Full Pull Saviah

January 23, 2019

Hello friends. Today marks a special occasion: the first time we’ve been able to offer Rich Funk’s varietal bottling of Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Franc. Inventory restraints have always stood in the way of offering this wine, so when we tasted the 2014 vintage in early January and found out there might be enough, we purchased every bottle outright. Honestly, this parcel is barely large enough to warrant an offer, but we couldn’t pass on it, especially at today’s tag, well off this wine’s $30 release and a good ways below the internet low of $25.89. It’s just so hard to turn down compelling Washington Cab Franc—which can be so damn good when made the right way.

2014 Saviah Cabernet Franc Walla Walla Valley
And oh boy, does Rich Funk know the right way to make Washington Cabernet Franc. It all starts with sourcing from a few fascinating, unusual Walla Walla Valley vineyards. So many times when we see WWV Bordeaux varieties they comes from either the king (Pepper Bridge Vineyard) or the queen (Seven Hills Vineyard). There’s nothing wrong with those two vineyards. In fact, they’re among the standard-bearers for the valley. But… it’s a big valley, full of micro-terroirs, and those of us who care about such things get a little extra intellectual jolt from tasting other sites.

All of the Cabernet Franc used here comes from three vineyards: Watermill, Dugger Creek, and Summit View. The first is located in the Rocks—an AVA that’s as buzzy as it gets when it comes to Syrah and other Rhone grapes. We’re seeing increased production of Bordeaux grapes from the Rocks, which is exciting for said people who care about such things. Summit View is part of the Sevein project, the vineyard development of a 2700-acre property long coveted by valley growers/winemakers for its high elevation (900’-1500’) and fractured basalt soil. Both the Rocks and Sevein contribute fascinating savories and minerals to the wines produced.

This wine—100% Cab Franc—is aged for 17 months in 25% new French oak before bottling. It opens with honest Washington Cabernet Franc typicity—that thoughtful blend of generous fruit, purple flowers, and signature green poblano notes, all wrapped in judicious wood. On the palate, juicy berries, anise-spice, herbaceous subtleties, and mocha are all prominently featured along a 14.3% alcohol frame. Fine-grained tannins and bright acidity balance the breadth and depth of flavors Rich has crafted here, and this bottle finishes full of savory spice and earth. The next time you want to reach for a Cabernet at the dinner table, replace it with this bottle. It would do wonders with all types of red meat, eggplant parmesan, or an herb-filled beluga lentil salad.


Full Pull Bila-Haut

January 22, 2019

Hello friends. Time for what has become an early-in-the-year tradition: an offer of Chapoutier’s exquisite entry-level red from Bila-Haut, in the southwest France value garden of Roussillon.

[Note: we also have two bonus wines; the new vintage of Bila-Haut’s higher-end Occultum Lapidem (and what a vintage it is; the exquisite 2015), as well as a zippy 2017 rosé.]

2017 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Cotes du Roussillon Villages Rouge
Jeb Dunnuck: “[TEXT WITHHELD]”

A few reminders on the Bila-Haut project: first off, Languedoc-Roussillon is a region that has for some time exported massive quantities of forgettable plonk, but has in recent years begun to develop a reputation as a fine source of French value. At the vanguard of the quality movement: Michel Chapoutier, he of the multiple 100pt (Robert Parker) wines from the northern Rhone. I’ll reprint the excerpt from one of Parker’s introductions to Chapoutier in Wine Advocate:

History will record that Michel Chapoutier is a revolutionary. He is also a highly emotional man whose infectious love of primitive art, historic books, classical music and, of course, terroir and winemaking are seemingly impossible to harness. Michel Chapoutier was among the first in France to embrace the radical biodynamic agricultural teachings, for which he was initially criticized, but is now praised. He was also the first to print all his labels in Braille, something that cynics considered to be a gimmick, but ask the National Association for the Blind what they think.

Coming from a famous family, but moving in a direction unlike any of its previous members, Michel Chapoutier is self-taught. What he has accomplished over the last two decades or more is one of the great wine stories of the modern era. With all his outgoing, boisterous, machine-gun-speed prose that can sometimes sound shockingly cocky, and at other times reminiscent of the famous Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, there is never a dull moment around Chapoutier, who makes comments such as ‘Filtering wine is like making love with a condom,’ and ‘Acidifying wine is like putting a suit of armor on the vineyard’s terroir, vintage character and the cepage.’ Don’t blame him if his brilliant intellect and shocking vocabulary put his visitors on the defensive. Michel Chapoutier has proven through his genius, the faith of his convictions and backbreaking attention to detail in his vineyards and in the winery that a once moribund negociant (yet with significant vineyard holdings) could become a beacon of inspiration and quality for the entire world. In short, every wine consumer in the world should admire his accomplishments.

His Roussillon rouge is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan, from an estate vineyard in the Agly hills comprising, according to Bila-Haut’s importer, 75 hectares of land cultivated under bio-dynamic farming techniques and characterized by steep pebbly slopes rising from almost 150 meters above sea level. The soil has 3 components – Schiste, Gneiss and Clay – and the Grape varieties are Grenache, Carignan, and of course Syrah. The cool winters and very hot summers combined with little rain, and the drying Mistral breeze during the growing season is perfection for these varietals; in some respects better than in the Rhone Valley. The Domaine is located in the commune of Latour-de-France, just about as close as you can be to Spain, but still be located in France.

Raised in cement and clocking in at 14% listed alc, this indeed has a Syrah-dominant, Northern Rhone-esque nose, with huckleberry fruit complicated by notes of roasting beef bones and peppercorns and star anise. The palate continues the fruity-savory mix, on a juicy, suavely-textured frame. A smattering of finishing tannins are fine-grained and savory-delicious. This is wine for winter braising and summer barbequing. The review above is as strong as Jeb as bestowed on any vintage of Bila-Haut’s rouge, and I can see why; this is dynamite.

2015 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Occultum Lapidem
Bonus wine #1 is the new release of Occultum, which has been extremely popular among our list members in previous vintages. It’s a reserve wine for Chapoutier, coming from his best Roussillon vineyards, on gneiss and schist and Kimmeridgian limestone.

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[TEXT WITHHELD]”

2017 Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Rose Pays dOc
Bonus wine #2 is Chapoutier’s rosé, an honest, unfussy, well-priced prink from the south of France. Seattle only ever sees a tiny parcel of this Provencal-style blend of Cinsault and Grenache (12.5% listed alc). It offers a summery nose of candied rose, green strawberry and watermelon. This rosé always contains a savory fruit element, too, something akin to rhubarb or golden beet: just lovely. The palate pairs zippy acid to a core of fleshy fruit, and had me thinking: brunch wine.


Full Pull Mr. Pink

January 21, 2019

Hello friends. We used to have a hard and fast rule about offering rosé—don’t even think about it before March 1st. But when that rule was written, Washington’s rosé scene was not what it is now. We started slinging rosé almost a full decade ago, and back then, we were all still living in the days of darkly hued bottles made from whatever grapes were laying around the winery. That is no longer the case. Washington’s winemakers are making thoughtful rosés across the spectrum to rival Bandol, Tavel, or Chinon.

Quality this high means a shift in how we think about purchasing wine. Long gone are the days of walking into a wine shop mid-August to find your favorite producer’s bottle. In the current state of pink-induced madness, you better be ready for some astute buying during springtime if you want to drink Washington’s best rosé in the summer. But this ain’t even springtime! February is still decidedly winter.

For the third year in a row we’ve offered our first rosé of the season around this time, which makes it an official trend: add February to your list of appropriate months to start stockpiling pink. It’s just what you have to do if you want to be drinking the best local juice in July and August. A number of wineries are releasing their 2018 bottlings now, but our first rosé of the season is one of our list-favorites.

Washington rosé season. So it begins.

2018 Underground Wine Project Mr. Pink Rose
Mr. Pink has, in a very short period of time, become considered one of Washington’s strongest rosés, especially when you factor in the modest price point. The pair of winemakers involved—Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand, Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan—have a track record of producing excellent QPR wines; Trey with his Renegade label; Mark with Board Track Racer. Their rosé collaboration has quickly captured the imaginations of Washington rosé lovers, both for the Tarantino-inspired name and the nervy juice inside the bottle.

Mr. Pink is a Sangiovese-driven rosé. Sangio is a terrific choice for a pink mostly because of its naturally high acidity, and sure enough, this bottle is bright and chock full of nerve. It’s decidedly Mr. Pink—Not Mr. Purple, or Mr. White, or even Mr. Salmon—pale, bright, and playful in color. It opens with a nose combining fruit (strawberry, clementine, summer melon), greens (mint, watermelon rind), , and subtleties of Aperol bitters . This is a refreshing mid-summer glugger through and through, with mouthwatering natural acidity surging along a refreshing 12% alcohol frame. Because of all that bright acidity, Mr. Pink presents a versatile food-pairing option. If you enjoy a glass of wine at brunch, pour this with your eggs benedict, gravlax, or ricotta pancakes. You can also watch as this bottle elevates a simple mid-week roasted chicken into something special. Or let it accompany a bowl of buttered popcorn as you finally get around to watching this year’s Oscar noms. There’s not really a wrong choice here—except for not enjoying a glass of wine at brunch, you monster.


Full Pull Finally Figgins

January 19, 2019

Hello friends. Finally Figgins!

I probably received more emails about this wine during the fourth quarter of 2018 than any other, a product, I’m sure, of the fact that we had offered Figgins Red from late September-early December for eight years on the trot.

This year, Chris Figgins decided to give the wine a little extra time in bottle, and a few days ago, we received the following message from the winery’s Seattle reps:

We are proud to announce the pending release of the 2015 Figgins Estate Red on February 1, 2019! Winemaker Chris Figgins has called the 2015 Figgins Red the most exciting wine he has ever had the opportunity to make. Though 2015 was the earliest harvest in Leonetti and Figgins history, the unique elevation and location of the vineyard up Mill Creek allowed the fruit to achieve a near-perfect balance of acidity and tannin. To quote Chris, “this wine is what I imagined our exceptional site to be capable of producing when I bought the land and designed the vineyard over 15 years ago.”

As usual, production on this wine is very limited and the amount that makes it to distribution is even more so. Therefore, we ask that you please send me your MAXIMUM REQUEST no later than Friday, February 1.

Hence the quick-turn offer. We need to submit our initial order by about noon on Friday, so please try to submit your requests by Friday morning (we’ll aim to build in a buffer for latecomer orders, but no promises). Now, onto the wine.

2015 Figgins Estate Red Wine
This is Chris Figgins’ own project, separate from the Leonetti family of wines, and a wine that seems to have achieved its own cult status in a very short period. What distinguishes it, and makes it so intellectually interesting, is that it is very much a Bordelaise project. Figgins is a winery with one vineyard (planted mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot) and one red wine (anything that doesn’t make the cut gets sold off on the bulk market), which is a real rarity in Washington. Putting all your eggs in one vineyard basket is gutsy indeed, but Chris Figgins has the skill and experience to make it work.

Unsurprisingly, Chris’ emphasis when he talks about the wine is the vineyard, not the winery. Located in the Mill Creek drainage of the Walla Walla Valley, this is as far-east a vineyard as I know of in the Walla Walla Valley, bumping right up against the Blue Mountains (see location here). The soils are deep, rich loess, and this area gets enough rainfall that dry-land farming (no irrigation) is possible in some years. It’s a haunting, high-elevation (1750 ft) site, where exactly 17 minutes past sunset each night, a load of cold air from the Blue Mountains comes roaring down Mill Creek canyon. You can feel the air change when you’re standing there, and the grapes feel it too: an instant diurnal shift that helps retain lovely acidity in the finished wines.

It’s going to be a real treat to watch this wine evolve as the vines dig deeper, and even the evolution from the inaugural 2008 vintage to now has been fascinating. To see this kind of quality from early-leaf fruit augurs well for the future. In many years, this is a wine built more for ageing than for immediate gratification. In warm 2015, it’s a bit more approachable. Still, if opening any time soon, I’d suggest a multi-hour decant.

Jeb Dunnuck: “[TEXT WITHHELD]”

Wine Spectator (Tim Fish): “[TEXT WITHHELD]”


Full Pull Dusted

January 18, 2019

Hello friends. Our first Full Pull offer for a Dusted Valley wine took place in month two of our existence: the 2006 Stained Tooth Syrah, way back on November 19, 2009. Even back then, Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson were producing outstanding wines. But their progress in the subsequent seven-plus years has been staggering.

They’re now serious players in the Walla Walla wine scene, with three separate estate vineyards (including Stoney Vine, a special special site in the rocks), a badass 12,000 square foot production facility, and an outstanding portfolio of wines under their entry-level Boomtown label and their higher-end Dusted Valley label. That’s an awful lot of progress in a short period of time.

Chad and Corey are two Wisconsin natives who married a pair of sisters (Janet Johnson and Cindy Braunel are both deeply involved in Dusted Valley too), abandoned jobs in medical sales, and settled in the Pacific Northwest to make delicious wine for a living. The connection to the cheese-head state is still evident in their sometime use of Wisconsin oak barrels, and in the name of the estate vineyard closest to the winery (Sconni Block).

Today we have a trio of wines, all offered to us at compelling pricing:

2017 Dusted Valley Chardonnay Olsen Vineyard
Our list gets advance access (broad market release will be in April) to the new release of a wine that has rocketed into the conversation of Washington’s best Chardonnays over the course of a mere three vintages. The 2016 earned all sorts of buzz after William Kelley’s first set of reviews for Wine Advocate, where he gave this wine a 93pt review, second best of all Washington Chards (Sixto Moxee [$55] earned a 94pt review).

Certainly one of the best recent developments in Washington wine has been boutique wineries embracing old Chardonnay vineyards and blocks released from contract by Ste Michelle when natural yields fell too low to make sense for their program. What do I mean by old? Some of this comes from plantings from the mid-1980s, which by Washington Chardonnay standards is old indeed. Olsen is a fairly high-elevation site in the Yakima Valley – about 1100’-1300’ – and fairly cool too. Just right for Chardonnay. The fruit was fermented and aged mostly in French Oak (less than 20% new), the remainder concrete and stainless.

As in previous vintages, this is a marvel of texture and intensity with nary a shred of excess weight (13.2% listed alc). So many of my notes are textural – bright, energetic, juicy, propulsive – that it takes awhile for me to get to the lovely aromas and flavors. Those include a core of peach and lemon-curd fruit complemented by leesy croissant notes and crème fraiche. DV has lessened their battonage frequency as the vintages have progressed, and it shows, allowing Olsen’s natural flinty minerality to shine. A lovely, balanced Chardonnay perfect for all manner of seafood pulled from cold winter waters.

2015 Dusted Valley V.R. Special Cabernet Sauvignon
I was just thinking about this wine recently, as I was baking chocolate chip cookies for my daughter’s fifth birthday. Why? Because the original V.R. Special was just that: a chocolate chip cookie. Specifically, the cookie made by Vernon Rhodes, Chad’s grandpa. It obviously made an impression on young Chad, who calls the cookie “miraculous,” and the memory lingers. It’s a good window into the folks behind this winery: a funny, family-focused group of people.

What makes the wine special, again, is the old vine material. This comes predominantly from the 1972 block at Dionysus Vineyard, one of the finest old-vine Cabernet sites in Washington (the remainder is Stonetree and Southwind). It was raised in French oak, 40% new, and it clocks in at 14.7% listed alc. Many ’15 Cabs, coming as they do from such a warm vintage, have been fruit monsters. This one has plenty of fruit, but there is an appealing earthiness keeping things in balance, a stoniness to complement a core of blackcurrant and black plum fruit. The palate offers loads of old-vine intensity up front, and then the Cabernet tannins take over the in the middle, offering a wonderful savory/dusty finish, all chewy goodness.

2016 Dusted Valley Petite Sirah Stonetree Vineyard
Good PS is easy to find in Cali; tough in Washington. It’s a thermophilic variety: one that requires a lot of heat units to ripen properly. And there are only a few spots in Washington appropriate for that. One of them is certainly Stonetree, which sits at the top of the south-facing Wahluke Slope and just gets blasted with Vitamin D all summer long.

This is raised mostly in neutral oak (just 10% new), allowing the fruit to shine through. And what fruit it is! This pours into the glass inky black-purple, and it’s a stainer through and through. First it stains the glass, then it stains the palate, with its mix of inky purple fruit and tea-leaf complexity. I love the savory/leafy edge here, which keeps this from turning monolithic. Texturally, this fans out and saturates, and its tannins are imposing indeed, but well managed. For anyone stuck in a Cabernet rut, PS is a nifty alternative, offering many of the same structural qualities, but with a notably different flavor profile. I’d love to drink this next to a ribeye.


Full Pull The Found

January 17, 2019

Hello friends. In 2015, our pals Chris Peterson and Marty Taucher at Avennia launched a new label called Les Trouvés (French for the found). Now, in its fourth vintage, 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 Avenia, and the rest is meticulously sourced from Chris’ extensive network of winemaking and grape growing colleagues in Washington. The result is a label made for everyday drinking that well outpunches its price—an attractive gateway drug into the greater Chris Peterson house style.

2016 Les Trouves White
I find the Les Trouves white especially exciting because there is nothing like it in the Avennia lineup. Avennia does make a white wine—a barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc—but Les Trouves’ white is all Rhone. 44% concrete-aged Viognier, 37% Marsanne, and 19% Roussanne, the nose is aromatic as all get out. Layers of meyer lemon, pear, flower petals, honeydew, white pepper, and saline; it’s childhood summers spent at the beach eating ripe summer melon by the armful. While the palate presents roundly—full of delicious fruit heft—it is surprisingly bright. Bursting with lemon-lime citrus and spring florals, there’s a bold intensity that lives within its 13.8% alcohol frame.

International Wine Report (Owen Bargreen): “[TEXT WITHHELD]

2016 Les Trouves Red
Consistently, this wine drinks like a baby Justine (Avennia’s $40 GSM), and in 2016, the varietal percentages are almost identical. Grenache leads the way with just over half, followed by a third Mourvedre and the rest Syrah. We don’t know exactly where this wine is sourced from—that’s part of the deal—but those numbers bode well that there’s a good deal of declassified Avennia juice in there.

This vintage, with a listed alcohol of 15%, opens with an enticing nose full of blueberries, bramble, purple flowers, peppered game, and wild-grown Mediterranean herbs. The palate is supple with marionberry and blood orange, intensified by a decidedly peppery, animalistic Mourvedre influence. It’s intricately spiced, openly delicious, and classy as hell. This project is made for youthful consumption, and this wine brings real, immediate pleasure on pop-and-pour. However, for a wine that’s made to be approachable and charming, Les Trouvés consistently over-delivers with complexity.

Wine Enthusiast (Sean Sullivan): “[TEXT WITHHELD]”


Full Pull Buck Conventional Wisdom

January 16, 2019

Hello friends. If you’re willing to buck conventional wisdom, there are great values to be had in the wide world of wine. And of the most persistent – and dumbest – pieces of conventional wisdom is that “last year’s rosé” is unsellable. What I mean by last year’s rosé, in this case, is rosé from the 2017 vintage. The conventional wisdom is that 2017 rosé must be sold in 2018. Anything remaining when the calendar flipped might as well be poured down the drain, because consumers won’t buy it, and they certainly won’t drink it.

Ridiculous.

Perhaps this was a good rule of thumb when rosé was an afterthought cash-flow play, but in our current era of purpose-picked, purpose-built rosé, with bright acidity and flavor impact and overall balance? These wines can go for years. Or at the very least, another year.

As long as the conventional wisdom persists, we’ll be waiting, poised to go long and offer our list members exceptional value. Like today.
2017 CasaSmith ViNO Rose
Jeb Dunnuck: “[TEXT WITHHELD]”

Jeb tasted this in April 2018, so his “coming 6-12 months” note would indicate October 2018-April 2019. That’s conservative. If you need a permission slip to stash this wine away and drink it in July at the height of mid-summer, you have my permission. The wine will be fine. You’ll be happy; the sun will be shining; the wine will be ice cold and delicious. Go forth with confidence.

CasaSmith is the corner of the Charles Smith empire devoted to Italian varieties, so no surprise: this is 100% Sangiovese. It comes predominantly from Fox Vineyard, a site high enough up on the Wahluke Slope that it straddles the Missoula flood line. Some portions sit on flood deposits; others on ancient basalt and caliche. The grapes are all grown specifically for rosé and picked as such. They’re native-yeast fermented, then given a quick turn on the lees in stainless steel tanks before bottling. Listed alc is a brisk 12%, and this comes popping up out of the glass with an expressive nose (a little extra bottle age doesn’t hurt aromatically) chockful of fresh strawberry fruit and tarragon. There’s a dash of Aperol bitters too, a lovely grace note courtesy of Sangiovese, which has proven to be a delightful rosé variety in the northwest for exactly those types of subtle complexities. The palate pairs Sangio’s bright natural acidity to a core of fleshy delicious fruit, and the overall package has energy and charm to spare. Priced like a distressed product, this is anything but.