Chardonnay in Washington has long been, until just the last year or two the most planted variety in the state. A varietal Chardonnay likely remains the country's most popular wine, and the state has a few producers who are really demonstrating a mastery of Chardonnay. My favorites have been from Abeja, Efeste and Forgeron Cellars. With the incredible renaissance of Chardonnay in Oregon, it's high time that someone has really sought to explore the wine's versatility and potential across the state. Enter Chris Gorman and his Chardonnay only winery, Ashan Cellars.
"I've always been a huge fan of the grape from all over the world & in all styles. It's incredibly complex & can be made in so many different ways. I started Ashan Cellars to focus on some of the greatest & historical Chardonnay vineyards in the state. I've been making Chardonnay at Gorman Winery since 2006 and felt I wanted to try a focus on this noble grape."
The motherland for Chardonnay is truly France's Burgundy, but for the New World palate, California has become the archetype. Within the American wine context there seems to have been a preponderance of heavily oaked ripe and round Chardonnay that have in recent years given some ground to Chardonnay done in stainless steel with a crispness and high acidity. Chris is game for both ends of the spectrum, as well as everything in between.
"Washington has a lot of stylistically different vineyards & should be able to produce diverse styles of this wine. We are neither Napa or Burgundy, we are Washington & should not try to copy anyone... That's never interesting." To that end Chris has sought to use Ashan to showcase the state's range of Chardonnay sites. And it's an educational venture, both for Chris certainly, but for us as well. If there's any doubt about that you need only look at the back labels. They are loaded with more detail than any I have seen before.
The Ashan Chardonnays represent four different wines in total but below reflects the three that I was able to taste. The wines are showy across the board and Chris likes to rely on oak barrel fermentation. "Barrel fermentation has been a cornerstone to my production style at Gorman since the beginning. In both red & white wine in varying amounts. It's not about the "woody" or "toasty" flavors produced, but more of the textural feel it imparts. The 3 single vineyard Ashan Chardonnays are fermented in French oak... Using different amounts of new and used barrels. This is based on the vineyard & structure of the grapes. We do not use commercial yeast & allow them to ferment naturally in the barrel. We keep these wines "alive" through constant battonage or stirring of the lees. Very old-world techniques to preserve the character of the wine."
2012 Ashan Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay Opulence thy name is Conner Lee Chardonnay. Fermented in 100% new French oak barrels. This is a rich wine, aromatics are robed in barrel spice, ripe pineapple and papaya. The palate is full, lush and textured. Ripe fruit flavors and a buttery roundness "Conner Lee is turning into the "cult" vineyard for Chardonnay in Washington State. I have worked with this fruit since 2006 with Gorman Winery. It is a very expressive wine with lots of concentration and layers of spice. It really pairs well with the barrel fermentation and represents a more "full-bodied" Chardonnay for Ashan." $45
2012 Ashan Kestrel Vineyard Chardonnay "Kestrel is a very small plot of the oldest producing Chardonnay vines in the state, planted in 1972. I am lucky to get this fruit and I treat it as such. It is very complex with lots of flavor and lively acidity." Chris uses 100% new French oak on this wine as well. This wine is also not shy, though not quite as showy as the Conner Lee and it carries a fair bit more acidity. Aromatics of nutmeg and spices, as well as honeysuckle lead to a honeyed palate that shows off it's ripe fruit, creamy texture and structure. $45
2012 Ashan Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay My favorite of the bunch, it's gorgeous and complete. I find Celilo Vineyard to create the greatest of Washington Chardonnays for my palate. It's a much cooler site and the vines are quite old. Celilo is more Burgundy than California. "Celilo is most certainly the coolest site and traditionally the last fruit I pick in those years... sometimes even in November. Its a really beautiful site with high elevation, old vines from 1973 and the same vineyard manager for the last 38 years... that's significant. We have chosen to only ferment in used French oak barrels since its character and weight are much more subtle." Aromatics of white flowers and citrus peel, and touches of minerality. Lemon creme, cantaloupe, and apricots balanced with stony accents and great acidity make for one hell of a beautiful example of Washington Chardonnay. $45