Many of us are still working from home, so the day often revolves around what we’re drinking with dinner. One day last week, I found I had acquired (by non-nefarious means) a tall green-bottled Riesling, as well as some outstanding pancetta, creating a perfect reason to make tarte flambée for dinner.
After the dough had risen, the onions were caramelized, and the magical little Riesling-loving pizzas were in the oven, it was time to open that tall green bottle of Mosel I’d set aside. A wonderful treasure from Germany. But, um, well, on inspecting the label, I found there had been a slight miscalculation. A modest misunderstanding. It wasn’t a Mosel Riesling at all, or even any sort of old world bottling. It was the 2016 Riesling from Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley, from the legendary Smith-Madrone winery. (The current release goes for around $30.)
Today, Smith-Madrone is an iconic Napa name, best known for their collector Cabernets. Part of “old school” Napa Valley, Stuart Smith was one of those young growers who bought land in the 1970s, producing the stunning Cabernets and Chardonnays for which Napa Valley would become known. To this day, the estate, named for the family and the property’s Madrone trees, is known for its outstanding Spring Mountain Cabernet and Chardonnay, and, yes, its 6-plus acres of Riesling.
I decided to stick to the dinner plan. Riesling always likes salty pork, so I figured we were still in business. I drew the cork and poured that first taste from the Old World-style bottle. It smelled like a German Riesling! Underneath all of the lovely ripe pear and stone fruit that make up the distinctive German Riesling nose was even a hint of petrol, a minerality usually characteristic of slate.
A sip confirmed this bottle was not merely a “California Riesling” but a true Euro-style Riesling from California—and I loved it! A terrific yearly offering from Smith-Madrone, this particular Riesling is a gem. Clean, with lovely acid, and all of the great fruit you want in a dry Riesling, you can sip this on its own or pair with something a bit more substantial. Beware, this beauty packs 12-13% alcohol, much higher than the average 9% of a similar German wine.
As an experiment, I think I’ll try it blind next to a true Trocken Riesling from the Mosel; it’d be nice to get fooled again.