Super Kung Fu Girl! More depth and complexity than ever. Apricot, kumquat, nectarine and lime leaves. A great mid-palate intensity with a long, long minerally finish.
From among the multitude of inexpensive Charles Smith wines he showed me only his 2011 Riesling Kung Fu Girl and I simply could not find time to explore that range further. Despite its near ubiquity in U.S. markets, I had not tasted any previous installment of this Smith hit ? generically-labeled, but in fact sourced entirely from 25-year-old vines in caliche- and basalt-ridden Evergreen Vineyard, 1,300 feet above sea level and overlooking the Columbia in the Ancient Lakes region (north of the Frenchman Hills Royal Slope). To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be rank understatement. I was disarmed, delighted, and amazed at the distinctively delicious performance this wine gives, not to mention its mind-boggling value. Almost as incredible is this wine?s production volume of 65,000 cases (So I?ll assume, notwithstanding Smith?s explication of mega-assemblage, that not all bottles or releases of Kung Fu Girl taste identical; that said, I did control for ? and confirmed ? my enthusiastic opinion with a second bottle of 2011 from a different market.) Delectable scents of basswood (Germans would say ?linden flower?) mingle with honeydew melon, white peach, and lime that go on to render the palate sorbet-like in its combination of succulent richness and sheer cooling refreshment. The balance of acidity and sweetness (from 18 grams of residual sugar) is perfectly judged to support the aforementioned impression and ? with the help of a lick of salt, mineral dust, and citrus zests ? advances an invigorating, ultra-luscious and lip-smackingly lingering finish. Whether you need to drink this up over the next 12-18 months I can?t say from experience but I very much doubt it. (Not that cellaring will be on many purchasers? minds.) Smith says his sensibility for Riesling was honed on the Mittelrhein in the 1990s ? that being the source nearest his then base of Copenhagen ? and he certainly took-away some serious artisanal capital! Sounding a theme familiar from the Old World as well, he credits extreme diurnal temperature swings in the vineyard with this wine?s strikingly successful balance and overall quality. If you are interested in the future of Riesling; Washington State wine; wine value; or wine for the masses, this represents a huge glass of Hope you can drain with a grin to Charles Smith?s health. Charles Smith?s large persona and long-haired visage have become so iconic (the latter now featured on eastern Washington billboards) that I?m forced to remind myself it was barely more than a decade ago that this ex rock band manager and wine geek, encouraged by Christophe Baron, moved to Walla Walla with, as Smith is fond of telling, ?$5,000 and an Astro van? to start K Vintners. Smith appears to have mellowed a bit since I first met him in 2003; what?s more, his wines ? while still boldly-flavored and flamboyant ? have not attempted to keep pace in brashness with some of his more extreme (if always eye-catching) label art, but ? on the contrary ? in the best instances strike me as having become more nuanced and soulful. Smith and his articulate young winemaker, Andrew Latta, had no trouble convincing me of either their mastery of multiple wine media (but above all Syrah) or their determination to take fame in stride and keep striving to make their wines ever more distinctively delicious and engaging, as among other things, their 2011s I tasted from barrel already compellingly demonstrate. I was inspired by their self-depreciatingly self-described ?working cellar? in a district of Walla Walla whose borderline squalor was rather shockingly brought home to us in the course of my visit. Bare-bones; low-tech; and quite clearly lived- not just worked in, this is a building where only people who value the quality and integrity of their wine above anything else would spend winemakers? hours. Smith does, however, plan to build a new facility within the next two years on property south of town, nearer the high elevation and cobbles that he ? like so many others ? thinks of now as the destiny of this region and in which he has invested 40 acres of new plantings. Asked whether he plans to cut back on fruit contracts once these substantial estate acres come into production, he replied ?I believe we won?t, because demand for our wines is so high. K Vintners is now at around 7,500 cases; the high end of my Charles Smith project is around 2,000 cases, and with the core portfolio of under $20 wines I make about 160,000 cases. We have lots as small as three barrels, and for K Vintners the largest lot is about 1,200 cases.? Until Smith?s new site produces, K Vintner?s bearing estate vines comprise only the two acres of Syrah he planted around his home east of town in 2002. The emphasis with purchased fruit continues to be on Christophe Baron?s vineyards in the rocks of Milton-Freewater and what Smith sees as ideally complementary sites on the Wahluke Slope as well as the parallel stretch to the north known as the Royal Slop