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93 points for the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

August 27, 2016

Our thanks to Fred Swan at Planet Grape for his kind words about the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon:

93 points

Elegant nose of mocha, dry leaves, black currant, boysenberry and mineral. Medium body with enough juiciness and fine, chalky texture for a decade or more of aging, though the wine is very drinkable now. Excellent, berry-focused length. Perhaps one of Napa’s best values in Cabernet.

And we’re off! Harvest starts!

August 24, 2016

Stu reports on the harvest for all of the Spring Mountain District each week in the St. Helena Star. Here’s the first report:

August 25, 2016

Spring Mountain Winery is the first to start on the mountain. They’ve harvested some sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and chardonnay. Stony Hill and Smith-Madrone will likely start toward the end of this week, with Keenan, Schweiger and Pride Mountain still some ways off for chardonnay. Early trends seem to be a very good merlot crop, a below average crop for cabernet sauvignon and a longer than normal veraison for reds.

2012 Cabernet is inspirational

August 24, 2016


Cindy Rynning at GrapeExperiences talks about the 2012 Cabernet as an example of elegance and more:

Planning a dinner party? Are you having good friends stop by for a glass of wine before a show? Is it your night to host appetizers and drinks before going to a restaurant with your wine loving gourmet group?  It’s time to discover a few special wines that are more than ho-hum, perhaps those that have a touch of elegance, yet fit your budget, be it meager or generous.

But first, what do we mean by “elegant”?  One dictionary describes the word “elegant” as “pleasingly graceful and stylish in appearance or manner, as in she looks elegant in black; gracefully refined and dignified, as in an elegant young gentleman, or literary style; graceful in form or movement, as in an elegant wave of the hand; appropriate to refined taste, as in a man devoted to elegant pursuits”.

Another definition, finally, refers to wine: ”excellent, fine, superior, as in an absolutely elegant wine”. OK, but those words are ambiguous and were not what I was searching for. You may have your own definition, but here’s mine (and sorry if I’m waxing a bit poetic)…

“An elegant wine has mesmerizing flavor and balance with just the right amount of fruit, acidity, tannic structure (if it’s a red wine), and alcohol to complement any dish – it’s not big and bold or wimpy and weak. An elegant wine prompts me to sit back and say “ahhhh”, then anticipate another sip. An elegant wine is deliciously affordable or is so incredible that I don’t feel the least bit of guilt that it’s over the budget. An elegant wine evokes an emotion, whether I’m sharing it with good friends and family as a celebratory drink or I’m having a weeknight pour while reading a book on the porch. An elegant wine is all of these things in my glass.”

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2012: – From the Spring Mountain district in Napa Valley, Smith-Madrone has inspired me once again to appreciate and find well-priced wines from this iconic region. Estate grown and bottled, I found aromas of dark, rich blackberries, ripe plums, and cherries, all of which were jam-worthy, and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, notes of more dark berries, chocolate, black pepper, and herbs were woven with structured tannins, bright acidity, and a long, rich finish. Decant and fire up the grill…this find will be just what you need with that barbecue.

Wonderful wines & winemakers, says “The California Girl”

August 16, 2016

“The California Girl” and “The Brit” came to visit: read on:


Before we start this post, we would like to note that this is officially our 100th posting on our blog. Thank you all so very much for reading, sharing, liking and commenting on our Blog, our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. The love we have had from all of you has made this really fun for us both. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our first milestone than by talking about the wonderful Smith-Madrone Winery and Vineyards.

When we were invited to Smith-Madrone, neither of us knew what to expect. We were impressed by the entire experience from start to finish.

This place isn’t one of the commercial mega-wineries you get in Napa Valley. Instead it is a truly personal and family run business that has been around since the 1971. The brothers who founded it still work the land themselves and they put their heart and soul into what they produce. It was an immense pleasure to spend time with the brothers Stuart and Charles Smith, talking with them over glasses of wine. We really enjoyed ourselves.

They don’t have a fancy tasting room with shiny decor and slick young hosts. Instead, they personally bring visitors into their rustic barrel room and let them taste the wine. I enjoyed the simplicity of it. It felt honest rather than a Hollywood version of what a winery should be.

One of the things that struck me is that they strive not to have a style when making their wines. Instead, they work with the crop they harvest that year and make the wine the best they can produce from it. They also aren’t worried about what style of wine is in fashion, or what the critics like. They make wine that they like and hope everyone else will like it too. How refreshing is that?

We started our tasting with the 2013 Chardonnay. It was a very balanced wine. It tasted creamy and rich with a decent amount of acidity. Oak, butter, and fruit were all in complete balance. But I have to say, that for me there was nothing “special” about it. If I were drinking it, I would drink the entire glass with zero complaints, but it wasn’t something I thought WOW.

The Brit comments: I agree and disagree with California Girl on her statement about this wine. I was impressed when I tasted it, but once we tasted the next year’s Chardonnay it paled in comparison. It was interesting to note that despite all of their Chardonnay being in 100% casks, the fruit is not overwhelmed by the wood and all three Chardonnay’s we tasted exhibited great balance between fruit, acidity, and vanilla from the oak.


We moved on to the 2014 Chardonnay. Interestingly with this wine they made it same way as with the 2013, but they made one change. They stirred the wine in a process called Batonnage. (They stir it with a special paddle like device while its in the barrel to keep the wine in contact with the lees while maturing rather than the lees sinking to the bottom of the barrel. It creates a much richer flavor.) This wine had my taste buds singing. The flavor was amazing! Creamy rich notes of vanilla, full of fruits, wonderful in the mouth with medium acidity. I absolutely loved this wine. We had to purchase bottles of this beauty. Fantastic.

The Brit comments: The Chardonnay was superb, but it helps that Smith-Madrone were not serving their wines chilled. I am amazed at how many wineries cool their white wine to a point where the cold suppresses the aromas and flavours. Here the wine was served at barrel room temperature.

We were lucky enough to be treated to a special tasting of the 2015 Chardonnay which has yet to be bottled or released. It wasn’t quite ready, but boy, oh boy we could tell it is going to be an amazing wine. It has a slightly acidic kumquat finish, with honeysuckle and melon on the nose. We would have bought bottles of this if it were possible. We will be revisiting just to do that when it comes out. I can’t wait to experience the finished product. Charles seemed pleased with it as well.

We moved on to the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a nose of oak and summer berries. There are very soft tannins which are pleasant on the palate with a flavor of forest floor, cloves, and those summer berries. Delicious. I thought it was priced very reasonably for the quality and the character of the wine. The mix is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 8% Merlot.

The Brit comments: As with all of their wines, the grapes are all estate grown. They change the balance each year and despite its youth this wine is already drinking well.

The 2009 Cooks Flat Reserve is one of those special bottles of wine you don’t drink every day. Priced at $200, per bottle this beauty is really what you would hope for in a mature Cab. Rich berries on the nose and palate, baking spices, weighty and rich in the mouth. We both loved this wine. It will continue to age beautifully for at least 10 years if not more. I would love the opportunity to taste it then. I think that this is one of my favorite quality Cabs I have experienced. It is a wine to be savored and experienced rather than simply consumed.

Our favorite pick out of the lineup though is the 2014 Riesling. This is a WOW! Pear, grapefruit, and melon on the tongue; a perfect sip, not too dry, not too sweet. Honestly, I should have purchased more bottles. The quality of this wine for the price is outstanding. The Brit however warned me that we are lacking space in our white wine fridge and not to buy too much until we go through some of what we have in stock now. It just gives me a good excuse to make another visit to Smith-Madrone to get more. I loved it that much.

The Brit comments: I admit that I used to avoid Riesling, associating it with poor quality overly sweet German wines that used to be consumed in the UK. I now realize that it is a very versatile grape that can be used to make dry white wines with complex flavour profiles. Smith-Madrone’s Riesling is a superb example of the grape at its best.

Aside from the wonderful wines and the very interesting wine makers, Smith-Madrone is well worth the visit for its beauty and the views. I felt like I didn’t have enough time to focus on my photos while I was there, and I would have liked to be there in better light so my pictures could have really reflected its beauty. Maybe they will invite us back. I sure hope so.

93 points for the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

August 12, 2016

In the August 2016 issue of Tasting Panel Magazine, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is reviewed:

93 points

Grilled meat and dark chocolate soil are the richness that sweeps you into its coffee bean and chocolate licorice middle. Statured, with grainy tannins on tiptoes, as rhubarb, ash and blue fruit keep it polished and strong all the way.

2013 Riesling as elegant as delectable

August 10, 2016

Cindy  Rynning at Grape-Experiences enjoyed the 2013 Riesling:


“Everything happens for a Riesling” were the words on a shirt I saw recently. And it’s true. Riesling, a wine that expresses itself in so many ways, is one of my favorites and I know plenty of wine lovers who would move mountains to find this noble grape in a bottle.  For others, however, it may be neglected as a viable choice for a variety of dishes. Ranging from dry to very sweet, a delicious Riesling that will pair with just about anything can be found in your local wine shop and restaurants. If everything happens for a Riesling, then it’s time to put Riesling back on the table! And I did just that with a dish I haven’t made in years.

This week, I found one of my best-loved recipes, Hampton Roads Crab Imperial, from a cookbook I’ve had for ages, “Virginia Hospitality”. I started making this dish in graduate school when I was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where the availability of right-out-of-the-water crab was plentiful and the price was much less than it is now. Despite the fact that I now live in the Chicago area where fresh crab is a bit more of a commodity, I felt the need to create this special dish once again.

It was just as delicious as I remembered. Easy to make, the crab, spices, green pepper, and eggs blended to offer not only flavor, but texture. Served with a simple, fresh green salad, this dish is delightful as a weekday supper or dinner party pick.

And the wine? Although I could have chosen others to pair with the Hampton Roads Crab Imperial, I chose Smith-Madrone Riesling 2013, sent to me as a sample. Smith Madrone Winery, located in St. Helena, is a pioneer in dry farming.  All wines are in the Spring Mountain appellation of Napa Valley and are not only estate-grown, but estate-bottled.

The Smith Madrone Riesling 2013 was a fabulous choice, one that was just as elegant as it was delectable. The aromas of stone fruit, white peaches, dried apricot, and hint of lime wafted from the glass. I couldn’t wait to take a bite of the crab and a sip of this dry Riesling. On the palate, I found refreshing notes of melon, yellow flowers, and touch of spice, flavors that truly complemented the salinity of the crab, the spice of the curry, and other ingredients. With lip smacking acidity and a long finish, it wasn’t difficult to pour more than one glass of this wine, one that showed more complexity that I could have ever imagined. Cost is around $27.

Hampton Roads Crab Imperial


  • 1lb crabmeat
  • 1 egg
  • 2 eggs (hard-boiled and chopped)
  • 2/3 cup green pepper (diced)
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • sprinkle of garlic salt
  • small handful of bread crumbs


Step 1
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 2
Mix all ingredients lightly and spoon into individual shells or 1 quart casserole.
Step 3
Sprinkly paprika and fine bread crumbs on top of each crab mixture.
Step 4
Bake for 20 minutes. The recipe serves 3-4.
Step 5

How is dry-farming like parenting and more from NapaFoodandVine

August 4, 2016

The “California Girl” and “The Brit” came to visit: we thank them for their kind words!


The past is like a foreign country, they do things differently there. That opening line could apply to the Smith-Madrone Vineyard. It is located only a few miles from Highway 29 and St Helena, but it is a world and several decades removed from the tourist packed wineries that cluster along that main road. We drove five miles up Spring Mountain on a narrow and winding road; past signs warning that it was about to get more narrow and even more winding. We turned at a cluster of mailboxes and then followed a single track lane until we found a building in a clearing in the vines. There was nowhere further to drive, so we stopped and got out of the car. There is a small warehouse building, which serves as storage, office space, and tasting room. There is no sign of the fancy tasting room spaces that one sees in the wineries along the valley floor.

California Girl Comments: The drive was really interesting. We passed forested areas with huge redwood trees on our trek up the mountain. I didn’t believe there could be a winery in this country location, but boy was I wrong. Not one, but many wineries inhabit Spring Mountain. Smith-Madrone was one of the first vineyards to inhabit this area.

We were greeted by Curly, an English Spaniel, who was enthusiastically friendly. A few minutes later our host Stuart drove down the hill in an ATV. We climbed in the back and, as Curly gave chase, Stuart gave us a tour of the vineyard.

California Girl Comments: What a cutie Curly is. He was such a handsome boy and posed for me in the vineyard like the gentleman he is. You can tell he’s well-loved.

Stuart and his brother, Charles, have owned the vineyard since 1971. Before they could cultivate vines, they needed to clear trees that had grown since an earlier vineyard had been abandoned at the end of the Nineteenth Century. The trees removed included madrone, a species native to Western America, which in combination with their surname provided the winery’s name: Smith Madrone. Stuart joked that Smith Winery lacked something as a name and that it was fortunate that there was variety of trees on the site, as Smith Poison Oak would also not have been the best choice.

California Girl Comments: This year they celebrate 45 years of wine making. They have also welcomed Stuart’s son Sam into the family business as assistant wine maker. Sam brings to this experienced team youth and new ideas. The three work well together and it shows in the wine.

The vineyard sits on the slopes of Spring Mountain. In some cases the gradient dictates planting the vines parallel to the slope to avoid steep ascents and descents when maintaining and harvesting. There are thirty-acres under vines. The grapes planted on the estate are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Stuart explained they dry-farm, providing extra water only for vines in the first few years of their life. He compared it to caring for children; lavishing care and attention in their early years and slowly enabling them to become more independent as they grow older. He admitted that some of their Merlot was an adult child returned home, as it needed ongoing watering. Stuart also explained how the leaves provide shade for the grapes so that they do not ripen too quickly and how they will trim the leaves back as the summer progresses to provide more sun in the morning and afternoon.

California Girl Comments: It was so interesting listening to Stuart as he explained their philosophy of growing grapes and making wine. I could have listened to him for hours as he talked. He was both old school experience and new science geeky and we just loved it.

Stuart stopped to show us the Cabernet Franc and pointed out how the vines are grown so that the fruit hangs 38 inches above the soil, reducing the amount of bending over that is needed during harvesting. This is one of many decisions they have made which reduce the yield of the vines, but help focus on the quality of the fruit.

About halfway through our tour Curly decided that he had enough of chasing us and jumped into the back with California Girl and me. We did not think there was space on the back seat, but Curly was certain he would fit and once we both shifted to the side the dog was proven right.

After the tour of the property, Stuart introduced us to his brother Charles, who took us through a tasting. We will cover that tasting in a subsequent post.

California Girl Comments: The wine was just as interesting and special as the two brothers who make it. Both the Riesling and the Chardonnay are spectacular and very affordable. Charles spent time going through each and every wine tasting with us. It was wonderful.

Smith-Madrone only does tasting visits two times a day on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday by appointment only. Check out their website for details about making a reservation here. Tastings are $25 and are about 1.5 hours.

We loved our time with the brothers and this beautiful winery. We highly recommend you making the trip to visit. It is one of those really personal experiences in Napa that is a hidden treasure and you don’t want to miss.

Smith Madrone