2006 Bodegas Penalba Lopez Ribera del Duero Carravid

February 27, 2015

Hello friends. Today’s offer checks a lot of boxes. It’s beautiful Spanish Tempranillo from a terrific region (check); nearly a decade past vintage, it’s smack in the middle of its peak drinking window (check); it comes to us as an exclusive (check); and it comes with a significant price drop (check).

We pwned (that’s “power-owned” for those of us over the age of 30) a sample bottle of this Carravid in the warehouse recently, and it wasn’t long after that tasting that the entire remaining stash of this in the country (it was an east coast parcel) was heading west towards our warehouse on a truck. I wanted to get greedy and take the entire remainder because this is such a rare opportunity. I don’t know about you, but I hardly ever see mature Ribera offered at all, let alone at a discount (from a release price of $28).

Ribera del Duero is probably the second best-known region in Spain after Rioja. It sits here, in Spain’s northern plateau. The Duero river eventually flows into Portugal, where it is called the Douro, the famous river of the Port houses, that eventually drains into the Atlantic in the city of Porto. Ribera is one of the twin hearts of Tempranillo in Spain (it’s called Tinta del Pais in this neck of the woods), and although there is frequently a little Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon blended in, today’s wine is blended with the more traditional Garnacha and Graciano.

Vinuous/Tanzer’s IWC (Josh Raynolds): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90+pts.” As usual with Tanzer and his point-reticent colleagues, I’m more focused on the tasting note here. And few things make me happier than seeing a review where the author says “this should be held for another couple of years,” and we’re now more than six years after that review was published.

The Carravid project is a terrific one, and fans of Washington’s Tulpen Cellars should pay attention here, because the story is similar. Is Miguel Angel Peñalba the Kenny Hart of the Ribera?  Miguel’s main gig is as a vineyard manager. He began making his own wine in the mid-2000s, from vineyards he farms that he finds particularly interesting. For example, the Tempranillo here comes from a 60-year-old vineyard that yields less than one ton per acre (yes, I’d call that particularly interesting). This wine spent about a year in barrel, all French, half new. It clocks in at 14.5% listed alc, and it kicks off with a wonderfully mature Tempranillo nose: mushroom and leather and demi-glacé comingling with deep black fruits, loads of slatey minerals, and dustings of cocoa powder. Endlessly complex and compelling, the nose gives way to a rich, intense palate, with a mix of fresh and dried fruits and continuing savory/earthy/mineral tones. It’s a killer, in peak drinking form and a wonderful expression of modern Ribera. What a pleasure bringer!

The entire remaining stash is on the way, but it’s not particularly large. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2011 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Laurene

February 26, 2015

Hello friends. Thursday offers are rare for us. We’re usually too busy dealing with Thursday pickup traffic to make Thursday a wise day for sending offers, so you know when we hit your inboxes on a Thursday, something’s up.

In this case, it’s weeks of scratching and clawing, pleading and cajoling, and ultimately working with a pair of wine pros who share the same first name (thanks, J and J) to piece together an allocation just barely large enough to warrant an offer of one of Oregon’s benchmark Pinot Noirs:

Can you believe the year was 2012 the last time we were able to offer Laurene? This is a wine with a devoted – and national – following (come to think of it, an international following, considering the Drouhin family’s deep connections on the Continent), and there’s never very much of it. Also, considering the stratospheric pricing of some Oregon Pinot (I’m looking at you, Archery Summit), and considering the solarsystemic pricing of Grand Cru Burgundy (even from this very Drouhin family), Laurene suddenly seems like a comparative value.

Laurene is DDO’s flagship Pinot Noir, a selection of the finest barrels from the Domaine’s estate vineyards. Veronique Drouhin never gussies Laurene up with too much oak (it’s just shy of 20% here); it’s always the fruit and the Dundee Hills land that come to the fore.

Here are Veronique’s notes on this vintage of Laurene (13.9% listed alc): 2011 was Oregon’s latest growing season with a cool and wet September turning into a dry and moderately warm October. Harvest lasted into November, allowing for full maturity and excellent flavor development. The 2011 Laurène is an essay in balance. Its color is both brilliant red and deep ruby. The nose has the spice character of 2011 – anise, clove & tea – with further notes of baked fig, rhubarb and pomegranate. On the palate, the texture is both light & viscous, with mouth coating tannins, and flavors of spice & ripe raspberries with a touch of tartness. The exceptionally long finish leaves you with sweet, lush fruit & wonderfully bright layers. While intensely woven now, a couple years of cellaring, or decanting, will reveal silk, elegance and an expressive depth of texture. Enjoy now, and over the next 8-10 years.

Please note: I have not had a chance to sample this yet, but the track record of the winery and Laurene particularly gives me plenty of confidence. And this offer just won’t wait. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2012 Two Vintners Syrah Stoney Vine Vnyd “Some Days Are Stones”

February 23, 2015

Hello friends. We have the new vintage today of a hugely popular wine from last year – Morgan Lee’s funkystunning Syrah from Stoney Vine Vineyard – and it comes with a new, John Denver-inspired name:

This was just released at the winery over the weekend, so we’re not wasting any time. Last year, the entire production run sold out in five weeks. We offered it once in February, and it was gone, with all reorder requests (sadly) zeroed out. Considering the small production level again (just 160 cases) and the excitement of the 2012 vintage, I expect a similar pattern this year.

There is also more excitement than ever about wines from “the rocks” area of the Walla Walla Valley, or as I should be writing from now on, “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater,” which was approved as a new AVA on February 9. It’s a sub-AVA of the Walla Walla Valley, and its designers did a wonderful job of keeping the appellation as tightly defined as possible by the terroir of ancient river cobblestones. I wrote about The Rocks for the February issue of Seattle Magazine and was thrilled when the timing of the AVA approval dovetailed with the article. This is a special place in northwest wine, and it deserves to have its geographical name on the label.

Among Rocks Syrahs, is there a better value than Two Vintners? I’m hard pressed to think of one. It comes entirely from 2007-planted Stoney Vine Vineyard, an estate site for Dusted Valley that looks like this. Morgan fermented with all native yeasts and 35% whole cluster, and then this went into barrel (all French, 15% new 500L puncheon) for 18 months. It clocks in at 14.8% listed alc, and it offers a soaring, killer, honest-to-rocks funky nose: smoked sausages and olives, seaweed and savory stock; it’s just layer upon layer of umami. Is there rich mixed berry fruit there as well? Yes there is, but it’s a grace note to all that savory/earthy goodness. In the mouth, this is a total palate-stainer, outrageously rich and bloody, intense and delicious. There’s nothing quite like the funky complexity of a well-made rocks Syrah, and Morgan has done real justice to the area with this bottle. I suspect our days of any rocks Syrahs with price tags starting with a ‘3’ are numbered, but let’s enjoy them while they last!

I’m going to set the upper allocation limit high, since I suspect like last year we’ll only get one shot at this wine. Please limit order requests to 24 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2012 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon

February 22, 2015

Hello friends. I just received confirmation that we will be receiving “some” of this wine. And that’s good enough for me:

This is an extremely limited wine. Over the years since its launch with the 2008 vintage, it has received terrific press from a broad range of sources (massive reviews from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine Advocate), and it has only grown more and more difficult to acquire. And as you all know by now, 2012 has been an extremely well-received vintage in Washington, which only ups the allocation pressures.

So, then: a word about allocations and timing first. I’m going to set max orders at 4 bottles, but the truth is, I only know right now that we’re getting “some” of this wine. In my (probably optimistic) mind, that’s a decent-sized “some.” If it turns out to be a (probably more realistic) miniscule “some,” I apologize in advance for under-allocation and sold-out notices. Now timing. Please try to get order requests in by the end of the day on Monday. We should hear final word fairly quickly (like later this week), at which point we’ll send our allocation notices. And then the wine should arrive quickly too (probably this week; next week at the latest).

Many of you already know about this project. For those who don’t, this is the rare Washington celebrity project, from the football-worn hands of one Drew Bledsoe. (Note: Drew deserves extra accolades this year, as he helped to finally open up Massachusetts to direct shipping. I lived in MA from 1996 to 2004, and I wasn’t sure this day would ever come.) Drew chose about as strong a consultant as you can find in the Walla Walla Valley: Chris Figgins of Figgins Family Wine Estates/Leonetti Cellars. For the full scoop, check out Sean Sullivan’s Focus Report from April 2010.

This 2012 is the sixth vintage for Doubleback, the third to contain fruit from Drew’s estate McQueen Vineyard (planted in 2007; 40% of the blend), and the second to contain fruit from his other estate site, Bob Healy Vineyard (20% of the blend). The remainder comes from three Walla Walla Valley stalwarts: Seven Hills, Waliser, and Lefore, (a vineyard in the rocks; Chris Figgins has said of this site: “Cabernet Sauvignon from the LeFore vineyard, grown in gravels, builds complexity and adds a savory minerality to the finish of the wine.”)

I sampled this at the kind of tasting that does not lend itself to writing detailed notes, but my general impression was knee-buckling positive. Because of the increasing prevalence of estate fruit in the mix, this project is just getting more and more interesting. Chris Figgins is crafting a beautiful wine from these exciting raw materials: powerful and elegant, balanced and clearly built for the long haul. It spent about two years in barrel, 83% new French oak, and it clocks in at 14.4% listed alc.

Here are Chris Figgins’ notes on this vintage: [TEXT WITHHELD].

And here is the only published review to date, a barrel sample review from Jeb Dunnuck: Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2012 Ghost of 413 Red

February 20, 2015

Hello friends. We have the return of a very friendly ghost today. Not this one. Nope, not this one. This one:

The last time we offered the Ghost of 413 was way back in December 2011. No accident, I suppose, that the vintage was 2009, the last legitimately warm vintage before 2012 that made sense for a value Cabernet project.

And despite the lack of varietal identification on the bottle, that’s exactly what this is: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. That well-received 2009 was 90% Cab, but then these guys (that’s Mark McNeilly from Mark Ryan and Chris Gorman from Gorman, the partners in this project) decided to do a Syrah-heavy 2010 and skip 2011 altogether, best I can tell. Smart move. Those two cooler vintages were terrible for value Cabernet, which requires plenty of heat accumulation to shed its overly green nature.

But 2012 was a killer vintage for just about everything in Washington, low-end Cabernet included, and now the Ghost makes its triumphant return. The project was inaugurated in 2005, and Paul Gregutt wrote about the wine (and its name) in a 2007 Seattle Times article: [TEXT WITHHELD].

As it turned out, there was no need to don the invisibility cloak, as the wine was warmly received in the Seattle market as an exceptional value. It helped kick off the craze for these purchased juice projects (Renegade, Modern Wine Project, etc.), and that has been a very good thing for all of us. This is a wine that also tends to get glass-poured around town and deplete quickly. I remember the 2009 (5000 cases produced) was released in December 2011 and sold out by mid-spring 2012. I’m not sure what the production level is for this vintage, but I’m not taking any chances. Let’s jump in nice and early.

The wine begins with an alluring nose, with plum and redcurrant fruit lifted by minty topnotes and smoky bass notes. I found this to have considerably less oak influence than some previous vintages of Ghost. Instead it’s a fruit-and-leaf driven session wine, a bistro chugger, humming along the palate (13.9% listed alc) with bright berry and cassis fruit paired to mint and tobacco leaves. It’s a supple easy drinker, the Cabernet tannins presenting themselves only on the very finishing lick, a subtle note of black tea rusticity.

First come first served up to 36 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.

2004 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 904

February 18, 2015

Hello friends. About six months ago, we surprised a lot of people with the amount of interest our list members expressed in one of Rioja’s crown jewels, the Gran Reserva 904 from La Rioja Alta. We basically decimated the entire remaining stock of the 2001 vintage, and the 904 has since been out of the Seattle market. Until now.

The first wave of the new vintage (2004; LRA only bottles this in exceptional vintages, so they skipped ’02 and ’03) has just landed, and thanks to our list’s previous support, we’ve got dibs:

Wine Advocate (Luis Gutierrez): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96pts.”

That is a great note, and I definitely agree that we should be drinking the 2001 for the next few years while we wait for this 2004 to unfurl. That said, I think Gutierrez is conservative in the end-point of his drinking window. The 904 is one of those immortal wines in a great vintage like 2004, and I’m confident that if you opened a bottle in in 2054, it would still have something profound to say.

For reminders on what LRA is all about, I’ll excerpt our September offer: La Rioja Alta is a classic Rioja producer, in the vein of Lopez de Heredia. They have stubbornly resisted modernity, going against the grain as much of Rioja has gotten bigger, riper, richer. For that, they are rewarded with love and admiration from those of us who care about terroir expression and who want our Rioja to taste like Rioja, not like new-world Tempranillo. Producers like LRA don’t follow the short-term winds of fashion. They play the long game. They think about how their winery will be viewed in decades, in centuries.

Here is the wonderful writer Neal Martin, writing for Wine Advocate back in 2012: [TEXT WITHHELD].

A passage like that underscores a) how beautiful this winery is; and b) what a pity it is that Neal Martin’s time covering Spain for Advocate was so short. When Martin visited LRA, he also got to taste the 1964 vintage of Gran Reserva 904. Since I’m making claims about being able to hold these wines for fifty years past vintage, I think it would be instructive to include Martin’s 97pt review of the 1964. Written a half century post-vintage, it gives some indication of the immortal aging curves of the best wines from La Rioja Alta: [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].

LRA releases two Gran Reservas, the 890 (commemorating the founding of the winery in 1890) and the 904 (commemorating their gaining of most of their most important vineyard properties in 1904). This 904 is a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, aged entirely in four-year-old American oak barrels made in-house (yes, they make their own barrels) for four years. The wine was bottled in January 2009, where it has now rested for another six-plus years, putting us at a remarkable eleven years past vintage. Only in Rioja.

It clocks in at 13% listed alc and begins with a nose of smoky cherries, tobacco leaves, and loads of earthy leafy underbrush. You immediately notice how tightly wound the palate is, how all the depth and muscle is just waiting to unfurl over the years. Then you notice the earthy lustiness, how savory and fungal and brothy and deeply appetizing this glass of wine is. It’s certainly less ready to drink than the 2001 at this stage, but I’d suggest that the long-term aging potential is greater. The structure here is perfect: bright acid plus fine-grained, integrating, leafy tannin. I said about the 2001 that this is a bottle I find moving, and it’s certainly true of this 2004. Even for someone immersed regularly in sensory experiences and aesthetic evaluations, there are certain bottles that evoke strong emotions for their transparency and evocative beauty, and this is one of them for me.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2 from Val Joanis

February 18, 2015

Hello friends. I love offers like this one, where I taste a fabulous wine that I know nothing about, then have to fall deep down the research rabbit hole to understand why it’s as good as it is. [Note: in this case, the research even yielded a second wine to offer from the same producer; a white that can be found at the bottom of the offer.]

2011 Val Joanis Luberon Tradition Syrah

This landed in my glass at the end of a long day of tasting (I know: tough life), where I was grumpier than normal and less inclined to like whatever I was tasting. To say it cut through the clutter of the day would be an understatement. I’m just going to transcribe my note directly from my notebook:

super umami; FUNKY; loads of briney olives; lots of brackish seashore notes (kelp and sea salt); blackberry fruit; terrific salinity on 13.5%-alc palate mixed w/ brambly fruit and loads of continuing savories; has a sense of funkiness that lovers of Wash. Syrah will appreciate; unfashionable AOC = well priced; this is Washington meets Crozes!

I was excited by the wine. As you can tell. And I was also excited to dig into why it was so compelling. Let’s begin with the AOC: Luberon. There are all these incredible values to be found on the outskirts of the Rhone Valley. We’ve previously dug up Lou Ven Tou and Lou Bar Rou from Cotes du Ventoux, and Domaine des Rozets from Grignan-les-Adhemar. Now we can add Cotes du Luberon to the list as well.

As you can see from Joanis’ location, we’re in a transition zone here between the Rhone and Provence. You may recall there was a time when no one had heard of Gigondas and Vacqueyras, and so those regions produced terrific values. I’d argue that places like Ventoux and Luberon are now stepping up and occupying that value space. The regions are still uneven, but that’s okay: as you know, we don’t mind tasting through a lot of dreck to find the gems.

This particular gem has a terrific back-story, too. The Joanis estate has a long history. How long is a little unclear, but it appeared in a land register in 1575 with the exact same boundaries it has today. The 1800s and early 1900s were not kind to the estate, which was overgrown by forest in 1977 when the current owner (Jean-Louis Chancel) purchased it. But evidence of vineyards and olive groves was scattered throughout the estate, and Chancel proceeded to embark on a twenty-year rehabilitation project, in the end planting out 186 hectares of vineyards (and some olive trees as well). He also built a winery on the property inspired by the architecture of the Dominican Order, along with gardens so beautiful that they were named among the “Notable Gardens of France” by the French Ministry of Culture (here’s just one picture of the gardens). Sounds like a place we should probably all aim to visit.

And then there are the vineyards. Here’s what the winery says: [TEXT WITHHELD]. And more to the point, here is what the vineyard looks like, a thick layer of pebble stones above anything resembling “soil.” Many of the wines produced in this region are Grenache-based, as you’d expect from the southern Rhone, but Val Joanis’ estate vineyards are planted predominantly to Syrah. And thank goodness for that, because this is one savory-wonderful expression of Syrah, priced like a midweek house wine but with enough complexity to serve on special occasions.

2012 Val Joanis Luberon Tradition Roussanne

As you’d imagine, my next question for the importer after tasting the Syrah: what else do you have from Val Joanis? And as it turned out, they have a small parcel of a lovely Roussanne from the same estate vineyards. It clocks in at 13% listed alc and offers an alluring nose of peach fruit, almond nuttiness, and an earthy-green component akin to fresh hay. The palate sees a wonderful mix of rich fruit with a sturdy acid-mineral spine, and the flavors seamlessly combine ripe stone fruits with salty nutty notes. For anyone stuck in a Chardonnay rut, this is a fleshy, palate-coating marvel, sharing much in common texturally with Chard but possessing a completely different flavor profile. Rhone Whites from the trendier AOCs can be wallet-shattering; I’m just crazy about the price point here.

The only drawback is that the parcels of both of these wines are fairly limited. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of Syrah and 6 bottles of Roussanne, 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.