Constellation Brands’ Eugene Mlynczyk MW introduces some Washington wines.
For those of you familiar with the wines of Charles Smith, you’ll recognize three of the top bottlings from this Washington State relative newcomer. The following fabulous five are new to the Constellation Brands Canada portfolio: Velvet Devil Merlot and Kung Fu Girl Riesling (both now on regular LCBO store shelves), and the fine Vintages trio of Boom Boom Syrah, Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon and Eve Chardonnay.
All these wine brands were founded by former rock band manager Charles Smith, a man with a retro long haired, dark sunglasses look. These brands have risen from zero to hero in less than a decade. And luckily for us, the three top tier wines profiled here are all now available in our market at the same time. Sweet!
BOOM BOOM SYRAH 2014 VINTAGES 301499 $24.95
Released back in November, but still available in some stores (ask your local Product Consultant to bring some in for you), Boom Boom Syrah features what I call the “rising star” grape variety for Washington State. All the Charles Smith wines hail from Washington, the second largest wine producing state in the USA after California, and not to be confused with Washington DC. We’re talking about a land of grapes here, not a load of politics.
Syrah just may be one of the key red wine varieties in Washington since the main growing area, far inland across the Cascade Mountain range, is what we call a “Continental” climate zone. Hot days in the summer, with cool nights and a large shift daily between warm and cool, allows for a prolonged growing season with ripe fruit flavours and yet maintained bright acidity in all the wines. Syrah is a variety that performs well in these types of conditions, drawing out a beautiful mix of flavours including smoked meat, violets and peppery notes ranging from white to black pepper. Boom Boom Syrah, as the name might imply since it’s not called “Shiraz,” tends toward more of the white pepper and red fruits spectrum.
Washington Syrah ranks as one of my favourite New World wine styles. Here’s a very valid tasting note: “This delicious Syrah has become a hallmark of value-priced wines produced in the Pacific Northwest. Excellent fruit sources combined with talented winemaking result in a wine with fresh and lively character, featuring raspberry and pepper spice, along with a cornucopia of complex notes of dusty mineral, meat, ripe dark berry and vanilla.” (Chuck Hill, winesnw.com, June 3, 2016)
CHATEAU SMITH CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2014 VINTAGES 280107 $29.95
With a simple Gothic script label, this wine says it all, and in a very direct way. Washington State’s style falls somewhere between the opulence of Napa Valley and the structured interpretation of Bordeaux. A best of all possible worlds’ style of Cabernet, the Chateau Smith 2014 features red and black currant flavours with plum notes amid well integrated slightly spicy oak.
Here’s a precise, nice description from Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman: “Focused and distinctive, with juicy dark plum and currant fruit at the core and savory notes that swim around an expressive finish, draped in fine tannins. Drink now through 2020.” 89 points (Dec 2016)
And an even better score from Wine Enthusiast: “Coming from a downright hot vintage, this wine offers quite pure aromas of black currant and black fruit. The palate brings more of the same, giving a very pure unencumbered-by-new-oak look at Washington Cabernet. Lightly grippy-tannins provide support.” 90 points, Sean P. Sullivan (Feb 2017)
For me, this is the single wine in the portfolio that best expresses the personality of winery founder Charles Smith, and his hippie demeanour of both style and substance. If I had to draw a comparison with Bordeaux for this wine, I’d point more to the firmness of St. Estephe rather than the forward character of Margaux, for one. In a California context, if considering Napa Valley, I’d relate this style to more mountain fruit character, rather than valley floor. But in the end, the best take on Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 might be the one you provide yourself, while sharing a bottle with friends.
CHARLES SMITH “EVE” CHARDONNAY 2015 VINTAGES 421099 $21.95
This is the wine of the forbidden fruit, or so it would seem. With a crisp apple depicted on the front label and a nice bite taken out of it, I totally understand why the wine is called “Eve.” Chardonnay often exhibits apple notes, and in this case they are in the green to yellow apple spectrum, not in the tropical fruit or ripe melon zone.
Winemaking methods match the terroir characteristics here, with gentle whole-cluster pressing, part native yeast fermentation, lees ageing in older oak with only partial malolactic fermentation. In sum, these methods result in a zesty Chardonnay with fruit at the fore, but also a core of mid palate richness.
Personally, I don’t always agree with all tasting notes, but in this case the winemaker’s descriptors ring true for me: “Shimmering with lots of energy. Hibiscus flower, stone fruit, apple blossom and a touch of lemon cream. Long finishing and beautiful, mineral and delicious.”
Scores for the new 2015 vintage are on their way, and expected to be in the same vein as the 88 points awarded by The Wine Advocate for the 2014 vintage, and 89 points by Wine Spectator for the 2013 vintage.
With all that said, I’d say go for it and choose Charles Smith Eve Chardonnay to help usher in Spring, Pacific Northwest style!
Cheers, and bring on the new season shortly,
Eugene Mlynczyk MW
Luxury Portfolio Manager, Constellation Brands Canada
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