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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2009

by Tim Elliott on February 10, 2011

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2009 labelI have to admit that I don’t drink a lot of white wine in the dead of a Minnesota winter. But when I saw a sample of the almost mythical Smith-Madrone Riesling, I had to see what was in the bottle. The last time I tasted Smith-Madrone Riesling was a tank sample with winemaker Charles Smith. I think this was from the 2007 vintage since my impromptu tasting visit was a few years back. Over the years, this wine has been my personal benchmark of how good Riesling can be in my home state and rarely is eclipsed by any other California Riesling.

Smith-Madrone was founded in 1971 by brothers Stu and Charles Smith. The Madrone part of the winery name is a tribute to the most prominent tree on the 200 acre ranch. For 40 years the Smith brothers have made uncompromising wines from Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that are among the finest in Napa Valley (a Pinot Noir was also produced for a time but grafted to Chardonnay in 1989).

Grown at between 1,300 and 2,000 feet on Spring Mountain, the 6.25 acre Smith-Madrone Riesling vineyard is now 38 years old. When I visited in 2008, the vineyard was challenged with phylloxera which slowly diminishes the quantity of fruit. As vines bare too little fruit they are being replaced with resistant rootstock. The 2009 vintage was the coolest since the Smiths planted the vineyard harvesting 10 days later than normal. Even if this is the lowest production they have ever seen from this vineyard, the quality is still top-notch.

Tasting Notes:

Smith-Madrone, Riesling, Spring Mountain 2009 ($27/sample) – Light straw-green in color with aromas of green apple, citrus, honeydew and a hint of petrol. Tart green apple fruit with citrus finishing dry with refreshing acidity and a nice mineral note. A benchmark California Riesling that could take on the best of Alsace and give them a run for their money. Will continue to improve in the cellar for at least the next 25 years. Just over 300 cases produced so pick up some soon.

12.9% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆
Score: 90

Buy this wine online

WBW 45: Old World Riesling

by Tim Elliott on May 7, 2008

The Mosel was the first wine region I toured. It was back in the summer of 1971 when I was almost 11, so I was not tasting any wines. But the impact of that visit stuck with me when a decade later I first got into wine. The black cat label of Zeller Schwartz Katz became more common on the dinner table after this trip and when wine was present in my formative years, Riesling was more often than not the variety enjoyed.

But it probably wasn’t just this early exposure to the grape that compelled me to drink more Riesling; it was the complexity and potential for aging of the wines that make this my favorite white variety.

Like my second favorite white Roussanne, Riesling shows well in youth but takes on more complexity with age. I’ve tasted dry Rieslings almost 30 years old that still have youthful bouquet and flavors despite their tawny color. The wines seem to go through some sort of metamorphosis of fruit and floral to fruit, mineral and gasoline, noted by most wine lovers as “petrol.” In the best Rieslings, the wine is supported by a backbone of acidity that can make even a 9% alcohol wine hold up for decades.

Riesling travels but not as well as other noble whites such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. While those varieties can grow and produce good wines almost anywhere, Riesling is fickle and only shows it’s magic in specific microclimates.

That’s why I chose the Old World of Northern Europe as the place for this Wine Blogging Wednesday devoted to Riesling. It just seems that Rieslings of every price point are so much better there. I know that the variety can be great in Australia, Washington State, and parts of California, but to truly enjoy the essence of the grape you have to go to Europe.

My WBW 45 SelectionsMy two selections tonight are from the Mosel region of Germany. I thought it would be interesting to compare what age does to the variety so each wine is similar in style but 5 years different in age.

Tasting Notes:

Max Ferdinand Richter, Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2006 ($14) – Pale straw-green in color with aromas of green apple, wet stone and lime. In the mouth, green apple and citrus flavors give way to a nice mineral note and good acidity. Although dry, the finish gives the impression of slight sweetness due to the vibrant fruit. A nicely done young Mosel Riesling that should improve with some bottle age.

10% ABV
Stelvin closure
Score: 89
Rating: ★★★½☆

Buy this wine at domaine 547

Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling, Kabinett, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2001 ($25) – Light straw color with a bouquet of baked apples, stone and petrol. Bright and fresh with green apple and mineral flavors finishing with bracing acidity. A solid aged Riesling with years ahead of it. Good thing I still have some more bottles in the cellar to taste down the road.

9% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 89
Rating: ★★★½☆

So a draw in the scoring but two really nice Rieslings that demonstrate why I love this variety so much. As I post this, nearly 50 other bloggers have responded to my call and have posted some great wines. Once all the entries have been blogged I will write a summary that will hopefully document all the many faces of Riesling. Stay tuned.

Riesling Picks and Noble Rot is coming!

by Tim Elliott on April 18, 2008

Noble RotThe San Francisco Chronicle has posted a number of German Riesling reviews that would be great for the next Wine Blogging Wednesday in a few weeks. Most of them are $25 or less and several different German regions are represented.

It’s almost time for the next round of the Wine Book Club which I am also hosting. Even if you haven’t started reading my pick, William Echikson’s Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution, you can start this weekend and probably have it read by Monday. Or you could read it the next weekend.

Just pick it up soon, read and post your review by April 29th.

Double Shot of Riesling Podcasts

by Tim Elliott on December 12, 2006

If and when I get the chance to make my own wine or own a winery, the two varietals I’d start with are Riesling and Pinot Noir. I don’t know if it’s the purity of the fruit or terroir or that both these have some sort of x-factor that most other wine varietals don’t, but these are the wines that I hold in the highest regard (along with sentimental favorite Zinfandel).

So it was great to find two podcasts on my iPod this week that are both about Riesling and feature Ernst Loosen. Excellent listening if you are a Riesling-ofile like me 😉

Check them out here:

Oz Wine Show – Ernst Loosen Interview

Grape Radio – The Riesling Shootout

PS: Just to make sure nobody takes this before I get started, I registered a new domain inspired by another blogger 🙂