Zoom Tasting with Stu Smith
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to enjoy a Zoom tasting with wine writer colleagues from all over the country and Stu Smith, founder of Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery. To say that I was excited about the invitation would be understating it a little. I have met Stu many times during wine events and each time I walk away with just a little more knowledge, and new insights on wine and the winemaking process. He’s a natural teacher: funny, knowledgeable, and the real deal.
Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley
For those who don’t know, Smith-Madrone is located in the Spring Mountain District AVA in Napa – just 20 minutes from downtown Saint Helena. The drive up the mountain is gorgeous. It feels more forest than wine country. The property boasts amazing views of Napa Valley below. Smith-Madrone currently has 34 acres of grapes planted consisting of 6.25 acres of Riesling, 10.25 acres of Chardonnay, 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.75 acres of Merlot, and one acre of Cabernet Franc – which they plan to expand next year. The Merlot and the Cabernet Franc are used exclusively for blending at this point. ( I would love to see them expand to making either of those as a stand-alone product.) Whilst the vineyard is mostly dry-farmed, recent years have required the winery to use drip systems to help the grapes flourish in drought years. Here is a quote from Stu regarding water usage:
“With the onset of phylloxera at end of 20thcentury replanting was done with the use of drip irrigation but our protocol was such that at about 6 years the vines were weaned off of water and are dry-farmed, that is, up to 2017, when we had a tremendous heat spike and single-digit humidity and very high nighttime temperatures with winds caused a lot of fruit loss. So now we realize that with global change….we have to be able to give the vines at least a small drink once in a while during the growing season.”
Nearly 50 years of winemaking experience.
Smith-Madrone was founded by Stu in 1971 and was joined in the venture by his brother Charlie a few years later. His son Sam joined the team in 2013 as the assistant winemaker making this very much a family affair. They have learned a thing or two about making wine in their nearly 50 years in business and it shows in each and every sip.
What sets Smith-Madrone apart from the rest?
One of the most impressive things that sets Smith-Madrone apart from their competitors is that they are completely humble and authentic. They don’t offer flashy wine club memberships or allocations, nor do they have a fancy tasting room. They offer the wines they sell honestly without high pressure or fake marketing strategies. It reflects their brand and what they stand for.
Value and quality combined
So, what about the wines? I have to tell you that Smith-Madrone wines are always at the top of my list. Year upon year these wines not only impress, but they stand out from the Napa crowd. The value for the price point is one of the best in all of Napa too. Their Cabernet Sauvignon costing only $52.00 a bottle for their 2015 release. That, my friends, is a bargain as wines of this quality from Napa cost easily double that. Just another reason to love this winery.
2016 Smith-Madrone Estate Chardonnay – $40 at the winery (sold out)
In the bottle is 100% Chardonnay that has been dry farmed and aged for 9 months in oak. (80% of the barrels are new French Oak – 20% is Neutral) The color in the glass is like golden sunshine. The wine is full-bodied with great viscosity and mouth-feel. What I like to say about this Chardonnay is that it is a very balanced wine that doesn’t show too much of any single characteristic (butter, oak, or acidity), rather it is a perfect balance. On the palate, the notes are of green apples, pears, nectarines, and zesty citrus with undertones of brioche and vanilla. This wine is truly lovely on its own or with any of your favorite chicken or pork dishes. It can hold its own with pretty much anything you put with it. One of my favorite pairings is pork loin and mushroom risotto with this wine – heavenly.
2015 Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon – $52 from the winery (sold out)
The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is made up of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. Each year the blend changes slightly. One of the things I love about this Cab is that it is great right out of the bottle. It, of course, can age – it has lovely structure, acidity, and layers of flavor. Because Smith-Madrone ages this wine in barrel for a whopping 18 months before bottling, you get a more mature wine from the start. No need to wait for years until you can drink this beauty.
On the nose, you will find an intoxicating blend of dark fruit, ripe red plums, and baking spices. On the palate, you will find all of the classic notes of a fine Cabernet Sauvignon – Summer forest fruits dance in the glass with layers of forest floor, cigar box, and baking spices coming together in a luscious sip. This wine is a medium body with well-integrated tannins that make it truly food-friendly. No need for a great big steak, although it can easily handle that bulk. Instead, it can be served with more delicate meats like veal or lamb, pasta, or even a simple burger. When someone asks me to recommend a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon I always put this one at the top of the list.
2016 Napa Valley Cook’s Flat Reserve – $225 from the winery
The Cook’s Flat Reserve is their premium limited release Cabernet Sauvignon blend (54% Cabernet Sauvignon 46% Cabernet Franc). This is a special wine for special occasions. Smith-Madrone does not make this wine every year, instead only producing small quantities from outstanding vintage years.
On the nose, you will find beautiful aromas of forest fruits, damsons, black currants, tobacco leaf, and spice. This complex and sumptuous medium-bodied wine shines brightly in the glass with its silky texture and well-integrated tannins. It has a long and luxurious finish that will make you reach for your glass to take another sip. If I were to use one word to describe this wine it would be “elegant”. It is just that good. I’d love this wine with a venison stew. It would be lovely with any kind of game like elk or boar. Beef Wellington also comes to mind as a wonderful pairing option. This is a wine for sharing and making memories with those you love.
2016 Napa Valley Spring Mountain District Riesling – $32 from the winery
Interestingly, Stu chose this 2016 Riesling to taste last after the two big Cabernet Sauvignons. I think my colleagues and I were all surprised at this choice until we tasted it. It is a knock it out of the park wine, and what Smith-Madrone is truly known for. In our opinion, this Riesling is one of the best produced in the USA and could easily go toe to toe with what is produced in Germany. I never get tired of drinking this year after year as my go-to summer sip. This wine ages beautifully. I have tasted a 20-year-old bottle and it was exquisite.
To me, this Riesling tastes of summer – On the nose, you will find petrol, white flowers, and lime. On the palate, you will find notes of white peaches and honeysuckle with a dollop of citrus. Beautiful acidity and a small amount of minerality bring this wine balance and complexity. It has a lovely pale straw color which deepens as it ages. I often serve this one with Indian style curries. The freshness of the wine contrasts with the spices and helps to tame and enhance their flavors. I’d also suggest Thai dishes as another option. Do not be fooled by the name Riesling. This is no sweet wine. It is beautifully dry and perfectly crafted. If you try only one of their wines, this is the one I am going to suggest.
Buying Smith-Madrone Wines:
As our time with Stu wrapped up, I couldn’t help but again to be completely impressed and enthusiastic about the wines Smith-Madrone has created. I can’t wait to be able to head back up to Spring Mountain to enjoy the spectacular views and the down to earth hospitality. Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the winery is currently closed to guests, but they do sell their wines via their website or phone. Check them out at www.smithmadrone.com You could also follow them on their social media accounts: Instagram @smith_madrone Facebook www.facebook.com/smith-madrone .
Want to hear what my colleagues said about this tasting?
Nancy Brazil – https://pullthatcork.com/2020/smith-madrone-2/
Here are other articles we have written about Smith-Madrone Wines: