Clean and crisp all the way through
Citrus fruit aromatics with flavors of green apple and apricot. Medium bodied in style that is clean and crisp all the way through. Drink now or hold back for ten plus years.
Palate is simply exquisite
94 points. Under cork. There are few constants in life: death, taxes, and stellar Riesling from Smith-Madrone. This is a perfect example. While it is close to a full five years out, this is actually the current release from the venerable winery. Medium color in the glass with lemon predominate as well as some lemon rind, a bit of wet rock, and a hint of an herbal aspect (basil?). The palate is simply exquisite, great fruit, good weight, fantastic acidity. Whoa. Perhaps a bit rounder than previous vintages, but holy cow. Outstanding.
Outstanding, the palate is simply exquisite
94 points: There are few constants in life: death, taxes, and stellar Riesling from Smith-Madrone. This is a perfect example. While it is close to a full five years out, this is actually the current release from the venerable winery. Medium color in the glass with lemon predominate as well as some lemon rind, a bit of wet rock, and a hint of an herbal aspect (basil?). The palate is simply exquisite, great fruit, good weight, fantastic acidity. Whoa. Perhaps a bit rounder than previous vintages, but holy cow. Outstanding.
96 points, Publisher’s Picks: Perfumed linen holds peonies, honey, and tangerine. A juicy, unctuous mouthfeel, with lemon bar, pineapple, and jicama. Vibrant minerality with a stark lemon drop-induced acidity.
The annual list. Here it is. But how do we define “great”? Notice that I didn’t write “greatest” or “best.” That’s because I believe it would be folly for any writer to attempt to enumerate the “greatest” or the “best” wines released in any year. There are too many wines, and there is too little time to accomplish such a feat. What I aim for in this annual summing-up post is a roster of 50 wines, from those I reviewed in the year in question, that touched me, moved me, convinced me that they were complete in terms of integrity, character and personality, tone, balance and inevitability. To which I add, a sense of excitement, a frisson, perhaps, of risk; nothing of complacency or settling for the quotidian. Profound wines? Oh, sure, plenty of these wines possess the sort of depth and dimension that we could name as profound. Don’t forget, however, the realms of elegance, grace, ethereality, litheness. It’s remarkable, I think, that this list, which represents almost an extreme range of intent, diversity and price, captures many of these criteria. These are all selections that should provide my readers with a great deal of thoughtful provocation and pleasure. Many of these wines are limited in production or probably not easy to find or off-putting in their financial requirements. So be it, friends.
One of America's top white wines
The 2017 Smith-Madrone Riesling is one of America's top white wines. A youthful five-year-old Riesling, this wine feels weightless in its heady jasmine floral scents and pretty lemon-tart flavors. This alluring expression is made from mountain grown grapes, honoring the international tradition of Riesling which thrives on steep hillsides. Smith-Madrone is a family-run estate-bottled winery dedicated to producing fine wines exclusively from its own vineyards. The winery is blessed with some of the most breathtaking vineyards in all of Napa Valley.
Racy acidity and deep minerality
I love drinking rare, expensive wine as much as anyone, but I’m a bargain hunter at heart. I’m always on the lookout for the reds, whites, rosés and sparklers that deliver top quality at a reasonable cost. So, as I reviewed my 2023 tasting notes, I was delighted to discover this was a banner year for good values, despite inflation. I culled my 50 good buys from 3,243 wines from 21 countries that I sipped this year. I’ve tried to highlight what’s new, at least to me, but some are familiar labels that consistently deliver deliciousness—and they haven’t raised their prices, either.
Every year I ask the same rhetorical question: Why don’t people drink more riesling? Napa pioneer Stu Smith has been making stylish German-style examples with racy acidity and deep minerality for decades on Napa’s Spring Mountain. This is an excellent vintage.
Surprisingly complex with a veneer of Old World elegance
It’s indeed special — fruity and flowery but surprisingly complex with a veneer of Old World elegance despite its Spring Mountain provenance. I don’t drink a lot of riesling, and certainly not from California, but that may have to change thanks to the folks at Smith-Madrone.
Excellent freshness and depth of flavor
Light yellow straw. This youthful Riesling shows excellent potential. The bouquet evokes floral notes, wet river stones, and citrus. The palate reveals excellent freshness and depth of flavor with firm, mouthwatering acidity. The wine will become more expressive over time.
A sense of purity, minerality and freshness
Medium yellow. Opens with scents of cling peach, lemon and chamomile flowers. The palate reveals a scintillating, sweet fruit-firm acid tension, very clean with bright yellow fruit flavors. Finishes with good length and a sense of purity, minerality and freshness. Excellent potential for a very long life and beautiful evolution in the bottle. My recommendation: buy a case to drink over the next decade.
Excellent depth of flavor, perfect balancing acidity
Reviewing this wine almost two years ago, we wrote, “Drinking beautifully now, but it could benefit from a little more time in bottle.” Now, tasting it again, it’s at or near its peak. The nose reveals stone fruit and mineral nuances with excellent depth of flavor on the palate, including a light Riesling-petrol note. Perfect balancing acidity lends freshness and vivacity to this outstanding wine.
Ample concentration and long crisp finish, characterful
92 points: Scents of petrol, pineapple and lime mark the nose of the 2018 Riesling, which continues a long heritage of Smith-Madrone Rieslings. It's medium-bodied, just off-dry and intense, with ample concentration and a long, crisp finish. In a Napa Valley that has become increasingly focused on Cabernet Sauvignon (and the occasional Chardonnay), it's refreshing to find that these sorts of individual, characterful wines still exist.
Both impressive and impeccable
Both impressive and impeccable, with a nervy undercurrent of rustic, mountain acidity.
Remarkable balance, one for the ages
The 2018 Riesling, showed vibrant acidity and pronounced citrus notes, with just a touch of petrol that will undoubtedly develop more in this wine as it ages effortlessly. On the palate, it showed remarkable balance with good texture from the .7% RS that was neatly wiped away by crisp acidity, leaving a lingering impression of citrus, orange, and jasmine. This is one for the ages and will undoubtedly only get better for years to come.
A masterpiece that should not be missed by lovers of the grape
I have tasted — consumed — the Smith-Madrone Riesling 2017, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, three times since its release, and it just gets better. More golden, more nuanced, deeper in its limestone and flint underpinnings, broader in its range of dried and candied citrus and stone fruit scents and flavors, more authoritative in its bright and surging acidity, more delicate in the elegance of its floral notes. A masterpiece that should not be missed by lovers of the grape. Drink through 2027 to ‘30.
A refreshing Riesling with bright acidity and notes of apple, peach and honeydew. Finishes crisp. Impressive.
A kick-a$$ job
As I said in my most recent newsletter, I've been drinking a ton of Riesling in this hot, hot weather. Napa Riesling is a bit of a relic from the old days when the grape selection was more diverse, so you only really see it from the old-school producers like Smith-Madrone. They do a kick-a$$ job with this wine -- maintaining acidity while coaxing out lime, jasmine, and lemon curd notes. It's softer than European versions but such a lovely, complete wine to have with cheese. I haven't found a ton of domestic Rieslings outside the Finger Lakes to be excited about, but this is an exception.
Smith-Madrone never fails to deliver the kinds of flavors and stony qualities that make Riesling so beloved
The Smith-Madrone Riesling never fails to deliver the kinds of flavors and stony qualities that make Riesling so beloved by many wine geeks.
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and mandarin pith. In the mouth, flavors of white flowers and orange pith mix with wet pavement and a touch of winter melon.
Proves how successful the variety can be at higher altitudes in Napa Valley
This is a concentrated, estate-grown Riesling that proves how successful the variety can be at the higher altitudes of Napa Valley. It bursts from the glass in a blaze of fresh-squeezed lemon, and that acidity perks up more perfumed notes of orange blossoms. A subtle whiff of fennel fronds complicates it in a particularly lovely way.
Brisk acidity keeps it in fine balance
Scents of wet stone and citrus blossom rise from the glass at first swirl. On the palate are layers of succulent peaches and nectarines, fresh squeezed lime, crisp apples, minerality, and faint lemon verbena exhilarating the palate. Brisk acidity keeps it in fine balance, and a twist of lime lingers on the gratifying energetic finish.
An intriguing, classy, special wine
Smith Madrone and Trefethen may be the only wineries in Napa Valley still producing an estate Riesling these days, but it sure is a beautiful thing when an institution sticks to its guns and continues to produce a wine because it is great, not because it is trendy or more profitable. To be perfectly honest, California Riesling seldom blows me away, but this older-vine example planted on the superb terrain of Spring Mountain is one-of-a-kind and worth seeking out. It has Riesling's classic oily 'petrol' aromas along with aromas of marzipan, lime leaf, lovely nectarine fruit and a racy, zesty, lemony finish with hints of saline minerality. An intriguing, classy, special wine. Already five years old, but built to last longer.
Honesty to the varietal and Spring Mountain
Porch perfect: Here's an enjoyable wine for a number of reasons. First, it's the real deal, but it isn't out to prove anything. Second, it bridges the Alsatian and New World divide. There is honesty here to both the varietal and Spring Mountain. Ageworthy and very food friendly, this is a white wine you could comfortably stuff in the back of your cellar, and wait for the delicious surprise. It will likely improve further over the coming years and maybe even decades. Well done!
A wine that reminds me just how amazing wine can be
This is a wine that reminds me just how amazing wine can be. For one thing, California doesn’t do much riesling, and it certainly doesn’t do much well. But this one is a revelation, combining California-style fruitiness with the varietal characteristics that make great riesling so much fun to drink. That means lime zest, a bit of tingliness in the back, a hint of petrol, some sweetness floating around to remind you it’s riesling, just enough acidity to greet the sweetness, and stoniness in the finish.
Combines New World-style fruitiness with the varietal characteristics that make great riesling so much fun to drink
Smith-Madrone’s riesling is a top-notch New World take on a classic grape. Once more into the riesling breach, dear readers: And why not? I’ve probably tasted more rieslings over the past 18 months than I have in the blog’s entire 14 year history. And I’ve rarely been disappointed. The Smith-Madrone, despite California’s lackluster track record with the grape, is just one more reason to sip and smile. The Smith-Madrone riesling 2017 combines New World-style fruitiness with the varietal characteristics that make great riesling so much fun to drink. In other words, not sweet for the sake of sweetness, and not some kind of fruity confection because, you know, that’s what Americans drink. Look for lime zest, a bit of tingliness in the back, a hint of petrol, some sweetness floating around to remind you it’s riesling, just enough acidity to greet the sweetness, and stoniness in the finish. In fact, this is one of the few times where the wine geek descriptor “wet stone” almost makes sense. Highly recommended – the kind of wine that people who don’t think they like riesling should try.
The palate is simply exquisite
There are few constants in life: death, taxes, and stellar Riesling from Smith-Madrone. This is a perfect example. While it is close to a full five years out, this is actually the current release from the venerable winery. Medium color in the glass with lemon predominate as well as some lemon rind, a bit of wet rock, and a hint of an herbal aspect (basil?). The palate is simply exquisite, with great fruit, good weight, and fantastic acidity. Whoa. Perhaps a bit rounder than previous vintages, but holy cow. Outstanding. 93 Points.