Washington Chardonnay Makes a Comeback
America may have a love-hate relationship with the grape, but a few local winemakers are changing the chardonnay landscape.
Chardonnay is a grape of many contradictions. Some consumers cringe at the mere mention of the variety. However, it also by far (by far) America’s most consumed wine, typically accounting for about one out of every five bottles sold.
Washington has been no stranger to America’s love-hate relationship with chardonnay. On the one hand, it has typically been one of the top two varieties produced in the state, though it has recently lost ground to cabernet sauvignon. On the other, much of this production has been accounted for by larger wineries with many smaller producers seeming to shy away from the grape. As a result, the landscape of Washington whardonnay has been somewhat dreary, save for a handful of producers such as Januik, Woodward Canyon, Abeja, Maison Bleue, and Forgeron that consistently produce top quality wines.
Lately, however, chardonnay’s fortunes in Washington seem to be changing with several prominent wineries starting chardonnay-dedicated projects. One of them is Ashan Cellars from Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery in Woodinville. At Ashan—which had its first releases this spring—Gorman sought out the oldest chardonnay vines that he could find in the state and produced three different single-vineyard wines.
The first comes from Kestrel Vineyard in the Yakima Valley from what are believed to be Washington’s oldest chardonnay vines, planted in 1972. It’s an unapologetically rich, palate-coating wine with a real sense of texture and weight. The next comes from 1973 plantings at Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. Celilo is known for its electric acidity and it plays beautifully off this wine’s creamy texture. The final wine comes from Conner Lee Vineyard in the Columbia Valley where Gorman has long sourced the grapes for his Big Sissy Chardonnay at Gorman Winery. It’s another winner.
The back label of each of the wines contains detailed information about the soil, vineyards, and the vines that the fruit comes from. While all of the wines show Gorman’s signature bold style, they are each a study in contrast, showing the different ways that chardonnay expresses itself based on its location. All come highly recommended and stand with the best that California has to offer.
So has chardonnay’s fortunes truly changed in Washington and can we expect to see more high quality offerings in the future? With winemaker Charles Smith (K Vintners, Charles Smith Wines) planning to release the first wines from his own chardonnay-dedicated project—and with renowned chardonnay-whisperer Brennon Leighton (formerly of EFESTE) making the wines—signs point to yes. Stay tuned.
Ashan Cellars Chardonnay Kestrel Vineyard Yakima Valley 2012 $45
An unapologetically bold, full bodied wine with buttery spices, caramel, and tropical fruit with a viscous, mouth-coating feel.
Ashan Cellars Chardonnay Celilo Vineyard Columbia Gorge 2012 $45
Shows a lot of nuance with lemon butter, spice and mineral notes with a vein of lemony acidity running throughout.
Ashan Winery Chardonnay Conner Lee Vineyard Columbia Valley 2012 $45
An arresting wine with cardamom, spice and tropical fruit with a rich viscosity and texture leading to a 30-plus second finish.