Overdelivers yet again
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!
Nose is pristine toast
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.
This Chardonnay will turn anyone into a Chardonnay lover
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.
Its hallmark is its balance — bright, refreshing acidity and just the right oak treatment
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.
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.
Balance of power and elegance
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.
Remarkable length on the palate
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.
Bold and daring, big and luxurious but not over the top
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.
A gorgeous, glossy and elegant vintage
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.
Nicely balanced with minerality, acidity and a long finish
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.
Every winemaker wants to produce a wine like this
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.
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.
It is everything you want in a 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.
Sophisticated and opulent presence on the palate
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.
Massive, bold, commanding, precise, haunting and more
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.
A nicely polished mountain 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.
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.
Complexity and more
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.
Great acidity and balance
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.
Brilliant acidity balances the rich flavors
Medium golden with generous aromas of stone fruit, grilled pineapple and toast. Flavors include ripe peaches and hints of pineapple supported by toasty notes and abundant citrusy acidity with a round mouthfeel. Flavors have become concentrated and rich with time in the bottle. There is no denying the oak influence in this wine, but the oak is skillfully used and results in delicious flavors. The generous fruit flavors are supported, not overwhelmed by toasty oak flavors and the brilliant acidity of the wine balances the rich flavors. The wine’s golden color hints at its age, but the flavors are lively. 100% Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged 10 months in French oak, 85% new.
Brothers Stu and Charles Smith have been making wine on Spring Mountain above Napa Valley since the early 1970s. The mountainside location sets Smith-Madrone apart from the valley and so does the brothers’ winemaking style. They make Cabernet Sauvignon in an elegant, old-world style along with lively, oaked Chardonnay and Riesling — yes, Riesling, because they both really love Riesling. Their wines don’t chase current fads in winemaking. Stu and Charles make wines they love to drink and you will too. Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery has been a true labor of love. When Stu first walked the property in 1970 it was forested. Vineyards planted in the prior century had long since been reclaimed by the forest, but Stu recognized the fundamentals of a great vineyard site: soil, climate and elevation. Charles joined Stu at the winery in 1972 and is the winemaker. The vineyard is essentially dry-farmed and located between 1,300 and 2,000 feet above sea level on the upper reaches of Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas Mountains west of Napa Valley. Some of the steepest parts of the vineyard sit at a 34% slope. The red Aiken clay loam soil runs deep, is volcanic in origin, rocky and well-drained. The first vines were planted in 1972 and included Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, which was grafted over to Chardonnay in 1986. Merlot and Cabernet Franc were added in 1998 and Petit Verdot in 2007. Each variety is planted at the optimal elevation and exposure: Chardonnay on the coolest north-facing slopes, east-facing slopes for Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon is planted on flat, south and west-facing exposures. All wines are sourced entirely from estate vineyards. Annual production is 3,000 to 4,000 cases. The mountainside vineyards and winery are beautiful and provide sweeping views of the Napa Valley below.
In 2021 Stu and Charlie celebrated the 50th anniversary of Smith-Madrone. Over those 50 years the Smiths have come to know Spring Mountain well. They have watched as the climate changed and wildfires increased in intensity and number. But they did more than watch, they made a plan to defend their property against wildfires. In October 2020 they were forced to execute that plan of defense when the Glass Fire skipped across the valley and up Spring Mountain. It was a harrowing time that could well have resulted in destruction of the winery. But it didn’t. Their 50th anniversary celebration must have been all the sweeter having survived the inferno.
Perfect balance between butter-bomb and lean stainless steel style of Chardonnay
To me this wine strikes the perfect balance between the fat butter-bomb style and the lean acidic stainless steel style of Chardonnay. It has aromas of caramel and butterscotch with peach and apricot flavors on the palate. It has good balance and structure and a long, lingering finish. The perfect partner to roast chicken.
92 points: Sourced from this stony, volcanic site at the top of Spring Mountain, the 2017 Chardonnay shows off ripe nectarine tones alongside vanilla cream and shades of roasted pineapple on the nose. The palate is full-bodied and viscous with a great veil of tension and salty undertones. Soft and rich on the mouth, with lemon rind and Macadamia nut accents, this is gorgeous to consume now and will cellar well over the next eight plus years, picking up nutty and earthy tones as it lies in the cellar. Drink 2021-2029.
A layered, structured wine
94 points: From steep, rocky soil, dry-farmed estate vineyards on top of Spring Mountain, this 10-month French oak-aged white offers aromas of butter pecan and lemon oil. Rich notes of banana cream pie, lemon verbena, salted pears, and honeyed peaches make for a layered, structured wine. Acidity performs well and the finish is crisp.
Exquisite, incredible complexity
Aromas of yellow apples, burnt caramel, and hazelnut reminiscent of a holiday tart. Zesty notes of citrus peel, tart green apple, pineapple, vanilla, baking spices, and hints of toast on the palate. The finish is lengthy, with citrus carrying through. Riveting acid. Tingly, almost peppery end. This wine has nice minerality, incredible complexity, and structure and is super balanced.....these wines were exquisite.... perfect for summer sipping. However, I could see myself drinking them year-round. The empty bottle happened way too soon. Both are lovely with or without food and a great value.
Notes of yellow apple, peach, papaya, almond croissant, cinnamon and nutmeg.
91 points: Full, creamy, fresh and dry with notes of yellow apple, peach, papaya, almond croissant, cinnamon and nutmeg.