Uncorking the rare and unique
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:44 PM
"Charles Smith couldn't decide whether to be a European or an American. He has resolved that conflict by bringing the taste and feel of Europe to the Winslow Wine Shop, which he opened March 3.I've tried to incorporate the feeling of all my favorite shops in Europe - cozy, comfortable and relaxed, Smith said.Early indications are that the concept is a hit. Business is real good, he said. People seem to love my shop.Smith took over the small shop on the ground floor of the Winslow Mall in February, and remodeled it extensively. The European feel comes from the century-old French farm table, the Spanish bleu cheese wrapped in grape leaves, and the antique Danish bowl of crackers.I lived in Copenhagen for 10 years, Smith said. It's a big city, but it had a small-town, community feel to it. You knew your grocer, your butcher and your wine merchant. Bainbridge has the same kind of feel to it.Smith carries some 450 different wines in the store, all of which he has personally tasted.And for every wine in the store, I've probably tasted four that I don't buy, he said.Smith grew up in Loomis, a small California town in the Sierra foothills. He gained his knowledge of wine at restaurants in California's Napa Valley, and as the sommelier for the West Coast Ritz-Carlton hotels.But it was music, not wine, that took him to Denmark. Smith built an independent record label, Regal Zonophone, that focuses on Scandanavian artists. He is still active with that enterprise.I had to make a decision whether to stay in Europe or come back to the United States, Smith said. I had spent some time in the northwest, so I came back to Seattle, and promised myself I would stay a year in the United States. I'd always had a romantic notion of Bainbridge Island, and some friends persuaded me to come and look.It's a big change from Copenhagen, but I couldn't imagine myself being anywhere else in the United States.Smith doesn't just sell wines, he offers daily tastings of three or four wines that he has selected. This week, the wines for sampling include a California pinot noir, a German riesling, and a red lemberger from the Yakima Valley. All are priced under $20.My tastings are discoveries, he said. I want to introduce people to something new. The tasting wines are also outstanding values.Smith said he selects wines that embody their place of origin.I want wines with an attitude or distinctive personality that typify where they are from, he said.And on that score, he gives high marks to the wines from the Bainbridge Island Winery.They are very good wines, and they taste like they are made here, he said.As an essentially one-person operation, Smith emphasizes service and personal relationships. My sign says, 'Wine tastings daily. I promise,' he says. I am the guy who promises - not a company, but me.The shop is open daily except Monday. Hours are 11-6 Tuesday through Saturday, and 11-5 Sunday, and other times by appointment."