Cabernet Sauvignon Reviews

Decanter Magazine, Elin McCoy, February 2020

Silky texture

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

92 points: The vintage was marked by drought conditions and a hot growing season. Yields at Smith-Madrone were smaller than usual, and the lush blend contains no Merlot. The wine is filled with warm rich, ripe fruit and a silky texture, with a broad, open, inviting character right now. The intense aromas brim with a mix of red plums, violets, cedar and herbs. Drinking Window 2020 – 2030.

Winethropology, Steve McIntosh, February 1, 2020

A wine of depth

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Nothing showy here; just a deep currant nose with herbal and medicinal aromatics that leads into a closed (at first) mouth...tightly wound, firm, tannic structure and silent power. Definitely going to be a long-lived wine. After enough air, it’s easy to appreciate, but simple it is not. Rather, it’s a wine of depth to enjoy as fortification for body and soul prior to a winter’s hibernation.

Terroirist, Isaac Baker, January 25, 2020

Gorgeous concentration...I'm so stoked this wine exists

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Spring Mountain’s Smith-Madrone has long made incredible, age-worthy, unique wines, and their new Cabernet delivers oodles of goodness for not much money.

94 points: Light purple color. Wow, the aromas pop with juicy yet crunchy red and black currants, plum skins, along with earthy, rocky tones, graphite, coffee and violets. Full but balanced so nicely on the palate. Solid tannic structure for aging, vibrant acidity, the mouthfeel sets the stage for smooth black cherries and tart red currants. Fruit is laced with violets, clove, graphite, tobacco, and there are lots of earthy, savory tones that need years to fully show themselves. Gorgeous concentration, yet balanced and lively. Includes 16% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in 65% new French oak. For my palate, this is one of the most insane bargains in Napa Cabernet. I’m so stoked this wine exists.

I-Wine Review, Don Winkler, January 22, 2020

A delight to drink

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Sourced from dry farmed vineyards high up (1800’) on Spring Mountain, this is a superb example of mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.  It offers black currant, plum, and berry fruit complemented by dried herbs and mountain underbrush aromas and flavors. It’s highly aromatic, firmly structured, and a delight to drink as it evolves in the glass, revealing a complexity of flavors that matches the bouquet.  It shows a youthful exuberance, so additional cellar time will only add to its drinking pleasure.

GoodVitis, Aaron Menenberg, January 21, 2020

Elegant and refined tannin

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

The nose is a mountain slope of dark sweet cherry and strawberry, wet barky soil, Herbes de Provence, licorice, molasses, black olive and smoke. It is medium plus in weight with elegant and refined tannin and acute acid that combine to form a traditional Old World style structure. The flavors are layered and extended aging will reveal them all. Right now they include salty cherry, strawberry, plum and rhubarb fruit that cohabitate nicely with olive tapenade, black pepper, rose water and graphite. I’d sit on these for at least another five years and then enjoy through 2030.

Washington Wine Blog, Owen Bargreen, January 8, 2020

Marvelous balance and poise

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

92 points: marvelous with its balance and poise, with deep darker fruit flavors

BiggerThanYourHead, Fredric Koeppel, December 16, 2019

Star-bright acidity, perfect balance and poise

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

The Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. derived from dry-farmed vineyards 1,800 feet elevation on Spring Mountain, west of the town of Saint Helena. The wine is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon and 16 percent cabernet franc, aged 18 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The color is a deep yet radiant ruby-purple hue; there’s no mistaking this cabernet for anything other than mountain-grown, with its array of iodine and iron, dusty heather, sage and rosemary; a few moments in the glass unfold layers of black currants and raspberries, with notes of plums, black olives, bell pepper and tar; though the wine displays plenty of structure in its stony, graphite infused tannins and star-bright acidity, its perfect balance and poise lend surprising elegance and balletic grace; these qualities are not contradicted by but bolstered by a chiseled, granitic finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2026 to ’28. Excellent.

WrittenPalate, Cori Solomon, December 23, 2019

High elevation Cabernet

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Definitely one of the pioneers in the Spring Mountain area of Napa, I remember discovering their hideaway winery in the 1980's. Revisiting them today, I found they have developed a nice style. You might call their Cabernet Sauvignon an old styled Napa wine. This winery represents a high elevation Cabernet. The wine consists of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon mixed with Cabernet Franc while it ages for 18 months in 65% new and 35% one-year-old French oak. The wine displays the herbaceous green pepper and spice offset by dark fruit and typical of many old school Napa wineries.

Decanter Magazine, December 2019

92 points

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Creamy start to the palate, good freshness and very drinkable. Shows some leafy and tomato characters with a bit of dried fruit and sage. Long finish.

Orange County Register, Paul Hodgins, November 28, 2019

One of Napa's best higher-altitude wineries

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

OK, so nobody actually expects to give or receive 12 Christmas presents, like the old carol implies. And not many of us know the reason for the tradition. The 12 days of Christmas marks the span between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, the three wise men, on Jan. 6.

But here’s a dandy way to mark the year’s turning: a different drink for each of those dozen days. We’ve found three cocktails, three wines, three beers and three nonalcoholic alternatives that are fit for your end-of-the-year enjoyment.

2015 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon: Stuart Smith, who founded this winery in 1971, almost lost his Spring Mountain estate to wildfire a couple of years back, which would have eliminated one of Napa’s best higher-altitude wineries. Smith says this about the 2015 Cab: “Aromatically the wine is thrilling in its laser-like focus and intensity of fragrance. At the same time, it delivers remarkable complexity; every inhalation reveals a new and surprising element. Bright fruit, dark fruit, black currants, red plums, lavender, spices violets, green olives, all are present and more. The aroma is so intriguing it is an end in itself.”

1er, Stephen McConnell, November 15, 2019

Do I have to explain about Smith-Madrone? Nah… I didn’t think so. If you know, ya know. If you don’t, there’s more for the rest of us.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Medium ruby with an abrupt pink edge. Despite the transparency, it manages a typical glass-staining ability. Heavy perfume pours from the glass, but right where you might expect banana or vanilla, it heads green, averting flabbiness with petrichor and minerality. Blackberry and pomegranate continue their onslaught, overturning piles of wet decomposing wood and black earthworm-filled loam. The cassis and licorice continue building with heavy applications of air, but equally suffocating is the matching build-up of fruit. This thing just CAN’T slow down. Liniment, wet wool and Vicks take their turns through the nose, but like every other amazing nuance of the bouquet, are spread thin on softly-undulating waves of fruit so crystal-clear you can see the bottom many feet below.

Decanted heavily. I can’t wait to taste this thing. Do I have to explain about Smith-Madrone? Nah… I didn’t think so. If you know, ya know. If you don’t, there’s more for the rest of us. They only make 3 wines, all estate, all hillside, all dry-farmed: A Cab, a Chard and a Riesling. Been doing it the same way high up on Spring Mt. forever and it’s getting harder and harder to find wineries where NOTHING changes to suit marketing styles and popular palates as the years progress, Smith-Madrone remains one of the few who stick to the basics, what works, a formula tried and true and not trendy.

In the mouth, an absolute blockade of impenetrable fruit packs every pore. Bright but ridiculously concentrated SHRILL acid conjoining and shearing it apart–first to balance the blackness and then to leverage the concentration. One of those wines you taste with bling-bros raised on tourist-wines and they’re like, Hmmm is there even fruit? OMG YES This is EXACTLY the kind of fruit you WANT at this age. You shouldn’t have to go looking for it, but it also shouldn’t be flopping around giving you cavities. Pie cherry goes directly into the dryness of angels, gunpowder jasmine tannin doing the lord’s work on your tongue and enamel.

Buy 3 cases of this and drink one per year.

Decanter Magazine, December 2015

Highly recommended

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED  : Creamy start to the palate, good freshness and very drinkable. Shows some leafy and tomato characters with a bit of dried fruit and sage. Long finish. Drink 2022-2032 

92 points (Dave Allen)

91 points (Stephen Brook)

93 points (Terry Kandylis)

The Syrah Queen, Rupal Shankar, August 29, 2019

Layered, rich palate

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

From one of the pioneers of Spring Mountain, this Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% estate fruit grown at the top of Spring Mountain. Black cherry, oak and black pepper on the nose precede a layered, rich palate, where soft tannins are the backbone for flavors of forest floor, cloves, savory herbs and cassis. A long and complex finish persists with notes of loam and red fruits. These grapes grow on slopes of up to 30% at an elevation of almost 2,000 feet: this mountain pedigree insures deliciously integrated tannins and a long life span.

Cuvee1985, August 9, 2019

A wine that perfectly exhibits the terroir within which it is grown

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

I promise you’ve never had a Napa Cab quite like this. Smith & Madrone dry farm their Cabernet atop Spring Mountain, producing a wine that perfectly exhibits the terroir within which it is grown. Aromas of evergreen, juniper, fernet and fresh black fruit. So impressed with these guys.

San Francisco Chronicle, August 1, 2019, Esther Mobley

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.

General Cab Comment

...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.

SyrahQueen, Rupal Shankar, December 6, 2018

Elegantly integrated mouthful

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

 Best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for intimate holiday dinners (Under $60)

Smith-Madrone wines are made entirely from dry-farmed estate vineyards surrounding the winery on top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. Stuart Smith chose specific slopes with different exposures for specific varietals when planting the vineyards, specifically southern and western exposures across flat stretches for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Stu was named one of the wine industry’s most inspirational people in January 2018. 

This wine opens with a concentrated nose of dark fruits, leading with notes of boysenberry and plum. The palate is remarkably seamless, an elegantly integrated mouthful with a velvety, silky texture which leaves you realizing how wine-making can ‘distill’ a grape into a powerful perfume, the essence of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Forbes Gift Guide, Katie Bell, November 21, 2018

Finesse, power and silk in one sip

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

The year of the earthquake, and one of the region’s fiercest droughts, brought vineyard challenges but ultimately yielded some exceptional wines. Smith Madrone’s mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic example of how challenged grapes bring densely concentrated fruit flavor and also ensure distinctiveness. This wine shows off with deep black cherry notes, spice, finesse, power and silk in one sip.

Greg Ballington and India Okoh, Millennial Drinkers, March 5, 2018

Gets richer

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

91 points: Deep and dark purplish ruby red. Very young on the nose with greenery, twigs, some cinnamon and dark berries. Even a touch of mint as it opens. Full bodied. Notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, dark cherries and cocoa. Gets richer as it airs. Long and dry finish.

International Wine Report, Owen Bargreen, January 2018

Beautifully balanced

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

91 points: this is a classic display of Napa Valley Cabernet. This instantly grabs your attention as it releases aromatics of dark fruits intermingling with spices and herbal elements. The mouthwatering acidity is lovely, as this medium to full-bodied wine delivers flavors of blackberry cobbler, crushed mint and coffee grounds which entice. This beautifully balanced Cabernet will cellar gracefully over the next decade.

Terroir Review, Meg Houston Maker, August 31, 2018

On point for higher elevation Napa Cab

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

This is an estate wine, grown on the Smith-Madrone property on Spring Mountain. In 2014, the cuvée was 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Cabernet Franc, and 7 percent Merlot. The vintage was extremely dry — and this estate is dry farmed — so the berries were small, and their higher skin-to-juice ratios delivered a concentrated must. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, 70 percent new. It has a youthful aspect with glints of purple and fuchsia, suggesting ripeness and density and the stuffing for age. The fragrance is on-point for higher elevation Napa Cab, viz., cedar, juniper berries, and cassis. Right now the oak notes are prominent, although I expect them to integrate over time. The acidity is moderate and buttresses the finely ribbed tannins, and a coffee note adds both flavor and the suggestion of structure. The finish is like spiced plums. I love that the wine clocks in below 14 percent alcohol. Cellar for five years if you can; its price makes it attractive to those seeking an age-worthy Napa Cab.

The Daily Meal, Roger Morris, August 29, 2018

Lots of earthiness and chocolate 

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

A straightforward red with muted cherries and lots of earthiness and chocolate notes.

Fred Swan, August 11, 2018

Full-bodied and luxurious yet juicy

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

A very generous Cabernet on nose and palate with classic notes of dried leaves, cassis, mocha, black raspberry, milk chocolate, spice and oak. It’s full-bodied and luxurious, yet juicy, in the mouth with very fine, softly chalky tannins, and an extremely long finish. Delightful now but will age until 2030+

As they stuck with Riesling, Smith-Madrone has also stood by their original winery building, traditional winemaking approach, and producing wines that are about balance and drinking pleasure, rather than impact and opacity. This is expected of Riesling, but applies equally to the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines.

RockinRed blog, Michelle Williams, July 4, 2018

Juxtaposition of finesse and power

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Crafted of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Merlot from dry-farmed grapes grown in Spring Mountain District estate vineyards; this beautiful ruby wine opens with aromas of fresh black fruit, dried violets, cassis, black pepper, forest floor, sweet tobacco and spice notes, licorice, minerality, and vanilla; incredibly balanced wine that meets the palate in a juxtaposition of finesse and power infused by the volcanic soil and guided the gentle hand of Stu Smith; tannins are high yet silky, acidity is balanced and mouth-watering, with a long and lean finish; another wonderful wine of great value by Smith-Madrone.

Vinepair, Edward Deitch, June 28, 2018

All about consistency

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

These days, California’s Napa Valley is filled with celebrities, corporate big shots, and other one percenters who have caught the wine bug and bought their way into the region and the wine business.

So it’s refreshing to think about two bearded brothers who have been at it for almost half a century, high up on a mountain in their rustic corner of the Valley, with little ostentation or self-promotion.

The brothers are Stuart and Charles Smith, who have been growing grapes and producing distinctive estate wines at their Smith-Madrone Winery on the top of Napa’s Spring Mountain since 1971. This is not the Napa Valley overrun by the wine-soaked masses. (Tours are by appointment only.)

Smith-Madrone has been all about consistency, producing the same excellent wines — primarily a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, and a Riesling — year in and year out.

My recent tasting of the 2014 Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon confirms it. This is classic, terroir-defined Cabernet with a signature that says Smith-Madrone (the latter part of the name refers to a type of evergreen tree on the property).

The grapes are grown in steep, mountainside vineyards in largely volcanic soils. The vineyards are mostly dry-farmed (no irrigation is used), not only to conserve precious California water, but to produce more complexity in the wines, which results from the vines having to dig deeper for their nourishment.

That complexity is a hallmark of the 2014 Cabernet, a $52 wine with aromas of violets, red fruits, and graphite, followed by concentrated dark and red fruit tastes and a hint of eucalyptus. The oak is well integrated, the tannic structure is refined, and the ample acidity gives the wine an overall brightness. A slightly green note, not uncommon in young Cabernet, gives way as it opens up. The blend is 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Cabernet Franc, and 7 percent Merlot.

With alcohol listed at 13.9 percent, it’s also a refreshing counterpoint to the still-prevalent model of Big California Cab. It’s enjoyable young and will be worth exploring 10, even 20 years from now.

Briscoe Bites, Stacy Briscoe, June 24, 2018


2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been dying to taste Smith-Madrone wines since I don’t know how long. I’ve only heard fantastic things about the estate and their wines. And after interviewing Stu Smith, founder, manager, and enologist for Smith-Madrone Winery, for a recent article, I was even more eager and curious what this downright passionate proprietor is creating with these lovingly tended-for vineyards. So what better way to start than with the varietal Napa is known for?

Flavor Profile: Pop the cork and breathe in immediate aromas of dried fruits, forest floor, and a bit of mocha. This Cabernet Sauvignon presents a dark purple-black on the pour, settling into the glass more purple-rouge, nearly impenetrable at its core, and with a tint of orange-brown at the outermost perimeter. Initial aromas are of leather, dried black cherry, unsweetened cacao, and bourbon barrel. Swirl and the wine releases scents of dried rose petals, a hint of chocolate, and a solid acidic line. The palate is full, presenting a solid acidity, and tannins that maintain a friendly presence. There’s just a slight amplification of the acid as the tasting progresses, which in turn showcases the fruit. Likewise, the tannins slightly increase towards the finish, paying homage to those floral notes. Dominant flavors are of oak barrel woodiness, black cherry, tart plum, decadent but dark chocolate, earth, a bit of bacon, and a hint of Brazil nut complete with its skins. 

Food Pairing: I paired the Smith-Madrone 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon with a veal roulade: thinly sliced veal rolled with goats cheese, spinach, and cranberries, and encased in prosciutto. First of all, yum. Second of all, perfect pairing. As the evening progressed, the wine opened up beautifully, making way for a rounder texture. The salty prosciutto also gave the wine a more supple mouthfeel and played up the fruit and acidity.

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