I was invited to a special private tasting last week with Daniel Baron, the winemaker at Silver Oak -- one of the most prestigious names in all of California winedom. For me, it was a real treat, because I have not attended many formal tastings since leaving the wine biz in the mid-1980s, and I actually have never had the pleasure of drinking a Silver Oak wine.
It occurred during my regular work hours, so I unfortunately had to religiously spit, but I enjoyed it immensely anyway. Not only were the wines very special (notes to follow), but Daniel Baron has been making wine in the highest eschelons for decades. As we were tasting, he regaled us not only with a wealth of winemaking information, but also some great anecdotes from his interesting career.
The wines comprised not only the two Silver Oak Cabernets (the Alexander Valley and the Napa Valley), but also from Twomey Vineyards, with is associated with Silver Oak, though it focuses on varietals other than Cabernet (a Sauvignon Blanc, several Pinot Noirs, and a Merlot). All the wines were either currently on the market or about to be released.
2008 Twomey Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC -- from old vines formerly owned by the now defunct Stonegate Winery, this was a very tight, crisp, French-styled Sauvignon Blanc. Restrained nose with light earthy, toasty notes and citrusy fruit. Crisp as all heck in the mouth, with a pervasive minerality and a refreshing style. Long, lean finish. Would be a dynamite accompaniment to sweet shellfish such as shrimp or scallops.
The following Pinot Noirs are denominated by regional appellation only, as they are blended from multiple vineyards within the designated region.
2008 Twomey Santa Barbara PINOT NOIR -- Tart and very tight. Gorgeous light pomegranate ruby color. Bright, nervous nose of sappy yet crisp cherries. High acidity, razor-like focus, but good ripeness. Long cherry-skin finish. (Daniel said this P.N. was from the coolest climate of the four, and will open up with time.)
2008 Twomey Anderson Valley PINOT NOIR -- Slightly darker color. Deeper, sappier nose, with spice and earth notes. Lower-toned flavors, with more earthy, humus (not hummus) notes. Longer finish too. Drinking well already.
2008 Twomey Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR -- Darker still, with purply-ruby hues. Sweeter, riper nose, with lots of fruit and cinnamon. Broader, expansive mouthfeel, with lots of secondary flavors already showing up in addition to great, sappy Pinot fruit. Tightens up in the long finish. Needs a little time to get itself fully together, but already very tasty.
2008 Twomey Russian River PINOT NOIR -- Wow! Of all these appellations, Russian River is usually my least favorite, but this was fantastic. Great fruit on the nose. Gobs of focused, ripe cherry and a few other berries in the background. Round, silky, and concentrated in the mouth, but with a light feel. Lovely, pure fruity, soft and extra-long finish. Great balance.
2006 Twomey Napa Valley MERLOT -- I'm not usually a huge Merlot guy, but this ROCKED! From a single vineyard in SE Napa near Stag's Leap (Daniel said the soil is very poor, volcanic pumice), made only with French clones of Merlot, and aged in French oak. An elegant, blackish ruby color. Intense, focused blackberry fruit on the nose. Tight in the mouth, with ripe fruit but avoiding any jamminess or perceptible residual sugar. Lots of gravelly, stony notes, and gobs of very fine-grained tannins. Full-bodied, with fantastic length. I thought this was very much like a top growth St. Emilion or Pomerol. I probably would not have picked this out as a California wine if I didn't know what it was.
All the Twomey reds will retail at $50. (I can't remember what he said the Sauvignon Blanc sells for.)
2005 Silver Oak Alexander Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON -- As all Silver Oak Cabs, this was 100% Cabernet and aged in 100% American Oak (50% was new for this wine). Dark black ruby color. Rich, earthy, cigar box, and humus notes along with ripe, dark fruit. Ripe and rich in the mouth, but with a nice, tight, concentrated core of fruit. Nice structure and balance. A very complete wine.
2004 Silver Oak Napa Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON -- Very sedate color. Fantastic and unique nose, with sweet, perfumey cassis and cigar leaf, and a deep-toned inky component. Lots of minerally gravel notes in the mouth, with great focus and concentration. Impeccable balance. Still a fair amount of tannin, but a soft texture nonetheless. Very long finish.
Finally, Daniel explained a unique cork quality program that Silver Oak has instituted. I was amazed at how much thought and empirical data went into it, and the result, he said, was that, for their 750 ml bottles, the incidence of corked wine has been reduced from 2% (which seemed already pretty low to me), to an unheard of 0.67%. He also mentioned that for each and every bottle of 3L or larger, the corks are individually inspected! Amazing attention to quality.
All in all, a great experience!