There are a handful of iconic wineries in California that proudly tip their caps to the classical regions of Bordeaux. In this group I include Dominus, Inglenook, Ridge, Diamond Creek and of course Silver Oak.
Founded by Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer in 1972, this estate focuses unashamedly on Cabernet Sauvignon, using select fruit from mostly their own vineyards and ageing the wines in American oak barrels made in their own cooperage in Missouri. These are wines I love tasting, love cellaring and love drinking with some age.
In March 2017 I finally visited Silver Oak’s impressive Napa Valley winery allowing me to tick off a long standing wish on my winery bucket list! Yesterday, at the wonderful Golden State Tasting in London, I got another close look at the entire range and tasted the new releases with Export Director Vivian Gay, before enjoying a couple of older bottles with Vivian at dinner.
If you love great Bordeaux from ripe years like 2009 or 2010, these are wines that you need to discover and put in your cellar!
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, 14.4 Abv
From another “exceptional vintage” in California, this 2012 red is the product of a fine, moderate growing season featuring only one day above 37 degrees celsius from May through to the end of Sept. A classical blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, this is another block buster from Napa Valley. There are lifted aromatics of spicy plum, black cherry, black current leaf, sage and exotic nutmeg and sandlewood notes. The palate is well structured as you’d expect from the Napa Valley Cuvee, showing compact black berry fruit, vanilla pod spice, a sweet silky creamy texture and salty black cherry and cassis with a sprinkle of savoury hoisin sauce complexity. This is an imposing, dense, concentrated wine that demands your attention. The finish is classical, polished and long with cedar, vanilla, and sappy black current leaf on the finish … that goes on and on. Cellar this beauty for 8 to 10 years to acquire more tertiary complexity or enjoy now with a nice steak.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Here are a few of my favourite pictures taken during and after my trip to Napa Valley and Sonoma in March 2017.
In early March 2017 I was very fortunate to visit the beautiful Icon winery of OVID, perched up high in the hills above St Helena. While we only tasted a small selection of wines, it stilled proved to be one of the true highlights of the week long visit to Napa and Sonoma.
OVID (Publius Ovid Naso) was a roman poet who lived from 43 bc–17 ad. His most famous work, Metamorphoses, is a poetic narrative of the Greek myths, celebrating the themes of transformation and change.
Each year, from small lots of fruit grown in the red rocky soils of the vineyard on Pritchard Hill, they choose the best barrels and blend them together to create the new vintage of OVID Napa Valley. “The vineyard’s evolution is fascinating, with each successive vintage showing new dimensions when the wines are revealed.” ~ Austin Peterson, Winemaker
OVID is generally a blend of four Bordeaux varietals grown there: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot & Petit Verdot, which varying in proportion from year to year but always manage to eloquently convey the special terroir of their vineyards.
The Wines Tasted:
OVID No.W2.5 Experimental White Blend 2015, St Helena, Napa Valley, 14.3 Abv.
An exotic blend of 36% Roussanne, 28% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Viognier, 14% Albariño make for a thoroughly beguiling white wine. Sweetly perfumed with lashings of white blossom, yellow peaches, pineapple pastille, green apple purée and crunchy white peaches. Palate shows massive concentration of apple bon bons, white peach, more pineapple fruit and an aromatic white citrus complexity. The wine is vibrant and fleshy, very focused and intense with a rasping, pithy dry extract finish from being kept on its lees right until bottling. Such a beautiful, characterful wine that offers up so much to the drinker. (US RRP $85.00pb)
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
OVID Hexameter Red Blend 2013, St Helena, Napa Valley, 14.8 Abv.
A Cabernet Franc dominated wine, the 2013 Hexameter is a 500 case blend of 64% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot. It possesses a seductive nose of exotic black fruits, violets, liquorice, blueberries and crunchy, leafy notes. There is subtle creamy cedary oak with a sappy undertone and a sour black cherry lift. The tannins are broad and creamy showing very impressive harmonious mineral grip. Youthful and full of verve, this characterful wine finishes with a fanning peacock’s tail of blueberry crumble and vanilla pod complexity. Very impressive indeed. (US RRP $285.00pb)
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
OVID Proprietry Red Blend 2010, St Helena, Napa Valley, 14.8 Abv.
The pretty 2010 red is a complex blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. There are rich complex aromatics of black cherries, damson plums, sweet oak nuances and cedary dried herb spices. The palate is rich and fleshy with an impressively opulent mouthfeel with leafy undergrowth notes, plums skins, hedgerow, sweet cedar and sappy foresty spice. The tannins are super plush and sweet with a broad harmonious palate concentration, powerful intensity and wild forest berry fruits laced with choc mocha spice. Also beautiful freshness and a pure fruited vibrancy boldly displayed. I just love the wild, untamed, rugged mountain wine character of this OVID blend.
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
In the past few weeks, after “covert” negotiations, the sale of OVID Winery to Silver Oak Winery was announced for an estimated US$50m dollars according to CNBC. With 85% of production sold through a very sought after mailing list with a long waiting list, everyone in the UK is wondering whether the sale might just free up some modest OVID allocations for the UK market, where Silver Oak has itself enjoyed a popular following for a long time. We live in hope!
Bordeaux, like Burgundy, is a pretty congested market place. There are no practical opportunities to expand empires on prime terroir that make commercial sense, or that are affordable. So it’s great to see the Pontet Canet Tesserons branching out to Napa Valley with the acquisition of the estate of the deceased actor Robin Williams in Mt Veeder.
The first vintage is still in barrel and has another +-12 months elevage to go in French oak, 50% of which was new. This exciting new biodynamic wine is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Merlot from vineyards at 500+ meters altitude. The estate fruit was trucked to a facility in Howell Mountain in Northern Napa and vinified there. There may be plans for a winery in Mt Veeder later in the game.
If this project is as successful as Pontet Canet, then the fine wine world is in for a very big treat indeed. Jean-Michel Comme travels there as often “as is required”, with his son Thomas on the ground in the US living on the estate in Mt Veeder. This is a new Napa venture to watch very closely.
Tasting Note: Pym Rae Napa Valley Red Blend 2016, 14 Abv. (Barrel Sample)
Super intense saline fragrant nose with plenty of cranberry, loganberry, red apple, incense spice, and cherry zest. The palate is dense, opulent, harmonious and creamy but retains fine freshness and an exotic damson plum allure. Sleek soft tannins and lovely graphite and gravelly mineral spice linger on the powerful finish. This wine is not bottled yet but shows excellent potential.
A big day of tasting on day 4 of our epic California trip, started at the iconic Francis Ford Coppola estate of Inglenook and ended with a tasting and dinner at another iconic estate, Silver Oak Winery in Napa Valley.
Film director Francis Ford Coppola has lived at the estate since the early 70s, raising his family there, slowly piecing the Inglenook entity back together again and restoring it to its former historic glory. Head of winemaking is the famous Philippe Bascule, who was chief winemaker at Chateau Margaux for several decades.
Philippe’s first vine to bottle vintage at Inglenook was the 2012 vintage. But with the sad demise of Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier on the 28th March 2016 at just 59, it was fully expected that the call would come from the Mentzelopoulos family to recall Philippe back to Bordeaux to take up the wine making responsibilities at Margaux again.
So Philippe will remain the de facto head wine maker with Chris Phelps acting as the full time man on the ground overseeing future Inglenook production on a day to day basis. Chris made over 10 vintages of Dominus back in the day and now also produces a small amount of super premium Napa Cabernet on the side under the Ad Vinum label from fruit from the “Sleeping Lady Vineyard” in Yountville.
Inglenook Rubicon 2013
13.8 Abv,. Beautifully fragrant and classical nose with sweet tobacco, chocolate mocha spice, espresso, buttered brown toast, and sweet leafy cedar nuances. Unusually, the Rubicon 2013 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but certainly does not lack any complexity. Very precise, elegant and focused, this wine oozes class and finesse. Texturally seamless, this wine has Bordeaux in its roots, with intense black berry fruit framed by fresh, vibrant acids. Very fine breadth as well as depth, this is definitely a wine for cellaring.
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Inglenook Rubicon 2015 (Cask Sample)
14.2 Abv,. Rich, lush and very intense, the nose is powerful and extrovert, with layers of vanilla pod spice, sweet blueberry, black cherry, kirsch and fleshy black black currant pastille. Tannins are sweet and round and finely balanced. A beautiful work in progress, there is more immediacy and overt generous fruit than the 2013. The finish is very salty and spicy with black liquorice length. Superb!
(Wine Safari Score: 95-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
14.2 Abv., 87 CS, 8 Franc, 3 PV, 2 Merlot
Very taught, broody and restrained, you need to coax the black, spicy graphite fruit out the glass. Subtle cedary, spicy dusty chalk notes create a very classical feel. Touches of dark chocolate and black berries linger on a very harmonious palate where the acids are soft and incredibly integrated. Slightly shy now, this wine shows great potential.
Owned by Diane Miller, Walt Disney’s daughter, and ex-NFL quarterback husband Ron Miller, Silverado’s winemaking success has been firmly rooted in their six vineyards, allowing them all to express their own inherent quality characteristics. Since opening in 1981, the winery has grown to nearly 162 hectares which are all farmed organically and sustainably, from which Silverado Winery produces Estate and Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay wines.
Sadly my buddy Russ Weiss, the Silverado President, was not around when we tasted, but as always, it was great to get an early snap shot of the new vintages that will be heading to the UK later in 2017. I’ve always been a big fan of their wines which thankfully are sold at very reasonable prices in the UK. If you have not tried these wines, seek them out and discover an elegant, pure, supple, restrained expression of Napa and Carneros.
Vineburg Carneros Chardonnay 2015
14.5 Abv., 4% neutral oak, no malo, French puncheons. Dusty, dry lemon, pithy citrus. Chalky and dusty leesy, the palate is vibrant, bright and fresh, packed full of white stone fruits. Classical interpretation.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
88% CS, Merlot & Petit Verdot – 14.6 Abv., Rich creamy nose of blue berry crumble and black berry confit. Plenty of graphite and cedar spice with attractive violet perfume. Palate is sleek, linear and fresh, light on its feet and super elegant. Very polished and precise with super creamy sweet tannins. A real beauty.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Solo Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
14.2 Abv., Big dark fruited dusty nose with classic Cab notes of violets, tobacco, black current and graphite. Massive rich intense unctuous core, wonderful balance and fresh vibrant finish. Tannins are creamy and dense, with plenty of power and concentration. Impressive wine, one to age in the cellar.
I drank a beautiful bottle of Pierre Yves Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet Les Maltroie 2014 on Sunday night, and this beautiful Kistler Les Noisetiers just reminded me of PYCM’s taught, steely, determined Chardonnay style.
I admit an unusual comparison, but these 2013 California Chardonnays, of which I have drunk a few over the past few days, have such cut and tension twinned with pithy lemon and lime intensity and pure limestone minerality. Complete palate austerity… (a good thing!) with so much energy, freshness, and restraint. There is plenty of nervy textural palate richness with a touch of new oak vanilla spice, but I’ve not had a Kistler Chardy this mineral since 2010! Rasping, pithy, mineral and dry… this is so, so classy.
A very interesting first visit in Carneros en route to Sonoma. Ram’s Gate Winery was built in 2011 but have been making wine since 2008. Using a dynamic fruit growing and sourcing philosophy, Ram’s Gate grow approximately 20% of their production and buy in contracted fruit for the remaining 80%.
Ram’s Gate have embraced a fairly unique sales and marketing approach, selling almost all their wines to their “members” and a handful of restaurants in 7 states. None is sold to retailers. There is a very inventive marketing policy as the winery engages with its consumers and doesn’t “sell” wine but prefers to look at their sales policy as “placing wines.” Easy to do when demand outstrips supply.
Wine maker Luke Stanko, runs the show and sincerely expounds his belief in minimalist intervention, terroir focused winemaking. With 12000 cases produced annually, Ram’s Gate is a winery that is rarely quoted by critics and almost never scored, but is most definitely a must visit spot on your way out of San Francisco to Napa. By appointment only, ring ahead to book one of their amazing food and wine matching tastings.
2013 Carneros Chardonnay
13.3 Abv. Only 510 cases of this wine is produced from Clone 4 and Clone 96.
Aged 11 months in one-third new French oak. Real lemon and lime sherbet nose with a subtle lick of butterscotch oak spice. Cool, plush soft textured, showing beautiful harmony, plump lemon fleshiness and cool crisp framing acids. Beautiful elegance with full malo breadth.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2014 Sangiacomo Green Acres Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay
14.6 Abv. 263 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 40% new. Made from virused Wente Clone, the aromatics are dominated by green apple Bon bons and liquid grey slate dustiness. Plenty of classical restraint. The palate is where the peacock fans its tail. Rich, intense and ripe, there is textured depth and spicy intensity. Weight and power, with a lemon and green apple pie finish with subtle vanilla pod charisma.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2014 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay
15.1 Abv. 793 Cases. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. A grand vineyard that shows fine complex aromatic finesse and notes of honey dew melon, cream soda, white peach, honeysuckle, green apple purée and leesy biscuit richness. Broad and powerful concentration, but rich, juicy acids and fine nuanced minerality. Real pedigree evident here.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2013 Carneros Pinot Noir
14.5 Abv. 2,122 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 45% new, only one parcel used stems. Very expressive nose bursts with cranberry, pomegranate, red cherry, blood orange and boxwood spice. Also lovely spicy, peppery notes, hedgerow and cinnamon spice. Such plush, seductive textural harmony, potpourri spice infused cherry confit and black berry compote. Very alluring, and inviting.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.9 Abv. 512 cases, Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak from Clone 777. Very lifted fragrant nose that’s thoroughly graceful and feminine. Intensely perfumed, there is rose water, violets, jasmine and and a complex earthy, forest berry note. Very reminiscent of Marlborough Pinot Noir, the seductive smokey nuances meld with blood orange, macerated cherries, and milk chocolate complexity. Very elegant, powdery tannins that are finely composed, and a real pleasure to drink.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2014 Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir (Sole purchaser of this vineyard)
14.7 Abv. 513 cases, Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak from 115 and Pommard Clones. A more exotic, rich, expression with black berry and plum, mint chocolate and eucalyptus notes. Full, plump and generous, this is beautifully round, harmonious and textural. Plenty of spicy stewed plums, soft sweet tannins, and an opulent, harmonious bramble fruited finish. A real class act.