I visited the Charles Smith wine-tasting room in Walla Walla, Washington in June and found it quite fascinating. A former top European rock band promoter, Smith grew up in California and returned to the Puget Sound area in 1999. Soon he moved to Walla Walla and produced 300 cases of his own wine. He’s never left.
Smith’s tasting room was once a vacant auto body shop. It’s been transformed into an unpretentious yet hip gathering spot for food, drink and concerts.
People fill the place by day to taste Smith’s excellent, mostly inexpensive wines, then return at night to sit in the open air (the front of the building is a garage door that pulls up and out of sight), listen to music, eat light fare from the vendor of Smith’s choice (pizza, hot dogs, tacos, etc.) and drink wine.
The September issue of Wine Spectator magazine details Smith’s rise to stardom in the wine industry, which came about from his willingness to take risks, create opportunities, and make good wine.
Smith’s wine labels are the funkiest in the business, combining simple yet dramatic art with interesting names (The Velvet Devil Merlot, Boom Boom! Syrah, Eve Chardonnay, King Coal Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, Chateau Smith Cabernet, etc.) While it could be said Smith is a marketing genius, rest assured his wines — spread across six labels — are exceptional too.
Although I consider most of Smith’s wines as favorites, including his K Vintner’s Syrah, the Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($9.99) is truly the best. Smith designed the label as a take-off on actress Lucy Liu’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster 2003 movie “Kill Bill”, and it is one of the most popular buys in America.
The 2013 bottling is 100 percent Washington State Riesling from the very precious Evergreen Vineyard. If you’ve never tasted Riesling before, here’s the chance to move your taste buds in a wonderfully palate-pleasing direction. This is a delicious, aromatic medium dry wine. Flavors of peach, apricot, lime, and apple fall delicately on the tongue. The finish is clean, crisp, impressionable.
Most wine experts and periodicals have consistently rated Kung Fu Girl with 90 points and designated it a best value. Robert Parker placed it on his Top 100 Wines of 2013 List.
Kung Fu Girl is perfect match for spicy food dishes and also plays well with white meat and seafood dishes. Or you can sip it with cheese and crackers on the side.
RECENT TASTINGS: Crossbarn Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, $31.99 — Cherry fruit is expressive on the nose, and there’s a nice flow of raspberry, Habanos cigar and spicy kick on the palate. Enjoyed with pork roast cooked to pink perfection with rosemary potatoes and butternut squash. As a Thanksgiving Day wine it’s worth the price.
• Modus Ruffino Toscana 2010, $19.99 — A solid Super Tuscan red blend for every day drinking to go along with pizza or pasta dishes. This bottling is 50 percent Sangiovese which adds a mocha dryness to the rich dark berry flavors. Smooth. Good value for the league it’s in.
• Chateau Haut-Beausejour 2010, St. Estephe, $24 — A fresh Merlot (53%)-Cabernet Sauvignon (47%) Bordeaux that is drinking well now and could go another 3-4 years in the cellar. From its beautiful violet color to its plummy, earthy, terroir-driven flavors, this is a standout for the price. Decant for an hour, enjoy.