Virtual Tasting with Clark Smith
As a wine enthusiast/writer, I’ve been attending the Wine Media Conference semi-regularly since 2010. The conference attracts wine bloggers, wine writers, wine influencers and those in the wine industry who communicate with them. The conference averages around 250 attendees depending on the location, making it the largest gathering of wine writers in the world. It’s a great learning opportunity for me. Not surprisingly this year, it’s gone virtual. We miss the camaraderie, the vineyard walks and getting to know a specific wine region in an intimate way. But thanks to delivery and technology we can still taste wine with the winemakers.
Here’s the latest virtual tasting.;
The winemaker, Clark Smith has been making and selling wine in California since 1972. He does it all; teaching, writing, and even singing about wine. This tasting was a remarkable line-up of his exclusive WineSmith Wines.
Clark offers small lots of extraordinary hand-crafted wine which explore French wine making traditions in California. He’s a bold winemaker in his varietal choices but his wine are consistently balanced with the goal of longevity. His wines are sure to expand American palates. He’d like wine drinkers to decide once and for all that the predictable wine is rather boring. I agree with this. Don’t get stuck in a usual wine routine. Keep tasting and expand your palate. Wine is a journey, not a destination.
We started out with Smith’s answer to French champagne. A 2017 Sparkling Grenache Santa Cruz Mtns, Bates Ranch. In a 2014 there was a happy accident. While waiting for the Grenache to open up for a possible Rosé, the wine underwent a spontaneous malolactic. Now what? Assistant winemaker Mike Faulk suggested a méthode champenoise sparking wine. The result was brillant and the decision was made to make this particular wine on purpose. 2017 which was in my glass was a richer version of the original that’s worth getting to know better. I experienced lovely aromas of honeydew melon and strawberry joined by rich yeastiness. This sparkling is referred to as a “Brut Zero” with no masking sugars at all. This gives permission to the rich flavors to take the spotlight. The undeniable length and complexity makes this one special and therefore memorable. I’m a fan.
Next up was the 2015 Saint Laurent, Carneros, Ricci Vineyard, Sonoma County. This is a dense wine with an herbal aftertaste. It’s a complex wine that begs you spend more time with it in an effort to understand it better. Smith recommends it be paired with seafood. Oysters, Paella. Salmon were mentioned. I’m thinking Sushi is calling me. There was bright and inviting element in the nose. First sip, I found it plush and oh so soft. Smith said it’s like there are “pajamas on the tannins” which was the perfect description for the pillowy feel with unmistakable mulberry fruit taste often found in a Gamay Noir. The herbal character aftertaste had me already stalling on moving onto the next wine.
Third in the stellar line up was a 2018 Norton, Yolo County, Heringer Estate Vineyard. There are only 500 wineries in the US producing Norton. Why? Well, it’s risqué grape. Smith says ”It needs to just right or it can be kind of stupid” One whiff and you know it’s a unique wine. Rich and soft tannins. Smith remarked that it “smells like blueberry pie down to the crust” I couldn’t agree more....this is comfort wine...dense, soft and delicious. This is the only vineyard in the state of California brave enough to tackle the finicky fruit. Smith just released it and 1/3 is already sold. It was nice of him to still send it to us as only 58 cases were produced. This was my first time tasting Norton. I adored it and it’s now the benchmark for the varietal.
Next up was a 2015 Lake County, Cabernet Franc which was nothing less than remarkable. I’ve been crushing on Cab Franc as of late so this should come as no surprise. A Cab Franc can be challenging on its own, so it usually is not bottled without a buddy to soften it up. This is one is 78% Cab Franc and 22% Merlot, both from the Clear Lake AVA. This one took its sweet time, spending 66 months in aged French oak before making its debut. I experienced thanksgiving spice (rosemary, dark fruit, smoky cinnamon) on the nose with a deep dark cherry with a mineral finish. Smith, who is also a musician paired this wine with Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland turned up. To be even more specific, he also suggests being in the dark with something on fire. I’m thinking a roaring fire bonfire but he really didn’t elaborate.
2014 Mertitage Humboldt County Roman Reserve, Ishi Pishi vineyard. This comes from a family owned/run vineyard with a commitment to organic practices of using no herbicides or pesticides. This is a seductive blend of 61% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec and 3% Can Franc. A blend is where the winemaker becomes a composer of the varietals. I think I’m in love with the symphony. I got lost in this one and had to hustle again to catch up with the tasting.
2017/2018 Petit Manseng, Yolo County, Novavine Nursery Vineyard. Finally a dessert wine that’s delicate, light and dare I say refreshing. Not syrupy but a still addictively sweet. Not what I expected. The aroma is predictably stunning like honeysuckles on a summer day. Smith’s suggestions were paring it with chocolate mousse or strawberry shortcake but I think it’s dessert in a glass and the perfect nightcap.
Want to try the line up?
You can purchase these 6 wines in a Post Modern Sampler. Just go to www.whoisclarksmith.com and click on “Join Clark’s Tribe” to register and save 20% all wine and 36% off cases. Enjoy!
Postmodern Select Six Sampler 6 Pack
Suggested Retail Price $275 Special Offer $175.94 (36% discount)
One bottle each: WineSmith 2017 Sparkling Grenache Blanc de Noirs (Brut Zero), WineSmith 2015 St. Laurent, Carneros, WineSmith 2018 Norton, WIneSmith 2015 Cabernet Franc, WineSmith 2014 Humboldt Meritage, WineSmith Non Vintage Petit Manseng (375 ml)