Full Pull Peak Cabernet Season

January 9, 2018

Hello friends. While the solstice hit just under a month ago—and apparently the world is gaining light every single day—we know all too well that there are many more months of cold in front of us. But rather than focusing on the unabating gloom of winter, I (an eternal optimist) like to celebrate this time as peak Cabernet season. December is all about sparkling. And once March hits, no matter the temperature, I’m dreaming about rosé. January and February are the optimal months for indulging in dark-fruited, full-bodied Washington Cabernet.

What better way to celebrate peak Cabernet season than a vintage lauded as one of the best for the grape in recent memory? 2014 proved hot, the hottest vintage on record until the following year, and heat-loving Cabernet happily soaked up the sun. The wines produced have proved robust and structured, with wonderful varietal typicity. Today, we have two prime examples for you.

2014 Novelty Hill Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

The Columbia Valley Cabernet from Novelty Hill has long been a staple in the Washington wine scene with a reputation for quality and consistency. It has been rated 90pts or above for twelve vintages in a row. It has been named an editors’ choice or cellar selection countless times, and earned a place on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list more than once. At the core of what makes this wine so good is experienced winemaking and a top notch estate vineyard.

Mike Januik has been working in the Columbia Valley since 1984, and spent 10 years at Chateau St Michelle reinventing their winemaking program before breaking off onto his own projects, Novelty Hill and Januik. Stillwater Creek, Novelty Hill’s Estate Vineyard, is widely regarded as one of the top sites in the state. Planted in 2000, the vineyard’s 235 acres sit on the Royal Slope of the Frenchman Hills. Even if you’ve never tried a wine from Novelty Hill, you have, without a doubt, had grapes from their vineyard. Stillwater Creek sells grapes to many well-loved Washington wineries, including Saviah, Baer, Corliss, Rotie—even our own list favorite 2009 Full Pull & Friends Cabernet Sauvignon has a little Stillwater juice in it.

Though it carries the more general label of Columbia Valley, Stillwater Creek is a predominant source for this blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec. The rest is sourced from top vineyard connections that Mike Januik has made over the last three decades. Clocking in at 14.4% alcohol, this juice spent 21 months in a mixture of French and American oak, both new and previously used barrels.

Wine Enthusiast (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD] 91pts.”

2014 Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon

Woodward Canyon was there in the beginning. As the second winery in the Walla Walla Valley, the winery served as an instrumental player in obtaining AVA status for the region. So, when Woodward Canyon labels something as “Old Vines,” you know it’s old. This bottle is sourced completely from vines planted in the early 1970s—the Cabernet from blocks of Champoux (Horse Heaven Hills) and Sagemoor (Columbia Valley). The 4% of Petit Verdot comes from Woodward Canyon’s Estate Vineyard (Walla Walla).

Wine Enthusiast (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD] 94pts. Cellar Selection.”

To give some context, out of the 269 Cabernets Sean reviewed in 2017, this is the very strongest review he gave (tied with 2014 Quilceda Creek Cab and 2013 Long Shadows Feather). But it goes even further—Sean has reviewed a total of 836 Cabs for Wine Enthusiast in his entire tenure. Only three have received stronger reviews than this bottling, all 95pts: 2012 Quilceda Creek Cab, 2012 Gramercy Reserve Cab, 2012 Betz Pere de Famille. It is clear that by Sean’s standards—standards that we regard pretty highly around Full Pull—the 2014 Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon is just about as good as it gets when it comes to Washington Cabernet.

Full Pull The Return Of The (Little) King

January 8, 2018

Hello friends, and happy new year! I hope you all had a restful, rejuvenating, and wine-soaked holiday season. As usual, I enjoyed the time off, but began to feel the Full Pull itch sometime around January 2 and am happy to be back here at the start of another year.

One of the most popular wines we offered in 2017 was Jean Royer’s 2015 Le Petit Roy (the little king). When I learned that the new vintage landed in Seattle in late December, and that it is a fairly limited parcel, I knew right away what our first offer of the year would be:

2016 Jean Royer Le Petit Roy

Our TPU price is up a dollar due to a combination of factors, but is still the lowest I can find nationwide by some measure. Looks like most outlets are still selling the ’15 for $15; the only place the ’16 shows up yet is in the UK.

And the fact remains: this is still a crazy price for a wine that very much drinks like baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape. That term is not one I toss around lightly. Nor often. Looking back at the archives, I believe I’ve only used it for three wines: La Chaussynette from Mas de Boislauzon, Renjarde’s Massif d’Uchaux, and the Petit Roy. That these are three of our most popular import wines of all time should probably tell you something.

Some Baby CdPs take a lot of explaining. Not so much this one, since Jean Royer is himself a Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer. Since 1985, he has been crafting well-regarded, well-reviewed CdPs in more of an old-school style than the newer, blowsier CdPs currently in vogue. There’s also a (thin) Washington connection here. Royer’s pal, fellow rugby enthusiast, and jet-setting oenologist Phillipe Cambié is also the consulting oenologist working with Ste Michelle on the Tenet Wines (we’ve offered their outstanding Pundit Syrah a couple times).

Petit Roy is a blend of declassified barrels of Royer Chateauneuf, along with concrete tank-aged parcels from his vines just outside the boundary of the AOC. It’s about as close to CdP as you can get without being allowed to put it on the label. In any regular vintage, that’s a recipe for good value. In vintages like 2015 and 2016, it’s off the charts.

And yeah, I know there was ridiculous hype about the 2015 Rhones, but it may actually end up eclipsed by the enthusiasm for the ‘16s. Wine Spectator, for example, rated the 2015 vintage in the southern Rhone at 97pts and currently has the 2016 listed at 96-99pts. Regardless of which vintage is superior, it’s now clear that this is about as strong a pair of back-to-back vintages as the Rhone has ever seen.

The 2016 Petit Roy is a blend of Grenache (mostly), Syrah (some), and Mourvedre and Alicante (dollops), and it clocks in at 14.5% listed alc. It begins with a nose that hits the Grenache trinity immediately: brambly berry fruit (raspberry especially), wet-stone minerality, and loads of dusty earthy garrigue. You can almost feel the Mistral blowing through. But it’s the palate where the baby-CdP moniker really sticks. The way this fans out and saturates the mouth; the heft and intensity without excess weight; the complex mix of fruit and earth tones. Just like last year, I’d love to slip this into a blind flight of $30-$50 Chateauneuf-du-Pape and watch it dazzle. It’s a wine that works with all the cold-weather roasts and braises of our remaining winter as well as it does with a cheeseburger on the grill when the weather warms again. It remains a killer mid-week house red, and I’m thrilled that our list has dibs on this parcel.