Hello friends. One of the clear trends emerging in Washington is that Chardonnay is a grape on fire, with multiple Chardonnay-only labels cropping up across the state, all of them focused on vinifying single-vineyard parcels.
It began with Array Cellars, who launched in late 2012 and whose wines we have featured on multiple occasions. Many of you will also remember that Charles Smith wooed Brennon Leighton away from the cozy confines of Efeste and out to Walla Walla, in no small part to help him launch a Chardonnay-only label (that project – as yet unnamed – should release its first wines later this year).
The last of the triumvirate of Chard-focused labels comes from Chris Gorman. His eponymous Gorman Winery has produced a Chardonnay since 2006, and now his love affair with the grape has expanded to a new label called Ashan Cellars. The philosophy of Ashan: to use “historical and well-managed vineyards, press very lightly, allow native yeast fermentation, wild ML, extensive battonage, long ferments and extended barrel and bottle aging.”
What is exciting about Ashan (and all these new projects) is the emphasis on single vineyards. Chardonnay, because of its inherent subtlety/neutrality, can be a wonderful prism for expressing terroir, right up there with Riesling in terms of site-expressive white varieties. That’s why Burgundy, the ancestral home of Chardonnay, is subdivided into thousands of tiny vineyard plots. Each plot of land expresses itself differently.
These are brand spanking new wines. I’m not sure if they have been offered elsewhere at retail yet, or if we’re first. Regardless, they’re small production, and with Gorman’s reputation and some outstanding forthcoming reviews in Wine Enthusiast, they won’t last long.
2012 Ashan Cellars Chardonnay Celilo Vineyard
One of the truly thrilling aspects of Ashan is the vine age of the Chardonnay Chris is working with, including this 1973 block from the incomparable Celilo Vineyard. Planted on the southern flanks of the extinct volcano Underwood Mountain in the Columbia Gorge, this is one of the most beautiful sites in Washington for white grapes.
Chris embraces the cool-climate nature of Celilo, and this clocks in at 13.3% listed alcohol. The nose is a complex beauty, melding meyer lemon and peach fruit, chalky minerals, and leesy brioche notes. The palate conveys a real silkiness despite the moderate alcohol. It’s almost a red-wine texture. The power and intensity are breathtaking considering the total lack of excess weight. It is perhaps at its best on the loooooong finish, all mouthwatering lemon-drop acids and smoky barrel nuance and salty mineral tang. This is a bridge wine, calling out to Puligny but with its own new-world richness. A singular bottle of Washington Chardonnay.
Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].” [Note: Gorman mentioned that this will receive a 93pt score from Sullivan in a future Wine Enthusiast. Assuming that’s true, it will be the strongest review he has given to a dry white yet in Enthusiast, a ringing endorsement indeed.]
2012 Ashan Cellars Chardonnay Kestrel Vineyard
Let’s go back one more year. Here Chris works with a 1972 block of Kestrel Vineyard fruit, likely the oldest commercial Chardonnay currently in production in Washington. As Chris says: “first plantings in the state, thick as trees, low yielding, original rootstock.”
The style here couldn’t be more different from Celilo, and I appreciate that. It means Chris is allowing each site to express itself, as opposed to taking a one-size-fits-all approach. This Kestrel bottling reminds me an awful lot of some of the best Chardonnays to come out of classic Napa Valley producers. It’s a ripe, luscious powerhouse, barrel-fermented and aged in 100% new French oak. The fruit is deep, rich, and tropical, marrying mango and papaya, pineapple and orange peel. And that fruit is swaddled in wonderful barrel notes, all smoky caramel. What a palate-staining Chardonnay!
Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ***** (Exceptional).”
Note: this wine too will appear in a future Wine Enthusiast, but that review will come not from Sullivan, but instead from Paul Gregutt, who is set to bestow a 95pt score on this one.
Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of each, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. Reorder prospects are unlikely. The wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.