2007 Full Pull & Friends CVBDX

May 30, 2014

Hello friends. I’m not sure any Full Pull & Friends bottling has been more popular than our inaugural offer. So I think many of our list members will be happy to hear that today’s FP&F offer comes from that same winery (let’s call them “Winery Alpha” going forward), and it too comes from the glorious 2007 vintage:

Now, a few quick reminders on the FP&F project:

Reminder #1: The Concept
This is far from an original concept. For generations, merchant-negociants in Europe, in addition to buying finished bottles, have purchased juice and/or grapes for their own labels. And every time I’m in northwest wine country, I’m tasting not just finished bottles but plenty of juice from barrel as well. The problem, until recently, was that we simply didn’t meet the volume requirements necessary to commit to a full barrel, or two barrels, or three or four. But in the past year, Full Pull has reached critical mass to where we can pursue these remarkable opportunities.

Reminder #2: The Name
Full Pull & Friends. Two clauses. The first (Full Pull) matters because this is juice that we believe in, that we *want* to put our name on, that we feel represents extraordinary value for our list members. The second (Friends) represents our wonderful list members, whose support of Full Pull has allowed us to reach the point where negociant wines were even possible, as well as our partner winemakers, who love seeing their carefully-tended juice get bottled on its own and offered to folks who they know to be enthusiastic about Washington wine. Oh, and CVBDX? That’s just shorthand for a Columbia Valley Bordeaux blend.

Reminder #3: The Winery
In some cases, we’ll be able to include the name of the winery involved, and in others (like today’s offer) we won’t. I understand the wineries that don’t want their names revealed. They have brand equity to protect, and they don’t want to see their name splashed on a bottle that costs less than half of their own. What I can say is: my plan continues to be to only work with wineries that are already popular with our list members, wineries with whom Full Pull has a long relationship. For example, we first started working with this winery partner in early 2010, and we’ve offered a grand total of 33 of their wines.

This wine comes from perhaps the best vintage of the past decade in Washington, and it spent a good long time in French oak, about 50% new. The fruit comes from outstanding vineyards (which by agreement must remain nameless), and it is a blend of 36% Cab Franc, 34% Merlot, 18% Petit Verdot and 12% Malbec.

I think those of you who liked the 07 FP&F Cabernet are going to dig this bottle as well; the two are stylistically similar. This begins with a piercing nose filled with layer upon layer of fruit: dried cherry, apricot, guava, blackberry. Some of the fruit is fresh and some is dried, sign of a wine beginning to move into a more mature phase. The densely-layered fruit continues on the palate, now complicated by soil notes and dusted with integrated oak flavors of cocoa powder and espresso. The palate is rich, seamless, with a plump mid-palate transitioning into a long, long finish full of softening, fine-grained, but still very much present tannin. It’s a silky, balanced, openly delicious bottle. It’s also throwing some sediment, so decanting or careful pouring would be a good idea here.

One more point worth remembering: this is a special bottle, exclusive to our list members. Outside of the Full Pull list (and nefarious list members selling through secondary channels, but we don’t have any of those, do we?), there is no place else to source these. They are one-off treats for our list members, and in some ways, by our list members. Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine is in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2011 Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard

May 28, 2014

Hello friends. Our Vast Network of Wine Spies™ strikes again!

This is a wine that I recently tasted, loved, and slotted into a late June/early July offering. But then, via a complicated set of encryption and, yes, de-encryption, I learned that the wine is set to receive a blistering (as in good) 94pt review from Paul Gregutt in the August issue of Wine Enthusiast.

Now when I heard this, I slapped my spy across the face with a white glove. “Don’t you lie to me, dammit!” I spat. “There are no Washington reviews in the August Wine Enthusiast. What kind of game are you playing?!”

“Please, please, I’m not lying,” he/she replied. “The vineyard is in the Oregon section of the Walla Walla Valley, so it gets published with Enthusiast’s Oregon reviews in August.”

“Oh. Um. Erm. Sorry about that.”

Yes, this is classy, classy, Seven Hills Vineyard juice made by the classy, classy Seven Hills Winery team. This is becoming a stalwart Washington (I mean Oregon! I mean Walla Walla) Cabernet. We’ve offered several vintages, and it is a singular beauty, all litheness and grace.

Seven Hills Winery has become a Full Pull list favorite, based in large part on Casey McClellan’s clear, dedicated house style: acid-driven, texturally elegant, long-lived. Casey deserves admiration for sticking with that style as fashion trends have waxed and waned. In the early 2000s, he held steady as trends towards alcohol and oak ruled the day. Casey is a grower’s winemaker, well-loved by vineyard owners and vineyard managers, because he picks fruit early and is single-mindedly dedicated to expressing the terroir of their sites.

A vintage like 2011 plays directly into Casey’s house style. This bottling is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from the old (1980s-planted) blocks at Seven Hills (location here), the queen of the Walla Walla Valley. It spent about two years in French oak, 40% new, and clocks in at 13.7% listed alc.

Casey McClellan has been working with these grapes for many years, and that comfort level shows. This Cabernet revels in the pretty side of the grape, offering soaring high-toned violet and lilac notes above a core of beautiful cassis and cherry fruit. The palate is a marvel of purity and elegance, with loads of inner mouth perfume, and plenty of structure in the form of both blood-orange acids and cherry-pit tannins. Wines like this from Casey have proven to be immortal agers, with all components in perfect harmony, evolving together. There’s intensity to burn, with nary a shred of excess weight. Wonderful.

Oh, and even before PaulG’s review appears in August, this wine already has two strong reviews:

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19.5/20pts.”

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.

Two 2012s from Purple Star

May 25, 2014

Hello friends. Our list members can’t seem to get enough of Kyle Johnson’s winemaking. Kyle was the winemaker for the dearly-departed Olsen Estates (we offered plenty of those), and he also makes the wines for the well-loved For A Song wines (we’ve offered plenty of those, too).

But that’s not all.

Kyle also has his own label, called Purple Star, and a recent tasting through this lineup revealed a portfolio studded with wonderful values. And that seems to be Kyle’s calling card, doesn’t it? The ability to craft wines with terrific value for the money.

Let’s dive into the lineup today with two of Kyle’s wines: one red and one white.

2012 Purple Star Cabernet Sauvignon

Yet another data point indicating that 2012 is a phenomenal vintage for value Cabernet. After serious challenges achieving ripeness at the low end of the price point spectrum for Cabernets in cooler 2010 and 2011, 2012 comes to us like a panacea.

This has 2% Petit Verdot in the mix, and it comes predominantly (73%) from a 1996-planted vineyard called Nine Canyon, a site farmed by Scott Williams (of Kiona fame) that sits just outside the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. There is also a sold whack (16%) of fruit from Kiona Heart of the Hill on Red Mountain, a spot whose Cabernet does not usually end up in bottles at this price point. The whole thing was aged for fifteen months in French oak, a mere 6% new, and it clocks in at 14.5% listed alc.

The aromatics are complex for this tariff, offering wonderful savory notes (beetroot especially, also tarragon and bay leaf and loamy earth) to go with the cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Of course with such a low % of new wood there’s virtually no overt oak influence on the aromas or flavors. In the mouth, what was noticeable right away was how polished the tannins are for Cabernet at this price point. It’s a silky mouthful that balances fruit and earth elements beautifully. As a midweek Cabernet, this is difficult to top, with plenty of delicious factor for the task but with sneaky-good, head-turning nuance.

2012 Purple Star Sauvignon Blanc

Back in April, we offered two Kyle-produced 2012 white wines from Caliche Lake Vineyard in the new Ancient Lakes AVA. Those were a Chardonnay and a Riesling, both bottled under the For A Song label, and they’ve been popular reorder targets since. No surprise, I suppose; this area (home to the famous Evergreen Vineyard) and its caliche/limestone soils is about as good as it gets in Washington for white wines.

To complete the trifecta, today we have Kyle’s Sauvignon Blanc from the same vineyard, this time bottled under Purple Star. It was done entirely in stainless steel, and it’s 100% Sauvignon Blanc, 100% from Caliche Lake. Chalky minerals come screaming through on the nose, along with so much citric fruit that you feel like you can positively smell the acid spine. But 2012 was a warm/normal year, and there’s surprisingly plush peach fruit to complement that nervy acid/mineral spine. Three months on the lees fleshed out the mid-palate, giving this wine a nice creamy bridge from attack to mouthwatering finish. Again a fine value and a good candidate as a house white or for summer parties and weddings.

First come first served up to 24 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.

2012 Famille Bieler “Lou Bar Rou”

May 23, 2014

Hello friends. Lou is back!

Well, sort of.

Today we have a new Lou, the follow up to last summer’s 2011 Lou Ven Tou, which remains the most popular import wine we’ve ever offered:

Our tariff has gone up by a buck (bummer), but I think you’ll agree that we’re pretty damned competitive price-wise on Lou nationally. Also, this is not really the same wine. It really is a new Lou. Let’s dig into it.

Now, Charles Bieler is no stranger to Washingtonians. He has been partnered with Charles Smith of K Vintners fame since 2010 in the Charles & Charles label. You know: these guys.

But before he got involved making wine in our fair state, M. Bieler was working with his father Philippe on Chateau Routas in Provence. Founded by Philippe in 1992, the Chateau was sold in 2005, and soon after the sale of Routas, Bieler Pere et Fils was founded. That label has made a killing mostly through its Provence Rosé, but they have also introduced a new project: the Lous.

Lou Ven Tou was a play on the pronunciation of Le Ventoux, the AOC where both wines come from. And Lou Bar Rou is a similar play on Le Barroux, the town that is the entire source of today’s wine. Here is its location. What a spot! You can see that we’re in the same neighborhood as Gigondas and Vacqueyras, appellations that command considerably higher prices than humble AOC Ventoux.

This is also a mountainous region, where ancient Triassic limestone has pushed up into the subsoils. The Bieler family knows how to spot value, and they purchased the vineyard that goes into this Lou in 2007, old vines that sit on those ancient soils, at elevations of 1500 feet. This part of the world is Grenache country, and that dominates Lou, at 60% of the blend, rounded out with 25% Syrah, 13% Cinsault, and 2% Carignan.

Another feature that Lou Bar Rou shares with Lou Ven Tou is the classy packaging, which easily belies the price point (isn’t it nice to have an inexpensive bottle that looks *and* tastes expensive to bring to other people’s parties?). Also, like Lou #1, Lou #2 was raised entirely in concrete, so it’s all purity of Provencal fruit that we get here. That expresses itself in a mix of ripe raspberry fruit, briny green olives, and hot-rock minerality. There are streaks of smoked meat and garrigue as well; again this is just way more complexity than we have any right to expect at this tariff. This is a fleshy, openly delicious bottle, summer BBQ wine if there ever was one. But man, put this into a blind tasting, and dollars to donuts that more than one pro would call this out as Gigondas. I don’t know what magic the Bielers are working, but this is two vintages in a row where they’ve made ringers for their more expensive neighbors.

Now unlike last year, this one is unfortunately much more limited, and likely won’t be reoffered or available for reorder. So let’s get now while the getting’s good. 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.

2011 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley

May 21, 2014

Hello friends. I have long admired the pithiness of the “Winery” section of Abeja’s website. It currently contains two sentences: “Our winery is housed in what was once the mule and horse barn of the old Kibler Farm. We are a very small team passionately dedicated to quality, and this is where our pursuit of extraordinary Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon begins.”

While they produce a whole host of other delicious wines, at Abeja Cabernet is king. Their Columbia Valley bottling is a benchmark for Washington Cabernet Sauvignon. We’ve been lucky enough to offer every vintage released in Full Pull’s existence – the 2007 through the 2010 – and today we’re back with the latest:

Now some quick reminders on the Abeja story: It was during his time as a pre-vet at Oregon State University that John Abbott happened upon sensory evaluation work in the Food Sciences department. Soon after, he traded in ungulates for grapes, transferring to Fresno State’s Viticulture and Enology Program. After post-grad stints in Napa making Cab at Pine Ridge and Pinot Noir at Acacia, he moved to Washington in 1994 to make wine from the nascent Canoe Ridge Vineyard. He remained at Canoe Ridge, making outstanding wines (the Merlots from this site were especially well-received) until 2002, when he helped launch Abeja.

The winery quickly developed a sterling reputation for its Cabernet Sauvignon, and its mailing list has been closed for years now, one of only a handful of Washington wineries with closed lists (here’s a link to their waiting list). Their Columbia Valley Cab is consistently beautiful, displaying purity, depth of fruit character, and real suppleness in the mouth. While I should know better, I find these Cabernets irresistible in their youth. Yes, aging will bring out subtle pleasures, but man oh man do these shine with vibrancy when they’re young.

This 2011 comes from Abeja’s outstanding Heather Hill Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, along with three of the Sagemoor Farms family of vineyards (Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau) and Kiona Heart of the Hill on Red Mountain. The sources are as good as it gets for Cabernet. The blend includes 14% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot, and it spent 22 months in 60% new French oak. Listed alc is 14.5%.

It is true four-corner Cabernet, hitting notes of fruit/flower (cassis, blackberry, violet), earth (good clean soil), herb/savory (beetroot, mint), and barrel (coffee, high-cacao chocolate). And as is the norm with Abeja, it’s a textural marvel. Beginning with a soft entry, moving into a creamy mid-palate, it then transitions silkily/seamlessly into a long finish, with just the right amount of Cabernet chew. All the elements are in place. All the elements are precisely balanced. In a vintage where it was difficult to make fine Cabernet, this is a real standout among the ’11 Cabs I’ve tasted.

No reviews yet for this wine, and it’ll likely be all gone before a single review is published. 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.

Two from Cavatappi

May 19, 2014

Hello friends. We have offered many Cavatappi wines since Full Pull’s inception, and that’s no accident. It’s a terrific fit for our model: a 27-year-old Washington winery that few have heard of, started by a former Italian restaurateur and focusing on Italian varietals.

Although Peter Dow’s project has been around for more than 25 years, this is still an insider winery. Cavatappi flies under the radar in large part because their wines are much more likely to show up in restaurants than at retail. And perhaps that makes sense, since Cavatappi’s origins are deeply tied to the restaurant world.

Back in 1984, Peter Dow was the chef/owner of Cafe Juanita, a Kirkland restaurant featuring the cuisine of Northern Italy. After visiting the region himself, Peter was inspired by the number of restaurants in the Piedmont that were making their own house wine, and so he set about developing a winery in the cellar of his restaurant. Because there were so few of the Italian varietals planted in Washington at the time, Peter also had to develop partnerships with growers to put those vines into the ground (growers like Dick Boushey of Boushey Vineyard and Mike Sauer of Red Willow).

In its early years, Cavatappi sold all its wine through Cafe Juanita, but over time, they began allocating small portions of the wine for sales purposes. Most of that went to restaurants, as chefs and sommeliers quickly recognized that Peter was making wine intended for drinking with food. By 2000, Peter had sold Cafe Juanita (it remains a well-loved restaurant in Kirkland), but Cavatappi lives on, with much of its production still landing on restaurant wine lists.

Today we have new vintages of the two flagship wines, one named for each of Peter’s daughters:

2008 Cavatappi Sangiovese “Molly’s Cuvee”

What a treat: Sangiovese at six years past vintage from two of the shining stars of the Yakima Valley: Boushey and Red Willow.

There’s never much new wood used here, so it’s the rich Sangio fruit on display, beginning with a nose of plum, star anise, golden raisin, and dried cherries, those last two giving some sense that this is a wine in the process of shedding youthful baby fat. On the palate, this is a big, rich mouthful, mixing dried black cherry fruit, fig, and espresso. Despite all the rich fruit, there’s something insistently earthy to this, and the finishing lick of tannin is redolent of angostura bitters, a perfect complement to the lovely fruit. Time in bottle has whittled away any rough edges from this wine’s youth. It’s drinking great right now.

2006 Cavatappi Nebbiolo “Maddalena” Red Willow Vineyard

Here is a real rarity: new-world Nebbiolo. While it’s impossible to replicate the fog of the Piedmont, Red Willow Vineyard has proven adept at producing a Nebbiolo that can at least be confused with a Langhe Nebbiolo, if not one of the big guns (Barolo, Barbaresco). Peter and Mike Sauer (the grower at Red Willow) did bury a bottle of Barolo beneath the vineyard block before planting it in 1984. Perhaps their juju was successful.

Right away, they’ve succeeded with the tar-and-roses nose of classic Nebbiolo, here intermingled with dried cherries, dried flowers, and tea leaves. As food wines go, there’s nothing like Nebbiolo, with its big citrus-pith acids and even bigger tannins. This is chewy, earthy, leathery; just calling out for a hearty Piemontese meal. It’s about as far from a cocktail wine as you can get, and it is an impressive version of a grape that rarely succeeds outside its ancestral home.

First come first served up to 12 bottles of each wine, 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 2012s from Kevin White

May 18, 2014

Hello friends. My word, do Kevin White’s wines cut through the clutter.

My schedule is a little wacky these days (yes, those of you who mentioned that having a baby would impact the parental schedules pretty much nailed it), with nearly all our tastings compressed to Thursdays. That can end up meaning trying about 30-40 wines over the course of the day (woe is me, I know). On a particular recent Thursday, Kevin came down to the warehouse to pour his new releases, and his was the final appointment of the day.

It didn’t matter.  (And no, I wasn’t drunk. At least… I don’t think I was).

This is commercial release number three for Kevin, and something special is happening here. If one strong vintage is a coincidence and two is a trend, what is three? A winery in the ascendancy?

Who knows how long Kevin will keep the prices of these wines in the $20s? The quality at play here certainly merits higher tags, but Kevin seems determined to offer exceptional value as he builds his brand, and I’m thrilled that our list members can continue to be the recipients of his efforts in that direction.

And of course the reason we get competitive allocations of these scarce wines at all is that Kevin himself was a long-time Full Pull list member. I remember way back in 2010, we talked about his potential winery project, and when he mentioned mentors like Jon Meuret (Maison Bleue), Hugh Shiels (DuBrul Vineyard), and Leroy Radford (Baer / Flying Dreams), I knew this was a project with a serious chance of success.

Kevin’s stated goal for the winery is “crafting traditional old-world style wines with complexity and balance that pair extraordinarily well with food,” and Kevin’s favorite wines come from Cote Rotie and Barolo, so that should give you a sense of the style and texture he’s after. If you’re looking for greater depth of detail about the winery, Sean Sullivan penned a terrific writeup in 2012.

Logistics-wise, we’re likely to only get one shot at these. They’re small production (279 cases and 196 cases), and I’m already getting pressure to place our order and release the leftovers to the gathering hordes. If possible, I’ll over-buy so that we have some availability for reorder, but I’d say the odds of that are less than 50/50.

Now each of our previous Kevin White offers included Sean Sullivan reviews. Unfortunately, the timing isn’t going to work out this year, but I actually had the pleasure of tasting Kevin’s wines with Mr. S., and to judge his body language, I’d say it’s safe to assume some strong reviews are forthcoming. But for now, you’ll have to trust my impressions alone:

2012 Kevin White Winery “La Fraternite”

This is a blend of 41% Grenache (Upland Vineyard), 40% Mourvedre (Olsen), and 19% Syrah (Olsen and Wallula), and Kevin expects the Frat to hew close to those 40/40/20 proportions going forward. It was raised in 20% new French oak for just shy of a year and clocks in at 14.5% listed alc.

After seeing the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages as his first two, it’s encouraging to see Kevin take a more middle-of-the-road vintage like 2012 and knock it out of the park. This begins with a seriously expressive nose, soaring florals (lilac, magnolia) lofted above a core of raspberry pastille. The nose is all springtime. And then the palate, a rich mouthful of brambly berry fruit mixed with savory notes of braised beef and roasted herb. A total palate-coater, this doesn’t lack for richness at all in this warmer vintage, and yet still manages to convey a live-wire sense of energy and a sneaky sense of wildness (the Mourvedre perhaps). Balanced, polished, expressive.

2012 Kevin White Winery “En Hommage”

En Hommage is going to be Kevin’s Syrah-based wine, here at 82% of the blend (Olsen, Wallula), rounded out with 15% Upland Grenache and 3% Olsen Mourvedre. Similar to the Frat, this sees 10 months in 20% new French oak, and this too clocks in at 14.5% listed alc.

No surprise, given the varietal breakdown, that this is the deeper, darker, more brooding of the two, offering aromas of boysenberry and blueberry fruit, violet, and silty earth. Texturally gorgeous, this is again a complete stainer of the palate, coating every nook and cranny with its violet-and-mineral goodness. There’s a prettiness in the mouth that you wouldn’t expect from the nose, a dark beauty. The overall package hangs together with impressive grace, especially at this price point. Classy, classy juice.

Last year we set request limits at 12 Frat/6 Homm, and max allocations ended up being (gulp) 4 Frat/2 Homm. That said, production is up a little from 2011, so let’s dance with this bear one more time. Please limit order requests to 12 bottles of La Fraternite and 6 bottles of En Hommage, 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.