Full Pull Power of the Pinots

February 20, 2018

Hello friends. The Pinots of Oregon have become a powerful force in the world of Full Pull. Over the past few years, Pinots – when listed at the right price and made by the right winery – have begun to beat out list member favorites, like Cab and Syrah, in popularity. With that in mind, now more than ever, we search for samplings from our neighbors to the South in hopes of finding Oregon bottles that do the grape justice and make our wallets happy. Here is a pair of recent highlights:

2015 Chehalem Three Vineyards Pinot Noir 

Chehalem is the definition of old-school Oregon. They began planting Ridgecrest, their first estate vineyard, in 1980, and have served as industry leaders ever since. It’s the kind of winery with the reputation and prestige to offer wines at a substantial price point—and they do. The single vineyard Pinot Noirs from Chehalem start at $50 per bottle.

The 2015 Three Vineyards Pinot is a little different. It’s not sourced from one vineyard. it’s sourced from three (hence the name). These three vineyards are Chehalem’s estate sites: Ridgecrest, Corral Creek, and Stoller. The same trio used in their single vineyard bottlings. Even at its $30 release price, this wine offers tremendous value. Today, we’re able to offer it at $19.99, which feels like a steal for estate vineyard Pinot from one of Oregon’s leading wineries.

Vinous (Josh Raynolds): [Text Withheld]

2014 Belle Pente Pinot Noir Belle Pente Vineyard

Belle Pente is a hidden gem of Oregon. It’s a winery that doesn’t receive a level of attention commensurate to the quality of wines it crafts. Probably because Brian O’Donnell, winemaker/owner, is as nice and unassuming as a winemaker gets, and just quietly goes about his business, making vintage after vintage of haunting, ethereal Pinot Noir.

This is the winery’s flagship bottling, completely sourced from the Belle Pente Estate Vineyard. It does a proper job of showing off O’Donnell’s house style: fresh yet complex, elegantly focused, and expertly balanced. This particular cuvée is made up of six different selections from the vineyard, a mixture of Pommard, Wadensvil, and Dijon clones. This combination, according to O’Donnell, “yields beguiling aromatic complexity and textural completeness.” I tend to agree. The nose opens with red and black berry fruit, wild roses, violets, and floral herbs. It’s lifted—aromatic without proving showy, powerful in its restraint. The palate is equally vibrant with acidity, moving through concentrated fruit, floral, and spice notes on its way to a long finish full of silky tannins. It’s a standout wine from a standout winery.

Vinous (Josh Raynolds): [Text Withheld]

Both of these Pinots would be perfect pairings for the dinner table, with brilliant acid structure to complement all types of food. They would also be just fine on their own, opened in celebration or after a long day.

Full Pull Red Mountain Cabernet Dibs

February 19, 2018

Hello friends. We have retail dibs today on an incredible value in Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

2012 Henry Earl Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 

First let’s take care of the logistics side of things. This winery is new to the Seattle market (they’ve previously been selling direct through the cellar door and tasting room only). This particular wine landed in Seattle in mid-February, and as I mentioned above, our list members have first right of refusal on as much wine as we like. After we grab our share, the will be released broad-market, and then all bets are off. I’ve promised we’ll place our order on Monday March 5 for delivery Tuesday March 6, so please try to submit all order requests by the end of Sunday. We’ll endeavor to build in a buffer for latecomer orders, but no promises on that front.

When I tasted this wine a few weeks ago, I was blown away. It had everything I love about Red Mountain Cab: power and structure and rich, delicious fruit. It drank like a baby version of Charlie Hoppes’ $50 RM Cabs for Fidelitas (and sure enough, Charlie consults for this winery, although it seems Victor Palencia was the lead winemaker for this bottling). The nose combines blackcurrant fruit with savory beetroot, earthy soil tones with dustings of cocoa powder and exotic suggestions of orange peel. “Honest RM Cab” is my first palate note: this attacks with plush Red Mountain fruit, but you quickly see that it is supported by a scaffolding of structure, mostly in the form of signature Red Mountain tannins, robust but fine-grained and polished, helped along I’m certain by the extra bottle age here. The best reference point for my Red Mountain drinking history is Tapteil Vineyard; this seemed to have that same small-berry charm, where you just know the skin-to-juice ratio was off the charts, and where you know this is a wine with decades left in its run.

The research after that fact supported that narrative. Henry Earl Estates is a newish winery (2012 was the inaugural vintage, and the winery was launched in 2014), but it is owned and run by folks with deep roots on Red Mountain. Essentially, Henry Earl is the estate winery for Shaw Vineyard, and this particular bottling is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, entirely from Shaw North. As you can see, this site is at the far northwest corner of Red Mountain, and its closest neighbor is… wait for it… Tapteil.

Dick Shaw and Wendy West Shaw are important players in Washington vineyards. I believe they now own and farm north of 2000 acres of vines, with about a quarter of that on Red Mountain. The winery name honors Dick’s father (Henry Shaw) and Wendy’s father (Earl West). And this bottling seems to honor any Washington wine lover who has been fascinated by Red Mountain Cab but who shivers a little at the oft-exorbitant pricing. As a gateway bottling into what makes this tiny piece of Washington special for Bordeaux varieties, I’m hard pressed to think of a more compelling example, especially coming as it does from such a special vintage. It spent 16 months in neutral barrels and has now had another three-plus years to come together in bottle.

Full Pull Leonetti

February 18, 2018

Hello friends. Today we have one of our annual Full Pull rites: our offering of Leonetti’s new releases. Deep in the stubborn gloom of early March, it’s a bud pushing through cold earth: a clear indication that spring is on the ascendancy.

It’s one of my favorite offerings to write each year. After all, it isn’t every day that you get to write about the grand dame of the Walla Walla Valley, the founding winery in that AVA that quickly became one of Washington’s few cult producers. Founded in 1978 by Gary Figgins, Leonetti rapidly established a reputation as one of Washington’s top Cabernet and Merlot producers, helped along by their 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon being recognized as best in nation in a Wine & Spirits Magazine blind tasting. Brisk mailing list sales followed, and soon thereafter, the mailing list closed and the waiting list opened.

Currently it’s the second generation helming the winery, in the form of Chris Figgins. Chris has subtly shifted the emphasis of the winery towards its estate vineyards in the past few years, and the results have been outstanding. I have also been lucky enough to taste vintages of Leonetti wines from the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as plenty of more recent vintages. These are wines that can age in profoundly beautiful directions (if you can resist their youthful charms). The transition to Leonetti’s second generation is just about complete, and the future for this Mt. Rushmore-level Washington winery looks bright indeed.

Now, a quick logistics reminder: This is a pre-release offering, where we’re sending the offer before we know our allocations. Using this model allows us to advocate on behalf of our list for allocations that most accurately reflect our overall demand. The flip side is: some pre-release offerings turn out to be mirage wines: wines where we end up receiving smaller-than-expected allocations and then need to under-allocate. Apologies in advance if that’s the case here.

As far as timing goes, we should be able to send out allocation notices in 1-2 weeks (orders will remain Pending until then), and the wines should arrive before the end of March. Now let’s dig into them:

2016 Leonetti Merlot

First produced in 1981, this Merlot (which includes 5% Cab Franc) now comes predominantly from Leonetti’s estate sites: Leonetti Old Block, Loess, and Mill Creek Upland. It was aged for 15 months in new and once-filled French oak barrels and neutral oval botti, and listed alc is 14.3%. No reviews yet for the 2016, but the 2008 received [Text Withheld]

Winery tasting notes: 2016 will be remembered as a classic vintage for Merlot. This wine has a delicious, creamy nose with jammy black fruits and mixed florals. It is incredibly broad on the palate–a distinctive characteristic of Washington Merlot. The finish is spicy, sweet, lively, and lengthy.

2015 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon 

First produced in Leonetti’s inaugural vintage – 1978 – this 2015 marks the 38th consecutive vintage of Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon. This comes from four Leonetti Estate sites (Mill Creek Upland, Loess, Leonetti Old Block, and Serra Pedace), as well as the old block at Seven Hills Vineyard. The blend includes 12% Petit Verdot and 3% Cab Franc, and it spent 22 months in new French oak barrels, once-filled French oak barrels, and neutral French oak barrels. Listed alc is 14.3%. No reviews yet for the 2014, but the 2008 received [Text Withheld]

Winery tasting notes: Nearly black in the glass. Intricate nose of licorice, lavender, dried herb, cold black coffee mixed with caramel, black fruits, and elderberry. Incredible purity of fruit. Massive, but plush, with a core of mouthwatering acidity and a polished finish.

2015 Leonetti Reserve

While they had produced Reserve Cabernets before 2000, it was at the millennial turn that Leonetti dropped the varietal designation on their Reserve, freeing them to create a Bordeaux blend in whatever proportions would craft the finest wine possible. In 2015, the blend is 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, rounded out with 29% Malbec and 8% Merlot. The vineyards involved are Mill Creek Upland, Loess, and Seven Hills, and the wine was aged for 22 months in new and once-filled French oak barrels, and neutral French oak oval botti. Listed alc is 14.4%. No reviews yet for the 2015, but the 2008 received [Text Withheld]

Winery tasting notes: Color is deeply saturated ruby. Our flagship ’15 Reserve has an explosive nose of vanilla, lavender, cinnamon graham cracker, and puree of ripe brambles. Time in the glass reveals secondary notes of cedar and strawberry rhubarb pie. Seamless tannins and incredible length. With a finish resembling cherry liqueur, the Malbec brings the wine into tight focus.

Full Pull Old-Vine Monastrell

February 16, 2018

Hello friends. In Europe, there are twin beating hearts of Mourvedre. The first exists in Bandol, a region of Provence on the French side of the Pyreness; the other lays just over 1000 kilometers away in Jumilla, Spain. Jumilla is where we find ourselves today, the capital of Spanish Mourvedre (or Monastrell, as they call it on that side of the border), at a winery that’s become a Full Pull favorite from that part of the world.

We’ve long known that Spanish wines provide some of the best bang for your buck in the Old World, but this particular bottle may just be the most charming, characterful $10 red (discounted from a $14 release price) we’ve offered over the years:

2015 Olivares Monastrell Altos de la Hoya

This is one of those wines that adds real clarity to the challenge that winemakers face when trying to develop a market for Mourvedre in a place like Washington. In Jumilla, Mourvedre can be produced and grown by top notch winemakers at century-old estate vineyards for a fraction of the cost of any equivalent Washington wine. Olivares, for example, has a single vineyard (Finca Hoya de Santa Ana) in Jumilla, with vines as old as 80 years, healthily growing in a sandy moonscape that has never caught a whiff of phylloxera. Places like that simply do not exist in Washington yet—we don’t have the years under our collective belt—which makes it even more exciting that we’re able to access this type of wine at this cost.

While the rest of Jumilla lays closer to sea level, Finca Hoya de Santa Ana sits at considerable elevation (2700ft), allowing for large diurnal shifts and excellent acid retention. Olivares’ Monastrell, made from 95% old vine Mourvedre and a little Garnacha, is vinified in 10,000-liter stainless steel vats, and then matured entirely in neutral barrels (some small, some large), allowing the old-vine fruit material to truly shine. The nose is outrageously complex and expressive for a sawbuck wine: luscious red and black fruit, slow roasted game, saline minerals, and loads of herbaceous spice notes (cracked black peppercorns, fresh picked tarragon). The palate just hums with energy and verve, led by a mix of downright delicious fruit, minerals, and anise-tinged earth. You don’t really expect $10 wines to have much in the way of presence, let alone terroir expressiveness, and yet this bottle has both. Priced like a mid-week wine, this would not be out of place for a special occasion in the least. I would serve it with many types of food, from patatas bravas to roasted pork shoulder. This is the ideal bottle to bring to a restaurant—affordable, acid driven, and impossibly pairable

Wine Advocate (Luis Gutiérrez): [Text Withheld]

Full Pull The Found

February 15, 2018

Hello friends. In 2015, our pals Chris Peterson and Marty Taucher at Avennia launched a new label called Les Trouvés (French for the found). In just three vintages, it has become one of the best values in an increasingly popular category for Washington wine—value GSM blends.

Les Trouvés works a little differently than its older sibling. While Avennia is made by Chris, Les Trouvés is more “curated” by him. Some of the juice comes from Avvenia, and the rest is meticulously sourced from Chris’ extensive network of winemaking and grape growing colleagues in Washington.

2015 Les Trouves Red $22.99

A few quick logistics notes to start. First, we pre-purchased a large enough quantity to drive the price from its release of $25 down to a tick below $20; an already-excellent value now made even better. Second, what we pre-purchased is the entire remaining stock in Seattle. The March issue of Wine Enthusiast is going to include a terrific review from our abstemious-with-the-points friend Sean Sullivan. Trade folks have already caught wind of the upcoming review, and this wine suddenly picked up some scary sales velocity. To be safe, we locked down every last bottle we could get our grubby mitts on. We’ll set upper order limits at 8 bottles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if actual allocations land in the 2-4 bottle range.

Now then, drinking like a baby Justine (Avennia’s $40 GSM) Les Trouvés is an attractive gateway drug into the greater Chris Peterson house style. Here Mourvedre and Syrah make up 80% of the blend equally, with Grenache balancing the rest. For a wine that’s made to be approachable and charming, Les Trouvés consistently overdelivers with complexity.

This vintage, with a listed alcohol of 14.8%, opens with an enticing nose full of blackberries, bramble, peppered game, and wild-grown Mediterranean plants. The palate is plush with dark berry fruit and cocoa nibs, lifted by an herbaceous savory thread. For all of its outright delicious fruit, this wine finishes savory, with earthy fine grained tannins. Supply textured, insistently savory, openly delicious. This project is made for youthful consumption, and this particular wine fits the bill. No need to cellar endlessly; this bottle brings real, immediate pleasure on pop-and-pour. And complexity that easily outpunches its price class.

Wine Enthusiast (Sean Sullivan): [Text Withheld]

Another day or two and we would have missed this wine completely. As I mentioned above, we’ve purchased the last handful of cases that exist in Seattle for this offer. That means what we have now is all that we’ll get—with no opportunity to reorder.

Full Pull Sheridan

February 14, 2018

Hello friends. This was not today’s originally scheduled offer. We originally had this booked for mid-March, since the official release for this pair of wines is March 1. But then last week Big John from Sheridan reached out, mentioned he’d be on our side of the mountains on March 1, and gave us permission to send this out pre-official release, so long as everyone understands that no wine will change hands until March 1 or later.

I was happy to move it up, because Sheridan wines have been hotter than hot the past few years, darlings of consumers and press alike (especially Wine Advocate). And if we don’t time up our offers just right, we miss out, which is what happened to one of today’s wines last vintage. But not today!

2015 Sheridan Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon L’Orage

We offered the 2014 vintage last spring. Weeks later, Jeb Dunnuck’s 96pt review was released, and that was all she wrote for any reorder requests. That’s what happens when the review text ends with “It tastes like a blend of Pontet Canet and Shafer Hillside Select.” Yikes.

I’ve always loved that Scott Greer took a period of serious adversity and named his flagship wine after it. L’Orage. The Storm. The freak hailstorm that hit 1997-planted Sheridan Vineyard in 2001, decimating the site at a seriously vulnerable time. Fourth or fifth leaf. Right when you’re supposed to start seeing some return on the sloooooooow-cash-flow investment. There’s something about the spirit of defiance and optimism in the face of everything that mother nature throws at an honest vigneron that just gets me. It’s hard to make it in winegrowing and winemaking if you don’t possess that kind of attitude.

And let me emphasize, as I have before: Scott Greer is that rare Washington bird: a true vigneron, managing both viticulture (growing grapes) and vinification (making wine), and doing it all from estate vineyards. The rarity of the model in Washington is a structural/geographical issue. Unfortunately in Washington, many of the places that are among the best for growing grapes are likewise among the worst for, um, living. I mean, good luck convincing a young, promising winemaker to set up shop in the Horse Heaven Hills (motto: We’re Only 40 Minutes From Prosser!). Easier to contract with a grower, set up in Woodinville, and begin enjoying that bumpin’ eastside nightlife.

Because the vigneron model is rare, they tend to stand out, and we tend to offer them. That’s been true since early days. Our first Sheridan offer was in December 2009, part of a select bunch of wineries we offered in our first few months of existence (we launched in October of that year). Our first L’Orage vintage was the 2006, and I believe we’ve offered every vintage since then. And while Sheridan has subsequently introduced higher-tier wines (Block 1, Boss Block, Singularity), I still think of L’Orage very much as the flagship, as an introduction to the Sheridan house style: dense layers of delicious fruit; massive structure; incredible concentration.

The most important thing to know about the 2015 vintage is that the Cabernet portion (80%, done entirely in new French oak) comes almost entirely from Block 1. As a reference point, Sheridan’s Block 1 Cab retails for $130. I’m just sayin’. The remaining 20% is Cab Franc, raised in once-used French oak, and the wine clocks in at 14.1% listed alc. It begins with a nose combining barrel tones of cedar and smoke with the usual layers of fruit: cherries and berries, stone fruits and tropicals. This is a marvel of concentration and inky intensity, with a density that seems impossible at an alc in the low-14s. Unlike many of the ’15 Washington reds, which are soft and rich, this retains the vineyard’s signature tannic power, lovely leafy scaffolding for its core of seductive fruit. What a gorgeous vintage for L’Orage!

2015 Sheridan Vineyard Cabernet Franc Boss Block

This wine is the real reason for the schedule change, and I’m not going to say much, because our access is quite limited here. Boss Block is a slippery fish. We’ve offered it just once previously: the 2011 vintage back in May 2015. The combination of small production and massive reviews (culminating with an eye-popping 97pts from Dunnuck for the 2014) makes for an ever narrowing buying window. I can tell you without question this is a one-and-done wine, with no prospects for reorders.

It comes from the original 1997 plantings at Sheridan, which means this is 19th leaf material. Certainly not young wines anymore, and it shows. This begins with a nose whose core is fruit driven (blackberry, raspberry) but possesses the green subtleties that separate Franc from Cabernet Sauvignon: spicy arugula, smoky poblano. I find that particular savory character so invigorating and appetizing. Texturally, this is a palate-stainer through and through, fanning out and coating every inch of the palate with its fruity/savory goodness. I love the slow-building tannins here; so too the exceptionally long finish. This is rich, complex, and outrageously delicious.

Full Pull Always The Vineyard

February 13, 2018

Hello friends. I swear, whenever a wine takes me by surprise in a positive way, the culprit is always the vineyard.

I have always been a big admirer of John Bigelow’s winemaking for JM Cellars, but during a recent tasting of his lineup, there was one wine that was a total standout; a wine that had me scribbling things like “Margaux-Washington mashup” next to lots of exclamation points and smiley faces. (I can still get a little fanboyish for certain wines). The wine in question?

2014 JM Cellars Margaret’s Vineyard Estate Red

Where is Margaret’s Vineyard? Yep, that was my immediate question too. Because JM is a Woodinville winery, so they could have planted an estate site anyplace from the Gorge to Chelan and it wouldn’t have surprised me. But here’s how they introduce Margaret’s:

In 2006, Gary Figgins from Leonetti Cellars called to ask if we would be interested in purchasing a spot of land in the Walla Walla Valley that he and a group of distinguished Walla Walla vintners were developing. Taking only the amount of time required to find our car keys, we traveled across the state to Walla Walla. From the moment we arrived on the property rising 1,300 feet above the Walla Walla valley with the Blue Mountains to the east and a gorgeous sunset to the west, we knew this was the place.

As soon as I saw that, I knew exactly where they planted their estate vineyard: Sevein. My excitement grew. Then I pulled up the Sevein map and saw that the vineyard is located just adjacent to L’Ecole’s Ferguson Vineyard. My excitement grew more. And then I learned that we could offer the wine for today’s TPU price (side note: both vintages of Ferguson we’ve offered have been at [Text Withheld TPU). Ardor overload.

Sevein is super important for Walla Walla, and for northwest wine in general (I was going to say Washington wine, but, uh, small technical note: the entirety of Sevein is on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley). The 2700-acre property adjacent to Seven Hills Vineyard was long coveted by valley growers/winemakers for its high elevation (900’-1500’) and its fractured basalt soil. After long ownership by the Mormon church (who farmed wheat there), the site was finally purchased in 2004 by a group comprised of many of the Seven Hills partners. If all the Sevein land is eventually planted out, it will nearly double the vineyard acreage in the Walla Walla Valley.

As I’ve note before, this is essentially Walla Walla Valley 2.0. It’s the founders of the wine scene in the valley using all their accumulated knowledge to select the right site and plant it to the right varieties and right clones. And the soil here is incredible: a couple feet of wind-blown loess as topsoil, on top of a wall of fractured basalt. Basically, they’re growing grapes on volcanic lava flows: a completely different soil type from the remainder of the Walla Walla Valley.

John chose to plant Margaret’s entirely to Bordeaux varieties (good decision), and he planted all six of the originals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and even long lost Carmenere. His 2014 blends hits five of the six: it’s 50% Cab, 29% Merlot, and 7% each Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. (As a comparison, 2014 Ferguson was 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 6% each Cab Franc and Malbec; seems like astute winemakers are coalescing around left-bank blends as the highest and best expressions of this area).

As I mentioned before, this drinks someplace between Washington and Margaux, with all the fruit intensity of the former and much of the earthy lusty charm of the latter. The nose offers blackberry and cassis fruit along with loads of flinty and ferrous minerals, all swaddled by charming barrel tones (80% new French oak for 22 months) of smoke and cocoa powder. The palate is richly-fruited (14.6% listed alc), and all that good fruit is beautifully balanced by a persistent sense of earthy minerality. This is seriously chewy on the back-end, the finishing tannins offering a parting gift of green-tea and indicating a long and fascinating evolution in bottle. I can’t imagine we’ll be accessing Sevein single-vineyard bottlings for a price starting with ‘3’ many (any?) more times in the future.