Wine Review: 2013 Kung Fu Girl Riesling

24 02 2015
Third time's the charm?

Third time’s the charm?

This is the first review that I’ve written in a long time just because I want to – no tastings on which to report or samples to analyze, no obligations or deadlines, just me and a good bottle from the cellar.  If you know me at all, you would probably think that this would lead to a write-up about Riesling or about Washington State.  So…Washington State Riesling, anyone?

But not just any Washington State Riesling – THE Washington State Riesling.  This bottle is as close to a sure thing as you can find in the world of wine, especially the portion of that world that you can find at Costco or Superstore.  I have been buying (and gulping down) Kung Fu Girl Riesling for years and singing its praises for almost as long; it’s no coincidence that this wine now becomes the very first bottle to be reviewed on Pop & Pour in THREE different vintages, following the 2010 in April 2011 and the 2011 in July 2012.  Like its predecessors, the ’13 Kung Fu Girl is produced by Washington wine visionary (and Sammy Hagar lookalike) Charles Smith from one of Washington State’s northernmost vineyard sites, the Evergreen Vineyard.  This is one of North America’s top sites for Riesling, a large, cool climate and elevated vineyard in a zone that is in the process of becoming its very own brand new AVA, the Ancient Lakes region.  Unlike the desert that forms the bulk of Washington State’s wine scene, Evergreen and the Ancient Lakes are a perfect spot for growing crisp, balanced Riesling.

The fun part about having drunk dozens of bottles of Kung Fu Girl over the years is that it makes it possible for me to start picking out differences between the vintages.  On this bottle, that started with the colour:  the 2013 KFG seemed to be a deeper, brighter lemon hue than past years, which were paler and had a greenish tinge.  The nose was both similar and different, with the prevailing mineral elements I remembered from before (crushed rocks, bath salts, rain on pavement), slightly more distant and muted fruit (chilled lemon meringue pie, crystallized pineapple) and a whole new aroma twist of star anise and peppermint that forged exciting new Riesling territory for me.

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The real change from my last Kung Fu experience was on the palate, which struck me both as riper and a touch drier than the last KFGs I opened, an impression supported by the 12% abv, a full degree higher than the 2011.  There was definitely still a sweetness to the Riesling, but it was richer, rounder and less racy than I remember.  When Riesling gets riper you usually see the fruit flavours evolve from citrus and orchard fruits like lemon/apple/pear to stone fruits like peach/apricot all the way up to the full slate of tropical fruit, mango and pineapple and guava.  In this case the fruit stayed in the first, most austere category, but it took that group as ripe as it could go:  baked golden apple, Meyer lemon, key lime.  There was a clear spiciness to the wine that was unique to this vintage, a mix of sweet cinnamon and five spice and black pepper.  It was also distinctly salty, something that Nik Weis of St. Urbans-Hof in Germany calls off-dry Riesling’s “margarita effect” – and if you can echo the philosophical flavour musings of the Mosel Valley in a bottle of $17 Washington Riesling, you’re doing OK.  The acid on the KFG hits like a lightning flash just as you swallow, chiselling structure into the wine just as it disappears.

Stelvin Rating:  1/10 (Plain black screwtops should simply be outlawed.)

Stelvin Rating: 1/10 (Plain black screwtops should simply be outlawed.)

There is an interesting contrast here between the chilly, almost icy nose of this Riesling and its warm, generous palate.  It’s even more interesting, and (for wine geeks, at least) exciting, to see clear vintage variation in a large production supermarket wine.  Usually when a winery makes 130,000 cases of $17 anything, the goal is to make it taste EXACTLY THE SAME year over year, batch over batch, which can lead to manipulation during winemaking to smooth out inevitable differences in the grapes of each harvest.  Not so here:  you really get the sense that Charles Smith has, to some extent at least, taken what nature gives him every year and put that into the bottle rather than force-feeding some KFG ideal to grapes that may or may not be suited for it.  From a personal perspective, I think I prefer the 2011’s lighter, defter, sharper KFG to this one, but I like even more that the 2013 isn’t the 2011 and doesn’t try to be.

88+ points

$15 to $20 CDN

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One response

25 02 2015
d d b

All hail Riesling !

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