Is this the best example of this variety made in the new world?
2016 Riesling from Spring Mountain needs no introduction to true California wine-drinkers. These people only make three wines and they make them WELL, and at superb values for Napa Valley these days. MUST LOVE PETROL on this one, as it courses through the nose leading grippy papaya and pineapple through its paces into deep, dank acidity and spiraling stoniness. Is this the best example of this variety made in the new world? A strong argument is available, and I’m open to suggestions otherwise.
Medium yellow with generous aromas of beeswax, petrol, apricots and citrus. Flavors include apricots, stone fruit and citrus supported by juicy acidity. The flavors linger on the palate with a bit of roundness for a very long, clean finish. What would I pair with this wine? Well, first, you don’t really need food, but this wine deserves to be paired with a meal. Farfalle with a Pistachio Cream Sauce, my favorite creamy pasta, would be perfect.
Vibrant acidity balanced by just-perceptible residual sugar
Time for a Napa…Riesling! In this case, from a steep, higher elevation vineyard in the Spring Mountain District AVA. I quite enjoyed this: juicy stone fruit notes, with a vibrant acidity balanced by just-perceptible residual sugar. This has a nice mineral density as well, with notes of petrol and wet basalt. West Coast Riesling is a world worth exploring: fresh apricot, basalt, citrus pith.
One of my best discoveries of 2022
95 points: One of my best discoveries of 2022, I have followed this winery since the mid-1970s. The Riesling has been consistent and fine. This is tightknit and nicely built. Apple blossoms, green apple, mineral notes, long zesty finish.
Each year as I plan my wine-tasting schedule, I grapple with fixed events.... These popular events exist because their categories are active in the marketplace with consumers and professionals. Rieslings are another story, and I should have tasted more of them. For decades my colleague retailers, e-tailers, and restaurateurs would tell me, “I like Rieslings, but they just don’t sell! Consequently, retail shelves, online listings, and restaurant lists showcase the major categories (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel for red wines and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio for white wines. As 2022 winds down, I am working through the wines I tasted, seeing what stood out, and deciding how to pivot my game 2023 game plan so that I give Rieslings and other under-the-radar wine groups their due justice. Here is a list of 10 of my most memorable Rieslings tasted in 2022..
Smith-Madrone proves it can be done and done well; it confirms all the expectations of elegance
Wine of the Week: Riesling completists, take note! Napa is probably one of the last places you might look for your fix of this most obsessive-compulsive of grapes, but Smith-Madrone prove that it can be done, and done well. Mountain viticulture is surely one of the vital elements, and the fog-wreathed hillsides shown above give an indication of the cooling influence that will benefit Riesling. Smith-Madrone's vineyards lie between 1,300 and 2,000 feet (400–610 m) with some slopes as steep as 34% according to their website. Furthermore, their Riesling vines date from their first plantings in 1972. They are own-rooted and the vineyards unirrigated. Such qualities indicate the sort of purist approach that bodes well, since old vines are generally revered for greater concentration of fruit and ungrafted vines are considered more authentic by some (perhaps unfairly, although they are certainly rare), while unirrigated vineyards appeal to our desire for minimal manipulation, especially when water is increasingly scarce. The 2016 vintage of Smith-Madrone Riesling confirmed all the expectations of excellence. It has flavour characteristics that echo the great German archetypes, yet is distinctly New World, perhaps most obviously via soft acidity that would be unusual in most Teutonic versions. Their helpful tech sheet reveals titratable acidity on the lower side of the Riesling range, at 8.1 grams per litre, although the pH of 3.04 is typical. Furthermore, residual sugar is 6.8 grams per litre, giving that impression of slight sweetness which is Riesling's great gift to the world. Six years of bottle age has brought out flavours of basil leaf, lime cordial, lemon meringue and a definite petrographic aroma that might be described as slate or oil or mineral, depending on your preference. While it will doubtless continue to mature, I felt it was showing at its best for drinking right now, with intact primary fruit and maturing complexity in equal measure – it is a wine to relish in all its varietal glory.
This traditional, German-style Riesling is scented with petrol and pine, leading to crisp flavors of tart peaches and apricots on a slightly grippy texture. It makes a wonderful alternative to the usual Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
A textbook Riesling
A nice surprise, a textbook Riesling by an underrated producer from a region not particularly known for the grape. It’s bright and fresh, with plenty of fruit, crisp-apple acidity, and a long, bone-dry finish that leaves you wanting more. A fit pairing for Festa dei Sette Pesci (Feast of the Seven Fishes), the traditional Italian-American Christmas Eve supper, but also just to sip by the fire at the end of the day.
Lively and fruity, Anjou pear, nice acidity, mineral finish
𝐇𝐨𝐰 𝐃𝐨𝐞𝐬 𝐑𝐢𝐞𝐬𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐀𝐠𝐞?
Age-ability, a benefit of a well-made Riesling, is often overlooked.
If given time and the right cellar conditions, Riesling can age for decades. And Napa warm temperatures offer a unique expression for this wine: instead of lemony flavors, it leans toward ripe apricot, pear and a savory depth to the aromas.
A Smith-Madrone Riesling that is 25 or even 30 years old is a thing of beauty, with a complexity of aromas that makes swirling the glass a gift to the senses.
Aged Riesling pays great dividends to those with patience and rivals any equally aged red wine.
2017 Smith-Madrone Riesling
Made from mountain grown grapes
Color: Golden straw
Nose: flavors of passion fruit, orange and apricot
On the palate: Lively and fruity, Anjou pear, nice acidity, and mineral finish
Food pairing: cheeses, pasta or to fine fish dishes
Minerality and acidity are jovial and enticing
The 2016 Riesling is extremely aromatic with floral notes and green apple on the nose. A light golden yellow straw color and medium viscosity. On the palate, strong lime, mixed with stone fruits (white peach and apricots) tame the lime citrus. On the finish, the minerality comes through strong and pure from either the volcanic soil, or sandstone, limestone or the general rocky soil found on the property. The minerality and acidity are jovial and enticing with a semi-sweet crescendo. Thai, Pad Thai or Phad Thai, is commonly served as a street food and at restaurants in Thailand. The Smith-Madrone 2016 Estate Riesling was pulled from the cellar for last night’s meal due to the spiciness of the dish called Pad Thai Chicken. We had tried a similar recipe before with shrimp, but wanted to do it with chicken. The ingredients were flat rice noodles, virgin olive oil, fish sauce, minced garlic, chicken, eggs, bean sprouts, sliced red bell pepper, chopped green onions, roasted peanuts, brown sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, creamy peanut butter and Sriracha. Accompanying the meal was a fresh garden salad with an Asian dressing. The meal packed such wide ranging flavors and textures. The 2016 Smith-Madrone Riesling was a godsend. The wine was refreshing and quenched the palate. The barely sweet finish was spot on for this meal!
The sort of purist approach that bodes well...Smith-Madrone proves it can be done and done well
Napa isn't just about Cabernet and Chardonnay …Riesling completists, take note! Napa is probably one of the last places you might look for your fix of this most obsessive-compulsive of grapes, but Smith-Madrone prove that it can be done, and done well. Mountain viticulture is surely one of the vital elements, and the fog-wreathed hillsides shown above give an indication of the cooling influence that will benefit Riesling. Smith-Madrone's vineyards lie between 1,300 and 2,000 feet (400–610 m) with some slopes as steep as 34% according to their website. Furthermore, their Riesling vines date from their first plantings in 1972. They are own-rooted and the vineyards unirrigated. Such qualities indicate the sort of purist approach that bodes well, since old vines are generally revered for greater concentration of fruit and ungrafted vines are considered more authentic by some (perhaps unfairly, although they are certainly rare), while unirrigated vineyards appeal to our desire for minimal manipulation, especially when water is increasingly scarce. (As an aside, I remember Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill telling me that all and any irrigation compromises terroir, which has logic to it, although is perhaps an example of the convenience of his own uniqueness.) Regardless, the 2016 vintage of Smith-Madrone Riesling confirmed all the expectations of excellence. It has flavour characteristics that echo the great German archetypes, yet is distinctly New World, perhaps most obviously via soft acidity that would be unusual in most Teutonic versions. Their helpful tech sheet reveals titratable acidity on the lower side of the Riesling range, at 8.1 grams per litre, although the pH of 3.04 is typical. Furthermore, residual sugar is 6.8 grams per litre, giving that impression of slight sweetness which is Riesling's great gift to the world. Six years of bottle age has brought out flavours of basil leaf, lime cordial, lemon meringue and a definite petrographic aroma that might be described as slate or oil or mineral, depending on your preference. While it will doubtless continue to mature, I felt it was showing at its best for drinking right now, with intact primary fruit and maturing complexity in equal measure – it is a wine to relish in all its varietal glory. However, many markets have moved on to the 2017 vintage, which is the current release. Our US executive editor Elaine, who knows the producer in far more detail than I do, advises that their Riesling is 'guided by style in the sense that they have to centrally pay attention to sugar levels since they want it to be on the drier side of things and so specifically aim for that style, whereas the Chardonnay and Cabernet are guided more by vintage conditions. That said, I believe their wines in general are guided by structural focus and vintage honesty.' She adds, 'Smith-Madrone in general has worked hard to keep their wines at good value for the region and still produce one of the best-value Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley as well. The consistency across their wines is excellent (with appropriate vintage variation), and they each age quite impressively as well. The two brothers who founded it got up in the mountains of the Spring Mountain District in the early 1970s, and in many ways represent the last generation that could be middle class and start a new property in Napa Valley but they also happened to get in at a time when Cabernet from mountain property was still a relatively less explored concept so land was available and restrictions were not yet in place.'
This producer always excels with this variety
The nose is peach and mango with alluring perfume of orange pulp. The palate entry is focused apricot and sticky lemon with a core of spice and resinous herb. This producer always excels with this variety. Drink 2022-2033.
Founded in 1971, this dry-farmed estate on Napa Valley's Spring Mountain produces exceptionally well-made wines at value points commonly seen no later than a quarter-century ago.
Balanced and lasting
92 points: A youthful five-year-old riesling, this wine feels weightless in its heady jasmine floral scents and pretty lemon-tart flavors. The mountain-grown minerality creates a tense frame around the fruit and flowers, setting this up as an age-worthy white. Balanced and lasting.
Perfection (with sushi)
Riesling is one of the world’s greatest grape varieties. It’s farmed in Germany and France, but the globe is dotted with areas of Riesling production from Australia to Washington state to California. One of this country’s top producers of Riesling is Smith-Madrone. Located high atop Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain, the winery founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, is a heralded Napa classic. Their Riesling is a small-production, unique white that captures the essence of the variety with floral aromas, elegant earthiness, and vibrant acidity. Treat yourself to a night of sushi and Smith-Madrone Riesling. Perfection.
Cool, refreshing and stony
92 points: Opening with scents of petrol and cut grass, the 2017 Riesling is something of an oddity for Napa, where Riesling has largely been replaced by other varieties. Notes of paraffin, green apple and lime also appear on the nose, while the almost-dry, medium-bodied palate is cool, refreshing and stony, with a long, tangy finish and hints of beeswax and honey. It's already drinkable, but like many Rieslings, it should have a decently long drinking window.
A complex riesling that rides on crisp acid. Layered notes of grapefruit, mineral and honeysuckle. Nice length. Impressive.
Consider me converted: 2017 Smith Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California 12.9%
I’ve long been enamored with the Cabernets(Sauvignon and Franc alike) and Merlots of Spring Mountain where a thin topsoil layer and high elevation above the fog line produces smaller, thicker skinned berries yielding wines of marked intensity, varietal character, structure and age worthiness that in the hands of the right farming and winemaking can also possess freshness and elegance not often seen in this part of the world.
Who would have thought that world class Riesling could grow next to these monumental reds and achieve similar heights?
Enter brothers Stuart and Charles Smith. Stuart purchased the property in 1971 and Charles makes the wine, all from estate fruit on vineyards ranging between 1,300 - 2,000 feet asl on slops as steep as 34%
I’ve been drinking a lot of Riesling lately given my recent bi-annual trips to the Finger Lakes region. I haven’t had anything from the west coast that matches the verve, tension and energy of some of my favorites. Nor have I had any that match the texture and balance of my favorite German examples. This wine changed the game for me.
Substantial weight and density on the nose. Oily, waxy petrol already coming through overtop of soaring florals, crisp apple and some savory herbaceous notes. Medium weight with more stone fruit than citrus flavors on the palate. Amazing texture. The acidity comes in next, not offsetting but accentuating, the seriousness of this wine, pointing to a long life ahead. Simply gorgeous.
I challenge you to give me a $32 bottle of white wine that provides this much immediate enjoyment with the promise of being rewarded with 10-20+ years of patience.
A delicious Riesling that will age incredibly well
Riesling is quite unusual in Napa Valley but it does well in the hillsides above the Napa Valley floor on Spring Mountain. This is a delicious Riesling that will age incredibly well. The wine has aromas of honeysuckle and apricot with a slight hint of petrol. There is a silky texture on the palate with bright acidity and notes of citrus and stone fruit. This Riesling may possibly be my favorite wine from Smith-Madrone, a wine that is rare and very special from the mountains of Napa Valley.
92 points: An outstanding Riesling from the estate’s dry farmed, mountain vineyard. Intriguing tangy aromas of citrus and stone fruit with petrol and orange lozenge nuances. Clean and silky texture with mouthwatering acidity and nice minerality on a dry, beautifully balanced palate. This wine is still available on the winery’s web site, and we suggest snapping it up.
92 points: Crisp, elegant, and refreshing - even at four years of age - this is straightforward and true to the variety while being both sophisticated and very approachable. What more could you want from a producer or wine? And then there's the quenching acidity and very subtle industrial funk - catnip for any wine nerd. Yum. I'm not sure there's another domestic riesling I enjoy vintage after vintage as much as this one. Pricey, but worth it.
Please drink more riesling! For decades this Napa winery has been perfecting a balanced, wintergreen-scented style that ages brilliantly.
Outstanding, White Wine of the Year
One of his White Wines of The Year
95 points, Outstanding. I try to avoid hyperbole. Nor do I ever (OK, rarely) suggest that one should buy a particular wine. But. What I have in my chubby, sausage-fingered hands (OK, I really have delicate, piano-player-like hands even though the only musical instrument I play is the car radio) is quite possibly the best American Riesling.... And it comes from, wait for it… Napa Valley. Yowza. All cards on the table? My Riesling chops were sown (grown?) in an odd combination of Alsace (where I studied), Germany (where I was a bicycle tour guide), and the Willamette Valley (where my spirit animal resides). And yes, this wine rates right up there with all of them. Crisp, “varietally correct” (which is a stupid notion, but nonetheless…), light straw in the glass, bright citrus, a healthy dose of minerality, and the omni-present(?) petrol component that defines Riesling (at least for me)–this wine has it all and then some. Simply put, if you don’t like, nay, love this wine? You will never enjoy Riesling.
Give this gem a try
The Smith brothers planted 20 acres of German clone Riesling in the early 70s. Back then there was quite a bit of it grown in Napa, but over the years it was pulled out and replanted with Cabernet. Now Smith-Madrone is one of the few producers left. The wine has about a half percent residual sugar and tastes basically dry. It boasts a lovely nose of jasmine and citrus with loads of apple and pear fruit on the palate. Round and clean in the mouth, it has a soft smooth finish. Even if in the past you have not liked Riesling, you should give this gem a try. Can’t think of a better wine to go with Thanksgiving turkey.
Exquisite, bright, crisp, almost creamy mouthfeel
The wine has charming legs that slowly drift smoothly down the glass like a pair of perfect silk stockings. It is pretty impressive to watch. Heavy aromas of petrol surge from the glass immediately upon swirling, nectarine and apple push through to reveal themselves afterward. The petroleum mixed with the fruit notes urges your nose to revisit before each sip. There is a barrage of lemon, lime, nectarines, and green apple on the palate, accompanied by Thai basil, wet stone, and unstated notes of beeswax. The wine finishes with white pepper, basil, pink grapefruit, and lively lime. This medium-dry, medium-body wine is bright and crisp with almost a creamy mouthfeel. Subtle flavors of mango appear on the finish as the wine warms....these wines were exquisite...perfect for summer sipping. However, I could see myself drinking them year-round. The empty bottle happened way too soon....lovely with or without food and a great value.
Seriously good now, with another decade ahead
92 points: A whiff of petrol really entices, as orange blossom and cantaloupe tones all combine brilliantly on the nose. The palate has just a kiss of sweetness and comes off fat on the tongue, giving this an air of unctuousness. Ripe melon fruits mingle with starfruit, lemon rind, stony minerals and smoky undertones on the palate. Seriously good now, this has another decade of life ahead of it. Drink 2021-2028.
A lovely wine, beautifully balanced
This is an estate Riesling, dry-farmed. The wine has firm acidity and is the color of a lemon drop with greenish glints. The fragrance is on-point for warm-climate Riesling, with that oily mineral note wafting atop yellow citrus in all its forms: Meyer lemon, lemongrass, lemon thyme. The flavors continue the theme, and the texture is ample, substantial, but with direct acidity. The finish has a flinty, mineral edge. It’s a lovely wine, beautifully balanced and great for seafood, salads, asparagus, young and milky cheeses, and coconut milk curries.