Monday Oct 03

Charles Smith-2009-thumb I had planned to review one of the best Pinot Noirs ever produced in California, but during a dinner I was at for a wonderful friend and following a few bottles of some amazing Kosta Browne, I inadvertently opened it and forgot that it was for my review. It was a robust and commanding 2007 Marcassin and I can tell you... it was delicious. A true beauty, from the Three Sisters Vineyard and days later I can still taste it. That’s saying something. It’s one of those wines that you’ll recall when you’re bragging about remarkable bottles that you’d once enjoyed.

I’m not reviewing it this month because I don’t have the bottle or cork to show you and as much as I enjoy writing the monthly reviews, it’s also about sharing the whole experience with you, from photographing the bottles to staging them just right, with the ideal lighting and ending with that perfect capture. So no, I don’t have the wine, just the memory, but I assure you this spectacular wine will surely be back for a future review and not just for the quality of the wine, but for Helen Turley and her husband John Wetlaufer. They are one of Napa Valley’s most famous couples and their passion and commitment to wine is historic.

The total annual production at Marcassin is fewer than 2,000 cases and the wines are distributed only through the winery’s mailing list that I’ve heard to date has a 5+ year waiting list. When I’m lucky enough to procure a bottle, I purchase at auction, I bid on as many bottles as I possibly can and trust me you would too.

For this month’s review, as fall firmly settles in and Thanksgiving is upon, we are heading all the way up north to Walla Walla Washington, to explore the makings of a self-taught winemaker who has been making ‘juice’ since 2001 with an abundance of passion. His motto is simple:

It’s Just Wine, Drink It!

Charles Smith-2009-main And so I introduce you to, Charles Smith. He’s been a world traveler, rock band manager, concert promoter and is now a winemaker. He seems to still have his hands in all sorts of artistic ventures. This may be why his wine is very unique. With over 5 wine growing areas in Washington and 16 vineyards sourced, Smith’s wines are starting to get some real attention and they are beginning to score high points with top reviewers. The Columbia Valley Royal City, Stoneridge Vineyard, 2010, Syrah just received a 97 from Wine Spectator, which is considered a great wine.

Over the last 10 years Smith’s name has been talked about in tight wine circles. “Who’s that guy with the long curly hair who’s making award winning wines up in Washington and how come his wine is not over priced like so many others of the same caliber?” Like I said, Smith has a motto and he sticks to it. He states in his bio: The intent was (and still is) to create wines to be enjoyed now, but with true typicity of both the varietal and the vineyard.

His passion is not just in the wine, but in the design of the label, which is executed by award winning designer and longtime friend Rikke Korff, who once held the title of Design Director at Levis Straus & Co. She also helped design their wine tasting room as well as their branding. The designs are very modern, black lined pen and ink style. In a crowded wine cellar Smith’s labels are undeniable.

The most famous varietal Smith makes is Syrah. Of course the name of the vineyard is what else ‘K’ (as in Que Sera). In 2001 he opened his first winery at the base of the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla. His first release was the 1999 ‘K’ Syrah. He also produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo and Viognier. With such harsh growing climates in Washington, almost all vineyards Smith sources grapes from are producing single varietals, of which Smith blends truly noteworthy wines.

By accidentally drinking the Marcassin I wanted to review, I have given you a chance to adore a winery that I’ve been appreciating (an in truth keeping secret) for years and never wanted to share because of the popularity that may ensue. It’s like when you hear a local band and don’t want them to get too popular because the rest of the world would just exploit their genius as their own... yes, I’m talking to you Metallica and being in 10th grade (1983) listening to ‘Kill Them All’ that Mike Zed of Zed Records (Long Beach) gave me to listen to, exclaiming “It will change your life!” Charles Smith is that unknown, obscure, hip without pretention rock star winemaker that I believe the world is ready to be marveled by. And as a side note and big thumbs up this month’s winery is Biodynamic.

Let this wine open for about an hour before serving. Being such a robust earthy wine it needs a little time to stretch its legs.

K “Ovide”, 2009
Produced by: Charles Smith Winery
Winemaker: Charles Smith

Vineyard: En Cerise
Label: K “Ovide”
City: Walla Walla Valley
Vintage: 2009
Location: Washington
Varietal: 67% Cabernet Sauvignon & 33% Syrah

Total Production: 217 cases
Alcohol: 14.5%

Appearance (Color): Deep Purple
Aroma (Complexity): Black cherry, tobacco, whiskey, plum
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy with a strong front
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Forest floor with dark fruit
Finish (What lingers): Plums, figs, tobacco
Serving Temperature: 64°
Price: $60

Food Paring: Short Ribs, Kobe Beef, American Cuisine
Final Rating: 94
Drink now through 2018


My rating system is based on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale.

Wine Points     How Good the Wine Is

95-100             Classic: a great wine
90-94               Outstanding: wine with superior character & style
85-89               Very Good: wine with special qualities
80-84               Good: a solid, well-made wine
70-79               Average: drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69               Below Average: drinkable wine but not recommended
50-59               Poor: undrinkable wine, not recommended


JohnTuri02 John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine aficionado, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry.  He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science. With a desire for writing he switched to Creative Writing and then finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California as a graphic designer / sculptor. For over six years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals.  For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noirs, but his true love is the Italian Sassicaia. As a way to pay for his wine collection he works as a senior marketing manager / designer for an adult sex toy company. He is also training to be a certified master sommelier. Currently he resides in Southern California with his lovely wife Shawn-Marie.