Over the past couple of years, I have seen a decided shift in my approach to California wine. Up until relatively recently, I kept an open mind to all wines from the Golden State as long as they were not from Napa. I had become convinced, with ample justification, that wineries in Napa Valley had jumped the proverbial shark, commanding $200-300 a bottle (or more) for wines that were made to largely impress the critics.
More recently, I have tasted more wines from this country’s “premier” wine growing region. Wines that, while certainly not “inexpensive”, did not require a significant dent in the savings to purchase.
The first of those was Smith-Madrone:
2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling Napa Valley Spring Mountain District: Retail $30. OK, that’s it. This is the fourth or fifth American Riesling that I have had in recent weeks that proves my theory—American Riesling producers have caught up to the Old World. Perhaps more than any variety, makers of Riesling in this country seem to get it: it is all about the acidity. This Smith-Madrone (one of the most under-rated Napa producers) has great citrus, melon, and a touch of petrol (ever-so-slight) followed by lip-smacking tartness and a weighty mouthfeel. Gangbusters. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2014 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain, Napa Valley: Retail $34. For some stupid reason, I have never visited Smith-Madrone. Perhaps it is because it is a relatively new winery (that comment is dripping it sarcasm, it was founded in 1971). Maybe it is because I essentially gave up on Napa Valley several years ago as monstrosity after McWinery was constructed along Route 29. Recently, I have found a few reasons to reconsider the Valley that made the world notice American wine, and Smith-Madrone is right there at the top of the list. This is decidedly a California Chardonnay with plenty of fruit, and plenty of oak (100% new French), but this wine can handle it. Why? Well, it is grown on a mountain where there is a significant diurnal shift, thus maintaining considerable acidity, putting all that oak in its place. Great lemon curd, buttered popcorn, and wet rock. This might not be the ideal wine for the ABC crowd, it is certainly delicious. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Napa Valley: Retail $52. 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot. As I mentioned above, 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.
It is strange how there are some episodes in childhood about which you have no recollection and others that are as vivid as if it were yesterday. One of my more vivid memories was the time that I was obsessed with two television shows that had long ceased production and were in perpetual re-runs on the UHF dial: Leave it to Beaver and Daniel Boone.
While I am pretty sure that neither Jerry Matthers or Tony Dow ever delved very far into the world of wine, Fess Parker, the star of Daniel Boone, opened his eponymous winery in the Santa Barbara County in the late 1980’s.
I have visited the winery several times now (and each time tempted to purchase a coonskin cap which I coveted as a child), and this past year, I took part in an online tasting of the winery’s newest venture: a stand alone label, Addendum, which focuses on Napa Valley fruit.
2014 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Retail $90. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon: 67% Rutherford AVA, 33% Stagecoach Vineyard. Dark red fruit, mocha, rich and opulent, a big Napa Cab, without the big dollars—this wine resembles those that cost two or three times the tariff for this bottle. A bit of tannin on the backend, so this might benefit from a couple of years in the cellar. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2014 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Skellenger Lane, Rutherford: Retail $95. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 100% Rutherford AVA. A little hotter than the Napa with blackberry, vanilla, and a shot of espresso, a bit chewier, but also richer—holy cow and Whoa. After some time open, it really impressed with tons of that mystical “Rutherford Dust.” Another wine that could use a bit of time, but really fantastic now. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2014 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard, Atlas Peak: Retail $95. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Another 100% Cab, this one from the largest contiguous vineyard in Napa Valley. The blackberry is there, but there are also some green notes, however slight, that I always welcome. A bit closed now, but it is still gangbusters. Of the three 100% Cabs, this is the one most clearly in need of cellar time. This could easily take a decade in the cellar. Now? Outstanding. 90-92 Points. 5-10 years out? Whoa. Outstanding Plus potential. 93-96 Points.
2014 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah Blend Stagecoach Vineyard, Atlas Peak: Retail $80. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Syrah. An interesting blend that one does not see all that often, but this one certainly works. The blackberry that was evident in the Cabs is still there, but the Syrah lends its characteristic spice. Lots of spice. This wine is also a bit rounder and fuller than its brethren, rendering it a tad more ready to drink right away. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.