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Mountain-Grown Integrity
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 6, 2016
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Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery, Spring Mountain/ Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2102 ($48) and Chardonnay 2013
($32):  If you have a wine cellar, you know that sometimes wines can get away from you and at a certain point you discover a few that you meant to try sooner.  The same thing can occur to wine critics with samples they receive: by the time you taste a wine, a good wine that you want to recommend to readers, it is no longer available at the winery.  Luckily, some wine shops around the country still carry it.

The wines that got away from me are the winter releases from Smith-Madrone:  The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2013 Chardonnay.  They are both terrific wines, especially the Cabernet, to my taste.  Yet I have experienced such consistency of quality from Smith-Madrone over the years that, although these two vintages were “picture perfect,” they can also stand in proxy for future vintages of the same wines.

Smith-Madrone is a small family wine estate owned and operated by brothers Stu and Charles Smith, who founded the winery in 1971.  It sits atop Spring Mountain, just west of the town of St. Helena, in Napa Valley.  The vines are dry-farmed and grow at high altitudes--up to 1900 feet--on steep slopes formed of weathered volcanic material and sedimentary rock.  The Smiths boast that “Every year our wine is made from the same vineyards, pruned by the same people in the same way, cultivated in exactly the same manner and harvested at similar levels of maturity….”  The wines differ from year to year, of course, but in general you can expect fresh, fully-developed fruit expression and well-balanced, moderate structure.  Besides Cabernet, a Cabernet blend and Chardonnay, the winery’s only other wine is an excellent Riesling.

Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013 is creamy, soft, expressive Chardonnay with vibrant internal energy that contrasts with its seductive texture.  The wine’s aromas suggest apple, pear and melon with a delicate floral note and just a whiff of oak perfume.  The wine’s flavors are similar, but I find a stony, mineral tang as well.  It’s a wine with lots of flavor, delicious and easy to like, but firm acidity underpins the fruit in such a way that the wine combines elegance with its boldness.  The wine is the product of barrel fermentation in all-new French oak and yet is barely oaky, a testament to the quality and expressiveness of the grapes themselves, and the land where they grew.

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is an exceedingly finesseful Cabernet, full bodied but not massive, approachable but built to age, with as much grace as it has concentration.  Its aromas and flavors are suggestive of left bank Bordeaux--cedar, graphite, cigar box and cassis--with a red-fruit note of Cabernet Franc.  (The wine is 82 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Merlot and 8 percent Cabernet Franc.)  In your mouth the wine is soft and smooth, its considerable tannins powdery and fine and well-balanced by the wine’s fruit character.  You can sense depth and the promise of dimensions to come with aging, but no barriers to enjoyment now.  The concentrated fruit on the long, complex finish confirms the wine’s age-worthiness.

While I ranked the Cabernet a notch higher than the Chardonnay, my tasting partner had the opposite preference, which proves that both are noteworthy wines.  Smith-Madrone is a winery worth following, vintage after vintage.

Chardonnay, 91 Points
Cabernet Sauvignon, 92 Points