the great divide among the great wineries

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The short list of the very best wineries in Washington can be quickly divided into two distinctly different camps. There are those wineries who make a small number of wines extremely well, and retain a tight focus on just those few – generally a half dozen at most. Examples: Leonetti Cellar and Quilceda Creek. And there are those wineries who produce a vast number of wines and somehow excel at virtually all of them. At the top of this list is the sprawling vino empire of Charles Smith.

Included are over a dozen wines bottled under the K Vintners label, another sizeable group bearing the Charles Smith label, and budget-priced wines for his ViNO, Charles & Charles, and Secco projects. A still-to-be-named label with a Chardonnay focus is in the works, though nothing has been released.

Focusing on just a small slice of this enological feast, I was struck by the clear differentiation among a portfolio of a dozen K and Charles Smith Syrahs. Priced from $30 on up to $140, and sourced from several widely-separated AVAs, every single one of these wines makes a strong case for its separate existence. That is hard to do. Consider how many wineries in this country put out up to a dozen Pinot Noirs, as a comparable example, and you won’t find many examples where each one has a clear and unique style.

I chatted with Smith specifically about his Wahluke Slope Syrahs, asking how he could isolate flavors from vineyards that were so close together. He immediately ran through a detailed account of the very specific soils that were found in each of these sites, all owned by the Milbrandt brothers. But taking that raw material and translating each separate lot into a distinctive wine is where the magic occurs.

K Vintners 2011 Milbrandt Syrah ($30) is a co-ferment of grapes from the Northridge and Sundance vineyards. Bright and firm, with peppery raspberry fruit, this tightly-wound effort seems sculpted. It would be the highlight of many winery portfolios; here it plays the role of the emcee, introducing the stars of the show.

K Vintners 2010 Pheasant Vineyard Syrah ($35) expresses the strong streak of citrus that I often find in wines from the Wahluke Slope. It’s a zesty, juicy type of acidity, with not a hint of chalkiness, that plays against a wine that turns almost buttery in the finish. Strawberry fruit and highlights of carpaccio are also distinguishable here.

K Vintners 2010 Sundance Vineyard ‘The Deal’ Syrah ($35) is even better, with concentrated flavors of pomegranate and raspberry poured over clean rock. That minerality is the defining element in this bottling, a subtle, sexy, cellar-worthy wine just at the beginning of what should be at least a decade-long drinking window.

K Vintners 2010 Northridge Vineyard ‘The Hidden’ Syrah ($70) is the finest of them all. A blend of four different clones, all whole-cluster fermented, it is the most dense and concentrated, with exotic aromas expressing sappy berry fruit, pepper and spice. From ancient soils above the Missoula flood line, it has pinpoint focus and astonishing length.

I focus on these four especially because the Wahluke Slope AVA, good as it is, remains largely undifferentiated, unlike Walla Walla, where up to a half dozen quite distinct sub-regions have emerged. But the rest of the K and Charles Smith Syrahs – sourced from vineyards in Walla Walla, the Yakima valley, and the Royal Slope – are just as distinctive. Complete reviews and scores for all those wines will appear in a future issue of Wine Enthusiast.

K Vintners

1 comment:

Tim said...

You hit the nail on the head. Great Wine styles of any varietal has to do with location, soil, oak or not oaked, etc., along with the skills of the winemaker along with the specific vintage from that year. That is what makes new releases exciting!!

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