So it seems that when one counts all of the numbers, and sees the dollars that flow in, it is still red (as in red wine) that drives the numbers and brings home the bacon. It seems the higher in the food chain wine drinkers go, the more they go to Cabernet Sauvignon, especially that valley along highway 29 called Napa. While Pinot Noir is still the Holy Grail, Cabernet is and will always be king. But must we only bleed red? While I will rarely turn down a chance at a fine Oakville or Rutherford Cab, I would never like to be remembered as a “one trick pony” wine lover.
Where does my pink wine experience begin? Not so gloriously. I have to admit, my first pink was not even the first straw colored, “dry” Sutter Home, but must have been a Carlo Rossi Pink Chablis (out of a four-liter jug) at a party in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Though possible it was a syrupy sweet Ripple Pagan Pink. Memories that began my wine journey, kind of on the yuck side, but one that I had to take. They often say that one never makes it to the top unless one knows what the bottom is like.
Years later when I found “sophistication,” I discovered Rosé Champagne and learned how incredible that can be. While a lot of American wine drinkers did not understand the category, I learned over time that one should never turn down a glass of Dom Pérignon Rosé, ever! But the road to rosé credibility failed to materialize in the world of dry rose; these wines were left in the hands of a minuscule number of wine geeks. In the mid to late 1970’s, the category called blush took the market by storm. The industry pushed and succeeded to make a kind of kool-aid wine that they hoped would transform generations of cola drinkers into wine drinkers. It worked, but it also sent mixed messages about the color pink (orange, salmon, eye of the partridge, etc.). True students of wine struggled with this phenomenon because it devalued highly prized wines such as Tavel from the Rhone, Clairette from Bordeaux and of course, the aforementioned Champagne Rosé. The wine world created a mixed category that lumped the dry rosé with the more popular sweet blush, and the view most sophisticated wine drinkers had was rosé =sweet. So where are we today?
Rosé is now a legitimate fine wine category. Producers have globally begun to craft superior wines that pair incredibly well with food. Over the last two decades, countries from below the equator (where the seasons are opposite from the northern hemisphere) have begun to supply the global market with some of the world’s best rosés and ensuring that this category’s pipeline never runs dry (of dry super premium wines so to speak). Among my recent favorites: the brisk, bright minerally 2014 Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, the charming and aromatic 2014 Belle Glos Oeil de Perdrix (eye of the partridge) from Sonoma County and the 2013 Sierra Cantribria from Rioja, Spain. Take it from one who loves wine, there has never been a better time than now to step into the world of pink wines, your palate will be happily satisfied and your soul will gain insights into the world of rosé!
Yeah, yeah, I know a few Bordeaux and Burgundy producers as well as somms and bloggers who will take issue with what I am about to say, but this is so true. I have tasted nearly every vintage of Silver Oak since the winery was founded in 1972 to be honest, I have not loved everything that they have done. I had to work through their formative decade in the ‘70’s as they, along with the rest of the wine world, attempted to grow beyond their respective neighborhoods. Now as we have reached the 10th vintage of the current decade, there is no question that Silver Oak Cellars has taken center stage on the prestigious platform of most important wines in the world.
Tomorrow, Saturday, February 7th, the winery is celebrating “Silver Oak 2010 Napa Valley Release Day.” Wine lovers worldwide have been looking forward and will not even be deterred by the rainfall that has been predicted. It will be a day of incredible fun that rivals Super Bowl Sunday for football fans. Incredible ambiance, some of the country’s best chefs and the main event- the 2010 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – will all be on stage for the wine world to experience.
You may be wondering, how did this happen? From the beginning, Silver Oak Cellar focused on perfecting Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the wine world’s most magnificent wine grapes. From that focus, they have turned into an industry icon. This was a process, like any business project. Target, focus and execution are the key elements that brought them to this pinnacle. The family knew the formula of producing the perfect depiction of an Alexander Valley and a Napa Valley Cabernet and they understood what the vineyards could produce and the flavors that would best represent those respected AVA’s. This is not to say that they have arrived for no one survives in the long term by resting on their laurels. When I meet with the Silver Oak team, I never get the feeling that they are satisfied. There is a reason why the winery’s annual Napa Valley Release Day is always sold out. Silver Oak Cellars may have mastery within the wine universe, but they continue to get better.
The 2010 Silver Oak Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet is rock solid. Shows elements of red and black fruit, with an accent of dried herbs and dust, at this youthful stage the oak is in the forefront. In time, this wine will settle down and be a really fine and classic drinking Cabernet. The wine world is full of opinions, but I defy anyone to say that they don’t enjoy a Silver Oak Cabernet. Silver Oak Cellars by any measurement is one of the world’s greatest Cabernet producers!
What did Zinfandel really want to be? Before the late 1960’s, California was all about cheap dessert wines- White Port, Tokay, Sauternes (skid road sweet wines). Only a handful of producers made varietal wines and they were largely limited to Chardonnay (then called Pinot Chardonnay) and Cabernet Sauvignon. When the first varietal revolution began in the late 1960’s, Zinfandel was in the mix. Ridge Vineyards produced their first Geyserville in 1966. Then Zinfandel took a strange turn and White Zinfandel, a semi-sweet blush wine took center stage. In the next varietal revolution (circa 1973), Zinfandel regained its position as an ultra-premium varietal and high quality producers introduced some of America’s greatest Zinfandels ever. The class of 1973 was remarkable and clearly put the varietal on the map. But its place in the world marketplace was met with mixed results. Old World fans and many in the restaurant trade decried the high alcohol of the wines (pushing 16%) and the world returned to the tried and true: Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. These were classic red wine varietals that would never become high octane monsters. Zinfandel was pushing its power and ripeness and bringing in a little heat along with it.
At the most recent ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) week, this past January, the organization put on the Zinfandel Experience to show the world Zinfandel as it is today and where it is going in the future. I participated in a trade/media and consumer event at ZAP, tasted over 120 wines (many more than once), spoke with vintners and consumers. The playing field has changed. The wines, though high in alcohol, were balanced and delicious. Vintners were passionate about producing wines that tasted great and were true to their AVA’s (American Viticultural Area). Upscale consumers were excited and enjoying the wines. On the trade/media panel I commented that alcohol should not influence you either way on how you will or not like a wine, it is all about balance and how it tastes. As I talked with the public, they were passionate, coherent and thrilled at the state of Zinfandel today.
I enjoyed so many wines at the tastings. Here are three in my top group that are available at Wine.com. The easy and super-rich ’12 Cline Ancient Vines is a perfect match with grilled pork ribs – but make sure the sauce is not too spicy. The sophisticated and red-fruited ’12 Ravenswood Dickerson calls for oven baked roast pork, with a savory red wine reduction sauce. The classic and brambly ’12 Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine will pair well with a rosemary-accented leg of lamb. It is time to recognize that Zinfandel has come home and is waiting to pair with a fine meal with family and friends.
With the highly-anticipated release of the 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay, I got to thinking about how this varietal became what it is to the US wine drinking public. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, domestic Chardonnay kicked into high gear in the 1970s and really it has never looked back. When I started my competitive wine judging career in the late 1980s, judges felt rewarded when a competition gave them Chardonnays. It was the most coveted category in those days because it was the hot new superstar. Now, decades later, Chardonnay is the best-selling wine varietal in the United States because it is so consistently good.
At all price points, from under $10 to the-sky-is-the-limit, Chardonnay performs well. And not just those from California, but from all over the world, this wine clearly attracts the whole range of consumers.
Since 1982, Rombauer Vineyards in the Napa Valley has produced one of the state’s most sought-after Chardonnays. In all channels, from retail to restaurants, Rombauer is a leading performer. Because of its crowd-pleasing style and inviting flavor profile, it’s the perfect wine to sip on a sunny deck or serve to wine-loving guests.
I serve Chardonnay often because my family, friends and neighbors enjoy it, and Rombauer is one my top choices. The new release 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay, made from the winery’s estate-grown grapes in the cool climate Carneros District is another winner. It shows ripe tropical fruit and high quality oak in admirable balance. The 2013 vintage was nearly ideal in northern California and without question, this Chardonnay benchmark shows it. Let’s celebrate the release of the 2013!
Let’s go back in time to really understand how far Silver Oak Cellars has come. In the early 1970’s, Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan decided to launch a winery dedicated exclusively to making Cabernet Sauvignon, a bold move. At this time, varietal wines had not yet become a reality in the United States. Most American wines were generic (Chablis, Burgundy and Vin Rose) or fortified wines (port, white port, tokay, muscatel). Serious table wines from California were not yet a reality. The French owned the market (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, etc.) So who are these renegades to create a winery dedicated exclusively to Cabernet Sauvignon? They were pioneers!
What came first? The label or the water tower?
Consumers recognize the iconic water tower on the Silver Oak label – and possibly from visiting the winery, as one sits above both tasting rooms in Alexander Valley and Napa. But alas, the label was not inspired by the water tower, in fact, it was inspired by original co-founder Bonny Meyer, who photographed upwards of 30 Napa Valley water towers. Meyer finally commissioned John Farrell, a young local artist, to create the Silver Oak label with the water tower image. The physical tower was built afterwards.
Today, the marketplace can’t get enough of Silver Oak. Huge crowds descend each year on the little town of Oakville on the winery’s well-orchestrated release day. Under the direction of winemaker Daniel Baron, Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon continues to improve remains one of Napa Valley’s most sought-after wines.
The 2010 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet serves up plenty of ripe fruit flavors, with an accent of savory herbs and a shading of sweet oak. Delicious now, especially with a highly marbled grilled rib eye of beef, this wine will enjoy development in the cellar for another 10-15 years. The winery’s chef Dominic Orsini recommends flank steak and salsa verde. Doesn’t that sound good? I am sure glad we have progressed since the 1970’s – Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon is a time-tested treat!