Full Pull Cousins

July 27, 2016

Hello friends. I got a pleasant surprise recently, as we were offered our second vintage of a popular Pinot Noir in less than a year:

2014 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Les Cousins
When we offered the ’13 vintage in February, I described this bottling as “a real rarity.” And yeah, I could say that this is only the sixth time since the 2001 vintage that Beaux Freres has released the Les Cuz bottling. That would be accurate, but maybe a little disingenuous, since it’s also true to say that this is the third vintage of the past four (2011, 2013, 2014).

So yeah, a real rarity? Probably not. But an exciting bottling nevertheless? You bet.

Exciting in part because it’s so rare to see anything from Beaux Freres at a price even approaching $30. The remainder of their Pinot lineup goes from $60 to $100 and up. And exciting also because of the vintage involved. I’d be willing to guess we’re benefiting from the “grand cascade effect,” first coined by Erica Landon of Walter Scott to describe the 2014 vintage. It goes something like this: let’s say a winery normally gets enough fruit to make 100 cases of their expensive single vineyard Pinot. But in a (rare) high-quality/high-yield year like 2014, they get enough fruit to make 150 cases. One option, of course, is to just produce 150 cases of expensive wine and hope the market can bear it. Another option: “cascade” those extra 50-cases worth of single-vineyard juice into your entry level Pinot program, and make your gateway drug that much better.

What’s important to note about Les Cousins is that it comes entirely from barrels in the Beaux Freres cellar (no purchased juice here), and it includes barrels of estate vineyard fruit. It clocks in at 14.1% listed alc and kicks off with a nose of red cherry, smoked paprika, and wonderful crepuscular leafy notes. The palate presents a rich red-fruited core set off by wonderful cooling mineral tones. 2014 is such a pleasurable vintage in Oregon, and this is a great example of the kind. It works for two audiences. Those who want simple deliciousness will find it in spades here, and those who want to pay a little more attention will find nuance galore: mineral and spice and leaf; all manner of goodness.

We have a hold on a substantial chunk of the overall parcel coming into Seattle. But once we place our order, the remainder will be released to the market at large. All that to say: this one is unlikely to be available for reorder requests. Please limit order requests to 12 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 Early James

July 27, 2016

Hello friends. Normally we offer Louis Barroul’s Little James Basket Press in mid-winter, but I’m afraid that might not work this year. The excitement over the 2015 vintage in the Rhone (southern especially) is pushing sales in a scary direction, and I don’t want our list members to miss out. Always a great value, Little James moves into ridiculous territory when its main ingredient is a great vintage like 2015.

[Note: we’ll also use this as a chance to reoffer the Little James Blanc, which is a terrific $10 summer sipper.]

NV Saint Cosme Little James Basket Press (2016 bottling)
Another exciting recent development with Saint Cosme is that winemaker Louis Barroul came to town for the first time in nearly a decade, and I got to meet the man over a lovely lunch put on by Saint Cosme’s local importer. The focus of that lunch was Cosme’s series of exquisite single-vineyard Gigondas, but the real focus, for me, was getting to listen to Louis talk. Over the years of selling his wines, I’ve loved the way he writes about his bottles. No surprise: the in-person version didn’t disappoint. Some sample quotes:

[on how chemistry can only get you so far]: “Numbers are numbers; practice is practice; soul is soul.”

[on why winemakers should avoid making much of their own imprint on their wines]: “People pass away. The vines, the soil: they remain.”

[on his winemaking philosophy]: “You want to express an idea of a wine’s origin, of its soul. That’s what’s interesting.”

It was a 120-minute treat of me listening and nodding and thinking I’d pretty much write about any wine this man wants to make. It’s clear that Louis is a man who has thought long and hard not just about what he is doing with Saint Cosme, but *why*, and that makes such a difference. We can all of course support whichever wineries and winemakers we want, but I also want to say: in a trade pockmarked with bullshit artists, Louis Barroul is 100% the genuine article, without question worthy of support from anyone who cares about this beverage we treasure.

Okay: didactics over. Back to wine. Louis began Little James as a solera project in 1999. It’s a NV (non-vintage) bottling, and each bottle contains about 50% of the most recent vintage (in this case – woot woot! – 2015), and 50% from the solera, which at this point contains juice from every vintage from 1999 to 2014. It gets the Vin de France designation, because it contains juice from the Cosme Grenache holdings in the Southern Rhone as well as the Languedoc.

As we all know, there is a surfeit of serious bottles in the wine world. This is not intended to be one of them. The label shows the playfulness at the heart of Little James, but what are we to do when a wine intended for playfulness turns out to sneakily contain a little seriousness? I suppose the answer is to enjoy it however we want. Little James can be enjoyed for the sheer pleasure it brings, the lovely pure expression of briar-berry Grenache. But there is undeniable complexity here (having a small proportion of juice that is 17 years old doesn’t hurt), and if you want to take your time with this bottle and pay attention, you’ll be rewarded handsomely. This James pours into the glass inky black blood-red, and leaps out of the glass with an expressive nose of brambly raspberry and tayberry, black olive, and loads of wonderful herbes de provence. The palate offers intensity and energy, a wonderful combination of fruit and savory elements, and a pleasingly rustic chewy finish. This is without question the most successful bottling of Little James I’ve tasted (and I’ve now tasted seven of them), and really is a wonderful expression of Grenache at a very silly price.

Here is Louis on this particular James: [TEXT WITHHELD].

2014 Saint Cosme Little James Basket Press Blanc
Originally offered Feb 5, 2016. Excerpts from the original: Barroul always offers insightful notes on his wines. Here’s an example:[TEXT WITHHELD].

Louis is right, both that Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier are uncommon blending partners, and also that he manages to make a good marriage of the two grapes. To me, this drinks like Viognier with an acid injection. The Sauvignon Blanc seems to influence the texture in a major way (adding brightness and lift via a sturdy acid spine) but not so much the aroma and flavor, which is very much Viognier. Honeysuckle, orange peel, peach, fresh ginger; it’s all there, as is Viognier’s lovely inner-mouth perfume. Another sneaky charmer from the Little James lineup.

Please limit order requests to 48 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 July Cabernet Price Drop

July 27, 2016

Hello friends. We’ve been offered special July-only pricing (down from a $36 release price) on a well-reviewed, full-of-old-vine-fruit Cabernet Sauvignon from our friends at Tamarack Cellars:

2013 Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley
Much of the reason for the short-term discount, intended to goose sales in mid-summer, has to do with “ghost reviews.” So, here are two solid reviews for this wine:

Wine Enthusiast (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

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

The reason that these are both ghost reviews? Both ended up as web-only. Only viewable on winemag.com (Enthusiast) and winespectator.com (Spectator). Apparently in-magazine reviews drive plenty of sales. Web-only reviews? Not so much. So, thanks to the vagaries of various wine publications, we end up with a great tariff on a wine that has no business being discounted.

The vineyard material is top-notch here, no surprise for a wine in Ron Coleman and Danny Gordon’s lineup. Start with old-vine 1972-planted Bacchus Block 3 (you might remember this block from Abeja’s Reserve Cab program) and Dionysus Block 11 (early 1980s-planted). Layer in a pair of Red Mountain all-stars (Ciel du Cheval, Tapteil) and stalwarts from Walla Walla (Seven Hills) and Wahluke Slope (Weinbau). Nary a dud in the bunch.

And then the whole thing gets the luxury treatment: 22 months in French oak, 65% new, the remainder second and third fill. The nose layers beautiful smoky spices (pimenton agridculce, smoked salt) over a core of redcurrant and red cherry fruit. Earthy soil tones and nutty pecan barrel notes round out a complex, attractive nose. The palate possesses terrific old-vine intensity and depth, fanning out across the middle and coating the entire palate. The finish is all dusty-earthy tannic chew, a just-right bit of toothsome pleasure to invite the next sip or next bite of food. This offers fine value at its $36 release price, let alone our tariff today. Many thanks to Ron Coleman for the opportunity!

Please note: my understanding is that this is July-only pricing. We’ll be aiming to place our order on July 25 for delivery July 26. Any orders placed after July 24 are likely to be zeroed out. With that said: first come first served up to 24 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 Cote Rotie in Oregon

July 27, 2016

Hello friends. I don’t get surprised all that much anymore when I taste wine. But this year, two of the biggest surprises I’ve experienced in some time have come from, of all things, Oregon Syrah. The first was the 2012 Cowhorn Syrah we offered back in March. The second is today’s wine, a Willamette Valley Syrah that is as much a northern Rhone ringer as any new-world wine I’ve tasted:

2012 Matello Fool’s Journey Deux Vert Vineyard (Syrah/Viognier)
I recently had a chance to meet Gaironn Poole, half of team Matello (Marcus Goodfellow, the winemaker, is the other half). The winery was launched by Marcus in 2002 after he spent time working with the folks at Evasham Wood and Westrey. For the first few years, he made wine tucked away in a little corner at Westrey (good place for wine-knowledge osmosis!) before moving to a co-op facility and then his own facility in 2011.

Gaironn poured through a wonderful lineup of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (we may return to those in a future offer), and then she poured Fool’s Journey. I noticed right away that the front label just had the brand name (Fool’s Journey) and the vineyard name (Deux Vert), but no variety. Now I’m often told that Syrah is a tough sell in Washington (although that has never been the case with Full Pull, where it always runs neck and neck with Cabernet Sauvignon as our most popular variety), but can you imagine what a tough sell it is in the Willamette Valley, in the Pinotocracy?

I suspect that’s why “Syrah” and “Viognier” are shuffled off to the back label, and I also suspect that’s why the wine is priced where it is. In Oregon, Gaironn and Marcus are working to find Syrah converts. Among our list members, they’re preaching to the choir.

A lot of northwest Syrah producers talk the talk about Cote Rotie, but I’ve never seen something walk the walk quite like this. First, the listed alc is 12.8%, which is low by the standards of northwest Syrah but right down the middle in Cote Rotie. Second, there is a really healthy whack (10%) of cofermented Viognier here. Third, this is done 100% whole cluster. [Side note: at the recent Louis Barroul lunch I attended, he poured his transcendent 2011 Saint Cosme Cote Rotie, and he talked about how he views the recent trend in CR towards de-stemming as “completely catastrophic” to the intrinsic character of the region.]

Deux Vert is a 21-year-old vineyard, planted in 1995; these have to be some of the oldest Syrah vines in the Willamette Valley. They are farmed by Mike and Patty Green (nope, not that Patty Green; a different Patty Green), the “two Greens” (Deux Vert) of the name. The grapes are fermented with native yeasts, foot trodden, and then racked directly to neutral French oak, where the juice ages for about two-and-a-half-years. This was bottled sometime in mid-2015 and has now had another year to age in bottle.

It comes roaring up out of the glass with a Cote-Rotie ringer nose: huckleberry and bacon fat, charcoal and smoky earth, and oh the flowers. Still very compact and youthful, this offers pepper-dusted, densely-packed layers of fruit and mineral and meat still waiting to unfurl, hidden behind wave after wave of bright, juicy acidity. I followed a glass over the course of an afternoon, and with time and oxygen exposure, the acidity softened up and the complexity ramped up: very promising for the years to come. Any lover of terroir-driven Syrah, any lover of cool-climate Syrah, hell, any lover of Syrah period, would do well to check out this singular bottle of Oregon wine. If this wine was made in Washington, it would cost at least twice as much. If it was made in Cote Rotie, yikes; I won’t even hazard a guess.

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 Rioja Gateway

July 27, 2016

Hello friends. Our main focus for La Rioja Alta these past few years has been the string of exceptional vintages they’ve released of their Gran Reserva 904 (2001, 2004, 2005). As good as those wines have been, I know their $50+ price points preclude many of us from jumping in.

So today, I want to focus on the other end of the spectrum, the first step down the rabbit hole that eventually leads to you convincing yourself that $50 isn’t really that much to pay for Gran Reserva Rioja. Today I want to offer La Rioja Alta’s gateway into Rioja Tempranillo, their charming Alberdi.

[Except, because I’m me, I also need to include a few bonus goodies: one Albarino from the LRA family, and one opportunity to buy a ‘90s vintage of LRA’s flagship wine.]

2009 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Reserva
La Rioja Alta is a classic Rioja producer, in the vein of Lopez de Heredia. They have stubbornly resisted modernity, going against the grain as much of Rioja has gotten bigger, riper, richer. For that, they are rewarded with love and admiration from those of us who care about terroir expression and who want our Rioja to taste like Rioja, not like new-world Tempranillo.

Producers like LRA don’t follow the short-term winds of fashion. They play the long game. They think about how their winery will be viewed in decades, in centuries. Here is the wonderful writer Neal Martin, writing for Wine Advocate back in 2012: [TEXT WITHHELD].

Alberdi is notable for a few reasons. First, it’s the lowest-priced wine in the LRA lineup. Second, it’s the only 100% Tempranillo in the lineup, coming from 30-plus-year-old vineyards at 1500-2000’ above sea level. And finally, it’s the youngest of LRA’s wines. Which is of course a testament to Spain in general, and La Rioja Alta specifically, and their stubborn insistence on holding their wines until maturity. The fact that the youngest wine in their lineup is a 2009 vintage is just staggering. This was aged for two years in American oak; the first year in a new barrel, and the second in barrels averaging three years old. It was bottled in March 2012, more than four years ago.

It clocks in at 13.5% listed alc and offers a nose of ripe red cherry, smoky tobacco and tea leaves, and loamy earth. A note of orange peel adds complexity and intrigue. The first thing you notice on the palate is that this is a fleshy, openly delicious vintage, especially by La Rioja Alta standards. In fact, the one quibble I have with Josh Raynolds’ tasting note below is the drinking window. For me, this is pleasurable right from pop-and-pour; I don’t see any need to wait another four years to open this bottle. While it is generous by LRA standards, I should note: this still has plenty of this winery’s signature emphasis on earth and acid, still has plenty of crepuscular leafy charm. As an introduction to the house style, and to traditional Rioja in general, it’s difficult to think of anything better.

Vinous (Josh Raynolds): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

2014 Lagar de Cervera Albarino Rias Baixas
Bonus wine #1. Lagar de Cervera is LRA’s home in Galicia, inaugurated in 1988 after they decided to eschew Rioja Blanco in favor of Albarino from Rias Baixas. From estate vineyards and done all in stainless for a fresh/clean style. Lime and pineapple and marmalade fruit mingle with loads of mineral salty goodness. This drinks very much like a wine grown by the seaside, and indeed the winery is a mere two miles from the Atlantic. For hot summer decks, for shellfish and finfish pairing, this is tough to beat.

1998 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890
Bonus wine #2. Total number of bottles that get imported into Seattle: 30. Total number of bottles still available: 22. This is a special wine for LRA, made only in the finest of fine vintages (less frequently than the 904 bottling) and with production levels at about 20% of the 904. It’s 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano, and 2% Mazuelo, all from vineyards 40 years old or older. The wine spent six years (!!!) in barrel before bottling in September 2006. It has now spent nearly another decade in bottle. Our team had the pleasure of sampling a bottle of this recently. I thought it tasted like old Pauillac. Pat thought old Pomerol. All these beautiful wines tend to converge as they age, and what’s left is quality, quality, quality. This is a glorious expression of old Rioja, magically complex: spiced fruits and spiced meats, cedar and mint, orange peel and brown sugar, soy and hoisin, earth and loads of dust. The list goes on and on, and changes with each passing hour open. I find it moving just smelling a bottle like this, let alone tasting it.

Alberdi and Lagar are first come first served up to 12 bottles each. For the GR890, let’s limit order requests to 3 bottles, 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 Whipping Boy

July 27, 2016

Hello friends. The main thrust of today’s offer will be the new-release 2012 of Scott Southard’s rare, popular Cabernet Sauvignon. But please note: we’ll also include a summertime-primed reoffer of his well-priced white at the bottom, so keep an eye out for that as well.

2012 Southard Whipping Boy Cabernet Sauvignon Lawrence Vineyard
First, some quick reminders on Southard, which has become a real favorite among our savvy list members. I was first introduced to Southard in Spring 2012 via the generosity of one of our long-time list members, and then things got really buzzy later that summer, when Paul Gregutt wrote about the winery in his great old blog, comparing early experiences with Southard to similar experiences with Leonetti, Quilceda Creek, Betz, and DeLille, among others. That attracted some attention, for sure.

Since our first Southard offer in autumn 2012, we’ve offered a full seventeen different Southard wines. Today’s Whipping Boy will be number eighteen. Is that a lot of wines from one winery? Yes it is. Do I intend to slow things down any time soon? No I do not. Our team loves the wines. Our list members love the wines. The wines remain underpriced gems. To wit, Whipping Boy, which has a history of crazy reviews (a 95pt Gregutt review in Enthusiast comes to mind, I believe for the 2010) not often seen for wines in this price bracket.

This is also a tiny-production Cabernet. Something like 50 cases total for the 2011 vintage. There’s a little more 2012 (97 cases), but the total allocation for Western Washington is bleak: 39 cases. I’ve already agitated enough to secure a majority of that, but only barely, and our hold will evaporate quickly. So this one might not be a very good candidate for reorder. It’s also the latest in a string of marvelous late-release 2012s, a vintage in Washington that continues to dazzle. The Cab comes entirely from Lawrence Vineyard, the wonderful high elevation site on the Royal Slope farmed by Scott’s cousins, the Lawrences. It was raised entirely in French oak, some new and some neutral, for about two years, and has now had nearly another two years in bottle. It clocks in at 15% listed alc.

On first sniff, this is aromatically like nothing so much as high-end Napa Cab. There’s a core of crème de cassis and beetroot, and then there are eucalyptus top-notes and these wonderful dusty tones that had me in the mind of (pricey) Rutherford Cab. In the mouth, the rich blackcurrant fruit is framed by solidly-structured tannins. There’s a real sense of scaffolding supporting all this beautiful ripe fruit. The acid is mouthwatering; the tannins robust and espressoey and, yes, dusty. And with additional hours open, the savory tones (beetroot especially, rhubarb emerging) came more to the fore. This drinks very much like a babe with years left in the tank, years of beautiful unfurling still to come.

2014 Southard White Wine Columbia Valley
Originally offered March 20, 2016. Excerpts from the original: As is typical, this wine is a blend of Lawrence Vineyard Roussanne (54%) and Stonetree Vineyard Viognier (46%). It was raised entirely in neutral barrel, and half was put through malolactic conversion, half not. Despite Viognier’s reputation for taking over the aromatics of any wine it touches, this wine’s nose is driven very much by Roussanne, with its lovely combination of peaches and smoked/salted almonds, mineral and hay. This has outstanding palate presence, offering real fruit intensity that is terrific for the price point involved. Roussanne’s savory nuttiness is here, paired to Viognier’s floral honeysuckle and ginger tones. Complex, perfumed, and heartily stuffed for a $15 white, this leaves a lingering impression of cereal grains on its long, satisfying finish.

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

Full Pull Baby Brunello

July 11, 2016

Hello friends. Finally. We have plumbed the depths of the San Felice portfolio, but there has been one notorious absence: their Rosso di Montalcino. Notorious because it’s one of the finest values in their outstanding Tuscan portfolio, and we’ve just never been able to time it right.

And yes, this one is very much a matter of timing, because pretty much every old-school Italian restaurant in Seattle glass-pours this wine, so it’s one of those bottlings that lands at the port and then is like 70% gone before I even snag a sample. But this summer we’ve got it timed up right, and I’m thrilled to have the chance to write about and offer San Felice’s baby Brunello.

2014 Campogiovanni (San Felice) Rosso di Montalcino

Perhaps the best description I’ve ever read of Rosso di Montalcino was Eric Asimov, writing in the New York Times in 2011: [TEXT WITHHELD].

Less talking and more drinking. I like that. And yes, I recognize the irony of the fact that I’m about to do a whole bunch of talking about Rosso. I’ll comfort myself with the notion that it’s all in the furtherance of future drinking.

Rosso di Montalcino was inaugurated as a DOC in 1984, pretty much out of cash-flow necessity. Brunello di Montalcino has some of the strictest ageing requirements in the world, with most of the wines not returning any revenue for more than four years after harvest. Producers needed a way to realize a faster return, and they also needed a vehicle for their declassified juice. Enter Rosso.

What is beautiful about Rosso di Montalcino is that, like Brunello, it is 100% Sangiovese, 100% Grosso clone, 100% grown in Brunello’s delimited vineyard area. It’s only the ageing requirements that are different: one year total (including at least six months in barrel) before release. So this really is baby Brunello, presenting both a gateway drug to Brunello proper and a crystal ball for what the future Brunello releases will look like.

And the pricing is waaaaaaay more accessible than Brunello. For example, San Felice’s entry-level Campogiovanni Brunello goes for $55. Prices only go up from there. Rosso, on the other hand, presents a chance to sample what all the fuss is about at tariffs that encourage exploration. I should also note: we have about as low a price today as I see nationally on wine-searcher.

So that’s a lot about Rosso in general. Now let’s dig into this wine specifically. In addition to their glorious Chianti portfolio, San Felice also owns 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, the remainder in olives and forest. It looks like this. (Yes, we should probably all visit.)

Their Rosso was aged for a year in old Slavonia botti and then given a few more months in bottle before release. It clocks in at 13% listed alc and is unmistakably Sangiovese from this part of the world, with its wonderful sour cherry fruit, its comfort level with citrus-peel and cherry-pit bitters, its insistent earthiness (soil and truffle and anise). It’s a fairly supple, silky expression of Montalcino, but its spine of electric acidity is always burning bright in the background, reminding you where in the world you are, reminding you that you should be cooking up a huge pot of pasta or a big bistecca alla fiorentina and sharing it – and this remarkable wine – with friends and family.

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.