Cabernet ‘perfectly exhibits its terroir’

Instagrammer Cuvee1985 tastes the 2014 Cabernet:

“Outstanding” and more about Riesling at Forbes

Tom Hyland takes a comprehensive look at Rieslings in Forbes on August 8. Excerpts are below as well as the link to the complete article.

The Pleasures of Dry Riesling

Image is everything, let’s face it. So when the subject of Riesling is addressed, many wine lovers – whether consumers or members of the trade – think sweet. It’s what many of us were taught about Riesling when we first tasted the wine, that it’s a sweet wine, ranging from lightly sweet (or off-dry) to very sweet, the latter style meant to be paired with dessert or on its own after a meal.

Riesling is undoubtedly one of the world’s great wine grapes, and the finest examples of Riesling offer great complexity along with notable aging potential. Quite often the finest examples of very sweet Riesling that are considered remarkable, such as Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany or vendanges tardives from Alsace, drink well between 15-25 years after the vintage.

Yet, while sweet versions of Riesling are well known, the dry versions too often get lost in the shuffle, as other dry whites, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, are more familiar to consumers. If they need to choose a dry white for dinner, it’s one of these latter two wines they’ll usually opt for, and Riesling – again because of its image as sweet – is ignored.

But dry Riesling is a marvelous choice for so many styles of food, from Asian and fusion cuisine to specific seafood dishes or pork and chicken entrées. It’s also nice that there are more and more options when it comes to dry Riesling, as there are notable offerings from Germany, Austria, the Alsace region of France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and also the United States. Dry Riesling may not be trendy just yet, but it’s not an exaggeration to think that it will be soon.

Riesling has taken on importance in America over the past few decades. There are several excellent dry Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region of New York State that have received notable press, along with a few examples from California that you may not have heard about. Two of the latter include lovely wines from Smith-Madrone in Napa Valley and Dutton-Goldfield in Sonoma.

Stuart Smith, founder and enologist at Smith-Madrone in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley, decided upon Riesling when he founded the winery in the 1970s, as “there was no breakaway varietal,” as he puts it, at that time in California. He noted that after a few years, his brother Charles and he “were doing a bang up job with Chardonnay, Cabernet and Riesling. Quite frankly we really liked—-loved—-Riesling. It’s one of the most versatile, fun, go-with-anything wines that’s out there.”

Their Riesling is dry and has great complexity as well as notable varietal character, harmony, and perhaps most importantly, an outstanding sensation of pleasure; much of this derives from the sourcing of the grapes, between 1400 and 1900 feet above sea level, assuring small yields along with moderate temperatures, even during a hot spell in Napa. “My brother and I have spent our entire adult lives making great Riesling and promoting it,” Smith remarks. “We make a great one, there’s no question about that. In addition it ages, matures, evolves and develops in ways that 90% of wines don’t. Also, with Riesling you get the pure expression of the grape. If there’s such a thing as terroir, Riesling is ‘it,’ because it’s fermented in stainless steel, aged in stainless steel, clarified and bottled right out of stainless steel. There’s no interference with the purity and the expression of the grape.

“There’s no French or American oak, no lees, no batonnage, no malolactic, no micro-oxygenation or like type of manipulation. This is the purest expression and form that a grape can give. It’s why I think Riesling isn’t one of the great white grapes of the world, it’s one of the great wine grapes of the world (along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).”

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how Riesling is one of the world’s greatest grapes, and I have touched upon examples from a few countries. But there are many more classic examples of dry Riesling available, from Alsace in France, Austria, New Zealand and elsewhere. Dry Riesling is an amazing wine, displaying its brilliance on its own or with food, as Smith comments. “When it comes to pairing Riesling it is without a question the most versatile of all grapes. It literally can go with anything anytime anywhere … even for breakfast, maybe Champagne has an edge over it, but not by a lot. Fresh fish, saltwater fish, white meat, soup, fusion, Asian, it goes with it all!”

An added benefit is its capability to age for a long time, as long as many of the world’s great red wines, and usually for less money. “You simply cannot buy a better or higher level of wine quality than what you pay for in a bottle of Riesling,” notes Smith. “You can spend $60/70 for a mediocre/lousy bottle of Cabernet, and for $35 you can get a great bottle of Riesling.”

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2015 (Spring Mountain, Napa Valley) – Bright yellow with a touch of amber. Aromas of yellow peach, apricot and orange blossom. Medium-full, this has excellent ripeness with very good acidity, and finishes dry with excellent varietal persistence. Great freshness and complexity, this is delicious, and is one of the great versions of dry Riesling from the United States. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Outstanding

2016 Riesling “toasted honeycomb” and more

The Bohemian looks at Rieslings

Oz at Home: Going Down Under to get over Riesling clichés

by James Knight, August 7, 2019

James Knight talks about Riesling in the context of Australian ones:

Smith-Madrone 2016 Spring Mountain District Riesling:

Holy honeycomb-lanolin gelato! This wine’s two of a kind with the d’Arenberg, but a few extra years bring aromas like toasted honeycomb to the fore. Sounds sweet? It’s not sweet. Riesling can develop scents that seem tantalizingly dulcet, yet the wine remains crisp, dry and refreshing. The lanolin note is like a softer version of the “petrol,” or mineral oil, aroma that aged Rieslings (and some younger ones, like the d’Arenberg) may show, and there’s a tinge of herb, as well—though it’s not as “würzy” as Gewürztraminer. Dry Riesling is great with seafood—like, say a shrimp off that barbie.

Read the entire article:

Ellen Landis looks at the 2016 Chardonnay & Riesling

Gems in My Glass – Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery

by Ellen Landis, July 30, 2019

Stunning gems from Smith Madrone in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley graced my palate recently.  It’s not the first experience I’ve enjoyed with these vintners, and it was a pleasure to gain an up-to-date perspective of wines they have recently released.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery was one of my first Napa “wow” wine experiences. I visited them in my early years of wine study and appreciation while traversing Napa Valley with colleagues and savvy wine collector friends. It was an enlightening afternoon there, and the wines showed incredibly well, impressing the knowledgeable group assembled.  Founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, the vineyards are situated at the top of Spring Mountain, on steep slopes at elevations up to 2,000 feet. All their wines come from fruit rooted among their estate dry-farmed vineyards. Today, brothers Stu and Charlie, and Stu’s son Sam, manage the property and tend to the winemaking, and they remain at the top of their game.

Current releases left a lasting impression:

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2016 Chardonnay; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley:  A brilliant hue captures the eye, and scents of lemon-splashed stone fruit awaken the nose as this sophisticated Chardonnay is poured from the bottle.  Peach flavors are mirrored on the palate, melding with Honeycrisp apple, citrus, herbal accents, and beautiful oak spice nuances.  Rich and mouth-filling, with perfect acidity offsetting the juicy fruit through the long memorable finish.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2016 Riesling; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley:  The classic petrol and citrus blossom aromas simple scream what is in this glass—a beautifully crafted, irresistible dry Riesling.  Unwinding with enchantment are layers of sun-ripened peaches, lemon basil, nectarines, fresh squeezed lime juice, and a solid thread of minerality creating a kaleidoscope of vibrant flavors on the palate.  Vitalizing and elegant with immaculate balance, and the finish soars.

Gems in My Glass – Rombauer Vineyards, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, and Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards



2004 Cabernet ‘compelling’ and ‘a taste of timelessness’

Our 2004 Cabernet was found to be a ‘taste of timelessness’ in a field of 33 Napa Valley Cabs. An excerpt from The San Francisco Chronicle (link at bottom to the article):

The year that broke California wine: Our idea of luxury has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. Napa Valley wines reveal how

by Esther Mobley, August 4, 2019

Look around. We live in the age of gilded minimalism. In the Bay Area in the year 2019, pop-ups in unmarked buildings draw hours-long lines. Our hottest restaurants are spare, open temples to natural light. We want our vegetables heirloom, our butter house-cultured, our wild ales spontaneously fermented — and we’re happy to pay the premium markup.

We privilege heterogeneity. We will stalk Instagram for the limited availability of a naturally leavened bagel that is available nowhere else. Our most of-the-moment bars sling natural wines — the cloudier, the funkier, the better. Obscurity reigns. If you haven’t heard of the grape variety (Gringet, anyone?), you probably want the bottle. Even in Napa Valley, where wine trends arrive sluggishly, the most established winemakers have adopted the language of restraint and balance, praising wines that are low in alcohol and high in acidity. Flashy has ceded the stage to subtle.

There are many ways to tell the story of today’s Bay Area….Before we could arrive in this era of understated luxury, we had to boomerang off an era of overstated luxury.

Looking back at the last two decades, we can find a single inflection point where our idea of luxury began to turn, transforming from the extravagant energy of the early aughts to the spartan style of today. That point is the year 2004…..And though it might not have looked like it at the time, 2004 would turn out to be the most pivotal year in California wine of this millennium….Most of all, 2004 was the vintage that finally fulfilled the ideal of ripeness that the California wine industry had been gradually moving toward since the late 1990s. In Napa Valley, winemakers picked grapes at higher sugar levels in 2004 than in any other vintage of the decade: Whereas most years fall closer to 14%, the average ’04 Napa Cabernet would clock in at a whopping 15.3%.

It was that very extremity that catalyzed a monumental shift in Napa Valley wine, forcing a reconsideration of the industry’s identity. Soon, a group of dissenting winemakers would form an influential opposition group, urging a return to leaner, lighter wines. The former wine critic of this newspaper would later write an entire book about the shift away from what he termed “Big Flavor.” Our collective sense of taste would begin to morph. 2004 was the year that took everything too far…..

Much like the molecular food trend, wines in this era embraced the era’s technology….. This was the peak era for so-called Parkerization, the apex of the critics’ influence. …Serendipitously, culture and nature found a perfect synergy in 2004. The vintage’s hot weather and the resulting grapes’ high sugar levels were the ideal conditions for crafting wines that made the critics swoon…..

I want to know: How do the wines born of this lavish era stand up to the standards of taste we enforce today? Have they aged better than the eyedroppers of blue vodka?

So I assemble my own collection of wines and enlist three of 2004 San Francisco’s top sommeliers to help me taste: Paul Einbund, Emily Wines and Christie Dufault, who was then at Gary Danko and now teaches at the Culinary Institute of America. We gather in The Chronicle newsroom to uncork 33 bottles of 2004 Napa Valley Cabernets, all disguised inside brown paper bags…..

It occurs to me that what we dislike in the flight is its homogeneity. Beyond the fact that the wines are made from the same grape and region in the same year, most seem to be reaching for the same exact paradigm. Very ripe grapes, check. Lots of flavor extraction from the grape skins, check. Toasty oak barrels, check. Success for these wines was measured not by their distinctiveness but by how expertly they emulated this narrow prototype.

And that flies in the face of the vibrant individuality we’ve come to fetishize in the year 2019. We reject homogeneity at every turn now. Instead of Napa Cab, our most progressive restaurants are proselytizing Sicilian Frappato, Georgian Rkatsiteli, skin-fermented Ribolla Gialla. If it was once in vogue to seek out wines of monolithic power, now it’s fashionable to praise wines that eschew oak influence and reject technology. Today’s avante-garde natural wine movement demands “living wines,” which may evolve unpredictably and be variable from bottle to bottle.

Tasting the outdated 2004s makes me wonder: Does everything go out of style? Does anything get to be timeless? Maybe not — and maybe, for wine, that’s OK. If one of the reasons we love wine is its ability to express its vintage, can that expression be cultural as well as meteorological? If they don’t always conform to the reigning style of the day, so be it.

And yet there is one wine in our tasting that seems to defy it all. The 2004 Smith-Madrone from Spring Mountain happens to carry a modest 13.9% alcohol, but that’s not the point. By the time we get to it, the 30th wine in our lineup, our mouths are parched and our tongues fatigued. But something in me perks up when I put my nose in the glass.

It’s not the most youthful wine on the table. It bears some telltale signs of aging — cigar box, leather, a browning rim. Still, it’s alive, pulsing with energy, generous with blackberry, currant, licorice and at the same time, restrained and delicate.

What makes the Smith-Madrone so compelling is that it could have been made in any era. 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.

Tasting the Smith-Madrone, it seems clear to me that today’s trendiest wines have more in common with 2004 than their makers would like to imagine. In the annals of taste, wines that are immoderately funky or excruciatingly lean will have just as short of a shelf life as the extravagantly ripe wines of the aughts.

No matter what form it takes, excess will always get old. But sometimes, when something stays the course, ignores the fads, keeps it simple, we get a taste of timelessness.

Stu featured in a podcast

Stu is interviewed in a podcast series of Spring Mountain District vintners: take a listen here:

More background:

The Spring Mountain District Association has posted a series of oral history-interviews in a podcast format on its website.

“To our knowledge no other winegrowing region has presented a comprehensive set of oral histories of this type,” explains Association President Sheldon Richards.

“By asking everyone to share their own unique stories, we’ve put together a lot of intriguing listening,” says Jeff Schechtman, who was the host/moderator for the series. “In today’s hectic world, with its many layers of artificiality in marketing, listening to these voices from the Spring Mountain District—real farmers and winemakers who made their homes in a dramatically beautiful part of the Napa Valley—is something rewarding,” adds Schechtman. “You’ll never taste a wine from the Spring Mountain District AVA the same way once you’ve heard these personal stories, full of rich detail,” he also said.

How steep is Spring Mountain? What kind of unusual personality is drawn to farm its tough terrain? How did these vintners wind up on Spring Mountain and what has changed as they’ve developed their vineyards and wineries there? What is the unique and differentiating element of the Spring Mountain District?

Nineteen vintners and growers whose properties lie within the Spring Mountain District answer questions and tell stories in segments which are available individually on the Spring Mountain District Association website.

Telling their history are:

Marvin Atchley, Atchley Vineyard

David Tate, Barnett Vineyards

Lisa Drinkward & Les Behrens, Behrens Family Winery

Joan Crowley, Crowley Vineyard

Petrus Bekker, Eeden Wines

Dlynn Proctor, Fantesca Estate & Winery

Reilly Keenan, Keenan Winery

Christina Luscher-Ballard and Carroll Ballard, Luscher-Ballard

James Leahy, Marston Family Vineyard

Sheldon Richards, Paloma Vineyard

Rebecca Peacock, Peacock Family Vineyard

Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery

Andy Schweiger, Schweiger Vineyards

Dermot Whelan & Ron Rosenbrand, Spring Mountain Vineyard

Sarah McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyard

Matt Sherwin, Sherwin Vineyards

John Gantner, School House Vineyard

Sam Baxter, Terra Valentine

Wes Steffens, Vineyard 7 & 8.

The host and moderator for the program is Jeff Schechtman, the founder and manager of, which brings local news and information to the Napa Valley. It was designed as a model effort to bring local news to communities in an era of the decline of traditional radio and local newspapers. For the past 22 years, Schechtman hosted one of the premiere interview shows, initially originating from radio station 1440 KVON in Napa and now at Schechtman has interviewed over 9,000 authors, journalists, scientists, educators, politicians and people of note.


Congrats to Roberson Wine in the UK!

Congratulations to our British importer, Roberson Wine. On July 9 they were awarded the USA Specialist Merchant of The Year at The International Wine Challenge awards ceremony in London – for the seventh consecutive year.
“We’re having a great year with our U.S. wines, particularly in direct to consumer and off-premise sales,” reports Keith Kirkpatrick, the U.S. wine buyer. “We will continue pushing, educating and being innovative,” adds Kirkpatrick, “because this is an award we don’t want to let go of!”

A glimpse of the festivities:

Cliff Roberson established Roberson Wine in 1991. Here’s Cliff rapping about the business: . The company has gone from being a local shop to an innovative and diverse wine company.

And may we add our thanks to Roberson’s masterful touch in representing our wines in the U.K.?



Join Sam at Spring Place in Beverly Hills

Smith-Madrone is honored to be participating in the MICHELIN Guide: Chef Collaboration Dinner Series with Spring Place Beverly Hills on June 24 and 25.

Participating chefs are MICHELIN Guide’s Melissa Perello of Michelin one-star Octavia and Josef Centeno of Michelin one-star Orsa.

Assistant Winemaker Sam Smith will be presenting 2016 Riesling, 2016 Chardonnay, 2018 Rosé, and 2013 Cook’s Flat Reserve.

Guests will experience a six course tasting menu from Melissa Perello, partnering with Chef Josef Centeno of Orsa & Winston on these two evenings, creating a compelling food experience.

Seatings are at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at

Spring Place Beverly Hills, 9800 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, 310/591-5669,


Melissa Perello

While still in high school, she gained her first kitchen based job at a local country club, where she worked 40 hours a week. She dined at Aqua, and was invited into the kitchen. She subsequently impressed the chefs and was offered an apprenticeship at the restaurant. She attended Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY from 1994-1996 and, following her passion for food, moved to San Francisco to work under the tutelage of Michael Mina at Aqua. After working with Mina, whom she cites as a major influence, Perello transferred to Aqua’s sister restaurant, Charles Nob Hill, where she worked alongside mentor, Chef Ron Siegel. She quickly became executive chef and earned accolades for her California-inspired French cuisine. While at Charles Nob Hill, Perello was awarded the San Francisco Chronicle’s Rising Star Chef honor in 2002, one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2004, and James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef nominations in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Perello then took the helm at Fifth Floor and led the restaurant to a Michelin star in 2006.

In 2009, Perello opened her first restaurant, Frances, named after her greatest culinary influence, her grandmother. Located in San Francisco, Frances quickly gained a Michelin star. Offering modern California cuisine in a relaxed neighborhood setting, Frances garnered glowing reviews and earned a James Beard Foundation Award nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2010. Additionally, Frances was named an Esquire magazine Best New Restaurant by John Mariani and one of Bon Appétit magazine’s “Ten Best New Restaurants in America” in 2010.

In 2015, Perello opened her second restaurant venture, Octavia. Named for its location, Octavia is an ode to refined yet comfortable sensibilities in both food and decor. A seamless blend of original history and modern elegance, Octavia’s natural light-soaked, open floor plan evokes a refined dining experience with a unique sense of home comfort. Octavia earned a Michelin Star in its first year with Perello being lauded as a 2016 James Beard Semifinalist for ‘Best Chef West.’

She has appeared on Food Network’s Chefs vs. City as a contestant during season one. As of the 2012 Michelin Guide, she is one of ten female chefs in the United States to hold a Michelin star.

More about Octavia:

More about Frances:

Josef Centeno

Raised in San Antonio, Texas, and now based in Los Angeles, Chef Josef Centeno comes from a family of foodies: his father was a butcher; his paternal grandfather started Centeno Market in San Antonio; and Bar Amá, one of his restaurants, is named after his maternal great-grandmother. He is also the owner of Bäco Mercat, Orsa & Winston and BÄCOSHOP.

More about Orsa & Winston:

More about his other restaurants:

Spring Place

Spring Place is an innovative and collaborative workspace and private membership social club. Launched in New York City’s TriBeCa neighborhood in June of 2016, the club caters to a global community of leading professionals and entrepreneurs shaping the business of contemporary culture. Spring Place regularly hosts events and global conferences with leading partners such as Barneys New York, Google, IMG, Independent Art Fair, TriBeCa Film Festival, and Vanity Fair as well as culinary pop-ups from the world’s best chefs and restaurants including Caviar Kaspia, Casa Cruz, among others. Spring Place comprehensively blends both collaborative and private workspaces with full scale food & beverage social spaces for enjoying and entertaining—that combine the services of a world-class professional office suite, boutique hotel-style amenities, and innovative cultural and wellness programming. Spring Place Beverly Hills, the club’s second location and first West Coast outpost, opened in October of 2018. Future locations will include London, Milan, and Paris.

More information, please visit


MICHELIN Guide was first created as a way to help motorists build out their list. The Michelin brothers made a small guide filled with important information for travelers, including places to eat and sleep. It was in 1920 that the Michelin brothers sold their first guides and started building out their hotel and restaurant lists. Throughout the 20th century the Michelin guide came to be what is known today and ranks over 30,000 establishments in over 30 territories across 3 continents.

One of 10 Best Wineries in Napa Valley in Newsweek

We’re honored to be named one of the ten best wineries in Napa Valley in the June 17 issue of Newsweek:



BY JOSIE ZEIGER, June 17, 2019

Napa Valley is an incredible experience for both novice wine drinkers and serious connoisseurs. The trick is to know where to go with the people you’re visiting with and to know the basic rules for visiting Napa Valley, which are:

  1. Gauge your group – are you planning on a party bus and day drinking with friends? A small group looking to stock up your cellars? Know the expectations of your party and everything will run much more smoothly.
  2. Many wineries are appointment-only, so be sure to call or email ahead – like, way ahead. It may seem like a lot of extra work, but an appointment can include incredible experiences like walking the vineyards or sitting down to lunch with a winemaker. And if you are traveling via limo or bus, make sure to confirm whether the tasting room can accommodate bus parking.
  3. And on that note: always – ALWAYS – book transportation or designate a responsible sober driver. This is non-negotiable and, frankly, common sense.
  4. Start your day with a good breakfast. Even if you’re spitting throughout the day, it is important to have a base in your stomach. Pack a protein-rich dry snack like nuts to stay sated.
  5. Don’t be afraid to spit. You’re going to taste a LOT of wine, and your palate will be fresher if you spit throughout the day. Save the actual imbibing for apero hour and beyond.
  6. Don’t stick your glass in your host’s face as a way of asking for another pour.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are the top 10 wineries or tasting rooms in Napa Valley:

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery

Experience old-school Napa Valley and a killer view here, where brothers Charles (the winemaker) and Stuart (the viticulturalist) have been making wine since 1971.

4022 Spring Mountain Rd, St Helena, CA

(707) 963-2283

Chardonnay is pure and beautiful

May 25, 2019

Tasting the 2015 Chardonnay in Las Vegas, with thanks to FermentedFruit:

I can never get enough of @smith_madrone Spring Mountain Chardonnay’s crisp, bright fruit and lemon curd nuances. It’s always so well-balanced and is the complete opposite of what many expect of #NapaValley Chardonnay. It’s not buttery or oaky, just pure and beautiful. 👌