St. Helena’s Smith-Madrone: 2009 Chardonnay, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

Smith-Madrone and St. Helena, Napa

It’s a wonderful surprise to discover a new winery making wines to enjoy. Smith-Madrone rests in the Northern portion of Napa Valley to the west of the St. Helena area. Napa is of course known for big wine, but one of the distinctive aspects of this particular area of Napa is the high proportion of family owned, smaller size wineries. That is 95% of the wineries in St. Helena are family owned.

Started in 1972, Smith-Madrone remains in the same family ownership with which it began. The family focuses on keeping their winery size down to what keeps hands-on vineyard and wine making practices possible. The winery rests on top of Spring Mountain with elevations of 1300 to 1900 feet, and red volcanic soil slopes. The combination gives distinct flavor and delicacy to their grapes–there is a sort of flavor and structural precision that stands here along with noticeable red chalk elements–while their production techniques keep their wines clean and enjoyable.

One of the elements I appreciated about the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from this year’s Smith-Madrone release was how they both showcase what California can do well. That is, both of these wines carry a recognizably California style, but each with their own distinct, (and lighter) personality, showing good balance between fruit and other flavor components; between noticeable alcohol and overall structure. These are clean, well made wines that present balanced palates, both with sophisticated nose and a range of subtle flavors in rich texture.

2009 Chardonnay

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The Smith-Madrone Chardonnay undergoes full barrel fermentation followed by 9 months in new French oak. That said, the oak elements are well integrated here. This is a California style Chardonnay that can relax with its own innate characteristics, thereby setting you at ease to enjoy them too.

The nose shows as lightly candied, nutty, and chalky, with good fruit of yellow apple skin and mixed citrus zest, and hints of toast. The palate follows with the addition of light white pepper accents. The overall structure is very pleasing–there is rich texture, with great acidity, and a good medium-long finish.

I would love to let this Chardonnay age to drink again in a few years, but it drinks beautifully now as well. The overall style is richer than I tend to reach for on a Chardonnay, but, that said, I was pulled in by this wine and enjoyed it. It’s a California style Chardonnay with well done, balanced presentation and its own story to tell.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

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The Cabernet Sauvignon shows an excellent nose with nice meaty qualities, light pepper, good earth, and red fruit. I like the red chalk effect on the palate that comes in alongside a great umami character (I was caught up thinking of caribou soup with red cherry, pepper, and light tobacco here, I have to admit), light tobacco notes, red fruit, and that nice alcohol pepper and heat. The presentation offers a drying grip, with pleasing texture, red fruit, and lightly watery body.

I very much enjoyed this Cabernet and wanted it alongside meat to help draw out more of the fruit flavors. The tannin here has enough of a drying effect that pairing with meat proteins would give more room to show off the flavors. Again, like the Chardonnay, I’d love to let this Cabernet age, and I enjoyed it now as well.

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Thank you to Smith-Madrone, and Julie Ann Kodmur for sending these samples.

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