The tale behind the label on the Kung Fu Girl Riesling says a lot about Charles Smith Wineries. Not the wine in the bottle mind you, I do mean the label because the story tells us a little bit about the mindset of winery owner, Charles Smith — Make wine approachable.
So the Kung Fu Girl Riesling. The way the story was told to me, Smith and some cohorts, were home noshing on Thai food and watching “Kill Bill.” I’m told they decided they needed a wine to go with the take out. A wine that ‘kicks butt’ just like Lucy Liu, who played in the film. So a label design and a wine pairing idea were born. This is a story about wine pairings, but put away your fear of managing an intimidating confrontation with a sommelier (with apologies to sommeliers) matching foods and wines you can’t afford. We’re talking food truck and take out orders. Consider this – the first wine produced by Charles Smith vineyards in the Seattle area was the K Syrah. As in “what ever will be will be.” Coincidence?
Texas Lifestyle Magazine was offered the challenge to test the theory, that you can indeed have a tasty wine to go with a meal in the comfort of your own home, whether food truck or take out. As Smith tells us, “It’s no longer about studying the nuances and understanding it – it’s not a Rubik’s Cube.” Always up for a challenge, and a glass of wine, I invited over a few friends and tossed the Charles Smith folks a menagerie of culinary selections. We’d be ordering from our family’s frequent favorite Torchy’s Tacos, NXNW and Garbo’s, which serves Maine lobster rolls. Full disclosure Charles Smith Wines did provide not only the pairing suggestions but also all the bottles for our taste test. At the end of the night we’d either have perfectly paired vino and munchies, or be reaching for a Tums.
The cast of characters: Matt and Amy Chapman, friends from next door, my husband Greg and myself. Immediately I knew I’d gone wrong. We had too much food for four people and more than enough wine. But Amy calmed my worry about their culinary comfort and the wine pairs saying, “You don’t have to know. They’re going to do it for you.”
Our “first course” came from Torchy’s Tacos. I’d ordered two types of tacos, The Democrat and The Republican. This after all was going to be a bipartisan taste test. We started with the Republican (for no particular reason) which features grilled jalapeno sausage, cheese and pico de gallo. Charles Smith’s folks suggested the aforementioned Riesling. “The sausage is very spicy,’ said Matt. “The wine complements… offsets the spice.” Yes, the wine, “cuts the spice,” agreed Amy. First pairing success. With the Democrat, shredded beef taco with avocado, we opened a Charles Smith Velvet Devil Merlot and tossed around swanky terms like “smooth” and “un-intrusive” with reminders to each other to “sip so we don’t lose the taco flavor.” Matt dubbed it “tasty” saying, “it’s a subtle taco…the wine doesn’t overpower the food.” Overall we agreed with Matt as he pointed out, “It’s an odd pairing, Torchy’s Tacos with wine.” Greg added, “But it worked!” Point for Charles Smith. Score one for non-stuffy take out food and pairing the right wine to enhance the meal.
Chatting with Smith, he explains all that in plain terms, “It’s fine to stick with what you know and what you like, but what’s the harm in trying something new? Wine is about discovery. It’s not about just trying something you’ve had before.”
So onto the “main” course, which came from NXNW in north Austin. We picked up the Sirloin Salad and Chicken Penne Pasta. The salad with beef and spinach, we were told, would pair nicely with Wines of Substance Cabernet Sauvignon. For the Chicken and pasta dish, the K. Vintners Viognier. We loved the Viognier with the pasta, the Cabernet got mixed reviews, but isn’t that part of the fun? Of the Viognier we again tossed our best wine terms like “grassy fruity smell,” and “nice finish.” It did indeed complement the food. Not to over share but we enjoyed it so much we found ourselves Google searching to perfect pronunciation and learn a bit more about a Viognier. Seems Charles would tell us that’s just the point. We decided the Cabernet might have gotten a bum rap as the heavy meat was a bit much for a summer evening and the dressing was a tad sweet. Again Matt summed up the lesson of the evening, through a mouth full of food, “Let’s not get too sophisticated. Do you like it?”
Smith says, “There are so many good value wines between $12 and $20,” that you can’t really go wrong with your own pairings. “That’s the sweet spot,” he says, “where you can experiment and try with different foods to have an even better dining experience – even if you are just eating from a “to go” box on your couch.” Okay, so most of us don’t generally have an actual winemaker offer custom pairings so we asked Smith for guidance. Here, in his own words, we’ll call it Wine Pairing 101. His first tip: “It’s wine, just drink it.”
Bold flavors need bold wine: Big flavors deserve a wine that can stand up and complement it.
Balance richness: Cut through the richness with something lush. Balance a decadent dish, sweet or savory, with a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio.
Cool down spice: when having something spicy, or with a large mix of flavors, tame it down with something clean and fresh. Riesling will likely do the trick.
Look for cues on the bottle: the name and words on the label should tell you what’s inside. Reading the label will help tell you what it pairs with.
Match your cuisine to your wine: If you’re having pizza, drink an Italian wine. The cuisine of the country probably goes really well with its wine.
As for my own evening hosting take out and wine, time for another confession. We thought we’d wrap the night with lobster rolls and oysters from Garbo’s, but erp, I did indeed bite off more than the four of us could literally chew. The Sixto Rosa Hills Chardonnay paired with lobster and the Vino Pino Grigio with the raw oysters would have to chill a little longer. Beyond that the evening’s pairings were for the most part perfect; enhancing and accompanying. As far as the Charles Smith wine brand, Smith speaks of looking for clues on the labels; the bottle of Kung Fu Riesling offers just the example he means. It, like the wine inside, is approachable. Smith bottles under several labels, like the K wines, Wines of Substance and Sixto mentioned above. For one last thought – speaking of approachable – his wines are indeed hand picked and foot stomped.