The struggle the grapes undergo each year adds to the complexity of the fruit
93 points: Stu Smith planted Riesling at the Smith-Madrone winery in 1972 because it was one of the four most important wine grapes in the world. He stands by that statement more than 50 years later. This Riesling shows minerality, tree fruit, and a touch of classic petroleum. The vines benefit from dry farming, cooler site selection, and old well-draining volcanic soils. The struggle they undergo each year adds to the complexity of the fruit. At $36, you can have your Napa Riesling today and put a few in your cellar where this wine will surely grow in complexity. This is a wine that cellar dwellers shouldn’t overlook.
The 2018 Riesling is extremely aromatic with floral notes and green apple on the nose. A light golden yellow straw color and medium viscosity. On the palate, hints of lime, mixed with stone fruits (white peach and apricots) tame the lime citrus. On the finish, the minerality comes through strong and pure from either the volcanic soil, or sandstone, limestone or the general rocky soil found on the property. The minerality and acidity is jovial and enticing with a semi-sweet crescendo. Very low residual sugar (.7%) and coming in at 13.3% alcohol, Smith-Madrone Vineyards produced 1,611 cases.
The Food and Wine Pairing: Started the dinner with an appetizer of fresh jumbo prawns with red cocktail sauce and parsley. The wine was excellent with it! Pulled this wine out of the cellar specifically for our meal this evening of baked Cheesy Hasselback Chicken (Tasty recipe, modified). We had this wine and meal the day before St Patrick’s Day. The ingredients included: mushrooms, sea salt, black pepper, fresh thyme leaf, baby spinach, paprika, shredded cheddar cheese and added Jalapeño bacon. With vertical cuts in the chicken breasts, spinach along with mushrooms were inserted into each cut, the flavors of the chicken were wonderful with each bite. The bacon on top provided an “extra boost” to the flavors inside the chicken breast. This has now become one of our favorite dishes. With the semi-dry and fruit forward Riesling, the wine surrounded the tangy chicken with comforting coolness. A very enjoyable food and wine pairing. Accompanied with additional sautéed mushrooms and spinach. Also a fresh garden salad with halved tomatoes, cut green onions, iceberg lettuce and Pepita seeds with a Champagne dressing.
Classic Riesling aromatics
Classic Riesling aromatics of petrol, tropical fruit and petrichor. Stu Smith is one of the founding fathers of the variety in California's Napa Valley, choosing east-facing slopes for his Riesling vines. The wine offers ample ripeness, with tropical fruits, zesty lime, fleshy ripe peach, and some phenolic notes on the palate.
An excellent representation of what an Alsatian wine can offer when located in the U.S.
It certainly is delicious. Maybe not start your day- but a great way to end your day. Smith-Madrone Riesling is always in my cellar. Located on Spring Mountain, Smith-Madrone was founded in 1971. This wine is as unique as its founder Stu (co-founded with his brother Charles). Riesling is often thought of as only being a sweet wine. This is an excellent representation of what an Alsatian wine can offer at the benefit of being located here in the US. Dry, crisp, with just (IMHO) the perfect amount of petrol.
Magnificent (and more)
SommTV's Jason Wise and Claire Copp talk all about Riesling; you can jump to 19:15 when they focus on Smith-Madrone.
Pretty color of light gold. Strong nose of citrus, lemons, yellow apples, pears, limes, light earth, diesel and minerals. Full bodied and creamy with high acidity. Dry on the palate with a touch of RS to balance it out. Showing limes, lemons, green and red apples, minerals, light earth, light diesel, herbs and white pepper. Long finish with light almonds and limes. This 5-year-old Riesling from Napa Valley is drinking so nicely now. Elegant and rich. Well balanced with nice complexity and mouthfeel. Neither tart nor bitter, and I love that. Buttery and creamy. Soft and smooth. Will be interesting to revisit it in 5 years. Good right out of the bottle, and better after some air time. Better when not too cold. Good by itself as a sipping wine.
Absolutely delicious and so expressive
Smith-Madrone continues to deliver with their Riesling. Like guitarists who cannot stop writing amazing riffs record after record, the Smith brothers continue to turn out stellar Riesling after Riesling from their Spring Mountain site (around 1,800 feet and slopes at a grade up to 34%). The 2018 continues that trend
94 points: Medium yellow color. The aromas pop with peaches, pineapple, lime, accented with honeycomb, white tea, and plenty of chalky, limestone, and saline tones. The palate sports lip-smacking acidity and a peachy-keen appeal with honeydew melon and lime. There are so many chalky, mineral, crushed rock, and mountain stream vibes to parse through here, but the wine maintains an effortless feel. This vintage seems like it will age for a very long time, as there’s a ton to unpack. Still, absolutely delicious right now, and so expressive.
Intoxicating Napa Valley Riesling
Aromas of Granny Smith apple, apricot blossom and grapefruit pith draw you in to this intoxicating Napa Valley Riesling. The wine made by Charles F. Smith III has flavors of apricot, white peach and lemon zest with a silky, yet waxy, mouthfeel. There is a nice balance of minerality and salinity before the long finish that keeps inviting you in for another sip.
Pale gold color and more
Before tasting the latest Riesling from Smith-Madrone I was reminded of a time years ago when I attended a Riesling class and food pairing. The wines were from one winery in the Mosel region of Germany (grown on steep hillsides similar to Smith-Madrone) and I remember that only the last couple of wines we sampled could be described as sweet. It was eye-opening for me at the time as I had assumed all Rieslings to be sweet, prior to taking my first wine certification classes, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was wrong. I was equally – and very pleasantly – surprised when I had my first Riesling wine from Smith-Madrone.
The wine is the color of pale gold, and sparkly, making it very appealing. On the nose, which I detected from about three inches away, I was reminded of sweet Meyer lemons, ripe grapefruit, wet pebbles in a stream, a touch of pineapple, talcum powder and Golden Delicious apples. I was anxious to taste the wine and immediately noted its rich mouth-coating viscosity, a lot of that Golden Delicious apple I found on the nose, as well as more pineapple, less lemon, with a mild to medium acidity that held on for a nice long finish. It wasn’t bone dry or sweet; instead it had a nice sweet spot that I thought would pair well with a cheese board, pasta in a cream sauce, fried chicken or all by itself!
The wine is all estate Spring Mountain District fruit, 100% Riesling, grown at an elevation of 1,300-1,900 feet, with slopes angling up to 34%. The vineyard is partially dry-farmed and most of the Riesling was planted on its own rootstock…the same hands cleared, planted, tend and make the wine…for the last fifty years.
Winemaker Charlie Smith describes the wine: The 2018 Riesling opens with abundant floral notes buttressed by underpinnings of lime, lemon and exotic oranges. This delicate, fetching aroma leads one to expect a wine on the lighter, more delicate side and, when tasted, this expectation is confirmed. On the palate the wine is stylish and elegant, demonstrating a brilliant acidity that is at once fine and lively, tasty and fun and not the least off putting. The acid feels just right; it’s very much like biting into a delicious, crunchy Riesling flavored apple. For a wine of this delicate construction, it still manages to retain a solid core of vibrant fruit. It’s svelte and elegant, it’s drinking beautifully now and shows great promise for the future.
Smith-Madrone was founded partly on the premise of making great Riesling (i.e., not to dis the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay!), given its mountain site and steep slopes. Stu Smith describes the effort to market Riesling as Sisyphean…and to that point beginning with the 1983 Riesling vintage Smith-Madrone went where no other American winery would go for the next 17 years – changing the label from Johannisberg Riesling to “just” Riesling, and essentially outlasting the BATF and prevailing with that name.
Smith-Madrone’s Riesling is one of perhaps less than ten Rieslings grown/made in the Napa Valley.
Perennial favorite domestic Riesling
93+ points: Petrol, lemon, lime zest, granny smith apple, green pear, crushed rock and fresh herbs. Huge weight upfront on the palate, with stony mineral backbone and searing acidity. Quite a full throttle mouthfeel with lots of tension, this Riesling needs hours of decant and if you can wait a few years—even better. The sweetness of the fruit comes in as the temperature increases, so despite our photo of it in the snow…let it it come up to temp. Never a bad vintage with Smith Madrone and a perennial favorite domestic Riesling for us.
As brothers Charles and Stuart Smith say on their winery’s website, the grapes for their riesling derive from the same plots in the same mountainside vineyard, are pruned in the same way every year and likewise treated by the same methods in the vineyard and the cellar. The elements that influence differences in the wine year to year are the climate, the weather, the nuances of vintage itself. The result is consistently one of the best rieslings made in California every year. The Smith-Madrone Riesling 2018, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, illustrates this principle. The color is light but bright straw-gold; the bouquet offers penetrating notes of kiwi and lychee, peach and pear, jasmine and honeysuckle, with juicy apple in the background and an enveloping element of petrol and graphite; I first reviewed this wine in 2022, and a year in the bottle has given it polish, burnish, an unfolding sense of grapefruit-pineapple richness balanced by bracing acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; a few moments in the glass unfurl notes of quince and ginger, candied orange rind and an enveloping flowery, dusty meadowy quality, all ensconced in a lovely, spare talc-like texture; the finish is awash with sea-breeze, honeycomb, flint and grapefruit pith, every element encompassed in a superbly balanced package. Drinking beautifully now but well-stored will last to 2028 to ’32. Exceptional.
A powerful Riesling
Always excited to try the new releases from this producer, and while the cab and chard are direct-hits, it’s the Riesling that really gets me slobbering in anticipation. No longer an un-sung hero of dry California versions of the variety, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a true wine-dork who isn’t familiar. It’s a pretty small group: with Navarro, Husch, Tatomer and Maidenstoen representing far-north and south examples, with Smith-Madrone and Montelena representing the rarer Napa Valley exhibits. Smith-Madrone has plugged this wine into their–classically–THREE-WINE roster for decades, staying true to style and never faltering from quality, and it rarely shows the kind of vintage fluctuations cab and chard will do in the Valley. Sometimes it’s firmer and tighter–sometimes the buried fruit is punctuated, but Riesling is one of those *long-runners*, and even opening an ’18 seems criminal. But “research” must be performed. And research I will!
At this age, the glass shows a barely-yellow glow on a nearly-clear liquid. I got more petrol on this one on first pour, but it blows off into more of an exhaust-fume version with time. Still: it’s there, coupling fresh asphalt with broken-stem weediness and glimpses of green pear and chalky berry lurking shyly.
In the mouth, it explodes in raspy wonder: the fruit sweet and fulfilling kiwi and apricot dreams. But alongside is a harsh wonder of acid and dissolved mineral, the bitterness fighting hard against delicate syrup and ultimately forming a tactile union difficult to argue with. This is a powerful Riesling–not for the faint, the fruity-obsessed, or the sweet-addicted. The finish allows more perfect polish to be absorbed, and besides the rashly dry tannin, copious pear aligns citrus cravings for your final memory. Possibly the longest-aging potential I’ve had from them recently. Stash some away for enjoyment over 20 years.
Best California Riesling that exists
A video review: comments include: 95 points, spectacular, fully integrated characters and more.
93 points: One of the truly unique wines made in the Napa Valley, Smith-Madrone has a small amount of old-vine Riesling planted on their Spring Mountain District property. The wine displays petrol and wet stone notes on the nose with ripe pear and pink grapefruit blossom. The palate is rich and viscous, showing the heat of the vintage. Layers of intense citrus, melon and exotic fruits collide with copious minerals on the palate. Downright delicious to consume now, with its bright minerality and oily texture, enjoy this beauty over the next eight years to come.
An abundance of layered flavors
Smith-Madrone has been producing excellent quality wines from their estate towards the top of Spring Mountain for more than 4 decades. Proprietors and winemakers, Charles and Stuart Smith, haven’t changed their style for the critics over the years but have maintained terroir driven wines that embrace their well maintained estate. They have battled fire and rains over the years but take the utmost care of their vineyards. With their newly released 2018 Riesling, they exemplify their standard of winemaking to produce age worthy wine. They have been making a Riesling since their beginning and if you are going to produce a good Riesling in Napa, the cooler and wetter slopes of Spring Mountain are an ideal spot to do so. Spring Mountain produces some of my favorite wines as the weather and terroir produce some of the more unique wines from Napa. This vintage has a nice structure and balance with an abundance of layered flavors. The crisp acidity holds this relatively delicate wine together with flavors of crunchy green apple, orange blossoms and lemon zest. It leaves a mouthful with a slight touch of creaminess that coats the mouth with almost a feeling of eating a lemon curd. The 2018 Riesling will age gracefully for at least a decade or more. It stands up nicely to spicy foods.
Is this the best example of this variety made in the new world?
2016 Riesling from Spring Mountain needs no introduction to true California wine-drinkers. These people only make three wines and they make them WELL, and at superb values for Napa Valley these days. MUST LOVE PETROL on this one, as it courses through the nose leading grippy papaya and pineapple through its paces into deep, dank acidity and spiraling stoniness. Is this the best example of this variety made in the new world? A strong argument is available, and I’m open to suggestions otherwise.
Medium yellow with generous aromas of beeswax, petrol, apricots and citrus. Flavors include apricots, stone fruit and citrus supported by juicy acidity. The flavors linger on the palate with a bit of roundness for a very long, clean finish. What would I pair with this wine? Well, first, you don’t really need food, but this wine deserves to be paired with a meal. Farfalle with a Pistachio Cream Sauce, my favorite creamy pasta, would be perfect.
Vibrant acidity balanced by just-perceptible residual sugar
Time for a Napa…Riesling! In this case, from a steep, higher elevation vineyard in the Spring Mountain District AVA. I quite enjoyed this: juicy stone fruit notes, with a vibrant acidity balanced by just-perceptible residual sugar. This has a nice mineral density as well, with notes of petrol and wet basalt. West Coast Riesling is a world worth exploring: fresh apricot, basalt, citrus pith.
One of my best discoveries of 2022
95 points: One of my best discoveries of 2022, I have followed this winery since the mid-1970s. The Riesling has been consistent and fine. This is tightknit and nicely built. Apple blossoms, green apple, mineral notes, long zesty finish.
Each year as I plan my wine-tasting schedule, I grapple with fixed events.... These popular events exist because their categories are active in the marketplace with consumers and professionals. Rieslings are another story, and I should have tasted more of them. For decades my colleague retailers, e-tailers, and restaurateurs would tell me, “I like Rieslings, but they just don’t sell! Consequently, retail shelves, online listings, and restaurant lists showcase the major categories (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel for red wines and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio for white wines. As 2022 winds down, I am working through the wines I tasted, seeing what stood out, and deciding how to pivot my game 2023 game plan so that I give Rieslings and other under-the-radar wine groups their due justice. Here is a list of 10 of my most memorable Rieslings tasted in 2022..
Smith-Madrone proves it can be done and done well; it confirms all the expectations of elegance
Wine of the Week: Riesling completists, take note! Napa is probably one of the last places you might look for your fix of this most obsessive-compulsive of grapes, but Smith-Madrone prove that it can be done, and done well. Mountain viticulture is surely one of the vital elements, and the fog-wreathed hillsides shown above give an indication of the cooling influence that will benefit Riesling. Smith-Madrone's vineyards lie between 1,300 and 2,000 feet (400–610 m) with some slopes as steep as 34% according to their website. Furthermore, their Riesling vines date from their first plantings in 1972. They are own-rooted and the vineyards unirrigated. Such qualities indicate the sort of purist approach that bodes well, since old vines are generally revered for greater concentration of fruit and ungrafted vines are considered more authentic by some (perhaps unfairly, although they are certainly rare), while unirrigated vineyards appeal to our desire for minimal manipulation, especially when water is increasingly scarce. The 2016 vintage of Smith-Madrone Riesling confirmed all the expectations of excellence. It has flavour characteristics that echo the great German archetypes, yet is distinctly New World, perhaps most obviously via soft acidity that would be unusual in most Teutonic versions. Their helpful tech sheet reveals titratable acidity on the lower side of the Riesling range, at 8.1 grams per litre, although the pH of 3.04 is typical. Furthermore, residual sugar is 6.8 grams per litre, giving that impression of slight sweetness which is Riesling's great gift to the world. Six years of bottle age has brought out flavours of basil leaf, lime cordial, lemon meringue and a definite petrographic aroma that might be described as slate or oil or mineral, depending on your preference. While it will doubtless continue to mature, I felt it was showing at its best for drinking right now, with intact primary fruit and maturing complexity in equal measure – it is a wine to relish in all its varietal glory.
This traditional, German-style Riesling is scented with petrol and pine, leading to crisp flavors of tart peaches and apricots on a slightly grippy texture. It makes a wonderful alternative to the usual Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
A textbook Riesling
A nice surprise, a textbook Riesling by an underrated producer from a region not particularly known for the grape. It’s bright and fresh, with plenty of fruit, crisp-apple acidity, and a long, bone-dry finish that leaves you wanting more. A fit pairing for Festa dei Sette Pesci (Feast of the Seven Fishes), the traditional Italian-American Christmas Eve supper, but also just to sip by the fire at the end of the day.
Lively and fruity, Anjou pear, nice acidity, mineral finish
𝐇𝐨𝐰 𝐃𝐨𝐞𝐬 𝐑𝐢𝐞𝐬𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐀𝐠𝐞?
Age-ability, a benefit of a well-made Riesling, is often overlooked.
If given time and the right cellar conditions, Riesling can age for decades. And Napa warm temperatures offer a unique expression for this wine: instead of lemony flavors, it leans toward ripe apricot, pear and a savory depth to the aromas.
A Smith-Madrone Riesling that is 25 or even 30 years old is a thing of beauty, with a complexity of aromas that makes swirling the glass a gift to the senses.
Aged Riesling pays great dividends to those with patience and rivals any equally aged red wine.
2017 Smith-Madrone Riesling
Made from mountain grown grapes
Color: Golden straw
Nose: flavors of passion fruit, orange and apricot
On the palate: Lively and fruity, Anjou pear, nice acidity, and mineral finish
Food pairing: cheeses, pasta or to fine fish dishes
Minerality and acidity are jovial and enticing
The 2016 Riesling is extremely aromatic with floral notes and green apple on the nose. A light golden yellow straw color and medium viscosity. On the palate, strong lime, mixed with stone fruits (white peach and apricots) tame the lime citrus. On the finish, the minerality comes through strong and pure from either the volcanic soil, or sandstone, limestone or the general rocky soil found on the property. The minerality and acidity are jovial and enticing with a semi-sweet crescendo. Thai, Pad Thai or Phad Thai, is commonly served as a street food and at restaurants in Thailand. The Smith-Madrone 2016 Estate Riesling was pulled from the cellar for last night’s meal due to the spiciness of the dish called Pad Thai Chicken. We had tried a similar recipe before with shrimp, but wanted to do it with chicken. The ingredients were flat rice noodles, virgin olive oil, fish sauce, minced garlic, chicken, eggs, bean sprouts, sliced red bell pepper, chopped green onions, roasted peanuts, brown sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, creamy peanut butter and Sriracha. Accompanying the meal was a fresh garden salad with an Asian dressing. The meal packed such wide ranging flavors and textures. The 2016 Smith-Madrone Riesling was a godsend. The wine was refreshing and quenched the palate. The barely sweet finish was spot on for this meal!
The sort of purist approach that bodes well...Smith-Madrone proves it can be done and done well
Napa isn't just about Cabernet and Chardonnay …Riesling completists, take note! Napa is probably one of the last places you might look for your fix of this most obsessive-compulsive of grapes, but Smith-Madrone prove that it can be done, and done well. Mountain viticulture is surely one of the vital elements, and the fog-wreathed hillsides shown above give an indication of the cooling influence that will benefit Riesling. Smith-Madrone's vineyards lie between 1,300 and 2,000 feet (400–610 m) with some slopes as steep as 34% according to their website. Furthermore, their Riesling vines date from their first plantings in 1972. They are own-rooted and the vineyards unirrigated. Such qualities indicate the sort of purist approach that bodes well, since old vines are generally revered for greater concentration of fruit and ungrafted vines are considered more authentic by some (perhaps unfairly, although they are certainly rare), while unirrigated vineyards appeal to our desire for minimal manipulation, especially when water is increasingly scarce. (As an aside, I remember Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill telling me that all and any irrigation compromises terroir, which has logic to it, although is perhaps an example of the convenience of his own uniqueness.) Regardless, the 2016 vintage of Smith-Madrone Riesling confirmed all the expectations of excellence. It has flavour characteristics that echo the great German archetypes, yet is distinctly New World, perhaps most obviously via soft acidity that would be unusual in most Teutonic versions. Their helpful tech sheet reveals titratable acidity on the lower side of the Riesling range, at 8.1 grams per litre, although the pH of 3.04 is typical. Furthermore, residual sugar is 6.8 grams per litre, giving that impression of slight sweetness which is Riesling's great gift to the world. Six years of bottle age has brought out flavours of basil leaf, lime cordial, lemon meringue and a definite petrographic aroma that might be described as slate or oil or mineral, depending on your preference. While it will doubtless continue to mature, I felt it was showing at its best for drinking right now, with intact primary fruit and maturing complexity in equal measure – it is a wine to relish in all its varietal glory. However, many markets have moved on to the 2017 vintage, which is the current release. Our US executive editor Elaine, who knows the producer in far more detail than I do, advises that their Riesling is 'guided by style in the sense that they have to centrally pay attention to sugar levels since they want it to be on the drier side of things and so specifically aim for that style, whereas the Chardonnay and Cabernet are guided more by vintage conditions. That said, I believe their wines in general are guided by structural focus and vintage honesty.' She adds, 'Smith-Madrone in general has worked hard to keep their wines at good value for the region and still produce one of the best-value Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley as well. The consistency across their wines is excellent (with appropriate vintage variation), and they each age quite impressively as well. The two brothers who founded it got up in the mountains of the Spring Mountain District in the early 1970s, and in many ways represent the last generation that could be middle class and start a new property in Napa Valley but they also happened to get in at a time when Cabernet from mountain property was still a relatively less explored concept so land was available and restrictions were not yet in place.'