The Santa Rosa Press Democrat chose the 2017 Riesling as Wine of The Week: read on for Peg Melnik’s review and Michelle Anna Jordan’s companion review and recipe.
Wine of the week: Smith-Madrone 2017 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Riesling
April 20, 2021, 2:52PM
This week’s blind tasting: Tasty Whites
4.5 stars. A gorgeous riesling with aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, mineral and grapefruit. It’s intense yet nimble and light on its feet. Finishes crisp. Striking.
“The work for the last year has been harder than ever because of the bumps in the road to a smooth operation,” Smith said. “Almost everything that went easily before the pandemic is now difficult. Getting equipment and supplies, getting things repaired, ordering supplies, glass, label, corks, chainsaws — it’s all more difficult.”
The plainspoken Smith is behind our wine of the week winner — the Smith-Madrone, 2017 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Riesling, 12.9%, $34. It’s a gorgeous riesling with aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, mineral and grapefruit. It’s intense yet nimble and light on its feet, and it finishes crisp. It’s striking.
As for the Smith-Madrone riesling, Smith said he prides himself in his hands-off winemaking.
“The amazing thing about riesling is that it’s the only varietal where you get the purest expression of the grape in a great wine,” he said. “If there’s ever such a thing as terroir, this is the wine. And there’s no other varietal that’s at its best with this absolute minimalist intervention. Here, the grapes speak loudest, and it’s truly a case of the winemaker shepherding the wine and its flavor.”
What’s surprising about riesling, Smith said, is that the vast majority of Americans don’t know what a compelling grape it is.
“They don’t understand that there’s such a thing as a dry-style riesling, and I’ll be bold to say our 2017 vintage represents a great wine at a very affordable price,” he said. “Riesling is also one of the most versatile wines. It’s the most versatile varietal when matching food and wine together.
“The other interesting thing about riesling is that it ages every bit as well, if not better than, the best cabernets at half the price.”
Smith, 72, never knew his calling would be to bottle grapes. He grew up in Santa Monica and earned a degree in economics from UC Berkeley in 1970. But he later was fascinated by the art of fermentation and studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis before he founded St. Helena’s Smith-Madrone in 1971.
What gives the Smith-Madrone riesling the edge, Smith said, is that it’s mountain-grown.
“I think what sets our riesling apart from others is our steep mountain vineyard, our volcanic soil and our cool mountain climate on Spring Mountain,” he said. “What also is inextricably there is my brother Charlie (Smith), my son Sam (Smith) and my commitment to the varietal. We love this varietal. We think it’s one of the greatest varietals in the world, and as such we treat it with the respect that we think it is due. And that respect comes out in the quality of our wine.”
Vietnamese Noodle Salad pairs perfectly with Smith-Madrone’s dry riesling
Smith-Madrone, 2017 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Riesling, our Wine of the Week, is absolutely gorgeous. Aromas are delicate and evocative of spring flowers, including rose and jasmine.
On the palate, the wine is bright, refreshing, delicate and engaging, with flavors of honeysuckle, white grapefruit, Meyer lemon, lime, peach, cantaloupe, white pineapple, sweet orange zest and hints of minerality suggestive of celery. It is a beautiful expression of this varietal and how it blossoms into its full self in rocky mountain vineyards.
This dry riesling has broad appeal at the table. It is excellent with mild curries and an excellent pairing with Asian-style chicken salad. You’ll enjoy it with Caesar salad or Caesar salad pasta with sautéed chicken thighs. It is a great match with carrots, too, as in carrot fritters, carrot risotto and carrot salads. Petrale sole with sautéed celery and pan-roasted grapes makes a stellar match, as does teriyaki chicken.
The wine also engages well with cabbage, which suggests you can enjoy it with Hawaiian kalua pig served over a bed of sautéed cabbage. Alsatian cabbage dishes make great matches, too.
For today’s recipe, I’m revisiting a favorite dish, a Vietnamese noodle salad. I’ve adjusted the dressing a bit so it engages perfectly with the wine. If your serrano is extremely hot, you’ll want to remove the seeds and the inner fibers before mincing it, as too much spicy heat can turn the wine bitter, though a bit of heat enhances it.
Bün (Vietnamese Noodle Salad)
Makes 4 servings
2 large garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 small serrano, stemmed and minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
8 ounces thin rice noodles (rice vermicelli)
3 cups Savoy cabbage, cut into very thin, crosswise ribbons
1 cup pea shoots
6 scallions, trimmed and cut into very thin diagonal slices
½ cup julienned cucumber
½ cup peeled and julienned carrots
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup very small fresh spearmint leaves
¼ cup very small Thai basil leaves, optional (use only when in season)
Protein of choice (see note below)
½ cup crushed dry-roasted peanuts
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
Put the garlic, serrano, ginger, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and a tablespoon of water into a bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Taste and correct for acid and sugar balance. Cover and set aside for at least an hour and as long as several hours.
Put the noodles into a large bowl, cover with hot water and set aside while you prepare the vegetables.
When the noodles are tender, in about 15 minutes, drain them thoroughly and set aside.
Put the cabbage, pea shoots, scallions, cucumber, carrots, cilantro, spearmint and basil, if using, into a large bowl and toss gently. Divide among four large soup bowls.
Divide the noodles among the servings, mounding them on top of the vegetables. Top with your protein of choice and garnish with the peanuts and cilantro springs.
Drizzle dressing over each portion and enjoy right away.