Full Pull Beating Heart of Sangiovese

October 30, 2015

Hello friends. New vintages of three Chiantis from our well-loved winery partner San Felice have landed in Seattle, all well-reviewed and well-priced, and just in time for peak Sangiovese-drinking season. Dark days, bubbling pots, and rustic Chiantis? Sign me up.

[Note: at the risk of making a long offer even longer, I’m also going to include a reoffer at the bottom for San Felice’s well-received 2010 Brunello, not in our original 750ml format but instead in 1.5L magnums that just arrived for the holidays. And a luscious sticky from San Felice. Because I lack self-control.]

I continue to be thrilled with the way our list members have embraced Chianti over the past few years. It is a terrific value-hunter’s category, but it requires legwork, a lot of frog-kissing to find the princes. And that’s the Full Pull model: we kiss the frogs so you don’t have to.

Chianti’s fortunes are improving in the US market, but it’s still walking the line between fashionable and unfashionable, still burdened by the days of swill-in-straw-baskets. But no matter. We know better. Fashion or no, we know that Chianti remains one of the world’s beating hearts of Sangiovese, and that the good bottles are really, really good.

A Chianti producer that our list has gone crazy for is San Felice, which is in the commune of Castelnuovo Berardenga (located here), at an altitude of about 1300ft. Their grounds encompass 650 hectares of grapes, 17,000 olive trees (!), and an agritourismo (!!). Fortunately we have an import partner in Seattle who direct-imports these wines right into town, so we’re always able to access decent parcels, and always able to offer strong tariffs compared to their release prices.

2012 San Felice Chianti Classico

Always a classic Classico for me, this blend of 80% Sangiovese and 10% each Colorino and Pugnitello comes from the calcareous marl soils of Castelnuovo Berardenga in the foothills outside of Siena, and it is aged for a year in large Slavonian oak botti. It clocks in at 12.5% listed alc and offers a nose of sour cherry, red plum, and blood orange fruits, along with some exotic complexities of star anise and tobacco leaf. The palate is electric, with terrific weight and presence for such moderate alcohol. Very true to Italy, this is comfortable with its bright acidity, its delicious toothsome tannins, its just-right rusticity.

I’ve been making a simple tomato sauce lately where you lightly caramelize chopped garlic in butter and olive oil, then add one big can each of crushed and whole-peeled San Marzano tomatoes (and some crushed red chili if you’re feeling feisty). Then you drop a handful of basil in (stems, leaves, everything), and let it simmer and steep the basil for about an hour. Pull the basil out just before serving, and you get a wonderful basil kick to your sauce. Add fresh pasta (or better yet, gnocchi), grate some good Grana Padano, and you’re good to go. Why am I telling you this? Because this San Felice Classico is the perfect wine for that meal.

Wine Spectator (Bruce Sanderson): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD] 90pts.”

Wine Enthusiast (Kerin O’Keefe): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

2011 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio

A number of differences here. First, this is a selection of some of San Felice’s oldest/best vineyard sites. Second, it comes from a warmer, riper vintage. Third, it’s 100% Sangiovese. And finally, it gets twice as long (24 months) in the traditional Slavonian botti (and a small portion goes into smaller barrel).

All of that adds up to a very different wine indeed. I mean, let’s just start with the alcohol, here listed at 14.5% (compared to 12.5% for the Classico). As you’d expect, where the Classico is nervy and elegant, Grigio is rich and generous. It starts with an expressive, ripe nose of black cherry and mixed mushrooms and browning meats. The palate is just openly delicious, the wine a total charmer with its mix of rich fruits and earthy/savory elements. Its tannins are broad and ripe, and the finishing lick is one of black tea and cherry-pit bitters. This is one for richer dishes. If you start involving Italian sausage, or maybe braising some short ribs and putting them on top of polenta, this is the wine of the bunch you’ll want to turn to.

If you’re interested in Chianti and its stylistic range, you owe it to yourself to open a ’12 Classico and an ’11 Grigio side by side. It’s an educational experience, and I’d argue that you don’t need to love only one or the other. They each have their place on the table; it’s completely dependent upon context.

Wine Spectator (Bruce Sanderson): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2010 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Poggio Rosso

Poggio Rosso is San Felice’s single-vineyard gem (they call it “the true aristocrat of Chianti Classico”), and it blends 80% Sangiovese with 10% each of the considerably more rare Colorino and Pugnitello. It is aged for 20 months in large Slavonian oak botti, followed by another 15 months in bottle, before release. That means this was likely released in early 2014, so we get the benefit of an extra two years of bottle age, taking it right up against the beginning of peak drinking. Sweet.

Vinous (Antonio Galloni): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Wine Enthusiast (Kerin O’Keefe): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

This is by far the most limited wine of the bunch, so I won’t add much more, except to say: I really like this wine; it is wonderfully earthy and massively structured; it is true to Italy in general and Chianti specifically; and it would be a knockout with bistecca alla fiorentina, the monster t-bone of Tuscany.

2010 San Felice Brunello di Montalcino Campogiovanni (1.5L MAGNUM)

Originally offered April 12, 2015. Everything is the same except for the bottle size. And nothing gets a holiday party started like a giant bottle of Sangiovese! Excerpts from original offer:

Now to date, we’ve focused almost exclusively on San Felice’s glorious Chianti portfolio, but they also quietly own a 65-hectare estate called Campogiovanni, on the southwestern side of Montalcino, deep in the heart of Brunello country. They purchased the estate in the early ‘80s, when Brunello was still a sleepy category, and have carefully tended it since. Twenty of the hectares are planted to vines (and fourteen of those twenty are used for Brunello production), and the remainder in olives and forest. It looks like this. [Sigh. Must visit.] This is a traditional Brunello, aged for about three years mostly in large, neutral Slavonian botti before spending another year in bottle.

Wine Spectator (Bruce Sanderson): “[[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 95pts.”

I’d say this one has a puncher’s chance at winding up on Spectator’s year-end Top 100 list. They’ll likely want to include a 2010 Brunello due to the acclaim of the vintage, and right now, the seven wines with stronger reviews (six 96pt reviews and one 98pt review) range in price from $60 to $190, and all are smaller production than San Felice’s. Since Spectator factors in score, price, and availability (production), San Felice seems like a strong candidate.

2006 San Felice Vin Santo del Chianti Classico (375ml)

Since we’re entering the holiday season, when you may actually have enough people around to polish off a 375ml bottle of sticky wine, this is the perfect time to access San Felice’s Vin Santo, now at nearly a decade past vintage. This is a traditional Vin Santo, both in varieties (75% Trebbiano Toscano/25% Malvasia del Chianti) and production process, which involves laying picked grape clusters on straw mats for 2-3 months to allow the grapes’ water content to evaporate. The shriveled raisins are pressed in December or January, then fermented and raised for a full five years in small oak casks (“caratelli”), followed by another few years in bottle. Listed alc is a sturdy 18%, and residual sugar is 5.1%. The nose mixes figs and dates, coffee and caramel, and a lovely sweet/savory note like sweet corn. The palate is plenty rich, sweet but not overly so, and just charming with its flavors of toffee and caramel-dipped dried fruits. A beautiful sticky wine that begs for an after-dinner cheese course.

It’s first come first served on the Classico and the Grigio and the Vin Santo, with no upper order limits. For the Poggio and the Brunello Magnums, please limit order requests to 3 bottles and 2 bottles, respectively, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. All of these 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.


Full Pull Hidden

October 28, 2015

Hello friends. I was surprised when we were offered today’s wine, and I was surprised again when our parcel actually arrived in the warehouse (I wasn’t going to offer this wine until I physically laid eyes on the bottles). Wines with this kind of review invariably get pulled back and sold through the winery cellar door. But not today!

2012 K Vintners Syrah The Hidden

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 98pts.”

This is 100% Northridge Vineyard Syrah, a wild site on the Wahluke Slope, and a rarity because it sits above the Missoula floodline at elevations of 1100’, meaning instead of flood soils, this vineyard sits on a thin layer of ancient soils above a base of caliche and basalt. Production details: 100% whole cluster, native yeast, 48 days on skins. Aged in 60% new french oak 500L puncheons from Ermitage and Saury, bottled at 22 months. 13.5% listed alc. Winery notes: Tastes like purple. No? Black purple. Dark fruit. Liquid smoke. Stone. Floral. Deep and very generous. It gives and gives and gives!

And that’s all I’m going to say, because there’s not much of this to go around. Please limit order requests to 3 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine is in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.


Full Pull Long Shadows

October 26, 2015

Hello friends. Long Shadows continues to be on fire, ripping through vintages and selling out within months of release. To put this into context, we were offering 2008 Feather in summer 2012. That means they sold out five vintages (08, 09, 10, 11, 12) in the span of 36 months. That’s crazy.

So crazy, in fact, that they’ve basically moved entirely to a pre-sell model for the Seattle market. Here’s an excerpt of the e-mail I just received from Long Shadows’ Seattle representatives:

It’s been a long time coming (slightly more than a year, to be exact), but finally the release of the three most popular Long Shadows wines is upon us! Pirouette, Pedestal, and Feather are about to arrive!
 
Created by Augustin Huneeus and Philippe Melka, Pirouette is the quintessential Bordeaux blend. Starring Cabernet Sauvignon, there are elements of Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc to complete the equation. The smallest production of the three wines, Pirouette will continue to evolve and grow in the cellar for 15 or more years. Pedestal, the creation of legendary winemaker Michel Rolland, is a sterling example of the varietal that put Washington on the map, Merlot. Consistently the highest scoring of all Long Shadows wines, Pedestal has the gravitas to transform even the most dyed-in-wool Cabernet drinker over to the Right Bank. Finally, the single most requested wine from the Long Shadows portfolio, Feather, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain icon Randy Dunn. An ethereal expression of Cabernet, it features intense dark fruit with silky tannins and a beautifully polished finish.
 
Production on these wines continues to be well below demand. Therefore, we are asking for your MAXIMUM REQUEST of each wine so that we can allocate accordingly. Please submit these requests no later than Friday, October 30. The wines themselves will arrive the first week of November and will ship immediately upon arrival.

That is a quick deadline for allocation requests, and that explains why we’re turning around this offer as quickly as possible. I won’t be able to provide any tasting notes for these wines, but at this point, the pedigree and year-after-year consistency of the project speaks for itself. Please submit all order requests no later than end-of-day on Thursday, October 29, so that we can send our overall request on Friday.

2013 Long Shadows Pirouette

A Bordeaux blend made in conjunction with Californians Philippe Melka and Agustin Huneeus, in 2013 it is 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The Cab comes from a blend of Red Mountain fruit and the outstanding 1972 block at Sagemmor; the Merlot and Franc from Weinbau; the PV from Dionysus. It was aged for two years in 75% new French oak. No reviews yet, but this one has consistently strong press over the years (including a show-stopping 98pt review from Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast for the 2008 vintage).

2013 Long Shadows Pedestal

Pedestal is Long Shadows’ Merlot-dominant wine, made in conjunction with Bordeaux-based Michel Rolland, who is probably the most famous consulting winemaker in the world. The 2013 is 75% Merlot (from Conner Lee, Dionysus, and The Benches), the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon from Tapteil on Red Mountain, as well as small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec and Petit Verdot. It spent two years in 85% new French oak. No reviews yet, but to give you a sense of the consistent excellence, this has received 94pt reviews from Wine Advocate (Pierre Rovani, then Jay Miller, then Jeb Dunnuck) in seven of nine vintages from 2003 to 2011. Then the 2012 did even better, garnering a 95pt review from Dunnuck.

2013 Long Shadows Feather

The outstanding Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards (Howell Mountain, Napa Valley) makes this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon for Long Shadows. It comes from The Benches at Wallula (Horse Heaven Hills), old-block Dionysus, and Weinbau on the Wahluke Slope. The 2013 was aged for two years in 90% new French oak, the same Vicard barrels Randy uses for Dunn Vineyards. This one has received fabulous reviews over the years from a broad range of critics. Paul Gregutt, Stephen Tanzer, Jeb Dunnuck (including a 95pt review for the 2012); all have heaped praise on Feather.

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


Full Pull Woody Goodies

October 26, 2015

Hello friends. We have a pair of goodies from Woodward Canyon today: one a last call on an exceedingly popular and well-reviewed 2012 Cabernet; the other a Chardonnay that rarely escapes the clutches of the winery’s cellar doors.

2012 Woodward Canyon Chardonnay Celilo Vineyard

Way back in August 2013, during a Walla Walla trip, I visited with Rick Small and tasted this wine. I was totally smitten, and when I got back to Seattle, I inquired with Woodward’s sales folks about whether we could potentially offer the wine during the 2013 holiday season. The response (I still have the e-mail!): [TEXT WITHHELD]

Well, two holiday seasons later, here we find ourselves. Woodward released a tiny amount of this single-vineyard Chardonnay to the Seattle market. As far as I can tell, the remainder (including the winery’s own stash) is sold out. So count on this being a one-and-done.

Now we’ve offered Woodward’s regular Chardonnay on many occasions (09, 10, 11, 12, and probably soon 13), and that one is always a yin-yang combination of two sites. Woodward’s estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, and the venerable old Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. Usually, with the way their blend works out, they either end up with extra Estate juice or extra Celilo juice, and that gets bottled on its own and sold through the winery doors. It is very rare to see any of their single-vineyard Chards available at retail.

And rarer still at a discount. This is normally a $66 retail bottle, so our pricing today is a real treat. The other wonderful aspect of this wine is vintage. Not just that it’s the exquisite 2012 vintage; but also that we’re now three years past harvest. Which, you know, for red wines, no big deal; but for whites, you can already start to see development three years in. This begins with a lovely, expressive nose of peaches and lemon curd and cream, along with maturing savory subtleties of sweet corn and hay. The palate delivers a real jolt of intensity. It’s a live-wire Chardonnay, balancing bright nervy acid with plenty of rich plush (14.3% listed alc) fruit. The mix of fruits and savories and good Celilo minerality is a knockout, and the supple texture is equally seductive. Rare, exquisite, Washington Chardonnay just entering a beautiful drinking window.

2012 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series

Originally offered December 12, 2014, this has been a popular reorder target throughout 2015. Now we’re down to official last call. The 2013 is set for a November release, and the winery is down to their last handful of cases of the stunning 2012. I re-tasted it at an event a few weeks ago, and my word is it in a knee-buckling spot right now. Excerpts from that original 2014 offer:

What makes this a benchmark for Washington Cabernet? I’d say three things: quality, consistency, and longevity. This is Artist Series #21 for Woodward Canyon (Artist Series has reached legal drinking age!). The program has been around since 1992, and it is such a wonderful, characterful wine, year in and year out. For the third vintage running, Artist Series sees a sizeable chunk of Champoux fruit (27%) that usually ends up in Old Vines, as well as a hearty portion of Woodward Estate fruit (36%). The remainder is an all-star cast of vineyards, including Discovery, Sagemoor, Summit View, and Les Collines. It begins with an overtly pretty, high-toned nose setting violet and lavender and mint above crème de cassis, rich soil, and espresso. Just lovely, and very Cabernet. The palate possesses real mouth-staining intensity, with a core of evocative Cabernet fruit (Rick Small has noted that, as the vine age for their main sources increases, they’ve been slowly dialing back the new wood and letting the fruit shine). Supple blackcurrant rules the day until the finish, where burly black-tea tannins take over and won’t let go. This is chewy, delicious Cabernet from an epic vintage, well worthy of the benchmark tag.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

[Note: of all the 2012-vintage Washington Cabernets reviewed in Wine Enthusiast to date, only one – Sineann’s $72 Champoux Vineyard Block One – has received a stronger review than this Artist Series.]

[Ed note to that note: since the original offer was published, three 2012 Cabs have earned 95pt reviews: Betz Pere de Famille ($72), Gramercy Reserve ($85), and Quilceda Creek ($140).]

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


Full Pull Friendly Ghost

October 26, 2015

Hello friends. We have the return today of the friendliest ghost in Washington:

2013 Ghost of 413 Cabernet Sauvignon

We first offered a Ghost way back in December 2011. No accident, I suppose, that the vintage was 2009, the last legitimately warm vintage before 2012 and 2013 that made sense for a value Cabernet project.

That well-received 2009 Ghost Red was 90% Cab, but then these guys (that’s Mark McNeilly from Mark Ryan and Chris Gorman from Gorman, the partners in this project) decided to do a Syrah-heavy 2010 and skip 2011 altogether, best I can tell. Smart move. Those two cooler vintages were terrible for value Cabernet, which requires plenty of heat accumulation to shed its overly green nature. They returned with the 2012 Red (which was actually 100% Cabernet), and now this 2013 actually has “Cabernet Sauvignon” on the label.

The project was inaugurated in 2005, and Paul Gregutt wrote about the wine (and its name) in a 2007 Seattle Times article: [TEXT WITHHELD]

As it turned out, there was no need to don the invisibility cloak, as the wine was warmly received in the Seattle market as an exceptional value. It helped kick off the craze for these purchased juice projects (Renegade, Modern Wine Project, etc.), and that has been a very good thing for all of us. This is a wine that also tends to get glass-poured around town and deplete quickly. I remember the 2009 (5000 cases produced) was released in December 2011 and sold out by mid-spring 2012. Likewise the 2012 disappeared right as we started receiving reorder requests for it. I’m not sure what the production level is for the 2013 Cab, but I’m not taking any chances. Let’s jump in nice and early.

This begins with a nose of smoky crème de cassis fruit, complicated by notes of dried herb and soil. At its heart, it is a deep, black-fruit driven Cab, full of blackcurrants and blackberries and black plums. The 2013 vintage in Washington is proving adept at churning out charming, rich, early-drinking Cabernets, and this is a fine example of its kind. Openly generous, with a plump attack and mid-palate, this rolls into a finish with surprising polish to the tannins. Many Cabs at this price point are, shall we say, rustically structured; but this drinks classy indeed. There’s impressive stuffing and balance here, and plenty of Cabernet varietal character. The whole package offers an awful lot for the tag.

This would be a fine option for winter weddings or parties, or just as a winter house red. First come first served up to 60 bottles, and the wine should arrive in the next week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.


Full Pull Proper

October 26, 2015

Hello friends. Today we have one of our most eagerly anticipated offers of the year: the return of a well-priced, list-favorite Rocks Syrah:

2013 Proper Syrah

What a roller coaster ride for the folks behind Proper. Great admirers of Christophe Baron’s work, they jumped at the chance to purchase a cherry orchard around the corner from Cayuse Vineyards. In 2007, the cherries went out, and the vines went in (all Syrah). They built great momentum with outstanding harvests in 2009 (mostly a friends and family wine) and 2010 (the first Proper Syrah we offered), and then…

…then came trouble. The Thanksgiving freeze of 2010 knocked out their entire vineyard for the 2011 vintage. To keep the brand alive, they used purchased fruit from a neighboring rocks vineyard and did a small 2011-vintage release. That 2011 was lovely, but I think all of us who fell in love with the 2010 were eagerly anticipating our next chance to watch this evocative vineyard evolve. That was last year’s 2012, which turned out to be just as popular as the 2010, and received a 94pt review from Jeb Dunnuck of Wine Advocate to match his 94 for the 2010. While Jeb has not yet reviewed the 2013 vintage, Wine Spectator just published a review in the September 30 Insider:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

As a reminder, it’s Sean Boyd from Rotie Cellars who is behind this wine. A notorious Rhone freak and lover of earthy, ethereal Syrahs, Sean has crafted a crystalline expression of funky Walla Walla Rocks terroir that is rare to see outside of the multi-year-waiting-list domains. Someday I expect this wine will command prices commensurate with the best Syrahs in the state, but for now, it remains a fine value for lovers of funky rocks Syrah.

Still a babe, this really revealed its finest aromatics after a few hours open. That’s when the briny black olives and roast beef notes came to the fore, melding beautifully with blueberry and huckleberry fruits, violet topnotes, and lovely sanguine mineral tones. The palate, on the other hand, was rocking right on pop-and-pour, with a swirling mass of deep fruit and umami tones. There are enough brackish sea-funk nori notes that this is like a cross between red wine and dashi. And setting aside the wild flavors for a moment, the texture is beautifully managed here: soft and supple, rich (14.8% listed alc) and seamless, true to the 2013 vintage and its immediate charms. I agree with the beginning of Harvey’s drinking window (“now”) but would personally drink these up by 2019 or 2020. I mean, really, why wait? There is so much savory charm here right now.

This remains one of the most exciting new projects coming out of the northwest these days, and we’re on it nice and early (the winery just had their own release; several of our list members attended, and had universal raves about the wine). First come first served up to 36 bottles, and the wine should arrive two to three weeks, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.


Full Pull Invasion of the Southern Marauders

October 19, 2015

Hello friends. A fun aspect of my wine writing gig for Seattle Magazine is being asked to identify trends at the beginning of each year. One of the trends I wrote about early in 2015 was the “invasion of the southern marauders.” Here’s what I said in that article:

[TEXT WITHHELD]

Today, we have one such wine. And better yet, we’ve been offered special October-only pricing that takes this one well below its $45-$50 release price:

2012 Mullan Road Cellars Red Wine
Mullan Road is the new project from Dennis Cakebread, whose Cakebread Cellars is a Napa Valley institution: [TEXT WITHHELD]
2012 is the inaugural vintage for the project, and the winery is down to the last little bit of it. My understanding is that they’re ready to move onto the 2013 (which already has a 92-94pt barrel review from Jeb Dunnuck of Wine Advocate) and eager to clear out the remainder of the ’12. Which works for me, because – having tasted the ’12 multiple times over the past year or so – I can say with confidence that the wine is drinking better than it ever has right now, just in time for a serious price drop. Wine is a funny business that way.

The varietal breakdown is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc, and the vineyard sourcing is a combination of Seven Hills in Walla Walla, and several vineyards on the Royal Slope (which the winery seems confident will be an AVA someday; I would certainly support that). The wine was raised in barrel (44% new) for 17 months and clocks in at 14.1% listed alc. It presents a lovely mix of dusty red fruit and spicy, cocoa-powdery oak and shades of graphitic mineral. The elegance and suavely-texture tannins of Seven Hills are on fine display here. The finish is all espressoey goodness.

Vinous (Stephen Tanzer): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91+?pts.”

That’s a damn fine review from Tanzer, who is never particularly easy when it comes to scoring, but whose tasting notes are as good as it gets.

First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive in the next week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.