One of my New Year’s wine resolutions was to keep track of what I’m tasting via a handy iPhone app. Full disclosure: I’ve been incredibly lazy about using it to track what I’m actually drinking. However, I’ve been going to town on the feature that lets you create a dream list of wines you’d like to try. There must be a bit of magical wish fulfillment written into the programming code, because not 48 hours after I tapped “Smith-Madrone Riesling” into the database, I got a lovely email from the PR person who represents Smith-Madrone — and who also happens to be the wife of Stu Smith, who runs the winery along with his brother Chuck. Lo and behold, they’re friends with my sister-in-law’s brother, and would I like to receive some free samples? You bet I would.
It was really a delight to taste these wines. Smith-Madrone is up on Spring Mountain, in Napa. As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of the most beautiful places you’ll find in the region. It’s a little corner of iconoclastic winemaking and old-school California ruggedness that’s a great contrast to the faux-rustic, Tuscan lite feel that permeates some of Napa’s more touristy areas on the valley floor. The altitude makes for a big temperature drop in the evenings, and this night-time coolness helps ensure that the grapes ripen more slowly, giving them time to develop more complex flavors. The lower temperatures also mean that these wines have good levels of acidity, which gives the wines a freshness that’s sometime lacking from Napa wines.
See below for my tasting notes. My next installment will be a Q&A with Stu Smith. Chatting with winemakers is really one of my favorite things in the world and is a terrific learning experience. If you ever have the chance to do so — when visiting a small winery, attending a tasting or winemaker dinner — take full advantage, and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, even if you think they’re dumb.
All the prices below, aside from the Riesling, are retail direct from the winery.
2008 Riesling (they’re sold out at the winery, but an online search turns up pricing in the $25-$27 range)
The wine has medium intensity aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle, candied grapefruit rind, and a slight perfumed talcum powder scent. There’s some zippy acidity, and just a hint of sweetness. The floral and soft mineral characteristics really come out on the palate, and there’s a hint of guava, too. The wine has a lovely, long finish with a slightly (and pleasantly) bitter/metallic note. I’d hang on to this guy for a few years to see how it develops. A friend to spicy pork loin, lighter Asian-inflected dishes…or lovely on its own.
2007 Chardonnay ($30)
Medium intensity aromas of preserved lemons, pineapple, lemon curd, Golden Delicious apple. Definitely some oak. (The wine spent 11 months in oak.) richness and freshness at the same time. Again with the citrus and the tropical notes on the palate, a tad too much oak for me, and the alcohol (14.3%) seems a bit high. Long finish. A well-made, luscious wine, just not my bag. [Note: I revisited this guy a few days later with some leftover roasted chicken, and enjoyed it more.]
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)
Love the deep, ruby color and the intense aromas of black currants, cedar, blackberries and fresh bay leaves. The palate has some cool leather, almost meaty flavors, and the tannins are really well-integrated into the wine. Lots of intensity and concentration of flavor + great balance, something you don’t find everyday. Somehow rugged and approachable at the same time — a very California combination. Given the quality of this wine, and overall crazy pricing you find in Napa, can’t believe it’s only $45. Pan sear a beautiful piece of steak or lamb and dream of summer grilling.