. Wineries above it include Reynvaan, Cayuse, Quilceda Creek, Figgins: lofty company to be sure, and all at substantially loftier tariffs as well.

But that’s Soos Creek year in and year out: quietly delivering outstanding value across their entire portfolio. That Seattle Met list was written by Sean Sullivan, and it was no surprise to see the Soos Artist Series earn such a high position. After all, Sean had already written the following about the wine in his Wine Of The Week feature for Seattle Met back in July:

Seattle Met (Sean Sullivan): “[TEXT WITHHELD].”

That’s from a man who has tasted *a lot* of Washington wine. And it’s hard to disagree with him.

First come first served up to 24 bottles, and 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.