Over the Vine’s period of years, I’ve seen wine trends come and go. Wineries merge, brands change, labels change. Early on in my tasting time, I remember hearing about a Washington winemaker named Charles Smith.
Smith had a reputation as the “rock and roll winemaker.” With his big mop of curly hair and penchant for mosh pit-approved attire, Smith looked more Slayer than Sonoma. Using partnerships and interesting, approachable twists on a number of wines, Smith built up an intriguing portfolio and a great deal of brand loyalty when he discovered that simple, eye catching label designs crossed with quality, reasonably priced juice makes a successful market entry. His labels and their black and white iconography look back at you at most decent wine stores.
Smith has long been into sustainable agriculture. All of his winemaking operations follow up-to-date growing techniques and such. I also have some recollection of Smith being an early adopter of using Stelvin screw-top closures exclusively.
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Charles Smith 2015 “Eve” Washington State Chardonnay ($13) – Eve is appropriate moniker. Ripe sweet apple blossom is the first note that shows up in the bouquet, and that’s mirrored with those similar apple flavors on the palate, backed with some tropical fruit. Very lean style, but not overly acidic. No butter or cream. Tastes like there’s just a kiss of oak to round out an exceptionally well-balanced chard. Super pleasant to drink, and a great accompaniment to some slow-baked salmon alongside some sautéed mixed veggies, broiled with shredded parmesan.
Had the Charles Smith 2014 “Chateau Smith” Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) and the Charles Smith 2014 “Boom! Boom!” Syrah ($18) side by side. This pair of deep reds were cracked and poured next to a quality grill-job on some steaks. The Cabernet was rich and fruity, with dark cherry flavors and some blackberry notes against a medium weighted body. The finish was dry and not quite as long as I thought it might be, at least initially. It improved over the course of the evening.
The Syrah, on the other hand, was a juicy, savory experience. Lots of rich blueberry and blackberry flavors, a somewhat fruity and floral nose from the hint of Viognier blended in. The finish did something quite interesting – it starts off quite dry and earthy, then comes back with a little bit of candied sweetness that I found quite pleasant. Alongside the steaks, in a bit of a surprise to me, I found myself preferring the Syrah.
The Charles Smith 2014 “The Velvet Devil” Merlot ($13) has long been one of my go-to bottles of value-priced red, and not just because of my alma mater. (Although this Devil is much more Purple than Blue.) Smith has always produced a quality merlot – and this vintage is no exception. Dark, rich cool-climate fruits are in abundance here, although there’s enough of a tobacco-ish backbone to keep it from becoming a complete fruit bomb. Good restraint in the flavor and some good earthiness and fruity on the finish. Another quality entry. This ended up being an end-of-day wine that went really well with chocolate.
Then, there’s my old fave, Charles Smith 2015 “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling. ($13) I still remember years ago when I first saw an article about Smith, where he was asked about the name of this particular wine. His booming response was “"WHY? BECAUSE, RIESLING AND GIRLS KICK ASS!" The man knows. In any case, I’ve recommended this Riesling more times than I can count, because I find it hits the middle of the Venn diagram for people who aren’t into super-sweet Rieslings, and those who can’t deal with the flinty dry ones. Rich with citrus and honey, this is one of the better wine pairings with spicy Asian cuisine that you’ll run across. Peaches and some nice minerality round out the experience.
Finally, just to be a completist – and because I happened to run across this wine when I was ambling down the pink aisle – there was the Charles Smith 2015 “Vino!” Rosé ($12) – the newest addition to his catalog. This wine, made from 100% Sangiovese grown in Washington State, which is an interesting twist in and of itself, is a very solid, study quaffer. Full of melon and strawberry with a backing of herbs, I powered through this wine much too quickly on my front porch on a warm day in early May. What was left of the bottle was fabulous with salmon.