The hero in most stories usually has a secret weapon of some sort. In the case of Smith-Madrone, Riesling is their secret weapon. This wine is well made, stupidly delicious and quite possibly the most age-worthy wine in their portfolio most years. Peach and apricot notes are evident from the first whiff to the last sip. Throw in white tea, white peppercorn and a long finish and it’s got everything you need. The tension between the fruit and the acid is simply thrilling. I’ve gotten to travel a good bit of the world tasting wine. One of my fondest memories is a drizzly day a handful of years ago up on Spring Mountain. I had an appointment to see Stu and Charlie around lunch time. We sat around inside the winery, tasted the current releases and ate some sandwiches. After a few minutes with a twinkle in his eye, Charlie told me he thought I might want to try an older Riesling. I don’t recall the vintage off hand, but it was delicious and complemented our food and our boisterous conversation so well. A perfect day.
The best Riesling California has to offer
In my book, Smith Madrone is the best Riesling California has to offer. Any conversation about California Riesling should start with Smith Madrone. Layered notes of citrus and stone fruits, wet rocks and petrol, all supported by a fierce spine of acidity. You’d have to go to Mosel to find a Riesling with this kind of purity, elegance, and precision. Absolutely glorious, year in and out. Wish I had the patience to age this stuff. But I don’t.
I expect only the best from this iconic winery and this dry Riesling delivers just that
I expect only the best from this iconic winery in St. Helena and this dry Riesling delivers just that. Lively aromas of white peach flesh, white flowers, lemon zest, freshly-cut pineapple and lime were clean and sharp. On the palate, dry and creamy with vibrant acidity, flavors of white pepper, juicy kiwi, lime and herbs paved the path to a luscious and lasting finish. And sipped with an assortment of grilled vegetables for a late afternoon delight? Life just gets better and better.
Why did this wine and food pairing work? When grilled, the flavors of vegetables were enhanced and offered smoky characteristics. This bright and lively wine with plenty of acidity was a brilliant counterpoint to those notes.
A light, golden yellow color and very brilliant. You get stone fruits, the traditional petrol marker and floral on the nose. Even though it is dry, it almost seems like there is some sweetness at first, then the refreshing acidity takes over. The palate is about delicate, white fruit, with pear and some honeydew melon. It finishes with some minerality.
Stand-out wet rock minerality, succulent limey, citrusy notes, juicy acidity, and round texture
91 points: The dry Riesling has long had a dedicated following, and the winery is one of the few producers of the varietal left in Napa - think Alsace style. This vintage shows a stand-out wet rock minerality, succulent limey, citrusy notes, juicy acidity, and round texture. It’s also the first vintage available in hand-waxed magnums, which makes sense because the wines are surprisingly long lived. Drinking Window 2019-2029.
This luminescent white exudes versatility and poise
Ultra clean and beaming with focus, this luminescent white exudes versatility and poise. Faithful to varietal character, and with enough dryness and easy appeal to win over riesling skeptics. Very nice.
Oodles of goodness....crazy value
Spring Mountain’s Smith-Madrone has long made incredible, age-worthy, unique wines, and their new Riesling delivers oodles of goodness for not much money.
93 points: Medium yellow color. So fresh on the nose, which pops with peaches, limes, pineapple, mixed with white flowers, hay, honey, crushed shells and sea spray. Brisk and focused on the palate with racy acidity, yet plenty of depth in texture. Tastes near dry, but shows lots of richness. Pure lime and papaya fruit mixed with mountain stream, honey and some crushed shells. This is another excellent Riesling from Smith-Madrone, one that should age beautifully. Crazy value.
Showing the sun-blessed fruit of California
Showing the ripe, sun-blessed fruit of California, this is dry, fruity Riesling showing lively scents of green apple and citrus that give way to a dense, stony palate of Meyer lemon and lemon curd with hints of stone fruit and bright, assertive acidity. Finishes very long with lingering lemon drop notes.
Truly one of the best from Napa
91 points: A whiff of petrol and white flowers immediately takes you to the old world rather than Napa. Beautifully textured and lithe, showing good poise, the wine delivers ripe green apple, wet stone and shades of kumquat zest that mingle together on the palate. This is truly one the best I have had from Napa. Drink 2019-2025.
Beautiful overlay of fruit which makes this wine a standout
There is something quite beguiling about our Wine of the Week, the Smith-Madrone 2016 Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Riesling. You could call it a quirky beauty, with an abundance of midpalate fruit that is never overwhelming and does not create impressions of sweetness. It is this beautiful overlay of fruit that makes the wine a standout. You’ll notice white peach and nectarine, yellow peach and nectarine, baked apple and pear, with hints of tart citrus zest.
There is a beautiful flourish of minerality, too, which you notice best on the finish, especially when you take a deep breath just after swallowing a mouthful. The wine takes its style from Alsace, France, and as you would expect, it is wonderful with some of the region’s foods. A simple fondue or raclette with potatoes and cornichons is a seductive partner.
The wine also provides a refreshing contrast to some of the classic gratins of the region, including a stunningly luscious cabbage gratin. But the wine also crosses geographic borders. It is outstanding with many Indian and Thai curries, provided they don’t have too much heat (the wine can take a little without turning bitter).You may also enjoy it with white, yellow and red lentils as well as young chickpeas, which are the inspiration for today’s pairing.
Wine of the Week: Gorgeous
Floral, with flavors on the palate of stone fruits, mineral and a quench of lime. This riesling rides on crisp acidity and has perfect balance; everything is in check. This Alsatian-styled riesling is gorgeous.
At Smith-Madrone Vineyards, when it comes to riesling, you’re tasting the naked grape, hailing from vineyards steep in volcanic soils. “You’re tasting the pure essence of the grape in a way that doesn’t occur with other varietals,” said vintner Stu Smith. “There’s no oak aging, no malolactic fermentation, no lees stirring or blending with other grapes.” Smith and the naked grape are behind our wine of the week winner — the Smith-Madrone 2016 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Riesling at $34. It’s floral, with flavors on the palate of stone fruits, mineral and a quench of lime. This Alsatian-style riesling rides on crisp acidity and has perfect balance; everything’s in check.
The vintner said the St. Helena enterprise is a team effort. He also credits his older brother, Charlie Smith, and his son, Sam Smith, for the caliber of this riesling. “We all decide on the blends, do the harvest together, and none of us gets out of bottling,” Stu Smith said. Stu Smith founded the winery in 1971. Charlie Smith joined in 1973 and Sam Smith, in 2010. “Charlie, Sam and I care,” Stu Smith said. “We’re trying to make the very best wine humanly possible. To do that, you have to have a mindset that wine quality is the singular focus and that all those thousands of decisions that are made unconsciously are uncompromisingly for quality and not quantity or dollars.”
The winery adheres to dry farming as much as possible, Stu Smith said. Dry farming means vineyards are not irrigated and rely solely on water nature provides. “Using as little water as possible is still a laudable goal, and one my industry should be embracing,” Stu Smith said. The heat spell over Labor Day weekend in 2017 forced Stu Smith to rethink his commitment to dry farming. Today, he opts for moderation. Limiting irrigation produces smaller berries with a higher skin-to-juice ratio. Because the skin contains all the flavor, he said, it produces a more intensely flavored grape.
“I see this as not only a way to make better wine, but also something that demonstrates that we are being responsible neighbors by not wasting such a precious resource.” During his college years at Berkeley in the 1960s, Stu Smith enjoyed wine more than beer. “There was a bottle of 1961 Chateau Lafite at the wine store Jackson’s Party Service for sale for $27. Like Dr. Strangelove, I’d reach for that bottle and my other arm would reach out and pull my hand back. A bottle priced at $27 was beyond my reach.” Today, Smith is smitten with riesling. “We give it the respect that it deserves. We believe that riesling is one of the four most important varietals in the world — along with cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir. “We don’t believe it’s just one of the most important ‘white’ varietals in the world.”
Luscious pear stole the show
The wine showed a light golden color. Apple, pear, lemon candy and whiffs of petrol could all be found on the nose. Pear, apple, lemon curd, honey and slate followed on the palate where ripe, luscious pear stole the show. The wine exhibited good acidity and balance. It was light-bodied and demonstrated good length. This wine would do well as an aperitif and pair nicely with a classic preparation of Sole Almondine.
One of the Top Wines of 2019
Chosen as one of the Top Wines of 2019:.. if you want to try the best Riesling made in the USA, go get it. Does this sound like a bold claim? Maybe it does, but if your hallmark of Riesling excellence is Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley in Australia, then you will easily understand me. If you like Riesling, this is the wine you need to ask for by name. Yes, now.
Every year I sample thousands of wines, and I'm always on the hunt for great bargain bottles. Happily, I found more delicious and affordable wines than ever in 2019. Where to look for the best buys?
Bright Whites: 2016 Smith-Madrone Riesling. The Smith brothers have been making seriously complex Alsace-style rieslings on Napa's Spring Mountain since 1977. The latest release is superb.
Bright and lively
The grapes grow on steep hillsides in the Spring Mountain District similar to those in the German Riesling regions like Mosel. Aromas of white flowers and citrus give way to flavors of lime, stone fruits and pear. I found it to be a very dry Alsatian styled Riesling that is bright and lively with some creaminess and minerality.
Luscious, lasting finish
This wine expressed everything I expect from this family who has been a foundation of Napa Valley viticulture and the St. Helena area for decades. Lively aromas of white peach flesh, white flowers, lemon zest, freshly-cut pineapple and lime were clean and sharp. On the palate, dry and creamy with vibrant acidity, flavors of white pepper, kiwi, lime and herbs paved the path to a luscious and lasting finish.
95 points, enviable structure, complexity and balance
95 points, Editors' Choice: Opening with a lovely mix of apricot, green apple and petrol, this wine offers enviable structure, complexity and balance. Lush on the mid-palate, it never loses focus, retaining mineral-like stoniness and linear, fresh acidity.
Arguably the finest Riesling in Napa
...a few perennial favorites. Let's get started with the Smith-Madrone Riesling, arguably the finest (and one of the very few) Rieslings made in Napa. Made high up on Spring Mountain, this wine always delivers classic varietal character with a nice balance between fruit and mineral components, and will age nicely.
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and citrus oil. In the mouth, a hint of paraffin, citrus pith and honeysuckle have a delicate acidity and nice wet pavement minerality. Pretty.
Crisp mouth-watering finish
94 points: Once again, the Smiths have produced a beautiful Riesling that shows off its high elevation in the glass. This vintage is quite forward on the nose, with white flowers and stone fruit sweetly fragrant and enticing you to drink. The palate translates the aroma profile in a dry style, with a round texture mid-palate and a crisp, mouth-watering finish with excellent push of all the flavors. The fruit seems riper than previous vintages, providing a creamy tip of the hat to Alsace. Insider tip – you can get this in a hock magnum at $75, which will add a fine festive touch to your holiday table. I'm ordering mine now!
Cool powerful goodness
Yellow deepening now at 4. Ashy floral nose, nice petrol and grip, touches of lavender dishwater, with the crispness of bright green pear and the savory warmth of cashmere.
Easily one of my favorite Rieslings made in the new world–certainly California–rich and flavorful. My biggest problems with Riesling are usually austerity and weirdness. There are so many light, thin, uncomplicated white wines out there, why should my Riesling be that way? This is also why I typically don’t need them bone-dry. Likewise weirdness. As with any variety which achieves cult hipster-wine status, there’s gonna be some people making them weird. Don’t do that. Smith-Madrone Rieslings have never even remotely had either of these problems for me. Big and lovely, enticing and complex, never an off note, never a dull moment. And they’ve been doing this for 40 years, right smack dab under everybody’s noses in Napa Valley. Napa Valley Riesling???? Yup.
In the mouth, cool powerful goodness. Rooty clamoring against a shrill core of bitter vegetation cuttings and powdered herbs. I’m drinking this at 60°, probably a far dorkier temperature than is acceptable or even recommended, but it is pushing all the buttons up here. I was drinking it cooler a few hours ago and it honestly went *light* and far more uninteresting. YOU’RE DRINKING YOUR WHITE WINES TOO COLD, PEOPLE. I love the way the tannin comes curling in on the acid and funk late-middle, ridiculously concentrated, balanced with sweet but nearly face-melting. This is a powerful wine, mouth-filling and stunning, good for the LONG RUN. Would love to taste this in 20 years.
Napa Valley is the land of cabernet, but Smith-Madrone, on Spring Mountain at the Valley’s northern end, steadfastly maintains some of its higher-elevation vineyards with riesling. And riesling fans know its quality is reliably outstanding. The 2016 offers flavors of ripe peach and apricot, with a dash of wild herbs, and a mouth-filling texture that refuses to quit.
Opulent fruit and refreshing acidity
Like many Napa Valley wineries, Smith-Madrone produces first-rate Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the two most planted varieties in the region. But unlike most of its counterparts, Smith-Madrone also grows Riesling and has done so since 1972. Although there is a long history of Riesling in California, these days the variety is basically a footnote, which is a shame because wines like Smith-Madrone’s 2016 Riesling demonstrate the character the wines can achieve in the region. Key to that in Smith-Madrone’s case is the location of its 38 acres of vineyards, which are dry-farmed (they’re not irrigated) in volcanic soils at the top of Napa’s Spring Mountain. In the winery’s 2016 Riesling, we get both opulent California fruit and the refreshing acidity that is characteristic of Riesling. The $34 wine, which is made slightly off-dry (as most great Rieslings are) but is by no means sweet, is on the same level as some top Rieslings from Europe or New York’s Finger Lakes.
And it is simply delightful to drink, with ripe fruit notes of green apple, white peach, and apricot, accented by wet stone and petrol that round out the profile of this complex and delicious offering. For me, the Riesling is always the new release I anticipate most among Smith-Madrone’s wines. With moderate alcohol of 12.8 percent, it’s a versatile wine for food and is great to sip on its own. The 2016 accounted for 685 cases of the winery’s 3,000-case production. This is a California classic that will expand your thinking about Napa Valley wines.
Only very special wines draw you into their story as you sip
Aromas of heady, red apple fruit have you the minute you put your nose in the glass. Memories of crisp summer apples, their juice running down your fingers as you take a crunchy bite quickly come to mind. Yet the red apple fruit is just the beginning of your aromatic journey with Smith-Madrone's Riesling. They draw you into this wine's delicious depths, adding Asian pear, guava, crushed stones, mineral, and a wisp of zesty lemon as you continue along its sensory path.
Only very special wines, while seemingly inanimate in the glass, draw you into their story as you sip, and this one's crispness, freshness and complexity is an ode to Spring Mountain roots, volcanic soil depth, and winemakers who cherish these natural influences and let them shine.
93 points, Excellent focus and clarity on the finish
93 points: The nose is a fresh green apple acidity with whiffs of blossoms and ripe peach. The palate offers a bright, crisp and bone dry apple with a fragrant oiliness in the core. Excellent focus and clarity on the finish. Drink 2019-2028.
A fantastic wine...splendidly well-crafted....winemaking vision and more in this video review.