My Washington State trip in June of this year was an amazing journey. Admittedly, I’ve always been a fan of the wines for their combination of overall quality and value in a market full of high-priced Bordeaux blends. However, I had always seen them as slightly homogenous--that is, of course, until I was on the ground kicking around the vineyards with some of the region's top growers and winemakers. The trip was full of educational moments, eye-opening conversations and scenery that sometimes left me so in awe that I wished I could jump ship and go walkabout. In the end, though, there was one experience that left an impression that will stay with me forever: meeting Chris Camarda and his family while touring the Andrew Will vineyards and winery.
The fact is that I could write a litany about Chris’s ideals and general disposition. However, for the sake of my readers, I’ll leave it at this. Chris Camarda is a straight shooter in business, family, music, food, friends and, of course, WINE. Don’t expect him to mince words or play dumb, and don’t ask for his opinion--unless you want total honesty. Sometimes it takes seeing someone in their surroundings with the people who choose to keep them as company to really understand the value that a person brings to the lives of others, and that’s exactly what I witnessed on my trip. At the core, it’s all of these things that have gained Chris the reputation he has earned in the Washington wine business (and likely around the world).
It also doesn’t hurt that the wines themselves are absolutely phenomenal.
Speaking about wine, it was a bottle of 1997 Sorella that planted the seed that inspired today's article. You see, one thing that Chris is well known for is placing his wine into any lineup of the world’s greatest bottlings, which he graciously pulls from his own cellar on most occasions. In this case, it was that 1997 Sorella against a 1997 Jamet Cote Rotie, a 2007 G.B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero, a 2010 Mugneret-Gibourg Echezeaux, a 2000 Château Margaux, and a 2000 Château Latour.
Can you imagine?
I know that I would have never believed it if I wasn’t sitting at the table myself with these glasses in front of me. However, and I’m sure you saw this coming, what was truly eye-opening was that the Sorella not only held its own, but finished as one of the top wines of the night. So much so that it set me on the hunt to track down back vintages of Sorella for my own cellar. Now fast-forward to only a few weeks ago, when I received an invite to a vertical tasting of Sorella back to 1994, in New York, with Chris in attendance--and you can imagine that it took me no time at all to clear my schedule.
But first, a little background on Andrew Will & Sorella
Chris Camarda started Andrew Will in 1989, while working in restaurants to pay the bills. This was not an overnight success. In fact, he’ll tell you himself that his job in the restaurant business continued for years after Andrew Will was producing wine. At first, the entire winery was nothing more than the size of a garage, around 60 by 10 feet, and it focused on mono-varietal wines. However, what Chris had going for him was his own desire to constantly experiment and improve as well as his ability to source fruit from one of the best locations in all of Washington State, the Champoux vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. It wasn’t long before Chris’ love of right-bank Bordeaux got him thinking that a blend of varieties could make a superior wine, and so Sorella (Sister in Italian) was created in 1994. Initially, the blend was primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but, since the 2001 vintage, it has been seeing a dose of Cabernet Franc, which really adds an air of freshness. Today, Andrew Will is considered to be one of Washington State’s top wineries, with facilities on Vashon Island, off the coast of Seattle, and producing a lineup that runs the gamut of international varieties from Washington’s top vineyards, and it delivers across the board.
Back to the Tasting
There I was, sitting across from Chris, tasting through eleven vintages of Sorella, which would have started with 1994 if not for a corked bottle, and so it started with 1995 instead. The first moment I put my nose to that glass of 1995, I knew we were all in for a treat. To say that the wines of Andrew Will can mature just as well as the top Bordeaux blends from around the world would be an understatement. Each vintage of Sorella was simply gorgeous, maturing beautifully, no matter the blend, the winemaking, and the vintage itself. Keep in mind that Chris was experimenting from day one in order to perfect Sorella.
I then moved on from the stunning ‘95 to my second taste of the glorious ‘97, and yes, lightning can strike twice. If anything, the one wine which seemed to be getting on in years was the ‘98, the child of a warm vintage, yet it was still no slouch and would have been a star if not surrounded by so many great years. Next came ‘99, a total stunner in my opinion, and next to it, the 2001, which started to show the positive influence of adding Cabernet Franc to the blend. Frankly, tasting the ‘99 next to the ‘01 was my favorite part of the event, because they were so different, yet equally enjoyable, produced by the same team from the same vineyard but with just a small difference of varietal components.
Then came the 2005, 2006, and 2008; let’s call them the adolescents in the lineup, still all elbows and knees yet starting to get interesting. Having said that, the 2005 was the most interesting for me; it was such a pretty expression with a classic core of structure and acid, a wine I expect will be glorious in a few more years. Then there was 2006, another ripe vintage wine and hard not to like for its primary nature and intensity. Chris went on to explain how certain customers loved this vintage so much upon release, and I can imagine why, as it was likely a beast. As for 2008, it was another classic example that was in need of years to reveal its true self. As for now, it’s all about poise, tension, and anticipation.
We now arrive at the modern era of Andrew Will, wines made at a time when Chris’s son, Will, became heavily involved in the winemaking, which he continues to oversee to this day. The 2014, 2015, and 2016 couldn’t be more different from each other. For one thing, 2014 and 2015 were both warm years, but the balance and refreshing qualities that ran through this entire vertical remained firmly in place. As a matter of fact, the profile of Sorella in general is one of soaring aromatics, with soft textures, offset by stunning minerality and balanced acids. Both the 2014 and 2015 had these traits, yet the 2014 also had an extra lift and spicy-floral nature that set it apart. Then there was the 2016--move over, make way, and set aside some space in the cellar. It’s been said over and over again that the 2016 vintage in Washington was amazing, and the Andrew Will Sorella took full advantage of that. Dark, intense, structured but also showing amazing primary fruit offset by a core of minerals, acid and spice, it was one hell of a way to end a tasting.
However, this was not the end, because the event suddenly turned into a deep round table discussion with Chris discussing vineyards, grapes, terroir, and his colorful opinions of wine critics, all in that fascinating, educational, yet very entertaining way that he makes his delivery. I left knowing that not only did I feel vindicated for spreading the word of Andrew Will in the past, but also that I would be penning this piece--plus adding even more vintages of Sorella to my own cellar.
Andrew Will Sorella Vertical
Andrew Will Sorella 1995 - The ‘95 was gorgeous in its maturity, showing depths of black cherry and sweet herbs, before turning to the savory side, as hints of graphite, undergrowth and dusty dried florals emerged. On the palate, I found soft textures, made juicy through brisk acids, as red fruits enveloped the senses, offset by fresh herbal tones. The finish was medium in length, focused on red berry fruit with hints of wild herbs and lingering, gentle acidity. (92 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 1997 - The nose was remarkably pretty, showing fresh cherry and licorice, before giving way to wild herbs, cedar, dusty earth and dark, sweet florals. On the palate, I found silky textures, in a soft expression that delivered depths of dark red fruits, sweet herbs, a hint of menthol, and finally, earth tones. The finish was long, but still quite soft to the senses, as hints of sweet spice and red fruits gave way to hints of round tannin. This is simply in a gorgeous place right now. (94 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 1998 - The nose showed a mix of black and red fruits, with fresh herbal tones giving way to dark chocolate, as a complex mix of dusty minerals and sweet spice emerged. On the palate, I found soft textures, which were offset by juicy acidity and tart red fruits, as the ‘98 turned more toward freshness and inner florals. The finish was long, showing staining red fruits, minerals and inner florals. As enjoyable as the ‘98 is today, I feel it is starting to fade a bit. (91 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 1999 - The nose was earthy at first, showing moist soil tones, crushed stone and plum, yet it gained freshness in the glass, as sweet herbs, hints of citrus, and minerals came forward. On the palate, I found a silky expression, giving way to polished black fruits, citrus-infused spice, and sweet herbs, kept vibrant and energetic through juicy acidity. The finish was long, displaying dark fruits, but also so fresh, as hints of ripe red berries, wild herbs and fine tannins lingered. It’s a gorgeous expression of the vintage. (94 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 2001 - What a treat to taste the 2001 next to the 1999, as this vintage saw the addition of Cabernet Franc. The nose was rich and a bit wild, with black fruits, zesty spices, hints of animal musk, and dark, spicy florals. On the palate, I found a vibrant expression, yet so soft, mixing blue and red fruits, as sweet herbs, hints of dark chocolate, and minerals cascaded across the senses. The finish was long, coating the palate with notions of wild berries, minerals and refined tannin. The 2001 was easily my favorite wine of the lineup for its classic nature. (95 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 2005 - The nose was remarkably pretty, showing zesty red berry fruit, dusty florals, crushed stone, and savory dried herbs. On the palate, I found soft textures with sappy dark red fruits, as brisk acids added vibrancy, ushering in notes of dark chocolate, sweet, spicy herbs, and minerals. The finish was long and spicy, with youthful tannins and balancing acids, as the ‘05 resonated on pretty inner florals. I’m very happy to have a few of these in my cellar. (94 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 2006 - The nose showed dusty red fruits, spicy florals, citrus-infused mineral tones and tart wild berry fruit. On the palate, I found a silky expression, with polished ripe red and black fruit, giving way to savory spices and inner earth tones. The finish was long, coating the senses with notes of sweet and sour hard candies, powerful spice, and a twang of tart red fruits. The ‘06 is the child of a warm vintage, but it does a wonderful job of balancing its power and primary fruit. (93 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 2008 - The nose was dark, wild and leaning toward savory herbs, as notes of crushed red berry fruit and tobacco emerged, gaining sweetness in the glass with time. On the palate, I found a fresh expression, with juicy acids coasting along silky textures in a cool-toned expression, displaying red berries, wild herbs, and sweet spice. The finish was long, long, long…saturating the senses in tart berries and spice while also showing tremendous tension and verve. (93 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 2014 - The nose was rich and dark, displaying ripe blackberry, cherry and spice, with dark chocolate and dusty sweet floral tones. On the palate, I found velvety textures, as rich red and blue fruits flooded the senses, balanced by zesty acids and spice with dark chocolate emerging toward the finale. The finish was long, saturating the senses in spicy red berries with mouthwatering acids and hints of minerals lingering long. (93 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 2015 - The nose was explosive at this youthful stage, showing ripe, spicy red fruits, with bright florals, sweet herbs and smoky mineral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures, offset by zesty tart red fruit and spice, as vibrant acidity and minerals cascaded across the senses. The finish was long, saturating the senses in dark red fruits, with a mix of cheek-puckering acids, fine tannin and lingering sweet spice. It’s a big wine, but hard not to like. (94 points)
Andrew Will Sorella 2016 - The 2016 was off the charts, pumping notes of dark, rich, ripe blue and black fruits, with sweet herbs, spice, and white smoke. On the palate, I found soft, silky, enveloping textures, as liquid blue and purple florals emerged, along with mineral-tinged sweet spice. The finish was long, resonating on sweet dark fruits, lingering spice, zesty acids with fine-grained tannins, and inner blue and purple florals. It was so young and primary but with such a glorious future ahead of it. (95 points)
Credits and Resources
Article, Photos, and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido.
Special thanks to Chris Camarda of Andew Will Winery.
Special thanks to David Bowler Wines for arranging this tasting.