Up on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley sits a magical place called Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery. For the last 40-plus years, two brothers, Stu & Charles Smith, have been growing grapes and making wine from their own mountain property. If you froze time when they started and checked back in with them today, many things wouldn’t have changed at all. Certainly they’ve gained experience and have learned the nuances of what works best on their property over time, but the basics are the same. In essence, they make the wine today the way they did when they started.
They have the right grapes planted in appropriate spots for the varieties on their property. Then those grapes are picked when they are ripe, but not overly so. They’re vinified using old world methodology that has stood the test of time over centuries. All that is to say, these two affable fellows are producing the wines that their property and each successive vintage gives them year after year. If you’re looking for over-manipulated wines with excessive alcohol, up front punch, and no finish, then move along. These are not those wines.
However, if you’re interested in genuine artisanal wines that speak of the place in the world they sprang from and the conditions that particular year, pull up a chair and drink some wines from Smith-Madrone, because then they are most certainly for you. Each year it’s a pleasure for me to taste and drink their wines. One vintage after another, I’m impressed with their offerings for reasons ranging from purity of fruit and expression, all the way to the wonderful value they represent. The current releases are no exception, here’s what I think of each of them specifically.
The Smith-Madrone 2012 Riesling was produced from estate fruit. The riesling vines on their Spring Mountain property had 40 years of age on them at the time of harvest. This offering is 100 percent varietal. They bottled 798 cases of this wine and it has a suggested retail price of $27. White peach and flower aromas emerge from the lovely nose of this 2012 riesling. Lychee fruit and apricot flavors are in abundance on the palate which is studded with appealing fruit flavors and accompanying spice notes. Flinty mineral driven notes lead the impressive finish along with granny smith apple, lemon zest, and a hint of grapefruit. This is easily my favorite riesling to come out of Napa Valley each year.
The Smith-Madrone 2011 Chardonnay was produced from mountain fruit. All of the chardonnay came from Smith-Madrone’s property. The chardonnay vines had 39 years of age on them at the time of harvest. The wine was fermented and aged in entirely new French oak over a period of eight months. They bottled 463 cases of the 2011 chardonnay and it has a suggested retail price of $30. Stone fruit, apple, and citrus zest aromas leap convincingly from the nose of this 2011 chardonnay. The sumptuous, focused, and driven palate is laced with apple, peach, and mineral characteristics galore. White melon, limestone, and spices such as clove and nutmeg emerge on the crisp, lengthy finish. This is a chardonnay rich in pure fruit flavors. What I love about this particular chardonnay is that it’s impeccably proportionate and laced with deeply layered, intense fruit flavors. Napa Valley turns out oodles of chardonnay, and the producers of those wines make all sorts of stylistic choices; this is easily one of best four or five chardonnays in Napa Valley every year.
The Smith-Madrone 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was made entirely from fruit sourced at the winery’s vineyard atop Spring Mountain. At the time of harvest, the vines had 37 years of age on them. In addition to cabernet sauvignon (84 percent), there is some merlot (8 percent), and cabernet franc (8 percent) blended in. Barrel aging took place over 22 months in a combination of new and once used French oak. They bottled 1,302 cases of this cabernet sauvignon and it has a suggested retail price of $45. Cassis and blackberry aromas fill the dark and somewhat brooding nose of this cabernet. The palate is loaded with deep and generous fruit flavors. Blackberry, cherry, and plum are of note. Bits of mocha and earth emerge on the substantial finish along with continued fruit. The firm and gripping tannins yield with some air, so if you’re going to drink it today I’d recommend 90 minutes or so in the decanter. One of the issues with some Napa cabernet is that they’re more like rocket fuel than wine these days. This isn’t a problem here. This is a wine of substance and refinement that you can easily pair with food or drink all by itself if you like. The Smith-Madrone cabernet is as good an example of genuine Napa cabernet as any you’ll find at irrespective of price.
Each of these wines is well made, approachable today, food-friendly and a good value. The Smith-Madrone portfolio is also eminently age-worthy. Drink them now or lay them down for a decade or more. Either way they are delicious wines you will be proud to have on your table.
There isn’t much riesling worth speaking about in Napa Valley and quite frankly, this is one of just a couple examples that I’d recommend spending your money on so in addition to being delicious, it’s also a rare bird of sorts.
One vintage after another the Smith-Madrone chardonnay is simply one of a handful of best examples in Napa. It’s a complex, fruit driven wine that is enhanced rather than overwhelmed by the oak treatment it receives.
There’s quite a bit of great cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley. But there isn’t one with the combination of quality and value that the Smith-Madrone cab represents year after year. At $45 it’s a steal. Most Napa cabernet at this level of quality and sophistication usually runs much closer to $100. That they have kept the price on this wine so reasonable is one of the many feathers in their cap.
The bottom line is that we should all be drinking Smith-Madrone wines. If you’re not familiar, give them a try, and next time you’re in Napa Valley, take a ride up Spring Mountain so you can see where the magic happens. When you go, tell Stu and Charlie I said hi.
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