One of the things to appreciate about the wines of Smith-Madrone Vineyards is the time they spend in the bottle before release, which gives them longer to develop and reveal their dimension and complexity before they are purchased and enjoyed.
For example, the current-release Chardonnay is the 2018 vintage; the always excellent Riesling is from 2017; and the Cabernet Sauvignon is a 2018. It’s fortunate that brothers Stuart and Charles Smith, who founded Smith-Madrone in the Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District in 1971, are able to hold back the wines and let them age for a year or two longer than many other vineyards.
Hence, the 2018 Chardonnay is a stunning wine at this point in its life. Not only is it one of the Napa Valley’s top Chardonnays, but also a significant value for its quality at $45.
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Its hallmark is its balance — bright, refreshing acidity and just the right oak treatment (nine months in French oak barrels, a little more than half of them new) that blends seamlessly and doesn’t dominate.
The tastes suggest green apple, Meyer lemon, and kumquat. Add to that some baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, all of it leading to a remarkably long finish that leaves you with minerals, herbs, and a touch of cream.
The wine is easy to drink — easy not in the inconsequential sense, but in that all the elements have come together enticingly at this point and should evolve even more in the years to come. Like many California Chardonnays, it weighs in at a hefty 14.5 percent alcohol, but you won’t even notice because the wine is so balanced.
Smith-Madrone, a 200-acre ranch with 34 acres of steep vineyards as high as 2,000 feet, was a pioneer of dry farming in Napa and produces just a handful of wines. It has pretty much stuck to the less-is-more model for most of its existence. With the 2018 Chardonnay, it’s easy to understand why.