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Wine of the Week: Smith-Madrone, 2016 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Riesling

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This week's blind tasting

Exotic Whites

TOP PICK

Smith-Madrone

2016 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Riesling, 12.8% alcohol, $34. ★★★★★

Floral, with flavors on the palate of stone fruits, mineral and a quench of lime. This riesling rides on crisp acidity and has perfect balance; everything is in check. This Alsatian-styled riesling is gorgeous.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Eighty Four, 2018 Napa Valley, Carneros Albarino, 13.8%, $28. ★★★★½: This well-crafted albarino is floral with aromas of citrus and honeysuckle. On the palate are notes of white peach and melon, with crisp acidity. Lovely.

Fel, 2018 Anderson Valley Pinot Gris, 13.8%, $25. ★★★★: A striking pinot gris with bright notes of peach, nectarine and orange blossom. Has a hint of hazelnut. Nice length. Well crafted.

Marimar Estate, 2018 Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley Albarino, 13.5%, $29. ★★★★: This albarino is floral, with aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, stone fruits and mineral. It’s nice and dry and finishes crisp. Pretty.

Aridus, 2017 Arizona White Wine Field Blend, 11.2%, $28. ★★★½: This is a tasty quaffer –– crisp and tart. Tropical notes, with flavors of lemon and lime in the mix. It’s lightly toasted, with a hint of mineral. This bottling is a blend of viognier, sauvigon blanc and malvasia. Solid.

At Smith-Madrone Vineyards, when it comes to riesling, you’re tasting the naked grape, hailing from vineyards steep in volcanic soils.

“You’re tasting the pure essence of the grape in a way that doesn’t occur with other varietals,” said vintner Stu Smith. “There’s no oak aging, no malolactic fermentation, no lees stirring or blending with other grapes.”

Smith and the naked grape are behind our wine of the week winner — the Smith-Madrone 2016 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Riesling at $34. It’s floral, with flavors on the palate of stone fruits, mineral and a quench of lime. This Alsatian-style riesling rides on crisp acidity and has perfect balance; everything’s in check.

The vintner said the St. Helena enterprise is a team effort. He also credits his older brother, Charlie Smith, and his son, Sam Smith, for the caliber of this riesling.

“We all decide on the blends, do the harvest together, and none of us gets out of bottling,” Stu Smith said. Stu Smith founded the winery in 1971. Charlie Smith joined in 1973 and Sam Smith, in 2010.

“Charlie, Sam and I care,” Stu Smith said.

“We’re trying to make the very best wine humanly possible. To do that, you have to have a mindset that wine quality is the singular focus and that all those thousands of decisions that are made unconsciously are uncompromisingly for quality and not quantity or dollars.”

The winery adheres to dry farming as much as possible, Stu Smith said. Dry farming means vineyards are not irrigated and rely solely on water nature provides.

“Using as little water as possible is still a laudable goal, and one my industry should be embracing,” Stu Smith said.

The heat spell over Labor Day weekend in 2017 forced Stu Smith to rethink his commitment to dry farming. Today, he opts for moderation.

Limiting irrigation produces smaller berries with a higher skin-to-juice ratio. Because the skin contains all the flavor, he said, it produces a more intensely flavored grape.

“I see this as not only a way to make better wine, but also something that demonstrates that we are being responsible neighbors by not wasting such a precious resource.”

During his college years at Berkeley in the 1960s, Stu Smith enjoyed wine more than beer.

“There was a bottle of 1961 Chateau Lafite at the wine store Jackson’s Party Service for sale for $27. Like Dr. Strangelove, I’d reach for that bottle and my other arm would reach out and pull my hand back. A bottle priced at $27 was beyond my reach.”

Today, Smith is smitten with riesling.

“We give it the respect that it deserves. We believe that riesling is one of the four most important varietals in the world — along with cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir.

“We don’t believe it’s just one of the most important ‘white’ varietals in the world.”

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

This week's blind tasting

Exotic Whites

TOP PICK

Smith-Madrone

2016 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Riesling, 12.8% alcohol, $34. ★★★★★

Floral, with flavors on the palate of stone fruits, mineral and a quench of lime. This riesling rides on crisp acidity and has perfect balance; everything is in check. This Alsatian-styled riesling is gorgeous.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Eighty Four, 2018 Napa Valley, Carneros Albarino, 13.8%, $28. ★★★★½: This well-crafted albarino is floral with aromas of citrus and honeysuckle. On the palate are notes of white peach and melon, with crisp acidity. Lovely.

Fel, 2018 Anderson Valley Pinot Gris, 13.8%, $25. ★★★★: A striking pinot gris with bright notes of peach, nectarine and orange blossom. Has a hint of hazelnut. Nice length. Well crafted.

Marimar Estate, 2018 Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley Albarino, 13.5%, $29. ★★★★: This albarino is floral, with aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, stone fruits and mineral. It’s nice and dry and finishes crisp. Pretty.

Aridus, 2017 Arizona White Wine Field Blend, 11.2%, $28. ★★★½: This is a tasty quaffer –– crisp and tart. Tropical notes, with flavors of lemon and lime in the mix. It’s lightly toasted, with a hint of mineral. This bottling is a blend of viognier, sauvigon blanc and malvasia. Solid.

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