Riesling & Steak?

Riesling and steak?

The New York Times thinks so: in Eric Asimov’s column on May 25, 2022, he wrote:

“….For example, a colleague asked me what white wines I would choose with dishes that we ordinarily serve with red wines, like pizza, pasta with cooked tomato sauce or steak. My answer: I’m not sure. Try a white wine you like and see what you think.

That perhaps sounds flippant, but I’m serious. Years ago in Germany, a winemaker demonstrated what he considered a wonderful pairing: a 20-year-old riesling auslese with a steak. It was a delicious combination. The richness of the wine’s texture was intact after 20 years, though most of the sweetness had faded into an umami quality that went unexpectedly well with the beef.

Such successes extend the range of possibilities. Today, I might try a younger dry riesling, something from Alsace or the Wachau region of Austria. The combination might not make magic, but I would learn something valuable even if I didn’t like it.

The lesson of the Auslese experience was clear: Implausible combinations can be good if you have the opportunity to see for yourself. I have since enjoyed Champagne and riesling with pizza, and red wine with oysters— no reason to think that white wines would be disastrous with red sauce…..”

You can find the complete article here:

Our Rosé is back; Spring at Smith-Madrone

We (as in Napa Valley) are back! It’s a wonderful spring and we’re thrilled to be welcoming visitors to Smith-Madrone.

 We are delighted to announce the third release of our Rosé, with the 2021 vintage. We only made 165 cases, so we expect this to fly out of our cellar very quickly.

This is the first wine to be released since the disastrous 2020 harvest season; as you might remember, because of the Glass Fire, we are not releasing any wines from the 2020 vintage.

This is a serious Rosé. A blend of our estate Merlot (33%) and estate Cabernet Franc (67%), cold-fermented in stainless steel—it’s one of a kind in terms of being tasty and distinctive and brazenly pink.

Charlie explains:

What stands out is its ‘fun-quotient.’ It’s just a delightful glass of wine that will pair beautifully with a wide variety of food or be completely delicious by itself.

A continuity of style is already emerging with our Rosé. The first thing you notice is the extravagant, piercing salmon color; it’s so vibrant it’s practically radioactive. It’s a reliable signal that something a little different is going on here. Aromatically the wine leads with what are now the characteristic notes of Rosés, sour cherries and strawberry. Like most great wines this impression is found in the very first sip. The wine comes across as vibrant and lively with an excellent marriage of bright fruit and juicy acidity. The mid-palate is silky and luscious and is anchored by a firm core of minerality. The finish is clean, crisp, flavorful and refreshing.

2021 Rosé

The wine is sourced entirely from our estate vineyards surrounding the winery at elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet from grapes grown from steep slopes which range up to 34%, perched at the very top of the Spring Mountain District AVA.

Buy: $30.00 (750ml)

Just released: 2021 Rosé
2018 Cabernet Sauvignon2018 Chardonnay
As recently reviewed in The Wine Enthusiast95 points: This wine is energetic and distinctive in style, with earthy elements of pencil shavings and clay most pronounced. Balanced and fresh in approach, it provides flavors of currant and black berry around its earthier, more herbal components, which lend balance and elegance to it all.
Buy: $62.00 (750ml)
As recently reviewed in The Santa Rosa Press DemocratAn impressive chardonnay with great minerality and tangy citrus notes that keep its lush flavors in check. Notes of apple, apricot and brioche. Pitch-perfect balance. Extremely well-crafted. 
Buy: $45.00 (750ml)
2017 Riesling2013 Cook’s Flat Reserve
As recently reviewed by James Suckling: 94 pointsA show-stopper! The lovely candied-orange and orange-cream nose leads you into the succulent palate, which has a wonderful combination of vibrancy and concentration, the kind of which you don’t expect from a Californian riesling. The hint of tannin is as well integrated as the racy acidity, and all this pulls together on the powerful, mineral finish. Drink or hold.

Buy: $34.00 (750ml)
As reviewed in International Wine ReviewNamed after George Cook, who planted this 8 acre parcel on the top of Spring Mountain in the 1880s, this is a singular, expressive Cabernet Sauvignon. Showing dark cassis and slate like minerals on the nose, it’s refined and light on its feet in the mouth, yet packed with flavor. An elegant expression of mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Made from a mountain top parcel replanted in 1972.

Buy: $300.00 (750ml)

Please plan to visit if your plans bring you to Napa Valley. Reservations are required, which is easily done on our website. It looks to be a busy summer; please plan your visit ahead of time. There’s nothing like a glass of Smith-Madrone enjoyed at our high-altitude estate at the top of Spring Mountain on a wonderful summer’s day, enjoying the views out over the Valley floor and the expanse of steep vineyards.

Stu and Charlie

2017 Riesling

Wine educator Eric Hiltz at Bin 412 tastes the 2017 Riesling on his Instagram:

Consider me converted.

2017 Smith Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California 12.9%

I’ve long been enamored with the Cabernets(Sauvignon and Franc alike) and Merlots of Spring Mountain where a thin topsoil layer and high elevation above the fog line produces smaller, thicker skinned berries yielding wines of marked intensity, varietal character, structure and age worthiness that in the hands of the right farming and winemaking can also possess freshness and elegance not often seen in this part of the world.

Who would have thought that world class Riesling could grow next to these monumental reds and achieve similar heights?

Enter brothers Stuart and Charles Smith. Stuart purchased the property in 1971 and Charles makes the wine, all from estate fruit on vineyards ranging between 1,300 – 2,000 feet asl on slops as steep as 34%

I’ve been drinking a lot of Riesling lately given my recent bi-annual trips to the Finger Lakes region. I haven’t had anything from the west coast that matches the verve, tension and energy of some of my favorites. Nor have I had any that match the texture and balance of my favorite German examples. This wine changed the game for me.

Substantial weight and density on the nose. Oily, waxy petrol already coming through overtop of soaring florals, crisp apple and some savory herbaceous notes. Medium weight with more stone fruit than citrus flavors on the palate. Amazing texture. The acidity comes in next, not offsetting but accentuating, the seriousness of this wine, pointing to a long life ahead. Simply gorgeous.

I challenge you to give me a $32 bottle of white wine that provides this much immediate enjoyment with the promise of being rewarded with 10-20+ years of patience.

Congrats, vinNebraska!

Smith-Madrone has participated in vinNEBRASKA since it began in 1990. For many years—including this year—Stu has served as the auctioneer.

Over the past thirty years, vinNEBRASKA has raised more than six million dollars for charities including the Ronald McDonald House, Partnership 4 Kids, Easter Seals, Girls Inc., the Omaha Public Library Foundation, Omaha Hearing School for Children, Inc., All Our Kids, KVNO Public Radio, and the Omaha Public Schools Foundation. In 2021, the vinNEBRASKA Dave Deao Memorial Scholarship was established in the culinary arts program at Metropolitan Community College, and offered a full ride scholarship to aid one Nebraska Youth in pursuing a culinary arts degree. Beginning in 2022, vinNEBRASKA is excited to partner with the Stephen Center to help raise money for their important work.

Festivities kick off Friday, April 8 with a sponsor-only The Winemakers’ Reception and Gourmet Dinner at The Omaha Marriott Downtown. Guests will enjoy a multi-course meal paired with various wines per course. Vintners will be seated at each table.

The Public Wine Tasting and Grand Auction takes place on Saturday, April 9 also at the Omaha Marriott Downtown.  A plated dinner is included with the program; this precedes the Grand Auction, with an opulent selection of fine wines, wine lots, and private winery tours/experiences donated by the 20+ nationally and internationally recognized participating wineries.

Only silent auction items are available to buy via online bidding at this link.

Send your generosity-karma to Omaha on April 8 and 9 and wish Stu successful auctioneering!

A profile in Western Springs Neighbors (Illinois)

We were delighted to welcome Nancy Sabatini from Chicago recently. She returned home and here is an article she wrote for the April issue of Western Springs Neighbors. Please stop by and see here at Mainstreet Wine & Spirits!

Budbreak in Napa

Spring is a time of awakening. On a recent trip to Napa Valley the vineyards were busting with buds.  During the winter, a grapevine’s buds are isolated from the vine’s vascular system to protect them from the cold. As the temperatures rise in the spring and the buds are rehydrated, they begin to swell and break through the outer layer of the cane, i.e. bud break.  

The weather plays a huge role in the health of grapevines and the crop they will yield. While no one can predict what Mother Nature will do, grape-growers have some control over how the vines will produce through pruning. The buds that will swell, break free and turn into shoots are left carefully in place by pruners; two buds on each spur. These buds will provide all of the new year’s growth, and eventually its bounty.  

I had the opportunity to get into the vineyards to prune on Spring Mountain with Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery, known for age-worthy, balanced wines that also tend to be released at relatively reasonable price. 

Smith-Madrone is one of Napa Valley’s pioneer estates. It was founded in 1971 by two brothers, Stuart  and Charles Smith, Stu, who sports a greying beard and impressive bushy moustache. As the morning light streams into the ivy-covered barn winery and the sunlight dappled the landscape, the cool morning air was a delight high on Spring Mountain.  

The Smiths are proudly old school in their winemaking philosophy, the age-worthy, balanced wines they make and the informal way they welcome visitors adds to the genuine love they have for the land. The winery is the tasting room and visits are by appointment only. My guides for the day were Stu and his lovely wife Julie Ann. We tasted at a small picnic table outside the winery, discussed wine trends, wine buying habits and I expressed my love for Riesling. We opened the 2017 Riesling to pair with lunch, an Ahi Tuna Poke bowl. This is a zippy, dry, elegant, and refreshing wine – even at five years of age – a straightforward and true approach to the variety while being both sophisticated and very approachable. This Riesling may possibly be my favorite wine from Smith-Madrone, a wine that is rare and very special from the mountains of Napa Valley, with only 8 acres planted in this special pocket of Napa Valley. 

Then onto the meat of the mountain fruit-cabernet sauvignon. Another example of silky, sexy fruit in the glass. There is a freshness to this wine that is appealing and instantly draws you in.  This is a prime example of what a mountain cab should be with its terroir-driven style that screams Smith-Madrone.  The wine is aromatic, structured and complex, with notes of black currant, dried cherries, cocoa, and spice.  The palate is balanced and complex with layers of dark fruit and spice. 

What makes Smith-Madrone so compelling is its authenticity in a glitzy place devoted to image maintenance. After nearly 50 years, this is still a small estate winery whose reds and whites reflect the beliefs of two men who don’t tone down their opinions, whether controversial or not.  

“The kind of Napa Cab that makes you proud”

Wine1percent reviews the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon:


This one’s gonna need a bit of a decant, a fact ridiculously obvious from first sniff. Normally–even with young cabs requiring air–I begin formulating my review–or even writing it–from first pop, but allow things to evolve before solidifying my analysis on paper. But this one. Oh boy. Just clamshell-tight. Which seems odd from a vintage WS gave 99 points, because… well… I don’t have to explain the general *style* of vintages that get 99 points from major mags since about 2000. But this bottle has NONE of the shallow trademarks typically associated with “vintages of the decade”–probably attributable to the way Smith-Madrone MAKE their cabs. The way I like them. Old-skool. So I’ll be back in an hour or so. Don’t click around.

The best thing about sampling cabs like this is feeling their perfection at an almost-un-enjoyable age and projecting the things you KNOW will happen with a decade or more of rest. Dark, dense ruby in the glass–nearly impenetrable and non-staining. Tobacco and wet leaves form a black-tea bouquet headily tinged with damp volcanic and barky smolder. The amber vegetal is sultry and crazed with tender bramble and shy revelations. Crimson bottomless cherry gradually evolves, encrusting all in glorious ripe fruit hiding in the wings.

Tasting it takes you back to the near barrel-sample viscosity of this infant. Sure: you can enjoy it now–many will, probably MOST will–as the perfect balance coats all regions of the palate. Light and piercing on entry, it gathers momentum instantly, hammering the senses with fruit, grip and structure. Blackberry and pomegranate seared with acid, an achingly dry tincture of briary tannin never quite overwhelming the mouthfeel, but powerful enough to cause pause. Mountain-stream cool and refreshing over the middle, green bristles of tannin again presenting a rasp of elegant ire. Not a drip of slutty fruit or alcoholic heat ANYWHERE. And throughout: acerbic berry pounds a mantra of beauty to come. So be patient with this one. This wine will outlive YOU. The kind of Napa Cab that makes you proud: built stunningly perfect without stooping to the lavish early lusts of the Parker set.

Buy two cases; drink one every-other year. Yes, that’s FORTY EIGHT years.

2018 Cabernet rated at 95 points by Wine Enthusiast

In the April 2022 issue of The Wine Enthusiast, the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon receives 95 points:

This wine is energetic and distinctive in style, with earthy elements of pencil shavings and clay most pronounced. Balanced and fresh in approach, it provides flavors of currant and black berry around its earthier, more herbal components, which lend balance and elegance to it all.

Tasting Panel says 2018 Chardonnay is “a gorgeous vintage, glossy and elegant”

In the May issue of The Tasting Panel Magazine, the 2018 Chardonnay is reviewed:

94 points

Dry-farmed fruit off the estate vineyards on top of Spring Mountain is aged nine months in 55% new French oak. Vanilla-nougat and lemon cream are discernible on the palate, with apricot notes in the middle. Leesy and sensual with a vibrancy of star fruit bringing in a crispness. A gorgeous vintage, glossy and elegant.

LifeBetweenTheVines visits

LifeBetweenTheVines sits down to talk to Stu:

Podcast #475 – Stuart Smith, Founder, General Partner Smith-Madrone, Spring Mtn, Napa Valley

FEBRUARY 14, 2022

by Ray Fister

Since the start of this podcast over 13 years ago I’ve interviewed Stu Smith several times. I’ve always enjoyed his candor and humor. He’s a very smart guy. This was one of the most fun and highly educating interviews I’ve done with Stu. I enjoyed every minute. Its also one of the few times we had an “audience” during the recording. Speedy and Lisa Baldwin, were at the winery for a tasting, and sat in on the recording, making for a good time. Stu founded Smith_Madrone 50 years ago. Think about that before you listen. A fantastic accomplishment. Cheers to you, Stu.

Podcast #475 – Stuart Smith, Founder, General Partner Smith-Madrone, Spring Mtn, Napa Valley

Winter is Pruning Season

Pruning season at the vineyard. Is this before or after? See below.

Happy 2022 to all and may it be a great year!

 Not unlike a child’s return to school after a summer vacation, our next vintage starts afresh each year with pruning back last year’s growth from some 27,000 grapevines. Pruning is the start of our next growing season of tending to the vines. It’s one crucial factor in insuring that we produce the best grapes that Mother Nature will give us. 

Here at the winery, we are now in the midst of pruning our vineyard. Over the years we’ve had many questions about pruning. Does it differ from pruning on the Valley floor, when do you prune, why do you prune and is there a right way and a wrong way to prune? Before I give you the quick version of Pruning 101 let me say that one of my joys is pruning our vineyard. No cell phones, no interruptions, the sound of birds, the occasional hot air balloon that floats by and now my 6-month old Springer Spaniel, Tucker, darting around between the vines—it’s what life at a vineyard is all about.  I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, but there’s hardly anything else I’d rather do on a sunny winter’s day. It’s a chance to commune with nature. 

Only after the first hard freeze, which mostly occurs mid-to-late December, do we start pruning. That freeze will kill off the soft and/or immature wood so we don’t mistakenly leave it for next year’s growth.   

We start with our bilateral-cordon-pruned red grapes by hedging back this year’s canes to about 12 inches long. It’s like giving the vines a buzz cut and we call this “pre-pruning” because we’ll come back just before bud break and finish pruning these vines.

Next we move to the Chardonnay and Riesling, which we cane-prune, which means we leave one cane of 10 buds each on each side of the vine. After that pruning is complete, we replace damaged stakes, tighten wires and cross-arms and tie the canes onto the wires.

Cane-pruned chardonnay
Cordon-trained Cabernet Franc that has been “pre-pruned”

Then it’s back to the reds that are cane-pruned in a similar fashion as the (cane pruned) Chardonnay and the Riesling…except that instead of two canes per vine, we leave three and occasionally four canes per vine. When that’s finished, just as we do with the whites, we check stakes, wires and cross-arms.

Why do we divide up the work this way? Unlike whites, red grapes are very susceptible to a fungus called Eutypa whose spores travel during rainfall and seek out the vines’ cut surfaces. We want to be pruning the reds as close to budbreak as possible so the sap that has started flowing will prevent the spores from entering the vines through the pruning wounds.

There are two concepts that overlap one another that a good pruner always keeps in mind. “Prune to vigor” is the first and means if the vine is big and healthy you should leave more budwood (canes and spurs) so the vine can produce more grapes and will thus be “balanced” with the right amount of canes, leaves and fruit. Having too little fruit on a healthy vine is not good for wine quality, just as too much fruit on a weak vine is bad for wine quality. We want more leaves and fewer grapes on a weaker vine to give that vine a chance to recover its energy and become stronger, thus we prune to that vine’s vigor and leave less budwood to balance the vine. Whatever the language, whatever the country, the principal of “prune to vigor” to “balance” the vine is universal.
While pruning isn’t rocket science, it does take time and patience to get the concepts and techniques right. From start to finish, with our crew of five people, pruning takes us from late December through late March. And what happens to those clippings? We chop them up when we mow our cover crop in the spring, returning them to the soil.

Above: Before… Cordon-trained Cabernet Franc that has been “pre-pruned”
Below: After …Cabernet Franc vines after pruning.

Time to Re-Stock?

2017 Riesling
(750 ml):
Buy: $34.00

2018 Chardonnay
(750 ml):
Buy: $45.00

2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
(750 ml):
Buy: $62.00

2016 Riesling
Buy: $125.00

Cook’s Flat Reserve

(750 ml)
Buy: $300.00

Cook’s Flat Reserve
Buy: $500.00

Terrific Trio
(2017 Riesling, 2018 Chardonnay, 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon):
Buy: $136.00

While enjoying your Smith-Madrone wines, here’s a recent profile from International Wine Review you might enjoy.

Also, Charlie discusses our current offerings on video:

Later this year, look for the release of the 2021 Smith-Madrone Rosé!

Best wishes, Stu and Charlie