93 points: With very little Riesling remaining in Napa Valley, we can be thankful that this mostly dry farmed vineyard still exists. And, we can be doubly thankful that it is in the hands of Smith-Madrone, who year after year turn out great dry Riesling. Stony mineral, vibrant lime, green apple, stonefruit, flowers all come through in both aroma and flavor, with lip smacking acidity that says “more, please!” It will make a great solo aperitif, or serve it with light appetizers — you’ll want a couple of bottles if more than three or four people are gathered.
Isaac James Baker included Smith-Madrone in his “5 California Wineries That Wowed Me in 2013:”
2013 was a great year, wasn’t it? Over the course of the year I tasted a lot of amazing wines and toured many a beautiful California vineyard. As a writer for the daily wine blog Terroirist, I blind-tasted my way through a lot of samples in 2013, most of which hailed from CA. I found myself gravitating toward several producers who put out consistently awesome wines, regardless of vintage or grape variety.
Founded in 1971, Smith-Madrone’s winery is located on Spring Mountain, west of St. Helena. The operation is run by brothers Stuart Smith, managing partner and vineyard manager, and Charles Smith III, winemaker. They dry farm their estate vineyards, which line steep slopes between 1,300 and 2,000 feet in elevation. Their mountain wines are dynamic, lively and they show a refreshing sense of purity and minerality.
90 points: One of my favorite discoveries this year was Smith-Madrone’s 2012 Spring Mountain District Riesling. I’m rarely excited by Rieslings from Napa, but this one stoked my palate with refreshing dryness, intense minerality, high acid and loads of stone fruit and minerals. A very light yellow color. Aromas of grapefruit, white flowers, some apricot and a distinct crushed limestone note. The acid tingles the palate as the apricot, creamy peach and green melon roll in. There’s an awesome lime juice and rock quarry aspect that reminds me of the Mosel, which I’m not sure I’ve ever said about a Napa Riesling. Very crisp and lively, this likely has some fun evolution ahead of it.
The December issue of Purely Domestic Wine Report tastes and reports:
Blue fruits, berry and plum with over-arching mint. The palate is firm yet full of sweet supple blue fruit and essences of mint, medium weight with graphite and forest floor in the core with bright acidity on the finish. Drink 2014 -2022.
A dry Chablis-like nose of gravel, grains, lemon and licorice. The palate is clean, lean and crisp with stone fruit pit and a very dry mid-palate and toasted lemon on the finish. Drink 2014 – 2020.
Bright fresh aromas of Granny Smith apples, conifer, lemon zest, mineral and blossom. The palate is bright and bracing acidity, citrus, petrol and graphite. Solid wine, tasted at room temperature. Drink 2014 – 2016.
91 points: A modest mild entry of peach, tart apples and white grapes are a treat to the palate. The Riesling from 40-year-old vines, which are mostly dry-farmed, stainless steel-fermented and –aged, gets rounder as you keep sipping. It continues to stay restrained and coquettish and its flash of cleavage peeks out in its bold minerality flanked by a generous apricot finish.
This 40 year old Spring Mountain Riesling vineyard is one of the few left in Napa Valley, producing a consistently excellent dry wine year after year. Enjoy its excellent food pairing qualities or on its own. A robust nose with aromas of white peach, pineapple and wet stone. A round mouth-feel balanced with juicy acidity and just a kiss of sweetness. Integrated flavors of ripe pineapple, honeycomb, apricot, red apple, minerality and pear.
Frederick Koeppel included both the 2012 Riesling and 2011 Chardonnay in his 50 Great Wines of 2013 post http://biggerthanyourhead.net/2014/01/07/50-great-wines-of-2013/ on January 7.
“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.
2011 Chardonnay: Exceptional.
2012 Riesling: Excellent
“It’s in the Name,” Robert Neralich says, as he reviews the new releases on his blog:
Here is how Stuart Smith, vineyard manager and general partner, explains how the Napa Valley winery he and his winemaker brother Charles operate got its name: “We had so much physically and emotionally invested in the development of the vineyard and the winery that we selfishly wanted our name on it. Smith is not exactly a grand Mediterranean wine name, and certainly we couldn’t call it just ‘Smith Winery.’” The predominant tree on the property is the madrone, an evergreen native to the coastal region of the west coast of North American – hence the Smith-Madrone Winery. I will have something more to say about this name at the end of my review, but first I will describe three Smith-Madrone wines that I tasted recently.
Smith-Madrone 2012 Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Riesling ($27) is easily one of the most interesting white wines that I have tasted this year. Its enticing peach, apple, citrus, and melon aromas lead to luscious tart apple, lime, melon, apricot, and peach flavors that close in an impressively vibrant finish. The exuberant fruit of this wine is perfectly balanced by ample acidity, making it completely delicious for casual sipping, though it would also nicely complement most seafood and poultry dishes. In fact, if you are planning to reprise a turkey-based Thanksgiving feast on Christmas or New Year’s Day and wish to pour something sure to delight your dinner guests, I wholeheartedly recommend this remarkable Riesling.
Consequent to having been aged in 100% new French oak barrels, Smith-Madrone 2010 Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Chardonnay ($30) has notes of vanilla and toast among its lively apple aromas, and these vanilla and toast notes complicate the wine’s generous pear, apple, tropical fruit, and spice flavors. Equal parts power and finesse, this richly-textured Chardonnay would be an ideal companion for meals featuring salmon, sea bass, or poultry.
Smith-Madrone 2009 Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) is an intense but nonetheless elegant wine with plum, dark berry, and cherry aromas that lead to beautifully orchestrated currant, blackberry, dark plum, and black cherry flavors accompanied by hints of mocha, herbs, and toasty oak. The tannins of this wine are supple, and its finish is polished and lingering. This complex but accessible Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon would be the perfect match for beefsteak or game.
Perhaps Smith is not “a grand Mediterranean wine name,” but a smith, after all, is a craftsman, as in the case of a goldsmith, for example. Perhaps the word is not in the dictionary, but I think that the three Smith-Madrone wines that I have reviewed in this posting provide ample evidence for the existence of “winesmiths,” and I am confident that anyone tasting them will agree.
A final note: The wines I have reviewed in this posting would make excellent Christmas presents.
Randy Fuller blogged about the 2012 Riesling:
In Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District, brothers Stuart and Charles Smith run Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, established in 1971. The winery was named for the forest of Madrone trees from which the vineyards were reclaimed, vineyards which were first planted to Riesling some forty years ago. The Smith brothers don’t make a lot of wine, but that is not their goal. They set out 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.” The winemaking process seems less business to them than philosophy. “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.” The 2010 and 2011 vintages in Napa Valley were a bit of a challenge due to cooler weather through the season. 2012 got things back to normal, though. The brothers explain: “Consistently fine weather from May through September had the Napa Valley winemaking community in a continual state of elation. All in all, the harvest could not have gone much better, as the quality of this wine readily demonstrates.” While Smith-Madrone’s 2011 Riesling was all about the minerals in their “red and rocky volcanic soil,” coaxed along by the cooler mountain temperatures, their 2012 Riesling is a testament to fruit. A sample was provided for the purpose of this article. With ever so slightly less alcohol than last year’s Riesling, and a tad drier, the 2012 hits 12.5% abv with just over 0.4 residual sugar. The estate wine is bottled under a natural cork. Very pale in the glass, the nose simply bursts forth with juicy fruit. Apples, citrus, pear and melon aromas all seem to be trying to elbow each other out of the way. The promise of the fruity nose is delivered upon with a lovely palate, dry and tangy with brilliant acidity, but also adorned with the taste of red apples and lime peel. It’s a food-friendly and refreshing white wine.
Monday, December 16, 2013: Smith-Madrone Wines
I had the blessed fortune to attend two Thanksgiving dinners this year, though nothing will quite match 1995 when circumstances collided to provide me four Thanksgiving meals within 48 hours. (I was also at the height of my bread baking phase, and made two dozen loaves of various classic European styles.) The second harvest festival this year was held at the home of my parents along with Julia, The Roommate, my brother, and his wife and daughter. For the occasion, I brought along a trio of wines from Smith-Madrone Vineyards. There’s a long tradition of serving American wines at the Thanksgiving table, and I was particularly excited to serve the small batch bottles of a classic Napa producer.
2012 Riesling: Napa Riesling in tall green bottles was an early favorite of the Carter family back in the 90s. This one had gentle notes of green apple and was lightly sweet with earthy undertones and firm acidity. Really a spectacular balance of elements that could stand up to selections from Germany, and one that went particularly well with the side dishes like green bean casserole and my mother’s rich sweet potato casserole.
2011 Chardonnay: 100% fermentation in French oak gave this California Chardonnay a nose of buttered popcorn with a touch of vanilla. Beneath that are scents of warm roasted peaches. Mild acidity and a round mouth feel lead to a long finish. I found that it was a great match for Dad’s pecan-smoked turkey.
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon: Dad also slow smoked a full, grass-fed, Hereford tenderloin that was rubbed down with a spice mix and cooked to a perfect medium rare. I was excited to pour this wine with the delicate beef flavors, and it did not disappoint. Rich cassis aromas with nice elements of bell pepper and tobacco. Berries show up on the aftertaste. The wine shows medium tannins and a long, lingering finish, and should continue to improve for a few more years. Highly recommended, and make sure that you have friends and family around to enjoy it.
94 points: Simply put, this is a beautiful wine, produced by brothers who could replant their 40-year-old Riesling vines to more profitable Cabernet Sauvignon, yet refuse to do so. Charles and Stu Smith’s Rieslings are known to live admirably long lives in the cellar, yet their 2012 is delicious now, and should remain so for 15 years or more. Seamless and balanced, it has the minerally, earthy, wet-slate character of classic Riesling, a trait that is nearly impossible to achieve in sunny California (nearby Stony Hill is one obvious exception). The Smith-Madrone 2012 is dry (0.41 percent sugar) and has perfectly ripe apple and yellow stone fruit flavors, hints of lime and candied ginger, and a long, minerally finish – at just 12.5 percent alcohol. This wine puts to rest the notion that California cannot produce classy Riesling; it takes devotion, and the Smith brothers have it.
WineReviewOnline, by Linda Murphy, December 10, 2013, http://www.winereviewonline.com/wine_reviews.cfm