The Vancouver International Wine Festival 2018 is almost here, and the theme countries are Spain and Portugal, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the other wineries from around the world visiting us. Some are even next-door. Take for example Charles Smith Wines from Walla Walla, Washington.
Who is Charles Smith?
Charles Smith is known as the “rock star” of Washington state, with bold wines and packaging. The labels have very expressive, very contrasty black and white graphics and text. Most people have probably heard of Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling.
While being born in California, Charles Smith decided to move to Denmark. While in Scandinavia, Charles spent the next nine years managing rock bands and concert tours throughout Europe. Enjoying food and wine while in Europe, developed his passion for wine.
In 1999 he moved back to the USA to settle just outside of Seattle, WA. He visited Walla Walla in Eastern WA where he met a French winemaker who convinced him to move to the area. Charles produced his first wine there, the 1999 K Syrah.
Charles is a self-taught winemaker but that did not hinder him; in 2008, his winery was recognized by Wine & Spirits magazine as one of the “Best New Wineries of the Last Ten Years,” and as “Winery of the Year” in their annual buying guide. In 2009, Food & Wine magazine awarded Charles “Winemaker of the Year”, in 2010 Seattle Magazine recognized Charles as their “Winemaker of the Year”, and in 2014, Wine Enthusiast also named him “Winemaker of the Year”. (About Charles Smith)
In 2006, Charles Smith created Charles Smith Wines: The Modernist Project, which centres around the trend that most people generally consume wine without delay. The labels are very modern and invite you to drink the wines now. The bottles all are screwcap, again inviting you to open them and enjoy them now.
My Tasting Notes
Most of the wines I tasted from Charles Smith Wines in preparation for the Vancouver International Wine Festival were from the 2015 vintage. In BC we had beautiful sunny weather across BC. Very little rain. Perfect conditions for our grapes to have early bud break and flowering. From the end of May to mid-September statistics show that 2015 was warmer than any other year on record. Because of the sun and heat, veraison (when the grapes turn their acids into sugars) also came early. The grapes were able to reach their full sugar and phenolic ripeness. 2015, although hot, did not suffer heat spikes which could keep the vines from shutting down, and allowed the grapes to ripen early. WA sharing the border with BC had very similar, great grape growing conditions.
Charles Smith Wines Eve Chardonnay 2015 – The grapes for this wine come from the Evergreen Vineyard Planted in 1998 by Jerry Milbrandt; the vineyard rows lie along a stretch of steep cliffs above the Columbia River in the state’s newest AVA, Ancient Lakes. Milbrandt Vineyards, BTW, also produce excellent wines. This wine was Whole-Cluster Pressed, used a mix of cultured and indigenous yeasts, and 20% underwent Malolactic Fermentation. The juice was first fermented in stainless steel and aged for 6 months on its lees.
This wine has a medium bright lemon colour in the glass. A nice nose with aromas of white flowers, stone fruits, and hints of lees and honey. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied, round with some acidity, but overall very smooth. It has light flavours of pears and crisp apples primarily followed by apricot and grapefruit. There is also a hint of oak, which is more evident on the finish. The wine does have a buttery feel to it. With some air, there is more of a peach flavour to this wine, and a bit more decanting brings out tropical fruits and butterscotch flavours. The wine has a medium length, finishing with citrus rind, some bitterness and hotness. I think this wine tasted smoother and rounder with decanting.
Rating: – A nice medium bodied Chardonnay showing a blend of white flowers and stone fruit aromas. A smooth, round mouthfeel, with apples, pears and peaches on the palate. Enjoy with decanting.
Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2015 – The grapes for this wine also come from the Evergreen Vineyard. The grapes are also Whole-Cluster Pressed, use some indigenous yeasts, and is aged for 2 months in barrels on the lees.
This wine is medium straw/lemon in colour. A medium intensity nose showing petrol and lemon primarily together with vanilla, white flowers and a hint of orange. The wine is off-dry, but has higher acidity to somewhat balance the sweetness. The sweetness does continue throughout your sip and sits on top of the fruit flavours. The wine flavours are fairly pronounced with peaches and sweet apples, along with hints of flowers, petrol, and orange. There is some steeliness to this wine. It has a medium length, finishing with flavours of citrus, citrus rind and a faint perfumed cherry component. With decanting there is also some crisp apple on the finish. This wine can be enjoyed straight after opening. No need to decant.
Rating: – A fruity, off-dry Riesling with a whiff of petrol. A fun, straightforward wine. Enjoy with fresh shrimp with a squeeze of citrus.
Charles Smith Wines Boom Boom! Syrah 2015 – The grapes for this wine come from 5 vineyards scattered across the Yakima and Columbia Valley AVAs. The Syrah grapes spend 30 days soaking on their skins and then are co-fermented with 3% Viognier. The wine is then barrel-aged on its lees for 6 months. No new oak is used.
This wine is deep ruby in colour; almost completely opaque. It has a light aroma, showing raspberry fruit primarily, but also other red fruits, light vanilla, and some sausage or flintiness. The wine is dry, round and soft, with a light tannic backbone. A mix of red plums, raspberries and some blackberry fruit flavours. Vanilla and oak toward the finish. The fruit flavours are presented with elegance. There is also a hint of floral, which comes from the Viognier. With decanting the wine becomes bigger and has a more tannic structure to it. The wine has a medium length, but the sweet fruit flavours fade off quite quickly. The tannins don’t show up on the finish when first opened, but as mentioned with decanting, the tannins become more prominent and the wine finishes fairly dry. Decanting is recommended.
Rating: A wine that shows plums, raspberry and blackberry fruit flavours in the glass in a restrained style. Decanting this wine opens it up so it feels bigger and more structured on the palate.
Charles Smith Wines The Velvet Devil Merlot 2015 – The grapes for this wine come from 7 different vineyards and is a blend of 84% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Other grapes. Partially native yeast fermented, with 30% New French Oak used, and the wines spending 10 months in barrel on the lees.
This wine is deep garnet in colour and looks a bit dull, so I’m not sure if it is unfiltered. It has a medium intensity nose with a mix of cassis, red and black fruits, raspberries, bramble, and either bacon or smoked meat to it. The wine is dry, medium bodied, round with a lighter mouthfeel. It is smooth as velvet up front but then does have a drier tannic finish. You get flavours of cassis and plums primarily, with lesser amounts of raspberries, black fruits, and red cherries. There are also hints of vanilla, oak, and chocolate. With decanting the wine shows more of its tannic structure upfront, so if you prefer the velvet style, enjoy this right soon after opening it. The fruit flavours finish a little too quickly, but you do get dark fruits, some bitterness and drying tannins. This wine went well with grilled sausages and baked beans that I cooked for my dinner.
Rating: A Merlot to enjoy soon after opening the bottle, to enjoy the velvety mouthfeel of the wine. Enjoy the flavours of plums and cassis on the palate.
Charles Smith Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – A blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc coming from 6 vineyards. A 25 day soak on skins followed by fermentation with indigenous yeasts then barrel-aged for 10 months on lees with 40% new French oak.
This wine is a bright opaque ruby colour. It has a medium minus intensity nose with aromas of vanilla, black fruit, ripe plums and ripe cassis. There are some light oak and a hint of dark chocolate aromas too on the nose. The wine is dryish, big and round, with a full mouthfeel. Flavours of blackberries, black plums and sweet ripe black fruit. Touches of vanilla and oak. Medium acidity adds brightness to the wine. It has a medium plus length, with some smoky oak, ripe black fruit, black cherries and maybe some blueberry flavours. The tannins are fine on the finish; not overly drying. Decanting did not make the wine any better so enjoy it as soon as you open it.
Rating: A bigger, black-fruited Cabernet Sauvignon, with sweet fruit flavours and fine tannins. New World style.
Where Can I Buy These Wines?
These wines should be available for purchase at the BC Liquor Store set up at the Vancouver International Wine Festival tasting room at the Convention Centre. If you cannot make it to the Festival, the Velvet Devil and Kung Fu Girl are available at BCLDB stores. Everything Wine has a slightly larger selection of Charles Smith Wines.