For too long now, Washington wines have existed under the shadow of their neighbors to the south, and living under the pretense that they could not, and would not stack up to the boisterousness and nobility of California wine. Washington has been prisoner to the understandable misconception that they simply do not host a suitable grape growing climate. How could they grow grapes, you may ask, when it rains all the time? In fact, the majority of Washingtons wine growing region lies to the east of the Cascade mountain range, which, due to the rain shadow effect is arid and sunny. While damp and temperate Western Washington gets an average of sixty inches of rain per year, the East Side receives eight.
Its true that Washington was still making fortified wines based on Concord grapes in the 1960s when California wines were already receiving awards and becoming world recognized. But they have grown with leaps and bounds over the past 40 years and are producing high quality wines that compete with the best of California. The wheat fields and fruit orchards that were the previous staple economy in Walla Walla and Yakima Valleys have been replaced with acres of lucrative vines, growing from just ten wineries in 1970, to over five hundred today.
The Washington wine industry is currently worth three billion dollars and is ranked second to California in grape growing and wine production. The 1980s saw a huge demand for white wines and interest spiked for Rieslings and Chardonnays. Although the white wines are continuing to hold their popularity and prestige, Washington is now praised for its Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots as well.
One of the most notable and celebrated winemakers out of Walla Walla Valley is winemaker Charles Smith. This year will mark his tenth year. The retired rock band manager shifted gears when he taught himself the art of creating quality wines, starting with very small batches of Syrah. Dont be fooled by the wine label effect and eye catching names, these are not mediocre wines with a cushy marketing budget. Inside the bottle are some of the most tremendous wines coming out of that region. These wines are not for the faint at heart. They are powerful, rock solid wine that pack a serious punch. With his wild thick hair, leather boots and a plain black t-shirt Smith looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia and a Harley Davidson poster child, and seems a little out of place in the perceived pretentiousness of the wine industry. His motorcycle riding, live on the edge, rock n roll personality shines through in all aspects of his winemaking, from labels to descriptions and within the wines themselves.
You can find Charles Smiths wines, the signature black and white labels, under his self-titled Charles Smith label, K Vintners and The Magnificent Wine Company. K Vintners is his original production and consists mainly of 100% Syrah and Syrah blends. The value-based Magnificent Wine Company label revolves around House Red Wine and House White Wine; quality table wine blends from multiple vineyards and vintages. His most recent endeavor is his Charles Smith wines, where he has been continuing with his full bodied, best wine possible approach and branching out to Rieslings, Chardonnays and Merlots.
Listed below are just a few of the favorites.
Charles Smith Label
Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($17)
Inspired by the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill
Tasting Notes: THIS GIRL IS SERIOUS! Aromatic, smooth, vibrant and tasty. Think tangerine, apricot, wet stone, key lime, clove and nectarine.now stop thinking and start drinking CAUSE KUNG FU GIRL KICKS ASS! Charles Smith
Eve Chardonnay 2007 ($15)
Tasting Notes: Sinfully temptingfresh, crisp, the perfume of sweet apple blossoms lures you into The Garden of Eden. Silky, soft, mouth filling deliciousnesstake the first sip! Charles Smith
Velvet Devil Merlot ($15)
Tasting Notes: If velvet had a flavor this would be it. Bittersweet chocolate, dark Italian cherries. Sweet rose petals with a firm, satiny finish. Pure Washington Merlot. HELL YEAH! Charles Smith
Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($21)
96.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Malbec
Tasting Notes: Delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromatics galorecigar box, pencil lead, cedar and currants with super refined tannins and a long, fine finish. French? No. Chateau Smith? OUI! Charles Smith
Boom Boom Syrah ($18)
99.5% Syrah, .5% Primitivo
Tasting Notes: Everything you want in a syrah.smooth, firm, fresh & darksuper
dense purple with meaty dark fruit, Asian five spice & sweet tobacco. Intense yet
plush textureit will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF! Charles Smith
K Vintners Label
K Vintners Milbrandt Vineyard 2007 ($36)
Tasting Notes: As the day is longa never ending finish of spices, fresh tobacco, cured meats, and stone. So smooth, so fine. Charles Smith
K Vintners Northridge Vineyard 2007 ($40)
Tasting Notes: Extremely concentrated, intense color. Notes of huckleberry, cedar, cigar and kirsch. Built like a brick shit-house; exuberant ripe fruit with grippy backbone and spice and a seamless finish. Charles Smith
K Vintners Phil Lane Vineyard 2007 ($75)
Tasting Notes: Violets, lavender, roasted meat, game, crushed stone, and a super long finish. Charles Smith
Washington Facts retrieved from Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly. Additional Charles Smith information can be found at www.charlessmithwines.com, www.kvintners.com & www.magnificentwine.com