Charles Smith and the Wines of Washington State

charles smith wines

The USA produces some of the world’s finest wines: the full bodied Pinot Noirs of Sonoma, the spicy, tannic Zinfandels of Lodi, and the rich Merlots of Napa, all offering wines with a real sense of West Coast terroir.  For years now, knowledge of US wines has centred around California, and little else.

However the little known Pacific Northwest, and its Washington State region is growing in significance in the UK market, although it remains very much a niche area.  Niche is very much the key word here. Not only is demand in the UK still very low; the small scale production, boutique winemaking, high prices and interesting ripe, fresh styles, make the wines of Washington State a different proposition to the majority of what we have seen from the US in the past.

Extreme Climate

In Washington State the climate is one of extremes, enjoying very hot summers, and almost arctic winters. Although cooler than California, during the growing season Washington State has around two extra hours of sunlight a day, due to its more northerly position. These warm, sunny days create the perfect conditions for the development of ripe fruit, while the cool nights maintain high levels of acidity. These characteristics distinguish the wines of this region from the lush, rich, fruit driven styles of California.

The region’s severe winters have played a part in forming the vinous landscape in the State, with growers increasing plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Riesling, all hardy varieties that can survive long periods of cold weather. However the State is also well known for its Merlot and Syrah, creating fantastic, ripe, fresh cool-climate examples, with loads of oak and firm tannins.

The Walla Walla Valley

We think some of the best and most recognisable wines of the region, come from Charles Smith and K Vintners, based in the Walla Walla Valley. Charles and his team are without doubt one of the most exciting wineries in the State right now. They create very bold, colourful wines, that really shout about the Washington state terroir, and are great examples of what this region can produce.

The wines here are produced in very low quantities, from single vineyard sites, with extremely low yields, and have now become among the most sought-after in the state. Using lots of new oak and cutting edge vinification techniques, these big wines are full of character, and not for the faint hearted!

This big, vibrant style is most evident in the K Vintners range, which was founded in 1999, and helped cement the cult following for his wines. Their “The Creator” and Milbrandt Vineyard Syrah quickly become beacons of quality for the region. The wines of Washington State are normally quite expensive, due to their small scale, low vine yield production. So to create value amongst this premium pricing, Charles Smith created The Charles Smith Wines (The Modernist Project) range in 2007.

These awesome wines deliver super value with the same high quality approach to winemaking and iconoclastic view of marketing as the K Vintners range. In Charles’s own words: “This range is what I am most proud of. It allows everybody to have access to good wine.”

Make it a point to try some of these fantastic wines from Washington State. Although often pricey, they show great varietal character in a new fresh, ripe style, not so common from the US. If you like big bright reds, and crisp, punchy aromatic whites, the wines of Washington State will be right up your street.

26th March 2015

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