Cabernet Sauvignon Reviews

The Armchair Sommelier, Kirsten Georgi, February 22, 2018

Dense and elegant knock-out

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Merlot.  Aged for 18 months in 70% new French oak and 30% one-year old French oak.  If you recall, 2014 was the year of the Napa earthquake.  It was also a drought year for Napa, and according to Smith-Madrone, rainfall totals on Spring Mountain were about half what they usually are.  What does that mean for the grapes?  Well, it means the grapes were stressed out.  And stressed out vines can make great wines.  It also means that grapes were smaller, which produced a more concentrated juice.

A gorgeous, deep ruby color.  Cedar, blackberry, black currant, garden mint, and a big pile of crushed mountain rocks.  The power in this wine comes from its structure.  Despite its youth, this is beautifully balanced with beautifully integrated tannins.  A dense and elegant knock-out.  No doubt this will develop beautifully in the bottle.

Corkscrew Report, Johannes Marlena, February 20, 2018

Loads of character and a quiet rugged passion behind the wine

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Are we out of line for calling Smith-Madrone a “hidden” winery of Napa Valley, considering it was established in 1971? No, not until the world recognizes there may not be a better $50 Napa Cab for the money than Smith-Madrone’s. 

Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley can easily run you into the three-figures. “Handcrafted” is a shopworn term in the wine world, but in the case of mountain vineyards, good luck getting big mechanical harvesters not to tip over up there. What it takes to grow great grapes and make great wine around here is true grit. At $50 per bottle, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet is true grit at true value. 

When you find mountain Napa Cab that doesn’t run into the three-figure dollar amount and is this good, you celebrate. Yes, you celebrate by opening a bottle, but more importantly, you celebrate that this kind of gift exists for mankind. Oh, that great mountain nose of rich, fleshy plum, wild dark berries, violets and lavender. These notes carry through onto the palate—again, rich, sumptuous and fleshy—with additional notes of coffee, dark chocolate and black pepper emerging. Smooth, oily texture and super-fine tannins along with that familiar mountain Cab savoriness. Loads of character here, and a quiet, rugged passion behind the wine is palpable.

Nittany Epicurean, Michael Chelus, February 20, 2018

Dark berry fruit palate

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

The wine showed a dark ruby color. Blackberry, raspberry, currant, mossy earth and oak all arrived on the nose. Blackberry, raspberry, black cherry, licorice, oak and eucalyptus followed on a palate dominated by dark berry fruit. The wine exhibited good structure and length, along with soft tannins. This wine would do well paired with a marinated and grilled flank steak.

WineReviewOnline, Rich Cook, February 13, 2018

Benchmarkk of the Spring Mountain District

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Yet another in a long line of classic Napa Valley elegance bottlings from Smith-Madrone.  Certainly a benchmark of Spring Mountain District, and so delicious now that you'll likely miss the greatness that comes with long-term aging.  Blackberry, cassis and dried herbs are specific and well integrated already, and will gain in complexity with a long rest in your cellar.  I'm sure this is a virtual repeat of my reviews of previous vintages, but truth is truth -- what's a guy to do?

Food & Spirits Magazine, Mark Gudgel, spring 2018

Perfected the craft

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Another of my well-documented winery obsessions is Smith-Madrone. The combination of great memories and terrific wine makes every glass of Smith-Madrone one that I savor. When people visit Napa, I always steer them towards Smith-Madrone, and when people are looking for a great bottle of wine locally, I often point to this one. Founded in 1971 before it was hip to own a winery in Napa, the Smith brothers have been making wine for longer than most people have been drinking it, and it’s no exaggeration to say that they’ve perfected the craft. The 2014 vintage had an uphill battle to fight, between drought and earthquake, and yet the 42-year-old high elevation vines at Smith-Madrone still bore some truly extraordinary fruit. This wine is, in my opinion, as close to Pauillac as Napa gets, coming in at a low 13.9% ABV and blending 85% Cabernet with 8% Cab Franc and 7% Merlot. Velvety and smooth with concentrated dark fruits and subtle, integrated earthy notes, I find it difficult to imagine a more satisfying Cabernet.

Bin Notes, L.M. Archer, February 6, 2018

Age-worthy and savor-worthy

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Robe:  Opaque garnet-ruby robe.

Nose:  Dark fruits, tomato leaf, tobacco, black tea, capsicum back-note.

Palate: Medium body, firm tannins, balanced bouche, lengthy finish. Age-worthy for the patient; savor-worthy now for those who eschew delayed gratification.

Smith-Madrone wines represent the graceful soul of Old Napa combined with the unbreakable spirit of Napa Reborn – supple, approachable, with a powerful core of mountain je ne c’est quoi, Isaac Baker, February 3, 2018

Complex, fruity, silky, age-worthy

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep ruby color. Gorgeous aromatics of black currants, tart plums, eucalyptus, charcoal, smashed rocks, violets, coffee. Bold tannic grip on the palate, and while the acidity keeps it so fresh, this is a very young and compact wine. But plenty of cherry and blackberry and currant fruit, so fresh but rich. Laced with cocoa powder, cedar, anise, mineral and gravel. Complex, fruity, silky, age-worthy. This is another excellent effort that is impressive now but will show its best in 4-8 years, I reckon.

Grape Collective, January 15, Dorothy Gaiter

One of 2017's most exciting wines, a stately, confident pleasure

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

The Grape Collective held its first holiday party last year and the boss, Christopher Barnes, opened some really good wines, including the 2010 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon. Stuart Smith founded the 4,000-case winery in 1971 after earning a degree in economics from Berkeley and taking some enology classes at UC Davis. With the help of family and friends, the 22-year-old purchased 200 acres of forest that had been part of a 550-acre homestead that more than 100 years earlier had included vineyards. Talk about Kismet! About 40 of those 200 acres are vineyards now. Today, Stuart is general partner, enologist; his brother Charles is winemaker; and Stuart’s son Sam is assistant winemaker. The Madrone part of the name comes from Madrone trees on the property, evergreens with red bark. The 2010 was lovely. I love well-aged wines and this one had great fruit and rich earth with tannins in perfect balance. A stately, confident pleasure. I could have sipped it all night....

International Wine Report, Owen Bargreen, January 2018

Beautifully balanced Cabernet 

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

91 points: The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone is a classic display of Napa Valley Cabernet. This instantly grabs your attention as it releases aromatics of dark fruits intermingling with spices and herbal elements. The mouthwatering acidity is lovely, as this medium to full-bodied wine delivers flavors of blackberry cobbler, crushed mint and coffee grounds which entice. This beautifully balanced Cabernet will cellar gracefully over the next decade.

International Wine Report, Owen Bargreen, March 2017

93 points

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

93 points: Sourced from their Spring Mountain estate, this gorgeous, deep-hued Cabernet wine begins with complex aromatics of violets, black cherry, crème de cassis, black olives, coffee grounds, cigar box and suggestions of baking spices. Tannic and rich, this wine yields flavors of dark fruits, crème de cassis and dark chocolate shavings. Dense, tightly wound and intense come to mind when savoring this lovely Cabernet. The mouthfeel is gorgeous, showing beautiful texture and structure. While this is excellent now, some additional bottle age should allow this to soften nicely and become even more appealing.

Enofylz, Martin Redmond, January 11, 2018

92 points

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

92 points: This is an alluring, harmonious wine that offers terrific value for a top-shelf Napa Valley Cab! It’s approachable now, especially with a decant, but will improve with more time in the bottle.

Color – Nearly opaque ruby/violet
Aromas – Aromatic cassis, blackberry, eucalyptus, cacao, cedar wood, espresso, anise and a hint of violets
Body – Medium-bodied, elegant and harmonious with ample fruit and balancing acidity with firm well-integrated tannins.
Taste – Alluring cassis, black cherry, blackberry, espresso, graphite, and cedar flavors
Finish – Medium/long.

This wine is crafted from 100% estate fruit from vineyards sitting at 1,800 ft elevation. The vines are planted on very steep slopes (up to 35%) and dry- farmed. It’s a blend of 85% Cab, 8% Cab Franc and 7% Merlot.   It was aged for 18 months in 70% new French oak, and 30% one-year old French oak.

Martin Redmond, Instagram, January 7, 2018

Compellingly beautiful

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Loving this 2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon! It’s 100% estate fruit from vineyards sitting at 1,800 ft elevation. The vines are planted on very steep slopes (up to 35%) and dry- farmed. It’s a blend of 85% Cab, 8% Cab Franc and 7% Merlot. The Smith brothers have an Old World winemaking aesthetic, and it shows in this compellingly beautiful, elegant and harmonious wine! Bravo!

The Drunken Cyclist, Jeff Kralik, December 14, 2017


2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

As I mentioned, I have never visited the winery, yet I am a huge fan of Smith-Madrone. Why? Simply, they over-deliver. Great wines, modest prices. This is a good example: all kinds of pepper on the nose (white, black, red, and green) with plenty of fruit on the palate, but balanced with acidity and earth. In the age of bombastic Napa Cabs, Smith-Madrone seems to realize that wine is part of the meal, not the sole focus. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

California Grapevine, January 2018

Richness in the mouthfeel

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Medium ruby; earthy, dark berry fruit aroma with hints of green olive and dried herbs; full body; earthy, dark cherry and boysenberry fruit flavors with richness in the mouthfeel; full tannin; lingering aftertaste. Very highly


Orange Coast Magazine, Valory Reed, December 21, 2017

Oozing with character

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

This Smith-Madrone Napa cab is oozing with character since it is grown at a high elevation under the duress of dry-farming and old-school principles.  It is uniquely velvety and plush. It will showcase your grilled meats and delight any wine lover as it can be enjoyed now or cellared for 20-plus years.

Forbes, December 19, 2017, Katie Kelly Bell

A top ten wine of 2017

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Brothers Charles and Stuart Smith are chief cook and bottle washers at Smith-Madrone—managing the winemaking and grape-growing--they tend smaller estate plots high atop the steep terrain of Spring Mountain in Napa. Blended with 12% Cabernet Franc, this wine from an epic California vintage shows supple, smooth tannins threaded with almost juicy-savory black cherry and warm spices, while currant and cassis sing in the background. Authentic and a trifle rustic. The almost entirely dry-farmed vines grow on steep slopes at elevations of 1,400 to 1,900 feet. Lovers of Smith-Madrone should also look for their reserve label: Cook’s Flat Reserve.

JamesTheWineGuy, James Melendez, December 12, 2017

Heritage blackberry

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Video review:

SoifKnows, Stephen McConnell, December 12, 2017

Mind-numbingly brilliant

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Nearly impenetrable ruby with miniscule pink edges.  Intense mint and sharp rock gradually develop into one of the most-lusciously-fruited 2014’s in memory.  A teensy peek at oak and leather pops in blissfully mid-breath, sandwiched between the alpine conifer and rich, sweet, stirrable, fruit-at-the-bottom cherry yogurt–a butter-fat base with solid blocks of deep, dark fruit, potential tertiary, and pungent spice.

So many young cabs!  I love drinking them with a few years on them, but almost equally I enjoy feeling them out blisteringly young.  Often,  I am disappointed by vapidity or overt structure in a young cab.  Too many people believe the-bigger-the-better and well-meaningly espouse the popular theory that the more tannin and obfuscation of all else there is in a Cabernet, the better it will age.  This is completely false.  There HAS to be fruit.  Just remember that and barrel-tasting and futures-tasting will be a breeze.  THERE HAS TO BE FRUIT.  Fruit HAS to be IN the wine–even when young.  Fruit doesn’t just magically appear as a wine ages.  It doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere when a cab reaches a certain age. It has to be IN THERE from Day 1. The main reason to taste Cab young is the opportunity to purchase more of a REALLY GOOD ONE, and this one is seriously fueling that joy.

In the mouth, all that pretty fruit is piled all over the entry, attempting to block the wiry tannins from obliterating everything.  The sheer quantity and quality of the fruit is capable of this task, but only for a short period. Your mind has barely come to grips with the intensity and richness of the succulent ripe cherry and blackberry before green shards of cinnamon and cardamon-tipped tannins worm their way in.  They grow to a perfect earthy-bitter plateau and take a balanced bow to thinness, allowing huge leathery smears of fruit to play out long into the finish.

This wine is just mind-numbingly brilliant, and one you are SO GLAD you tried young.  Buy two cases and drink one a year. I would say buy 3 cases and drink one a year, but I haven’t read a critic advising a wine be held for 36 years in quite some time.  Still, I think this one could do it.  I haven’t drank a huge amount of 2014 cab this year, but this one definitely stands out.

This bottle is a testament to dry-farmed, mountain fruit and a leaner, lower-alcohol profile in Napa Valley Cabernet, and I am always thrilled when I discover wines being made in this style.

TheFermentedFruit, Ryan O'Hara, November 28, 2017


2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

A consistent overachiever, Smith-Madrone’s Cabernet Sauvignons are noteworthy for their uncommon combination of terroir-driven restraint and sheer value. Founder Stu Smith is a pioneer of dry farming, and his 200 acre property boasts 34 acres of vines planted in the rocky, hillside soils of Spring Mountain at elevations ranging between 1,300 and 2,000 feet. I wrote about how much I enjoyed Stu’s stylish 2011 Cabernet, and the 2013 is even better. Boasting more density and extract, the rich core of black cherry and anise remains grounded by savory notions of sage, graphite and white pepper, with just enough acid to maintain ideal balance. This remains one of the finest Cabernet values in Napa.

Wine & Spirits Magazine Winter 2017 Buying Guide

95 points

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

95 points: The Smith brothers hit a home run with their 2013, their mountaintop vines producing a cabernet that rises far above the grapey purple fruit and chocolate-oak richness of so many wines of the vintage. Instead, it tastes like freshly picked raspberries, their bright flavor structured by mountain-grown grape-skin tannins. There’s a pear-like shape to the wine, plump and delicious as it fills the mouth with flavor. Here’s a Napa Valley cabernet to make you smile, whether you open it now or any time over the next ten years.