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“A masterpiece of winemaking and terroir-driven distinction,” says Cuvee Corner

June 21, 2017

June 20, 2017: Bill Eyer at Cuvee Corner takes a look at the wines:


“You can crash my car, You can strip my break, You can make me holler, But don’t forget to make me shake” ~ Les Paul and Friends, Beth Hart

There’s no doubt I’m a fan of substance, soul, and terroir driven wines. There’s also no doubt that I’m a huge fan of the blues. Beth Hart delivers a performance that will not only make you holler, it will also make you shake. I’m also a big fan of mountain wines from the Napa Valley, like the two pictured above from the Spring Mountain District. I’ve been wanting to sample Smith-Madrone for quite some time now, since the day when I was the Wine Steward for the Vons in La Jolla, continuing to offer this wine to the customer base I built.

Smith-Madrone, founded in the early seventies, is a small production winery, making just about 4000 cases or so each year. As pioneers of dry-farming, all wines produced are estate grown and are estate bottled. SM is a 200-acre ranch in the Spring Mountain District. They can be found in the Saint Helena zip code, in the Spring Mountain District, with vineyards found at elevations of 1300 feet and 2000 feet. All tasting are by appointment only and are limited to just a few folks each available day, tours are hosted by a member of the Smith family. Their wines can be purchased via DTC, they’re found in a few select top tier wine shops, and chain stores via their distributor Maddalena Vineyard Brands. I’ll have to visit the next time I’m in town, it looks amazing.

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014: The vines are grown on Eastern exposures, honoring the international steep slope tradition. The age of the vines is 42 years, very mature, giving outstanding depth and complexity, in my opinion, not achievable by vines in their early leaf years. A wine that is found widely in distribution, all along the west coast in chain stores, with an upper price range, most consumers are not willing to splurge to obtain. I found the color in the glass to be light, slightly greenish to yellow hay, clear clarity. The aromas were aromatic and delivered the classic Riesling characteristics. A good amount of petrol, a bit carbonated, stone fruits like apricot, lime rind, wet stone, and white peach flesh. The taste was a bit off-dry, tho the acidity was crisp, the body was medium and the tannins were moderate, well-integrated. On the palate, kiwi slices, grated lime rind, wet stone minerality, stone fruits, apricot, peach, and nectarine. The finish was long and persistent. I could recommend this wine, especially those seeking to pair this wine with spicy cuisines, like Thai food. This wine is recommended, my score, 90 points.

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: The Cabernet Sauvignon vines are grown across southern and western exposures, 1800 foot elevation, 40 plus-year-old vines. This wine sporting a left-bank blend, 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and the balance is Merlot. In a few words, this wine is a masterpiece of winemaking and terroir-driven distinction. Solidly a wine you could lay down for the long-term, but immediate enjoyment is within reach, with just a few years in the bottle. You really can’t wine much better than this, and their 2013 effort is rock solid great. This wine is one spectacular ride to tasty town; one where you’ll be quite sad once the last drop has fallen from the bottle.

Even though this bottle I had sampled this wine over a couple of days, [then spit] had been opened the day before, but was never decanted, however, I’d recommend decanting to fully enjoy all this wine’s generous charms. Soul and substance in spades. Nothing but silk, lush but not ripe, structured but not rigid, this wine is like a painting, it takes time for it to evolve in the glass. It could still easily go another 10 years if you wanted to lay it down for a few more years. This wine had unbelievable depth and elegance, like so few wines, do. The finish is long and lasting. So yes, in this case, this wine is well worth the price of admission. This wine is highly recommended, my score is 94 points.

The next time you find yourself in the Napa Valley, you should make a point to discover the wonderful Mountain appellations like Spring Mountain, and their neighboring Diamond Mountain and of course what would a mountain-top experience be like without making an appointment with a few producers on Howell Mountain as well. Once you visit of any these AVA’s you may find it hard to go back to the wineries who simply dwell in the valley. Until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!



“Mind-bogglingly good…”

June 19, 2017

SoifKnows tastes the 2013 Cabernet:

One whiff of this and I knew I was in old-school territory.  Creamy mountain conifer, madrone and eucalyptus. Loamy red soil and mint.  An apple core–browning–and worn gloves in the cab of a truck unfit for town many years ago.  Deep cherry and pomegranate roll off in clouds of tapenade and horse-hair with a clear, steely breeze these mountain appellations pack in so effortlessly.  Fresh and alive, I nailed it at 14-2, the bright brilliance of such numbers complementing and caressing the rich ripe underpinnings of a wine mind-bogglingly good, palate-stimulating, and effortless to drink at the same time. Spring Mountain–tiny as it is–represents AGAIN… as I have found them to do over and over.




95 points for Cab in August Wine & Spirits

June 16, 2017

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was reviewed in the August issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine:

95 points

The Smith brothers hit a home run with their 2013, their mountaintop vines producing a cabernet that rises far above the grapey purple fruit and chocolate-oak richness of so many wines of the vintage. Instead, it tastes like freshly picked raspberries, their bright flavor structured by mountain-grown grape-skin tannins. There’s a pear-like shape to the wine, plump and delicious as it fills the mouth with flavor. Here’s a Napa Valley cabernet to make you smile, whether you open it now or any time over the next ten years.

2014 Riesling is ‘superb,’ says Dan Berger

June 15, 2017

Dan Berger reviewed the 2014 Riesling in the June 13 issue of his Vintage Experiences:

The aroma of orange blossoms and a faint trace of earthy/TDN give this superb wine an off-dry impression, as does the entry because the wine is so rich, and has a trace of sugar. But the wine is relatively dry since the acid level is so perfectly suited for the intensity. Sensational with Thai cuisine.

Cabernet & Riesling are the ‘real deal’

June 14, 2017

Rich Cook at WineReviewOnline considers the Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling:

95 points: Classic Cabernet from masters of the art, and priced way under its competition.  Blackberry, cassis, dried herbs and hints of pepper and clove are already clear in aroma and flavor profiles, and serious backbone promises to make for graceful aging — much like its makers.

94 points: Smith-Madrone sticks with their Riesling planting because they love what it does, and you should love it as well.  Pay no mind to the California Riesling haters — this is the real deal, delivering fresh pear, stonefruit, white flowers and mixed citrus in a crisp, dry, refreshing package that will make you wonder why every California winery isn’t making and promoting Riesling.  Those in the know can tell you that dry Riesling goes with just about anything at the table — and that it ages well.  Cheers to the Smith brothers for ignoring alleged market trends and continuing to make this stellar wine.

34 Rieslings in a room in Washington D.C….

June 10, 2017

Our congratulations to Aaron Menenberg & friends for putting on “A GRAND American Riesling Tasting.” Here is part of Aaron’s recap, more at the link:

by Aaron Menenberg, June 9, 2017

Major reasons for the miserable commercial demand for riesling in the United States include, but are not limited to, the following myths:

  1. Riesling is too sweet. Sorry, but this is just a lazy myth. Yes, many Rieslings, especially those under the $10 price point, are stupid sweet. However, most riesling isn’t too sweet; you just have to try more of it.
  2. Riesling is sweet: Also a big myth, though slightly less lazy. Yes, much of the riesling on America’s shelves are sweet, but not all. It’s not a lazy myth because the labeling on many rieslings doesn’t indicate the sweetness of the wine, which is an industry fault. Still, shop at a dedicated wine store and the staff will be able to guide you to your desired level of residual sugar. Also, think you don’t like sweet riesling? Try it with foods that are rich, savory and salty to experience the brilliance of a little residual sugar in your wine; there’s hardly a better food-wine pairing.
  3. Riesling only pairs with vegetables and white protein. Ha, don’t even. Riesling is the most versatile food pairing grape alive and goes well with other colors of protein. Don’t believe me? Well-aged dry riesling hits gets rich and intensely nutty, and is a great pairing with red meat. Further, unless you’re eating a naked steak, it’s the sauce on the meat that should be the target of the wine pairing, and there’s a riesling for any sauce likely to be poured over red meat.

If you believe one of these myths, it’s time to prove yourself wrong. Keep reading. If you love riesling, keep reading. If you love wine, yeah, keep reading.

“Epic” is an appropriate way to describe our grand American riesling tasting. It all started when my friend and Terroirist blogger Isaac Baker submitted over Twitter that Smith-Madrone Winery in California makes the best American riesling. It’s a legitimate candidate for the title. I’ve reviewed the wine (and the winery) myself and I couldn’t think of a better suggestion, which got us thinking: how well do we really know domestic riesling? The answer was something like ‘not well enough to make that judgment,’ so we decided to become better informed. What followed was a month-long effort to collect samples from around the country that netted thirty-four bottles from eighteen of the best riesling producers we knew. Last weekend, we tried them all.

Before I get to the wine and the tasting, let’s discuss the status of riesling in America for a moment. The major headline is that demand for riesling is weak. According to the 2017 State of the Wine Industry report from Silicon Valley Bank (an important annual industry study), “demand for premium wine has been healthy, especially for cabernet, red blends, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and pinot noir. Merlot, syrah, riesling and zinfandel haven’t seen the same degree of consumer demand, and the varietals have struggled.” A 2015 Nielson report showed that riesling was the only grape varietal with negative growth in the US market in terms of volume sold. Early this year, Wine Folly predicted that riesling “will tank,” arguing that while it “has had its chances [with] several waves of interest between 2011 – 2015 [and has] plateaued,” “you only get so many chances. It’s not you Riesling, it’s us.” I could list more statistics, but they all tell the same basic story: Americans don’t buy much riesling.

The ‘it’s not you, it’s us’ line sums up my diagnoses of America’s perception of riesling. Riesling is a wine geek’s wine. It’ reflects terroir like no other, and since it does well in many, many climates and is therefore grown all around the world, we can experience a lot of different terroir through the lens of one grape. Further, it ranges from bone dry to very sweet, which makes it even more diverse a grape to explore, especially with food (wine pairing: one of the most passionate interests of a wine geek). These factors combine to make riesling exponentially interesting to people who like to pay close attention to their wine, which makes riesling’s commercial struggles all the more frustrating because it puts an artificial ceiling the amount of production by providing a lot of financial disincentive for wineries to produce the grape, let alone put a lot of effort into it.

It is fitting that Smith-Madrone was the inspiration of the tasting as its owner and winemaker, Stu Smith, is an outspoken proponent of the grape who makes it despite the difficulty he has selling it because he believes so fundamentally in its importance and worth as a varietal that speaks to the very best of what wine can be. In addition to myself and Isaac, our tasting panel included other riesling lovers who we felt would understand why we were doing the tasting and enjoy the experience: Washington Post wine writer Dave McIntye, wine consultant Alison Smith Marriot, and two serious oenophiles/drinking buddies of mine. And then we had a special guest…Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery!

Stu and his wife, Julie Ann, were in town for their daughter Charlotte’s high school graduation (congratulations Charlotte!) and were able to swing by about fifteen wines into the tasting, though Stu was able to catch up to the group by the end. It was a real pleasure to have Stu and Julie Ann join us in an effort to further appreciation of the grape Stu seems to feel the most passionate about. The wines were tasted blind in a randomized order and, knowing that his wine was the impetus for the tasting, the unveiling of his wine as a consensus top-3 pick came as what I would imagine was at least a little relief, though who were any of us, really, to pass judgment on the wine of a Napa icon? More than anything, I (and I imagine the rest of the group) am just thankful Stu continues to prioritize a high quality riesling given the lowly demand for it.

The thirty-four wineries represented were scattered across California, New York, Oregon and Washington State, America’s four largest wine producing states, and came from many of the most respected riesling producers in the country. The largest contingent came from New York, the region whose reputation is probably most dominated by riesling. Though Washington used be known as the riesling state and still produces more of the grape than New York, it’s far less a signature grape for Washington than it is for New York at this point…..The wines ranged from syrupy sweet to bone dry, and, despite the reputable producers on-hand, we were surprised to find no dud among the cohort (though each of the tasters found at least one wine they didn’t care for), which spoke to the effort the wineries put into the commercially struggling varietal. If you’re a riesling lover, and/or want to ensure America keeps making high quality riesling, and/or want to become a riesling lover, buy from those on the list below.

These wines form a great shopping list for another reason as well: a major takeaway from the tasting was that while the riesling market isn’t doing well in America, America’s rieslings are in very good shape quality-wise. We threw a few imported ringers into the blind tasting from highly respected German, Australian and French producers, and while they tended to show up among many of the tasters’ favorites, none stood out as clearly better than the American wines nor did any of them dominate the discussion of consensus favorites. This truly was a Tour de Force showing from the red, white and blue.

With so many wines to taste, I didn’t score them beyond rating each one on a 1 to 5 star (asterisk) scale. I’m including my tasting notes below, but want to call out seven wines that really captured my attention. Washington’s Rasa Vineyards gave me the only five-star wine of the evening with their 2013 The Composer. This gorgeous wine has enough bottle age on it to have developed some secondary notes, but it has the legs to develop tertiary ones as well. Their 2011 The Lyricist was also fantastic, receiving 4.5 stars (the equivalent of “****(*)” as you’ll find below). Close behind Rasa was Stu Smith’s 2014 Smith-Madrone, the inspiration for this event. Fellow Californian Chateau Montelena’s 2015 Potter Valley is a real achievement as well. Chehalem’s 2014 Corral Creek Vineyard offered the best schnoz of the lineup and some very diverse flavors, and was my favorite of the offerings from Oregon. Fox Run’s 2012 Lake Dana, with its perfect play between fruit, Earth and Spice, and Hermann J. Wiemer 2014’s HJW, with its awesome profile of spice, sweet fruit and bitter banana, demonstrated that New York is producing exceptional riesling.

A major, major thanks to the wineries who supplied the samples, not only for making this event possible but for taking a risk by producing them in the first place. There isn’t a riesling in this lineup that I would discourage anyone from trying. We were quite lucky to have had this experience, and I hope it lights a fire under a few butts to dive deep into American riesling. For more coverage of the tasting, and likely some differing thoughts on the wines, head over to Terroirist and check out what Isaac Baker has to say.


2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling (CA) – reticent nose but a compelling palate with streaky flint and slate, dandelion and orange zest held together by perfectly balanced acid and weight. It just needs more time in the cellar to bring that nose to bear and fully develop. ****(*)

and more….


2013 Cabernet has ‘great structure and finesse’

June 8, 2017

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the “Tasting Alternatives” in the Wine of the Week column in the May 29, 2017 Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

★★★★: This is a cab with great structure and finesse. Notes of black cherry, cassis and herbs. Its bright acid keeps its rich fruit in check. Ripe tannins. Lovely.