Full Pull HIP

May 31, 2015

Hello friends. There are some wine categories that are just frog-kissers through and through. Sub-$15 Cabernet Sauvignon definitely qualifies. It is the domain of the lean, the mean, the green, full of press juice, ultra-aggro tannins, green beans, and other undesirables.

As per the usual, your merry team of frog-kissers has been hard at work, with wine glass in one hand and toothbrush in the other, tasting a vast panoply of entry level Cabs. I’ve been wanting to explore my theory that the 2013 vintage is going to perform a lot like the 2009s: both warm years that both offer (hopefully) good-value, early-release, early-drinking Cabs. So far, I’d say it’s a mixed bag, but certainly better than tasting value Cabs from 2010 or 2011 (horror shows both).

So yeah, plenty of frogs, but who cares about them? Today let’s focus on a prince:

2013 House of Independent Producers Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Hedges family. Their Red Mountain wines from the ‘90s have been influential in my personal appreciation for the ageworthiness of Washington wines, and I’ve always admired how the family has carved out their own path in Washington winemaking.

HIP is a label for the family that allows Christophe and Pete Hedges to play with vineyard sources outside their Red Mountain home, and to put some serious value under an alternate label. To wit: this Cab comes entirely from the Sagemoor Farms group (which includes vineyards like Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, and Wooded Island), an outstanding source of Cabernet. As you can see on the (stylish) label, the vineyards are as much of an emphasis as the grape (note: that label is for the 2012 vintage, but it looks essentially the same as today’s ’13).

With the grapegrowing and winemaking pedigree here, this is one of those wines that has no business really being below $15. My understanding is that it sees a lot more placements on restaurant lists (especially by the glass) than through retail, but as usual, I don’t like to let our city’s somms have all the fun. It clocks in at 14% listed alc and offers a great Cab nose of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit paired to a nice dusty earthy mushroom character. Ripe, rich, and honest to the warm 2013 vintage, it offers a continuing balance of fruit and earth tones and an appealing plumpness on the attack and mid-palate. Then some sneaky-serious Cab tannin appears on the finish, toothsome and redolent of black tea and espresso.

[Late note on this one. I had originally thought there was plenty of this to go around, and my first draft had an order limit of 120 bottles, but as it turns out, the winery is almost completely sold out of the 2013 vintage. We have a hold on a solid chunk, but this will for sure be a one-and-done offer, with no prospect for fulfilling reorders. We’ll be placing our order on June 8, so please try to have all requests in by the evening of June 7.]

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.

Full Pull Tamarack

May 27, 2015

Hello friends. I’m a true believer when it comes to Ron Coleman and Danny Gordon’s reserve bottlings for Tamarack, and I think I’ve converted many of you over the years too. I’ve said previously that these should be Washington cult wines, and on that front, I probably should have kept my mouth shut, because they’re becoming more and more difficult to source. To wit: we can only access two of the four 2010 Reserves (the other two – Sagemoor and Seven Hills – have already disappeared via wine club and direct winery sales).

Year in and year out, Tamarack’s single-vineyard reserves are among the most consistently outstanding wines produced in Washington. And they haven’t raised their prices in years, so the value factor just keeps getting better and better. That’s why we’ve offered them pretty much every chance we’ve had over the years. Here’s a quick history:

2006 vintage: DuBrul, Sagemoor
2007 vintage: DuBrul, Sagemoor, Ciel
2008 vintage: DuBrul, Sagemoor, Ciel, Seven Hills
2009 vintage: DuBrul, Ciel, Seven Hills

As I mentioned in last year’s offer, 2009 was the final vintage of DuBrul. Sad for certain, as Ron’s version was a classic. But it did open up a slot in the reserve program, filled by a wine we’ll be featuring in three… two… one…

2010 Tamarack Cellars Reserve Tapteil Vineyard

Among Red Mountain Vineyards, Tapteil is probably a bit lesser known than Ciel and Klipsun and Kiona, but man oh man is it a beauty: a 1985-planted vineyard with a dark, sultry heart. Even by Red Mountain standards (where the wind never seems to stop blowing), Tapteil is a windy site, and its grapes develop extra-thick skins to compensate. In the hands of incompetent winemakers, Tapteil can lead to unyielding wines, where by the time the tannins integrate (in about forty years), the fruit is long since gone. Fortunately, Ron and Danny practically exude competence at this point, and they’ve done right by this vineyard, offering an honest bottling of Tapteil fruit.

A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Franc (14.4% listed alc), this begins with a dark brooding nose: blackberry, violet, charcoal, asphalt. In the mouth, you notice the Tapteil power right away. The wine is a serious powerhouse, and an undeniable brooder. It drinks very Cabernet right now, with currant and earl gray tea and violets galore. The tannic structure is imposing but well managed, and there is enough fruit stuffing here to easily last while those tannins polymerize and drop out of solution. You won’t need to wait forty years, but waiting another three to five wouldn’t hurt (or giving this several hours in a decanter if you’re aiming to pour it any time soon).

I’m deeply smitten with this wine. Among late-release 2010s (actually, among all 2010s), it’s hard to think of many more attractive wines than this. Bit of a problem though: only 84 cases produced, so allocations might be challenging here, and reorder prospects seem unlikely.

2010 Tamarack Cellars Reserve Ciel du Cheval Vineyard

Much bigger production here: 136 cases. Heh. Yeah, so pretty much the same deal here: challenging allocations, murky reorder prospects.

This now marks the fourth year in a row we’ve offered Tamarack’s Ciel bottling, and that’s no mistake: I consider it one of a quintet of reference point Ciel bottlings (the other four: Andrew Will, Cadence, Seven Hills, Soos Creek). If we had that sort of classification system in Washington, Ciel du Cheval would almost certainly be a Grand Cru vineyard. When you have reference point winemakers working with a Grand Cru vineyard, you can bet I’m going to pay attention.

The 2010 is a blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Cabernet Franc, and 28% Merlot, and it too clocks in at 14.4% listed alc. There’s killer Red Mountain character here on the aromatics: sanguine/iron-tinged minerality, dust, almond paste, all over a core of bright red cherry fruit. What’s exceptional about this wine is how it combines the energy and tension of the vintage with the stuffing and elegance of the vineyard. It’s an old-world new-world bridge-wine for sure, with a very strong mineral core, sumptuous fruit, and serious finishing chew, redolent of chamomile. If this ages like the ‘99s from Ciel du Cheval, expect a successful twenty-year evolution in bottle.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles of each wine, 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.

Full Pull Languedoc-Roussillon

May 25, 2015

Hello friends. The latest container of Bila-Haut wine is currently dodging the Polar Pioneer and its associated kayaktivists, and it should be hitting the docks in Seattle any moment now. It contains a trio of Chapoutier’s entry-level wines from southwest France, line-priced and ready for summer chugging. These wines a) are extremely popular with our list members; and b) tend to disappear quickly; hence the offer while the boat is still on the water. Fortunately, I was able to snag some air-shipped samples ahead of time, and they’re as delicious as ever.

A few reminders on this project before we dig into the wines: first off, Languedoc-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 fine source of French value. At the vanguard of the quality movement: 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: [TEXT WITHHELD]

2014 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Cotes du Roussillon Blanc

We offered the 2012 vintage of this, totally missed out on the 2013, and will be competing for the ’14 with Wild Ginger, who I understand has plans to glass-pour this all summer (as usual, the Ginger has impeccable taste). It’s a compelling oddball of a wine, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Vermentino, and Macabeo, the last of which is more frequently seen in Cava production than anyplace else (maybe not so surprising, since the Cotes du Roussillon is only a hop and a skip from Barcelona). Raised in stainless steel, it clocks in at 13% listed alc and offers a nose of honeydew and nectarine fruit paired to terrific chalky minerality (these grapes are grown some on chalky soils, some on granitic). It’s a lovely, dry mid-weight, offering enough phenolic texture and palate-coating quality that I wonder if it spent some extended time on the skins. Regardless, the weight and heft are impressive for a blanc at this tag.

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 89-91pts.”

2014 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Rose Pays d’Oc

The only bottle of the three not to have a review (I’m not surprised; this is tiny-production juice), and also the most limited of the three, the least likely to be available for reorder. Seattle only ever sees an eensy parcel of this each summer, so let’s get while the gettin’s good. A blend of Cinsault and Grenache, it offers a summery nose of melon, kiwi, and berry fruit. There’s a savory fruit element, too, something akin to rhubarb, that is just lovely here. The palate continues the theme, with a finely-balanced mix of fruit and Grenache garrigue elements. It’s honest, unfussy, well-priced rosé from the south of France, and it’ll be gone before you know it. 13% listed alc.

2013 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Cotes du Roussillon Villages Rouge

This is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan, from Chapoutier’s vineyards, sites that combine, in his words, “black and brown schist to give the wine a solar touch, gneiss for minerality and freshness, limestone and chalk for strength and balance.” All of that results in a beautiful nose: deep berry fruit, brothy beefy notes, bacon fat, brambles. Year after year, this wine over-delivers in the aromatic complexity department, offering way more intrigue than we have any right to expect at a sub-$15 price point. Silky and supple (14% listed alc), rich and delicious, this is perhaps most impressive for its balance, with all components playing together happily. This is a bottle that offers visceral thrills and really has no business existing at this price. I agree with Jeb’s assessment that this could easily age for another five years (maybe more), and I see this as a no-brainer house red for summer-into-autumn.

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

First come first served up to 72 bottles total (note: I reserve the right to change my mind and allocate; it may be necessary on the rosé), and the wines should arrive in the next 2-3 weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Full Pull Pay Attention

May 24, 2015

Hello friends. I usually try to keep the hyperbole in check for these offers, and I don’t like to crank up the hype machine too often for young wineries, but I’m going to ignore all that today, because Kevin White’s new-release 2013s are outrageous, and they cement him as one of Washington’s true rising stars. The fact that he still has a day job with Microsoft boggles the mind. What is this guy going to do when winemaking is a full time gig? How high is the ceiling?

This is commercial release number four for Kevin, and I’m pretty sure we’ve offered every single wine he has ever released commercially. His pricing is ridiculous. These wines compete with bottles at twice the tag. Kevin seems determined to offer exceptional value as he builds his brand, and I’m thrilled that our list members can continue to be the recipients of his efforts in that direction.

And of course the reason we get competitive allocations of these scarce wines at all is that Kevin himself was a long-time Full Pull list member. I remember way back in 2010, we talked about his potential winery project, and when he mentioned mentors like Jon Meuret (Maison Bleue), Hugh Shiels (DuBrul Vineyard), and Leroy Radford (Baer / Flying Dreams), I knew this was a project with a serious chance of success.

Logistics-wise, we’re likely to only get one shot at these. They’re small production, and I’m already getting pressure to place our order and release the leftovers to the gathering hordes. The 2012 Fraternite and Hommage received matching 94pt reviews from Paul Gregutt (Wine Enthusiast) last autumn, and that has only increased the sales pressures on the (as yet unreviewed, thank goodness) 2013s. If possible, I’ll over-buy so that we have some availability for reorder, but I’d say the odds of that are less than 50/50.

2013 Kevin White Winery La Fraternite

A 46/46/8 blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah, it comes from Upland, Olsen, and Boushey Vineyards, which is an all-star lineup of Yakima Valley sites. Only 270 cases produced, and this clocks in at 14.5% listed alc, which seems right for the warm 2013 vintage. It begins with an *extremely* aromatic nose (my note had the word “extremely” in all-caps, but I decided to spare you), super expressive with rose petals and violets, plums, exotic spices, mineral tones. It’s a soaring, double-take nose, unfurling layer upon layer of complexity with time. The palate contains the richness of the vintage and wonderful brambly berry fruit, all precisely balanced by a terrific acid-mineral spine. Plush, generous, and expressive, this is a wine with charm and panache to spare. Don’t miss it.

2013 Kevin White Winery Syrah En Hommage

In 2013 Hommage moves to 100% Syrah and gets the varietal on the label. It comes from Olsen and Elephant Mountain Vineyards, and production is even smaller than the Fraternite: just 250 cases. Oh what a gorgeous Yakima Valley Syrah nose: smoky bacon fat, dark blackberry and blueberry fruit, charcoal and asphalt: think dark, smoky, brooding. In the mouth, this is a total palate-stainer, with naughty salty/brackish notes, loads of smoked meats, and plenty of dark dark fruit. This lush pleasure-bringer (14.6% listed alc) gets to every nook of your palate, coating it with Syrah goodness. It’s a killer vintage of En Hommage.

2013 Kevin White Winery Reserve

This is the first vintage of this wine released outside the winery itself, and I’m going to try to keep the verbiage to a minimum, because there’s very little of it to go around (a mere 90 cases produced). A blend of two-thirds Boushey Vineyard Syrah (!!!) and one third Olsen Vineyard Mourvedre, it pours inky purple-black into the glass and clocks in at a hedonistic 14.9% listed alc. It reminded me of the old Cuvee Orleans bottling that McCrea Cellars would put out, with a nose of blueberry and huckleberry fruit, ham hock, and olive brine. Super rich on the palate, this is unapologetically delicious. Well-made generous wines like this can be so appealing when a vintage like 2013 allows for them. “Total pleasure bomb,” reads my final scribble in my notebook, and that seems like an appropriate place to end.

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of La Fraternite, 6 bottles of En Hommage, and 2 bottles of Reserve, 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.

Full Pull The Neighbor’s Neighbor

May 24, 2015

Hello friends. We get to return today to a wonderful Burgundian producer we offered very early in our venture into imports, way back in May 2012: Sylvain Langoureau. The parcels of Langoureau wine that have landed in Seattle in the interim have not been large enough to warrant another offer, which explains the three-year-plus gap. In the meantime, I’ll admit it: I’ve been squirreling occasional bottles away for my personal stash. It’s rare that I taste better quality-for-price Burgundy.

Why is Langoureau so good? A lot of it has to do with the complicated geography and traditions of Burgundy. We’ll dig into those complications today, via one white and one red wine:

2013 Sylvain Langoureau Saint-Aubin

Saint-Aubin is what I like to call a next-door-neighbor appellation. Check out this map. Have you located Saint Aubin? Do you see its neighbors? Spit in the wind, and even odds you’ll hit a vigneron in Chassagne-Montrachet or Puligny-Montrachet, homes of $100+ Chardonnays.

Those two appellations are steeped in long (and now expensive) traditions of White Burg. Saint-Aubin, on the other hand, spent the first half of the 20th century planted mostly to Aligote, the forgotten white varietal of Burgundy. It took the better part of another fifty years to determine that Chardonnay is what works best in the limestone and marl soils here (now the preponderance of Saint-Aubin is planted to Chard).

Sylvain Langoureau is a lovely little husband-and-wife producer tucked into a small space in the village of Gamay (which has nothing to do with the Gamay Noir grape), located about halfway between Saint Aubin and its pricier neighbors. In addition to their vineyards in Saint Aubin, they own property and make wines from Puligny, Chassagne, and Meursault. Those are beautiful wines also, but my go-to is always Aubin, for its unparalleled bang-for-the-buck factor. Basically, they treat their Aubin like its pricier neighbors, and it shows.

This starts with a fabulous white Burg nose. “Smells expensive,” says my first note, and I have no doubt that, tasted blind, I would pick a pricier appellation than humble Saint Aubin. There’s cream-soaked yellow fruit (nectarines, lemons), chalky mineral, hazelnut and woodsmoke; it’s a complex marvel. Then in the mouth, it’s all live-wire intensity, coating the palate and hanging on tight. The insistent minerality, the well-defined/generous mid-palate, the long long finish: all combine into a marvelous package. All suggest a wine that will age beautifully as well. I wouldn’t really know, though: my bottles all get opened early, often with the richest seafood I can find. Langoureau Saint-Aubin and crab is as good as life gets.

2013 Sylvain Langoureau Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Clos Marc

Okay, so if Saint-Aubin is the neighbor, then this little 4-acre vineyard, called Clos Marc, is the neighbor’s neighbor. Look back at the map. See how just northwest of Saint-Aubin the color changes from dark green to light green? Well, Clos Marc is just into the light green area, which means you can’t use a named village on the label (as in, this is just outside of being Saint-Aubin Rouge) and instead have to use the (very) general Hautes-Cotes de Beaune appellation. You can see from the map that HCdB covers a lot of ground, so it’s helpful to have the Clos Marc vineyard name called out as well. It helps us know exactly where we are. A mile or two southeast, and the price of this would probably be double. That’s the difference a name can make.

I have to credit our friends and import partners at Cavatappi for this particular wine. Up until recently, the only American market Langoureau sent this wine to was New York. But the estimable Jon Marvin tasted the wine, loved it, and raised enough of a fuss that a (small) parcel made it to Seattle.

I fell for it right away, because it is honest, transparent, no-doubt-about-it red Burg. It barely hits 12% alc. It pours into the glass barely darker than rosé. It practically shimmers. The nose: earth and mushroom, brown spice and fig. The palate: dry and earthy, austerely-fruited, thirst quenching in the extreme. The acidity is bright and lively, the tannins fine and dusty. It has enough drinkability to use as a mid-week chugger, and enough sneaky complexity that you could open it on the weekend, tell your friends it cost $45, and they’d believe you.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles of each wine, 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.

Full Pull Vigneron

May 20, 2015

Hello friends. The true vigneron model is surprisingly rare in Washington. It is unusual to see a single person managing both viticulture (growing grapes) and vinification (making wine), and doing it all from estate vineyards. It’s a structural issue, mostly. Unfortunately in Washington, many of the places that are among the best for growing grapes are likewise among the worst for, erm, living. I mean, good luck convincing a young, promising winemaker to set up shop in the Horse Heaven Hills (motto: We’re Only 40 Minutes From Prosser!). Easier to contract with a grower, set up in Woodinville, and begin enjoying that bumpin’ eastside nightlife.

Because the vigneron model is rare, they tend to stand out, and we tend to offer them. Walla Walla has Cayuse (okay, so we haven’t offered their wines, but a boy can dream) as the classic model, Figgins, and arguably Pepper Bridge. The Wahluke Slope has Fielding Hills and the Milbrandt brothers. There’s McKinley Springs in Horse Heaven, Nefarious (to some degree; the Neffs work with purchased fruit in addition to their estate) in Lake Chelan, Bainbridge Vineyards in the Puget Sound AVA. I’m sure there are a handful of others I’m forgetting, but not more than a handful.

And then there’s the Yakima Valley. When I think of Yakima Valley vignerons, there is one name at the top of the list: Scott Greer of Sheridan Vineyard.

Scott is an outstanding grower/winemaker, and he and Big John Caudill have done such a fabulous job of growing Sheridan’s mailing list and wine club over the years that these wines have become increasingly difficult to source (a seemingly endless series of huge critical reviews haven’t hurt either). To wit: the last time we were able to devote an offer to Sheridan was October 2012.

I’m thrilled, then, that we have access to parcels (barely) big enough to warrant today’s offer. These three bottles are very much in keeping with the Sheridan house style: dense layers of delicious fruit; massive structure; incredible concentration.

2011 Sheridan Vineyard Boss Block Cabernet Franc

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD] 93pts.”

This is 100% estate Cabernet Franc, and it clocks in at 14.1% listed alc. Aromatically, it has that lovely poblano note that I associate with some of the most interesting Francs in Washington, beautifully balancing a core of blackberry fruit. It’s a palate-stainer in the mouth, very true to Franc’s savory/earthy character. You wouldn’t confuse it with the Loire Valley; it’s more like an homage to the Loire but with beautiful, supple new world fruit. After a rich attack, this fans out across the palate effortlessly and then lingers, and lingers, with earthy/leafy goodness. A singular expression of Washington Cabernet Franc.

2011 Sheridan Vineyard L’Orage Cabernet Sauvignon

L’Orage now has “Cabernet Sauvignon” on the back label, and the plan is to keep it that way going forward. The blend is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc, all estate of course, and it spent about two years in 50% new French oak. I typically think of L’Orage as something of a brooder, but this was showing very open-knit and aromatically expressive, with a beautiful nose of pollen-dusted blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, paired to smoky and graphitic subtleties. The stuffing, the heft, the power of this all defy the cool 2011 vintage, and I can only imagine Scott kept his yields ruthlessly low to achieve this level of concentration. It’s rich and delicious with its smoky black fruit, and it rolls into a seriously structured finish, awash in toothsome black-tea tannins, very true to Cabernet.

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

2011 Sheridan Vineyard Block 1 Cabernet Sauvignon

This one is extremely limited, and I haven’t had a chance to sample it, so we’ll have to depend on Mr. Dunnuck’s tasting notes alone:

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITH HELD] 96pts.”

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

Full Pull Value Troika

May 18, 2015

Hello friends. John Albin led the viticulture and winemaking at King Estate for seven years before branching off on his own. His J. Albin label is known more to Oregon insiders than to the general public (having no website helps in that regard). And if J. Albin is under the radar, John’s Lorelle label might as well be subterranean. It was originally a project for his Seattle distributor (C&G, for those of you who enjoy the inside-baseball of the wine trade), in hopes of developing a strong Pinot glass-pour option for restaurants. But as long-time list members know, we love these little distributor glass-pour projects (Brand, For A Song, Northwest Vine Project, etcetera). Why should the sommeliers get to have all the fun?

The Lorelle line has since expanded to include a white and a rosé as well, and we’re offering all three wines today. This troika makes a compelling case that John is producing some of the best values coming out of Oregon today:

2014 Lorelle Pinot Grigio The Benches Vineyard

Okay, except technically this first wine comes from Washington fruit. So sue me! It is entirely Benches Vineyard fruit. Formerly called Wallula, this is an estate site for Long Shadows, who also sells some of the grapes to a select customer list. Their website has some great pictures of this breathtaking site.

While this one is not labeled as rosé, its color is indeed a lovely pale copper. You can get this effect (sometimes called Gris de Gris) because Pinot Gris/Grigio takes on a natural pinkish hue as it ripens, so if you allow skin contact after harvest, you can achieve a color like this. Those of you who enjoy Julia’s Dazzle may recall that the foundation for that wine is Pinot Gris from The Benches. The difference is that for Dazzle, Gilles Nicault adds 2% Sangiovese for color stabilization. Hence Dazzle is a truer shade of pink, Lorelle more like salmon.

And speaking of salmon… this would be a lovely pairing with the northwest’s favorite finfish. It offers a nose of pineapple and honeycrisp apple fruit paired to chalky mineral. “Not a dullard!” is my first palate note, which is an expression of surprised delight considering how many insipid Pinot Grigios we taste. Bright and lively (12.5% listed alc), this has good alpine character, citric fruit, and lovely mineral/saline cut. It’s clean, honest, refreshing. It’s a chugger, pretty much built for summer porch pounding.

2014 Lorelle Rose

A rosé built entirely from Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, this is a bright electric pink color and clocks in at 12.5% listed alc. I loved the Oregon Pinot character on the nose, all kirsch and resinous forest floor. The palate mixes fruit notes of green strawberry and pineapple with subtleties of chalk and sweet pea. It’s a mouthwatering rosé, with plenty of brightness to drink all summer, and then just enough sneaky finishing richness to offer itself up as a Thanksgiving candidate, should any of your bottles survive the summer.

2013 Lorelle Pinot Noir

This is the third vintage in a row that we’ve offered of Lorelle Pinot Noir, and no wonder: it’s damned difficult to find successful Oregon Pinot Noirs at a $15 tag. Actually, it’s pretty tough to find successful Pinots from *any* region at $15. The (sensitive, fickle, maddening) grape just does not lend itself to inexpensive viticulture and vinification.

But John does well with the Lorelle label, always crafting an unfussy bottle with plenty of honest Pinot character. That’s certainly the case with the 2013, which hits the glass pale ruby and clocks in at 12.9% listed alc. The nose mixes red cherry fruit, anise, and pine bough, leading into a palate with a core of bright red fruit, with just enough savory resinous complexity to let you know you’re in Oregon. I’d put a light chill on this over the summer and enjoy its citrusy acids and pure red fruits. A total vin de soif, perfect for thirst quenching during the warmer months to come.

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

Full Pull Cat Herder In Chief

May 15, 2015

Hello friends. Chris Sparkman (a native of Tennessee) started Sparkman Cellars in 2004 after a long restaurant career as a sommelier, wine buyer, and general manager. In addition to growing the winery over the past decade, he also now serves as Chairman of the Washington State Wine Commission. That is no easy job. It may sound great, but the gig is effectively Cat Herder In Chief. Getting 900 Washington wineries pulling in the same direction is brutally difficult, and we’re lucky to have someone of Chris’ skills and knowledge and personality in that role.

Somehow, even with that extra gig, the Sparkman wines just keep getting better and better. I recently had the chance to taste through the extensive Sparkman Cellars lineup. The first thing that jumped out is the consistent quality that Chris Sparkman and Linn Scott are producing across a seriously broad lineup of varieties and blends. Whites, rosés, reds: delicious. I was especially delighted by the expansion of Sparkman’s Rhone portfolio, and we’re going to feature a pair of those wines today. Each of these two began as wine club wines for Sparkman and have only recently graduated to the big time.

2013 Sparkman Cellars Apparition

A blend of 55% Roussanne, 27% Marsanne, and 18% Grenache Blanc, this comes from a pair of outstanding Yakima Valley vineyards: Boushey and Olsen. It was done entirely in neutral oak, and it clocks in at 14.4%, which seems about right for the warmer 2013 vintage.

The nose has that wonderful nutty Roussanne/Marsanne quality, a mix of almonds and hazelnuts over a core of cream-soaked peaches and pears and nectarines. Rich and ripe in the mouth, it’s a polished white, gliding across the palate seamlessly with its plush mix of fruit and almond paste. It’s a palate-stainer, with a great sense of dry extract and that wonderful fruit-and-nut flavor combo that only these Rhone whites seem able to produce. This is a burgeoning category in Washington, and Sparkman’s bottling is a classy example of the type. Anyone in a Chardonnay rut should pay close attention here.

2013 Sparkman Cellars Grenache Wonderland

With Chris having made wine in Washington for more than a decade now, he has established some wonderful connections with growers, and perhaps none better than with Dick Boushey. This wine is a full 55% Boushey Vineyard, the remainder Olsen (22%), Lonesome Spring (16%), and Oasis (7%). Done mostly in neutral barrel and clocking in at 14.5% listed alc, it is a delicious Gigondas ringer, with dried cherry and brambly berry fruit, underbrush/garrigue notes, and lovely wet-stone minerality. Ripe, supple, and eminently drinkable, this one perfectly balances its fruits and rocks, its richness and soft acidity.

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

First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), 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.

Full Pull Force

May 14, 2015

Hello friends. Back when Force Majeure launched (actually, the winery was called Grand Reve back then, pre-trademark lawsuit), the idea was to produce the Collaboration Series of wines while waiting for the estate vineyard (planted crazily high and crazily steep towards the top of Red Mountain) to come online. The Collaboration Series combined different Washington winemakers with plots of beautiful old Ciel du Cheval Vineyard fruit, and they quickly established a rabid following, from both consumers and critics.

Which, I’ll admit, led me to wonder whether the winery would execute on that original plan, or maybe find a way to keep the Collaboration Series going even with the estate vineyards online. Well, we have our answer, and to his credit, Paul McBride is sticking with the original plan. The 2013 vintage will be the final vintage for the Collaboration Series wines. After that, it’s all estate all the time.

What that means for us: we likely have four more chances (including today) to access the striking Collaboration Series wines. There are the spring-release 2012s (today), then the autumn-release 2012s, the spring-release 2013s, and the autumn-release 2013s. It’s all going to be over before we know it, so let’s celebrate the looming end of an era with the first set of Collabs from the outrageous 2012 vintage. As usual with this winery, our allocations will be quite limited.

2012 Force Majeure Collaboration Series III (Syrah)

Collaboration Series III is 100% Syrah, 220 cases produced, and the winemakers are Mike Macmorran and Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery. They raised the wine for 20 months in French oak barrels, one-third new and two-thirds neutral, and the wine clocks in at 14.7% listed alc.

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95-97pts.”

2012 Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI (Rhone Blend)

Series VI is made by James Mantone of Syncline, and it is a Mourvedre-dominant (55%) Rhone blend, rounded out with 39% Syrah and 6% Grenache, all from Ciel du Cheval. It was fermented in concrete and then aged in large puncheons, all to keep as much fruit character as possible. Listed alc in 2012 is 14.8%, and total production is just 265 cases. This one was not reviewed out of barrel by Jeb, but we can share winery tasting notes: The wine opens with a core of beautifully delineated fresh red fruits, enveloped by perfumed notes of rhubarb, saddle leather, anise, lavender, graphite, pepper and even grapefruit. The 2012 Collaboration VI has a supple and textured palate with pleasing acidity, complexity and fantastic length.

That sounds about right. Based on past vintages, I’d expect a wine with serious Mourvedre character, which usually means a sauvage personality, roasted game notes, citrus pith bitters, and plenty of Red Mountain minerality. This is usually the most energetic wine in the Force Majeure portfolio.

2013 Force Majeure Viognier

And a little bonus, a Viognier that now comes entirely from Force Majeure’s ankle-busting hillside estate vineyard. It’s vinified by Mike MacMorran of Mark Ryan and done entirely in concrete eggs (nifty!). Listed alc is 14.3%, and production is miniscule: just 70 cases.

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90-92pts.”

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

Full Pull Kerloo

May 11, 2015

Hello friends. This is only the third year in a row we’ve offered Ryan Crane’s spring releases for Kerloo Cellars, but it already feels like a rite of spring. His blink-and-it’s-gone rosé and attractively-priced Majestic have already grown hugely popular among our list members, and now we’re adding a third wine to the mix, continuing the Rhone theme.

My overall impression, having tasted this lineup (tastings are a helluva lot easier now that Ryan is a neighbor!): this is a winemaker operating near the peak of his powers, with a stubborn (in a good way) point of view that translates into a well-defined (and glorious) house style. Anyone following Washington wine (especially Rhone varieties and blends) would do well to pay close attention to Ryan’s wines, and these spring releases come at prices that make it all too easy to pay attention.

2014 Kerloo Cellars Rose
This rosé comes entirely from Angiolina Vineyard, and I remember last year when I asked Ryan why he likes this vineyard for rosé, he answered as only Ryan can: “because it’s cold as [BLEEP]!”No doubt this is indeed a bleeping cold vineyard, since it produced a 12.3% alc rosé in a warm year that did not lend itself to crisp rosés. It’s left on the skins for a mere 4 hours, then fermented in stainless steel before being moved to neutral barrels. The color is a beautiful pale salmon, and the nose mixes melon fruit, citrus pith, flowers, and crushed rock. Ryan did a bunch of lees stirring in barrel, and it has paid off, adding heft and suaveness to the texture (especially the mid-palate), and a lingering finish that surprised me more with each passing sip. Still, at its heart this is a nervous, live-wire rosé, bright and vibrant. It’s one of those wines that walks the textural tightrope, and when it gets safely to the other side, you can’t help but offer a round of applause. (Note: production is down to 198 cases; that’s a drop of more than 30% compared to last year, and I expect this to go fast).

2013 Kerloo Cellars Grenache Majestic

Ryan’s wines have always been exceptional values, but Majestic has taken it to a whole other level (I’d put it in the conversation for finest Rhone value in Washington). Prior to 2013, Kerloo had only one release each year, in the autumn, and those wines typically sold out no later than February of the next year. Releasing Majestic in the springtime, then, plays a dual role: 1) it allows Ryan to have wine available throughout the spring and summer; and 2) it allows us a sneak-preview of the next vintage to be released in the fall.

In 2013, there’s enough Grenache in the blend (78%) to put the variety on the label, and Ryan does so, blending that Grenache (from Upland and Angiolina) with 22% Mourvedre from StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. The nose mixes plum and strawberry fruit with rocky notes, dried herbs, and smoky-gamey Mourvedre subtleties. The palate clocks in at 14% listed alc and is immediately noticeable for its velvety texture. True to the warmer vintage, this is a generous charmer, offering plenty of friendly come-hither character. I was especially seduced by the salty-mineral piquancy on the finish, which seemed to invite the next sip or the next bite of ribs smoked on the grill. This has also seen a production drop, down to 207 cases (versus 276 last year), and this is also unlikely to be around for long.

2013 Kerloo Cellars Mourvedre Art Den Hoed Vineyard

This is a rare treat: a chance to taste varietal Mourvedre. Outside of Bandol in France and Jumilla in Spain, Mourvedre is more often than not used for blending. But man, a bottling like this makes you wonder why that’s so.

It’s well priced, single vineyard, and tiny production (115 cases), and it offers fantastic varietal character: wild plummy/grapefruit fruit, brambles, and roasted gamey notes. There’s also this lovely high-toned floral note (lilac?) that keeps things so fresh and expressive, and an emerging note of leather spice. Each sniff seemed to lead to another aromatic note; the overall complexity is thrilling. The palate continues the theme for Kerloo: vibrancy, energy, lift. This is yet another transparent wine, chock full of honesty and purity.

First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), 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.