2012 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Occultum Lapidem

July 9, 2014

Hello friends. Some of the most popular import wines we’ve offered so far this year have been the red, white, and pink wines from Bila-Haut, Michel Chapoutier’s project in the Cotes du Roussillon. Because of all that support, we have access today to a difficult-to-source-in-Seattle Bila-Haut parcel (difficult because of the combination of reasonable tariff and strong Wine Advocate review):

First off, here’s the review that has folks around town fighting over this parcel:

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Now, some reminders on this project: first off, the Cotes du Roussillon is a region that has for some time exported massive quantities of forgettable plonk, but has in recent years begun to develop a reputation as a source of French value. At the vanguard of the quality movement was none other than Michel Chapoutier, he of the multiple 100pt (Robert Parker) wines from the northern Rhone. I’ll reprint the excerpt from one of Parker’s introductions to Chapoutier in Wine Advocate:

High praise indeed, and when Chapoutier expanded his operations to the Roussillon in the early ‘90s, it was a big deal for the region. In addition to the entry-level wines we’ve offered previously, he also produced Occultum Lapidem, which is essentially a reserve wine, coming from his best Roussillon vineyards, on gneiss and schist and Kimmeridgian limestone.

The blend is typically about 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 20% Carignan, and I could not believe just how very savory/umami this wine is. The nose is all meat and mushrooms, something like browning short ribs deglazed with porcini stock. There’s a smoky whiff of peat to ramp up the complexity, and it all translates beautifully to the palate, a mouthfilling bridge wine (14.5% listed alc) that pairs those meaty elements to black cherry fruit, all rich deliciousness. It’s the saline savories that linger on the long finish, which has sneaky structure for a wine from this region. I agree with Jeb’s aging assessment; this should have years left in the tank.

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 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series

July 7, 2014

Hello friends. I’m bumping today’s scheduled offer to Wednesday, as we’ve just been offered a reorder shot at one of the most strongly-reviewed wines in Jeb Dunnuck’s just-published set of reviews for Wine Advocate (Issue #213, published June 30, 2014):

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “($59); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.” [To put this into context, the five Cabernets receiving stronger reviews in Jeb’s annual report (two from Quilceda Creek, one each from Corliss, DeLille, and Upchurch) have release prices of $60, $60, $75, $115, and $140.]

Once that review came out last week, the wine essentially sold out in Seattle the same day. Fortunately, our wholesale partners were kind enough to set aside a chunk for our list members, in part as a thank you for our long support of Rick Small’s efforts. Basically, our hold evaporates on Wednesday morning, so please get all orders in by Tuesday night. We’ll try to include a buffer for latecomers, but no promises; this isn’t a big parcel to begin with.

We originally offered this on December 13 of last year, soon after its release. Here’s the excerpt from that offer:

For the second vintage running, Artist Series sees a sizeable chunk of Champoux fruit that usually ends up in Old Vines. Here it takes a plurality, at 30% of the blend, rounded out with fruit from Canoe Ridge (29%), Sagemoor (18%), Woodward Estate (12%), Hedges (6%), and 1-2% dollops of a few other sites.

It’s a full 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, and it shows, with a solid core of crème de cassis fruit, swaddled in barrel notes of woodsmoke and coffee, along with Champoux’s signature graphite/pencil-lead mineral tones. In the mouth, I immediately admired how this visits all the highlights of a cooler Cabernet vintage: beetroot, bay leaf, black olive. There is blackcurrant and blackberry fruit of course, but it’s merely a component of a complex overall blend. The finishing tannins (well-managed as always) are redolent of star anise and black tea, just lovely. I’ve been lucky enough to taste some Woodward Cabernets from the cooler 1999 vintage, and my oh my, if that’s any indication of what Woodward produces in cool vintages, this should have a fascinating decade or two ahead of it.

Again, please try to get order requests submitted by Tuesday night, and please limit those requests to 12 bottles. We’ll do our best to fulfill all requests, 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 Kiralyudvar

July 6, 2014

Hello friends. Back in November 2012, we wrote about and offered a bunch of wines from Kiralyudvar, which was at the time a lovely little under-the-radar Tokaji producer. Sales were honestly just so-so, but the enthusiasm among the list members who did try the wines was high.

Since then, it’s like the entire world learned about Kiralyudvar all at once. Strong reviews have poured in from all angles – Wine Spectator, Tanzer’s IWC, Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits – and suddenly Kiralyudvar has gone from please-can-you-help-us-sell-this-wine to I’m-sorry-this-wine-is-allocated.

It has actually taken several weeks – and a few moments where I though the offer would never happen – to get this offer to print, not something I would have expected for a trio of wines from Tokaji. But there you have it. Given the parcel sizes we settled on, I would not expect these to be available on reorder.

Now then, a reminder on what makes Tokaji – and Kiralyudvar – especially exciting. Tokaji is a region in Hungary (location here), and it gets its hooks into most of us via its otherworldly sticky wines, which are part of the holy trinity of botrytis-affected sweet wines (Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese being the others). Where Kirlayudvar is exciting is that in addition to its ravishing sweet wines, they’re also producing head-turning dry wines and (!!) sparkling wines.

The winery traces its history to the 11th century, and Kiralyudvar has spent most of those thousand years as property of the Hungarian royal family. After World War I, the estate was transferred to the Tokaj Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, and by the 1990s, the estate had fallen well out of fame.

That was the state of affairs in 1997, when Anthony Hwang came along. Hwang, a partner in famed Loire superstar Domaine Huet, purchased Kiralyudvar and brought with him Huet’s winemaker Noel Pinguet to consult on the project. Since then, the winery has been in the ascendancy, culminating in the bevy of positive reviews released during the past few years.

Today we have new vintages of the sparkling and the dry white. The Tokaji 6 Puttonyos is still on the same 2006 vintage as it was when we last offered it, so that one will technically be a reoffer. Let’s dig in:

2009 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Peszgo Henye (Sparkling)

I still remember tasting the previous vintage of this at an importer tasting and thinking that it outshone a number of the (much higher-priced) Champagnes it was poured next to. Basically, this is the wine that made me reconsider everything I knew about Hungarian wine. From a single biodynamic vineyard called Henye, this is 85% Furmint and 15% Harslevelu (the two primary grapes of the region), and it goes through primary fermentation in – you guessed it – Hungarian oak barrels, using only indigenous Tokaji yeasts.

Better still: while the Champenois must use a mixture of still Champagne and sugar for their dosage, the Hungarians instead have the perfect nectar sitting around for dosage: Tokaji Aszu; in this case a special Aszu-Esszencia sweet wine from Kiralyudvar’s Danczka vineyard. Brilliant! A nose with plenty of leesy notes – baked bread and smoky toffee – is lifted by high-toned mint and Ricola and lemon drop. Seriously intense and seriously long, the palate goes on and on with its citrus and stone fruits, its dark bready notes. The balance of dosage and acidity is lovely.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

Wine Enthusiast (Anna Lee Iijima): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2011 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec

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

Wine & Spirits: “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

Those are similar to my notes, capturing the combinations of citrus and nut, mineral and tea leaf, that make this wine so alluring. It has the pleasing plumpness of a white Rhone wine but the sturdy acid spine of something from the Loire Valley. I guess it’s really in a category all its own, with loads and loads of character, and all this wonderful intensity and depth with no spare-tire fat.

2006 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos (500ml)

And the grand prize. Tokaji Aszu ranges from 3 Puttonyos (least sweet) to 6 Puttonyos (most sweet), and these are rare treasures indeed. All the Aszu wines combined represent about 1% of Tokaji’s total production.

This clocks in at 11% alc, 203 g/l (20.3%) residual sugar, and 8.0 g/l total acidity. It’s the first 6 Puttonyos Kiralyudvar has produced since the 2003 vintage, and it’s a stunner. Honeyed pineapple, Rainier cherry, salty mineral tang, woodsmoke, botrytized notes of truffle and caramel, fresh lift of eucalyptus: it’s all there, on a dense, achingly delicious frame. Lovely now, but without question this wine’s best years are well ahead of it. A great Tokaji Aszu like this is a singular tasting experience.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95(+?)pts.”

Wine Spectator (Nathan Westley): “($80); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

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 about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2007 Zephros Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard

July 2, 2014

Hello friends. I can’t deny it: I’ve lost all 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. One of these days we really are going to reach the end, but in the meantime, I’ll keep saying it: from the Department Of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, here is our very last bottle from 2007. Until our next very last bottle from 2007.

It’s one thing to access run of the mill 2007 fruit; it’s another to access Champoux Vineyard Cabernet, especially at this price point (note: this had a release price of $45, but I’ve lately seen it offered for $30 at a few other spots on our old friend the world wide web). Champoux, located in the Horse Heaven Hills, has as strong a reputation for Cabernet as any vineyard in the state. The wineries that own partnership stakes in the vineyard (along with grower Paul Champoux) are Quilceda Creek, Woodward Canyon, Andrew Will, and Powers.

When I tasted this Zephros bottling, it reminded me of nothing more than the Powers Champoux wine we offered way back in February 2012 (that one was 2008 vintage, and it was $35.99 TPU). So it did not come as a complete surprise to hear that the owner of Zephros is an old college buddy of Greg Powers, and that it is Greg who is making this wine. That owner is a fellow named Richard Freeman, and he is also a partner in a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. This label was mostly created to export and pour at his restaurant (to wit, all the Zephros tech notes appear in English and Japanese), but there’s a little parcel kicking around eastern Washington, and one of the very finest of our Vast Network Of Wine Spies™ alerted me to its existence.

The fact that Greg Powers is involved in the project is happy news, because it means that a) this is a winemaking family that has been working with Champoux Vineyard since the 1992 vintage; and b) the winemaker, as an ownership partner in Champoux Vineyard, has access to the filet of the neighborhood. The elevage, too, is way more than you’d expect at this tariff: two and a half years in 100% new French oak. After bottling in July 2010, this now has an additional four years of bottle age.

Beautiful, and what a treat to access this bottle at this stage in its evolution. It’s a stage that I like to call “the deep breath before the plunge” (borrowing from a certain wizard you may know), where a wine still contains a breath of primary character but is poised to move more into its tertiary notes. Dried cherry, leather spice, and Champoux’s signature of graphite (a note I’ve heard described from earthy to pencil lead) kick off the complex, alluring nose. The palate has all the richness of the killer 07 vintage (14.5% listed alc), with fruits both fresh (cassis) and dried (dried cherry, dried apricot), and more of that insistent graphitic minerality. It’s a palate-stainer of a Cab, with intensity to spare, and it rolls into a powerful, black tea-laden finish with honest Cabernet chew and serious length. “What the hell?!?” is the last line of my tasting note, an expression of my bafflement at tasting an 07 this good, at this time, for this price. Lucky us.

First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive in the next week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.