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.

Full Pull Slices of Pape

May 11, 2015

Hello friends. The focus of today’s offer is going to be the just-released new vintage of what has perhaps become our list’s favorite Washington rosé: Tranche’s Pink Pape. In addition, we’ll offer the current releases of the other two wines in the Slice of Pape family: the blanc and the rouge.

2014 Tranche Rose Pink Pape

If a rosé can be considered a cult wine, this would be it. This is the fifth vintage of this project, which began in 2010, and we’ve offered every single one of them. Our history with this wine is littered with the tears of under-allocations. For the 2012 vintage, we limited order requests to 3 bottles and max allocations ended up being 2 bottles per list member. Last summer, we maxed requests on the 2013 vintage to 4 bottles, and max allocations were 3 bottles per list member (I also see a full two dozen list members who ordered too late last year and were shut out entirely).

This year, I’ve been assured repeatedly that our list is going to be taken care of, so I’m going to bump the order request limit to (gulp) 12 bottles. Apologies in advance if we come up short, but I would like to at least advocate for as much demand as our list truly has for this wine.

As usual, Pink Pape is a single-vineyard (Blackrock) Provencal blend of Cinsault (40%), Counoise (40%), and Grenache (20%). Clocking in at 12.8% alc, it’s pale pink, a vision of summer in the glass. A deeply appealing nose kicks things off, a core of melon and mineral shaded by lovely green complexities of grass and tarragon. The palate has double-take fruit intensity and a charming alpine/mineral personality. It’s a real live-wire, with great verve and energy; one of those wines that pulsates across the palate, leaving you awash in salty-mineral tang. A wine like this is so beautifully versatile, I could see it working all summer long and then finishing up on the Thanksgiving table. Lovely juice, and if past is prologue, we will not have another opportunity to offer this particular mayfly.

2012 Tranche Slice of Pape Blanc

What has always been cool about much of the Tranche lineup is the extra bottle age. It’s a strong indicator of the Corliss influence (Tranche is a sister winery). This bottle is a great example. I mean, how many other 2012 whites will be released here in 2015?

And what is becoming even cooler about this label is a movement towards estate fruit for most of the wines. The Pape Blanc, for example (a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier), is now a full 40% Blue Mountain Vineyard fruit (Tranche’s estate site in the Walla Walla foothills of the Blues). It was raised in a combination of concrete eggs (always fascinating with whites) and neutral barrels, and it clocks in at 14.1% listed alc. The extra bottle age has served this wine well on the aromatic complexity front: there are notes of straw and flint and smoke, peaches and pears, and developing tertiary character of nuts and honey. Creamy and seamless in the mouth, this is a white wine for red wine lovers, with loads of fleshy fruit. Fortunately there is a lovely spine of citrusy acid to provide balance, but no doubt about it: this is a lavish white wine.

[Note: no review yet for this one from Wine Enthusiast, but the last time this wine was made in a warm vintage (2009), it earned a 94pt review from Paul Gregutt.]

2011 Tranche Slice of Pape Rouge

This is a Grenache-Mourvedre-Syrah blend that comes mostly from the winery’s estate Red Mountain Vineyard on (you guessed it!) Red Mountain. It was barrel-fermented and then aged in large oak foudres for a full 32 months. Is there anyone else in Washington keeping a Rhone blend in barrel for that long?

The result: a wine with an evocative, soaring nose, brambly and insistently floral, with violet and lilac over a dark berry core, all dusted with white pepper. I have the word “pretty” written an embarrassing number of times in my note, and I’ll say: it’s not easy to make a 14.8%-listed-alc wine pretty. This has the brisk acid profile of 2011, but there’s plenty of balancing richness here. The overall mouthfeel is supple, with extra polish from the micro-oxygenating effects of extended barrel aging.

For the Pink Pape, please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The Blanc and Rouge are first come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match the two as you like), and all three 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 Cabernet

May 8, 2015

Hello friends. Today we have a value Cabernet from the outstanding 2012 vintage, and from a family that has a deep and fascinating history in the Yakima Valley:

2012 Airfield Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Runway

On December 24, 1941 (17 days after Pearl Harbor), the United States government began construction of an airbase on land leased from Lloyd Miller in the Yakima Valley. The official purpose of the airbase was pilot training. Unofficially, the airbase was also meant to surveil and protect the highly-classified plutonium-refining project being undertaken at the Hanford Reach Nuclear Reservation.

In 1946, after World War II ended, the Millers’ land reverted back to farmland, and in 1968, Lloyd’s son Don decided to try planting wine grapes on the farm, at a site they called Airport Ranch Vineyards. While the vineyard has been in production since 1971, it toiled in relative obscurity for more than three decades, shrouded by the mists of its largest buyer, Ste Michelle Wine Estates. While the partnership was (and remains) a fruitful one (the Millers have received technical support, and Ste Michelle has received a consistent source of high-quality, Yakima Valley fruit), it had precluded the Millers from exploring the true potential of their vineyard.

By 2005, Airport Ranch was a long-established vineyard that few had heard of, and the Millers decided that the best way to establish a brand for their vineyard was to make estate wines themselves, aiming for substantially lower yields and deeper flavors. To that end, Marcus Miller, the fourth generation of the family to farm in Yakima Valley, began taking classes in Walla Walla and interning with the likes of Kendall Mix (at the time the winemaker at Canoe Ridge; since then the winemaker at Corliss, Goose Ridge, and now Cadaretta). After further winemaking stints in Washington and at Montana Brancott Winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, Marcus returned to the newly-formed Airfield Estates.

In total, they have 850 acres in production, representing 26 varieties. This Runway Cab comes entirely from a 1989-planted block of the estate vineyard, so this is fruit from 23-year-old vines. To see single vineyard, estate-grown Cabernet from vines this old is rare enough in Washington. To see it come with a sub-$20 tag is rarer still. This spent about a year in barrel (mostly neutral), and it clocks in at 14.1% listed alc. It pours inky purple-black in the glass and offers a wonderful bowlful of dark fruits on the nose: dark berries, black cherries, blackcurrant. Complexities of earth (good clean soil) and flower (violet) ramp up the intrigue level. On the palate, this is just clean, delicious, eminently drinkable Cabernet, the black fruits lifted by a lovely minty eucalyptus note. As it rolls along into a solidly Cabernet, medium-grained tannin finish, all espressoey goodness, you have to shake your head at the varietal character and quality on display at this price point. The 2012s continue to dazzle.

First come first served up to 12 bottles, and 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 The Boy Creator

May 8, 2015

Hello friends. Quick turnaround today (and a rare Thursday offer) as we have time-limited access to small parcels of a pair of rocks-dominant K Vintners spring releases:

2013 K Vintners Grenache The Boy

A couple items are conspiring to make allocations potentially challenging here. First, we’re getting an allocation about 30% smaller than last year. And second, the pricing is actually *lower* than the 2012, which we offered at 49.99 (44.99 TPU). I’m going to set the max order at 3 bottles, but I expect allocations to be more like 1 or 2.

The Boy is K’s Grenache, and in 2013 the majority comes from the rocks (River Rock Vineyard) and the remainder from the outstanding Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. It was done entirely whole-cluster and was aged in neutral French puncheons for 15 months before bottling. I haven’t had a chance to sample this vintage, but based on previous vintages, I’d expect a mix of Grenache’s plush red raspberry and strawberry fruit with meaty/funky notes from the rocks. The Boy is very rarely seen at retail anymore, and our parcel is quite limited, so I’m going to stop there.

2012 K Vintners The Creator

It has been a long time since we’ve had access to The Creator. We’ve offered it twice in the past: the 2008 vintage in autumn 2010, and the 2009 vintage in autumn 2011. Then nothing for three-and-a-half years. This 2012 is a Cab-Syrah (72-28) blend entirely from the rocks of the Walla Walla Valley (two vineyards: River Rock and Jack’s, a 1999-planted site that I’ll admit I’ve never heard of prior to this offer). It was raised in 70% new French oak, and clocks in at 14.5% listed alc.

I did have a chance to taste this one, right at the last minute (yesterday afternoon actually), and it is very much in keeping with the house style. Although Cab is the dominant variety, it’s rocks Syrah that shines on the nose: smoky/peaty earth, truffle, green olive, smoked ham. The grace notes of fruit are both Cab (blackcurrant) and Syrah (blackberry, blueberry). It’s a complex double-take nose; extremely appealing. The palate is full, rich, powerful, with a suave-and-supple texture that makes this one almost too easy to glug. The balance of fruit and earth and smoke is pinpoint, and this is unapologetically delicious rocks juice.

Jeb Dunnuck also penned a review of this one from barrel: Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93-95pts.”

Please limit order requests to 3 bottles of The Boy and 4 bottles of The Creator, 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 Friends and Neighbor

May 6, 2015

Hello friends. We’re rolling together a foursome of limited, low-quantity wines today; one a debut from a long-time Full Pull list member and three from our closest neighbor:

2011 Paul Rin Wines Rosso

Bill Marriott has been a Full Pull list member for more than five years now: almost for our entire existence. He is a Microsoft Product Manager who has spent the better part of the past three-plus years based in Sydney, Australia. This has allowed him to start up a fascinating two-pronged winery, which will eventually release wines from both Washington State and New South Wales.

For now, it’s only the Washington wines that are available, and his first release includes this charming Yakima Valley Rosso, which is predominantly (about three quarters) Sangiovese (Elephant Mountain Vineyard) rounded out with Merlot from Chandler Reach. It spent 18 months in older French oak and now another two-plus years in bottle. It clocks in at 13.1% listed alc, and total production is a mere 64 cases, so I suspect we’ll only get one crack at this one. On the nose, you’d guess this was 100% Sangiovese. It has wonderful varietal character: dried cherry, star anise, cherry pit bitters, and pretty floral topnotes. The palate continues the theme of good honest Sangiovese, with bright acidity redolent of Campari bitters. But the Merlot does appear texturally, adding its soft, fleshy, red-cherry fruit to the mix. With terrific purity of fruit and a lingering cherry-tea finish, this is a fine debut indeed.

2007 Scarborough Cabernet Sauvignon “Stand Alone”

We have loved having Travis Scarborough as our next-door neighbor, and I’d encourage all of our list members to visit his tasting room. Recently, Travis did the neighborly good deed of letting us raid his library stash. We tasted wines as far back as 2005 (Travis’ third vintage but first serious one, after crushing a half-barrel’s worth in 2003 and 3 barrels in 2004), and they were consistently balanced and delicious, evolving beautifully along their aging curves. They all had the old O’Shea Scarborough labels of Travis’ old partnership with Darren O’Shea, and as you can imagine, he’s keen to sell through these wines and eliminate that particular source of brand confusion.

A few of the wines we liked had really miniscule amounts available, including three vintages of Champoux Vineyard Chardonnay. Those can be found on our warehouse extra shelves (or you can e-mail inquiries if you’re interested). But there were three wines with (barely) enough quantity to feature here. The first is this Cabernet Sauvignon from the wonderful 2007 vintage (the vintage of the century! at least until 2012). It comes entirely from Wallula Vineyard, and if you’re racking your brain about where you’ve seen Wallula Vineyard Cab, that would be Den Hoed’s Andreas bottling, which we’ve offered many times over, at price points that have reached as high as $85. This one clocks in at 14.3% listed alc and offers a compelling, maturing nose: dried cherry, cherry blossom, bay leaf, cocoa powder, and smoked paprika. It’s in a beautiful drinking window, offering a mix of fresh and dried fruits, integrating/softening tannins, and a long, rich, luscious finish.

2008 Scarborough Cabernet Sauvignon “Stand Alone”

The vineyard sourcing changed for this Cabernet in 2008, and the profile is completely different. In ’08 it was a mix of Boushey and Alder Ridge (14.2% listed alc), and the aromatic profile is earthier and funkier, with mushroom and savory beef stock notes to go with a core of black fruits (compared to the redder fruits of the ’07). The palate mix of rich, zesty, brambly fruit and earthy savory notes is balanced and compelling. Despite the major differences in profile, one common thread between the ’07 and ’08 is that both are somewhere close to peak drinking, both are immediate gratification plays.

2008 Scarborough Syrah “The Immortal”

I was easily seduced by this Syrah, which comes entirely from the venerable Lewis Vineyard. It was done entirely in neutral puncheons, so the profile is closer to the well-loved Bunchgrass Syrahs from Lewis Vineyards (which saw about 20% new wood) than the Dunham Cellars versions from the same site. I know many of our list members were crushed to see Bunchgrass stop bottling Lewis Syrah after the 2008 vintage, and for those folks, this should be a pretty cool shot to access that fruit one more time via a different producer. Again it’s the maturing mix of earth and fruit elements that makes this wine so attractive. There’s a core of blackberry and blue berry fruit, but the intrigue really gets ramped up with the notes of underbrush, truffle, black olive, and bouillon. This has the wonderful bright acidity of the ’08 vintage to keep things fresh and lively, and it drinks like a wine that still has several years of fascinating evolution ahead.

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of Rosso and 3 bottles of each Scarborough wine, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The Scarboroughs are in the warehouse already, and the Rosso should arrive in the next week or two, at which point all the wines will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.