Monday, June 23, 2008

Meeting Clark Smith - June 16, 2008

A lot has been written about Clark Smith, from what I could gather from the press pack I was given about this man and his wines. Usually, you get one or two brief articles about a winery or winemaker; in this pack there were four extensive pieces about this guy, his theories, philosophies and ideas about winemaking. If you’re interested look him up, he’s quite a polarizing figure who speaks his mind and speaks from the heart. Some might even say he lacks a “social filter” (the one that stops you from saying whatever comes to mind at any given time); but as one who has also been known to suffer from this “ailment”, I found him refreshing and fun. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about.

He told us (all assembled) that he does not sell his wines in California, “because California is an ignorant wine market.” Instead he prefers to sell his wines in New York, a “hipper” market. He says it’s because California is “always looking for the next impact wine.” He equated it to the difference between being ‘hip’ and being ‘cool’. New York being hip; California thinking it is cool. This kind of talk doesn’t make him popular in his home state; hence I can see why he doesn’t sell much of his wine there.

He casually called most California Chardonnays (the ones he referred to as “typical”) “oaky-toasty-butter bombs”, (and truthfully he isn’t wrong) – he said this as he was introducing us to his “Faux Chablis”, a mineral driven sipper with good fruit and hay-earthy notes, mainly on the nose, it also had a great long finish.

A believer in aging Rosé till they hit perfection, Clark found it hard to sell his few-year-old pink wines: “they need a few years to develop that great colour,” he said. The public believes that pink has to be fresh vinted (within a year or so of the date on the bottle) – he referred to vintage dates as “expiry dates to the wine buyer”. He got around his dilemma by non-vintage dating his Skinflint Dry Rosé, a blend of the Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc). It had typical strawberry and raspberry notes, along with some of those minerals and hay notes found in the Chardonnay/Chablis.

While I enjoyed the above two wines, I really took a shine to the “Miser” Meritage and Winesmith Cabernet Sauvignon; both had very inviting noses. The Meritage was black fruit, herbal and pencil shaving-ish; while the Cabernet Sauvignon was a red and black fruit mix. In the mouth, the Meritage proved to be more complex, while the Cab Sauv was a simple sipper. But both were excellent and seemingly well priced (approximate retail value: Meritage $15 and Cab Sauv $23); let’s hope we see some of these wines on this side of the border.

Clark finished his talk with a music demonstration – discussing how music can make certain wines taste better. I didn’t agree with his choices. He contended that a specific piece of music makes a particular wine taste better. Now in truth I do believe environment affects your enjoyment of a wine, be it the movie you are watching, music you are listening to, company you keep, mood you are in, where you are … environment and situation can make the worst wine taste better and the best wine taste like vinegar. But whether the Doors “People are Strange” (as Clark suggests) makes a Cabernet Franc taste better than a Cabernet Sauvignon – I’ll leave that up to you. Might I suggest just inviting good friends over and popping the cork on whatever you so desire … I’m sure the mood will take care of your appreciation.

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