Since I went higher-end last time and reviewed a wine that was likely too expensive, too uncommon and too mediocre for anyone reading this to ever try it, I thought tonight I would go with a wine that you can find EVERYWHERE and that comes in at under $20 CDN: the Kung Fu Girl Riesling by Charles Smith Wines in Washington State. You’ve probably seen the black and white labels of Charles Smith’s line of value wines, which also include the Velvet Devil Merlot and Boom Boom Syrah, in almost every liquor store you’ve been in over the past few years; I got this one at Superstore Liquorstore for $17. Smith is an icon on the Washington wine scene, partly due to his bizarre background (he was a rock band manager before becoming a winery owner, and still has the hair to prove it), partly because he’s a natural born marketer, and partly because he’s becoming increasingly adept at combining solid quality with value price in a bottle of wine. He has a few Serious Wine labels like his K Vintners production line, which focuses on pricy and top-quality Syrah from some of the best vineyards in the State, but his main focus seems to be on his more budget-conscious lines. This Riesling is actually a single-vineyard bottling (quite surprising at this price — usually cheap wines are blends from multiple vineyards), from the Evergreen Vineyard due west of Spokane in eastern Washington.
I was fully prepared to HATE this wine. I generally distrust huge production outfits with gimmicky cartoon labels, and cheap New World Riesling often ends up being an übersweet disaster. When I buy a wine that looks like it’s packaging first and substance second, it usually ends up being a train wreck. And I didn’t like Kill Bill. So things weren’t looking up for this effort even before I poured my first glass.
Maybe low expectations are the key to PnP success, because the Kung Fu Girl was shockingly solid across the board. It had a very pale straw colour and a slight effervescence which reminded me of my favourite German Rieslings from the Mosel Valley. The nose was crisp, tart and green: Granny Smith apple, grapefruit, lime and grass, as well as an aroma like bath salts, sort of like walking into a spa. The main note on the attack was a clean mineral flavour, which led into waves of vibrant sour apple, pear and grapefruit in the midpalate. The wine was much less sweet than I expected from low-budget, mass-produced, US Riesling — it was actually almost fully dry (i.e. it had almost no residual sugar left) and had potent, cheek-puckering acidity. The one negative about the KFG was that the finish was a bit obscured by the fairly high (for Riesling, anyway) 12.5% alcohol level, which led to a slightly cloying aftertaste. But for a $17, single-vineyard, New World Riesling, I was duly impressed; this is a tremendous value play that I will definitely be buying again, annoying Uma Thurman label notwithstanding.
In fact, there’s probably only one sub-$20 Riesling that I’ve ever liked more than this one: the even-cheaper Dr. L Riesling from Germany’s Dr. Loosen ($15ish CDN, also available everywhere). If you want to have a fun, cheap New World vs. Old World Riesling battle this weekend, spend $30, buy a bottle of Dr. L and a bottle of Kung Fu Girl and square them off. I WILL do this at some point, and you will be among the first to know!
$15 to $20 CDN[Wine Jargon Notes: attack/midpalate/finish = when you taste a wine, the initial taste impression you get is called the attack; the final taste impression as and after you swallow is the finish; everything in between is the midpalate. New World/Old World = Old World wines are those that come from Europe; New World wines are those from non-European locations like the US, Australia, South America, etc.]