Today we are sipping Riesling from Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District. I know Riesling isn’t the first variety you associate with Napa Valley, but the last thing Stu and Charles Smith seek to do is conform to the expected; if they did, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery would be located on Napa’s valley floor. Once you taste Smith-Madrone’s Riesling, you too will be glad they are non-conformists. We received this wine as a tasting sample.
Stu Smith found the property at the top of Spring Mountain in 1970. He really never considered other than a mountain location for Smith-Madrone. The site had been a vineyard many years prior, but was abandoned and reclaimed by the forest. Stu’s brother, Charles, joined him in 1973 and the following year they built the winery themselves. They have always done it all themselves and are now joined by Stu’s son, Sam. They have always used only estate grapes, known exactly the kind of balanced wines they want to make and how to go about making them.
Their thirty-four acre vineyard sits at 1900 feet above sea level on slopes as steep as 34%. It is planted to Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a little Cabernet Franc. Young plantings are watered by drip irrigation only until they are established, then they are dry farmed. As a result, the vines send their roots deep into the mostly deep-red, volcanic soils. Because Riesling loves the mountainside, steep eastern-facing slopes are reserved for Riesling.
2017 Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley — light golden color in the glass with aromas of petrol and stone fruit. Flavors follow with white peach and pear, stony minerality with a bit of roundness in the mouth. The fruit flavors might lead you to think the wine is off-dry but the finish tastes dry with generous and juicy acidity. 1449 case made. 12.9% abv. SRP $34
This Riesling has just been released. Obviously, the Smiths don’t rush their winemaking. The flavors are lively, with a bit of roundness in the mouth and notable acidity. It is a pleasure to sip on its own and it loves food. The first evening we enjoyed this wine with Thai Peanut Chicken Salad in Butter Lettuce. The richness of chicken from coconut milk and peanut butter was perfectly balanced by the acidity and flavors of the Riesling.
On the second evening we sipped this charming Riesling with guacamole and chips. Should you have the restraint to make this Riesling last, it will be delicious for several days corked and stored in the refrigerator.
Smith-Madrone Riesling is made to age. We recently opened a bottle of 2013 Smith Madrone Riesling and were treated to a wine that had darkened in color and become more concentrated in flavor, but still maintained its brilliant acidity. It was a pleasure to sip and still very youthful.
The 2017 Smith-Madrone Riesling is available on the winery website in 750ml and 1.5L bottles. If you are curious about what Smith-Madrone Riesling tastes like as it ages, look for the 6-bottle vertical of Riesling on the website. The collection includes 2014 through 2019 vintages.