Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Taste of #Washington State with Charles Smith Wines

Exploring Washington Wine Month with CS Wines

We all have our preferences (Italian wine for me) and tend to stick to them.  Sometimes, we are presently surprised when we go out of our comfort zone and try a new bottle, new winemaker or new wine region. August happened to be Washington State Wine Month, so for that month, we made wines of Washington the focus for #WiningHourChat. For the most part, everyone came to the table, or the twitter feed, with a different Washington State varietal each week.  For the most part, everyone enjoyed their WA wine and made plans to try other wines from that region.  We accomplished our goal!

Washington State Wine Region
WA Wine Map c/o Wine Folly
Washington Wine Country currently consists of 14 American Viticultural Area's (AVA): Ancient Lakes, Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Lake Chelan, Lewis-Clark Valley, Naches Heights, Puget Sound, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Yakima Valley, Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley. Yakima Valley was the first AVA, originating in 1983. Today, there are over 750 wineries in Washington Wine Country.  The main grapes planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling and Syrah.  

Washington State is a premium wine producing region due to its ideal geography and growing conditions.  The sandy, gravelly soil is conducive for grapevines and fruit development and allow all the vineyards to be planted on their own roots.  The latitude contributes to lots of sunlight, which also provides optimal conditions for the development and texture of the wine. Although Washington is known for its Bordeaux-style red wine blends, it produces many tasty varietals.  In fact, Washington State second in the U.S., after California wine country, in terms of quality wines.

Featured Winemakers:

Charles Smith
Charles Smith, Winemaker
Charles Smith is a self-taught winemaker, who left a lucrative music career in Europe and returned to the States in 1999 to open his own wine shop.  His interest and passion for wine magnified and he released 330 cases of his first wine, K Syrah, in 2001. That was only the beginnings of a rocking winemaker.  In 2008, K Vintners was recognized by Wine & Spirits magazine as one of the “Best New Wineries of the Last Ten Years,” and as “Winery of the Year” in their annual buying guide. In 2009 Food & Wine magazine awarded Charles “Winemaker of the Year” and in 2010 Seattle Magazine recognized Charles as their “Winemaker of the Year.” Today, Charles produces wine under brands: Charles Smith Wines, K Vinters, Sixto, Charles & Charles, ViNO, Substance, Secco and Casa Smith. Formerly a rock band manager, Charles Smith made the switch to wine and continues to be a rockstar in the wine industry. 

Charles Bieler, Winemaker
Charles Bieler 
Charles Bieler is a winemaker whose initial time in the wine business was spent in Provence, France, and several years at Chateau Routas. He was and continues to be a supporter of the rosé movement. Charles Bieler produces wine under Three Thieves, BIELER Pere et Fils, Sombra mezcal and Charles & Charles.  Charles & Charles Wines are a collaboration between Charles Smith and Charles Bieler. The Charles & Charles portfolio includes a red blend and rosé from Columbia Valley vineyards. According to the winemakers, the bottles under the Charles & Charles label are designed with an abstract play on the American Flag, as "the labels showcase the intent to provoke thought of the future while honoring the past."

The Wining Hour's Charles Smith Wine Selections:

For our weekly #WiningHourChat in August, we selected and featured 6 of the Charles Smith Wines and Charles & Charles Wines:

2014 Charles & Charles Cabernet Sauvignon
This bold Cabernet is actually a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah grapes.  The Syrah was was fermented whole cluster (with stems) in stainless steel tanks with yeast and the Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested and fermented separately, whole berry (stems removed) in stainless steel tanks with native yeast. According to Charles & Charles, this wine was made using a "slow, small batch winemaking" process that "brings an intensity and richness."  The fermentation process of the Syrah leads to the dark fruit and spiciness, while the dense black currant on the palate comes from the Cabernet Sauvignon. Charles & Charles Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah is a black-dark red plum in color and emits aromas of cassis, baking spices, herbs and violets. On the palate is spicy black currant, blackberry, vanilla and chocolate.  Full bodied with smooth tannins. From the first sip, this wine was smooth, bold and delicious.  This wine would pair nicely with roasted or grilled lamb and pasta dishes with hearty red sauces. Actually, this wine will pair well with...anything. While it is versatile, it is a rockstar on its on as well.  13.5% ABV.

I have been a longtime fan of Charles Smith's Cabernet Sauvignon.  I've tasted each of his 2007-2014 Cabernet vintages.  I have yet to be disappointed.

2011 Charles Smith Superstar Chardonnay
Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, unoaked.  Therefore, it does not have an oaky taste, but it does not have a buttery taste either.  Pale straw to the eye and pear, apples citrus blossom and saline on the nose.  This Chardonnay is not too fruity, but tastes of green apple, a twist of lemon and minerals. This crisp Chardonnay is just right for a spring or summer treat. It is light, zippy and refreshing with 12.5% ABV.  Charles Smith Superstar Chardonnay is nice as an aperitif, with salads, white fish, poultry and vegetarian dishes.

2010 Charles Smith Syrah
Made with 100% whole-cluster Syrah, this wine spent 40 days on skins in 60% New Oak and 22 months aged on lees in puncheons.  This garnet red wine has scents of tar, chocolate baking spice, dark fruit and lavender.  The palate is earthy with hints of ash, herbs, black olives, peppery red and black fruits and berries.  Charles Smith Syrah is complex and full-bodied with a smooth texture was smooth.  13.5% ABV

2014 Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling
While Riesling is not a varietal of preference for us, it was interesting to taste and see how it measures up against others we've tasted.  Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling received 89 Points from Wine Spectator, and received awards for being in the “Top 100 Wines” in 2014 and 2013 and “Best Value” Five Years in a Row.  Charles Smith's Kung Fu Girl is made from 100% whole-clustered Riesling barrel-aged for two months on lees. This 12% ABV white wine has a yellow-gold hue with a nose of white peach, green apple and lime.  The palate is long, with citrus zest and minerals.  Kung Fu Girl Riesling is light to medium-bodied with a fresh finish.   

2013 Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot
Ahh, Merlot.  This one is made with 99% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon that underwent whole-berry fermentation in 30% New French Oak, and 10 months barrel-ageing on lees. After observing its deep, ruby red appearance, floral scents, dark berries, black currant and clove tickle the nose. This Merlot is rich, with layers of coffee, chocolate, black and red plums and spicy wild berries on the palate. With 13.5% ABV, it would pair nicely with beef, roasted chicken, Cornish hens, soft cheeses or on its own. This Velvet Devil will certainly make people rethink Merlot, as it was a delightful surprise and reminder of just how good a Merlot can be. Charles Smith's Velvet Devil Merlot is just that, it's velvet.  Velvety smooth, medium-bodied, full of fruit and well-balanced tannins with a persistent finish. 

2012 Charles Smith Malbec
This wine is the yield from great growing season that produced many wines with structure and elegance-wines such as this Malbec. This awesome wine is 100% Malbec from Wahluke Slope, Washington.  The grapes were fermented whole-berry for 46 days on skins in 60% New Oak and barrel-aged on lees for 22 Months. It is an inky, dark, purple-red color with inviting aromas of blackberry, vanilla and tobacco.  This Malbec is bold and bursting with flavor. On the palate is spicy oak, red plum, blueberry, blackberry, baking spices and leather. This Washington Malbec is a good accompaniment for a juicy steak.  14.5% ABV

Although #WiningHourChat was celebrating all of the wines of Washington and shared wines from many different WA winemakers, it was great to see that I was often not alone in my feature of CS Wines.  Many in the group enjoyed these wines as much as I did.

What's next?  I am looking forward to trying CS Rosé, Eve Chardonnay, the Secco line and more from Charles Smith and Charles & Charles. Have you tasted wine from Charles Smith or Charles & Charles?

About The Wining Hour

The Wining Hour writes about wine, Italy and global travel.  The Wining Hour boutique caters to wine-lovers across the globe by offering all wine-related items.  The Wining Hour markets unique wine décor and furnishings, accessories, glassware, barware, wine racks, storage and cooling options, games, gifts and more. The Wining Hour also hosts #wininghourchat on Twitter (@wininghourchat) on Tuesday's at 9 p.m. EST.(For more, see links at the top of this page)
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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sicily's Scorched Earth Wines at Gambino Winery

Tasting Volcanic Wines at Gambino Vini 

On a recent trip to the Italian peninsula, we were able to spend some time in the south.  Having some root in the boot (Sciacca), we spent the most time in Sicily.  Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean to the very south.  Sicily has nine provinces: Palermo, Catania, Messina, Siracusa, Ragusa, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento, Trapani. It's varied landscapes add to its beauty, charm and character.  Sicily has an amazing coastline (all the provinces have one, except Enna) and mountains, such as the volcanic Mount Etna. Sicily is known for its great cuisine (arancini, pasta alla Norma, caponata, italian ice, spumone, ) which has Greek, Spanish and Arab influences. The region is also notorious for its beaches, such as Cefalu and Mondello.  However, Sicily is not only known for its outstanding food and breathtaking beaches--it is also known for its wine region.

Although Sicily has 7 IGT appellations(Avola, Camarro, Fontanarossa di Cerda, Salemi, Salina, Sicilia, Valle Belice.), there is one DOCG wine (Cerasuolo di Vittoria), there are 22 DOC Appellations, with the Etna being one of the main ones. Etna is an Italian wine DOC which covers the slopes of the volcano.  The Etna DOC was the very first in Sicily, created in August 1968.

While there, we explored a few of the wineries on the Mount Etna Wine Trail.  However, we spent the most time at Gambino Winery.

About Gambino Vini:
Gambino Winery is a family-run winery located in Linguaglossa, Sicily.  Their location is on the northeast side of Mount Etna, and near to the Mediterranean Sea, which creates an ideal climate and soil for winemaking.  Here, wines are made with both traditional and sophisticated methods. Francesco Raciti Gambino, the Owner and Winemaker of Gambino Vini, insists that grapes and quality are their priority, not mass production.  Therefore, Gambino does everything organically. They do not use pesticides or sprays, and all harvesting is done by hand. Gambino explained their philosophy, that "wine=a mix of knowledge and generation," in which there is a combination of old and new, of experience with technology.

The vineyards and grounds at Gambino Vini
As Gambino Vini is located on the northeast side of Mount Etna, the terroir plays a huge role in the production of wine.  Volcanic ash and rocks facilitate prime conditions for the vines to absorb water and nutrients.  Mount Etna is active and is in an almost constant state of activity so its lava is able to transport nutrients to the plants. Therefore, the fertile volcanic soil is more than conducive for agriculture and the volcanic soils naturally contribute to the distinctive mineral quality and taste in the wines produced in this region. Moreover, the high altitudes help the grapes retain acidity.   Gambino maintains that, while their region is not always easy, it is an "interpretation made up of experience, contingency and long-sightedness."  Gambino Vini absolutely captures the essence of Etna and its scorched earth.

The Wining Hour's Gambino Vini Tasting:
After a tour of the winery and stroll through the vineyards, we sat down to talk and taste the fruits of their labor with Francesco, who was the most hospitable and presented a tasting fit for a Queen.  We tasted wine after wine, each one tantalizing and delighting our palate. We appreciated that each of their wines have names that reveal a history and characteristics about the wine. Along with an abundance of meats, cheese, olives, bread and more, here's what we tasted:

Feu d'O Sicilia Bianco (IGP)

This wine is made from Grillo and Carricante grapes grown in chalky, volcanic soil.  It was aged in stainless steel for 5 months. This wine is pale straw in color with flowers, melon and peach on the nose.  It was light and dry, with citrus bursts on the palate. Feudo, in Italian, means fief, which is an estate of land. This wine effectively expressed the earthy, mineral characteristics of the region and had 13.5% ABV. Feud'O Sicilia Rosso is also available. Clearly, we were off to a good start with our volcanic wine tasting!

Gambino's Winemaker & Owner

According to legend, Tifeo (also known as Typhon or Typheus) is actually the name of a giant, monstrous figure in Greek mythology who battled with Zeus.  Their dispute was over Zeus' imprisonment of the Titans.  Eventually, Tifeo was defeated and condemned to imprisonment under the island of Ischia.  Here, Tifeo could express his anger and let his (hot) tears flow.  These tears supposedly led to the natural thermal springs that exist there today. Ischia is another volcanic island in the Campania region.  However, the giant Tifeo was large enough to reside under the entire region between Etna and Cuma, linking volcanic activity in Campania to Sicily.  As indicated by its name, Gambino's Tifeo wines are the manifestation of scorched earth soil.

Tifeo Etna Bianco (DOP)
This Etna wine is made from Carricante and Catarratto grapes grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna, 800 meters above sea level. Carricante is the dominant grape used in white Etna DOC wines like Etna Bianco and Etna Bianco Superiore.  Tifeo Etna Bianco was aged sur lie for 6 months to extract maximum flavor, and then for another 4 months in the bottle.  To the eye, it has an intense straw color.  Emitting an herbal and floral bouquet on the nose, the palate is refreshing with citrus notes of green apple, kiwi, melon and a higher concentration of earthy, limestone minerals. Tifeo Etna Bianco is dry, acidic, and bright. 13%ABV.

Tifeo Etna Rosato (DOP)
What's better than sipping a delicious rosé to cool off in the Sicilian summer sultriness?  A volcanic rosé! This vino rosato is made from Nerello Mascalese grapes that went through sur lie aging for 5 months, followed by another few months in the bottle.  In the glass, Tifeo Etna Rosato is a pink, strawberry color with summer fruit aromas.  The rich, clay pot minerals are on the palate, along with watermelon and strawberry. Tifeo Etna Rosato is fresh, dry and crisp with balanced acidity.  It would work solo as an aperitivo and with other light fare. A very tasty rosato at 13% ABV.

Tifeo Etna Rosso (DOP)
This Sicilian red wine is made from Nerello Mascelese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes, grown in volcanic soil, rich in minerals. It aged for 12 months in oak barrels.  Tifeo Etna Rosso is a garnet color and very fragrant, with a nose of herbs, black plums, mulberry, chewing tobacco, dark chocolate and licorice.  Did we say that it is very fragrant? On the palate was spicy prunes, blackberries and candied red fruit.  This wine could certainly be a crowd-pleaser for any red wine lovers, and it will compliment most red meat or game dishes. 13.5% ABV.

Alicant Sicilia Rosso (IGP)
This wine is made from an awesome mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache grapes.  In fact, the Alicant, is the Italian name for grapes also known as Cannonau, and originally known by the Spaniards as Grenache. Alicant was aged for 12 months in barriques and minimum of 6 mo in the bottle.  Alicant Sicilia Rosso has an intense ruby appearance, with equally intense perfume of spicy, mature, dark red fruits.  Blackberries and currants accompanied every sip. This wine is full of flavor and well balanced with a lingering taste of almonds.  14% ABV.

Duvanera Sicilia Nero D'Avola (IGP)
A Sicilian winery would not be complete without a Nero D'Avola, Sicily's most important indigenous grape.  We gathered that Duvanera is a wine near and dear to Francesco, and a special wine it is.   It was aged for 12 months in French oak and 6 months in the bottle.  Duvanera is a deep ruby red, and is intoxicatingly aromatic with an onslaught of spicy dark berries, chocolate and vanilla tickling the nose.  The palate is caressed with ripened plum, blackberry, black currant and chocolaty leather.  Duvanera is definitely a complex wine with lots of character.  Well-balanced, with a long finish and 14.5% ABV.

Petto Dragone Etna Rosso (DOP)
Petto Dragone is actually the subdivision in which Gambino Vini is located, so this wine is their territorial namesake.  As such, it definitely represents well. It is produced with Nerello Mascalese grapes planted on volcanic soil at 800 meters above sea level and aged in huge oak barrels for 12 months and then another few months in the bottle. To the eye, Petto Dragone is ruby with hues of garnet.  An earthy nose of volcanic rocks, rhubarb and stewed plums. The palate is warm and spicy, with minerals, jammy blackberry, raspberry and plum.  Petto Dragone is fruity, tannic, smooth and medium-bodied. Tasty. 14% ABV

We enjoyed Gambino's wines immensely and were compelled to more than a few home with us. If you have you have not tasted volcanic, scorched earth wines, do try the aforementioned from Gambino Vini. Regarding their portfolio of wines, Francesco Raciti Gambino explained that it is "the small details that must be the expression of the place where the grapes are grown."  This was quite evident in all of the wines we experienced.  Our tasting and time spent at Gambini in Sicily was exquisite, exciting and explosive! The scorched earth, volcanic wines of Gambino Vini truly express the terroir in which they're from.

However, there is much more to discover about volcanic wines.  Continue the exploration with our crew:

The #ItalianFWT Crew Presents...
listed alphabetically by blog name
About The Wining Hour

The Wining Hour writes about wine, Italy and global travel.  The Wining Hour boutique caters to wine-lovers across the globe by offering all wine-related items.  The Wining Hour markets unique wine décor and furnishings, accessories, glassware, barware, wine racks, storage and cooling options, games, gifts and more. The Wining Hour also hosts #wininghourchat on Twitter (@wininghourchat) on Tuesday's at 9 p.m. EST.(For more, see links at the top of this page)
For more information, please visit­­­

Follow The Wining Hour: