We’re honored to be recommended as a Napa Cabernet to be included in The Times’ Wine School. Read on:
Your Next Lesson: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine School, by Eric Asimov, The New York Times, February 26, 2016
Wine School by Eric Asimov
In the first full year of Wine School, we’ve focused entirely on the fundamental types of wine that have served as a foundation for producers around the world. Now, for the first time, we’ll examine a reinterpretation of one of those elemental styles as we take up Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Napa cabernet, of course, was inspired by great Bordeaux, specifically the wines of the Medoc. The pioneers of the style, like John Daniel of Inglenook, Beaulieu Vineyards and the Mondavi family, wanted to make red wines that could stand with the greatest reds in the world. For them, that meant Bordeaux.
Yet good Napa cabernet has never been a slavish copy of Bordeaux. For one thing, the nomenclature is essentially different. Bordeaux is defined by the place in which the grapes are grown; Napa by the dominant grape in the wine. In the Médoc, the wines are almost invariably a blend. Cabernet was historically the leading grape, supplemented primarily with merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. But only rarely would cabernet sauvignon make up 75 percent of the blend, as is required nowadays in California if you want to call a wine cabernet sauvignon.
While most cabernets are in fact cabernet-dominated blends in the Napa Valley, it’s not unusual to find wines that are 100 percent cabernet, which you would never see in Bordeaux. In the last 20 years, many Napa Valley cabernets have also deviated from the classically austere Médoc model, pursuing a style defined by power, impact and exuberant fruit flavors. It’s a divisive style with many admirers. I’m not one of them, so I’ve chosen bottles that I hope will represent the more classic Napa style.
The three bottles I recommend are:
Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown $50
Philip Togni Napa Valley “Tanbark Hill” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $55
Ramey Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $55
Eric Asimov, The New York Times wine critic, is talking about Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon this month. If you would like to join the conversation, try one of the bottles listed here and as you try them, ask yourself these questions.
Aroma: Sweet fruit? Savory? Something else?
Accessibility: Cabernet sauvignon historically required a great deal of aging. These are young. Are they enjoyable now?
Food: The more powerful cabernets can overwhelm food. What about these?
Yes, these wines are expensive. Yes, you no doubt can find cheaper alternatives, though many of them are one-offs, remainders or wines that simply won’t demonstrate the characteristics of a representative Napa cabernet. The sad fact is, good Napa cabernet for less than $50 is hard to come by.
If you are able to make the investment but can’t find any of these bottles, I highly recommend wines from Smith-Madrone, Heitz Cellar, Chateau Montelena, Volker Eisele, Dyer Vineyard, Sinsky, Corison, Napanook, Mayacamas and, if you don’t mind spending even more, Spottswoode and Dominus.
If Napa cabernet seems to have become the official wine of American steakhouses, it’s not without reason. These wines demand rich, fatty meats, simply prepared. Lamb is especially good, as are various beef roasts.
In writing about wines to try this year in his syndicated column, Fred Tasker suggests the 2013 Riesling:
Highly recommended: light and lively, very dry, with aromas and flavors of ripe peaches, green melons and minerals; many consider riesling the world’s noblest grape; Americans just don’t know much about it.
Stu will be ‘headlining’ at The Capitol Hill Club in Washington D.C. for a dinner on February 26.
Mushroom bisque and more….Members only, unfortunately.
TAKING IT EASY WITH SMITH-MADRONE
By Michelle Williams, Rockin Red blog, January 19, 2015
Better late than never; isn’t that what they say. In late fall I received a sample shipments of three wines from Smith-Madrone. I actually did not realize it was that long ago until I recovered the information sent with the wines. Wow, time flies! Through my own lack of diligence these wines ended up behind other samples I have received in the past few months. I began in mid-December and continue to work through a large gathering of wonderful wine media samples I have been trusted to taste and review. I wish I could say I was “aging” these wines from Smith-Madrone but truthfully, I just simply had not made it through the sample pile, till now! You know “Good things come to those who wait!” Good indeed! Thank you Smith-Madrone for sharing your outstanding wines with me!
Now it is January and for me that means getting my healthy eating back on track. I am not one for “dry” January, but I do scale back a bit, try to eat pretty clean, exercise harder, drink lots of water; you know the routine, you may even be doing it too. Therefore, January provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate high quality wine pairs very well with simply, healthy meals just as well as it does more elaborate dinners.
Smith-Madrone 2013 Riesling: This wine poured a soft golden yellow in the glass and opened with beautiful aromas of stone fruit, tropical fruit, crisp minerality and a touch of fresh cut grass. On the palate this beautifully balanced dry Riesling delivered round flavors of apricot, peach, Asian pear, Korean melon, with a touch of honey, all layered on top of a firm minerality foundation. It was crisp, smooth and just the right amount of dryness to make my mouth water upon swallowing. It had a lingering finish and full mouth-feel. I am a HUGE Riesling lover and this was a good Riesling! This 100% Riesling was made from 41 year old vines in Napa Valley in the Spring Mountain District by brothers Charles and Stuart Smith. It contained 12.6% alcohol; 1288 cases produced. SRP $27; order direct from Smith-Madrone. I recommend this wine!
Riesling is the most versatile food wine in the world and pairs well with just about all foods. I paired this Riesling with a delicious light dinner from Giada de Laurentiis’ Giada’s Feel Good Food cook book: Chicken and honey mustard pinwheels. It is a crisp, clean meal of homemade honey mustard, shredded rotisserie chicken breasts and arugula wrapped in lavash bread. This light and easy sandwich paired beautifully with the Riesling; the peppery arugula mixed with the sweet and savory homemade honey mustard was well balanced by the round crisp flavors and body of the Riesling.
*Smith-Madrone is the ONLY dry Riesling from North America featured in Stuart Pigott’s book Best White Wine on Earth, The Riesling Story! That is quite an honor! Click here to read an excerpt.
Smith-Madrone 2012 Chardonnay: This wine poured a straw yellow into the glass and opened with rich aromas of toasted oak, cedar, minerals, and orchard fruit. On the palate this Chardonnay delivered powerful flavors of oak, slightly burnt-buttered toast, with Granny Smith apples, pears and crushed stone. It was certainly not a big fruit, buttery Chardonnay; rather, it was very earthy and driven with minerals and oak. It was round on the palate with a ripe acidity and elegant dryness on the finish. From my experience it tasted more like the Willamette Valley Chardonnays I have enjoyed rather than many of the over-done Napa Valley Chardonnays. This 100% Chardonnay was produced from 39 year old vines in Napa Valley in the Spring Mountain District by brothers Charles and Stuart Smith. It was 100% barrel fermented in 100% new French oak for 8 months, contained 14.2% alcohol; 779 cases produced. SRP $32; order direct from Smith-Madrone. I recommend this wine to all of you who, like me, prefer a well-crafted, less fruity, not buttery, Chardonnay.
I paired this Chardonnay with a homemade healthy salad consisting of: mixed salad greens topped with quinoa, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, chopped almonds and rotisserie chicken with a homemade EVOO/Balsamic vinegar dressing. The toasted, nutty flavor of the quinoa really pulled the salad/wine pairing together. It was a nice weeknight meal.
Smith-Madrone 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine poured a lovely red garnet into the glass and opened with seductive aromas of dark fruit, smoke, and mocha. On the palate those aromas delivery in dazzling flavors of blackberry, black plums and black cherries with a hint of cola, leather cigar box, and smoke with rich dark chocolate, espresso and a hint of vanilla left lingering on the palate. It is a ripe, round wine that delivers ripe acidity and well-crafted tannins that linger on the palate giving this wine a long finish. This wine is drinking beautifully right now; however, I can only image the wonderful gift time will bestow on this wine! This wine was crafted of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 % Cabernet Franc and 7% Merlot from 39 year old vines in Napa Valley in the Spring Mountain District by brothers Charles and Stuart Smith. This wine was aged for 19 months in French oak barrels; contained 14.3% alcohol; 1,070 cases produced. SRP $48; order direct from Smith-Madrone. I recommend this wine; in fact, I recommend you purchase several bottles and hide them in your cellar for 10ish years, after you drink one now of course!
I paired this wine with a weeknight Greek dish: lamb meatballs with mint and feta on top of fresh pita bread and covered with tzaki sauce, served with cucumber, tomato and purple onion salad mixed with EVOO and Red wine vinegar. It was a quick, easy and delicious weeknight meal. The wine paired beautifully with lamb while allowing the delicate flavors of the veggie salad to shine; not being overpowered by this big Cabernet. It was a great meal and a great pairing!
Smith-Madrone wines are literally the definition of ‘estate’ – they are all grown literally a stone’s throw from the winery, primarily dry-farmed, planted on steep slopes which range up to 34%, in red Aiken soil which is derived from weathered volcanic materials and sedimentary rock. Smith-Madrone is perched almost at the top of the Spring Mountain District appellation, 1400 to 1900 feet at the highest point.
From the Smith-Madrone web site: At Smith-Madrone our goal is to make artisanal wines which are distinctive and are an expression of both the vintage and us, as vintners, but above all else, are wines which bring pleasure to the senses. Every year our wine is made from the same vineyards, pruned by the same people in the same way, cultivated in exactly the same manner and harvested at similar levels of maturity, yet Mother Nature stamps each vintage with a unique set of flavors, senses and character. Vintage dating is a celebration of that uniqueness and diversity.
I strongly encourage you to visit the Smith-Madrone web site to learn more about Charles and Stuart, see their beautiful winery, and view their entire portfolio of wines.
My Song Selection: The song I have chosen to pair with these three Smith-Madrone wines is Take it Easy by The Eagles. When I read the philosophy of Smith-Madrone, the environment where they grow their vines, and the bios on Stuart and Charles it seems to me these two men are dedicated to loving life and making great wine. They don’t seem stressed or uptight; just relaxed and blessed…and it shows in the high quality of the wines they are perennially producing.
Get your own bottles of Smith-Madrone Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and let me know what song you would pair with them. Cheers!
New York’s Top Sommeliers Talk Changes, Challenges, and the Best Wine Discoveries of 2014
By Levi Dalton, December 23, 2015
Over the last year, what has changed on your list? What has changed with your program?
Michael Madrigale, Bar Boulud & Boulud Sud: Most recent is my reignited curiosity for the genuine wines of Napa Valley. Cabernets from both the Valley floor and mountain areas. Wines like Smith Madrone….
2014 Winery of the Year: Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery
Wine-lovers who live in the United States are blessed. No other country in the world has access to such a wide range of bottles — wines great and small, bargain-priced and preposterously expensive, classic and experimental; wines from every region of Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and more and from countries many people don’t even realize produce wine (Switzerland, Turkey, Lebanon, Mexico, India, Japan); and of course wines from all over the United States, from the major players like California, Washington, Oregon, and New York to a roster of states with small but sometimes promising production, from Alabama to Wyoming.
All this wine means that there are many, many thousands of labels in the American wine market today, from many, many thousands of wineries around the globe. Some estimates put the number of individual commercial wine producers internationally as high as two million! That may be an exaggeration, but there are at least 8,000 in the U.S. and 28,000 in France — and Italy boasts some 900,000 registered vineyards (not every one corresponding to a winery, of course, but still…).
Now, for the first time, we are honoring a Winery of the Year, as well. Reflecting the availability of wines from just about everywhere on our wine shop shelves and restaurant wine lists, we threw the field open to the whole world.
Our intent was to choose one property or enterprise, anywhere in the world, that has not only produced excellent wines consistently over a substantial period of time but has also served as an innovator and/or inspiration in the wine business, whether dynamically or simply by example.
Our editorial staff collaborated with some of our regular contributors on wine to come up with a short list of nominees for the honor. We then sent the list to select members of The Daily Meal Council and a number of writers and bloggers with particular interest in wine, including our own wine contributors. We asked them to pick one winery from among our nominees as most deserving of praise as an industry leader this year, and to name a runner-up if they wished — or, if appropriate, write in a deserving winery they thought we’d unjustly missed.
These were the nominees, with notes on why they were given consideration:
Charles Smith Wines
Domaine de la Romanee-Conti
Domaine Paul Mas
Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery: (California). For creating, without fanfare, some of Napa Valley’s best wines for almost 45 years, for industry leadership in labeling reform, and for utilizing innovative vineyard techniques that have led the way for other producers.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
We would have happily given honors to any of these properties, but as it happened, the majority of number-one votes from our panelists went to a 44-year-old Napa Valley winery that is highly respected within the industry, though neither a household name nor the object of a cult following. Two other nominees got an equal number of honorable-mention votes, another California property, this one headquartered on the Central Coast, and a legendary French estate that produces some of the most sought-after (and expensive) wines in the world.
Here, then, are our two runners-up and our Winery of the Year for 2015.
Honorable Mention (tie): Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Honorable Mention (tie): Tablas Creek Vineyard
Winery of the Year: Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery
A couple of amiable, bearded-and-mustachioed brothers, Stuart and Charles Smith (no relation to prolific Washington State winemaker Charles Smith) — vineyard manager and winemaker, respectively — grew up in Santa Monica. Stuart studied enology and viticulture at California’s most famous wine school, UC Davis, working as the first teaching assistant for the school’s legendary wine gurus Maynard Amerine and Vernon Singleton, and then starting Smith-Madrone in 1971 (the second half of the name is a reference to the red-barked madrone trees that grown on the property). Charles taught school for a couple of years before joining his brother at the winery. Smith-Madrone produced its first vintage in 1977.
The winery property covers 200 acres near the summit of Spring Mountain, long known as the home of some of Napa Valley’s best producers (one of the first high-quality boutique wineries in the state, the celebrated Stony Hill Vineyard, is practically next door). When the Smiths started working the land here, they discovered evidence that there had been vineyards on the site as early as the 1880s. Today, about 34 acres are planted to grapes — cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and riesling, with small quantities of merlot and cabernet franc for blending. Production remains small — about 5,000 cases a year — and Smith-Madrone wines seldom show up on “trophy” lists. Connoisseurs who really know California wine, though, tend to love them. The chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon regularly wine gold medals around the country, and the winery’s exquisite riesling was named “Best Riesling in the World” in 1979 at the International Wine Championships sponsored by France’s Gault-Millau magazine.
Wine writer and contributor Gabe Sasso cast his vote for Smith-Madrone “for all the reasons listed” — the quality of the wines and the winery’s industry leadership — but added “They continue to sell wines at drinkable prices!” (Their first-rate cabernet costs around $45 a bottle, and that acclaimed riesling goes for about $26.)
Contributor Anne Montgomery is a particularly enthusiastic fan of the winery. “In addition to creating fabulous wines,” she says, “the brothers are impressive industry activists: Stu took on the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and lobbied relentlessly to be able to change the name of the varietal from the confusing moniker ‘Johannesburg Riesling’ to simply ‘Riesling.’ The BATF informed him that his only option was ‘White Riesling,’ as if the wine could magically be produced in other colors. Stu persisted, and the government finally caved, freeing American producers to properly identify their home-grown product. They also fought for their right to clear their land and then fought for their vines instead of quitting after being devastated by [the vine pest] phylloxera. These two brothers are just so passionate, and their wines are superb value. I love French wine, but these guys are true American pioneers.” (For more on Smith-Madrone by Montgomery, click here: http://www.thedailymeal.com/drink/all-i-want-christmas-wines-smith-madrone.)
For their passion, then, and for their activism, but most of all for a long history of quietly making excellent wines at sensible prices, we name Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery as The Daily Meal’s first Winery of the Year.
Bacchus & Beery rate the 2012 Chardonnay:
92 points: A very balanced Chardonnay offering a plush mouth-feel paired with juicy acidity. Fermented and aged in French oak from dry-farmed estate fruit. Pleasing aromas of red apple, pear and a touch of baking spice. Creamy on the palate with flavors of red apple, pear and tropicals with hints of spice. Vanilla creme in the long finish.