Chardonnay Reviews

WineReviewOnline, Vince Simmon, March 23, 2023

Stunning Chardonnay with deep, rich flavors, bright acidity and balanced oak

2018 Chardonnay

95 points: Smith-Madrone delivers a stunning Chardonnay with deep, rich flavors, bright acidity, and balanced oak use.  Located in Napa’s North-West Spring Mountain District, it enjoys a cooler climate, for Napa, that helps their wines to develop really rich flavors while retaining much of their natural acidity.  Smith-Madrone wines are elegant expressions, focused on elevating the best fruit into wines focused on balance, acidity, complexity, and notes distinctive of their source.  This Chardonnay, for instance, sings with notes of baked nutmeg-spiced pears, praline, caramelized pineapple, and ripe red apple accents.  One of the beautiful aspects of this wine is that it’s ready to drink now and is beautiful out of the bottle right after opening

The Chalk Report, Andrew Chalk, January 3, 2023

One of the quiet heroes of Napa Valley

2018 Chardonnay

Appearance: Burnished gold hue;

Nose: Tropical fruit of pineapple and mango. Ripe golden apples. Lime. Toasty notes;

Palate: Vibrant acid, underlying phenolic backbone contributes to a rustic mouthfeel, tropical fruit shines through;

Fascinating to sip through during a Godfather rerun, or with roasted poultry, pork chops, or almost any type of seafood. Newcomers to wine might like to try this as their first chardonnay (America’s most popular white grape, by a country mile) since its nose and palate amount to a kind of “reference case” for New World chardonnay. However it talks to you, I think you will like it. Recommended.

Smith-Madrone is over 50 years old, but one of the quiet heroes of Napa. So quiet that its consistent commitment to quality may have gone unnoticed in an environment of wineries that seem behaviourally equivalent to screaming teenagers on a Spirit airlines flight. This wine, like all Smith-Madrone wines, is dry-farmed (i.e. the vines are not irrigated). The grapes grow on the top of Spring Mountain, a beautiful district of Napa Valley set out on either side of narrow, tortuous Spring Valley Road. The soil is very important to founder Stuart Smith and winemaker Charles Smith. In their words: “Our soils are mostly deep-red Aiken Stoney Clay loam, part of the Aiken, Kidd, Forward complex of soils which are volcanic-based, well-drained and deep. The underlying geology is the very old (250,000,000 years) Franciscan Series Assemblage, unique to California coastal ranges, which includes altered mafic volcanic rocks, deep-sea radiolarian cherts, sandstones, limestones, serpentines, shales and high-pressure metamorphic rocks, all of them faulted and mixed in a seemingly chaotic manner as a result of the Pacific Tectonic Plate subducting under the Continental Plate and shears both off into an aggregate mix. Overlying this formation is the much younger weathered Sonoma Volcanic soil that forms our soils of today.” Their style is unapologetically artisan. Emanating distinctiveness that doesn’t stress the inherent qualities in the grapes, and never produces ‘paint by numbers’ wines. That deep commitment to authenticity has been a model for many young winemakers.

A Chardonnay to respect for its balance and nuanced flavors

2018 Chardonnay

Light golden with generous aromas of toast, citrus and melon. Flavors are citrusy with melon and toasty oak in a round, medium body with notable acidity. The finish is round and clean and very long. This is a Chardonnay to respect for its balance and nuanced flavors. Yes, it is fermented and aged in oak, but in the right hands this is a good thing. It has many years ahead of it, but it’s delicious now. Pair it with Halibut with Swiss Chard and Ginger Cream Sauce.

Nancy Brazil, PullThatCork, December 19, 2022

TheDrunkenCyclist, Jeff Kralik, December 16, 2022


2018 Chardonnay

I have long been a fan of the wines from Smith-Madrone, a tiny (as least as far as Napa goes) outpost on Spring Mountain. Their Riesling might be one of the best wines produced in Napa, the Cabernet Sauvignon is easily one of the best values in the Valley, and the Chardonnay is a wine that I would assert belongs on the list of best Napa Valley Chardonnays. Gorgeous fruit on the nose with tropical fruit, white flower, and almond paste predominate. The palate is quite tart, with fruit at the forefront, hints of oak, and a subtle creaminess that defines Smith-Madrone. This is not the biggest, most bombastic Chard from Napa, but I doubt there is another that I would rather have on my dining room table. Outstanding. 93 Points.

NittanyEpicurean, Michael Chelus, December 14, 2022

Great acidity and balance

2018 Chardonnay

The wine showed a bright yellow color. Apple, lemon curd, honey, roasted brioche, oak and whiffs of stone fruit all arrived on the nose. Apple, cedar, toasted almond and dried apricot were the leaders out of the clubhouse on a robust palate followed by notes of honey and oak. The wine exhibited great acidity and balance. It was medium-bodied and demonstrated good length. This wine would pair perfectly with a classic preparation of Sole Almondine.

Wine1percent, Stephen McConnell, December 12, 2022

Here we have someone doing it perfectly for decades right under everyone's noses and it really doesn't get any better

2016 Chardonnay

One sniff and the floral aromatics on this one are off the charts. Another and the chalky, mineralific, raspy match-head blows you away. Swirl again and the melding of these two is magical as it caresses thick buttery fruit. Is this how you spell perfect Chardonnay? I suppose that argument could be made. Significant golden straw showing here at 6, the chartreuse aspects a faint glow in the body. A nose so overwhelmingly restrained in its grandeur, its elegance, its expression of tasty melon, lychee and green apple.

And then you taste it. The entry a powerful slam of stone-fruit and tropical, edged with bitter acid, petrichor, and steely flint. The middle cascades ridiculous fruit–sweet and chewy–on all surfaces, the balance of which boggles and stuns as the wet soil and high sparkly notes go tête-à-tête on each other in a cuddly battle for non-supremacy. Golden butter and applesauce coat the finish, where the kind of tannin reflecting a near-endless lifespan cause cherubic dreams.

Ya know–Chardonnay’s a weird thing. Marketing is constantly insisting this region or that region will produce the most spectacular examples and we should look no further. Wine-writer is continually penning the same, cookie-cutter captions extolling this producer or that producer as the end-all of modern exhibition. But here. Look here. HERE we have someone doing it perfectly for decades right under everyone’s noses and it really doesn’t get any better.

TheFermentedFruit, Ryan O'Hara, September 5, 2022

Overdelivers yet again

2018 Chardonnay

Smith-Madrone is a consistent favorite of mine. Great to have a sneak peek of their recent releases, and not surprisingly their Spring Mountain Chardonnay overdelivers yet again, with gorgeous fruit laced with preserved lemon and white floral aromatics. There’s tension, acidity and even a chalky minerality. Dare I say it makes me think of White Burgundy?! Bravo, I can’t get enough!

Free Run Juice, Doug Wilder, September 7, 2022

Nose is pristine toast

2018 Chardonnay

The nose is pristine toast, crème brûlée, Meyer lemon, penetrating pineapple and saline with a whiff of mint. The palate entry shows taut acidity leading to a graham cracker, citrus and marshmallow core finishing with pain grillée and apricot. Drink 2022-2034.

Founded in 1971, this dry-farmed estate on Napa Valley's Spring Mountain produces exceptionally well-made wines at value points commonly seen no later than a quarter-century ago.

Rupal Shankar, Syrah Queen Instagram, September 1, 2022

This Chardonnay will turn anyone into a Chardonnay lover

2018 Chardonnay

Winding down the last few weeks of the summer with a delicious Chardonnay. Do you have a favorite bottle? Let me know. One of my favorites is Smith-Madrone. This Chardonnay will turn anyone into a Chardonnay lover with its understated personality. It is everything you want in a Chardonnay. The wine is subtle at first but then exuberantly opens up with sensational aromatics of apple, lemon, apricot and brioche. There is nice zippy acidity, structure and balance on the palate. There is a refined elegance on the mouthfeel with a purity that lasts through the finish.

Vinepair, Edward Deitch, August 17, 2022

Its hallmark is its balance — bright, refreshing acidity and just the right oak treatment

2018 Chardonnay

One of the things to appreciate about the wines of Smith-Madrone Vineyards is the time they spend in the bottle before release, which gives them longer to develop and reveal their dimension and complexity before they are purchased and enjoyed. For example, the current-release Chardonnay is the 2018 vintage; the always excellent Riesling is from 2017; and the Cabernet Sauvignon is a 2018. It’s fortunate that brothers Stuart and Charles Smith, who founded Smith-Madrone in the Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District in 1971, are able to hold back the wines and let them age for a year or two longer than many other vineyards. Hence, the 2018 Chardonnay is a stunning wine at this point in its life. Not only is it one of the Napa Valley’s top Chardonnays, but also a significant value for its quality at $45. Its hallmark is its balance — bright, refreshing acidity and just the right oak treatment (nine months in French oak barrels, a little more than half of them new) that blends seamlessly and doesn’t dominate. The tastes suggest green apple, Meyer lemon, and kumquat. Add to that some baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, all of it leading to a remarkably long finish that leaves you with minerals, herbs, and a touch of cream. The wine is easy to drink — easy not in the inconsequential sense, but in that all the elements have come together enticingly at this point and should evolve even more in the years to come. Like many California Chardonnays, it weighs in at a hefty 14.5 percent alcohol, but you won’t even notice because the wine is so balanced. Smith-Madrone, a 200-acre ranch with 34 acres of steep vineyards as high as 2,000 feet, was a pioneer of dry farming in Napa and produces just a handful of wines. It has pretty much stuck to the less-is-more model for most of its existence. With the 2018 Chardonnay, it’s easy to understand why.


The Wine Enthusiast, October 2022, Virginie Boone

Perennially impressive

2018 Chardonnay

92 points: Barrel fermented and aged in 55% new French oak, this perennially impressive white is creamy and seamless on the palate, in ripe layers of pear, pineapple and vanilla bean. Balanced acidity and structure keep it focused and finessed.

Kirsten Georgi, ArmchairSommelier Instagram, June 17, 2022

Balance of power and elegance

2018 Chardonnay

Craving some American comfort food. It’s way too hot to turn on the oven, so I went to the store and got a rotisserie chicken and some corn on the cob. Checked my wine fridge, and PERFECT — a bottle of Smith-Madrone Chardonnay. Beautifully crafted year in and out, the hallmark of all Smith-Madrone wines for me is the balance of power and elegance. The 2018 Chardonnay is a gorgeous glass of toast, ripe lemon, and yellow apple. Full-bodied, and deliciously tart, without being a brute. Aaaaah.

The Wine Advocate, May 31, 2022

Remarkable length on the palate

2018 Chardonnay

91 points: The barrel-fermented 2018 Chardonnay saw 55% new French oak, noticeable on the nose as a delicate cedar, pencil-shavings note and hints of baking spices. The initial woodiness is backed by scents of white peaches and tart pineapples, ample weight on the medium to full-bodied palate and a crisp, taut finish. What stands out about this effort is its remarkable length on the finish, crisp and lemony without being excessively sour, ultimately adding great refreshment.

Norm Roby, WineReviewOnline, May 17, 2022

Bold and daring, big and luxurious but not over the top

2018 Chardonnay

94 points: Smith-Madrone has been around for 50 years and so the Smith brothers, Charlie and Stu, have pretty much explored every possibility when working with Spring Mountain Chardonnay.  Still, I’m surprised at how bold and daring this 2018 is. It is big and luxurious, but not over-the-top. The color is definitely yellow, but shows some green tints. Ripe apple, spice, some pineapple, lemon meringue and creamy leesy aromas jump out of the glass. Creamy and opulent in texture, it comes across with lively, lemon zest, ripe apple, oak spice flavors that all work together and take us to some tangy acidity in the finish. This is not one of those buttery, over-oaked Chardonnays. Yes, it is big, but it also offers up lots of layered flavors and good acidity.

The Tasting Panel Magazine, Meridith May, May 2022

A gorgeous, glossy and elegant vintage

2018 Chardonnay

94 points: Dry-farmed fruit from estate vineyards atop Spring Mountain aged nine months in 55% new French oak. Vanilla nougat and lemon cream are discernible, as are apricot notes on the middle of the palate. Leesy and sensual with vibrant star fruit imparting crispness. A gorgeous, glossy and elegant vintage.

CMKwine, May 8, 2022, Cameron Kosson

Nicely balanced with minerality, acidity and a long finish

2018 Chardonnay

Smith Madrone doesn’t follow the trends, they produce terroir driven wines in a classic style. The 2018 Spring Mountain Chardonnay is clean and crisp. Pale straw yellow with flavors of green pear, jasmine, lemon meringue, crushed oyster shells, honey suckle and zest. Nicely balanced with minerality, acidity and a long finish. This Chardonnay is more in the style of a Chablis as it is grown in a cooler and wetter AVA. Will age gracefully for another decade.

Mary Ross, The Daily Herald, May 5, 2022

Every winemaker wants to produce a wine like this

2018 Chardonnay

For this month's spotlight on wine, Good Wine highlights the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, giving it pride of place as a Ross' choice. Enjoy this smooth wine with spring delicacies, including Vidalia onions, cheese-based dishes and other buttery dishes. It goes well with meat kebabs, too.

Every winemaker wants to produce a wine like this: Pure, juicy fruit outlined by refreshing acidity (in this case, like biting into a perfectly ripe apple, just plucked from the tree), luxurious texture (from judicious oak management and rich but undetectable 14.5% alcohol) and long, layered finish. But every winemaker doesn't have Spring Mountain vineyards, 1,900 feet above the valley floor, with steep, 34-degree slopes of well-drained volcanic soils, warmed by golden California sunshine and cooled by Pacific fog. And every winemaker won't chance daredevil, artisan techniques such as dry farming (i.e. no irrigation) and no wine filtration. The Smith brothers founded their winery in 1971 (adding "Madrone" to honor the mountains's prevalent evergreen), making them the new kids in Napa Valley's mid-20th century boom. They've since have earned international accolades for wines, winery practices and old-fashioned inspiration. For food, I'm going to try it with a quiche of bacon, cheddar and Vidalia onions (when available in the spring), but for now, the wine's rich, balanced flavors pair with a wide range of dishes, from cow's milk cheese and buttery preparations through to meat kebabs, making this a Chardonnay that every wine-lover wants to enjoy.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Peg Melnik, April 6, 2022

Extremely well-crafted

2018 Chardonnay

An impressive chardonnay with great minerality and tangy citrus notes that keep its lush flavors in check. Notes of apple, apricot and brioche. Pitch-perfect balance. Extremely well-crafted.

Rupal Shankar, Syrah Queen, March 13, 2022

It is everything you want in a Chardonnay

2018 Chardonnay

This wine will turn anyone into a Chardonnay lover with its understated personality.  It is everything you want in a Chardonnay.  The wine is subtle at first but then exuberantly opens up with sensational aromatics of apple, lemon, apricot and brioche.  There is nice zippy acidity, structure and balance on the palate.  There is a refined elegance on the mouthfeel with a purity that lasts through the finish.

CaliforniaWinesandWineries, Michael Kelly, February 12, 2022

Sophisticated and opulent presence on the palate

2018 Chardonnay

This wine, being dry farmed, has enough minerality to mirror spelunking in a cave. The wine tastes like no other Chardonnay in recent memory and I have enjoyed many Chardonnays.

The wine on the eyes immediately let one know this is “not ordinary.” Rather than your typical light straw or golden coloring, this is a combination of a green and yellow color. Next on the nose, apple is the predominant aromatic. Then on the palate is where this wine makes you do summersaults trying to figure it out! The first sip is one of minerality combined with stone fruits. If you were doing a blind tasting, you would be hard pressed to understand if this was a Chardonnay or blend of Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay, Picpoul Blanc/Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc/Chardonnay. The wine is lively, bouncy and flamboyant with a sophisticated and opulent presence on the palate. The finish is mid-length, structured and crisp with strong but not out of control acidity. It is still a lighter wine (as opposed to a Roussanne or Marsanne) being a Chardonnay, but a mysterious and elusive taste, eluding a typical Chardonnay. 

Essentially, the wine leaves one in a conundrum, scratching one’s head trying to define the traits, flavors and quality. In the end, I simply gave up on the mystery and enjoyed a great and unique wine. Worthy of your consideration and guaranteed at a blind tasting with friends to befuddle them with flavors with an enjoyable wine.

Steve McIntosh, Imbiber's Journal, January 6, 2022

Massive, bold, commanding, precise, haunting and more

2017 Chardonnay

92 points: As my taste buds have aged, my preferences have traded big wines for those with excitement derived from their athleticism and liveliness. But year after year, like Michael Corleone trying to resist the mafia, I'm drawn back to California chardonnay's largesse by this wine: the 2017 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain. Yes, it's massive, bold, and commanding. And, yes, it's rich, creamy, and all those other things that make up Cali Chard's archetype. But it's also precise and haunting and in possession of an acidic profile that delineates its mass with an elegant, well-defined curve. It's also delicious. If you're a chardonnay lover, skip the guesswork and reach for this.

Don Winkler, International Wine Review, January 20, 2022

A nicely polished mountain Chardonnay

2018 Chardonnay

94 points: Medium yellow gold. Orchard fruit with hints of Meyer lemon and vanilla on the nose. Full in the mouth with good intensity and seamless integration of oak with rich fruit and superb balance. A nicely polished mountain Chardonnay on the crisper, more mineral like end of the spectrum. Sourced from the estate’s dry-farmed mountain vineyard, fermented in barrel and aged in new French oak.

Dan Berger, Vintage Experiences, December 10, 2021


2017 Chardonnay

Exceptional: There are very few Chardonnays remaining in this world that display regional characteristics so distinctively as this wine has always done. This most recent vintage is no exception, particularly because the aroma is more connected to the core of minerality that so few Chardonnays ever display, combined with a very faint hint of an almost minty component. It is absolutely designed to go with medium- to lighter-weight seafood dishes and will be significantly improved with an extra 2 to 3 more years in the bottle. It is a Napa Valley treasure.

Oded's Wine Reviews, Oded Cohen, January 8, 2022

Complexity and more

2017 Chardonnay

A pretty deep gold in color.  Fruity nose with red and yellow apples, citrus, herbs, spices, toasted oak, marzipan, light vanilla and white pepper. Lovely nose.  Full bodied and creamy with medium acidity and long fat legs. Dry on the palate with citrus, limes, vanilla, oak, lemons, apples, pears, spices, bitter herbs and black pepper. Medium plus in length on the finish with almonds.  This is a very enjoyable Chardonnay from Napa Valley. Showing a nice mouthfeel with nice complexity. Easy drinking and good by itself or with food. A good quality wine, tangy and spicier than I expected.

NittanyEpicurean, Michael Chelus, January 1, 2022

Great acidity and balance

2017 Chardonnay

Following barrel fermentation, the wine was aged for ten months in French oak barrels (85% new). It comes in at 14.6% ABV. The wine showed a bright yellow color. Apple, cedar, honey, lemon, blood orange and oak all arrived on the nose. Apple, lemon curd, honey, blood orange, oak and hints of dried apricot followed on the palate where the citrus and honey stole the show. The wine exhibited great acidity and balance. It was light-bodied and demonstrated good length. This wine would pair wonderfully with a roast chicken stuffed with sage and garlic.

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