Skip to content

“Gangbusters” and “lip-smacking”

January 6, 2018

The Drunken Cyclist takes a look in a blog post from December 14, 2017:


Over the past couple of years, I have seen a decided shift in my approach to California wine. Up until relatively recently, I kept an open mind to all wines from the Golden State as long as they were not from Napa. I had become convinced, with ample justification, that wineries in Napa Valley had jumped the proverbial shark, commanding $200-300 a bottle (or more) for wines that were made to largely impress the critics.

More recently, I have tasted more wines from this country’s “premier” wine growing region. Wines that, while certainly not “inexpensive”, did not require a significant dent in the savings to purchase.

The first of those was Smith-Madrone:

2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling Napa Valley Spring Mountain District: OK, that’s it. This is the fourth or fifth American Riesling that I have had in recent weeks that proves my theory—American Riesling producers have caught up to the Old World. Perhaps more than any variety, makers of Riesling in this country seem to get it: it is all about the acidity. This Smith-Madrone (one of the most under-rated Napa producers) has great citrus, melon, and a touch of petrol (ever-so-slight) followed by lip-smacking tartness and a weighty  mouthfeel. Gangbusters. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

2014 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain, Napa Valley:  For some stupid reason, I have never visited Smith-Madrone. Perhaps it is because it is a relatively new winery (that comment is dripping in sarcasm, it was founded in 1971). Maybe it is because I essentially gave up on Napa Valley several years ago as monstrosity after McWinery was constructed along Route 29. Recently, I have found a few reasons to reconsider the Valley that made the world notice American wine, and Smith-Madrone is right there at the top of the list. This is decidedly a California Chardonnay with plenty of fruit, and plenty of oak (100% new French), but this wine can handle it. Why? Well, it is grown on a mountain where there is a significant diurnal shift, thus maintaining considerable acidity, putting all that oak in its place. Great lemon curd, buttered popcorn, and wet rock. This might not be the ideal wine for the ABC crowd, it is certainly delicious. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Napa Valley: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot. As I mentioned above, I have never visited the winery, yet I am a huge fan of Smith-Madrone. Why? Simply, they over-deliver. Great wines, modest prices. This is a good example: all kinds of pepper on the nose (white, black, red, and green) with plenty of fruit on the palate, but balanced with acidity and earth. In the age of bombastic Napa Cabs, Smith-Madrone seems to realize that wine is part of the meal, not the sole focus. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.


Continuing to Embrace Napa with Smith-Madrone and Addendum



2014 Cabernet is ‘highly recommended’ in California Grapevine

January 6, 2018

The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is reviewed in the January 2018 California Grapevine:

Medium ruby; earthy, dark berry fruit aroma with hints of green olive and dried herbs; full body; earthy, dark cherry and boysenberry fruit flavors with some richness in the mouthfeel; full tannin; lingering aftertaste. Very highly recommended.


2015 Chardonnay is ‘highly recommended’ in California Grapevine

January 6, 2018

In the January 2018 issue of California Grapevine, the 2015 Chardonnay is reviewed:

Medium-light golden yellow; toasty, green apple and tropical fruit aroma; medium-full body; apple, apricot, and pineapple flavors with firm acidity, some creaminess and richness in the mouthfeel, and a note of stony minerality; lingering aftertaste. Highly recommended.

Cab is ‘oozing with character’

December 21, 2017

The Perfect Wine For Your Holiday Feast

by Valory Reed, December 21, 2017, Orange Coast Magazine

Holiday dinners can be tricky for wine pairings since your dishes are sweet, savory, meaty, smoky, and salty. Plus there’s always that one relative or friend who “doesn’t drink red wine” or “hates Champagne” (gasp!). But just as you don’t cook to appeal to every palate, nor can your wine appeal to everyone. My mantra is to have a few quality varietals open, let them know which pairs best with the food or might satisfy a finicky palate, then let them taste through. One of the great joys of wine is how the taste changes with different foods. Cooking a memorable feast is pressure enough; you don’t have to stress over the wine.

We typically go from Christmas morning coffee and cinnamon rolls to mimosas and a hardy breakfast.  Next is sparkling rose and a Christmas movie, where my husband and I typically nod off. Once revived, the cooking begins with a glass of something white—hopefully a riesling or chenin blanc. Then the festivities really kick in as bottles of rioja, beaujolais, chardonnay, and more sparkling are opened for self-serving while cooking, watching football, and assembling toys. Set out a charcuterie tray of cheese, nuts, a sliced baguette, and little jams, and it will be quickly gobbled up by kids and wine drinkers alike while all await the big Christmas meal.

Here are a few red wines worthy of your Orange County holiday feast, and they make great wine gifts.

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley Spring Mountain District

You have to have a hearty cabernet on Christmas Day. This Smith-Madrone Napa cab is oozing with character since it is grown at a high elevation under the duress of dry-farming and old-school principles.  It is uniquely velvety and plush. It will showcase your grilled meats and delight any wine lover as it can be enjoyed now or cellared for 20-plus years.

2013 Cab in a Forbes Top 10 list

December 20, 2017

Katie Kelly Bell chooses her favorite wines of 2017:


Americans are drinking more wine than ever before (and with the daily news feed it isn’t hard to understand why). Consumption spikes during the holiday season–duh, but it is worth noting that last year alone we guzzled almost 239 million bottles from the week of Thanksgiving through the week of Christmas. Reds and red blends are most popular and they dominate my list of the ten best for 2017. This year’s list features two wines from the East Coast, one Aussie, a life-changing Gewurztraminer and two terrific wines for less than $25. This is always a hard list to edit because I tasted more than ten stunning wines this past year (in fact I tasted close to 1000 wines in 2017), but in an effort to be useful to readers, I endeavored to cite wines that are still available online or in stores.


Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, CA, 2013: Brothers Charles and Stuart Smith are chief cook and bottle washers at Smith-Madrone—managing the winemaking and grape-growing–they tend smaller estate plots high atop the steep terrain of Spring Mountain in Napa. Blended with 12% Cabernet Franc, this wine from an epic California vintage shows supple, smooth tannins threaded with almost juicy-savory black cherry and warm spices, while currant and cassis sing in the background. Authentic and a trifle rustic. The almost entirely dry-farmed vines grow on steep slopes at elevations of 1,400 to 1,900 feet. Lovers of Smith-Madrone should also look for their reserve label: Cook’s Flat Reserve.

“What Napa Cab should be all about”

December 15, 2017

The 2012 Cook’s Flat Reserve is one of GoodVitis’ most memorable wines from 2017: excerpted here:

2017’s Most Memorable Wines

By Aaron Menenberg, December 15, 2017

Last December (okay, January 4th, 2017), I did a post on The Best Reds, Whites and Values of 2016 that I came across in my wine escapades that year. It was an enjoyable post to write because it let me indulge in some great nostalgia, and I was excited to do it again for this year. This post was just as rewarding to write, and as the title implies, I’m taking a slightly different approach. What follows are the dozen most memorable wines I tasted this year.

The two questions I used to guide the formation of this list were (1) what are the wines from 2017 that I stand the best chance of remembering until I go senile, and (2) what wines from 2017 will guide my 2018 purchasing? Only after assembling the list did I look at the metadata contained within, and there are some surprises. First, a rose made the list. While I enjoy rose, I drank much less of it in 2017 than I did in previous years. This wasn’t for any conscious reason; it just played out that way. Second, in Good Vitis Land, it was the year of the white wine. Half of the list, and the largest component of it, are whites. Third, it’s a geographically diverse list: five U.S. states and six countries. And forth, unusual varietals came in at the #4 and #1 spots: mtsvane and Pedro Ximenez that was made into a white wine. What a cool 2017.

Without further ado, here are my twelve most memorable wines from the past twelve months.

#2: 2012 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve. Stu Smith and his family are some of my favorite people in the wine industry, and among the most generous I’ve met. He’s also one of the best winemakers in a state known for attracting many of the best winemakers in the world. Cooks’ Flat is his reserve wine, which he makes during good vintages. It retails for $225. Given the region, that’s a steal for a wine of this quality and, in one of many manifestations, evidence of his generosity. I’m not a lover of most California wine, and I don’t get the California Cult Cab thing with its focus on fruit and tannin. Stu could care less whether his wines were considered “cult,” but it certainly tops the list of cabernets from the Sunshine State that I’ve had. The fact that any California cab made my most memorable wine list is personally surprising, but that it landed at #2? It’s just that good.

Tasting note: December 7, 2017 – This seems to me to be what Napa cab should be all about. It hits the palate with a velvety lushness, and is followed by waves of red, blue and black fruit that polish a core of dark minerals and Earth that broadens the mid palate and adds depth to the wine. The acid is towards the higher end of the Napa range, adding juiciness to the fruit and levity to the body. Unlike many California cabs, the tannins are well-kept and aren’t allowed to dry the palate and prematurely kill the finish. This is elegant and refined wine. Given the price of reserve wines from Napa, the Cook’s Flat is a downright steel. 95 points.


“Heirloom blackberry” in the 2014 Cabernet

December 14, 2017

JamesTheWineGuy reviews the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon on December 12: