Tag Archives: Charles Smith

Take heart: Charles & Charles has three great cheap wines

Take heart: Charles & Charles has three great cheap winesTake heart, everyone who loves cheap wine. Charles & Charles has not only released its new, always excellent, rose, but a white and red as well.

“We try to have fun with the labels, and we want people to have fun drinking our wines, but that doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention when we make them,” says Charles Bieler, who was in Dallas this week to promote the inexpensive Washington state wines he makes with Charles Smith. “We couldn’t be more serious.”

In this, Bieler is as passionate as the labels are unconventional — think 30-something winemakers as urban music superstars. Our discussion covered the costly winemaking techniques not usually used for cheap wine but found in Charles & Charles wines; high alcohol, and why the Charleses don’t like them; the changing face of the wine business and the need to attract new wine drinkers; and that rose is quickly becoming an acceptable wine to drink in a way that I never thought it would be (and for which Bieler didn’t treat me like a cranky old man).

Most importantly, we tasted the wines, which are priced at $13 but can be found for as little as $10 (and all were samples):

? Charles & Charles Rose 2013 (12.6%): This is consistently one of the best roses in the world, fresh and crisp with red fruit, and the 2013 is no exception. The best news is that production almost doubled for this vintage, so there should be plenty of wine to go around.

? Charles & Charles Chardonnay 2012 (13.3%): Bieler emphasized the wine’s French style, but I saw more Washington state, with a touch of oak, rich fruit, and a subtle balance. It’s practically subversive, given what most cheap chardonnays taste like.

? Charles & Charles Post No. 35 2012 (13.6%): This red blend, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, was my favorite of the three. It’s a stunning wine for the price, dark and interesting but with telltale Washington state black fruit and amazing tannins. The catch? The 50,000 cases are almost gone, thanks to a 90-point review in the Wine Spectator. How dare it deprive us of such a wonderful wine.

Finally, consider this irony: We met at a restaurant where there was only one wine on the list that cost less than $30, and most were overpriced and quite ordinary. Maybe I should have mentioned the Charles & Charles to someone there?

Wine of the week: Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot 2012

Maybe it’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s always-assume-the-worst nature, but whenever I start to feel better about cheap wine and its place in the world, I run across something like this, from a user on CellarTracker about the Velvet Devil: “A nice wine if you need a half cup of red wine for a recipe and want to enjoy drinking the rest.”

What does this person expect from a $13 wine? First-growth Bordeaux?

In fact, the Velvet Devil ($13, purchased, 13.5%) is another in a long line of well-made and well-priced wines from Washington state winemaker Charles Smith and deserves much more than damning with faint praise. This is a red wine for family dinners, with enough merlot varietal character to be recognizable — lots of blueberry fruit, a little leather, and a few tannins — and all more or less in balance. It’s a red meat wine (Christmas, even(, but not so fussy that it wouldn’t pair with roast chicken.

And, it’s a huge step up from all those grocery store merlots burdened with jelly jars of dark fruit, wines that somehow taste sweet even though they don’t have any residual sugar. If the Cellar Tracker user thought the Velvet Devil was ordinary, I don’t want to know what they would say about the other.


On the road with Bieler, Smith and Gott

The wine world has changed, and for the better. How does the Wine Curmudgeon know this? Three of the best winemakers in the U.S. — all youngish, all talented, and all with top-notch cheap wine — did a media extravaganza in Dallas. That’s not an everyday ocurrence for people who make inexpensive wine, and especially where I am.

Even more impressive? Each, in separate interviews, said that quality cheap wine was the future of the wine business. Talk like that is going to put me out of business. More, after the jump:

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Mini-reviews 32: Beaujolais nouveau, Mondavi, Martin Codax, Kung Fu Girl

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month:

? Georges Dub uf Beaujolais Nouveau 2012 ($8, purchased): Grape juice, and not especially good grape juice. No varietal character; perhaps the most poorly made nouvueau in decades.

? Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($135, sample): Aged well enough — 15 percent alcohol isn’t noticeable, lots of dark fruit left, and acid still shows — but anyone who paid three figures for this five years ago is probably very disappointed.

? Mart n C dax Albari o 2011 ($15, sample): Spanish white is always consistent and varietally correct, though there are $10 albarinos that deliver similar clean, soft citrus results,

? Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2010 ($10, purchased): Look for lemon-lime fruit and even some oiliness, but always tastes too sweet to me (which is odd for a Charles Smith wine).

Winebits 149: Libel, grape theft, frogs

Call this a roundup of pressing wine legal news (and yes, the pun was fully intended).

? Winemaker sues blog commenters: Charles Smith, who makes well-regarded Washington state wines (and was featured on the blog) has apparently had enough of the Internet and anonymous criticism. He has filed a lawsuit against the people who said he wasn’t a winemaker, but a marketer, on the Blake Gray wine blog. The catch? Smith doesn’t know who made the comments, so he has subpoenaed Google, which hosts the blog, to get technical information that may allow him to identify the commenters. I don’t know Smith other than from our one phone interview, but I like his wines and he seems like someone who cares about what he does. My advice? Let this drop. Small-minded people hide behind anonymity, and they’re not worth the trouble.

? “Wine Mafia gangs”: French police think well-organized criminal gangs are raiding vineyards in the Languedoc region, stripping vineyards bare. One top cop said it may even be the work of Russian gangs: “We are undoubtedly dealing with the kind of upmarket criminals who steal old master paintings and antiques to order.” This is difficult to believe, given the amount of effort needed to harvest grapes. Robbing banks is quicker, has a bigger payoff, and requires much less work. Even more amazing? London’s Daily Telegraph, which ran this story, then tried to tie the French theft into thefts in Japan and Washington state. What’s next — a movie called the Winemaker Code about an ancient conspiracy to reserve wine for the very rich?

? Frog in the bottle: Or, don’t buy Spanish whites from British supermarkets. An English woman claims a small frog fell out of the bottle and into her glass during a family celebration, and she has suffered stomach pains ever since the incident. The article, from Britain’s Sun newspaper, even has a picture. The woman is suing, and there is a terrific quote from her solicitor about how the store had a contractual obligation to sell wine without frogs in it. Which brings the Wine Curmudgeon to quote Shakespeare (since this happened in Britain) from Henry VI, Part 2: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”