I love chance encounters, especially the kind that leads you to something else. That’s the case for me, from a recent dinner at Kin Shop in New York City. The restaurant’s top toque is indeed a Top Chef: Harold Dieterle, the winner from the show’s first season. The menu features Thai-inspired dishes, so the wine list offers choices that pair nicely with the food. The bottle that caught my attention was the K Vintners Viognier. I recognized the name, and that the winemaker was Food & Wine magazine’s Winemaker of the Year in 2009.
Good Viognier is hard to find, and I wasn’t completely sure about one from Washington State. But the wine was wonderful. Honeyed and floral, with stone fruits and minerality. I added it to my list of favorite wines. I also love the label, graphic and bold and distressed. Could that be a reflection of the winemaker himself?
A few weeks later I was at my local Whole Foods, and another bold graphic label caught my eye. The Velvet Devil Merlot from Washington State. I guessed it to be from the K Viognier family. On the back of the label, Charles Smith Wines. Same guy, different label. The winemaker for both is Charles Smith. I didn’t know much about him beyond the F&W article, but was looking forward to trying this Merlot. The price was right too, $14.99.
Maybe if Miles had tried this wine, he wouldn’t be bashing Merlot. The aroma just jumped out of the glass…blackberry, violets and very lush. Just like the label says, it’s got a velvety texture. I decided it was time to look up this label and find out more. I learned that Charles Smith is a Rhone specialist, focused manly on Syrah. He’s racked up an impressive list of scores, many 95 to 98 points from Parker and other critics. His wines, with the exception of his top bottlings (Royal City Syrah) are $20 or less. For me, as a big Syrah fan, this is definitely a wine brand to seek out.
It wasn’t until I did a Google search to see what other people were saying that I learned about some controversy surrounding Charles Smith and blog comments. If you like drama, pour a glass of wine and sit down at the computer (or iPad). The story is a good read, starting with this post on The Gray Market Report. I do agree that blog comments shouldn’t be anonymous. It’s interesting how quickly scathing comments disappear when posters have to identify themselves. Regardless, having a chance encounter with the K Viognier led me to want to drink more of the Charles Smith wines. The winemaker and the wines are certainly memorable.