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Exploring Terroir with Forgeron Cellars

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Maison Louis Jadot's Résonance

The French Connection

Rhone to Columbia Valley: The Syrah Doctrine

C'mon Get Happy

New Growth at Matthews Winery

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Full Pull: 5 Years of Giving You the Goods

From Marty Sparks

Editors Note: Full Pull Wines is a small, local operation that offers list subscribers a well-curated catalog of wines with a nearly daily offering(s). Marty Sparks checks in with Paul on the heels of celebrating his 5th anniversary.

Full Pull Wines is like having your own personal wine concierge.  Paul Zitarelli is your host and he sends you several offers per week that provide access to excellent wines at very good prices.  The primary focus is on Washington wines with offers from around the world making appearances on a regular basis as well.  

Paul just celebrated his first five years of business by hosting a "small" get together with his list members and some of his most popular Washington wineries and wine makers.  The guest list featured many of the Full Pull list members’ favorite wineries, which also happen to represent some of the top tier winemakers in Washington.

The anniversary party offered Paul a chance to reflect on his first five years, the success he has enjoyed and an opportunity to share that with friends and family.  It also gave me a chance to catch up with Paul and learn some more about the great adventure he has been on since founding Full Pull in 2009.  

The idea for Full Pull was born out of Paul's love for wine and writing.  As he was completing his MBA at the UW's Foster School of Business, Paul developed the concept for Full Pull recognizing that wine lends itself very well to a curated business model.  That is where your personal wine concierge comes in.  Paul does the research to find excellent bottles of wine and then sends you an offer via email that provides thoughtful background on the winery, winemaker and, of course, the wine being offered.

I was curious, how did Full Pull get started and what has transpired over the past five years?  What about the first offer, a favorite offer or a most unusual offer.

Paul knew that he would focus Full Pull on Washington wines and wanted his first offer to be a sparkling wine.  That required quite a bit of research and ultimately lead Paul to Mountain Dome in Spokane.  His first offer would be their 2004 Brut.  What better way to start a new journey than with a bottle of bubbly.  As Paul recounted "The captain of the Titanic might have thought the same thing!"  

As Full Pull continued to grow Paul added Oregon wines to his offers in the middle of 2011 and then expanded to International wines in 2012.  Full Pull’s first International wine offering was one of Paul's favorites so far, the 2011 Ameztoi Txakolina “Rubentis.” a rosada from the Basque Country of Spain.  I remember Paul dropping geo-exploration inspired hints on the email list members leading up to the big offer.  It was like “Where in the world is Full Pull?!” The International offers also brought one of the weirdest wine offers to Full Pull, a French wine that actually might be a spirit.  Paul doesn't think he should have been able to sell it, but he did!  And, he still receives reorder requests today for the NV Cocchi Vermouth di Torino.

Paul is continuing to grow Full Pull through new opportunities that appeal to him and to his list members.  The latest addition to Full Pull’s offering is Full Pull and Friends Wine.  Paul is partnering with select local wineries and winemakers to offer unique wines to Full Pull list members.  Since beginning Full Pull & Friends, Paul has offered 8 wines.  These wines are exclusive and not available anywhere else.  The most recent Full Pull and Friends release is a great example, 2012 Bacchus Cabernet Sauvignon made from some of the oldest cab vines in Washington state.   Most of the FP&F wines would not have been bottled without Paul’s attention.  Typically, these wines were originally intended for blending.  Paul has brought them to market as single variety bottlings.  The response has been very positive and Paul is excited to do more with this program in the future.  He has plans to be more proactive in seeking out sources for FP&F wines.  Beginning with 2014 he is contracting with some Washington vineyards to select grapes for the program.  By contracting for grapes Paul is able to get closer to winemaking without taking on all the associated risks.   Back to the 5th year anniversary celebration.  The party took place at Full Pull's new space located in the SoDo area combining fabulous small bites and wine from 13 popular Full Pull list wineries.  Each winery poured two wines, a current release and something special - a library wine or an exclusive wine typically not available to the public.

Here are a few of my personal highlight wines available at the celebration.  Sleight of Hand Flip Side Syrah in Magnum - I’m a music and wine geek so how could I resist this music themed Syrah from Trey Busch?  The Gramercy Cellars Rock Steady Syrah inspired by Greg Harrington’s break dancing days in NYC (seriously, break dancing!).  An Abeja 2009 Merlot that was lush, plush and tasting fab. A smashing Forgeron 2003 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon tasting like it is just coming into its prime.  And the mack daddy from Seven Hills: a 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon that still had plenty of life left in it - answering the question “Do Washington wines age well?”  This Seven Hills Cab says “Well, Duh!”

The first five years have been a pretty dynamic ride at Full Pull.  Paul,is looking forward to continuing to grow organically and to keep the list manageable.  Based on his first five years and what he has accomplished, I’m confident that Paul, and Full Pull, will continue to offer access to excellent wines from around the globe.  Along with the wine you will also receive a well-written backstory on each one of the offers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Building Something Beautiful; The Rise of a Signature Chardonnay Style in Oregon

That Oregon Chardonnay is gaining in prominence and prestige is no longer news. If you've been drinking these wines for the last 7 or so years you've already known irrespective of national newspapers taking note very recently, that this variety from Oregon has the potential to be a fine wine, a damn fine wine.
photo from the Oregon Chardonnay Alliance
Chardonnay has been so maligned, so abused and mistreated that it has sadly become a bit of a scapegoat among the discerning wine drinking public. It's funny though because despite all of this maltreatment Chardonnay is the most popular wine in America. Chardonnay remains the most widely variety planted in California, and up until just last  year it was the case in Washington, it has since been surpassed by Cabernet Sauvignon. Here's the thing, grandmas love Chardonnay, my mother for example, she loves the stuff. But for serious wine drinkers, or actually more to the point those developing into serious wine drinkers Chardonnay, particularly domestically made Chardonnay had become verboten.  No one was going to take you seriously if they caught you drinking Chardonnay, right?(Serious-serious wine drinkers have learned how profound Chardonnay can be when it comes from Burgundy and developing-serious wine drinkers will soon find that out as well.)

Enter Oregon and David Adelsheim.

Oregon's Willamette Valley; known the world over, and I mean that sincerely, for it's Pinot Noir is also producing Chardonnay that might rival or in some cases pass its Pinot in prominence. Given America's propensity to see red wine as more "serious" though I don't know if Oregon's Chardonnay will ever get it's full due, however it's reputation is on the rise and a style is emerging as one that might just change the way American Chardonnay is understood.

David Adelsheim is certainly among the shortlist of names as one of the Willamette Valley's pioneers. Though he came a few years behind the first wave of David Lett, Charles Coury and a couple others, his role in the development of Oregon's Chardonnay is perhaps more unparalleled. The valley's original Chardonnay plantings were selected from vines intended originally for planting in California. In the cool Willamette Valley they flopped, In many cases they wouldn't ripen properly and were often a few weeks behind Pinot Noir. These two UC Davis clones, known as "selection 108" weren't cutting it.

While working a harvest in Burgundy in 1974, two years after planting his own vineyard which included Chardonnay, Adelsheim noted that the Chardonnay in Burgundy was ripening right alongside the Pinot Noir. The process was complicated but eventually some appropriate, and healthy clones were released via Oregon State University for planting in 1989. Adelsheim, along with Rollin Soles of Argyle and Chehalem's Harry Pederson-Nedry championed the planting of these Dijon clones in an effort to replace the ill selected "selection 108." Pun intended.

What we're seeing today in Oregon Chardonnay, is a result of that hard work and vision.

"Chardonnay isn't a wine-making technique, it's a grape." David Adelsheim points out. "In order to make it well you need wine-making that actually respects the identity of the grape, and the variety that you can achieve vintage to vintage." So why are we seeing this resurgence in the Chardonnay coming out of Oregon today? "What we're seeing is a collision of two things; the level of quality possible with careful site and clone selection. A clearer vision of what we can do here. It's been a gradual recognition over the last ten years or so."

It really has and over that time, you find a style of Chardonnay that emphasizes the "fresh fruit," bright acids and amazing texture for which Willamette Valley Pinot Noir has come to be known. terroir is a real thing it turns out. For Oregon Chardonnay, style is about climate, soils and the right decisions about vineyard site and Chardonnay clones. It's not about heavy oak, or maloactic fermentation. 

Thankfully for us others have followed and the number of beautiful Chardonnays coming from the Willamette Valley are at an all time high. Anam Cara Cellars is only in their second vintage with the 2012 release but they are among a group of "new" Chardonnay producers adding to the critical mass of outstanding Oregon Chardonnay coming to market. For Sheila Nicholas Chardonnay seemed like a natural decision. "When we decided to plant two additional acres, we wanted a white variety that would complement the existing plantings of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer; each in itself a wine that evolves beautifully in a cool climate. Chardonnay - specifically Dijon clone Chardonnay - fit the bill for quality and age-ability. Our decision was confirmed after following several vintages of a personal favorite: Eric Hamacher's Cuvée Forêts Diverses and Harry Peterson Nedry's Chehalem Ian's Reserve and INOX Chardonnays which demonstrate the incredible versatility of Chardonnay at the hands of a great winemaker."

2012 Anam Cara Cellars Reserve Chardonnay In their second vintage of Chardonnay bottling, Anam Cara Cellars has made both a steel fermented wine and this reserve wine fermented in French oak, about 20% of which is new. Aromatics of white flowers, sweet hay and toasted hazelnuts. The wine is textured and rounded with accents of ripe peach flesh, honey and grapefruit zest. The zip of acid is subdued and the palate balances out nicely. $32 

2012 Stoller Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay Melissa Burr reliably creates some of the most compelling Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley each vintage. Aromatics of coriander, honeysuckle, lemon zest and pineapple. Mostly neutral French oak gives this wine depth, texture and complexity and ample lemon creme, wet stone and peach skin. Mouth watering acidity and overall elegance. $35

2012 Bergstrom Sigrid Chardonnay Goddamn. That is a wine. This is probably the most complete wine from Oregon I've ever tasted. Damn. Forgive me, I need a minute. Aromatics are lemon custard, orange zest, fresh baked bread, chalk, and almond. Flavors of beeswax, lemon creme, crushed limestone and toasted hazelnut. A full bodied richness braced with a streak of energetic acidity. The impressiveness of this wine lies in it's structure and depth. Evolving in your mouth, revealing more and more facets of itself. You think you have it pinned down and it changes, shifts, gives you a bit more. I don't like to wax too poetic about wine, but this one leaves me with no other choice. It really is that incredible. I believe Burgundy would be proud. $85

2012 Adelsheim Caitlin's Reserve Chardonnay Refined and elegantly aromatic the wine gives off a warmth and roundness with aromatics of ripe stone fruit and honeysuckle. The acidity pulses  to brighten up a palate of texture and depth. The wine was fermented in nearly 40% new French oak The rounded palate shows a bit more ripe peach along with flavors of nutmeg, baked apple and honey. $45

These wines were provided as samples as part of a program called "Best Case Scenario" in an effort to highlight Oregon Chardonnay.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Gorgeous in the Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge is perhaps one of the most dynamic wine growing areas in all the world. Certainly hard to beat in terms of dramatic landscape. The Columbia River Gorge AVA was established in 2004, it's slogan "a world of wines in 40 miles" hints at the kind of variety that this sort of dynamism allows for. From Albarino, to Pinot Noir, to Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, the Gorge has a little bit of everything.

The Gorge, is a study in contrasts, sort of. It's in Washington and Oregon. It's in the temperate rain forest on it's western edge, and the dry grasslands that transition to desert at it's eastern edge. While many wine growing regions might point to topographical anomalies that might make for unique elements within the AVA, that might often contribute to a specific character or terroir showing up in a particular vineyard, the Gorge is made up of these kinds of anomalies. What's consistent about the Gorge is really it's diversity. Moving from west to east within the Gorge you lose an inch of rain each mile you travel along the Gorge, 40 inches on one end to 10 on the other. And as you travel east the growing degree days shoot up with all that increased sunshine.

What this means for a fan of Washington, and Oregon wine is that you can drink a variety of varieties, styles and site expressions without ever leaving the Gorge AVA. The Gorge is quickly developing a reputation for it's unique climate and some particular vineyards that deliver complex wines with great acid and elegance are becoming some of the most sought after in the state. In short, the Gorge makes for some really pretty wines. We'll take a look at a few of those well established sites as well as some new ones.

Celilo Vineyards 
Celilo might be the most revered vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA. It's reputation is for fruit that does well in wines of restraint, minerality, elegance and wonderfully high acids. Pinot Noirs from Syncline have raised the vineyard's profile as a worthy vineyard designate site, but some Washington wineries like Woodward Canyon for example have been using the higher acid fruit from Celilo to blend into their Chardonnay for nearly 20 years.

Celilo Vineyard was planted in 1972 making it an old site by Washington standards.  Celilo sits on Underwood Mountain an extinct volcano with deep, loamy soils that show up in the outstanding minerality the site is known for. Celilo is not only in a cool zone, it's elevation adds to it's higher acid fruits as the 75 acre vineyard ranges between 800 and 1200 feet of elevation. Celilo has had the same vineyard manager since 1976, so there's a consistency of quality that comes with that long earned experience and know how.

2011 Tranche Cellars Chardonnay, Celilo Vineyard As the evolution of Washington Chardonnay has progressed, towards more elegance and minerality, less butter, Tranche Cellars has been making one of the finest bottlings I've had year to year. The use of concrete egg fermenters, neutral French oak and battonage gives us a Washington Chardonnay that nods to the Old World. Aromatics of peach skin, wet stone, and a flavor profile of ripe peach and honey really turn on the texture and structure of this Chardonnay. The mouthfeel is balanced with great acid but ample depth and texture from the lees and time in neutral oak and concrete. $45

White Salmon Vineyard
Also on Underwood Mountain White Salmon Vineyard is at a lower elevation(550 feet) planted on a rocky bench of Underwood this vineyards sees perhaps a greater variety in soil types than it's nearby and more famous neighbor. Formed by volcanic slides so the vineyard see pronounced soil diversity. The Chardonnay is planted among the vineyards higher clay content soils.

2012 Foundry Vineyards Chardonnay, Columbia Gorge This wine is super. Super. From Walla Walla's Foundry Vineyards comes a Chardonnay that you absolutely have to try. Production is small, in the neighborhood of 100 cases but well worth seeking out. Another unique element, the Chardonnay is co-fermented with Maria Gomes. That's not a person, that's an obscure, by my take anyways, Portuguese grape. And while perhaps nobody solves a problem like Maria, nobody co-ferments with Chardonnay as well either. Aromatics of honeysuckle, apricot and stone, the wine is a study in balance. There's a brightness to the fruit profile with flavors of just ripe apricot and peach, complimented by a roundness, lemon creme and notes of hazelnut. $27

Hi-Valley Vineyard
I know that the Hi-Valley Vineyard is at about 1,000 feet of elevation in the Dalles, Oregon, and that it was planted to about 15 acres of Syrah and Merlot. The vineyard is managed by Lonnie Wright, long-time Gorge guru and the vines are about 15 or so years old. Beyond that, I dunno, I can't find much information on the place, but if the wines are reliably like this one; I'm interesting in learning more.

2010 Jacob Williams Syrah, Hi-Valley Vineyard I'm a huge fan of the potential for cool climate Syrah and I think the Gorge sets up very well, as does the Willamette Valley frankly. In this Jacob Williams Syrah you have a perfect marriage of a cool vintage with a cool site. This isn't your mother's NW Syrah, in the style that perhaps you're used to seeing out of Washington. This wine is austere, angular Old World and has rip roaring acidity. I really dig it. The wine is aromatically effusive, currants, early season brambleberries and earth. The wine opens up over two days with red berries, stone, earth and lots and lots of fresh mint and eucalyptus. Should only be better over the next two years. I've gotta be honest I hadn't heard of Jacob Williams prior to having tried this Syrah but I will be looking out for their wines in the future. $28

Phelps Creek Vineyard
Outside of the Willamette Valley, Phelps Creek Vineyards is producing incredible Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in their vineyard perched above Hood River Oregon. Alexandrine Roy of Burgundy has taken over the reigns of wine direction at Phelps Creek and finds the specifics of the Gorge providing an element that you don't find in the Willamette Valley when it comes to these Burgundian varieties. Alexandrine decidedly notes a different kind of “perfect” acidity in the Gorge, which has higher altitudes and longer maturation periods than the Willamette Valley experiences. The climate in the Gorge, specifically the wind off of the Columbia River, cools and controls the sugar levels in the grapes grown there.

2011 Phelps Creek Vineyards, Estate Reserve Chardonnay While Alexandrine's finger prints aren't on this Chardonnay (her first vintage directing all of the wine production is 2012) the wine has a sort of Burgundian sense to it. Ample aromatics, with beeswax, coriander and honey. A nicely textured wine owed to the neutral French oak the fruit retains a great acidity though to set a good balance. The palate shows lemon creme, almond and chamomile. $30

Three Sleeps Vineyard

In Mosier, Oregon between The Dalles and Hood River on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge. The Three Sleeps Vineyard is a 15 acre parcel, only 8 of which are planted and it's the estate vineyard for McMinnville winery, Dominio IV. The vineyard was planted in 2001 and is both organic and biodynamically farmed on sandy loam soils. Patrick Reuter is  co-owner (along with his wife Leigh, the vineyard manager) and winemaker at Dominio IV. They've planted four different clones of Tempranillo in the site and sees a real future for this varietal in the Northwest. Tempranillo is certainly worthy of the “signature wine” banner for the northwest, yet still needs to be articulated to a further degree. We need to understand the how to express the grape with distinction given the macro and meso climate or terroir it is grown in." 

Three Sleeps Tempranillo Vertical, 2008, 2009, 2010
The Dominio IV label is fairly esoteric and a bit hard to wrap your brain around in terms of the various names, and many multiple bottlings of single varietal wines. However, doing a little sleuthing is worth the effort. They're serious about their varietal bottlings, and may be the biggest "Tempranillo Geeks" in the Northwest. Dominio IV also has some fantastically well priced blends. Tempranillo has shown itself to be at home in Southern Oregon in a number of really nice wines, and we've even seen a few stand outs from Washington. The Dominio IV Tempranillos from Three Sleeps Vineyard however may make a case for the Gorge as ground zero for this Spanish grape here in the Northwest. (These wines were sent as samples and I believe they retail in $35 neighborhood, in which case, BUY THEM!)

2008 Dominio IV Tempranillo, Three Sleeps Vineyard, The Arrow & The Berry
Aromatics of licorice, black tea and turned earth. The wine is aromatically showy but demonstrates refinement on the palate. Ripe flavors of raisin, black plum and pomegranate, This wine balances ripe ample fruit with great tannin and acidity. Finish lingers a long while. (This wine was released in 2011 by the way, showing a real faith in the importance age-ability of Tempranillo from the Gorge.) 

2009 Dominio IV Tempranillo, Three Sleeps Vineyard, Midnight Skies
Dusty cherry aromatics, along with clove and cocoa powder. The palate emphasizes dark fruit, black plums, blackberry and anise. Tannins are grippy, dusty and integrate wonderfully with a fresh acidity.

2010 Dominio IV Tempranillo, Three Sleeps Vineyard, Of The Earth
Aptly named, this Tempranillo shows a cooler climate and a real sense of minerality. The most effusively fragant of the three wines, with dried violet, lots of crushed rock and freshly turned earth. Lots of earth. More cloves and plums on the palate but a sort of meatiness and a real savory character to this Tempranillo. It's wonderfully elegant and way age-worthy. My favorite of the trio.