Riesling Reviews

FoodGal, Carolyn Jung, May 5, 2023

Juicy, crisp, lively with acidity

2018 Riesling

Does your TGIF call for binging on Chinese takeout and Netflix? Then, uncork a bottle of this 2018 Smith-Madrone Riesling, to make the evening perfect. Juicy, crisp, and lively with acidity, this wine is fragrant with citrus and blossoms, and tastes vividly of lemon and tangerines with a touch of minerality. It’s especially ideal with with any Chinese dish with some heat like kung pao chicken or ma po tofu. While Smith-Madrone grows several varietals, the winery was founded primarily on Riesling to take advantage of its steep hillsides on Spring Mountain in St. Helena. The Riesling vineyard is partially dry-farmed to concentrate the grape’s flavors. Cheers to Smith-Madrone, which was named “Winery of the Year” in 2014 by The Daily Meal, and was profiled in “Behind the Glass” on SommTV. View the fun teaser for it: https://vimeo.com/571946716/b6959dbd33 



AmateurSommelier, Alec Terman, May 2, 2023

Well balanced and truly unique

2018 Riesling

A little different than your typical Riesling, this sets itself apart with a crisp acidity, while still having a subtle light fruit sweetness. The aroma for this wine is cool and heavy with lime, stone, a little lemon grass, and pear. The taste expands from the aroma with pear, wet stone, key lime, tropical fruits, a bit of mandarin orange, and light floral notes. Instantly when you sip the wine, you have that nice refreshing acidity that coats your palate. The acidity isn't overwhelming, but is the dominant aspect for a moment before the sweetness starts to emerge. The sweetness is more of a "fruit sweet" to complement the flavors rather than a sugary sweet like a lot of more mainstream style Riesling... if that makes sense. The 2 qualities mingle together fairly well, giving a nice contrast, making this a well balanced wine. This is a truly unique California Riesling that sets itself apart from others, and really leaves an impression of individuality.


Rich Cook, WineReviewOnline, April 25, 2023

Just another 'wow' Riesling from Smith-Madrone

2018 Riesling

95 points: Just another “wow" Riesling from Smith-Madrone. This vintage is quite generous in its youth, though it’s certainly a late release for the type domestically. Apple, pear, stone fruit and just a hint of petrol define the aromatics and the flavor profile, and pulsing acidity goes right up to the line without becoming scouring, giving great push to the flavors. This is delicious right now, but with the track record this wine has for aging, you will want to buy in bulk.


Ellen Clifford, ScrumptiousGruel, April 25, 2023

The characteristic sword of Riesling acidity cutting through....

2018 Riesling

One whiff gave me all the omg this is RIESLING feels–golden delicious apple plus petrol and a bit of orange blossom. The palate is voluptuous as a dry (I think?) Riesling can go. It’s deep and rich in fruit yet not overly ripe or cloying. Still on the palate I got on the nose notes, plus an overdose of honeysuckle and ALMOST buttery notes? It is light to the touch yet creamy but zippy, omg it’s egg cream vibes without the chocolate flavor? And then the characteristic sword of Riesling acidity cutting through. Allspice and slightly bark earthy notes come through on the finish. Pair with the latest Mandalorian.


PullThatCork, Nancy Brazil, March 30, 2023

Pure expression of the Riesing varietal is delicious

2018 Riesling

When planning a meal do you start with the food or the wine? I may have just given away my approach by listing food before wine, but honestly sometimes we begin with the food and sometimes the wine. And, some food is more challenging to pair with wine, and some wine is more challenging to pair with food. But one thing is for sure: Riesling is easy to pair with most food. This Riesling, which we received as a tasting sample, proves the point.

Charles Smith, co-owner and winemaker with his brother Stuart of Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, discussed Riesling’s food-friendly nature in a recent series of social media posts. He noted that Riesling goes with just about everything except a steak. He should know.

Stuart and Charles Smith have been growing grapes and making wine in Spring Mountain District above Napa Valley since the early 1970s. As you might expect they make Cabernet Sauvignon, but they also make Chardonnay and, unexpectedly, Riesling. They make Riesling because they appreciate and love Riesling, not because it is a big seller. 

Only 34 acres of their 200-acre mountain property are planted to vines. Vineyards are planted to a variety of elevations, slopes and exposures. 6.25 acres of Riesling is planted on the steepest part of their hillside vineyard (34% slope), at 1300 to 1900 feet above sea level, and is mostly planted on its own roots.

2018 Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley — pale yellow with generous aromas of petrol, white flowers and apricots. Complex flavors include stone fruit, pears, stony minerality and hints of pineapple with juicy acidity. The body is light but a bit round and the wine has a long, clean, dry finish. 13.3% abv. 1611 cases made.

In the afore mentioned social media post, Charles noted it is particularly true that Riesling is made in the vineyard because the winemaking is so straight forward. The grapes are pressed, go through a cold fermentation and are finished without malolactic fermentation, lees stirring or barrel aging. He noted, “It is almost a pure expression of the grape.”

That pure expression is delicious. The flavors are complex and balanced with great acidity and nice weight on the palate. Generous fruit flavors might have you wondering if it’s dry; it is. We found it paired perfectly with Italian Sausage with Farro and Kale Pilaf.

Over the years we have paired previous vintages of Smith-Madrone Riesling with Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce, Thai Peanut Chicken Salad in Butter Lettuce and Guacamole and chips. It will be delicious with salads, roasted chicken and even pork. As Charles said, pretty much everything but a steak. Save the steak for Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon.


Michael Chelus, NittanyEpicurean, March 30, 2023

Lush palate, bright acidity, good balance

2018 Riesling

This wine is 100% riesling from the Spring Mountain District. It was both fermented and briefly aged in stainless steel. It comes in at 13.3% ABV. The wine showed a yellow color. Pear, lemon, apple, peach and petrol all arrived on the nose. Pear, lemon candy and Granny Smith apple told the tale of a lush palate followed by notes of peach, slate and hints of petrol. The wine exhibited bright acidity and good balance. It was light-bodied and demonstrated great length. This wine would pair very nicely with a rich seafood chowder.


WineReviewOnline, Vince Simmon, March 22, 2023

The struggle the grapes undergo each year adds to the complexity of the fruit

2018 Riesling

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.       


Michael Kelly,CaliforniaWinesandWineries, March 20, 2023


2018 Riesling

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.


Decanter, Clive Pursehouse, March 13, 2023

Classic Riesling aromatics

2018 Riesling

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.


Lori Budd, ExploringTheWineGlass, March 8, 2023

An excellent representation of what an Alsatian wine can offer when located in the U.S.

2018 Riesling

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.


Jason Wise, SommTV podcast, March 7, 2023

Magnificent (and more)

2018 Riesling

SommTV's Jason Wise and Claire Copp talk all about Riesling; you can jump to 19:15 when they focus on Smith-Madrone.


WineSipping, Oded Cohen, March 4, 2023

Well-balanced, elegant

2018 Riesling

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.


Terroirist, Isaac Baker, March 4, 2023

Absolutely delicious and so expressive

2018 Riesling

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. 


Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, Robb Report, March 3, 2023

Intoxicating Napa Valley Riesling

2017 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. 


Eve Bushman, EveWine101, February 24, 2023

Pale gold color and more

2018 Riesling

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.


Philip Kuo, TheWineGuys, February 27, 2023

Perennial favorite domestic Riesling

2018 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.


BiggerThanYourHead, Frederic Koeppel, February 24, 2023


2018 Riesling

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. 


Wine1percent, Stephen McConnell, February 22, 2023

A powerful Riesling

2018 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.


JamesTheWineMan, James Melendez, February 8, 2023

Best California Riesling that exists

2018 Riesling

A video review: comments include: 95 points, spectacular, fully integrated characters and more.


Owen Bargreen, February 8, 2023

Downright delicious

2018 Riesling

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.

CMKWine, Cameron Kosson, February 8, 2023

An abundance of layered flavors

2018 Riesling

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.


Stephen McConnell, Wine1percent, December 30, 2022

Is this the best example of this variety made in the new world?

2016 Riesling

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.


Nancy Brazil, PullThatCork, December 19, 2022

Juicy acidity

2017 Riesling

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.


UnhappyPhilosophyWine, December 12, 2022

Vibrant acidity balanced by just-perceptible residual sugar

2017 Riesling

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.


Wilfred Wong Wines, December 4, 2022

One of my best discoveries of 2022

2017 Riesling

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..


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