Hello friends. Today we have one of our annual Full Pull rites: new releases from the inimitable Leonetti Cellars. Deep in the stubborn gloom of March, it’s a bud pushing through cold earth: a clear indication that spring is on the ascendancy. It’s one of my favorite offers 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 over the past decade, 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.
2019 Leonetti Merlot
First produced in 1981, this Merlot (which is 100% varietal this year) now comes almost entirely from Leonetti’s estate sites: Leonetti Old Block (location here, in the foothills of Blue Mountains), Loess (location here, also in the Blues foothills), and Mill Creek Upland (location here, in the fascinating Mill Creek drainage). It was aged for 15 months in new and once-filled French oak barrels and neutral oval botti, and listed alc is 14.5%. No reviews yet for the 2019, but the 2016 earned 95pts Owen Bargreen and 95pts James Suckling, the 2017 95pts Bargreen and 94pts Tim Fish (Wine Spectator), and the 2018 96pts Suckling and 95pts Bargreen. (Note: that 94pts Fish for the ’17 is the highest rating he’s given to any Washington Merlot during his four years at Spectator. High praise indeed!)
Winery tasting notes: Deep ruby to the rim. This 100% Merlot boasts an incredible nose of white lilac, boysenberry, reduced blueberry syrup, and candied walnuts. It has an incredible purity of fruit and the absolutely seamless, supple tannins that made Leonetti Merlot famous. The wine has a wonderfully long finish that lingers on the palate.
2018 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon
First produced in Leonetti’s inaugural vintage – 1978 – this 2018 marks the 41st consecutive vintage of Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon. This comes from five Leonetti Estate sites – Old Block, Mill Creek Upland, Loess, Serra Pedace (on the basalt outcrop of Sevein), and Holy Roller, which is Leonetti’s newish Rocks District vineyard – along with a splash of Seven Hills fruit. The blend includes 9% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, and 2% Petit Verdot, and it spent 22 months in new and once-used French oak barrels. Listed alc is 14.6%. No reviews yet for the 2018, but the 2015 earned 97pts Suckling and 96pts Dunnuck, the 2016 98pts from both Dunnuck and Suckling, and the 2017 97pts Dunnuck and 96pts Bargreen and Suckling.
Winery tasting notes: Gorgeously saturated color. The bouquet emits bright red fruits, cedar, cassis, anise, and cocoa. The wine has lovely aging potential and is expressive with notes of pencil shavings, vanilla spice, and black currant. Flawlessly balanced on the palate with the perfect harmony of fruit, tannin, and acid.
Hello friends. A great vintage in Montalcino isn’t hard to find, per se, but it is something to be celebrated. A well-reviewed bottle from a great vintage is even more exciting. A well-reviewed bottle from a great vintage with truly excellent pricing? That’s a rare bird, indeed.
2016 Col d'Orcia Brunello di Montalcino
Equally as rare? Full Pull commiting to a wine sight unseen. However, this producer, from this vintage, with a review this glowing, at this price—we staked our claim on this parcel before the wine was on the water from Italy. The container just landed in the port of Seattle a few days ago, so we’ll be able to jump in and scoop up our share before most of Seattle knows the wine is even here. With this in mind, please try to get your orders in no later than Thursday, April 8th.
We spent much of 2020 talking about the exceptional 2015 Brunellos, and I anticipate we’ll spend much of 2021 talking about the 2016s. 2016 has proved uniquely stunning—different than its predecessor—but no less worthy of heaps of praise. And the praise has indeed been heaped. Here is Eric Guido, writing for Vinous in November, 2020: If I had to think of one way to universally describe the majority of wines from the 2016 vintage, I would offer that they are like a well-muscled black stallion in its prime. They are dark yet radiant, expressive, nearly explosive at times, yet pure, poised and structured. These are wines that capture your imagination; and no matter how youthfully tense they are today, you simply can’t help but revisit a glass over and over again; because in many cases, the aromatics alone are intoxicating. I frankly cannot remember the last time I tasted young wines from Montalcino that possessed such symmetry from start to finish. The best part is that this success was widely spread throughout the region; and while there was a mix of the bad, the good and the otherworldly, finding a solidly performing bottle of 2016 Brunello di Montalcino won’t be difficult for any consumer.
Col d’Orcia is a landmark estate of Montalcino. It has winemaking roots that go back to the 1700s, and it is now the largest certified organic and biodynamic estate in all of Tuscany. The winery and vineyards sit atop a hill in Sienna with the Orcia River below. (Col d’Orcia means the hill overlooking the Orcia River.) Along with vineyards, the family tends a rich biodiversity program: nearly 400 hectares of flower and vegetable gardens, olive groves (with some olive trees over four centuries old!), and grazing livestock.
The estate’s location has a little bit of everything. Sitting roughly 1500 feet above sea level on the south-facing, limestone hillsides between the Orcia River and Sant’Angelo in Colle, Col d’Orcia is close enough to Mount Amiata to get protection from flooding and hail, and still only 21 miles from the Tyrrhenian coast. High elevation calcium carbonate-rich soils, mountain and sea influenced microclimate, sun-drenched and river-adjacent locale—these all contribute to Col d’Orcia’s signature terroir and the classic expression of Montalcino they are able to achieve.
This is 100% Sangiovese, specific clones picked by the winery, and in 2016 the grapes were all hand harvested and fermented in stainless steel. The wine was then aged for three years in 25, 50, and 75hl Slavonian and French oak casks, followed by over a year in bottle. The listed alcohol is 14.5%.
Vinous (Eric Guido): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHELD] 95pts.”
Hello friends. Today we have the return of one of the most popular wines we offer, a wine that is well-loved by list members and FP team members alike: our all-Pinot-Noir Block Wines Extra Brut Rosé:
NV Block Wines Extra Brut Rose Marchant Vineyard D.2020 While Morgan Lee makes all of the still wines under the Block label, Christian and Juergen Grieb have been our partner winemakers for this sparkling wine since the beginning. They are the Washington-focused sparkling winemakers behind Treveri—so too our Full Pull & Friends Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature. We consider this partnership extremely special. While the bubbles scene in our state is growing, sparkling wine producers are still few and far between. Christian and Juergen are experts on the matter of Washington sparkling.
This wine is made from 100% Washington Pinot Noir. Abundant just south of us in Oregon, Pinot is much harder to find in our neck of the woods. That is part of what makes this bottling so special. Treveri has access to a small amount of Pinot Noir—not nearly enough for their own commercial rosé production, but perfect for our purposes. True to the block name, this juice comes from a single block of a single vineyard called Marchant. Marchant Vineyard is a cool-climate Yakima Valley Vineyard; just cool enough to be perfect for Pinot. In fact, that’s all they grow there. Our fruit is pulled from the block closest to the farmhouse on the property: hence the “Farmhouse Block” designation on the label.
This disgorgement pours into the glass vibrant, saturated pink. This vintage saw a few more hours of skin contact yielding a color of wild roses. It opens abundantly with ripe fruit (strawberries, cherries, and plums) and citrus (blood orange flesh and grapefruit pith). There’s a terrific savory undertone here—wheat and almond skins. In the grand tradition of this wine, we settled on a brisk five grams per liter dosage, which puts us in the “Extra Brut” category. And while it’s wonderfully dry, one of my favorite things about this wine is that it still manages to find breadth with minimal alcohol—12%. This is especially in this disgorgement. Expertly balanced, it’s bright and clean, zeroing in on wildly succulent fruit and electric acidity. I just love the lingering touch of berries and earth.
Bubbly bottles tend to weave their way into our most cherished memories. While cherished memories may be few and far between this past year, a glass (or bottle) or something celebratory is more important now than ever. Pop a bottle of bubbles and celebrate a movie night with a big bowl of buttered popcorn; the fact that you got up and made eggs benedict on a Sunday morning; finding the perfect ash ripened cheese at your biweekly grocery trip; roasting a whole chicken to perfection. When it comes to this particular bottle of rosé bubbles, versatility reigns.
Hello friends. Greece is one of the oldest and most fascinating wine regions in the world. Before Spanish conquistadors, before Benedictine monks, before the Roman Empire—6,500 years ago—there was wine being made in Greece. This is a classical civilization, located on islands created by prehistoric volcanic activity, crafting wines from ancient grape varieties that have barely changed over millennia—so why are they so hard to come by? While Greek wine quality, production, and exports have grown significantly over the last few decades, Greece’s overall presence in the US market still lags. (You’re more likely to find a wine from the UK, Israel, or Canada than Greece). Alas, a majority of Greece’s wine production stays island-side, to be enjoyed by Greeks and the lucky few of us who get to visit. Though hard to find, these wines are worth seeking out. The saline, aromatic wines of Greece are some of the most interesting, exciting, QPR wines in the world. And within the world of Greek wine, there is no one more exciting than Gaia.
Gaia - pronounced ya-ya - was founded by Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos in 1994 on Santorini. They now run two separate wineries under the Gaia name; the original site on Santorini and a second location in Nemea, located on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern mainland Greece. These are two of the most important winemaking regions in the country: Santorini for white and Nemea for red. Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, Gaia’s winemaker, is universally considered a leading pioneer of the modern age of Greek wine, helping reinvent the industry through his own revolutionary winemaking and shepherding of the next generation. (He is a professor of Enology at the University of Athens.) Yiannis focuses on indigenous Greek varieties—notably Assyrtiko and Agiorgitiko—marrying traditional and innovative techniques in the vineyard and winery. The wines produced at Gaia are singular.
2019 Gaia Monograph Moschofilero
Gaia’s Nemea winery was built in 1997. It sits at the heart of their private vineyard in Koutsi, 1800 feet above sea level, above the Asopos River valley. Nemea is an appellation of Greece, and Koutsi is a subregion known for its chalky, well-draining soils and high-elevation, cooler temperatures. Monograph is an everyday value lineup from Gaia, all made from indigenous Greek varieties of southern Greece. (Greece’s wine geography is broken into four sections, Northern, Southern, Central, and the Islands; illustrated on this map.)
Nemea is most well-known for Agiorgitiko—a red grape you can read about in a paragraph or two—but also grows a native high-acid, pink-skinned, white variety called Moschofilero. Almost exclusively grown on the Peloponnese peninsula, Moschofilero is known for making fresh, acid-driven wines with wildl, floral aromatics. It can be a high-yielding grape in warmer regions, but is extremely sensitive to weather. In the semi-mountainous region of Koutsi, the grapes are exposed to a long, cool growing season, where they need to be tended to carefully. Gaia’s vineyard is 40 years old, sitting 1800 feet, above sea level, chock full of calcareous and limestone soils with low organic matter. Cold, humid winters, long summers, and chilly autumn nights make this an ideal place to grow low-yielding, intricate Moschofilero.
I love the aromatics here. They are reminiscent of warmer weather and long sunsets tinting the ocean gold. Floral notes of beach rose and apple blossom, pine resin, tart lemon, sea shells, and saline. The palate, at a crisp 12.5% listed alcohol, is equally saline and citrusy, bursting with mouthwatering acidity and accented by a touch of spice. Easily pounded on a patio or drank every day, there’s a lot more here than just easy consumption. Pair it with anything that comes from the sea (raw, roasted, or fried), sichuan noodles (dan dan, ants climbing a tree, yibin-style cold noodles), or the bounty of spring vegetables that will slowly start to emerge in a month or so.
2019 Gaia Monograph Agiorgitiko
Agiorgitiko may be the most important red variety in Greece, and Nemea is its ancestral home. It’s now planted across the country, but the best examples of Agiorgitiko are grown on the mountain slopes of Koutsi, where Gaia’s vineyard sits. It’s here, hundreds of feet above sea level, that Agiorgitiko can fully ripen while retaining its signature structure.
Agiorgitiko has long been Yiannis’ red obsession. This grape was a guiding force behind Gaia’s Nemea outpost. The Monograph Agiorgitiko is sourced from younger plantings at Gaia’s estate vineyard; the winery’s higher-end Agiorgitiko comes from the 40 year old vines. The soil here is calcareous, reaching 1,800 feet in elevation. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, the wine’s listed alcohol is 13.5%. The nose is defined by two things: pristine fruit—cherry, pomegranate, plum—and spice—nutmeg, black pepper, coriander. The medium-bodied palate is silky with tremendous concentration. Impactful fruit is balanced by bright acidity and fine, but rustic, tannins. It’s an all-weather red and would be excellent with a slight chill in the summer. When it comes to food pairing: all types of grilled meats; roasted chicken and root veggies; tagine; glossy, sauteed eggplant and tofu.
2018 Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment
Santorini is an island steeped in history—from the basket-weaved method by which they grow their grapes (known as koulara) to the ancient vines that still stand without fear of phylloxera (the volcanic soil of Santorini has minimal clay, which help prevent infestation). The relationship between the indigenous grapes of the island, the millennia-old volcanic soil, and the sea mists that water the grapes create wines that are intensely mineral-driven, beautifully acidic, and reminiscent of the seawater that feeds them. Nothing represents Santorini more than Assyrtiko.
I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that Gaia’s Wild Ferment is consistently the most interesting Assyrtiko we taste. The grapes used here are sourced from a vineyard in Pyrgos, a region of the island that’s known for producing more aromatic wines. The vines are 80 years old, ungrafted, grown in deeply volcanic soil. Gaia’s Santorini winery sits on an eastern beach between Kamari and Monolithos, in a 120-year-old renovated tomato factory. Once brought to the winery, the Assyrtiko grapes spend 12-hours on the skins. They are—as the name suggests—fermented with wild yeast in a mix of stainless steel (50%), French oak (20%), American Oak (10%), and Acacia barrels (20%). At this point, the winery is hands-off, and each lot is allowed to ferment and develop uniquely. Each vintage, each lot, is different in this way, driven by the prevailing wild yeast strain.
This is not your typical Assyrtiko, but lovers of the grape should still take note. Aromatically, this wine is a stunner, with stone fruit, Meyer lemon, Ruby Red pith, salty marcona almonds, ocean air, cedar, smoke, and a flinty minerality usually reserved for Grand Cru Chablis. The palate is full—13.5% listed alc—but wonderfully balanced by penetrating natural acidity. Delicious now, this is a wine that will age and evolve for years, even decades if treated right. (Gaia themselves recommend a 30-minute decant.) It can easily compete with the most highly-regarded white wines of the world, at a much more appealing price point.
Decanter (Terry Kandylis): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHELD] 93pts.”