Yesterday I attended a tasting with Chris Camarda of Andrew Will Cellars, one of Washington’s top estates. Chris started making wines in a tiny rented space in Seattle before expanding and moving to Vashon Island. In fact, Andrew Will was the first wine producer in Washington state to make single-vineyard varietal wines. Over time Chris has changed his philosophy and now all the wines are blended in a Bordeaux style and are meant to express the uniqueness of the particular site from which they come. All are made with the same methods and the same care.
Chris was quite an engaging fellow with tons of knowledge and experience, and a lot of frank outspoken opinions. I appreciated his candor and directness and I think that comes across in the wines that he makes, which all have a distinct personality and a particular approach.
I started with the 2006 Two Blondes, a blend of 43% Cabernet Franc, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Merlot. This was the most expressive of the bunch right now, and had an incredible Cab Franc character to it that you rarely find in new world wines. The nose was brambly, foresty and had chocolate, mint and dark fruits. With air, some of the funk blew off and the wine exposed itself as incredibly juicy. The palate was great: blue fruits, chocolate, and funky earth. As with nearly all of the wines I tasted this had impressive length and a broad structure, with tons of aging potential. Made from the coolest vineyard sites from the youngest vines (I believe around 7-8 years), this is also the most Bordeaux like of all Andrew Will’s offerings. Excellent. $70 at Marquis.
Up next was the 2006 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard red blend, made from 40% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Petit Verdot. Ciel du Cheval is the hottest site of all the wines, and this is immediately noticeable in the sweetness of the wine. I do not want this to appear as a derisive comment, however, as the wine is impeccably balanced. The nose had sweeter red fruits, chocolate, and sandalwood. The palate was definitely sweeter than the Two Blondes, but was incredibly flavourful with red and blue fruits, chocolate, and a touch of wood. This is more typical in flavour for Washington Bordeaux blends, but it also has amazing structure and fantastic mid-palate density and length. If you like a bigger and sweeter style, this wine is for you. Excellent. $80 at Marquis and BCLDB.
The 2007 Champoux Vineyard stood out as one of the most complex Cabernet Franc based wines I’ve tasted from the United States, with only Lang and Reed and Reverie from California being comparable in quality. This was a blend of 52% Cabernet Franc, 21% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Petit Verdot, and was still a bit closed despite showing incredible concentration. The nose had dusty cedar wood, some cab franc forest funk, but was still closed. The palate was very big and had a massive style up front, although it was softer on the finish. Right now the wine drops off quickly on the back end, but I think it simply needs integration to express itself fully. Like many a mountain-fruit based wine, the density can be unnerving and awkward in youth, but usually expands into incredible flavour layering and persistence. The palate had chocolate and blue fruits with tight tannins. I still thought this had great potential. Excellent. $80 at Marquis or BCLDB.
The 2003 Sheridan Vineyard is somewhat of a library wine given that Chris is no longer making this. While the Sheridan Vineyard used to supply Andrew Will with fruit, Chris eventually bought land that became the source of the Two Blonds red blend, and thus gave up the Sheridan Vineyard contract. I did think this was the weakest wine of the bunch, which is not to say it wasn’t very tasty. The nose was nutty and had dusty cocoa, dark red fruits, and a bit of bubble gum. The palate had spice, cocoa, nuts, cranberry and raspberry. This was a bit sweet for my tastes and had a lot less refinenment than the other wines. A blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc. Very Good+. $65 at Marquis (on sale from $80).
The last wine I tasted is Andrew Will’s flagship, ‘reserve’ style wine - the 2006 Sorella “Horse Heaven Hill” – made from the Champoux Vineyards. Chris selects the best barrels for this wine, and unlike the Champoux Vinyeard blend, makes this as a predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon based wine, with 71% Cab Sauv, 17% Merlot, 8% Cab Franc and 4% Petit Verdot comprising the blend. This was very very tight at the tasting and needed either a lot more decanting or a lot more time in the bottle. That said, it was an awesome wine, with blue fruits, black cherry, earth and some clay on the very dense nose. The palate was tight but showed superb concentration and structure: blue and black fruit, hefty tannins, and a bit of confection. The finish is short right now, but this will change. If you pick up a bottle of this, it needs at least 5-6 years in the cellar before you can think of opening it. If you have patience, though, this will probably be the most structured and nuanced of the bunch. Excellent. $90 at Marquis.
I was incredibly impressed by the offerings from Andrew Will and they have established a firm place on my radar as one of the best Bordeaux-blend producers in the US right now. Given the insane prices for Napa wines of a similar calibre, I don’t know why more people aren’t buying these wines. Simply put, they are superb, balanced, and thoughtful expressions of great Washington fruit put together by a very talented wine maker. All for 1/2 the price of comparable Napa wines. What more could you ask for?