Mon 4 Jul 2011
Brothers Stu and Charlie Smith planted their cabernet sauvignon vines in 1972, high atop Spring Mountain, 1,900 feet above Napa Valley and west of the town of St. Helena. They dry-farm the 37 acres of vines that grow out of the volcano-based rocky soil; the hillsides are so steep that some areas slope at a perilous 35 degree pitch. The Smiths produce mainly cabernet sauvignon wines, with lesser amounts of riesling and chardonnay, and they don’t make too damned much of any of it, to the regret of their fans, of whom I am one. Matters proceed in an old-fashioned style at Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery. There’s no palatial facility or art museum and no high-tech tasting room, just a modest but clean and well-constructed wooden building that suits its purpose. In fact, “suiting the purpose” might be the motto at Smith-Madrone, a practical yet somehow visionary winery where no effort is wasteful, and no attempt is made to fit its products into the range of contemporary palates conditioned by over-ripe fruit and high alcohol. The Smith brothers have been making wine this way for 40 years.
So, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon and nine percent each merlot and cabernet franc. The wine ages — get this! — 22 months in new American oak barrels, and — guess what? — you would never know that was the case. It’s not toasty or stridently spicy or woody; instead, the oak, which indeed permeates every jot, tittle and iota of the wine, as it must, serves as background and foundation, as supple framer of structure but sharing equal footing with vibrant, resonant acidity and pungent, earthy, mossy, leathery tannins. By now, you’re thinking, “Oh, great, is there anything actually to smell and taste here? Any, you know, fruit?” Listen, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 was not designed for immediate gratification, like some hussy of a fleshy, flashy, lavish Oakville merlot. Give it time, whether in the glass as you sit at dinner (having opened the wine an hour beforehand) with a ripe, flavorful medium-rare ribeye steak, or after sufficient time in the cellar. When you first sniff and taste, though, you’ll detect notes of cedar-infused, spiced and macerated black currants and dried black cherries with an under-tone of plum. Burgeoning through that scope, however, will be elements of briers and brambles, forest floor and graphite-like minerality, walnut-shell and new leather. Slowly, slowly, the wine offers touches of mint, lavender and licorice, tobacco and lead pencil, black olive, dried thyme and a bit of rosemary’s slightly heady resiny quality. Plums and mulberries seep into this sharply etched profile that delves as deeply into the wine’s measureless expanse as the roots in the vineyard penetrate into the mountainside, while the finish is tenaciously dense, granitic and brooding. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,459 cases. Best from 2012 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $45.
A sample for review.