Brothers Charles and Stu Smith started their 37 acre vineyard a top Spring Mountain in 1971. With vineyards planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and most recently Cabernet Franc and Merlot they produce about 4,000 cases combined. One would expect them to build their reputation on Napa Valley staples of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, but at Smith-Madrone their known for their Riesling. The Riesling is considered to be on par with celebrated Riesling producers from around the world and is often on wine writers “best of” list each year. With breath taking views of Napa Valley the dry farmed vineyards are anywhere from 1,300-2,000 ft. above the valley floor. Doing almost everything themselves around the vineyards and winery Charles and Stu deserve the accolades they receive.
With 13 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc and saw 22 months in new American oak. It is neither fined or filtered. Soft and lush at the beginning, with good black cherry and currant fruit and medium tannins this wine has nice character and complexity. A long lingering finish on the back of the palate, “this is one of the best Cabs I’ve had all year” said my drinking companion. This is not a big Cab, with huge tannins but a Cab. with finesse and structure. With less than 1,500 cases of the 05 produced this bottle is a steal at approximately $45. If you can find it make sure you grab a bottle or 2 and while at it if you can find their Chardonnay or Riesling one should stock up on those too. www.smithmadrone.com
With an estimated 10,000+ varieties of grapes used to produce wine around the world, why are only familiar w/ a small portion of them. Some grapes grow in specific regions in the world, some are grown throughout the world. Some are used exclusively for blending and some are bottled by themselves. Some grapes are the same but called by different names in different parts of the world i.e. Shiraz & Syrah or Grenache & Garnacha.
In on going posts “What grape is that..” I will shed some light on lesser known varieties that are slowly making their way onto the international wine scene. Quite often we’ve tasted theses wines, but never knew what they were. Think about it, 10 years ago who knew what Gruner Veltliner, unless you were from Austria. Here we go……
GRILLO is a Sicilian white grape that is used in Marsala and some producers bottle it by itself and it makes for light, refreshing glass of wine. It should not be confused with the red grape GROLLEAU from the Loire Valley. This grape is often used for rose or blending. It also has a very unique taste profile.
TORRONTES from Argentina is white wine that is very aromatic on the nose and is starting to get some recognition in the U.S. after riding Malbecs coat tails.
Just a few wines for today. Continue to check back for other grapes/wines you may not have heard of.. yet!
With the winery dating back to the 1850s, the Rotta family has owned it since 1908. Grandson of founders, Mike Giubbini has been pulling the winery out of a dormant stage to revive some of the family traditions and replanted vines back in 1990. Planting mostly Zinfandel on their 20 acres of estate vineyards which is also dry farmed, they starting bottling under the Rotta name back in 2002 after years of selling grapes to nearby wineries. Focusing on mostly red wines they also purchase grapes from local vineyards mostly on the Westside of Paso Robles and Templeton area. I’ve been told that the following wine is the only vineyard designate Cabernet Franc from California.
The 06 Dino Boneso Cabernet Franc is light colored garnet to the eye and and pretty on the nose with hints of cherry fruit and spices. Spicy and soft on the palate, its medium tannins linger and are worthy of the many accolades this wine has garnered. Dry on the finish it has a nice mouth feel and is not to overpowering. Limited in production this wine would go well with both grilled and/or roasted meats and wild game. suggested retail should be under $25 for this treat. www.rottawinery.com
As grapes are living, breathing organisms they have DNA just like us humans. And also like us humans, grapes have traceable ancestry. Parent grapes, going back to the country of origin and finding relative grapes have become a science. Plavac Mali (pronounced Pla-Vatz Malee)had been thought to be a parent of Zinfandel, but has been found to be offspring of Zinfandel. The Zinfandel grape which has been considered an “American grape” has been widely thought to be the same as Italian grape Primitivo, from the southern part of Italy. DNA testing shows that the Zinfandel ancestry relates to the Croatian grape Plavac Mali and grown in vineyards along the Dalmatian coast. All are related though none are identical.
With the help of Mike Grgich, owner of Grgich Hills winery in Napa Valley & born in Croatia, DNA testing shows that Plavac Mali and Zinfandel are not the same grape but related and that Zinfandel could actually be parent, along with Dobricic, to Plavac Mali. DNA tests show that Zinfandel is actually the Croatian grape Crljenak.
Plavac Mali translates into “small blue” and refers to the grape itself, which tends to be lighter in body than Zinfandel. Milos Plavac Mali is one of Croatia’s most respected producers of the grape. Making only about 2,500 cases of Plavac Mali, winemaker/owner Frano Milos doesn’t manipulate the wine and uses only natural yeast before aging the wine 1 year in oak then, 2 years in the bottle before release.Garnet to the eye it’s spicy with good fruit you can see the relation to Zinfandel. Cherry and currant flavors evolve along with a smoky flavor that screams for wild game or a beef roast pairing. With a 12.8% alcohol level it’s not over powering or “hot” as we say. It should retail for between $20-$25. With the popularity of Croatian wines in the United States in recent years don’t be surprised if you see this delicious wine on restaurant wine lists and wine retailers shelves.
Reference: Meredith, Dr. Carole “Looking for Zinfandel in Croatia” in Zinfandel Express January 2002.