A lot of winemakers don’t care for the limelight, they prefer the quiet of the vineyards, and the idea of global travel to tell the world about their wines makes them queasy.
Not so for Charles Smith! He has impossibly huge hair, a swagger that could only come from years of managing rock bands and is a no-holds-barred kinda guy. This was going to be an interesting night!
It was a blustery Monday evening in London, but it felt more like a Friday at the bustling City steakhouse, Hawksmoor. I’d never been to the restaurant, but had heard great things so was very glad to check it out and thought it a fitting location to host a dinner for an American winemaker (we love our steakhouses!)
Charles Smith, winemaker of K Vintners is turning heads in Washington State (not just because of his wild, unkempt locks) with his range of wines from Walla Walla and Columbia Valley. He spent years as a manager of rock bands in Sweden, but found opportunity and a passion for the Washington Vineyards where he has been making wine since 1999.
Our group of avid wine lovers had pride of place in a dimly lit, brick-lined room and it wasn’t long before the friendly staff were filling our glasses with K Vintners 2009 Viognier. We quickly found the wine to be not only a great aperitif, but also the ideal pairing with a massive, exquisitely delicate half of Dorset lobster.
It’s always a good sign when everyone has three wine glasses instead of just one – this was no exception! After the Viognier, it was time to move to red, and what better way to get a full picture of Charles’ wines than by tasting them alongside each other and with the main course…steak! The supersized portions continued with heapings of tender porterhouse and rib-eye steaks, overflowing bone marrow and a myriad of sides – sweet potatoes, mushrooms, creamed spinach, chips… The accompanying K Vintners wines were the Northridge Syrah 2008 (Wahluke Slope), Morrison Lane Syrah 2008 (Walla Walla) and The Creator 2008 (Columbia Valley) a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, from two different sites, and Syrah.
We were all quite surprised at how soft the wines were – the tannins were extremely refined and well integrated – not at all gritty – which Charles puts down to the length of the growing season in Washington and the opportunity for the grapes to ripen in their own sweet time. They were all big wines though – two of the three wines had 15.5% alcohol, which is quite a bit higher than the majority of wines from Europe (in line with California however) but Charles explained that he’s not trying to make wines with big alcohol (which we didn’t notice at all by the way), he simply picks the grapes when they’re ready, whether they’re 13% or 16%.
Below is a few minutes of video of Charles talking about the wine – I have to warn you that the backgroundnoise is a bit distracting, but I’ve added subtitles to help you get the gist of what he’s saying!
As of January, Bibendum will be carrying the K Vintners wines so those of us in the UK will be able to enjoy them on a regular basis, something you guys in the States have surely been doing for some time now! Oh and you should also know that Charles Smith is Food & Wine Magazine’s Winemaker for the Year for 2009!
There’s Always Time for Wine!
Tara – Wine Passionista