Two Wines at Random

by artfuldiner on June 13, 2024

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Wine

There is no one in the wine world quite like Charles Smith… For the former manager of the rock band Raveonettes, it all began over 20 years ago. With almost nothing in his pocket, he found a way to produce his first vintage, 330 cases of 1999 K Syrah, and sell them out of the back of his Astro van… And the rest, as they say, is history.

In the two plus decades since, Charles Smith has left his undeniable mark on the wine industry in general and the state of Washington in particular. He Smith, Charles, Winemakerdeveloped (and later sold) iconic brands such has House Wine and Charles Smith Wines, producing such smash hits as Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Boom Boom Syrah, and Velvet Devil Merlot. His recognition awards speak for themselves: Wine & Spirits Winery of the Year, 2008; Food & Wine Winemaker of the Year, 2009; Wine Enthusiast Winemaker of the Year, 2014; placed #2 and #13 on the Wine Spectator Top 100 List, 2017. In 2006, he created Royal City Syrah, a cult-favorite, that made him one of only four Washington winemakers to ear a 100-point score. His current enterprise, House of Smith in Seattle, Washington, is the largest urban winery on the West Coast and includes such brands as K Vintners, Substance, ViNO, CasaSmith, SIXTO, B.Leighton, and Golden West.

It is Mr. Smith’s 2019 SIXTO Uncovered Chardonnay that recently grabbed my attention. Inspired by the Sixto Chard 2019story of musician Sixto Rodriguez, the Detroit musician whose late-career resurgence is depicted in the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” SIXTO became the resurgence chardonnay project of winemaker Charles Smith and VP of Winemaking & Viticulture Brennon Leighton, who released their first vintage in 2014. The brand consists of four distinguished wines: three single vineyards (Frenchman Hills, Moxee, and Roza Hills Chardonnay) and one cuvée of all three vineyards (Uncovered Chardonnay).

The 2019 SIXTO Uncovered Chardonnay is, indeed, a beautiful wine, although – fans of rich, creamy chards, please take note – not particularly oaky. It is, as wine writer James Suckling noted, “extremely articulate and graceful on the palate.” I freely confess that I loved this wine (my dining partner, who prefers chards with a bit more heft, was somewhat less enthusiastic), but Suckling’s whopping 96-point review was, in my humble opinion, a tad exaggerated (Jeff Dunnuck’s 92 and Robert Parker’s 90 seemed infinitely more accurate).

Be that as it may… a lovely wine and highly recommended. Retails around the $40.00 mark; currently $24.99 at Pennsylvania State Stores.

2021 Lodi Ave Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon… This was another wine purchased strictly on a whim – or, perhaps, a recommendation of my friend Ethan. In any event, it is incredibly interesting – and reasonably priced – domestic (Lodi, California) cabernet.

Lodi, Calif VineyardLocated 90 miles east of San Francisco, sandwiched between Sacramento in the north and Stockton in the south, Lodi was once known for supplying low-cost grapes that eventually found their way into North Coast chardonnays, cabernets, zinfandels, and viogniers.

The eponymous viticultural area that surrounds the town of Lodi is a historically rich farming region. The vineyards here benefit from moderate summers; and some of the vines are over 100 years old, like the so-called Mother Vine, originally planted at Concannon Vineyard in 1893.

Today, Lodi is known for its spicy zinfandel wines, notably from Ravenwood and Laurel Glen, which have boosted its presence in markets around the United States. Other grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon, for example, can also be found at exceedingly reasonable price points. Interestingly enough, 80 percent of cabernet planted in California, stems from the original Concannon clones.

Lodi Ave Cellars is one of nearly 40 brands in Scotto Cellars oenological stable. Scotto is family owned and operated by 5th generation siblings Anthony, Natalie, Paul, and Michael Scotto. Their winery is the 42nd largest in California by volume; and the 2023 harvest was the family’s 60th. Their Lodi Ave Cellars Cab 2021wineries are located in Nap, Lodi (4), and the Sierra Foothills of Amador County, each with their own grape sources and winemakers. Their brands have earned more than seventy Best Buy/Best of Class/90+Point ratings in the past several years.

The 2021 Lodi Ave Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon noted above is certainly positive proof that Lodi’s moderate Mediterranean climate brings out the very best in cabernet. The dark fruit flavors are exceptionally rich, the aromas generous, the tannins mild and well-ripened. And, unlike many high-powered California cabs, this medium-bodied beauty is as smooth as silk on the palate, aided and abetted by an intriguing touch of sweetness.

The best part, however, is obviously the incredible retail price: $16.00… Absolutely unbelievable for a California cab! But I’ll go you one better… When I purchased it recently in a PA State Store, it was on sale for a paltry $8.99. Hopefully that price will hold until you get around to snaring a few bottles.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!


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