2010 Tranche Cellars Sangiovese Estate

January 31, 2014

Hello friends. I’m crazy about Tranche Cellars. Originally intended as a sister winery to Corliss Estates that would focus on white wines, it has since evolved into a compelling exploration of the Corliss family of estate vineyards (and some carefully chosen purchased fruit) through the prisms of a number of different varieties (note: while there is overlap in the ownership of the two wineries, they are separate entities, with separate winemaking facilities).

It also seems like a place where winemakers Andrew Trio and Griffin Frey are allowed to riff a little, to be a little more experimental. If Corliss is the straight-laced older sibling (three wines released each year, like clockwork), Tranche is the exuberant youngster, and a precocious kid at that.

In my August trip to Walla Walla, the Tranche lineup was a total thrill ride, but the one drawback was that none of the wines we tasted were, at that time, released. Since then, we’ve been carefully tracking the progress of these beauties, and today we have the first of the bunch:

Let’s begin with a review:

International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

I’ve said plenty of times that we need to apply a curve to any Tanzer reviews, and this is a fine clarifying example of why that’s the case. To wit, Tanzer has only given stronger reviews to four Washington Sangioveses. Ever. And they’re named Leonetti, Leonetti, Leonetti, and Leonetti. No joke. Three 92pt scores and one 93(+?) for the 03, 07, 08, and 10 vintages of Leonetti, and that’s it. With Tanzer, it’s always better to focus on the text – which is typically eloquent and cogent in turn – than the score.

And his text for this review is glowing, as it should be, and remarkable considering this is Tranche’s first release of Sangiovese. It’s killer Sangio, and it comes entirely from Blue Mountain Vineyard, a terrific estate site in the foothills of, well, the Blue Mountains (location here). This was the old Nicholas Cole estate vineyard, source of many great bottlings under that label, and subsequently purchased when that winery sadly went out of business. Tranche has produced many wonderful wines from the site, and we can add this Sangiovese to the list. It starts with a nose of bright red cherry fruit, smoke, cocoa powder, and angostura bitters; very Sangio. The palate combines the bright acids of the cool 2010 vintage with a surprisingly silky/supple texture. This one glides across the palate with its mix of cherries and earth, rolling into a potent finish with lovely black-tea tannin chew. A strong debut indeed, immediately entering the conversation about the most compelling Sangioveses coming out of the Pac-NW.

It’s tiny production, too, at just 168 cases. We’re getting in early, but I’d say the prospects for reorders on this one are foggy. For now, 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.

2012 Buried Cane Cabernet Sauvignon “Roughout”

January 29, 2014

Hello friends. I found the cooler 2010 and 2011 vintages in Washington to be really lovely for higher-end Cabernets and Cab-based blends. They offered skillful growers and producers the chance to craft vibrant, elegant, ageworthy wines. Many of the results were thrilling in a way that we hadn’t seen around these parts since 1999.

And then there were lower-end Cabernets.

For lower-end Cabernets, I saw the cooler vintages as nearly unmitigated disasters, green minefields full of under-ripe, vegetal flavors. I like herbal nuance as much as the next guy in my Cabernets, but wowsah, some of those were mean, mean wines. The truth is, low-end Cab works best in warm, ripe, fleshy vintages.

Enter 2012.

I have only tasted a few 2012 Cabernets so far, but all have been sub-$20, and the experience has been like crossing a freezing body of water only to emerge onto the beach where your friends have built a huge bonfire. It’s a welcoming feeling.

Among those 2012 Cabs, I wanted to offer the most exciting of the early crop today:

We’ve actually previously offered a vintage of this wine, and it was the (wait for it) 2009 vintage, the last fleshy vintage in Washington. That was a terrific wine, but this is better, a real dynamo from the Cadaretta team (Buried Cane is their second label).

It’s a blend of 75% Cab, 12% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc, aged for just under a year in barrel (55% new oak). The Cabernet comes from Heather Hill (!?!), Echo Ridge, Alder Ridge, and Mirage. Both the Merlot and PV come from Southwind Vineyard, the first fruit I have seen in bottle from Cadaretta’s exciting new estate site in the Blue Mountain foothills of the Walla Walla Valley (here’s a nice video of winemaker Brian Rudin hanging out in a vineyard ditch). These are outstanding vineyard sources for a wine at this price point.

The Cab introduces itself immediately, with the variety’s signature mix of blackcurrant and redcurrant fruit. Add violet notes and earthy subtleties, and you have a nose whose complexity easily belies the tariff. One sip and you know you have a wine punching well above its price class. Usually Cabernets at this tariff have clear holes in the palate. This is closer to seamless, strong on attack, mid-palate, and finish. There’s cassis fruit, earthy soil, mocha barrel notes, and even some legitimate Cabernet chew. This is serious, grown-up Cabernet, and it feels like a long time since I’ve tasted this style at this tag.

If this is the vanguard of 2012 Cabernet, our future is looking bright indeed. It’s a little early in the year to identify trends, but I’ll take a stab and say that 2014 is going to be the year of the value Cabernet as more and more of these 2012-vintage cheapies are released. Bravo to Brian Rudin and company. This is a splendid effort. First come first served up to 60 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.

Misfits III

January 27, 2014

Hello friends. Today we have the return of Misfits, a spot for us to feature wines that haven’t quite made it into their own offering for one reason or another, but that are too compelling not to write about.

Unlike regular Full Pull offerings, which drill into deep detail on one or two or three wines, Misfits offerings contain much shorter blurbs (a paragraph or maybe two) on a greater number of wines.

We sent our first Misfits offer on October 11. We didn’t call it out officially, but our post-Thanksgiving offer for sparkling and sticky wines was essentially Misfits II. And that brings us to Misfits III:

2010 Kaella Syrah Ciel du Cheval Vineyard

We always like to feature the winery projects of our list members, and Kaella is the work of long-time list member Dave Butner. 2010 is Dave’s third commercial vintage, but Kaella is still micro-production, as the entirety of his 2010 vintage was 250 cases. His vineyard sources are impeccable (helped by his connections through the Boeing winemaking club), and the wines are lovely, none more so than this Ciel du Cheval Syrah. Cofermented with 3% Viognier and done with 25% whole cluster, it’s a smoky, earthy mouthful of brambly raspberry and blueberry fruit, lifted by floral topnotes and complicated by good Ciel minerality. A well-priced example of Syrah from this Red Mountain stalwart.

For more details on Kaella, see Sean Sullivan’s write-up in Washington Wine Report. Sean also reviewed this wine. Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: **** (Excellent).”

NV Finnriver Methode Champenoise Sparkling Cider (750ml)

Cider is a hot category in Washington right now. We’ve only offered one previously, but it was popular, and I’ve been looking for a follow-up since. Finnriver is among the strongest producers in Washington, and their tasting room outside of Chimacum is well worth a visit if you find yourself on the peninsula. They first moved onto my radar when Jameson Fink stayed at Finnriver for a month and wrote a brilliant article about it for Edible Seattle. I then started seeing the ciders on restaurant wine lists, and ordered a few of them, including a memorable meal of Neapolitan style pizzas and this cider.

Their entire range of ciders is compelling, but for wine lovers, this is probably the best of the bunch, a cider done Methode Champenoise style (secondary fermentation in bottle, riddling racks, disgorgement, et al). It is an 8% alc, teeth-scrapingly bone-dry mouthful of apple, mineral, and subtle floral notes. The acid and bubbles cut through all manner of food. While this may drink a bit austere as a cocktail (unless you’re a lover of Brut Nature Champagne, in which case have at it!), it is a splendid beverage for food and a fine entrée into an emerging category in the northwest.

NV Tissot Cremant de Jura

This is another producer introduced to me back in the early days of Full Pull by Dieter Klippstein of Triage Wines. Tissot’s Cremants became house wines for us, lovely little “baby Champagnes” that always over-delivered for their tariffs. But it has been several years since these wines have been imported into Seattle, so I was thrilled to see Cavatappi pick them up late last year. We poured this Cremant during our last few pickup days of the year, and it was a hit. From the Jura Mountains (location here) on the border with Switzerland, this is a blend mostly of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with small amounts of Jura-specific Poulsard and Trousseau blended in for good measure. I’m crazy about it for its nervy mouthfeel, its insistent mineral freshness. This is a bottle of bubbly that always over-delivers for the price.

2012 Domaine Jomain Bourgogne Chardonnay

The only issue keeping this from its own offer is available quantity. It’s a funny wine, one that I thought was a lousy deal right up until I tasted it, and then I thought it was a great deal. Lousy because many Bourgogne Blancs (Chardonnays that can come from all over Burgundy) clock in at $10-$20. But because of that breadth, it’s a real hit-or-miss category, one where there’s no substitute for tasting. And this tasted great! My tasting note, which had lots of stars and exclamation points next to the text, ended with “Cote de Beaune?” Sure enough, Jomain’s holdings are predominantly in Puligny-Montrachet, with some holdings just over the line. If I had to guess, I’d posit that this is a blend of declassified Puligny and some of those just-over-the-border parcels. It drinks seriously classy for Bourgogne Chardonnay, with smoke and lemon curd, earth and bread. Rich, intense, and perfectly barrel-spicy, this is a winter white to savor. Don’t expect any reorder opportunities on this one; we’re grabbing most of the remaining stock in western Washington.

2012 Cartuja Priorat

In our Torremoron offer from earlier in the year, I mentioned that it’s difficult to find well-priced Ribera del Duero. Well, finding well-priced Priorat is even harder, but that’s what we have here. The only drawback is that there’s not much of it. We bought out the remaining stock in Seattle after tasting it, and we won’t see more until the 2013 vintage is released. It’s a blend of 70% Garnacha (Grenache) and 30% Carinena (Carignan), and you can practically smell the licorella (the famous slate soils of the region) oozing out. The palate is a swirling mass of brambly blackberry fruit and mineral, dusted with star anise spice and the dried herb notes Grenache is famous for. For those of us who love Washington Grenache, this is a fine introduction to another part of the world that does exceptionally well with this grape.

2010 Albino Rocca Barbaresco Ronchi

A delicious, poignant Barbaresco from Albino Rocca. 2010 represents the penultimate vintage for Angelo Rocca after his unfortunate death in a 2012 plane crash. A pity, as this was a producer whose Nebbiolos seemed to keep getting better and better with each vintage. This was a highlight of our early-season Piedmont tastings, with its expressive Barbaresco nose of smoky cherries, roses, tarry streaks, and star anise. The palate is just a baby, but you can already sense the class and elegance at play. It’s earthy, chewy, with great citrusy acids and cherry-pit bitters. And it’s only going to improve.

Wine Advocate (Monica Larner): “($57); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

[Ed note: fortunately one of our Seattle importer gems is now direct-importing Rocca, which also explains how we can offer it a few ticks below release price.]

First come first served on all of these except the Cartuja (which we may need to allocate, since we have a limited number already in the warehouse), with no upper limits. All the wines should arrive within the next few weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

NV Result of a Crush (2014 offer; BDX bottle)

January 26, 2014

Hello friends. We have a new bottling today of what turned into something of a list-member darling last year; a terrific value from the Reynvaan family:

Because this is a non-vintage project, the only way to distinguish last year’s bottling from this year’s bottling is the bottle shape. Last year’s was put into Rhone bottles; this year’s into Bordeaux bottles.

As a reminder, despite outward appearances (which make it look like there’s some cheerful, easy-drinking juice inside), this is something special: a gateway-drug wine, a gateway into the gloriously funky world of Reynvaan.

Long term members of our list know that our allocations of Reynvaan wines became more and more competitive over the years, until (sadly) in 2013 we were not able to offer their wines. I’m sure we can thank in part the June 30 2013 Wine Spectator, which included a set of glowing reviews from Harvey Steiman for Reynvaan’s 2010s, culminating in a 98pt score for Stonessence, the highest score Spectator has bestowed on any Washington wine. Ever. Yikes.

Reynvaan is as buzzy as a winery gets in Washington State, and if you’re not already on the waiting list, get on there now. But in the meantime, for all of us who are waiting, or underallocated, or sold out, there is this little gem, this gift from the Reynvaan family. And Result of a Crush is indeed a family affair. From the winery: “Result of a Crush is a new Walla Walla winery started by Amanda Reynvaan and Angela Reynvaan Garratt, sisters of consulting winemaker Matt Reynvaan. We want to make a wine that is both affordable and distinctive. Our goal is to produce wines that are consistent in quality, but also reflect our sometimes whimsical attitude towards wine.”

What we know from the origins of this project:
1. It consists of “a few vintages.”
2. It is primarily Syrah (in this bottling, 60%, along with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Viognier, and 5% “other”).
3. It contains some declassified Reynvaan barrels and is rounded out with juice “from special places around the valley that I think work for this particular style I created for my sisters.”

For last year’s bottling, I guessed mostly 2010 vintage, and this year, I think it’s mostly 2011. Those were the two cool vintages in Washington, and this version is not stylistically all that different from last year’s. If it’s not quite as expressive a nose as the upper-end Reynvaan bottles, the markers of the rocks are certainly there: meat, olive, smoke, iron. The Syrah really takes over the aromas and flavors (in the mouth, you get the full charcuterie plate, mixed with blueberry and guava fruit), while the Cab gussies up the texture, adding heft and a sense of chew on the finish.

While we’re all waiting to get off the Reynvaan waiting list and onto the mailing list, at least we can drink this, and for considerably less than the main-label bottles. First come first served up to 36 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.

Three from Forgeron/Blacksmith

January 24, 2014

Hello friends. Our offer today focuses on the lovely wines of Marie-Eve Gilla. The original plan was to offer two Blacksmith wines only, but Marie-Eve recently informed me that her 2011 Chardonnay for Forgeron is reaching the end of vintage (expected to sell out in the next few weeks). They’ll be rolling into the 2012 soon, so I’ll include a reoffer for the 2011 at the bottom of today’s offer, since it is a glorious Chardonnay that has been the subject of frequent reorder requests.

But first Blacksmith. I love this project, which is intended to take advantage of unique opportunities on the spot market. It’s a label where the varietals and vineyards aren’t consistent from year to year but will instead represent Marie-Eve’s opportunities to purchase quality grapes at affordable prices.

These bottlings are fireflies, blinking in and out of existence so fast that you wonder if you really saw them at all. Our last Blacksmith offer was in March 2012, so it has been awhile since the Blacksmith fireflies have blinked. But here they are again, back for a moment in ephemeral glory:

2012 Blacksmith Chardonnay

Marie-Eve studied at the University of Dijon and worked at several Burgundian wineries before landing in our fair state, so to say she has a certain comfort level with Chardonnay would be an understatement. Her portfolio is consistently an example of balance, restraint, and class, and for several vintages now, she has been at the peak of her powers, retaining a visceral, infectious passion for the work. In sum, Marie-Eve is a joy to be around, and so it’s no surprise that she makes joyful wines.

Including this lovely little Chardonnay, which has 6% Roussanne in the blend and comes from Four Lakes Vineyard in Chelan, Weinbau on Wahluke Slope, and Lonesome Springs in Yakima Valley. It’s raised in 10% new French oak, the remainder neutral, and is likely a crystal ball allowing us to peer into the future of the 2012 Chardonnay for Forgeron. It begins with a nose of peaches and pears in cream, lifted by a hint of raw almond (the Roussanne) and a little orange peel. The palate is a plump, medium-bodied delight, with peach and melon fruit, hazelnut nuance, a great creamy mid-palate, and a long leesy finish. For a balanced weeknight white, this is tough to beat.

2011 Blacksmith Red Wine

I’ll admit I was dubious when I saw the blend, which had “kitchen sink” written all over it: 50% Merlot, 17% Petite Sirah, 13% Zinfandel, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Lemberger.

But then I did two things: I tasted the wine, and I researched the vineyard sources.

The tasting: Starts with a nose of brambly blackberry and raspberry fruit, complicated by insistent earthy/mushroom notes. The palate is ripe, rich, and brambly, a palate that makes it hard to believe this is the cooler 2011 vintage. For me, despite only making up 30% of the total blend, it’s the Petite Sirah and Zin that dominate the palate with their generous burly fruit profiles. This picks up steam and rolls into a powerful finish, all chewy/delicious Petite Sirah tannins.

The vineyard sources: That 50% Merlot comes entirely from Boushey Vineyard (nice!), as does all the Cab Franc. The thermophilic varieties come from nice hot sites (PS from Stonetree, Zin from Alder Ridge). The Cab is from Red Mountain (Hightower). These are rock-solid vineyard sources for a $15 wine.

Undoubtedly this is an odd blend, but it hangs together well. Its warming, generous character makes it a lovely choice as a house wine in the bleak mid-winter.

2011 Forgeron Chardonnay

Originally offered June 10 2013. Excerpts from original offer:

Marie’s Forgeron Chardonnays are consistently outstanding, always going toe-to-toe with the best Chardonnays produced in Washington, and always offered at tariffs well below those other stalwarts. Her aptitude with Chardonnay has really been on display during these two cooler (2010 and 2011) vintages, and this 2011 has been extremely well-received:

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($27); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ****/***** (Excellent/Exceptional).”

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($27); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($27); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 18.5/20pts.”

That’s plenty of tasting notes, so I won’t add much, except to say that this is a deftly-balanced mix of fruit (green papaya and plantain and nectarine) and bread and earth, all on a mouthwatering frame that perfectly captures the vibrant potential of the cooler vintage. It’s our resident Burgundian-Washingtonian at the peak of her creative powers.

First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Two 2010s from Bunchgrass

January 22, 2014

Hello friends. New vintages today of two wines from a list-favorite winery: Bunchgrass.

Bunchgrass has been around in the Walla Walla Valley forever, but their wines remain insider gems, quite difficult to source west of the mountains. A trip to that winery (in Walla Walla; open Saturdays from April-December) is well worth the effort, as this is a producer steeped in valley lore, and one whose current owners are as friendly as their wines are good.

The history: Roger Cockerline helped to establish a grape-grower’s society in Walla Walla in the 1980s and then founded Bunchgrass as the eleventh winery in the Walla Walla Valley. Roger’s fruit is present in some of the early Leonetti bottles, helped perhaps by the fact that Chris Figgins was a student in Roger’s 8th Grade Social Studies Course (no pigeonholing in the WWV; Roger was a farmer *and* a teacher).

Roger named the winery after Bunch Grass, a book of poetry by his friend, the northwest poet Robert Sund (1929-2001). Learning about the origin of the winery name led me to Sund’s poetry, which has been one of my happiest accidents associated with Full Pull, and now, whenever we offer Bunchgrass wines, we include a Sund poem:

Spring Poem in the Skagit Valley
— Robert Sund

I’d like to thank the board of the Robert Sund Poet’s House Trust (holders of copyrights to Sund’s work) for permission to share his poetry with our list members. For more information on the life and work of Robert Sund, and to order books, please visit the Trust’s web site.

And now, onto today’s wines:

2010 Bunchgrass Triolet Walla Walla Valley

The 2009 vintage was the first where Tom Olander took over production duties, and it formed an impressive set of releases. These 2010s confirm that initial promise. It’s one thing to succeed in one vintage; something else entirely to prove your mettle two vintages in a row, especially two vintages as different as 2009 (warm, fleshy) and 2010 (cool, cooler).

Triolet is nearly a single vineyard wine, with all of the Cabernet Sauvignon (68%) and Cabernet Franc (28%) coming from Dwelley Vineyard, an under-the-radar site planted in 1999 in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. The remainder (4% Petit Verdot) comes from Frazier Bluff. It’s thrilling to explore these lesser-known corners of the Walla Walla Valley. Finding what is essentially a single-vineyard BDX blend from the WWV, at this tariff, is extremely rare.

It’s the Cabernet Franc that comes through on the nose, despite its relatively smaller percentage, a zesty/brambly riot of raspberry fruit and poblano pepper and soil. This is texturally gorgeous, its silky/creamy mid-palate the star of the show. The fruit and earth components glide across the palate on a pillow. As it always is, Triolet is a graceful bottle. Classy winemaking, classy juice at this tariff.

2010 Bunchgrass Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley

If Triolet (175 cases) is small production, this is micro-production. Just 72 cases produced, and all Cabernet Sauvignon, 100% from Windrow Vineyard, the oldest commercial Cabernet site in the Walla Walla Valley (location here).

This piece of terroir is just outstanding for Cabernet. We’ve seen it in Tero Estate bottlings, and we see it here. The nose offers so many of the elements that make Cabernet special: lovely crème de cassis fruit, savory beetroot and olive, earthy graphitic mineral, minty topnotes, coffee barrel notes. It’s complex, and all elements are finely-tuned, in exquisite balance. In the mouth, this is again precise in its textural mastery, but because it’s all Cabernet, there is considerably more back-end chew, as we’d expect. The depth of character from those old vines shines through brilliantly in the cooler 2010 vintage. This is a Cab I’d expect to age gracefully for many years. It’s a singular Cabernet bottling from Washington, and no surprise it’s developed such a strong following among our list members.

Please limit order requests to 12 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.

2011 Olivares Monastrell Altos de la Hoya

January 20, 2014

Hello friends. In Europe, there are twin beating hearts of varietal Mourvedre production. One is Bandol, in the Provencal region of France. We’ve already explored that region.

Today, let’s cross the border into Spain, and more specifically to Jumilla, Spanish capital of Mourvedre, (or Monastrell as they call it there), with a wine that is a good value in an average vintage and an exceptional value in a good vintage like this:

This is one of those wines that adds real clarity to the challenge that winemakers in a place like Washington face when trying to develop a market for Mourvedre. Olivares, in Jumilla, has a single vineyard (Finca Hoya de Santa Ana), with vines as old as 80 years, growing in a sandy moonscape (see pictures one, two, and three) that has never caught a whiff of phylloxera.

Unlike much of Jumilla, this site sits at considerable elevation (2700ft), allowing for large diurnal shifts and excellent acid retention. It’s matured entirely in neutral barrels (some small, some large), allowing the old-vine fruit material to shine bright. The nose is an alluring mix of flowers, exotic spices, and brambly blackberries. On the palate, it’s the live-wire intensity you notice first, completely belying the price point. There’s a real palate-coating quality here, and depth, and mineral tone, and lovely inner mouth perfume. The list goes on. Priced like a mid-week wine, this would not be out of place for a special occasion in the least.

Its quality has not escaped the critical eye of Tanzer’s IWC. Never known for heaping praise (or points) lightly, this is an incredibly strong review from IWC for a wine at this tariff:

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Josh Raynolds): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

The urgency for this one was increased a few days ago, when Lettie Teague called it out in a Wall Street Journal article highlighting the value garden that is Spain, saying “The intense and brooding Olivares Altos de la Hoya… had a group of Spanish-wine-loving friends in disbelief: How could a wine so densely flavorful be so cheap?”

That said, we have a solid stash here in Seattle. So, first come first served up to 60 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.