Three from Mark Ryan

August 31, 2014

Hello friends. I was planning on sending this set of Mark Ryan wines out as an autumn offer, but apparently sales through the winery have been brisk, spurred in part by some positive barrel-sample reviews from Jeb Dunnuck in June’s Wine Advocate.

The folks at Mark Ryan are predicting that all three of these will be sold out within the next few weeks, so they gently suggested that if I wanted our list to have access to any of these wines, we ought to make hay while the sun shines. Let’s do just that:

2012 Mark Ryan Syrah Wild Eyed

We missed out on the previous 2011 vintage of this, because I waited too long, and then Paul Gregutt published a 95pt review in Wine Enthusiast last summer that blew out every last bottle of remaining wine. No review yet from PaulG on the 2012. Fortunately for us.

This is Mark’s Red Mountain Syrah, and it comes from two outstanding sites on the mountain: one a classic (Ciel du Cheval); the other a hot newcomer (Force Majeure’s estate site at the top of the hill). It is aged in large Franch oak puncheons (usually about half new) and clocks in at a robust 15.1% listed alc. The nose of black fruit, black olive, purple flower, and baking spice moves into a rich, ripe, plummy palate. The lushness of the fruit is complemented by a jolt of orange-peel acidity, savory/wild gamey notes, and several twists of the black pepper grinder.

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

2012 Mark Ryan Mourvedre Crazy Mary

Among Mark Ryan’s smallest-production wines, this is not the easiest wine to source at retail. It too comes from Ciel du Cheval and Force Majeure, it too was raised in large puncheon (just 20% new), and it too lists an alc of 15.1%. It possesses that great wild Mourvedre character; something animal, gamey, along with grapefruit and pluot fruit and leather spice. A super-intense live wire on the palate, this brings a real palate-staining character, an attractive mineral tang, and a lingering finish of wild mountain fruit and game. Impressively savory and balanced. I’ve previously called this “Bandol with a Botox injection,” and that applies to this vintage as well.

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

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

2013 Mark Ryan Viognier

This Viognier has developed into something of a list favorite, and this is now the third vintage in a row that we’ve offered. It comes from Ciel du Cheval, Red Willow, and Olsen fruit. For a winery that produces such bold, muscular reds, you always expect this to be a fat, oily version of Washington Viognier. Instead it never seems to be anything of the kind. The balance of fleshy fruit (14.1% listed alc) and citrusy acid pop is great, and there’s no new oak influence here to get in the way of the fruit (80% neutral, 10% concrete, 10% stainless). Flavors include peaches and cream, orange creamsicle, and a compelling dash of ginger. Stephen Tanzer has used “Orange Julius” as a flavor descriptor in previous vintages. Not bad!

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

Please limit order requests to 36 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 Beresan Cabernet Sauvignon

August 29, 2014

Hello friends. August is usually a sleepy month in the wine trade. Not so in 2014. We kicked off the month with a serious price drop on a Walla Walla Valley Syrah five years past vintage. Let’s bookend the month with another serious price drop (from a release price of $29) on another Walla Walla wine, this time Cabernet, this time six years past vintage:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($29); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

I have a feeling this one is going to be hugely popular. I know there’s pent-up love for this wine, since it was November 11, 2011 (yes, 11/11/11) when we last offered a Beresan Cabernet. That was the 2006 vintage, and you might remember we offered it in conjunction with a Paul Gregutt blog where he tasted a six-year vertical of Beresan Cabs.

What was fascinating about that blog entry was that PaulG published his scores from when he had initially reviewed the wines for Enthusiast, and then revised scores based on how the wine was drinking at the vertical tasting. One wine went down a point (the 2005 vintage, from 92pts to 91pts); all the others increased, by anywhere from one point to a whopping eight points. The conclusions I think many of us drew from the exercise: first, as PaulG himself said in that post, “Beresan makes my short list of the most important, consistent, stylistically riveting small wineries in Washington. It is also among the state’s best value plays…”; and second, that Beresan’s Cabernets improve mightily with age (perhaps with the exception of a super-hot vintage like 2005, but no worries on that front; 2008 was slightly cooler than average).

Why the price drop, you might be asking? It goes back to the story behind the 2007 Beresan Merlot and Syrah we offered back in February. Remember in that one I asked if you have 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 for these wines 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 a solid little stashes of 2007 and 2008 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 sweetened the deal with a significant price drop.

Beresan is one of the gems of the Walla Walla Valley, and it starts with their outstanding estate vineyards. This Cabernet is nearly equal parts Waliser and Yellow Jacket. Both of these estate sites are in the rocks; both are farmed by Tom Waliser (one of the valley’s finest growers). Waliser Vineyard was planted in 1997, Yellow Jacket in 1999 (it’s worth noting that Christophe Baron planted his first Cayuse vineyards in the rocks in 1997, so these vineyards are contemporaries). As the folks at Beresan note, “The vineyards are planted on old cobblestone riverbed soils, providing the wine with unique and distinct earthy minerality qualities.”

That beautiful rocks Cabernet fruit was brought to bottle by Tom Glase, who makes Beresan wines in addition to his own Balboa wines. It spent about two years in barrel (all French, 30% new), and now has nearly another four years of bottle age. Perfect. You can tell from the aromatics that this is a wine in the early stages of its evolution. The blackcurrant and blackberry fruit is just beginning to take on a dried quality, and it is also sharing the stage with emerging earth and soil tones, and great green topnotes of mint and poblano. In the mouth, it’s a wonderfully mineral Cabernet, with great pure cassis fruit and integrated high-cacao chocolate barrel notes. The tannins have developed a fine grain with bottle age. The finishing lick is all savory green tea. The overall package conveys harmony and grace, depth and power.

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.

2011 Forgeron Cellars GSM

August 27, 2014

Hello friends. Marie-Eve Gilla’s winemaking is turning into a veritable tour de France here in Washington. Of course, her aptitude with Chardonnay is no surprise, as she studied at the University of Dijon and worked at several Burgundian wineries before landing in Washington. But she also makes some of the most successful, well-priced Cabernets and Merlots in Washington each year (hello Bordeaux), and a recent tasting confirmed her burgeoning mastery of the Rhone Valley as well:

Ultimately, much of any winemaker’s success comes down to vineyard sourcing, and Marie-Eve has done well here. A full three-quarters of this blend comes from Dick Boushey, in the form of 55% Syrah and half of the 40% Grenache (the remaining Grenache is from Lonesome Springs, also in Yakima Valley, and the 5% dollop of Mourvedre comes from Kiona Heart of the Hill on Red Mountain).

It’s practically taboo in Washington to blend Boushey Syrah with anything else, but you can see what Marie-Eve was thinking when you taste this wine, which she calls her homage to Gigondas. It was aged mostly in French oak, and mostly neutral, which translates to wafts of woodsmoke and high-cacao chocolate in the glass. The fleshiness and generosity of the brambly/brushy red raspberry fruit of the Grenache pairs beautifully with Boushey’s smoke and meat and pepper and olive Syrah bass notes, and that Grenache adds a balancing richness that belies the cooler 2011 vintage.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

[Note: of the 28 red Rhone blends from Washington reviewed in Wine Enthusiast so far in 2014, only Gramercy’s 2011 Third Man received a higher score (94pts), and that one retails for $50; high praise indeed!]

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

Tough to decide whether to hold this and watch it evolve, or to open it now and pair it with dinner. Marie suggested Duck Confit Cassoulet, which was enough to make me long for winter. 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.

Two 2011s from Lauren Ashton Cellars

August 25, 2014

Hello friends. We have the return today of one of the buzziest entrants to emerge on the Washington scene over the past few years: Kit Singh’s Lauren Ashton Cellars.

We first offered Kit’s wines almost two years ago, in autumn 2012. During most of the year thereafter (during which we sent two more Lauren Ashton offers), the winery remained a bit under the radar, although several sterling reviews from Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast began to crack the façade of the underground winery. And then Sean Sullivan wrote about the winery for Washington Wine Report in November 2013, including the following:

“When I sampled the inaugural releases from Lauren Ashton Cellars last year, I was considerably impressed. The new wines from the winery however, are a revelation – as impressive an across the board lineup as I’ve tasted from any winery this year along with some of the best wines I have tasted in 2013 period.”

Zoinks, Scoob.

Some quick reminders of the Lauren Ashton story: Kit grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet somehow escaped the trap of becoming an artisanal rum producer. His background is in chemistry, and he is a practicing dentist. He trained at UC-Davis, interned at DeLille Cellars, and even taught the Wine Science course at South Seattle Community College. His winery name combines the names of his daughter and son, and the Lauren Ashton labels show photos taken in Estonia, homeland of his wife.

We offered the first crop of Kit’s 2011 reds soon after Sean’s article in late 2013, all of which have been well received by our list members. Today we’re back with two of the late-release 2011s, each of which has subsequently received a great review from PaulG. This is a Washington winery whose star is squarely on the rise.

2011 Lauren Ashton Cuvee Arlette

This is Kit’s right-bank BDX blend: 49% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Petit Verdot. Vineyard sources include two Red Mountain sites (Klipsun, Ambassador) as well as Stillwater Creek and Dineen: outstanding fruit sources all. It was aged for just shy of two years in French oak, 25% new. Listed alc is 14.5%, and total production is 261 cases. It possesses a tight, lovely core of red raspberry and redcurrant fruit set amidst swirling notes of barrel (mocha) and earth (soil and Red Mountain minerals). The structure is impressive here, with loads of tannic power as this rolls into its long finish. Those tannins are ripe and delicious, suggesting a long and happy evolution ahead.

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

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2011 Lauren Ashton Cabernet Sauvignon

Entirely from Red Mountain, this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly (80%) from Klipsun, the dark king of the mountain. It’s rounded out with fruit from the Boushey-managed Ambassador Vineyard. To date, this wine has only been offered to Kit’s club. We’re the first outside of his club to have access, and there were only 176 cases produced, so this one may go fast.

Again, this spent about two years in French oak, this time 40% new. It clocks in at 14.5% listed alc and offers alluring aromas of cassis and dark chocolate, smoke and iron minerality. The palate is all tightly wound structure and chew, guarding its fruit secrets behind walls of ripe tannin and mineral tones. That fruit is darker than the Arlette, more blackcurrant and blackberry. This is a beautiful brooder that clearly needs time in bottle (or a few hours in the decanter) to reveal its truest colors.

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

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

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.

Three from Canoe Ridge

August 24, 2014

Hello friends. Today we have another in our continuing exploration of the dusty cellars and oddball corners of Canoe Ridge.

You may remember: this is a Washington winery/vineyard with a rich history that fell on hard times, and is hopefully now in the process of bring resuscitated by Precept Wines. The Chalone Wine Group (out of California) partnered with a number of Washington investors in 1989 to plant Canoe Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. When the vines came online in 1994, Canoe Ridge Winery was formed.

It was a launching pad for many a successful winemaking career in Washington. Luminaries such as John Abbott (Abeja) and Kendall Mix (Corliss, Goose Ridge, Cadaretta) plied their trade at Canoe Ridge and helped establish the winery’s reputation for soulful Cabs and Merlots.

But in 2004, Chalone was bought out by Diageo (a gigantor wine company based out of London), and that’s where things went south for awhile. As you’d suspect, Diageo was focused more on their new California holdings.

You can imagine the scene when Precept purchased the brand in 2011 and started exploring the winery cellars. I envision folks walking around with candelabras and blowing dust off old bottles and old barrels. The reality was probably considerably less exciting, involving considerably more fluorescent lighting, but I’ll envision it how I like. Regardless, there have been some great buried treasures, and our list has had fun plundering. That fun continues today, with two new wines and one last-call:

2010 Canoe Ridge Frontier Reserve Merlot
The story here is a little fuzzy, but what I understand is that this wine was originally made for a restaurant in New Jersey, but something fell through. Wait, let me try that again.This was originally made for a “restaurant in New Jersey” but something “fell through.” Don’t the air quotes add a layer of Sopranos-style menace?

Whether it was a real restaurant or a mob plot gone bad, the folks at Precept got stuck with pallets of unsold, high quality Merlot. So they did what any wise wine entity would do: they slashed the price and offered it to us. Now as far as I know, this wine has never previously been sold. I don’t see it on wine-searcher, and it doesn’t seem to have a record in CellarTracker, which makes it a legitimate ghost.

It’s a really strong Merlot for the tariff. I suspect the Jersey restaurant would have glass-poured it for $10-$15 or sold it by the bottle for $40 and made a killing (a “killing”). It comes entirely from the estate vineyard, and more particularly comes mostly from Block 12, one of the three oldest blocks at Canoe Ridge. There are small amounts of Cab Franc and Malbec in the blend, and the whole thing was raised in barrel, about 30% new. Listed alc is 14.8%.

It offers an alluring nose of black cherry and coffee, earth and mushroom. The palate is a reminder of why folks get so excited about Washington Merlot: dry and chewy, with persistent earthy soil tones paired to plush fruit, rolling into a finish awash in toothsome charm, all espressoey tannin. This is honest, earthy, adult Merlot. I’m not sure what its original price target actually was, but at the price we’re paying, it offers serious QPR.

2011 Canoe Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir
Canoe Ridge makes a Pinot Noir? Who knew? The site in this case is not Canoe Ridge Vineyard itself but another Precept property called Canyon Vineyard Ranch. Formerly called Snipes Canyon Ranch, it’s a western Yakima Valley site originally planted in 1982, with all sorts of different varieties. One of the coolest sections of the vineyard approximates the effect of a canyon valley, with the coolest air settling to the bottom. A tiny amount of Pinot is planted in that particular spot.Apparently it is only vinified in cool vintages (otherwise the site is too hot), and 2011 was plenty cool. I won’t say too much here, since we’re somewhat limited in our allocation, and our price is competitive. If we sell out, the winery still has a stash to sell through, albeit at a higher $25 tag.

Even in cool 2011, this clocks in at 14.5% listed alc, and it drinks more like California Pinot (not from the coast) than like Oregon. It’s a fat, rich mouthful of red cherry and blackberry, swaddled in mocha barrel notes but with enough balancing Pinot acidity to keep things from going overboard on the hedonism scale. It’s a wonderful curiosity, and for list members who think Oregon Pinot is too lean and Burgundy Pinot is waaaay too lean, it’s definitely worth a sniff. As an autumn/winter Pinot Noir, this wields considerable charm and generosity.

2007 Canoe Ridge Merlot Reserve Estate Block 13
Originally offered August 25, 2013, and now Canoe Ridge is down to their last handful of six-packs. Last call! Excerpt from that offer: The winemaker at Canoe Ridge in 2007 was Christophe Paubert, who has since moved on to man the winemaking helm at Stags’ Leap. This bottle comes from Block 13, among the oldest blocks of the vineyard (located here), and it possesses a combination of stuffing, structure, and ageworthiness that is near-impossible to find outside of good right-bank Bordeaux.It starts with a lovely nose of plum, dried cherry, and leather/cedar spice. The dried fruit and spice notes indicate a wine that is beginning to reveal some of its tertiary secrets. Lovely. Then we move onto the palate, which still has plenty of good fruit (dried cherry, redcurrant) mixed with Kahlua/espresso notes and earthy notes reminiscent of good clean soil. It’s very Merlot in its lush, cherry-fruited mid-palate, but it’s sneakily Cabernet-like as it rolls into its chewy, black-tea finish. This is Merlot with depth, complexity, and seductive tannic power.

First come first served on the Frontier Merlot and the Pinot Noir up to 36 bottles total. For the 07 Merlot, please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. All three 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 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon (Black Label)

August 22, 2014

Hello friends. If there has been a tastier silver lining to the dark cloud of the past half-decade’s slow economy than the Andrew Will Black Label bottles, I haven’t tried it. Today we have the latest vintage of Cabernet under the Black Label, which was inaugurated with the 2008 vintage. We’ve been on these wines from the beginning, and with good reason: this is all Andrew Will-vinified juice that just didn’t fit stylistically into the high-end single-vineyard bottlings, and it comes at an egalitarian tariff that broadens access to the fine winemaking of Chris Camarda.

For the 2012 vintage, it gets even better. While there is no indication on the bottle, this Cabernet is single-vineyard, coming entirely from Andrew Will’s estate Two Blondes vineyard in the Yakima Valley (location here, map of vineyard blocks here).

All Cabernet, all Two Blondes, and all done in high-grade French (Taransaud) oak (35% new), generally unheard of for this tariff, but we already know: this is a wine punching well above its price class. It offers a beautiful Cabernet nose of pure cassis fruit complicated by graphitic minerality, espresso, and lovely minty topnotes. The texture is gorgeous: seamless across attack, mid, and finish, silky when it should be, and then powerfully structured when it should be. From a cool site in a warm/down-the-middle vintage, this clocks in at 13.5% listed alc and drinks perfectly balanced. The length, the sheer tannic heft, the prominence of soil/mineral tones: all deeply impressive for this price point.

This is just the latest in a string of impressive value Cabernets from the 2012 vintage in Washington. Again, I know using “value” for a $30 wine is a stretch, but by Andrew Will standards, it applies. And like Gramercy’s Lower East Cab from a few weeks ago, this is another chance to build a cellar with sub-$30 bottles. The aging curve for this one should be long, fascinating, and beautiful.

I should also note that this has been apparently selling really fast for the winery. They were kind enough to nudge us to offer this before it sold out, but this is likely a one-shot-only offer, with reorder requests unlikely to be fulfilled.

First come first served up to 72 bottles total (mix and match as you like), 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.

2012 Delmas Syrah

August 20, 2014

Hello friends. This is one of those difficult offers to write, because we have so little of the wine that the less said the better, but the project is so exciting that it’s hard to resist going on at length. I’ll try to split the difference:

First things first. Before going any further, give serious consideration to heading over to the Delmas website and joining their mailing/waiting list. This is an extremely exciting new project coming out of the Walla Walla rocks, and I fully expect them to wind up selling most or all of their wine through their list, a la Cayuse and Reynvaan.

What makes Delmas exciting is that this is the estate winery for SJR Vineyard. Now, SJR first came onto my radar back in 2011, when Sean Boyd from Rotie Cellars put a solid chunk of Syrah from this site into his 2009 Northern. You know, the one that ended up at #7 on Sean Sullivan’s Top 100 for Seattle Met Magazine that year, with an attached 94pt review? At the time, SJR vineyard was on its third leaf (planted in 2007), and it was clear then that the fruit quality was outrageous, especially for such young vines.

You can always judge the quality of a vineyard by who is working with the fruit. And over the next few years, Steve Robertson of SJR sold fruit to exactly three wineries: Rotie, Rasa, and Gramercy. That is a murderer’s row of Syrah producers right there.

And at the time, I also started hearing about Delmas, which was keeping some of their fruit for a three-year “soft release.” They made 45 cases of 2010 vintage, 45 cases of 2011. I inquired after both, and in both cases, there was only enough wine to sell to friends, family, and mailing list members.

Then, in summer 2013, I got the chance to meet Steve in person and walk the rows at SJR. Unfortunately, my best picture from that trip has my fat fingers all over it, but you still get the idea: this is squarely in the rocks. And on that front, it’s also worth noting that Steve has been one of the real champions of applying to the TTB for approval of a new sub-AVA within the Walla Walla Valley: The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater (for more details on this, see Sean Sullivan’s excellent writeup).

That meeting led to more conversations and eventually an agreement that Full Pull would receive a small allocation of 2012 vintage (only 75 cases were produced) and the potential for larger allocations as production increases in future years. As far as I know, the only other account in Seattle to receive an allocation are our colleagues at McCarthy & Schiering, and if we have to under-allocate, as I expect we will, it’s worth reaching out to them, or directly to Steve, to see if more wine is available.

There’s more to say about the viticulture – which going forward will prominently feature Steve’s daughter Brooke, who has been cutting her viticulture teeth in a small California region called the Napa Valley – but this is already getting sneaky long, so let’s instead focus briefly on the winemaking. Delmas has chosen Billo Naravane from Rasa Vineyards as their consulting winemaker, and what a joy it is to see Billo – who is a Rhone savant – working with rocks fruit. Here’s what the always-eloquent Billo has to say about the site: “SJR Vineyard produces Syrah with an amazing sense of terroir; there is a haunting earthiness and minerality that is present in all of the wines from this vineyard. The resulting wines have that rare combination of elegance, finesse, and power without heaviness. SJR Vineyard is a site that truly has something spectacular to say.”

The vineyard (located here, at the far southwestern edge of the rocks) is 9.6 acres, of which 7.9 are planted, mostly to Syrah (5.9 acres) and then an acre each of Grenache and Viognier. That Viognier is a solid 7.5% of this 2012 Syrah, cofermented, and the whole thing is aged for 18 months in 60% new/40% neutral French oak. This vintage clocks in at a reasonable 14% listed alc. The Viognier is obvious on the (extremely expressive) nose, adding soaring floral topnotes of violet and lavender to the only-in-the-rocks core of grilled meat, truffle, black olive, black pepper, and oh yeah, some lovely blue fruit as well. That wickedly complex nose transitions into a mouthful that is rich and savory but also lifted by terrific inner mouth perfume. Mouthfeel management is beautiful here (par for the course when it comes to Billo’s winemaking). It’s supple all the way, with length and intensity to spare. For lovers of funky, savory Syrah; for lovers of the rocks, this is not a bottle to be missed.

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

Please limit order requests to 3 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.