Winemaker Charles Smith looks like a rock star, and in many ways he is one. In less than 15 years, he has made quite a name for himself in wine. He was named “Winemaker of the Year” by Food & Wine magazine in 2009 and “Winemaker of the Year” by Seattle Magazine in 2010.
With his head full of long wavy hair, he looks like he should be standing on stage in front of millions of fans. Well, he wasn’t standing in front of millions, but rather approximately 40 people, who eagerly showed up for a “pop-up” event at chef Roy Choi’s Commissary at The Line Hotel in Los Angeles.
Charles Smith paired five of his wines with five courses of Mediterranean food prepared by guest chef Zoi Antonitsas of Seattle. This was a rather rare outing as Smith is not a big fan of traditional wine dinners and rather prefers more interactive, casual events.
“Creating memorable and fun experiences is one of my favorite things to do, and working with Roy Choi to create the first wine-centric pop-up at Commissary was a no-brainer,” Smith said. “Roy and I take a similar approach when it comes to food and wine — celebrate, enjoy, and make things approachable. This event showcased delicious wine and fun food in a lively, uncomplicated way.”
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A self-taught winemaker, Smith first fell in love with wine while on the road managing rock bands. After growing up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Smith moved to Denmark where he managed rock bands and concert tours throughout Europe. Little did he know that while pursuing one interest, he was developing another. Lots of wining and dining throughout Europe led to a new passion, wine.
Smith returned to the United States in 1999 and opened a retail wine store on Bainbridge Island in the Pacific Northwest. It was on a trip to Walla Walla that he met a young French winemaker who persuaded him to move to Walla Walla, Washington, and make wine. With approximately $5,000, Smith began to make his own wine and released 330 cases of his first wine, K Syrah, in 1999.
Smith started the second brand, Charles Smith Wines, in 2006. Today there are multiple brands under his name: K Vintners, Charles Smith Wines, Wines of Substance, Sixto, Secco Italian Bubbles, Casa Smith and Charles & Charles, in collaboration with Charles Bieler.
In the 15 years that Smith has been making wine, in addition to the accolades he has received, his winery, K Vintners, was recognized by Wine & Spirits magazine in 2008 as one of the “Best New Wineries of the Last Ten Years” and as “Winery of the Year.”
At the dinner, we tried two new wines from Smith. The 2015 ViNO Rosé, made from sangiovese, is Smith’s first release of rosé and we enjoyed this wine two months before its market release date. It is a pale pink color with great aromatics and minerality.
The other new wine is the 2013 Super Substance Sauvignon Blanc, made in the “Loire style,” with bright pineapple citrus notes.
The 2013 K Vintners Motor City Kitty, named in honor of Detroit Rock City, is a bold syrah with layers of spice and meatiness.
The 2012 K Stoneridge Cabernet Sauvignon has notes of red and black cassis, wild plum, gravel and fresh herb.
The meal ended with the 2014 SECCO Moscato from Italy with beautiful notes of white peach, apricot and lychee.
Smith told us at the dinner that when it comes to pairing wine with food, he thinks about what he likes to drink. He focuses on making ready-to-drink wines that can be consumed upon purchasing but still represent the grape variety and place they are from. It is about immediate pleasure. And we were all immediately pleased with the selection of wines at the pop-up dinner.
Allison Levine is a food and wine writer and events planner based in Southern California. Read more of her work at www.PleaseThePalate.com