Two 2011s from Avennia

Hello friends. Welcome to spring release season! This period (which admittedly starts early enough now that calling it spring is seriously pushing our climatological luck), runs from now through May(ish), and it contains some of the most beautiful wines released in Washington each year.

These also tend to be highly allocated wines, which makes this a good time to remind our list members of our policy: Our allocations favor breadth over depth, so that everyone gets one bottle before anyone gets two. And our formula for prioritizing allocations includes overall orders, frequency of orders, recency of orders, and list tenure, among other factors; it’s like the BCS formula, only less scrutable.

Now then, are you wondering who holds the pole position for first spring release of the season? That would be none other than buzzy-as-it-gets Avennia.

I wrote about Avennia for the January issue of Seattle Magazine, suggesting that the winery seems fast-tracked for cult-wine status, closed mailing lists, breathless anticipation of new releases, etc.

First came the critical praise after their initial set of releases: From Stephen Tanzer (Tanzer’s IWC) “This was the best set of new wines I tasted in Washington in July, but given their pedigree this should not come as a surprise.” Then from David Schildknecht (Wine Advocate): “…one ought to sign up for some [Avennia wine] immediately if they have not all already been spoken for, because this is one auspicious debut!”

Then folks actually got to taste the wines and discover what the fuss was about. Namely, a winery launched with an intact house style already on display. For that Seattle Mag article, I got a great quote from winemaker Chris Peterson about Avennia’s style: “One thing I always admired about French wines is the balance between fruit and non-fruit character. So I had this vision that we could make Washington wines that portrayed this balance, but would still unmistakably be Washington.” In other words, he wanted a house style that would retain the character of Washington’s terroir and yet also embrace a measure of ribald earthiness more commonly seen in European bottles.

It’s a style that our list members have found deeply appealing, and I’m thrilled to kick off our spring release season with two more wines from this dynamo of a winery:

2011 Avennia “Gravura”

A right bank blend, and specifically an homage to Graves, this blends 63% Cabernet Sauvignon with 29% Merlot and 8% Cab Franc. Check out the impeccable list of vineyards. The Cabernet comes from Angela’s (the new Efeste site on Red Mountain managed by Dick Boushey), Red Willow, and Dionysus; the Merlot from Klipsun and Red Willow; the Franc from Bacchus. That is a lot of old-vine material for the tariff.

Raised in 50% new French oak for just shy of two years, it presents a deep dark nose of crème de cassis, smoky black cherry, and violets, all dusted with cocoa powder. As usual with Avennia, it’s the sheer prettiness that wins you over, the incipient elegance. Considering the cooler vintage, there is impressive richness here to go with the hallmarks of 2011: a bright acid spine and an undeniable loamy earthiness. Texturally, I love how this one picks up steam across the palate, rolling into a powerful, chewy finish, with medium-grained tannins redolent of cherry tea. This has balance and structure to burn, and should age exceptionally well.

Jeb Dunnuck reviewed samples from barrel. His full notes and final scores will be released sometime later this year. Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]”

2011 Avennia “Sestina”

In many ways Avennia’s flagship wine, this is their smallest-production red, at just 250 cases. It is made up of 50% 1972-planted Bacchus Cab, 22% 1985-planted Red Willow Cab, 19% 1985-planted Red Willow Merlot, and 9% 1998-planted Bacchus Cab Franc; just wildly good old-vine material, and it shows.

This gets a bit more new wood (70%) than Gravura, and it adds a smoky note to the earthy aromas here, conveying something like peat to go with blackberry fruit. The palate is dark-hearted and serious, with notes of blackcurrant and espresso streaked with tar and a cooling sense of graphite minerality. This is a burly mouthful, with muscular structure and serious back-end chew. Clearly built for the long haul, it’s all tightly wound suaveness today, and I’d suggest a sturdy decant if you’re planning on opening it in the next year or two. This will deliver serious beauty for those of us with patience.

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

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you like), 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.

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