Three from Tulpen Cellars

July 31, 2014

Hello friends. I’m sure many of our list members will be happy to see which winery we’re featuring today. It has been more than a year since we’ve had an offer for Kenny Hart’s wines from Tulpen Cellars, only because there has simply been no wine to sell. As long-time list members know, Kenny’s production levels are miniscule, and these wines tend to sell out quickly, especially once reviews get published. As far as I know, we’re the only current source for each of today’s wines west of the mountains.

A quick refresher for those of you new to the Tulpen story: Ken Hart is one of the premier growers in the Walla Walla Valley, a born farmer who also happens to be one of the most likeable gentlemen roaming that particular valley. He started Tulpen with Rick Trumbull (former Alaskan king crab fisherman, current sustainable vineyard/orchard consultant and king of compost tea) mostly because he figured taking on winemaking could only improve his winegrowing. But – no surprise – since Kenny is planting and growing some of the finest grapes in the valley, the wines turned out to be showstoppers.

Our first Tulpen offer was in May 2010, more than four years ago, and we’ve offered just about every Tulpen bottle produced since. It’s one of Full Pull’s relationships I’m most proud of: a great winery with some of the best dollar-for-dollar wines in the Walla Walla Valley and genuine, generous folks at the helm.

Today we have a trio of wines: two new vintages of old favorites, and one surprise; Tulpen’s first white wine. Let’s dive in:

2010 Tulpen Cellars Coalesence

That inaugural Tulpen offer back in 2010? That was the 2006 vintage of Coalesence, and we’ve offered every vintage since. It’s Kenny’s Bordeaux blend, and in 2010, it is Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy, at 73% of the blend. That Cab is a mix of Yellow Bird (location here) and Tokar (location here) vineyards, both in the buzzy, promising Mill Creek drainage of the Walla Walla Valley. The remainder is Yellow Bird Petit Verdot.

Just 125 cases of this, and it launches out of the glass with plum, violet, dried herb, and grilled bread. With time and air, that lovely floral note takes on more prominence. No surprise in a wine with this much PV; this one is all about power, with burly PV tannins adding a real sense of heft and toothsome quality to the palate. The richness and fruit intensity are impressive for the cool vintage. It stains the palate with its inky, purple, pollen-dusted fruit. The chewy texture cries out for a thick steak on the grill, and the overall impression is of a beautiful dark-hearted beast.

Sean Sullivan was kind enough to share pre-publication reviews for this wine and the Cabernet. Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).”

2010 Tulpen Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Dryland

This is the second vintage of one of the most exciting Cabernet projects happening in Washington right now. Kenny is among the vanguard of “dryland” (non-irrigated) farming in the valley. His focus is on the Mill Creek drainage, the area in the eastern part of the Walla Walla Valley where Mill Creek Road passes Abeja and continues climbing up into the foothills of the Blue Mountains. As the drainage gains elevation, the Blues start to wring moisture out of the atmosphere, so you also gain annual precipitation: just enough to support viticulture without added water.

This is a near-equal split of Tokar and Yellow Bird fruit, and it is singular Washington Cabernet as far as I’m concerned. The nose presents this great wild zesty dusty brambly thing that gets the blood pumping. The dustiness especially (which continues onto the palate) evokes nothing so much as a Rutherford cult wine. With redcurrant and red cherry fruit to balance the dusty/earthy elements, and with a high line of eucalyptus, the palate profile is exotic, glamorous, delicious. The balance is pinpoint as well, with just the right amount of cool-vintage acidity, just the right amount of ripeness (14.5% listed alc) and Cabernet tannic chew. All the components harmonize beautifully, and while this is a fascinating wine to drink now, I suspect its best days are still ahead of it. Just 100 cases produced.

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

2012 Tulpen Cellars Vino Blanc Los Oidos Vineyard

Tulpen’s first white; how exciting! Given Kenny’s penchant for white Burgundy, I would have guessed he’d make a Chardonnay. Instead he’s gone the white Rhone route, with a blend of 45% Marsanne, 33% Roussanne, 11% Viognier, 9% Picpoul, and 2% Grenache Blanc. It’s essentially a field blend, as all the grapes were harvested from Los Oidos Vineyard on the same day and were then cofermented together and aged in 100% new French oak. Total production is 100 cases.

This is a newer vineyard, 15 acres planted in 2009 in the foothills of the Blue Mountains at 1100’, in between Les Collines and Morrison Lane (two outstanding vineyards). It’s mostly planted to red varieties, but it’ll be a few years before we see those wines. In the meantime, we have this lovely white, which begins with a nose of almond and walnut, nectarine and orange, and lovely Viognier floral/ginger topnotes. What you notice right away with this wine is the texture, conveying a real sense of glycerol fullness that is evocative of a silky red wine. The creaminess seems impossible given the moderate (12.5% listed) alcohol, but there you have it. For lovers of generous, fleshy whites (or of new vineyard projects), this is a must-try.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

Please limit order requests to 24 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.

Two 2013 Roses

July 29, 2014

Hello friends. We kicked off the summer of rosé back in early March with a new rosé project from Seven Hills Winery, and that turned out to be a well-received little number that sold out immediately (I think max allocations were two bottles).

Today we’ll bookend pink season with two more rosés we’ve never previously offered (including one that has never been commercially offered before), both of which are available in micro quantities, both of which come from well-loved list wineries for whom a rosé just makes so much sense.

I’ve heard some folks complain about the ever-multiplying numbers of Washington rosés muddying the category, but I couldn’t feel more differently. I love it. If every good Washington winery makes a distinctive, small-batch rosé that’s only available for a few months each summer, where’s the harm in that? What could be better?

2013 Southard Rose Le Paon

Example #1. I mean, this is a slam dunk, right? Scott Southard is a Rhone savant, and his Syrahs, Grenaches, and Rhone blends have been hugely popular among our list members. He’s a natural for a Grenache rosé (Grenache, with its thin skins and characterful nature, is among a handful of varieties that are just about perfect for rosé), and a Grenache rosé is exactly what he has produced with Le Paon.

Here what Scott has to say about this project: “It’s 100% Grenache from the Lawrence Vineyard.  The first press-load was destemmed and allowed six hours of skin contact; the second press-load was pressed whole-cluster.  The wine was fermented and raised in a concrete egg.  We bottled 47 cases.”

First off, concrete-egg-raised rosé! Cool!

Second off, 47 cases?! Ack!

This was an on-again, off-again, on-again offer for us, with lots of backs and forths about how many of those 47 cases we could have access to. And I should say, the parcel size is borderline, and only really works because we’re rolling it together with a second rosé. Apologies if allocations are harsh, but I figure better to try a bottle or two each than none at all, and hopefully this encourages Scott to up his production a bit in future vintages.

A beautiful pale salmon in the glass (again, thin-skinned grape, only six hours of skin contact; hence the pretty paleness, like a Seattlite after a long winter), this delights with its summer nose of strawberry, cucumber, and chalky mineral. The mouth continues the rich red fruits balanced by lovely green notes and just enough citrusy acid. It’s an honest warm-vintage rosé (13.5% listed alc), with plenty of flesh on its bones. What that means for me is that it has pairing possibilities for fatty fish like salmon or black cod/sablefish, a butter-roasted chicken, creamy salads, and other rich-ish fare that would overwhelm a leaner rosé. Is this the year that I follow through with my threat to only serve rosés at Thanksgiving? If so, this one will be on the table without question.

2013 Cadence Rose

Example #2. Really, Ben? Really? As shocked as I was that Casey McClellan had never previously released a commercial rosé for Seven Hills Winery, I may be more surprised that Ben Smith, elegance king of Red Mountain, has never done one either. And even calling this a commercial release is a stretch, since Ben produced… wait for it… 20 cases.

Did we ask for the entire production run? Yes we did. Did we receive the entire production run? Almost. A handful of cases went to our colleagues at the venerable McCarthy & Schiering, so if we sell out or drastically under-allocate, those are the spots to look for more bottles.

Knowing the breakdown of Ben’s estate Cara Mia Vineyard on Red Mountain, I would have guessed he’d make a Cabernet Franc rosé, since Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot tend to be terribly unsuitable for rosé. And Franc is 25% of the blend here, but the other 75% is Petit Verdot, which I hadn’t really considered. Not sure I’ve ever had a PV-dominant rosé before, but if they drink like this, we should all look for more.

So, this is all Cara Mia fruit, all done in stainless, and it has a head-turning nose, quite darkly-profiled for a rosé. I got notes of plum and blackberry, and an exotic streak of star anise, and then this really alluring wild brambly edge. I’m not used to seeking the sauvage in rosé, but here it’s lovely. In the mouth, this is a plump, rich (13.9% listed alc) Tavel ringer, another rosé honest to the warmer/riper vintage, with loads of personality to its dark, delicious, earthy fruit. This is the more autumnal of the two rosés, perfect for those poignant days when summer draws to its close.

Please limit order requests to 4 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 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Lower East

July 27, 2014

Hello friends. Today we have an outstanding vintage of what is already a list-member darling, and one of the gateways into the greater Gramercy Cellars lineup:

This wine remains a ghost. You won’t find it in Gramercy’s tasting room. You will rarely find it sold outside the Pac-NW. Lower East is a gift, from Greg Harrington to his local supporters.

Most of it goes to restaurants, a reflection of Greg’s sommelier history (direct from Gramercy’s tech sheet: “The Lower East wines from Gramercy Cellars are created specifically for our friends in the restaurant industry.”) It allows somms all over Seattle to place a Gramercy wine on their list for $50-$60, as opposed to the $90-$100 that the rest of the lineup commands. But some gets allocated to retail channels, and especially to long-term supporters of the Gramercy portfolio.

I’ve already said on several occasions that 2012 is shaping up to be a marvelous vintage for value Cabernet (yes, I recognize that we’re pushing it on the term “value” here, but by Gramercy standards, I’m going to say this qualifies), and this is another bottle that makes a strong argument for that case. I haven’t tasted Gramercy’s high-end 2012 Cabernets yet, but they’re going to have to be damned good to top Lower East this year (and judging by Jeb Dunnuck’s recently-published barrel reviews, they are indeed damned good).

This was a bottle where I was stunned by the quality right up until I saw the vineyard sources, and then everything made sense. In 2012, Lower East comes from an all-star foursome, three from the Walla Walla Valley (Gramercy Estate, Octave, and Pepper Bridge), plus the outstanding Phinny Hill in Horse Heaven. The blend includes 24% Merlot, and the whole thing was raised entirely in French oak, 40% new.

What Lower East does beautifully, year in and year out, is to establish itself as a true four-corners Cab, with fruit (black cherry, blackberry), earth, savory/herbal (beetroot, rhubarb, mint), and barrel (mocha) notes in fine balance. Here we see winemakers who strive for elegance in a year that wanted to be a little fleshier. The result: a balanced beauty, at 14.2% listed alc containing just the right amount of generosity to the laser-pure fruit, and of course plenty of balancing structure, in both the form of blood-orange acids and toothsome black-tea tannins. If you’re looking to build a cellar of sturdy, ageworthy wines under $30, this would be an awfully nice place to start. Like every vintage of Lower East so far, it is polished, classy, and punches well above its price class.

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.

Five Closeouts

July 24, 2014

Hello friends. I had to look back, but we’ve never used the term “closeout” in a Full Pull offer. Kind of surprising actually, and we’ll put an end to all that today.

So, a closeout, in the wine trade, is when an importer/wholesaler applies special discounted pricing on the remainder of the stock available for a particular wine. Often it happens if they have a new vintage of something on the water and about to arrive. Rather than confusing things by selling two vintages at once, it’s easier to just slash the price and move the wine.

Sounds great, right? So why then have you never seen “closeout” in a Full Pull offer? Because typically, it’s like 27 bottles of this, 14 bottles of that; basically extras-shelf or personal stash territory, not enough for an offer.

Furthermore, there are a *lot* of other reasons for closeouts. Stale inventory, need for physical warehouse space, the wine kind of sucks, etc. As you can see, some reasons are better than others. I’ve learned the hard way that closeouts are a minefield (witness my six remaining bottles of an off-dry 2005 Vouvray so heinous in its banality that I keep it around just to serve it to people I don’t like), and that tasting is a necessity.

Today’s offer overcomes both obstacles. First, there are hundreds of bottles of each of the wines available. And second, we’ve tasted through all of them (along with a bunch of other wines not selected), and these are the picks of the litter. None of them are particularly well-known properties; most of them don’t have anything in the way of press. If they did, they wouldn’t be closeouts!

But for those of us who enjoy the occasional treasure hunt in the value bin, today is Antiques Roadshow day:

2011 Esporao Arco Branco

Originally $13. This was the biggest surprise of the bunch. I fully expected to put this in the discard pile. I mean, a 2011 vintage Portuguese white? But what a delight it is, with plenty of peach and pear and apple fruit still remaining, and some nutty, raw-almond oxidative notes creeping in. As usual in Portugal, it’s a mix of indigenous varieties – Antao Vaz, Roupeiro, Viosinho – and unless you’re a native, that probably tells you absolutely nothing about the wine. Texturally, I’d say it drinks comparatively to Semillon or Savoie Altesse, with the fleshy creamy waxiness you sometimes see in those grapes. It’s eminently drinkable, all tree fruit and nut and spice. There’s still a solid spine of acid here, and it’s a wine that perhaps enchants most on its finish, a clean lick of seashore saltiness. Oh, and for Seattle food-lovers, it’s worth noting another vote of confidence for this wine: it’s on the glass pour list at Mistral Kitchen.

2010 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes Sainte Claire

Originally $27, and I’ll admit I bought some for the personal stash when it was discounted to $23. I’m kicking myself now, but I’m also buying more, because this is a beautiful, honest Chablis from a fine vintage that is just entering prime drinking and should drink great for what, another 15 years? It has the flint, the chalk, that smoky edge that makes Chablis so beautiful. On the day we tasted it, we opened it at 10am, and it was at 4pm that the flinty notes really exploded; a good sign. The palate has wonderful minerality, citric extract, chestnut complexities, and loads of intensity on a nervy, live-wire frame. It’s just electric in the mouth, and it finishes long and mouthwatering.

2011 Evening Land Vineyards Pouilly-Fuisse

Originally $31. Another surprise, because a) it has the Evening Land imprimateur; b) it’s Evening Land making white Burgundy, which is geekycool; and c) it has a positive review, which is always rare for a closeout wine: Wine Enthusiast (Roger Voss): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

Well, that review was published in the Nov 2013 Enthusiast, so we’re just about done with another year’s aging. It’s a rich, ripe Burgundy, with fleshy peach and papaya, mango and lemon curd fruit. But there are complexities beyond the fruit: attractive bready/leesy notes and chalky earth tones. The use of oak is judicious, but my word this is creamy as hell, drinking really new-world in its fruit impact. I’d save this as an autumn white; it’ll be perfect as days get shorter and jackets become important again.

2010 Ch. La Caussade Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (375ml)

Originally $14, and that still seems to be the best price available. This might be the best value of the bunch, but the trick is that you have to like sticky wines. Long-time list members might remember we offered a 2003 from this winery called “Sublime” (that one was a 500ml offered for $19.99 TPU); this is a very similar wine, albeit younger. It comes from Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (see Bordeaux map; we’re in region 32), across the river Garonne from much-more-famous Sauternes.

Basically, the region sits on top of a giant plateau of fossilized oyster shells. Here’s a picture to get your head wrapped around what this crazy terroir, this “soil” looks like. Because of its proximity to the river and its morning mists, it is also a perfect breeding ground for Botrytis cinerea, prized in sticky wines. This wine starts with a piercing nose of marmalade, fig, golden raisin, and pineapple upside down cake (with the brown sugar and the candied cherries). There are also alluring subtleties I’ll attribute to noble rot: caramel, tobacco leaf, even light mushroom. The blend is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon, and the palate presents a wonderful mix of sweet fruit, grown-up citrus-peel bitters, and balancing acidity. No surprise, this is on dessert pours in restaurants all over town. It also has crazy aging potential for a $10 wine.

2002 Boizel Champagne Brut Millesime

Originally $65, and the best current pricing I’m seeing available is $56. If it’s not the Caussade, then perhaps this is the best value of the bunch. It’s just so damned hard to find aged vintage Champagne on the market period, let alone at closeout pricing. This is 55% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier from an 1834-founded  Champagne house in Epernay, currently run by fifth-generation Evelyn Roques-Boizel. The color is a beautiful deepening gold, and the nose is already developing the complexity and alluring hazelnutty notes we expect from maturing Champagne. Look also for savory chicken stock, baking spices, and earthy peach and cherry fruit. In the mouth, this is a rich, fleshy, openly delicious Champagne, with plenty of ripe fruit and plenty of dosage. Far from the lean-and-mean Brut Zero/Brut Nature bottles that are in vogue currently, this seduces with its generous yellow fruits (peaches and nectarines) and its insistent complexities both nutty and bready. Such a lovely autumn and winter Champagne. There are plenty of lower-dosage Champagnes for the summertime; this is the one to save for the holiday season, for roaring fires and big family-and-friend gatherings.

We almost never get access to aged Champagne. The only other version we’ve offered is the ’96 Vesselle, and that was $79.99 TPU. This is likely a once-every-couple-years type of opportunity, and you can bet I’ll be stashing some away in the personal cellar.

Please limit order requests to 48 bottles total (mix and match as you like), 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.

2008 Full Pull & Friends Cabernet Sauvignon

July 21, 2014

Hello friends. Today we have the latest in our series of Full Pull & Friends bottlings. I also want to share that we submitted some of our previous FP&F wines for review, and I’m expecting to see the first wave of reviews turn up in August. That should be exciting, and we’ll be sure to reoffer any reviewed wines that are still available as those reviews are published (see the bottom of today’s offer for one such reoffer opportunity along with a pre-publication review).

One FP&F wine that is no longer available for reorder is our inaugural bottling, the 2007 Full Pull & Friends Cabernet Sauvignon. That one was decimated by a ceaseless stream of reorders, and is now completely sold out. The good news: it’s sold out just in time for the new vintage:

I suspect that those of you who enjoyed the 2007 are going to dig the 08 in equal measure. 2008 is a criminally overlooked vintage in Washington due to the hype of the 2007s. It was a marginally cooler year than 2007, but still well within the band of a normal vintage (the last one you could call normal for several years, with warm/fleshy 2009 and cool/lean 2010 and 2011 to follow). I’ve heard plenty of folks suggest that the 08s will age in more compelling directions than the 07s. In my experience, it depends on the winery, but ultimately, 2008 is a lovely, lovely vintage, and its character is on fine display in this bottle.

Just to confirm, this bottle does indeed come from “Winery Alpha,” as we’ve taken to calling our inaugural FP&F winery partner (we cannot disclose their name as part of our agreement, since our price is considerably lower than anything in their portfolio). And it comes from similar vineyards to the 2007 (two of the brilliant sites managed by Kent Waliser and Derek Way for Sagemoor Farms – Dionysus and Weinbau – along with a bit of fruit from Stillwater Creek) and was raised in a similar manner (28 months in French oak, 60% new, before spending another three-plus years in bottle).

The killer nose is all Cabernet, with deep bass notes of crème de cassis and earth lifted by complexities of violet, mint, and tarragon. A sultry black streak, somewhere between tar and espresso, rounds out a complicated and inviting nose. Much like with the 2007, what I love first and foremost about the palate is the texture, which possesses tremendous density and concentration without a shred of excess weight. It still drinks quite young, with most of the fruit remaining primary, and just a few hints of dried cherry and dried blackcurrant to suggest a wine approaching a middle phase. The structure remains formidable, a wall of English breakfast tea tannins guarding a core of earth-inflected fruit. It’s classy, classy juice, with all elements well-integrated and well-balanced. Drink it now (especially with dinner), or hold a few bottles and watch this evolve in fascinating directions.

As a reminder, the 2007 Cabernet received Sean Sullivan’s highest rating in Washington Wine Report. He has not yet reviewed this 2008; hopefully soon! 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.

2011 Manu Propria Cabernet Sauvignon Ex Animo

July 15, 2014

Hello friends. There is a fraternity in Washington of behind-the-scenes winemakers responsible for some of the finest wines produced in the state each year. They go by many titles: Assistant Winemaker, Production Winemaker, sometimes even plain old Winemaker (with the original winemaker moving to Director of Winemaking or Director of Production). I’m thinking of guys like Kevin Mott (Woodward Canyon), Andrew Latta (K Vintners), Dan Wampfler (Dunham Cellars).

And I’m thinking of Mike MacMorran.

Mike is a New Zealander who began working in Washington wine as a 2005 harvest intern at DeLille Cellars. That turned into Cellar Master and then Assistant Winemaker gigs at DeLille, after which he spent one year as Mark Ryan’s Assistant Winemaker before taking on the Winemaker title in 2009 (with Mark moving to Executive Winemaker). For the past five years, he has played a huge role in the success of Mark Ryan, and until recently, also served a crucial role as Force Majeure’s estate winemaker.

Basically, he has been one of the more important behind-the-scenes players in Washington wine production. And when the outstanding behind-the-scenes guys move out from the shadows, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention. Today we’re paying attention:

Manu Propria is Mike’s new winery, and at least for now, they have one wine. If you’re going to have one wine, a Red Willow Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a pretty good wine to have. Here’s what Mike Sauer (Red Willow owner/grower) says about the project: “We are honored that Mike and Rachel would choose to highlight wines from Red Willow. Mike, following the footsteps of David Lake, actively follows the seasonal progression of the grapes and chooses to emphasize terroir and vineyard identity. With friendship and common purpose, we look forward to this partnership in making wines of elegance and distinction.”

When Mike Sauer says that you’re following in the footsteps of the late, great David Lake, you’re probably doing something right. Production of the inaugural 2010 vintage was just 170 cases, and it sold out fairly quickly, especially after solid reviews from Sean Sullivan and Stephen Tanzer. Production of this 2011 has gone up. All the way to 185 cases. I missed that 2010, but this 2011 was just recently released, so we should have access to a decent parcel.

The Cabernet all comes from a 1991-planted block towards the top of Red Willow, all the way at 1260’ elevation. Mike raised it in a combination of new (60%) and neutral (40%) French oak, and it clocks in at 14.7% listed alc. The nose showcases the wonderfully leafy side of Cabernet, with tobacco and eucalyptus, thyme and tarragon, to go with a dense of core of blackcurrant fruit and smoky graphitic minerals. I found this particular aromatic expression of Cabernet absolutely seductive. The texture is managed wonderfully, conveying a real seamlessness and elegance, coating the palate without overwhelming it. The structure is pinpoint – bright 2011 acidity married to medium-grained espressoey tannins – suggesting a long and happy evolution in bottle to come.

This was already a winery on the rise after a strong debut vintage in 2010, and the buzz is only going to be confirmed by this sophomore effort. For those of us who love paying attention to the next big thing in Washington wine, Manu Propria bears close attention. Please limit order requests to 6 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 Fausse Piste Syrah Garde Manger

July 13, 2014

Hello friends. One of the most exciting Washington Syrahs I’ve tasted in 2014 comes not from Washington at all:

We’ve been close to offering this wine a few different times in previous vintages, but happenstances of timing and quantity precluded us from doing so. Not this time.

Fausse Piste has been on my radar for a few years now as a winery worth tracking. Winemaker Jesse Skiles has an impeccable pedigree. He has a background as a chef, and until recently ran a restaurant called Sauvage in Portland (Portland is also the location of the winery). Before that, he was the chef for Owen Roe Winery, where David O’Reilly encouraged him to take up winemaking on the side.

I’ve only met Jesse once, and it was a few years ago, but I remember talking about Syrah, and I specifically remember his knowledge and enthusiasm for a number of different Washington vineyards. That passion is borne out in Garde Manger, which is sourced from a full seven different vineyards. The most prominent among them are Red Willow, River Rock (in the rocks of the Walla Walla Valley), Outlook (an Owen Roe estate site), and Ambassador.

Jesse’s stated goal with this wine is “to create a Syrah that has its feet planted in the northwest but has visions of Crozes-Hermitage,” and it’s worth noting the he spent time in the Northern Rhone between his Owen Roe and Fausse Piste stints. The clues are in place: a chef who appreciates savory flavors; a restaurant called Sauvage; an homage to Crozes-Hermitage. Yes, you guessed it: this is a briny, umami funkbomb, with a real wild (sauvage?) edge.

It starts with the vineyard selections, with River Rock clearly shining through. Then there’s the choice to include 80% whole clusters (stems and all), which helps contribute that wildness. And then the elevage in all neutral barrels, with no chance for any oak character to get in the way of all that beautiful funky fruit. This begins with huge olive notes – green and Kalamata – along with meaty bacon fat and corned beef, pure blueberry and huckleberry fruit, and a sanguine/mineral edge. It’s an extremely expressive nose, deeply appetizing and oh so savory. The palate continues the mix of fruit and umami tones, all on an impressively silken-textured mouthfeel. Wow, what a Syrah.

This is a winery on the rise, and I suspect if Fausse Piste was located in Washington, they’d already have acquired a whiff of the culty. Fortunately, with their off-the-grid location in Portland, they remain a hidden gem for Washingtonians. For now. 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.