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4th of July Picks: Charles & Charles Rose and Red Wines

Charles and Charles Rose 2010It was June of 2009, Al and I were in the midst of a road trip across the country (10,000 miles to be exact) on a venture that would end in our new home – Naples, Florida. Along the way we had stopped at multiple vineyards, wine stores and wine bars doing ‘research’ for our new business venture…Decanted. We found hundreds of great small production gems and value wines along the way in Napa, Sonoma, Oregon, and Washington. But we never expected to find our favorite wine of the trip – Charles & Charles Rose (2008) –  in Louisville, Kentucky.

We stopped in Louisville for the weekend to meet up with my sisters and her boyfriend at the time (will be become her husband this weekend!) After some research, we decided on an impromptu gourmet dinner at the highly recommended Proof on Main. It was hot and we were all tired from a day at Churchill Downs, so we decided on a crisp and light rose to start the evening. The waiter’s suggestion turned out to be a good one, and four bottles of it later we had bought out the restaurant of its supply.

Charles & Charles is a joint venture between two of our favorite wine makers – Charles Smith and Charles Bieler – made from 100% Syrah grapes from the vineyards of Columbia Valley, Washington. Smith has described the wine in past vintages as a “crisp, jolly rancher.” This vintage? Smith says, “Remember Jolly Ranchers? Hold that thought…grab a bottle of this wine, open, pour, sniff, swirl, taste. Now…dontchya think that this wine is the way-evolved, been-around-the-world-a- few-times, insouciantly hip, cool-as-the-other-side-Charles & Charles Red 2009of-the-pillow, casually bad a** son of Jolly Rancher? Yeah, we thought so, too.” We don’t think there is a better way to describe the wine, or the winemakers. That refreshingly bad a** approach to a style of wine that has maintained an inferior reputation for a number of years in the U.S., gives us hope for the future of rose.

I often tell people there are a lot of things that go into how good a bottle of wine is. And for those bottles of 2008 in Louisville it was a combination of discovering something new, a great wine, great winemakers…but most likely it was the situation and the people. In 2009, we were slightly disappointed by the wine not living up to our insane expectations (how could it?) However this vintage, 2010, is our favorite to date.  Complex yet crisp, I haven’t found a domestic rose that can top it. Al and I actually fought over the last glass the other night, which rarely happens. Oh yeah, and if I forgot to mention…it’s only $13.

And for those non-rose believers, we have a new addition to the store…Charles & Charles Red. A blend of Cabernet and Syrah, the project uses some of the very best grapes from the Wahluke Slope and delivers a slamduck table wine at an affordable pricepoint ($13).

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Wine Review: Cougar Crest Cabernet Franc

When the word Cabernet is uttered most people immediately assume the reference is to Cabernet Sauvignon. But there’s another Cabernet, the father to Cabernet Sauvignon if you will…Cabernet Franc.

Cougar Crest Tasting Room

Cougar Crest Tasting Room

Often found in Bordeaux or Bordeaux style blends from other regions of the world, Cabernet Franc is mostly used as a blending grape with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is one of the two parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon (Sauvignon Blanc being the other) and is lighter in style. Depending on the region it is grown in, it can have a peppery aroma with nodes of tobacco, raspberries, cassis and coffee. There are only a few areas of the world where it is made into a 100% varietal wine, the oldest being the Loire Valley in France and mostly recently the United States in Washington, California, and even North Carolina.

I have personally always been a fan of Cabernet Franc but it can be a challenging grape for others to wrap their heads around. One of the wines that turned me onto 100% Cabernet Franc was Cougar Crest’s Cabernet Franc from Walla Walla, Washington.

The 2006 vintage was one of the better vintages yet. Established in 2001, Cougar Crest is a small winery in one of the smallest wine regions in Washington – Walla Walla. Owners Deborah and David Hansen have been growing grapes for years in the appellation and selling them to other wineries in the area. Moving into winemaking, they established a winery and tasting room near the Walla Walla airport and produced 900 cases the first year.

The 2006 Cabernet Franc displays ripe fruit when first opened with dark cherries, chocolate, tobacco and coffee. The wine develops as air is exposed to it and displays different flavors and aromas throughout the course of the night. The tannins actually come through further down the line as it starts to show more pepper, dried currant, herbs, and mocha with a silky, buttery like finish. It is the perfect wine to pair with heavier dishes…steak or even traditional heavy Italian cuisines.

It’s no secret this wine is great, check out the ratings. We personally give it 2 1/2 stars on our 3 star scale.

Ratings:

  • 92 points, Wine Spectator
  • 2009 Double Gold, Florida International
  • 2009 Double Gold, International Eastern

A Rose By Any Other Name

Vineyards during autumn in Provence, France

It is springtime in Naples, Florida which here means 80 plus degree days and increasing levels of humidity.  Funny but after a cold and dreary winter humidity feels good!  Springtime means two things to me…boating and rose.

Over the last twenty years or so, Rose has received a terrible reputation from it’s cousin – blush wine or White Zinfandel as we foundly call it here in the states.  Many times I think that rose is misunderstood and undervalued as a premium product due to the popular stereotype and miseducation of many wine drinkers in this country.  So here’s the truth behind rose, how it’s made, where it comes from, and why it is a premium wine…straight from the source in Provence, France.

A little history

In 600 B.C. the Greeks invaded the area now called Southern France – more specifically Provence.  They brought vines over with them and began planting, harvesting, and producing wine.  Since the Greeks moved in, winemaking has become a way of life not only in Provence but all of France.  However, the blush style is one thing that has remained unique to this region.

What is rose?

Rose is a category of wine, pink to be exact which is the French translation.  Rose wine can be made of a multitude of different grapes, but in general you’ll see Grenache or Syrah quiet often especially from Provence.  Roses are dry, crisp wines.  Roses may differ in structure, color and flavor but some of the tastes you’ll experience are often strawberry, citrus, floral but always very fresh, bright, and crisp, clean wines.

What makes it pink?

A true rose is made from red (or black/purple) grapes.  Like red wine, the natural color in the skin of the dark grapes give the wine a pigment as well as more tannins and structure.  To achieve the rose color rather than a dark red hue, these wines are femermented with the skins for a very short period of time.  While some reds are fermented with the skins for an extensive periods, roses may only see skin contact for anywhere between twenty minutes and a few hours.  The longer the wait, the darker the color.

What do I pair it with?

The best part about rose is its exquisite pairings with food.  French style rose melds perfectly with mediterranean cuisine, but also some other types of food that aren’t so easy to pair wine with:  Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai, Spanish paella, Tex-Mex…generally anything with strong flavors or spice.  It is also the classic wine to pair with roast turkey and Thanksgiving-like feasts.  We also find it the perfect wine for the beach, pool, even early morning/afternoon.

Charles & Charles Rose, made by Charles Smith & Charles Bieler

What do I try?

I only drink red…

Gargiulo Rosato di Sangiovese
$30
This rose is made from 100% Sangiovese grown in Napa Valley.  It provides intense flavors and structure with even a touch of tannin on the end, perfect for the red wine drinker.

I like my California Chardonnay…

Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel
$18
One of our favorite roses, it is smooth and silky with light strawberry flavors and acidity.  This producer makes some of the very best roses in Provence – their highest end (over $100) is better than some of the best white Burgundies!

I don’t like rose…

Charles & Charles Rose*
$15
My sister and her fiance know very little about wine (just starting to get into it), hate sweet wines, and turned their noses up at the thought of rose.  That was until we ordered this bottle at dinner last year.  Three bottles later they were definitely rose lovers.  Crisp and clean with the right balance of acidity and fruit.

Thank you readers!

Anyone who would like to purchase these wines can get a 10% discount off at Decanted by mentioning this article or using the coupon code BLOG online.

*Charles & Charles Rose is available for pre-order only by email.  The wine is due to arrive in early May.

Washington Wines Revealed

For too long now, Washington wines have existed under the shadow of their neighbors to the south, and living under the pretense that they could not, and would not stack up to the boisterousness and nobility of California wine. Washington has been prisoner to the understandable misconception that they simply do not host a suitable grape growing climate. How could they grow grapes, you may ask, when it rains all the time? In fact, the majority of Washington’s wine growing region lies to the east of the Cascade mountain range, which, due to the rain shadow effect is arid and sunny. While damp and temperate Western Washington gets an average of sixty inches of rain per year, the East Side receives eight. 

It’s true that Washington was still making fortified wines based on Concord grapes in the 1960’s when California wines were already receiving awards and becoming world recognized. But they have grown with leaps and bounds over the past 40 years and are producing high quality wines that compete with the best of California. The wheat fields and fruit orchards that were the previous staple economy in Walla Walla and Yakima Valleys have been replaced with acres of lucrative vines, growing from just ten wineries in 1970, to over five hundred today.

The Washington wine industry is currently worth three billion dollars and is ranked second to California in grape growing and wine production. The 1980’s saw a huge demand for white wines and interest spiked for Rieslings and Chardonnays. Although the white wines are continuing to hold their popularity and prestige, Washington is now praised for its Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots as well. 

One of the most notable and celebrated winemakers out of Walla Walla Valley is winemaker Charles Smith. This year will mark his tenth year. The retired rock band manager shifted gears when he taught himself the art of creating quality wines, starting with very small batches of Syrah. Don’t be fooled by the “wine label effect” and eye catching names, these are not mediocre wines with a cushy marketing budget. Inside the bottle are some of the most tremendous wines coming out of that region. These wines are not for the faint at heart. They are powerful, rock solid wine that pack a serious punch. With his wild thick hair, leather boots and a plain black t-shirt Smith looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia and a Harley Davidson poster child, and seems a little out of place in the perceived pretentiousness of the wine industry. His motorcycle riding, live on the edge, rock n roll personality shines through in all aspects of his winemaking, from labels to descriptions and within the wines themselves. 

You can find Charles Smith’s wines, the signature black and white labels, under his self-titled Charles Smith label, K Vintners and The Magnificent Wine Company. K Vintners is his original production and consists mainly of 100% Syrah and Syrah blends. The value-based Magnificent Wine Company label revolves around House Red Wine and House White Wine; quality table wine blends from multiple vineyards and vintages. His most recent endeavor is his Charles Smith wines, where he has been continuing with his full bodied, “best wine possible” approach and branching out to Rieslings, Chardonnays and Merlots. 

Listed below are just a few of the favorites.
Charles Smith Label

Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($17) 

Inspired by the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill 

Tasting Notes: THIS GIRL IS SERIOUS! Aromatic, smooth, vibrant and tasty. Think tangerine, apricot, wet stone, key lime, clove and nectarine….now stop thinking and start drinking… ‘CAUSE KUNG FU GIRL KICKS ASS! – Charles Smith

Eve Chardonnay 2007 ($15) 

Tasting Notes:  Sinfully tempting…fresh, crisp, the perfume of sweet apple blossoms lures you into The Garden of Eden. Silky, soft, mouth filling deliciousness…take the first sip! – Charles Smith 

Velvet Devil Merlot ($15) 

Tasting Notes: If velvet had a flavor this would be it. Bittersweet chocolate, dark Italian cherries. Sweet rose petals with a firm, satiny finish. Pure Washington Merlot. HELL YEAH! – Charles Smith

Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($21) 

96.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Malbec 

Tasting Notes: Delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromatics galore—cigar box, pencil lead, cedar and currants with super refined tannins and a long, fine finish. French? No. Chateau Smith? OUI! – Charles Smith

Boom Boom Syrah ($18) 

 99.5% Syrah, .5% Primitivo 

Tasting Notes: Everything you want in a syrah….smooth, firm, fresh & dark…super

dense purple with meaty dark fruit, Asian five spice & sweet tobacco. Intense yet

plush texture…it will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF! – Charles Smith

K Vintners Label

K Vintners Milbrandt Vineyard 2007 ($36) 

Tasting Notes: As the day is long…a never ending finish of spices, fresh tobacco, cured meats, and stone. So smooth, so fine. – Charles Smith

K Vintners Northridge Vineyard 2007 ($40) 

Tasting Notes: Extremely concentrated, intense color. Notes of huckleberry, cedar, cigar and kirsch. Built like a brick shit-house; exuberant ripe fruit with grippy backbone and spice and a seamless finish. – Charles Smith

K Vintners Phil Lane Vineyard 2007 ($75) 

Tasting Notes: Violets, lavender, roasted meat, game, crushed stone, and a super long finish. – Charles Smith  

Washington Facts retrieved from Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly. Additional Charles Smith information can be found at www.charlessmithwines.com, www.kvintners.com & www.magnificentwine.com