Nothing like new friends and new wines to introduce the New Year along with the anticipation of making new enemies over our old opinions on wine, eh?
Although I am sure my pal Julie Ann Kodmur will not unpal me over my opinions of the triumvirate of tasty treats she sent me from Smith-Madrone: Three thumbs up.
The selections represent three unique vintages, offering a cross-section of both fruit and fruition in the tiny Napa appellation of Spring Mountain District. Nestled into the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains at elevations as high as 2,600 feet, the region is home to around 30 wineries offering the quintessence of mountain-grown wines. That is, cooler temperatures and longer hang times result in cleaner, acid-driven wines packed with ripe but nimble flavors; they may be cleaner in profile than valley wines and, in good vintages, showcase the ‘red’ contours of red wine grapes, cherry and raspberry, while in white varietals, melon and stone fruits predominate.
Smith-Madrone is named for the brothers Smith (Stu and Charles) and the Madrone trees that cohabitate with them on the 34 acres they grow on hillsides that may reach 30% grades. Eastern slopes are reserved for Riesling, southern and western exposures for Cabernet Sauvignon and northern slopes for Chardonnay. The vines are dry-farmed, meaning that the roots struggle to find water and thus, penetrate deeper and through varied soil strata, often resulting in nuanced wine with greater complexity. Vines aged 25 years or more can also produce multi-layered wine with sensory dimensions beyond the reach of their younger counterparts. And it shows in the Smith-Madrone portfolio, drawn from vines up to forty years old.
2011 was somewhat wet and dreary, with long rains in April and May delaying bloom on some vines and disrupting fruit set on others. This set the stage for a smaller-than-average harvest. Diligent vineyard managers opened up the leaf canopies to allow maximum sunlight to reach the clusters, and a long warm summer salvaged the vintage, leading to some intense wines of great depth.
2012 was an ideal year for Spring Mountain, with ample rainfall during the winter and a dry early spring. The growing season, while cool, offered no real climate exaggerations until a heat spike just before harvest, but that settled down and allowed a longer, more leisurely final ripening. The heat inversion that plays a vital role above the valley fogs allowed for a slow accumulation of grape sugars and extended the time the grapes were able to develop the riper flavor nuances.
If possible, vintners were even more satisfied with 2013 than the previous year, with each development phase of a vine’s yearly cycle occurring in an orderly and predicable fashion. According to Tom Ferrell, Executive Director, Spring Mountain District Association, “Winemakers are never perfectly content with any vintage; there is always something they would change. But this year I was hard-pressed to draw anything from Spring Mountain District winemakers other than praise for the fruit the vintage handed them.”
Try the following as an introduction to the nuances of vintage and the alpine amplitude of Smith-Madrone’s wines. They are wines that define the region, from a winery that is not only on top of Spring Mountain, but also, on top of their game.
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, 2011 ($48)
Brisk perfectly-ripe red and black berries in the nose, neither jammy nor stewed. The juicy perfume is shored by dry-leaf tobacco notes and a bit of wood smoke. Eager but adolescent, the wine has its dominant acids up front and its mouth-coating tannins holding up the rear, but the fruit—though lively and restless—is too solidly framed by both. These are traits that fade with time, and will doubtlessly lead to an integration of the whole, at which point, I predict a silken, voluptuous wine that expresses harmony in this indispensable trio of cab components.
Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District (Napa), 2012
The wine opens with a blast of lemon custard, vanilla and honey, leading to concentrated blend of peach and and citrus acid framed by malo cream. This is an exquisite Napa chardonnay with a textbook California unctuousness balanced by cool-climate crispness—a wine that take cues from Burgundy, but signs it with an expression of pure, New World clarity.
Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, 2013
A commendable representation of Riesling in California, albeit with restrained aromatics. There’s a touch of sulfur in the foreground, but it quickly dissipates into light aromas of peach syrup and almond. In the mouth, these sappy stone fruit flavors flesh out and become an expansive fruit bowl of sweet melon and apricot with clear mineral tones and tart grapefruit in the end. Acidity is fresh and corralled by sweetness, and the wine offers an advanced course in Rheingau-styled Rieslings in a climate where only impassioned winemakers succeed.