Our inaugural release of "The Hidden" Syrah. This co-ferment of four Syarh clones makes for one complex wine. 27 months in barrels and raring to go. It is gamey, bloody (think fresh meat) and has forest floor, anise and sassafras. If that is not enough, all of that is enclosed in a skin of wild blackberry. This wine is powerful and will age forever.
Offers freshness, purity and depth in a sleek package, with rose petal accents to the ripe blackberry, dark plum and brioche aromas and flavors. Lingers with deftness on the finish. Drink now through 2020. 370 cases made. –HS
From Northridge Vineyard grapes, this mix of four clones spent more than two years in barrel. Tremendous depth and complexity are apparent on the nose, and there is no let-down on the palate. It's a seriously powerful wine, with muscle and magic. It opens generously into beautifully integrated layers of ripe fruit, confection, candied rind, cacao and a finishing touch of minerality.
Having spent 27 months in barrel, K Vintners’ 2009 Syrah The Hidden Northridge Vineyard from the Wahluke Slope might be taken as a test case and directional marker for the longer elevage that is going to become K Vintners’ norm. But I am not ready to extrapolate too boldly from a single slight disappointment, especially on the basis of one early assessment. Scents of bacon fat – I have good reason to believe – can be traced to the brand and toasting of barrels used (40% of which were new) as much as to inherent Syrah character. Soy, red licorice, mocha, and suggestions of fresh sour and dried cherries point toward the complexity, but also engender a somewhat sweet-tart bifurcation that emerges on the palate. There is a slight bit of gum-numbing from the tannin (which didn’t dissipate open overnight). Credit this with intense flavor interest and sheer persistence even despite some drying, but, tentatively, it strikes me that the time in barrel here was too long for optimum expressiveness not to mention fruit retention. If the present showing turns out from a short term perspective to have been a weak phase, then one will be able to intelligently speculate on its potential longevity at that time.
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 Slope of the Frenchman Hills, where he credits himself with discovering and reviving Stoneridge, “an ugly duckling that became a swan.” With a single exception where fruit from two sites is blended, all of the K Vintner and upper-end Charles Smith label wines are single-vineyard. A major development here is pushing the envelope on length of elevage, with the wines – one or two at a time, so as to minimize both delay in turnover and customer frustration – being moved from 15-18 months in barrel to 22-28 months. “We began to notice that if given the chance the wines take this turn we really like at 18-22 months,” explains Smith. And in what has begun to seem like a very familiar refrain on two continents, barriques are slowly giving way to larger – in this instance 500-liter – barrels; and the percentage of new oak is diminishing. “We want to grow,” Smith explains apropos his expansion and stylistic evolution, “but we also want to make the sort of wines that we like drinking. As many of the vines we work with are maturing, we think they’re kind of meeting us halfway. But we want to respect the vineyard, and if it’s a vineyard that doesn’t really do what we like, we’ll just get new vineyards, especially (if they’re) in cooler sites.”
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