2010 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley

February 28, 2014

Hello friends. Quick turnaround today on an offering originally scheduled for later this spring. We moved it up in the calendar after learning that it’s set to receive a stellar review from Paul Gregutt in the March issue of Wine Enthusiast.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

Greg Harrington has been at the vanguard of a burgeoning movement in Washington, away from the excesses of the early 2000s and towards wines low in alcohol and oak and high in purity and terroir-expressiveness. And so I can only imagine that he and Assistant Winemaker Brandon Moss saw the back-to-back cool vintages of 2010 and 2011 as manna from the wine gods, perfect climatological canvases on which to paint a series of masterpieces.

This is a single-vineyard Cab (although it doesn’t say so on the bottle), coming entirely from Phinny Hill, just up the hill from Champoux in the Horse Heaven Hills, a site that is rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after vineyards in Washington for Cabernet Sauvignon (here’s what the Gramercy folks say about Phinny: “I’m telling you: Phinny is where it’s at—hillsides, higher altitude, gravel. It’s an insane property.”) It clocks in at 13.9% alc, and was raised for just shy of two years in 40% new French oak.

What you notice right away with this wine is the texture, that magical, all-too-rare combination of energy and suaveness. Is it nervy? Is it fleshy? Well, yes and yes; it’s someplace in between. And really, that’s what this wine is – a tweener – seeming to borrow the very best aspects of old world and new world styles. You could easily confuse it for a wine from the Medoc, with all its graphitic minerality and cedar and dried herb, but there’s just enough polish, enough generosity to the mint-inflected cassis fruit, to turn you towards the new world. A classic Cabernet in so many ways, this is especially attractive for its seamlessness, and for how it builds like a wave towards its long, powerful finish, all dusty/leafy Cabernet-tannin chew.

I suspect this will disappear soon after that Gregutt review gets into wide circulation. Because the reorder prospects are spotty, I’m going to open up the order-request limits, but we don’t yet have a guarantee on an allocation amount, so apologies in advance if our allocations end up considerably lower than expected. Please limit order requests to 24 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 2007s from Beresan

February 26, 2014

Hello friends. I’ve been made to look ridiculous, and I couldn’t be happier.

My Chicken Little mode began more than a year ago with regards to the end of the 2007 vintage in Washington. It was in March 2013 that we offered the 2007 RiverAerie Cabernet Sauvignon and wrote the following: “I’ll admit it: I’m beginning to lose credibility when it comes to my (ongoing) claims that we’re reaching the end of opportunities to access wines from the glorious 2007 vintage in Washington. I feel like I’ve sounded the alarm at least four or five times on this issue, only to be granted access to another lovely 07.”

And that was a year ago, a year in which we offered another fifty-seven wines from the 2007 vintage (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration). Now we’ve reached the stage of farce, where our various winery and distributor partners seem to take a special glee in presenting 2007s to us.

Today we’ve been offered a pair of 07s from the terrific Beresan Winery in Walla Walla. This is the winery of Tom and Tom. Tom Waliser does the farming, and much of the fruit comes from three estate sites (Waliser, Yellow Jacket, and Beresan Estate). Tom Glase (also of Balboa) does the winemaking.

The winery is long-since sold out of this vintage. They’re selling 08s and 09s and 10s. So where did these wines come from? Well, have you ever cleaned out a closet and found an awesome t-shirt that you had completely forgotten about? It’s kind of like that.

There are a series of wine warehouses scattered throughout Washington, and wineries stash little parcels here and there to make fulfillment easier. I believe the one in question today was outside of Spokane. Unsurprisingly, inventories get screwed up sometimes, vintages get confused, and little treasures get tucked away. Every now and then, a winery cleans out the closet (via a physical inventory) and finds some retro t-shirts, in this case solid little stashes of 2007 wines.

Rather than ship the wine back to the winery and deal with the headache of selling multiple vintages at once, the folks at Beresan had a better idea – they presented the wines to us – and we chose the strongest two to offer today:

2007 Beresan Merlot

This is two-thirds Waliser Vineyard and one-third Candy Mountain (no, not *that* Candy Mountain, Charlie), aged for just shy of two years in 30% new French oak, and it presents an interesting window into the 2007 vintage. There’s a part of me that thinks this vintage was revered so much because it was so warm and even, producing wines that were seriously delicious on release. For aging potential, I’m actually beginning to think of 07 as more of a medium-term ager than a really long-term ager (for long-term aging, I’d probably hold 08s and 10s and 11s).

What that means is that many of the 07s are just now beginning to display some of the bottle-aged tertiary notes that we prize in older bottles. Including this one, which starts off with a lovely, maturing nose of dried black cherry, mushroom, and leather. There’s a real dusty/earthy component as well, and what barrel notes remain impart a dusting of high-cacao chocolate onto the whole affair. I’m guessing this was quite primary in its youth, because the fruit is still quite rich here, but the earthy and leathery notes from the extra bottle age are now beginning to peek through as complements to the fruit. There’s still plenty of structure here, in the form of orange-peel acids and espresso/Kahlua tannins, so I’d put this early in its peak drinking window. The tannins are softening up nicely; this finishes on a bed of silk, long and luscious.

2007 Beresan Syrah

A blend of 60% Yellow Jacket (in the rocks) and 40% Candy Mountain, aged for 21 months in French oak (30% new), this catches the eye immediately with its glass-staining brick-red color. There was clearly no problem with color extraction in 07. Then we hit the complex nose, which combines blackberry fruit, floral lavender topnotes, briny Kalamata olives, and some dark-and-brooding subtleties of tar and espresso. In the mouth, this is a big, rich, full-throttle Syrah; a mouthful of brambly berries (rasp- and black-) and peppered bacon. The bottle age has softened up the edges, but this remains a richly-fruited powerhouse.

While the Merlot likely has another decade of interesting evolution ahead, the Syrah is closer to peak right now, and I’d drink these all up within the next 3-5 years.

These were always small production (about 200 cases of Merlot, about 150 of Syrah), and the little hidden-treasure parcels were smaller still. For now, we have dibs, but I’m guessing these will eventually be sold to other accounts here in Seattle. First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and 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.

2009 Paitin di Pasquero-Elia Barbaresco “Sori Paitin”

February 24, 2014

Hello friends. Price drop today on a category that doesn’t see very many price drops: single-vineyard Barbaresco:

Wine Advocate (Antonio Galloni): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

This is not our first Paitin offer. About a year ago we wrote about their 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo, and I believe it’s that 2010 vintage that is behind today’s price drop. There’s huge interest in 2010 Piedmont, since it was the first truly cool-and-wet vintage of the new millennium, defying recent trends towards warming. It didn’t hurt that Wine Advocate recently gave the 2010 vintage in Barbaresco 95pts (regional vintage scores; a proxy’s proxy if ever there was one). With 2010 Barberschi (Barbarescos) and Baroli (Barolos) beginning to hit the shores, importers are looking to blow through their remaining stocks of 09s.

So, whither 2009?

Well, 2009 was a warm year in the Piedmont, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good strategy, when exploring wine categories, to focus first on warmer vintages, because they tend to push the fast forward button on the aging curve. While many Barbareschi hit their stride 15-25 years past vintage, warmer years like 2009 produce earlier peak-drinking windows.

As much as we all love Barbaresco, they can be frustrating wines, because they can be so damned unapproachable in their youth. Not this one. No need to cellar endlessly. Galloni says to hold until 2017, but between you and me, this can be popped right now.

Give it a few hours open (or better yet, a few hours in the decanter), and you’ll find expressive, drinkable Barbaresco, a rare treat. It starts with a nose reminiscent of an autumn trail in the woods: haunting floral and woodsmoke aromatics lifted above crepuscular leafy notes and cherry fruit and menthol. In the mouth, there’s that alluring combination of Barbersco’s chewy earthiness alongside the rich fruit of the warmer vintage. I want a big simmering pot of polenta. I want Italian sausages and blistered cherry tomatoes. I want to combine them all and pour a big glass of this. And then maybe take a long nap (fatherhood has increased the appeal of naps to near-Nirvanic levels).

First come first served up to 12 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.

2014 Leonetti Spring Release

February 23, 2014

Hello friends. Today we have one of our annual Full Pull rites: our offering of Leonetti’s new releases. Deep in the grey-black gloom of February, it’s a bud pushing through cold earth: a clear indication that spring is on the ascendancy.

It’s one of my favorite offerings to write each year. After all, it isn’t every day that you get to write about the grand dame of the Walla Walla Valley, the founding winery in that AVA that quickly became one of Washington’s few cult producers.

Founded in 1978 by Gary Figgins, Leonetti rapidly established a reputation as one of Washington’s top Cabernet and Merlot producers, helped along by their 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon being recognized as best in nation in a Wine & Spirits Magazine blind tasting. Brisk mailing list sales followed, and soon thereafter, the mailing list closed and the waiting list opened.

Currently it’s the second generation helming the winery, in the form of Chris Figgins. Chris has subtly shifted the emphasis of the winery towards its estate vineyards in the past few years, and the results have been outstanding. I have also been lucky enough to taste vintages of Leonetti wines from the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as plenty of more recent vintages. These are wines that can age in profoundly beautiful directions (if you can resist their youthful charms). The transition to Leonetti’s second generation is just about complete, and the future for this Mt. Rushmore-level Washington winery looks bright indeed.

Now, a quick logistics reminder: This is a pre-release offering, where I’m sending the offering before I know my allocations. Using this model allows us to advocate on behalf of our list for allocations that most accurately reflect our overall demand. The flip side is: some pre-release offerings turn out to be mirage wines: wines where we end up receiving smaller-than-expected allocations and then need to under-allocate.

As far as timing goes, we should be able to send out allocation notices in about a month (orders will remain Pending until then), and the wines should arrive at the warehouse in late March. Now let’s dig into them:

2012 Leonetti Merlot

First produced in 1981, this Merlot (with 8% Cab, 6% Cab Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) now comes from Leonetti’s estate Mill Creek Upland and Loess and Old Block Vineyards, rounded out with fruit from the old block at Seven Hills. No reviews yet for the 2012, but the 2008 received 96pts Paul Gregutt (Wine Enthusiast), the 2009 94pts Gregutt, the 2010 95pts Gregutt, the 2011 93pts Gregutt.

Winery tasting notes: “The 2012 Merlot is one of my favorite vintages for Merlot – ranking along ‘08, ‘05, and ‘98. The wine is dark and saturated. In the glass, the wine explodes with an ethereal, complex nose of cinnamon, plum, pomegranate, clove, and a hint of spring pine forest. On the palate, the wine has delicious fresh ripe fruit, reminiscent of berry pie filling. Incredible richness but with a stunning levity that lifts. A dead ringer for some of the finest Pomerol I have ever tasted. Quite simply an incredibly sexy, hedonistic wine.”

2011 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon

First produced in Leonetti’s inaugural vintage – 1978 – this 2011 marks the 34th consecutive vintage of Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon. This comes from Mill Creek Upland Estate Vineyard, Loess Estate Vineyard, and Seven Hills Vineyard old block. The blend includes 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 5% Malbec. No reviews yet for the 2011, but the 2008 received 98pts Gregutt (and the #3 position on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 of 2011) and 94pts Stephen Tanzer (Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar), the 2009 97pts Gregutt, and the 2010 97+pts Jeb Dunnuck (Wine Advocate) and 95(+?)pts Tanzer.

Winery tasting notes: “Poured initially out of the bottle, the ‘11 Cab presents dark black fruit, cedar, and classic Left bank Bordeaux nose of fruit, saddle leather, and earth. It’s sizably masculine mouthfeel has great length. Sweet fruit and gorgeously balanced. I think this wine has amazing cellaring capabilities and will reward the patient drinker.”

2011 Leonetti Sangiovese

Introduced in 1995, with average vine age of about 17 years, this is lower-production, with levels usually at about one quarter of the Cabernet. Sourced from Mill Creek Upland (one of Leonetti’s estate sites) along with Seven Hills, this has 13% Syrah blended in and is aged for 20 months in a combination of new French oak puncheons and neutral French oak botti. No reviews yet for the 2011, but the 2009 received 94pts Gregutt and the 2010 93(+?)pts Tanzer and 93pts Gregutt.

Winery tasting notes: “Beautiful ruby color. Lovely nose of tart cherry, fresh crushed strawberries, lanolin and mixed spring florals. Its deeply satisfyingly rich palette somehow defies the vintage and is balanced by a deft streak of acid and ultra fine-grained soft tannin. The harmonious flavors linger forever on the palate. I believe this wine is closest in style to a fine vintage Brunello we’ve accomplished.”

2011 Leonetti Reserve

While they had produced Reserve Cabernets before 2000, it was at the millennial turn that Leonetti dropped the varietal designation on their Reserve, freeing them to create a Bordeaux blend in whatever proportions would craft the finest wine possible. In 2010, that blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 21% Merlot, rounded out with 7% each Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Vineyards again include Mill Creek Upland, Loess, and Seven Hills, along with Leonetti Old Block. No reviews yet for the 2011, but the 2008 received 97pts Jay Miller (Wine Advocate) and 96pts Gregutt (also a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Cellar Selections of 2011), the 2009 95pts David Schildknecht (Wine Adovcate) and 94pts Gregutt and Tanzer, the 2010 a game-changing/eye-popping 100pts Jeb Dunnuck (Wine Adovcate), as well as 95pts Gregutt.

Winery tasting notes: “Dark, saturated, and gorgeous. Intoxicating nose of fresh flowers, dark red fruit, and a glorious citrus note – which we are rarely able to capture in our wines. There is also a tiny sprinkling of cedar shavings, Crème de cassis, and crushed blackcurrant. Unbelievably vibrant and focused. I’m just in love with this wine. Palate is plush and long with a core of sweetness. Respecting the coolness of the vintage, the acidity is deliciously bright and the tannin low.”

Please limit order requests to 12 Cabernet, 6 Merlot, 6 Reserve, and 2 Sangiovese, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. I want to emphasize again that we have no guaranteed allocations on these wines but will certainly do our best to secure parcels that reflect the overall demand of our list. If all goes according to schedule, the wines should arrive at the warehouse in late March (orders will remain Pending until then), and at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Two from Bila-Haut (Chapoutier)

February 21, 2014

Hello friends. For many years, the Cotes du Roussillon has pumped out vast quantities of cheap, utterly forgettable plonk. It’s a region at the extreme end of southeast France (location map here), considerably closer to Barcelona (about 2 hours away) than to Paris (more like 7 hours).

Recently, however, the region has begun to develop a reputation as a strong source for value, especially if you know the producers to seek out. And at the vanguard of the quality movement in this region was none other than Michel Chapoutier.

Yes, the same Chapoutier of multiple 100pt (Robert Parker) wines from the northern Rhone. Here’s an excerpt from one of Parker’s introductions to Chapoutier in Wine Advocate:
So when Chapoutier expanded his operations to the Roussillon in the early ‘90s, it was a big deal for the region. Today we have Chapoutier’s entry-level white and red from this project, called Bila-Haut.

2012 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Cotes du Roussillon Blanc

Wine Advocate (David Schildknecht): “($15); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

Man, nobody write tasting notes quite like Schildknecht! But for a reviewer not known for throwing around points lightly, this is a strong review indeed. It is an undeniably compelling oddball, this wine, a blend of Grenaches Blanc and Gris with Macabeo, a grape much better known as a source of Spanish Cava than anything else. Like I said, we’re pretty damned close to Barcelona here, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised! Regardless, I love this as a plump, mineral tinged mouthful of white. There’s a flinty/smoky quality reminiscent of Chablis, but the flavor profile is otherwise quite different, a mix of citrus (lime, grapefruit) and quinine and plenty of good minerality. The fleshy texture makes clear that this can only have come from a sunny part of the world like the Cotes de Roussillon.

2012 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Cotes du Roussillon Rouge

It used to be no problem to source this wine, but then the same vintage (2010 I believe) landed on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list and got a big score on a barrel sample from Parker, and the sourcing has since become a bit more competitive.

It’s a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan, from Chapoutier’s vineyards, sites that combine, in his words, “black and brown schist to give the wine a solar touch, gneiss for minerality and freshness, limestone and chalk for strength and balance.” It starts with a nose that combines blackberry fruit with smoke notes and great savory fungal notes. The palate is rich and rustic in turn, which could be the catch phrase for good Roussillon as far as I’m concerned. It’s a swirling stew of ripe fruit and appetizing savories (porcini, black olive) and good old-world earthiness. One of those bottles where I want to pour half into a braising pot and drink the other half myself. With or without a glass.

For those interested in the Chapoutier house style applied to a very different growing region for Rhone varieties, this is not to be missed. And if you couldn’t care less about the Chapoutier house style, it’s still an awfully appealing late-winter/early-spring house red.

First come first served up to 24 bottles of the Rouge. For the Blanc, please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. 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 Cadence

February 19, 2014

Hello friends. The cool 2010 and 2011 vintages were put on this earth, I believe, specifically for Ben Smith to make wines at Cadence. Those vintages are just so well suited to the house style (textural elegance, carefully-tended structure, finely-tuned balance) of the man who, according to Stephen Tanzer, makes “some of Washington’s most Bordeaux-like wines.”

Today we have the two wines from Ben’s estate Cara Mia vineyard on Red Mountain (location here). This site, well up Red Mountain, contains a mix of sandy loam (normal for Red Mountain) and a mishmash of cobblestones and clay (much less common on Red Mountain). It was planted in 2004, so we’re starting to see the results of the vines digging deeper into the fascinating soils of the site.

For lovers of terroir expression in general, and Red Mountain terroir in particular, these are wines from a man dedicated to delivering sense of place in the glass, and from a vintage that gave him the raw materials to do just that. No surprise, then, that lovers of this style have been swooning over these wines (including both wines receiving Sean Sullivan’s highest rating):

2010 Cadence “Bel Canto” Cara Mia Vineyard

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).”

International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

So beautifully Washington Cab Franc, with its evocative mix of dried flowers and earth and poblano pepper to go with Merlot’s red cherry fruit. Savory in the mouth, and earthy, with perfectly integrated oak that just melts into the wine. The whole thing is just a textural marvel. It’s there in Sullivan’s notes (“seamless… beautifully integrated tannins”); it’s there in Tanzer’s notes (“manages to be wonderfully silky and taut at the same time, thick yet weightless”). It’s certainly there in my notes, where I’m trying to make sense of how a wine that conveys such ethereal lightness can also bring such intensity. Just beautiful, pinpoint-precise juice, with all the stuffing to age for years and years. All of us who have paid attention to Bel Canto over the years (arguably the queen of the Cadence lineup in terms of elegance) had high expectations after seeing what the 2010 harvest looked like. Even with those high expectations, Ben over-delivers here.

2010 Cadence “Camerata” Cara Mia Vineyard

And what a year for Camerata as well. Cabernet-dominated (more than three quarters of the blend), it is in many ways a mirror image of Bel Canto, its beauty coming from its alluring darkness. Everything about this is black, with notes of blackcurrant, asphalt, and minerals graphitic and ferrous. It’s real four-corner Cabernet, hitting fruit and earth and herb and barrel in turn. Easily confused with left-bank Bordeaux from a good year, this is a classic in the making and a total brooder right now. Give it a lengthy decant if opening anytime soon.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($60); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).”

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

First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and 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.

Two from Domaine du Colombier

February 17, 2014

Hello friends. It has been a few years since the lovely Northern Rhone wines of Domaine du Colombier have been in the Seattle market. When they landed in Seattle recently, we asked for a sample of their Crozes-Hermitage immediately, and loved it enough that we did something we don’t usually do: we asked to pre-purchase (prior to the offer going out) the entire lot that had been imported.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to be mega-greedy, as one other wise buyer also grabbed a handful of cases (if we sell out, a dinner at Sitka & Spruce is your other option to taste this wine). To make up for it, our importer friends at Cavatappi offered us a tiny bonus parcel of a wine I didn’t even know had made it to Seattle: Colombier’s Hermitage.

We’re offering both wines today, and both wines arrived in the warehouse last week, so no delayed gratification necessary.

2011 Domaine du Colombier Crozes-Hermitage

Colombier was founded in 1929, and for most of their existence sold their fruit to negociants. Their biggest customer was none other than Guigal. Then in 1992, the family decided to begin estate-bottling their own wines, and since then, they’ve risen to become one of the great under-the-radar estates of the region.

Well, mostly under the radar. Here’s Robert Parker himself introducing the estate in late 2012: Wine Advocate (Robert Parker): “Domaine du Colombier is one of the most underrated estates in the Northern Rhone. Proprietor Viale merits more attention from wine writers, critics, bloggers, etc. given the quality of wines he is producing. Moreover, this is one of the few family-owned domaines producing Hermitage, not to mention their splendid Crozes-Hermitage. 2010 and 2011 are two more top vintages to add to the brilliant trilogy of 2009s they produced.”

As you can see on the map, Crozes-Hermitage is an area in the crook of the neck made by the confluence of the Rhone and Isere rivers. While up to 15% Marsanne and Roussanne are allowed in red Crozes, this is 100% Syrah, done whole-cluster and foot-stomped, and given long, cool fermentations. It kicks off with a killer nose that reminded me of nothing more than steak au poivre, with meat, smoky notes, and black pepper complementing the blackberry fruit. There’s more than a whiff of the sauvage here, leaving no doubt that this was done whole-cluster. In the mouth, the savory (demi-glace) notes continue in this rich, lightly funky, overtly delicious Syrah. The woodsmoke elements on the nose and palate (there’s very little new oak used here – it’s mostly concrete and big old demi-muids – so I suspect it’s just varietal character expressed through this terroir) evoked autumn for me, but I’d drink this all year long.

At its $30 release price, it was still a good value. I’m thrilled that we’re able to offer it a few ticks below that, and I only wish we had more.

2010 Domaine du Colombier Hermitage

Hermitage is one of the true beating hearts of Syrah in the world. A tiny AOC (345 acres) contained on a single hill (location here), it produces wines that are as difficult to source as they are hauntingly beautiful.

This one starts with a knockout nose, all complexity with violets and blue fruits and smoke and bacon and coffee and loamy earth. The list goes on and on. Already a palate-stainer, it has a lovely sense of polish and class but is clearly old-world, both for its insistent earthen/mineral tones and for its powerfully chewy tannin structure. The best is yet to come for this one.

Wine Advocate (Robert Parker): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96pts.”

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles of Crozes and 2 bottles of Hermitage, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines are already in the warehouse and are ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.