Note: Back when I reviewed them, I set aside a few wines to taste when they are more mature. In this occasional series I report on what they’re like now.
Andrew Will has become an icon of Washington wine, but back in 1990 it was a fledgling winery (its first commercial vintage was 1989) hidden away in an industrial district along the Seattle waterfront. I visited owner Chris Camarda there before he moved his winery to Vashon Island in 1994. I remember him clambering over casks in the tight, dark basement space. He had been managing restaurants and started making wine on the side. Though he had no enology degrees, I was impressed with what was inside of the barrels, some of which must have contained this 1990 Merlot.
If my memory serves me well, this bottle came from a mixed case of different wines I bought from several vintages. Most of those early vintages were drained long ago, but this one called to me when I was digging through the cellar for some wines to take with me for a tasting of wagyu beef raised by a friend in Colorado.
Tasted last Saturday, the Andrew Will Merlot Columbia Valley Ciel du Cheval Vineyard 1990 was phenomenal. It had everything I want in a mature, Bordeaux-style red. The core of fruit was sweet and dark, still fresh and welcoming under layers of complex, savory aromatics and flavors. It had hints of cedar, wet earth, bay leaf and pepper, but just a touch, nothing strong or overt. It had tannin, not surprising given its Red Mountain roots, but as it opened up in the glass the grip loosened. It was extraordinarily long. The finish must have lasted a full minute. It was refined, but vigorous. The alcohol level on the label said 13 percent.
I rated it 96 points, non-blind. It was my last bottle.
The vineyard, Ciel du Cheval, has also attained icon status as one of Washington’s great vineyards. In the past year, I have reviewed 10 wines carrying that vineyard designation and every single one of them has rated an outstanding 90 points or higher. That includes the current Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval 2007 (92, $68), a red blend made from that vineyard. (In recent years Camarda stopped bottling different varietals from the same vineyard, instead blending them into a single cuvée that represents the terroir.)
In 1990, the Merlot vines at Ciel were 14 years old. They sit on typical Red Mountain soils, about two feet of silt over 12 feet of gravel. It is a warmish site, right on the dividing line between Region 2 and 3. The grower, Jim Holmes, earned a reputation early on for working with wineries to give them exactly what they wanted.
Red Mountain wines are famous for their formidable tannins. Unless the vines are managed well, the wines can grab the inside of your cheeks and turn your mouth inside out. Over the years, Camarda has been at the forefront of taming those tannins. Between Holmes’ work in the vineyard and Camarda’s in the winery, the reds from Ciel may never quite lose all the tannin, but they always show suppleness.
And when they can go 20 years and come out as beautiful as this, that earns a gold star for the vineyard, for Merlot and for Washington.
Mike Maguire — Port Orchard,Wa — August 14, 2010 8:42am ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — August 14, 2010 2:53pm ET
Joe Downs — Vason Island, WA — August 16, 2010 1:11am ET
Chris Handal — Charleston, SC — August 17, 2010 3:25pm ET
Dave Tetreault — Boise, ID USA — August 17, 2010 7:14pm ET
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