The philosophy behind Silver Oak Cellars — to focus unbridled enthusiasm on one thing at a time — has made its celebrated cabernet sauvignon program one of the best in the Napa Valley. But wait… there’s more.
Silver Oak also makes a pretty darn good cabernet from grapes grown in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Two sister estates, operating in Calistoga and Healdsburg as Twomey Cellars, produce a quartet of top-quality pinot noir wines plus one of the best merlots in the state.
The Duncan family, which owns Silver Oak, got its feet wet in the wine business back in the late 1960s, when winery co-founder Ray Duncan began buying prime grape-growing real estate at the cusp of the movement to produce world-class wines in Calfornia. Duncan’s offspring manage the business today, keeping each facility on a separate and special successful track.
Out of the Ashes
Silver Oak had to rebuild is Oakville winery, which reopened last September, after a disastrous fire. The facility emerged in great shape with a lovely tasting room and expanded and upgraded production facilities that are open for daily tours and tasting.
Although the label is silver and it features an oak tree, the name Silver Oak actually denotes the winery’s location, about halfway between the Silverado Trail and the Oakville Highway (Highway 29).
Mark your calendars for the next big public event, formal release of the 2005 Napa vintage on Feb. 6, 2010, when the entire Duncan family turns out to pour the new wine for visitors to Oakville and the second Silver Oake winery in Geyserville.
I recently tasted both current vintages, the 2005 Alexander Valley ($70) and the 2004 Napa Valley ($100), and both are really good. Silver Oak’s Alexander Valley tasted of mulberry with a dash of cinnamon spice plus a touch of healthy tannins from aging in white oak barrels from a Missouri forest. The Napa was a bit smoother, with plum fruit and some mocha overlays, and ready to drink.
The pinot noir side of the business is headquartered in Healdsburg, where grapes from all over the state are used in Twomey’s four different bottlings. My favorite from the 2007 vintage was the Santa Barbara, which was sourced primarily from the famed Bien Nacido vineyard. The smoothness was impeccable with an overlay of cherry/strawberry fruit that was hard to resist. I also liked the 2007 Anderson Valley, which was a bit earthier with mineral components that gave it a racy flair.
Merlot Makes the Grade
Twomey merlot is made in Calistoga in a French style — elegant and true to the form perfected in Bourdeaux — with some techniques that are a throwback to older times.
Winemaker Daniel Baron imports special French oak barrels and uses a method — called soutirage traditional — to move (by gravity, not by mechanical pumping) the aging wine from barrel to barrel to rid the juice of sediment and also to give the wine a natural smoothness and silkiness that has to be tasted to be appreciated. Grapes for this wine come from the Soda Canyon Ranch vineyard in southeastern Napa Valley.
In a recent tasting at the Calistoga winery, I sampled the last five vintages of merlot — 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001. There was a strong continuity of quality between vintages, which were all smooth and approachable. I especially enjoyed the 2005 ($60), a deeply red wine that had a definite mocha taste on top of dark cherries with a peppery backbeat.
Weekend Wine Wanderings
If you can’t get away to the wine country this weekend, you can take a shortcut to taste a wide variety of wines from the Lodi area in a special event on Treasure Island this Sunday (Oct. 11). The Treasure Island Winefest runs from 1-5 p.m. Tickets are $55 in advance and $65 at the door. In addition to samples provided by more than 40 Lodi area wineries, the Blue Angels aerial acrobatic team will perform overhead as part of the annual Fleet Week festivities.