2012 Notre Dame de Laval Cotes du Roussillon

March 30, 2015

Hello friends. We kiss frogs. It’s Full Pull’s unofficial motto. We kiss all the slimy, warty, bloated frogs; we discard the duds; and we present you with the princes.

And let me tell you: when you’re looking for red wines at a $10 price point, it is frog city, a breeding ground for frogs, a teeming mass of frogs, frogs upon frogs, and you kiss and kiss and kiss until your chapped bleeding lips can take no more. And then every once in awhile you find a prince:

We’re value hunting today, and we’re doing so in one of the great wine regions in the world to find value: Roussillon. We’ve talked about this region a few times before, mostly in the context of Chapoutier’s Bila-Haut project. That, of course, is high-end by Roussillon standards.

While wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux and the Rhone and the Loire get the bulk of the publicity, it’s Languedoc-Roussillon that is the real engine room of French wine. And admittedly: a lot of it is forgettable plonk that should be distilled as soon as possible. But if you dig a little, this is a region where you can fine old-vine gems.

Notre Dame de Laval is a bottle produced by a wonderful little Rousillon co-op called Vignobles d’Agly. It’s a collections of growers and winemakers in this neck of the woods who have banded together to produce wine in one larger cooperative winery. The hilly Agly valley contains all sorts of interesting soils, but Notre Dame de Laval comes predominantly from schist (which looks like this).

It’s a pretty typical blend for this part of the world – 45% Carignan, 30% Grenache, 25% Syrah – but what is atypical, and crazy given the tariff, is the vine age. The Syrah is 15 years old. Okay, no big deal. But the Grenache: 40 year old vines. And the Carignan? Even older: 50 years! Thank goodness this region remains so inconsistent and unsexy, because it depresses pricing even for old-vine bottles like this one.

NDdL clocks in at 13.5% listed alc, and it kicks off with a great nose combining deep brambly berry fruit with slow-smoked meats. In the mouth, you immediately notice the depth, the richness, the terrific rustic charm. It’s a delicious fruit-driven wine, but that solid whack of Carignan offers its characteristic earthy/brothy funk, adding complexity and intrigue to the package. The finishing lick of angostura bitters is the perfect foil to all the lush fruit. The co-op suggests pairing this with duck breast or hare or maybe roasted wild boar. That might work in the Pyrenees foothills; closer to home, this strikes me as a ne plus ultra summer BBQ wine.

It’d make a damn fine mid-week house wine or wedding wine or summer party wine too, so let’s open it up: first come first served up to 120 bottles, and the wine should arrive next week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2008 Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Clifton Hill Vineyard

March 29, 2015

Hello friends. We have been offered a screaming deal on a single-vineyard Syrah whose previous vintages have been hugely popular among our list members. Those previous two vintages (2006 and 2007) were offered at 38.99 (34.99 TPU) and 41.99 (36.99 TPU), and this 2008 began its life with a $40 tag. That’s just some context for what a terrific tariff we have today:

Ron Bunnell has a deep comfort level with Washington state fruit. From 1992 to 2004, he worked for Ste Michelle Wine Estates, and his final role there was Head Red Winemaker. That role had Ron traveling to the outer reaches of the state for vineyard research and management. It also had him traveling to the outer reaches of the country, as the Head Red Winemaker is expected to do as much public relations work as winemaking. Five years in that role, doing that amount of travel, was enough, and in 2004 Ron struck out on his own, launching Bunnell Family Cellar.

A lot of their wines are poured at a restaurant run by Ron’s wife Susan in Prosser. Wine O’Clock is a wonderful spot, their wood-fired brick oven churning out pie after pie of thin-crust, artisanal pizza. The Margherita – crust, tomato, mozzarella, basil – is a reminder of the wonder that exists at the crossroads of simplicity and perfection. Wine O’Clock is where I first met Ron Bunnell, way back in December 2009, and it’s where I first tasted through his fabulous lineup of wines. We’ve been paying attention to this winery ever since, and we’ve offered a number of their wines, but I’m not sure we’ve ever offered anything with this level of QPR.

Clifton Hill Vineyard is a Milbrandt-farmed site on the Wahluke Slope. If you take the shortcut route from Seattle to Walla Walla, you drive right past it. The vineyard slopes to the west, overlooking Sentinel Gap, a geological oddity where the Missoula Floods carved their way through the Saddle Mountains. Along with Syrah, there is Viognier planted at Clifton Hill, and the two grapes ripen at about the same time, allowing co-fermentation (today’s blend is 97/3 Syrah/Viognier, the same as the 06 and 07 vintages previously offered, and it clocks in at 14.5% listed alc).

This is small production (239 cases), single-vineyard, terroir-expressive Syrah from an outstanding vintage. It spent a little more than two years in barrel before bottling in April 2010, and has now had another five years in bottle to evolve and unfurl. I’ve said it before, and I continue to believe it: despite the fact that 2008 was overshadowed by showier 2007, I think the ‘08s have greater aging potential, and this is a fine example. It starts with a gorgeous, lifted, flower-garden nose, elevated by the Viognier coferment. Then you notice all the subtleties: marionberry fruit, orange peel, dark minerally/tarry streaks. The palate offers piercing purity of fruit, silken texture, and a real sense of freshness and energy and vitality. The mouthwatering finish invites the next sip, and the overall package conveys a wine just hitting its stride, with years of beautiful peak drinking ahead.

This is a wine in a killer spot. It would be a great splurge option for summer weddings and parties, so let’s open it up: first come first served up to 120 bottles, and the wine should arrive next week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2012 Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley

March 27, 2015

Hello friends. I’ve taken great pains over the years to make it clear that Amavi and Pepper Bridge are separate entities. Closely related sister wineries yes, but separate entities nevertheless. And so I hope I’ve built up a little goodwill, such that it doesn’t piss anyone off too badly when I say that this new vintage of Amavi Cab tastes more like baby Pepper Bridge than any vintage I’ve ever tasted.

What vintage is it, you ask? How could it be anything other than 2012:

This 2012 vintage really is the gift that keeps on giving. At this point, my expectations are sky-high for any new-release 2012 that I taste. What a joy to have high expectations fulfilled! I was just baffled after tasting this, because if the Amavi Cab drinks like this, how ridiculously good is the Pepper Bridge Cab going to be upon its eventual release? Epic, I suspect, but that’s a story for another day.

Today is a day for Amavi. In addition to a good bit of ownership overlap between Pepper Bridge and Amavi, the important things that the two wineries share are a) an incredible, gravity-flow facility; one of the finest in the valley; and b) Jean-Francois Pellet, the Swiss petanque master of the Walla Walla Valley, one of the best winemakers and friendliest humans to roam southeast Washington. The wines under the Amavi label see a bit less new oak, are released a little younger, and are generally designed for earlier consumption (more on that later: I find it hard to credit the idea that this 2012 is made for early drinking, despite the price).

Two more reasons why this wine is extra appealing: pricing and vineyards. First, it is becoming more and more rare to see a Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon hit a $25 price point. In my mind, other than Amavi, the list starts and ends with Saviah, and Rich Funk’s Cab is actually $30 for most of the year (also, my understanding is that they’re moving away from their end of year discount).

And second, this was already a cool project when the vineyard sourcing included Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills and Les Collines Vineyards (the king and queen and, erm, crown prince of the valley). But now: this is a glimpse into the future of the valley, which is going to include a mix of old vineyards and exciting newcomers. Here is the vineyard breakdown for this 2012:

Oldheads: 22% Les Collines + 14% Seven Hills + 12% Pepper Bridge = 48%
Noobs: 22% Octave + 16% Summit View + 14% Goff = 52%

Both Octave and Summit View are part of the Sevein project (map here), one that has huge implications for the future of the valley. Sevein is a 2700-acre property long coveted by valley growers/winemakers for its high elevation (900’-1500’) and fractured basalt soil. After long ownership by the Mormon church (who farmed wheat there), the site was finally purchased in 2004 by a group comprised of many of the Seven Hills partners. If all the Sevein land that can be planted out to vineyard is eventually planted out, it will nearly double the vineyard acreage in the Walla Walla Valley.

I first became aware of the project during a visit with JF Pellet back in April 2010. We walked some of the rows at Octave, which had just recently been planted, and JF’s excitement was palpable, contagious. To be above the frost zone, in fascinating terroir, looking down across the valley; it was impossible not to be entranced.

Now five years later, here we are tasting wines from these promising sites. This one kicks off with a wonderfully Cabernet nose: crème de cassis, black tea, lifted minty/eucalyptus notes, good clean soil. The flavors continue the theme: a laser of pure blackcurrant fruit shaded by wonderful earthen/mineral tones. But it’s the texture that got me really excited about this one, the texture that made me jot “baby P. Bridge” in my note. These are serious tannins. Well-managed, well-polished yes, but very present. Impossible to miss. And wonderful. There aren’t a whole lot of $25 Washington wines for which I’d be comfortable predicting a successful 10-20 year evolution. This is certainly one. It’s earthy, serious, adult Cabernet, with power and grace to spare. I shouldn’t continue to be surprised at what 2012 has wrought, but I’ll admit: this one left me happily shaking my head in surprised delight. If this is what the future of Walla Walla fruit looks like, well then the future is bright indeed.

Since this is such a stone cold killer option for summer weddings and parties, let’s open it up: first come first served up to 120 bottles, and the wine should arrive next week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2 from Southard

March 25, 2015

Hello friends. Oh planning. How I love it, and what a waste of time it can be.

So, Southard. I love them. You love them. Great. We had our first Southard offer of the year back in January. That was the 2012 Syrah, and we sold every bottle allocated to us, had to under-allocate a number of our list members, and I can count at least a dozen folks who were shut out entirely because they placed their orders too late.

The plan, then, was to wait until the second half of the year for our next Southard offer. You know, staggering it out and all that. So it was penciled in for July or maybe August.

No chance, I’ve been told. The wines will be sold out by then, I’ve been told. Okay then. So much for planning!

The issue, I’m afraid, is that other folks around town have caught onto the screaming quality-price ratio that Southard offers. Especially my colleagues in the restaurant trade, who know a solid local $10 glass pour when they see one. I know we ended up under-allocated on the ’12 Syrah because we were fighting (amicably) for bottles with our buddies at Purple Café. And I suspect those guys (and others) will have their sights set on today’s equally well-priced white and red. So let’s cast the plans aside, damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead on Southard:

2013 Southard White Wine Columbia Valley

This is a 64/36 blend of Roussanne and Viognier, the Roussanne coming entirely from Lawrence Vineyard, the wonderful high elevation site on the Royal Slope farmed by Scott Southard’s cousins, the Viognier from the outstanding StoneTree Vineyard at the top of the Wahluke Slope.

It clocks in at 14.5% listed alc, just about right for a white Rhone blend from the warmer 2013 vintage. The nose is terrifically expressive: ripe peach preserves in sweet cream, marzipan, honeysuckle, and fresh straw. The palate possesses an almost red-wine sense of vinousness. It’s rich, ripe, and full-bodied, offering a delicious combination of fruit and nut elements. The amount of stuffing is unusual for a white at this price point, and I’m pleased we have the chance to offer this one (the 2010 vintage is the only other time we’ve been able to offer Scott’s white).

2012 Southard Red Wine Columbia Valley

The Southard Red, on the other hand, we’ve offered a number of times. The 2010 was 55/45 Syrah/Mourvedre, the 2011 72/28 Syrah/Zinfandel. This 2012 is completely different, and not just because it’s a down the middle vintage after the two cooler years of 2010 and 2011. It also has a healthy chunk of Grenache, which didn’t show up in either the 2010 or 2011.

In fact, it’s almost a straight Rhone blend, with 42% Grenache (Lawrence Vineyard), 41% Syrah (Lawrence and Stonetree), and 4% Mourvedre (Stonetree). The “almost” comes from the missing 13%, which is filled in by Stonetree Zinfandel. It’s that Zin and the Grenache that dominate the nose, a swirling stew of brambly raspberry and blackberry fruit, hot-rock minerality, and savory tomato leaf. My first note on the palate was “BBQ chugger; I want a bacon cheeseburger.” This is a big and rich, soft and easy wine, clocking in at 15% listed alc and offering loads of unctuous, delicious fruit. There’s not much in the way of oak or tannin to get in the way of all that overt deliciousness. This is the best kind of fruit bomb: perfectly ripe, easily generous, comfortable in its own skin. When summertime comes, and the grills start firing up, this would be one hell of a house red to have around.

I’m getting the sense (gulp) that we might only get one shot at these, so let’s open it up: please limit order requests to 60 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in the next week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2009 Viticcio Chianti Classico Riserva

March 23, 2015

Hello friends. We’ve been offered a time-limited deal on a lovely Chianti Classico Riserva, now six years past vintage and drinking like a wine entering its peak:

Logistics first. We have a hold on the entire remainder of the 2009 vintage. That hold expires one week from today, so please make sure all order requests are in no later than this upcoming weekend. We’ll place our order on March 30, and the wine should arrive later that week and could certainly be included in spring shipping window shipments.

Now a quick word on pricing. Our TPU price is a solid $10 off the release price of $32, and from what the internet tells me (and the internet never, ever lies), we have the lowest tariff nationally by a few bucks. If we sell out, it does seem like there are a few west coast parcels floating around in the $24-$27 range, which is still quite competitive for this wine.

You might be asking why we were offered this deal in the first place. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it’s a pretty simple answer, and one that we at Full Pull understand well. You know how we’ve had our Hoarders offer and then our Saturday bin-ends sale this year? Sometimes you just need to clear out inventory. In this case, it looks like nationally, most folks have moved onto the 2010 vintage of this wine, and a few are even selling 2011, so I suspect our local importer is ready to clear out the 2009 in advance of a new vintage rolling in.

Of course the funny part of all this is that the wine is being discounted/closed out just as it is entering peak drinking. That’s an irony of the wine trade that never ceases to surprise and delight me, I must admit. This 2009 vintage also comes with a shimmering (if pithy) review from former Wine Spectator editor James Suckling, who has since branched out on his own: JamesSuckling.com (James Suckling): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Viticcio is a deeply scenic (pics one, two, three) estate and agritourismo in Greve, smack in the middle of the Classico zone of Chianti (location here). In other words, the beating heart of Sangiovese. The 30-hectacre estate was founded in 1960 by the Landini family, and it’s the second generation now at the helm. In recent years, the focus has shifted in the vineyards towards both organic and biodynamic viticulture.

Viticcio’s Riserva comes from the best sections of their vineyard (planted on a soil base of limestone and clay), and this 2009 spent about a year in a combination of new and neutral barriques and botti. It clocks in at 13.5% listed alc, and it offers a wonderful maturing Sangiovese nose of black cherry (mostly fresh, a little dried), roasted wild mushrooms, and aperol bitters. The balance of rich red fruit and earth notes on the palate is exquisite. I was completely seduced by this wine’s rustic, honest Chianti charm, its serious toothsome earthy chew. The finish is all cherry tea, and it lingers on and on, inviting another sip, or better yet, another bite of food. A wine like this is born to go with Italian or Italian-American food. Gnocchi Bolognese is what is coming to my mind right now [wipes drool].

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

2 from Las Vascos

March 20, 2015

Hello friends. Today we have the new vintage of what was a surprise hit for us when we offered it in late 2013 – a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon – and the debut vintage of an important new wine from the same winery.

That winery would be Los Vascos, which is the great Bordeaux house Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite’s ambitious project in Chile, inaugurated in 1988. The vineyard they purchased (located here) is 640 hectares, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Carménère (5%), Syrah (4%), Malbec (1%) and Chardonnay (5%). The oldest vines are more than 70 years old, but most of the blocks are 40-50 years old, interspersed with younger blocks planted out in the ‘90s post-Lafite purchase.

As you’d expect from Lafite (they of the $200+ BDX bottle), these are polished wines that punch well above their price class. Let’s dig into them:

2012 Los Vascos (Lafite) Grande Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon)

The 2011 vintage of this was a hugely popular reorder target, and I suspect the ’12 will be equally well-received. A Cab-dominant (75%) blend of all four red varieties planted at Los Vascos, it was aged for a year in Lafite’s French oak barrels (50% new), and it clocks in at 14% listed alc. The nose has a wonderful earthy/soil component, shaded by cassis and bay leaf and a dark/exotic spice note, like star anise. Fleshy from front to back, this has an especially supple/polished mid-palate, and a lovely sense of savory succulence (likely from the 10% Carmenere). It’s decidedly new world in style (especially for Lafite!), but there are sneaky earth tones and plenty of Lafite polish. It’s a classy glass of Cabernet indeed, and an interesting reference point for Washington Cab lovers.

JamesSuckling.com (James Suckling): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2012 Los Vascos (Lafite) Carmenere Grande Reserve

For an obscure grape, it’s weird how often I get asked about Carmenere. I think there’s something about “the lost grape of Bordeaux” that tickles peoples’ fancy. The story on Carmenere: up until a phylloxera outbreak in the mid-1800s, Carmenere was one of the six red varieties used regularly in Bordeaux (along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot). Post-phylloxera, Carmenere was thought for a time to have gone extinct, but it resurfaced many years later in Chile, where it had long been confused with Merlot (the grapes look nearly identical). While some Carmenere has since been reintroduced in Bordeaux (and Washington, among other places), it is far more widely planted in Chile, and it could be argued that it’s their national or flagship variety.

Now a wine trade cynic (I know a few) would say that there’s a reason the Bordelaise lost this variety and didn’t find it again. It’s a late ripener, and perhaps even more than Cabernet Sauvignon is prone to some serious meanie/greenie notes when under-ripe. But come on; this is Lafite! Do you really think they’re going to make some rustic can of green beans? Not going to happen. In fact, they waited like 25 vintages before deciding they had Carmenere figured out enough to bottle it on its own (a huge advancement was changing out from flood irrigation to the more tightly-controlled drip irrigation).

So yes, this 2012 is the first ever Grande Reserve Carmenere for Los Vascos, and it’s a beauty, showcasing the grape’s varietal character (and it has plenty). Raised for a year in 20% new French oak (the remainder once-used and tank), it comes roaring out of the glass with violets, black fruit, flinty minerals, and a terrific exotic spicy note. It’s a little like a roasted chile pepper, a little like Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton agridulce; this stuff, that turns roasted potatoes into nirvana). Anyway, it’s an unusual note; I can’t think of another variety that possesses it. In the mouth, it is a total palate-stainer (again 14% alc), with plush, mint-tinged black fruit, and a lovely, lingering, bergamot finish. This is one hell of an ambassador for Chilean Carmenere.

JamesSuckling.com (James Suckling): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

First come first served up to 48 bottles total, and the wines should arrive in the next week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

2 from Dunham Cellars

March 18, 2015

Hello friends. The team at Dunham Cellars is special to me. From very early on in Full Pull’s existence, Eric Dunham and Dan Wampfler and Kenny Hart and John Blair have been kind, supportive, and generous. Back in 2011, they let me stay in their guest room above the winery, where we also tasted this ridiculous assortment of library wines, many of which turned into offers for our list members.

I have fond memories of staggering out of that guest room in the morning, bleary-eyed, and seeing Dan and his assistant winemaker Robert Campisi already hard at work. I remember walking across the field between Dunham and the Walla Walla Roastery, and getting yelled at by Kenny Hart in his big white truck (he had of course already been up for like five hours and seemed to take extra delight in my sleepwalking routine). I recall a time when John Blair (Dunham’s GM) probably saved my life by telling me what a terrible idea it would be to try to drive over Snoqualmie Pass with about 40 cases of wine in my Honda Element (the tires were actually bowing outwards).

It’s a wonderful group of people at Dunham Cellars, and it has been a difficult year, since the passing of Eric Dunham in October. In discussing with John Blair the best way to move forward, we settled on offering two wines: one library wine to talk about the past, and one current release to talk about the future. I hope you’ll all join me in continuing to support this terrific winery, these terrific people. The Blairs (David and Cheryll) joined the Dunham family as winery co-owners in 2004 (John is their son), which allowed expanded investments in high-quality cellar operations and estate vineyard plantings.  Their ongoing involvement will continue the proud legacy of Dunham, including a series of special events this year to celebrate the winery’s 20th anniversary.

2007 Dunham Cellars Syrah

We settled on the 07 Syrah from the library for a few reasons. First off, it was a hugely popular wine for our list members back when we originally offered it in July 2011. And second, it was the last vintage made at Dunham where Eric was the day-to-day winemaker. Beginning with the 2008 vintage, Dan Wampfler came on board, allowing Eric to move into more of a director of winemaking/brand ambassador role.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.” [Note: the “now” in that review was 2011, so we’re in the middle of Harvey’s peak drinking window.]

I had a chance to taste this recently, and it is in a wonderful place, aromatically filled with fresh and dried blueberries, soaring white floral notes, and Dr. Pepper spice. Rich and ripe in the mouth, all rough edges have been polished to a fine sheen through the magic of bottle age. Creamy, beautifully proportioned, and overtly delicious, this lingers on and on, all dried blueberry and earth. It’s a fine memory of a talented, aesthetically gifted winemaker.

2011 Dunham Cellars Syrah

It is important to note that not much is going to change at Dunham, including winemaking. Dan Wampfler has been taking the lead on the winemaking front since 2008, and he has made a series of beautiful vintages at Dunham: warm vintages, cool vintages, down-the-middle vintages; he’s done them all, and done them well.

And that includes this 2011, which is the current release for Dunham Syrah. It is 100% varietal, and it comes from a combination of Lewis Estate Vineyard and Phinny Hill in Horse Heaven. Raised in a combination of French and American oak, it clocks in at 13.8% listed alc, true to the cooler 2011 vintage. The nose is all breakfast all the time: blueberry, bacon fat, and fresh ground coffee. Spicy and brambly, this hums across the palate, all energy and verve, rolling into a chewy finish redolent of cola spice. It’s a fine example of Dan’s deft winemaking touch.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of the 2007 and 12 bottles of the 2011, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. Both wines should arrive in the next week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.