Hello friends. Our buddies at Eight Bells dropped by the warehouse recently, and presented us with a trio of wines, each with dwindling quantities. One is a new vintage of an old favorite; another a wine we’ve never offered; and the finale a reoffer of a popular reorder target:
Red Willow Vineyard is one of Washington’s most important sites; the defining vineyard, in my opinion, of the far western Yakima Valley. It was originally planted by Mike Sauer in 1973, and for many years, the preponderance of the fruit went to Columbia Winery. In recent years, as Columbia contracts have loosened and as boutique, sterling-reputation wineries like Betz and Owen Roe and Gramercy (and Eight Bells!) have begun working with the fruit, the reputation of Red Willow has only grown and grown.
Many of Mike’s plantings over the years were done in conjunction with the late Master of Wine and long-time Columbia Winery winemaker David Lake. Those plantings include a total of four fascinating field-blend blocks, and Eight Bells gets all the fruit from three of those four blocks. The “8 Clones” block, as you probably deduced already, contains eight different clones of Syrah. This is the only place to taste this specific piece of Red Willow terroir, and it has been a beauty every time we’ve offered it (this is the third consecutive vintage).
This year, it is 95% Syrah, cofermented with 4% Viognier from the Chapel Block (the oldest Viognier in Washington, I believe) and then blended with a 1% dash of Grenache. No surprise, I suppose, that the 2012 vintage of this wine delivers in a major way. Right off the bat, the nose is glorious, with meaty bacon fat notes, loads of olive brine, smoky earth tones, and floral topnotes above blueberry and huckleberry fruit. Complex, savory-fruity, wonderful. In the mouth, my first note: “outrageous wine.” I have a feeling these vines are particularly carefully tended, due to their historical significance, and it shows. The silken texture, the insistent sense of savory goodness, the lingering salinity: all combine to form a gorgeous wine, perhaps the finest vintage yet of this outstanding value.
Jeb Dunnuck has been reviewing Eight Bells for Wine Advocate for a few years now, and it’s worth mentioning that this received as strong a review as any Eight Bells wine to date. That’s saying something about a Syrah, coming from a guy who cut his teeth writing The Rhone Report. Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD] 93pts.”
Shellback has typically been a CMS blend, and in 2010, it’s heavy on the ‘C’, with a full 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from Ambassador Vineyard, the Boushey-managed site on Red Mountain. The remainder is 16% Red Willow Syrah and 6% Merlot, from both the 1990 block of Red Willow and the North Block of Hedges. Given the proportions involved here, the Eight Bells guys could legally label this as Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which is worth considering when you examine the price point.
The wine begins with a lovely nose of blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, and maturing notes of leather and soy. Shellback has been in bottle for three years now, and that bottle age shows not only on the nose, but also texturally on the palate, where the tannins are softening and integrating beautifully. It’s a rich, delicious mix of fruit and earth notes, with a terrifically plump mid-palate transitioning into an espresso-laden finish. With the oak integrating, the tannins relaxing, and the acidity fresh and lively, this is a fine example of the wonderful ageing potential of a year like 2010.
Originally offered on October 19, 2014. The winery is down to their last handful of cases. Excerpts from the original:
We offered the 2010 vintage last July. It received a strong (93pt) review from Jeb Dunnuck and disappeared soon thereafter. The block is named after David Lake, who designed it, and it was developed to test out a number of different clones. It contains rows of all five Bordeaux varietals, and each row contains a different clone. For example, there are twelve rows of Cabernet Sauvignon, which means there are twelve different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon. Mike Sauer’s goal, and the eventual goal of the folks at Eight Bells, is to be able to harvest the entire block in a single day and co-ferment all the grapes together.
Now it would be one thing if this wine just had historical significance. That would be enough to tickle the intellect. But it hits the double-whammy, engaging the intellect and the senses. It’s dynamite Cabernet. And when you look at this wine’s peer group – other Red Willow Cabernets (e.g. Owen Roe at $72) – Eight Bells is coming in well below tariff par for its comparables. It’s an outstanding value, beginning with a nose marrying black cherry and blackcurrant fruit to subtleties of cherry blossom and graphitic mineral. In the mouth, you find a wine true to the cooler 2011, a wonderful bridge between Washington and Bordeaux, with those wonderful BDX qualities of leaf and earth to go with brisk black fruit and espressoey tannins.
First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.