Raise Your Glass: A Serious Riesling With an Odd Name

Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Kung Fu Girl Riesling

Washington State

2013, $11.99

I find it rewarding when the big national wine magazines write about something that you can actually find on the shelves of a neighborhood store.

In this case, the 2013 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, a serious, dry Washington white wine with an artsy label and a wacky name based on a sword fight scene in a Quentin Tarantino movie, is widely available in the Upper Valley and has been ranked 43rd among Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines, a listing of what the magazine believes are the best wines in the world. In addition, the magazine rated the wine as a 91 on its 100-point scale. The wine also has received 90-plus ratings from the other major beverage magazines.

Wine magazines have been criticized for recommending wines that are not only hard to find, but also vintages that are off the market by the time the recommendations hit the street. Kung Fu Girl is an e xception.

For example, I once took the names of a national magazine’s 40 recommended “affordable wines,” all under $30, to a couple of large stores in Las Vegas, which is a pretty good libation market, and was not able to find a single wine. As far as I know, the magazines’ top wines are to die for, but the frustration was killing me, so I quit trying to follow their leads.

Last week, I gave it one more try after Wine Spectator’s Top 100 came out, a list drawn from a blind tasting of 5,400 wines rated 90 or better. I found two available wines in the $10 range, Kung Fu Girl and Cono Sur Organic Cabernet Sauvignon Camenere from Chil e . I looked for both, and found Kung Fu Girl in several stores on both sides of the river. The Cono Sur is less available but can be ordered: The New Hampshire Liquor Store has it by the case.

I like dry Riesling, and Kung Fu Girl fits that bill with really clean, refreshing and complex layers of flavor. Wine Spectator ’s reviewer Harvey Steiman went more than a couple of steps further with his accolades when he described the Walla Walla Valley Riesling as “crisp and sleek with juicy, expansive nectarine and peach flavors play against the citrusy acidity finishing with zing and a sense of softness that lets the finish keep singing.”

Kung Fu Girl, which is 100 percent Riesling, is produced by Charles Smith Wines. Winemaker Smith is sort of a zany guy, a California native who developed a love for food and wine early in life and enhanced that passion while managing rock bands in Europe, including the Danish duo, The Rav e onettes, and the band Psyched Up Janis, the company website says.

After owning a small wine shop outside of Seattle, Smith, who was broke at the time, was able to borrow $250,000 to start his winery based on the quality of two bottles of wine he had made, according to an October 2014 profile in Wine Spectator. He parlayed the initial loan into a 330-case start-up winery in 1999 that has developed in to a company that now produces more than 500,000 cases a year.

The stocky, 52-year-old self-taught winemaker with shoulder-length blond curls, sports a wardrobe of black rock band T-shirts and jeans. He also rides a Harley. At work, however, Smith is known as a no-nonsense guy, who has used his keen business acumen to build a multi-million dollar company that produces high-quality wines ranging in price from $10 to hundreds per bottle. He made his mark with his company K-Vintners, and he started the brand House Wines, which he later sold. His other labels include Charles Smith, Charles and Charles and five others.

The name for Kung Fu Girl, allegedly came out of an evening when Smith and his label designer and friend Rikke Korlf were drinking German Riesling, eating Thai food and watching the film Kill Bill, said Charles Smith representative Lisa Kaplan in an email.

“At the end on the movie there was a fight scene between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu. Fueled by the Riesling, Charles jumped out of his chair, threw down his Thai food, slammed his hand on the table and exclaimed: ‘Damn it! I’m going to make Riesling. And I am going to call it f***ing Kung Fu Girl.’ And a leg end was born.”

Smith, who admits that he’s prone to expletives, says on a video on his website that Kung Fu Girl is a tribute to Riesling and a recognition “that girls k ick ass.”

Kung Fu Girl comes from a single vineyard and benefits from the chalky gravel soils that give the wine its mineral flavors, high acidity and hint of sweetness, Smith says.

I’m a little snobbish, I suppose, about labels that don’t convey a serious wine, the ones with comic animals, for instance, but Charles Smith is all about having fun with wine and “drinking it.”

He’s spot on about Kung Fu Girl. Check it out with grilled salmon or grilled meats.

S uggestions for wines under $10 are always appreciated.

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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