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Friday, June 04, 2010

Hospice du Rhone Installment 3: Charles Smith

Quiet Name, Loud Wine

We were all hung over. The night before involved some 60 odd bottles that took us well into the jet-lagged night. Notes for said bottles escape me, but the residual Sahara grip on the roof of my mouth remains as clear as a Pacific sunrise. 9 a.m. is too early for a damn seminar. Apparently Charles Smith, of K Vintners & Charles Smith wines, agrees- considering he was nowhere to be found at that ungodly hour. Was he dangling out of a dumpster somewhere in downtown Paso Robles? Perhaps his hair, somewhat of a cross between Carlos Valderrama & cotton candy, was taking a tad longer to blow dry than expected? We waited, dry mouthed, staring into our diner placemats complete w/ K Vintner vertical flights and a curious flute of bubbly. A bit of Washington fizz perhaps? Tick-tock tick-tock…Poland Spring bottles pounding down parched lips like they’ve got the cure inside. Desiccated eye lids, swelled red like over-ripe strawberries, watch bound and wondering. Where the hell is Charles Smith?

Yo, M.C. Alan Kropf of Mutineer Magazine grabs the microphone like Del Preston at Waynestock to a thunderous pronouncement of “Charrrrrrrrrrlllleeeesssss Smmiiiiittthhh!” Playing possum- the man in question was a former rock band manager. Who’d a known?

Buckle your seats folks; get ready for the F-bomb brigade. A command assault of profanity splattered our wings like vulgar clouds of high level flak. No amount of bullet-proofing could prepare our ears for the pummeling they took. The barrage of F-bomb shrapnel left some of us wounded, some in stitches & others simply open-mouthed. ‘Who here loves wine? Raise your hands…if you don’t put your hand up you’re gonna get a beat down! Let me tell you something about Rhone producers and Rhone drinkers, they’ve got F’n balls! It’s not some boring F’n Bordeaux seminar, at Hopsice du F’n Rhone, these F’n wines F-you up!’ Etcetera. The cobwebs were shaken off, we were officially awake.

As for the bubbly in question, ‘F’n grower Champagne and don’t F’n spit it out!’ Your wish is my command. Kurt Cobain’s local grunge music & Robert Plant’s hair- all the terroir parallels you’ll need (he threw in Barossa’s AC/DC riff to balance Walla Walla’s Nirvana). When asked about his viticultural practices, Smith replied ‘these grapes are gonna be my bitch!’ Alright Charles, your wines better bring it as much as you do.

Truth be told, this was my first experience w/ K Vitners, but be lying if I didn’t admit some serious expectations. Charles Smith, a winner of Food & Wine’s winemaker of the year, owes quite a bit of his start-up to Christophe Baron of Cayuse fame. Anyone that reads me knows my holy grail is branded w/ a Cayuse insignia, so upon hearing such a connection I doffed the earplugs, licked the lips & braced for impact. Offensive guy + access to Cayuse fruit is sure to produce an = amount of excitement & disgust. I’m pumped.

Enough F’n foreplay, onto the F’n notes!

All of the following wines are Syrah from the 2006 Vintage. The wines were foot crushed & basket pressed, utilizing native yeast fermentation w/ varied upbringing techniques based upon the vintage/vineyard characteristics.

Pheasant Vineyard, Wahluke Slope
Coming from mostly sandy soils, the Pheasant Vineyard was one of the shyest in the K line-up (oxymoron), w/ its reticent hints of plum, flowers and spice notes peeking through. The attack turns fleshy, w/ a suave, violet-tinged texture coating the mid-palate nicely. The wine really picks up the pace on the finish, which leaves the palate awash in smoky, mesquite spice flavors, 92+ points.

The Deal, Sundance Vineyard
This is another Wahluke Slope site from K, yet this vineyard is currently demonstrating a far more savage, animal character in its tarry, black shaded scents of pepper, fur & wild beefy suggestions. The mid-palate has a hearty, savory bite to it, rife w/ more up-front power and depth than the Pheasant Vineyard, powering through to the long, heady finish. I absolutely loved it, 95 points.

Cougar Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla
The first Walla Walla designated Syrah, w/ a serious, immediate density to its briny black olive & tobacco notes. Sometimes crass descriptions serve as the best ones, so let me call this what it is, a brick shithouse. The palate of the wine is a muscular flex, with a spunky beef jerky note (a la Cayuse) holding sway over the vivid belly of purple fruit. Firm & fresh all at once, with its weighty body taking a load off on the mouth-watering finish spiced in white pepper, 94+ points.

Wells, Walla Walla
To me, this was the Camaspelo of the bunch, more provocative than it is pleasurable. Flat out funky in its bouquet of cooked cabbage, leather, porcini mushroom, tapenade and sweet balsamic scents. It is a paradoxical wine in that it feels ripe to the tongue yet has a vegetal streak (which could be a vineyard characteristic, brett or Charles Smith’s feet), as the mouth-feel demonstrates surprisingly structure, complexity & intensity. It’s just one of those oddities of overtly expressive wine, leaving you w/ an objective admiration, yet abject revulsion. The score fails me here, much like an awkward stamp on impressionistic art, 84 points.

Phil Lane, Walla Walla
What a difference a site makes- moving to the minty end of the spectrum on Phil Lane felt like a cool breeze through the nose in its menthol, licorice and milk chocolate notes. Think Andes Candies. Pure, polished and impossibly elegant through the palate, w/ a seamless bent that puts it on an island from the rest of Charles Smith’s portfolio. This is a Syrah for fans of the classics who loathe the obnoxiousness of the rest of the bunch, 93 points.

Motor City Kitty, Stoneridge Vineyard, Royal Slope, Columbia Valley
The 2006 saw zero new oak, bringing us back to the beef in its tightly coiled, savory scented nose. Undoubtedly in need of extended aeration (or more preferably, ageing), the wine incrementally builds on the palate, un-locking its layers upon layers of spicy, purple fruit flavors. This really augmented in the glass, shifting to an expansive gear that didn’t truly explode until its crescendo of a finish. She needs quite a bit of time to let loose, as 4-5 more years should help shed some of that power left in reserve, 94+ points.

Royal City, Stoneridge Vineyard, Royal Slope, Columbia Valley
Shall we save the behemoth for last? We shall, with this 17 plus percent alcohol bombshell completely shocking us in its restraint. The nose contradicts its heft, seeming fairly classic with its dusty graphite, cedar & savory plum notes. The raw materials don’t reveal themselves until the wine passes the lips, as the viscosity & sheer mass seem close to bursting at the seams, yet the weight stays in proportion, thanks to a firm skeleton & jazzy bright acidity. The length here is tremendous, suspending dusty earth, hard spices & warm blackberry sauce notes in thin air, resonate and complete, 95+ points.


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