I experienced WineSmith wines for the first time recently, and luckily had the added benefit of a virtual tasting with Clark Smith, the man behind the wine. This opportunity came via the Wine Media Conference, and I received 6 of these wines at no cost, thanks to the generosity of WineSmith.
I have to admit, I’ve had a hard time gathering my thoughts for this article. There is a lot to wrap your head around when it comes to the “post industrial” production of these wines. In fact, Clark authored a book dedicated to the subject . It’s called, Post Modern Winemaking, which is what he calls his approach that involves highly scientific methods, some of which he invented.
Clark believes in total honesty and will happily tell you anything you want to know about his wines. He loves to discuss the use of oak chips, which he adamantly defends as superior to the use of new oak barrels. He will quickly point out that all wines are processed – those are not grapes in your glass. Winemakers of the 17th century would not recognize the modern winemaking techniques of today. Even with the most “natural” winemaking techniques, modern day inventions are still employed, like refrigeration, de-stemmers, modern presses, etc. Excellent points.
If it sounds like this is a commercial operation with no heart and soul, that is simply not the case. Clark believes the wines he makes are quite simply the soul of the grapes expressed in the wine. He sets them up with superior processing and then magic happens. It’s just that he employs methods that most people don’t quite understand, and therein lies the fact that he generates some controversy. But honestly, is there anything in the wine industry that doesn’t create controversy?
If the ideas of reverse osmosis, micro oxygenation, microbial equilibrium, or many others that fall within the concept he invented called Vinovation get you excited, then Clark Smith is your guy, and you will probably want to order his book, when you order the wines. If you just want to drink some great wine, well, Clark Smith might still be your guy, because the wines are excellent. I have to give you a heads up on the Meritage, you’ll need to do a little planning for this one. Clark suggests you open it, and leave on the counter for a week, and that’s after 57 months in neutral (as in 20 year old) French oak. Do I have your attention yet? Let’s take a closer look at the wines.
WineSmith 2017 Sparkling Grenache|12.5% ABV
This a zero dosage sparkling wine that is made in the traditional method, and the 100% Grenache grapes come from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA (one of my favorite regions).
The first attempt at this wine came in 2014 and was a complete surprise to everyone involved until the idea left assistant winemaker, Mike Faulk’s lips. The first thought had been to make a rose wine, but that wasn’t coming together as anticipated. Sometimes a spur of the moment idea really plays out well.
Thirteen months on the lees gives this wine the incredible yeastiness that most sparkling wine lovers just love. The fact that it is a brut zero is something I don’t think even the most advanced palate would pick up. There is no sharp acidity here, it is a delicious and well balanced expression of acidity, surrounded by lush fruit notes and exquisite bubbles.
WineSmith 2015 St. Laurent|11.8% ABV
I love an unexpected varietal and I don’t believe you’ll find any other St. Laurent in Sonoma – from the Ricci vineyard in Carneros to be precise. Oak chips are used in the fermentation process, and then the wine ages in neutral oak, for 27 months, where it also undergoes malolactic fermentation.
This wine at first seems like a simple fruit forward quaff, however, it finishes with an herbal note. A nice surprise that has you thinking about it, and going back for another sip to see what else you missed. A plush mouthfeel and nice acidity make this an interesting and unique wine.
WineSmith 2018 Norton|12.9% ABV
In keeping with unusual varietal finds, this Norton hails from Yolo County, Heringer Estate Vineyards. This grape is definitely better known in places like Missouri and Virginia.
Notes of blueberry and a balsamic, it was definitely a delightful change of pace.
WineSmith 2015 Cabernet Franc|13.5% ABV
Clark believes this wine is one of the most collectible expressions of Cabernet Franc in the world, comparing it to St. Emilion, or well-aged Graves. The grapes come from Diamond Ridge Vineyards in Lake County, where they grow in volcanic soil – who knew?
This wine has a myriad of complex flavors and aromas: cherry, plum, tobacco, rosemary, baking spice. It has noticeable minerality, one of my favorite notes in wine.
WineSmith 2014 Meritage|12.8% ABV
Meritage by legal definition is a blend of Bordeaux varietals, and this one is comprised of 61% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, and 3% Cabernet Franc. The grapes are from the Ishi Pishi Vineyard in Humboldt County and are organically grown, and no sulfites are added to the wine.
This is an interesting wine, if for no other reason that Clark recommends a week of decanting. I have to be honest, that is not a feature that turns me on. He also recommends “shaking the hell out of it” if you’re like me, and cannot fathom planning that far ahead.
The wine was aged for nearly 5 years in neutral French oak. This, to me, is mind blowing. Only 87 cases were produced.
WineSmith NV Petit Manseng|12.9% ABV
I’ve developed a love of desert wines recently, and this one is really special. Petit Manseng is not something you see a lot of . It is used to make dessert wine in the tiny southwestern France region of Juaracon. This is where Clark Smith spent time studying and perfecting many of the modern techniques he uses in his wine making process.
Acacia wood chips are used in the fermentation process of this wine – crazy interesting right? You know what else is crazy interesting about this wine? Each year 1/3 of the wine is reserved in barrel and the following year’s wine is added – a very loose interpretation of a solera system?
This wine is absolutely lovely. I hear so many people say they don’t like sweet wine, but it is important to note that these wines are nothing like a white zinfandel or other sweet retail shelf wines. This wine has a fantastic acidity so that the residual sugar (8%) is not the least bit cloying. I also recommend you pair it with a nice aged cheddar, as opposed to a sweet dessert.
You can purchase all of these wines in a conveniently curated sampler pack, direct from WineSmith, by following this link.