John Turi - Wine, Red Wine

Charles Smith Winery, K “Ovide”, 2009

Wine Rating: 94

I had been planning to review one of the best Pinot Noirs ever produced in California, but during a dinner I recently attended for a wonderful friend, and following a few bottles of some amazing Kosta Browne, I inadvertently opened it, forgetting that it was it was for my review. It was a robust and commanding 2007 Marcassin and I can tell you, it was delicious. A true beauty from the Three Sisters Vineyard, and days later I can still taste it. That’s saying something. It’s one of those wines that you’ll recall when you’re bragging about remarkable bottles that you’d once enjoyed.

Charles Smith Winery

But I’m not reviewing it this month because I don’t have the bottle or cork to show you and, as much as I enjoy writing the monthly reviews, it’s also about sharing the whole experience with you: photographing the bottles, staging them just right, with ideal lighting and arrangement, ending in a perfect capture. So, no, I don’t have that wine, just its memory, but I assure you this spectacular wine will surely be back for a future review—and not just for the quality of the wine, but for Helen Turley and her husband John Wetlaufer. They are one of Napa Valley’s most famous couples and their passion and commitment to wine is historic.

The total annual production at Marcassin is fewer than 2,000 cases and the wines are distributed only through the winery’s mailing list, which, I’ve heard, has a 5+ year waiting list to date. I feel fortunate when I’m able to procure a bottle at auction; I bid on as many bottles as I can, to better my chances. Believe me, you would too.

For this month’s review, as fall settles in firmly and Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, we are heading all the way up north to Walla Walla, Washington, to explore the makings of a self-taught winemaker who has been making ‘juice’ since 2001 with an abundance of passion. His motto is simple:

It’s Just Wine, Drink It!

And so, I introduce you to Charles Smith. He’s been a world traveler, rock band manager, concert promoter, and is now a winemaker. He still seems to have his hands in all sorts of artistic ventures. This may be why his wine is very unique. With over 5 wine growing areas in Washington and 16 vineyards sourced, Smith’s wines are starting to get some real attention and they are beginning to score high points with top reviewers.  The Columbia Valley Royal City, Stoneridge Vineyard, 2010, Syrah just received a 97 from Wine Spectator, which ranks it as a great wine.

Over the last 10 years Smith’s name has been talked about in tight wine circles. “Who’s that guy with the long, curly hair who’s making award winning wines up in Washington, and how come his wine is not overpriced like so many others of the same caliber?” Like I said, Smith has a motto and he sticks to it. He states in his bio: The intent was (and still is) to create wines to be enjoyed now, but with true typicity of both the varietal and the vineyard.

His passion is not just in the wine, but in the design of the label, which is executed by award-winning designer and longtime friend Rikke Korff, who once held the title of Design Director at Levis Straus & Co. She also helped design their wine tasting room as well as their branding. The designs are very modern, in black lined pen and ink style. Even in a crowded wine cellar, Smith’s labels are quite distinctive.

The most famous varietal Smith makes is Syrah. Of course, the name of the vineyard is—what else—“K,” as in Que Sera. Very clever. In 2001, he opened his first winery at the base of the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla. His first release was the 1999 “K” Syrah. He also produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo and Viognier. With such harsh growing climates in Washington, almost all vineyards Smith sources grapes from are producing single varietals, of which Smith blends truly noteworthy wines.

By accidentally drinking the Marcassin I wanted to review, I have given you a chance to adore a winery that I’ve been appreciating (and, in truth, keeping secret) for years and had not wanted to share because of the popularity that may ensue. It’s like when you hear a local band and don’t want them to get too popular because then the rest of the world would just exploit their genius as their own. Yes, I’m talking about you, Metallica, and being in 10th grade in ’83, listening to “Kill Them All,” which Mike Zed of Zed Records in Long Beach gave me, exclaiming, “This will change your life!” Charles Smith is that unknown, obscure, hip-without-pretension, rock star winemaker that I believe the world is ready to be dazzled by. And, as a side note, with a big thumbs-up, this month’s winery is Biodynamic.

Let this wine open for about an hour before serving. Being such a robust, earthy wine, it needs some time to stretch its legs. 

Charles Smith
K “Ovide”2009

Produced by: Charles Smith Winery
Winemaker: Charles Smith
Website: CharlesSmithWines.com

Vineyard: En Cerise
Label: K “Ovide”
City: Walla Walla Valley
Vintage: 2009
Location: Washington
Varietal: 67% Cabernet Sauvignon & 33% Syrah
Total Production: 217 cases
Alcohol: 14.5%

Appearance (Color): Deep Purple
Aroma (Complexity): Black cherry, tobacco, whiskey, plum
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy with a strong front
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Forest floor with dark fruit
Finish (What lingers): Plums, figs, tobacco
Serving Temperature: 64°
Price: $60

Food Pairing: Short Ribs, Kobe Beef, American Cuisine
Drink: Now through 2018