I don't know whether to file this under "mea culpa" or "pleasant surprises." At dinner the other night with some musician friends, I ordered a bottle of Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2001, a Bordeaux blend from Washington. We all loved it. The wine had richness without apparent weight, gorgeous fruit intensity, all sorts of fascinating overtones of flavor, and it felt like it was just hitting its stride. It should go for 10 years more. Non-blind, I would score it 93 points, easy.
This morning I looked up my tasting note, from 2004, when the wine first came out. I didn't think it was outstanding then, rating it 89 points. I must have been put off by the chewy tannins, and at the time I had noticed leather and coffee notes that weren't present in the bottle we drank. I had suggested drinking it by 2008.
It's possible that I had an off bottle in 2004, and it wasn't apparent enough to check a second one. I had rated the two other bottlings from the winery 91 and 92 points. But more likely this was a wine that needed time in the bottle to soften the grit of tannin and let the fruit come out. Many tough young wines don't ever soften, but boy, did this one ever. The texture was satiny.
The wine was fantastic with all of the main dishes we were eating at Syzygy, a very good restaurant in Aspen. It went great with my pheasant breast with roasted figs, pine nuts and a drizzle of balsamic, and with my wife's Colorado elk tenderloin, crusted with truffles and served with morels. I heard oohs and aahs of appreciation from others for the wine with their schnitzel, beef tenderloin and roast lamb.
When we blew through that bottle, I wanted to order another, but the sommelier said that was his last one. He did have a bottle of the winery's Champoux Horse Heaven Hills 2005, at the same price. We segued into that, and it was every bit as seamless, harmonious and ripe as my recent review indicated (94 points). But it lacked that extra refinement that comes with age. Of course, the Champoux is Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant, while the Ciel was more Merlot.
Chris Camarda owns Andrew Will (named after his sons), one of Washington's most respected wineries. In 2001, he started making single-vineyard wines by blending the Bordeaux varieties that used to go into separate single-vineyard varietal bottlings. Now they're just called by the vineyard name, and they include some of Washington's best, Ciel and Champoux among them. The style aims for elegance over power, but without sacrificing the gorgeous fruit definition possible in Washington.
If you see an older Andrew Will wine on a wine list, don't hesitate. That's the moral of this story.
Brandon Redman — Seattle, WA — July 30, 2008 11:17am ET
John B Vlahos — Cupertino Ca. — July 30, 2008 2:40pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 30, 2008 7:32pm ET
Michael Neeley — Everett, WA/ USA — July 30, 2008 9:12pm ET
Joe Downs — Vason Island, WA — July 31, 2008 12:04pm ET
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