2015 Cabernet is reviewed in Decanter

From the December 2019 Decanter Magazine:

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

92 points: Creamy start to the palate, good freshness and very drinkable. Shows some leafy and tomato characters with a bit of dried fruit and sage. Long finish.



Napa Valley & California Cabernet Sauvignon 2015: Panel tasting results

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Smith-Madrone: The Smiths are Brothers, Madrone is a Tree?

by Melissa Hobson, October 9, 2019

Napa Valley is my happy place. I love the wine, the food and that I live close enough to visit via day trips pretty frequently. Since starting It Starts with Grapes, I’ve visited even more frequently… which frankly, I don’t mind.

This past weekend Mr. Wine Cutie and I celebrated two years of marriage with a day trip to our favorite place, Napa Valley! We started our day in St. Helena at Smith-Madrone, located just below the Napa-Sonoma County line on Spring Mountain.

We had visited once before, back in November, 2018. However, Smith-Madrone was our third winery stop that day, and Mr. Wine Cutie didn’t actually make it into the tasting, spending the tasting asleep at their picnic table. Sorry babe, too good of a story not to tell.

The biggest difference between our trips was that this time we went during harvest! We were beyond excited to experience harvest in Napa Valley. Smith-Madrone made our day and it was just our first stop.

On the way to their their tasting room, we walk by the crush pad area, where I see a five-gallon bucket filled with grape skins, seeds and other debris. We enter the tasting room and meet Charlie Smith, the winemaker and co-owner. Their tasting room makes me feel like I’m walking into a winemakers brain. There are different sized empty beakers drying, while some beakers are filled with different components, like SO2, that are used in the wine making process. Charlie lets us know that he’s waiting on another group to join.

Once the other group arrives, Charlie starts the tasting and tour by pouring a 2016 chardonnay. We walk outside to a line of olive trees to learn more about the winery and the story behind the olive trees.

Charlie explains that the olive trees we’re standing under have been around since the 1800’s. Spring Mountain used to have a lot of vineyards, and the original owners had planted them. He goes onto explain that the original owners had abandoned the property before prohibition due to phylloxera. Then, Charlie points to the distance and says that by the time he and his brother bought the property back in the 1970’s, the evergreen trees had taken back the land. However, the olive trees remained unscathed. Charlie jokes and says that they’re free if you want to pick them, but they’ll taste terrible until they are fermented and cured.

A great tour guide can tell when the group is getting a little chilly and low on wine, Charlie knows it’s time to get out of the shade! He guides the group back towards the warmth of the sun and stops on the patio.

He asks us if we know what the equipment is, leading to a short lesson on wine crushing. He explains that the huge bin where all the grapes are transferred to flow through the bin by gravity and that the crusher is a little square looking box at the very end. Charlie warns that the equipment is pretty loud when on. He turns on the equipment for a brief moment to demonstrate, and I can attest that it’s crazy loud!

Back in the tasting room, Charlie points to two bins of grape juice and explains that they were crushed yesterday, merlot and petit verdot. This was their first season harvesting petit verdot for potential use as a blending grape. Only about two barrels were harvested. The petit verdot was crushed with a new machine, more delicately. You can see the different in the containers in front of us.

We put our wine glasses down and Charlie fills them with a 2016 riesling. The wine smells like pear and yellow apple. On the palate, the wine is crisp with bright acidity and tastes like green apple.

As we’re discussing the riesling, I hear what sounds like water running beneath our feet. I assumed it was the drainage system below us, as the floor was a little damp. Someone from the other party we’re tasting with asks about the noise and Charlie says no, it’s not drainage, it’s coming from the chardonnay barrels. Each barrel filled with fermenting chardonnay has a little pipe coming out of the middle to allow gas to escape the barrel. Charlie jokes that if they didn’t have that release, the barrels would explode. Winemaking mad science!

We move onto the red portion of our tasting with a 2015 cabernet sauvignon. Charlie proudly claims that it’s the most inexpensive cabernet on Spring Mountain. The wine smells like cherry, black pepper, leather and just a hint of green peppers. It has above average body and was balanced between fruit and savory flavors.

As Charlie explains that the winery is owned by two brothers, both last named Smith, one of the other guests asked who’s “Madrone.” Charlie admits that naming a winery after yourself with the last name Smith can be difficult. So they combined their last name with madrone, which is a red tree that is indigenous to the area. You can see the trees on the drive back down from Spring Mountain.

The tasting concludes with the 2013 Cook’s Flat Reserve. It was scrumptious. We loved the silky tannins and found it fruit forward, well balanced, with a medium body and yummy acidity. Charlie considers this a “right bank wine” as the blend is heavy in cabernet franc and merlot, but can vary year-to-year.

A guest then asks that since Charlie primarily makes the wine and Stuart runs the vineyard, how do they come up with the blend. Charlie says that he and Stuart do a blind tasting of various combinations and try to agree on which blend they like the best.

What I love about Smith-Madrone is that they produce wine that they love and don’t really care if wine critics like it or not. That mentality is something I would like to bring into other parts of my life. #livingforme

Smith-Madrone isn’t very well known outside of Napa Valley, but they should be. Their wine is great and reasonably priced. The winemaker is a blast and ballbuster, which I love. Plus the views from Spring Mountain are breathtaking.

Until next time Cuties, keep tasting!


Chardononay and Riesling recommended for the Thanksgiving/holiday table

Thanksgiving Wine and More

November 26, 2019 by Cori Solomon, https://writtenpalette.com/thanksgiving-wine/

At this time of the year, most of us wonder about the best Thanksgiving wine to serve with our holiday feast. Because of the flavors, we savor during our holiday meal, a wide variety of wines that will suit the occasion. This year I am thinking about whites to complement our dinner fare. We can choose a more aromatic white, a unique white, or if your preference, a reliable standby, there is Chardonnay. Here are some selections of wines that have crossed my path recently. They are excellent options to grace your table this Thanksgiving.

Smith-Madrone 2016 Estate Grown Chardonnay: I consider this Chardonnay from the Spring Mountain District very subtle in its style and not overwhelming. Although the wine ferments in 80% new French oak and then aged for nine months, you cannot tell because the wine is not oaky at all. With a nice well-integrated acidity the wine exhibits aromas of pear and flavors of pear and lemon.

If you want to bring a little spunk to your holiday meal, try a Riesling. It certainly will give life to the party.

Smith-Madrone 2016 Riesling: The grapes grow on steep hillsides in the Spring Mountain District similar to those in the German Riesling regions like Mosel. Aromas of white flowers and citrus give way to flavors of lime, stone fruits and pear. I found a very dry Alsatian styled Riesling that is bright and lively with some creaminess and minerality.

Although I have opted to suggest these wine for Thanksgiving, they are perfect for other occasions.


Cabernet recommended as one of the 12 ‘drinks of Christmas’ in The Orange County Registerss

Paul Hodgins recommends The 12 Drinks of Christmas in The Orange County Register on November 28:

OK, so nobody actually expects to give or receive 12 Christmas presents, like the old carol implies. And not many of us know the reason for the tradition. The 12 days of Christmas marks the span between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, the three wise men, on Jan. 6.

But here’s a dandy way to mark the year’s turning: a different drink for each of those dozen days. We’ve found three cocktails, three wines, three beers and three nonalcoholic alternatives that are fit for your end-of-the-year enjoyment.

2015 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon: Stuart Smith, who founded this winery in 1971, almost lost his Spring Mountain estate to wildfire a couple of years back, which would have eliminated one of Napa’s best higher-altitude wineries. Smith says this about the 2015 Cab: “Aromatically the wine is thrilling in its laser-like focus and intensity of fragrance. At the same time, it delivers remarkable complexity; every inhalation reveals a new and surprising element. Bright fruit, dark fruit, black currants, red plums, lavender, spices violets, green olives, all are present and more. The aroma is so intriguing it is an end in itself.”



Chardonnay has a ‘trumpet section of acidity’ and more

Rich Cook reviews the 2016 Chardonnay at WineReviewOnline.com on November 26:

95 points

I’ve been raving about Smith-Madrone for some years now, and I won’t be slowing down any time soon.  I got a sneak preview of this wine last fall, and it has certainly lived up to its initial flash.  Dry farmed and barrel fermented, it’s then aged in mostly new French oak, which might lead you to expect overt wood influence.  That’s not at all the case here, with singing lemon forward fruit soloing above supportive yet nuanced oak spice and a trumpet section of acidity that gives the wine great finish & a push through to the bold finale.  Bravo once again to the Smith clan for a command performance that’s destined to resonate for years.



2016 Chardonnay is rich and delightful

JamesTheWineGuy takes a look at the 2016 Chardonnay:

93 Points: rich and delightful Chardonnay–while it can be served as a stand alone I think most optimized by food–think oysters, crab, shrimp.

Nose of apple/Bosc pear, fresh flower bunch and moist stones.

Palate of heirloom apple, beeswax, oyster shell, and flowers.


Chardonnay and Riesling for Thanksgiving

Give Thanks for Family, Friends and Wines from Napa Valley

November 19, 2019

By Cindy Rynning

Whether you’re having a traditional Thanksgiving feast with family members or a Friendsgiving gathering where the meal is an “anything goes” affair, I’m hoping that good conversation, delicious food and wonderful wines will be in abundance. Having sorted through a bounty of wines (all sent as samples) that offer a variety of price points and provide luscious complements to so many dishes, I’m offering you plenty of suggestions for consideration.

The choices reviewed below are produced at family-owned wineries in beautiful Napa Valley. Each wine expresses the unique terroir of the landscape and spirit of the people who are its stewards. Be sure to follow the links provided to each winery for in-depth information and more inspiration.

Raise your glass for a toast to the exceptional wines of Napa Valley and to our friends and family who make living in the United States so flavorful.

Having visited Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery last year during which I had a lovely, kick-back birthday lunch with Stu, Charlie, Sam and a few other friends and members of the Smith family, it was a clear choice to include two of their wines, some of my favorites, on this year’s list.

Smith-Madrone 2016 Chardonnay is a wine you’ll swirl and sip on a regular basis… not only during the holidays. Of 100% Chardonnay that was barrel fermented for 9 months in French oak, intense aromas of butter, toast, golden apple, lemon, white peaches, yellow flowers and herbs were clearly present. Balanced and structured with a creamy, round mouthfeel, its moderate acidity was on point and flavors of overripe, juicy peaches, peach flesh, and herbs reflected the distinctive terroir of well-drained, volcanic based soils.


Likewise, their latest release of another favorite wine, Smith-Madrone 2016 Riesling expressed everything I expect from this family who has been a foundation of Napa Valley viticulture and the St. Helena area for decades. Lively aromas of white peach flesh, white flowers, lemon zest, freshly-cut pineapple and lime were clean and sharp. On the palate, dry and creamy with vibrant acidity, flavors of white pepper, kiwi, lime and herbs paved the path to a luscious and lasting finish.



Mr. Smith Goes To Napa (2015 Cabernet Sauvignon)

November 15, 2019


by Stephen McConnell

Medium ruby with an abrupt pink edge. Despite the transparency, it manages a typical glass-staining ability. Heavy perfume pours from the glass, but right where you might expect banana or vanilla, it heads green, averting flabbiness with petrichor and minerality. Blackberry and pomegranate continue their onslaught, overturning piles of wet decomposing wood and black earthworm-filled loam. The cassis and licorice continue building with heavy applications of air, but equally suffocating is the matching build-up of fruit. This thing just CAN’T slow down. Liniment, wet wool and Vicks take their turns through the nose, but like every other amazing nuance of the bouquet, are spread thin on softly-undulating waves of fruit so crystal-clear you can see the bottom many feet below.

Decanted heavily. I can’t wait to taste this thing. Do I have to explain about Smith-Madrone? Nah… I didn’t think so. If you know, ya know. If you don’t, there’s more for the rest of us. They only make 3 wines, all estate, all hillside, all dry-farmed: A Cab, a Chard and a Riesling. Been doing it the same way high up on Spring Mt. forever and it’s getting harder and harder to find wineries where NOTHING changes to suit marketing styles and popular palates as the years progress, Smith-Madrone remains one of the few who stick to the basics, what works, a formula tried and true and not trendy.

In the mouth, an absolute blockade of impenetrable fruit packs every pore. Bright but ridiculously concentrated SHRILL acid conjoining and shearing it apart–first to balance the blackness and then to leverage the concentration. One of those wines you taste with bling-bros raised on tourist-wines and they’re like, Hmmm is there even fruit? OMG YES This is EXACTLY the kind of fruit you WANT at this age. You shouldn’t have to go looking for it, but it also shouldn’t be flopping around giving you cavities. Pie cherry goes directly into the dryness of angels, gunpowder jasmine tannin doing the lord’s work on your tongue and enamel.

Buy 3 cases of this and drink one per year.

2015 SMITH-MADRONE Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mt Napa Valley 14.3


We release 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 Riesling (in magnum)

To our friends,

It was Yogi Berra who said “it’s déjà vu all over again” and that’s how October felt for those of us in the San Francisco North Bay.  Memories of the October 2017 fires flooded back into all of us, only this time most of us had our power pre-emptively shut off on three separate occasions.  It was both disturbing and disorienting.

While Napa was spared this time around, our friends in Sonoma were not.  It was not nearly as bad as in 2017, but that doesn’t matter to those who lost their homes, wineries or out buildings.  We defiantly reject that this will become the new normal.   Our state government and utilities will get a handle on this and the moniker “wine country” will not lose out to “fire country.”

People often refer to us as ‘authentic’ and ‘artisanal.’ These are wonderful terms which are easy to say, yet hard to define and validate. Let me give you the background or the rationale for why those terms apply to us.

There are many difficult binary choices made in a lifetime and in 1970 I faced just such a choice with creating a vineyard and winery on the floor of the Napa Valley or on the mountains above. For me, it was one of the easiest choices of my life, because at the heart of this endeavor, this quest if you will, was the desire to go to the mountains to make great wine. I believe then as I believe today, that as Virgil said in 43 BC, “Bacchus amat colles,” Bacchus loves the hills. I made a life-long commitment to the goal of making great wine at a time when that was unusual. Many people came to the mountains later…but I went to the mountains in 1970 expressly and purposely to grow the very best grapes possible, to make the very best wine possible. That quest became Smith-Madrone.

We wanted to model the classic European concept of an estate-chateau by making wine only from grapes that we grew ourselves. Absolute control over the grape supply was essential for wine quality. What was the point of being on the mountain if you purchased grapes from others, and what was the limiting factor to size? From a purely business point of view, there were no limits, except in hiring capable people and constantly growing production and sales. That was the side of the wine business that just didn’t speak to us.

We also looked to Europe for the defining elements of great wine, such as balance, complexity, elegance, finesse, restraint and the concept that wine should give pleasure, it should be hedonistic. In the new world, we’ve used the concept of a sense of place as an analogy for terroir, yet I believe that wine should be a reflection of those who grow and make it along with the vineyard site itself and that those three elements should create what I call an “ephemeral sense of art,” a sense of uniqueness.

When we began, the word ‘artisanal’ hadn’t been invented yet (so to speak). And yet today it does define us in that my brother Charlie, my son Sam and I do the work. We also don’t hire consultants and we don’t make wine for scores. We believe we understand and know what is great wine and we make wine for our own palates, with the courage of our convictions that others will agree with us that allows us to stay in business.

Have we been successful in our quest of making that great bottle of wine? I think the truthful answer is, yes, sometimes we are successful. Yet ultimately it is you, the consumer of our wines, who makes that ultimate judgement.

Thank you for supporting us with your purchases. Here are some new additions and also what is currently available.


In case you missed our open house, please keep your eyes peeled for when we announce our next one next year: a good time was had by all, and that included opening some large format Cabernets from the library.

Let’s move on to the release of our 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 in magnums, in time for Thanksgiving and the season of feasting. .



The 2015 crop was smaller than 2014. The 2015 Cabernet has great style and wonderful drinkability. Aromatically and on the palate it delivers remarkable complexity; you’ll smell and taste black currants, red plums, lavender, spices, violets, green olives and more. There is a silky texture that leads to a bright finish; overall, the impression is one of effortless elegance, sleek, svelte and delicious—not to minimize the wine’s mountain heritage, which will bode well for cellaring. The blend is 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. The wine spent 18 months in 65% new French oak and 35% one-year-old French oak.                                                                                                                                          $52


Only once before in our history (for our tenth anniversary) have we released magnums of Riesling. For the 2016 vintage, we made a limited number of Riesling in magnum (include a hand-waxed capsule). You already know that this is 100% Riesling from the vineyards surrounding the winery. This vintage has strong floral notes with an admixture of lime, stone fruits and minerality. It has a succulent mid-palate and is Alsatian in style with a delicate forcefulness that finishes with a bright and lively acidity. Please order soon; we know these will fly out of the winery quickly.                                 $75 (1.5L)

Please consider:

2016 CHARDONNAY, $40

2016 RIESLING (750 ml) , $34


Other news: on August 1 our 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon received an enormous accolade by Esther Mobley in The San Francisco Chronicle: you can read the entire piece here: https://smithmadrone.com/news/download-2004cab.html. Our wine was part of a group of thirty-three 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons tasted blind. As Esther said: “….What makes the Smith-Madrone so compelling is that it’s a product not of fashion but of principle. It abides by fundamental standards of wine quality — balance, simplicity — that have never gone out of style, and never will….But sometimes, when something stays the course, ignores the fads, keeps it simple, we get a taste of timelessness….”

Another update: we have just transitioned to a new shipping system, so you will see a different format when you order. If you have any questions, please call or email us. This new approach initially may mean that shipments take a bit longer to fulfill, so we ask your patience. We have adopted this new system because of the recent Supreme Court ruling because of the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing states to collect taxes on e-commerce.

As always, we thank you for your business and look forward to welcoming you at the winery hopefully soon.


Stu, Charlie & Sam

A blind tasting of Chardonnays….

We get mail!

A long-time customer wrote to us the other day:

A (very amateur, if experienced) group of us just had a blind tasting of 2016  Chardonnays.  S-M, Montelena, Grgich, Stag’s Leap, Dierberg, and Calera.  It’s no surprise that your wine was voted the top participant—the surprise was that it was unanimously the favorite.  That among a group of people who never even agrees on which football game to watch or how to vote on a ballot proposition.  I wish I had bought more than four bottles when I was up in August—the two remaining ones will not be shared. At least I bought a full case of Riesling, half of which is safely locked in a wine storage facility for several years to come.

I’ll see you next summer when the next cycle of releases is out, unless I trot up there earlier with some friends who’ve never been.

Hope you’re done with the power shenanigans and that everyone is doing well up there.