Linda Murphy writes about enjoying the last days of summer with unique wines like riesling:
September 11, 2018
Smith-Madrone, 2015 Spring Mountain District Riesling, 12.9%, $33: There is an incredible ripe fruitiness to this wine — white peach, apricot, citrus and orange marmalade — for such a lean alcohol level. Bracing acidity balanced the fruit bowl.
Summer officially ends Sept. 22, yet the warm — and sometimes downright hot — daytime temperatures continue through October. So do picnics, barbecues, dinners on the deck and jaunts to the coast.
For every summer-like day-into-evening, there is crisp white wine to quench the thirst, get the saliva jets firing and cool the palate. Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are easy choices, but why not try something unusual, a bit more racy and altogether local… a bracing riesling from Napa Valley, where it’s said to be too warm to successfully grow the grape?
A trait these wines share is what winemakers call “nervosity,” “tension” or “energy.” By that, they mean there is enough natural acidity to offset the sunny sweetness of the ripe grapes. Think of a tightrope walker shifting the pole up and down — acidity on one end, fruit sweetness on the other — to maintain balance and stay on the wire.
Stu and Charlie Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, planted riesling in 1972 on their Spring Mountain property, and they were called crazy. Riesling in Calistoga? Too hot, they were told.
“There were the four most important varietals in the world, which are cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay and what we then called Johannisberg riesling,” Stu Smith said. “We tried with all our might to make pinot noir work, but it just wasn’t to be.
“Riesling was altogether different. We understood from the get-go that wine was about balance, elegance, character and the site. We knew that Germany made the best German rieslings, and that Alsace made the best Alsatian rieslings, and if we were to make the best Smith-Madrone rieslings, the wine had to be the expression of our site, climate and passion for the grape.”
We tried with all our might to make pinot noir work, but it just wasn’t to be. Riesling was altogether different. We understood from the get-go that wine was about balance, elegance, character and the site. — Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery
The Smiths also produce chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, yet riesling is their main source of pride.
“Why do we keep making it in the face of more profitable cabernet sauvignon?” Stu Smith asked.
“I personally love the wine, and how can we give it up when we do it so well? If money was the driving force, I would have never gone to the mountains to grow grapes, let alone go into the wine business. I’d buy McDonald’s franchises.”