Proposal: A New Wine Rating System That Makes Sense

I recently discovered Topochines Vino, a blog started by John and Irene Ingersoll after they moved to Wine Country.  They recommended I check out their review of VGS Chateau Potelle, and I was interested in what they had to say about it.  I visited VGS Chateau Potelle during my Napa 2016 visit with my parents, and let me tell you it is a fabulous experience not to be missed!  I found the Topochines Vino review to be very good, but what was even better was their proposed new rating system for wine based on their VGS Chateau Potelle stop…and I just had to share it with you!  If you are not familiar with VGS Chateau Potelle, you probably won’t get it, in which instance I refer you to the complete article (click the link or see below).  For those who already know the “VGS” story, I have the following excerpt for your immediate thoughts:

“We’re not sure a new rating scale for wine will catch on, but we would like to propose three levels for wine quality:

“S” – for truly shit wine, the wine that you regift as soon as you get it, or use it for cooking.  Not even good enough to be a “Tuesday night wine.”

“GS” – for wines that are good shit; not very good, just good.  Definitely worthy of Tuesday night but also good enough to take to a restaurant for date night.

“VGS” – for the very good shit wines that you drink for special occasions and hide from  friends or family that can’t tell the different between S, GS, or VGS.”

What do you think?

Check out their full website below!

Source: A Wine Rating System That Makes Sense To Us

Napa 2017 – Day 4

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson 

Day 3 had been a big day for us in Napa, so we took it a bit easier on Day 4.  We slept in and spent some time exercising, finally making it out of the hotel around noon.  We headed first to the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, a wonderful mecca of shops and cafes.  You can sample olive oils and balsamic vinegars, explore cheese shops and fresh produce from nearby farms, sip an espresso or indulge in some pretty amazing ice cream.  They have chocolate and brewery offerings, as well as some tasty restaurants.  No trip to Napa is complete without a stroll through Oxbow.

We hit up the Hog Island Oyster Company for some deliciously fresh oysters paired with a bright Sauvignon Blanc.  We then strolled around and sampled oil and vinegar at The Olive Press and purchased a beautiful, light dipping EVOO and some excellent aged balsamic.  I perused the cheese selections and we relaxed over a positively velvety cappuccino at Ritual Coffee Roasters.  We then drove up the beautiful Silverado Trail to St. Helena, where we met Steven and Yevgeniya at Hall Wines.

The silver bunny greets you as you drive onto the Hall Wines estate.

Hall probably ranks in the top 3 of my favorite Napa Valley wineries for two reasons.  The first is, of course, the wine.  They specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, though I have to say their Sauvignon Blanc is really, really good as well.  The second reason is that Hall is just a super cool place to hang out.  The elegantly modern estate is basically an art gallery interspersed with clever witticisms.  Kathryn and Craig Hall, the founders of Hall Wines, select each piece of art themselves, and many of the pieces are reproduced on their wine labels.  There is one piece made entirely of index cards, a light installation in which you can see birds fluttering past, and multiple sculptures and installation pieces scattered across the grounds.

Hall does not require a reservation for tasting, and it’s one of the best tasting experiences to be had in Napa.  You can get your taste, then meander about their grounds as you sip.  You can play corn hole or lawn bowling.  You can walk through their vegetable and flower garden.  You can lounge on the Ocean View Terrace (lifeguard off duty!) or on the deck outside the tasting room, overlooking the vineyards.

Looking out from the tasting room deck.


The boys taking a stroll.

When you are ready, you stroll back up to the tasting bar and get your next pour, then you can head back out again.  Most of the walls in the tasting room are floor to ceiling windows, and at certain times of the day hanging panels catch the sunlight and project a myriad of colors onto the main tasting room wall.  I realize I’ve said this already, but the whole experience at Hall is just fabulous!  What more could you ask for than excellent wine paired with acclaimed art and lawn games on a beautiful sunny afternoon in wine country?

Relaxing outside at Hall.

We enjoyed our wines thoroughly, comparing the different Cabernets as we drank in the wonders of the Hall estate.  My only wish is that they could do wines by the glass.  The only way the Hall experience could be even better would be if you could finish your tasting, purchase a glass of your favorite, and continue to enjoy the grounds.  Alas, they legally are barred from offering such a thing, which is probably a good thing; otherwise people like me would most likely hang out here all day and never leave!

Brian and me, all smiles at Hall Wines.

Wrapping up our afternoon at Hall, we realized we were hungry again – the oysters, while delectable, were not particularly filling, and several hours had passed.  We made our way to Goose and Gander for an early dinner.

Goose and Gander is located in St. Helena a short drive from Hall Wines.  It is a rustic public house with a seasonal menu and a casual vibe.  They have a hip basement bar and a beautiful patio shaded by trees, umbrellas, and vine-woven trellises.  They also have a menu with something for everyone, and making our selections was a tough process as everything looked so good!  Our server was attentive and personable, and he made some good recommendations when it came to our selections.  We started with some delicious cheeses and the lamb tartar – again, I don’t personally eat mammals but everyone else ensured me it was tasty.  I had the grilled Spanish octopus, which was divine, and I found Brian’s duck breast perfectly prepared and delicious.  We paired this with a Cabernet Sauvignon recommended by our waiter, and were very content.

Patio dining at Goose and Gander.

Our main courses concluded, we headed down the street to PRESS for dessert.  The cozy dining room at PRESS opens onto a patio with vineyard views, and their menu looks yummy.  I vowed we would have a meal here the next time we come to Napa!

From here we returned to the Marriott.  The sun was now setting on our Napa 2017 vacation, and we decided to relax by one of the fire pits in the twilight, recounting our experiences.  The next day we would all get up early for the long drive home to Southern California, but for now we were content to smile and laugh together over one more glass of wine.  It really was a wonderful and memorable trip to Napa, and I can’t wait for our next one!

Best friends together on our last night in Napa!


Napa 2017 – Day 3 – Sonoma Continued

“And wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.” — Alexander Pope

Our morning at Jordan complete, we traveled south to our next Sonoma stop, J Vineyards. I was intrigued by J Vineyards due to its history.  It was established in 1986 by Judy Jordan, the daughter of Jordan Winery founder Tom Jordan.  It started as a project to produce sparkling wine, but has expanded to include other excellent varietals.  We pulled into the parking lot and immediately I knew I had chosen wisely – the tasting estate was gorgeous.  You walk over a bridge with a series of arched vines overhead, flowers blooming and lush vegetation all around, to enter a spacious modern main room with branching salons to either side.

The walk up to J Vineyards.

There are multiple tasting options at J Vineyards.  You can walk in without a reservation and do a tasting in this main room, or take a tour, or do an elaborate food paring in their Bubble Room.  When planning our trip, I elected to make an appointment for the J Legacy Tasting in the Legacy Reserve Lounge.  For one, I am somewhat obsessed with pairing wine with cheese, and this afforded the opportunity to order what turned out to be a gorgeous cheese board.  More importantly, however, the J Legacy Tasting actually includes 3 different options: a Pinot flight, a bubbles flight, or the Legacy flight with the opportunity to try the J Pinot Gris and J Chardonnay in addition to three J Pinot Noirs.  I figured with four people, it might be nice to allow for some individual options.

j vineyards
The J Vineyards Legacy Reserve Lounge.

We were led into the Legacy Reserve Lounge, a beautifully appointed room with an entire wall of windows looking out over the lush property.  Like the main room, the windows and the light and the high ceilings made for a modern, airy, and relaxed ambiance that I found completely enchanting.

Yevgeniya, a vision at J Vineyards.

We settled in and made our selections.  I opted for the Legacy Tasting – I do enjoy my white wines – while my three companions opted for the Pinot Noir flight.  Something I should mention at this point – the glassware in Napa is always immaculate.  Most wineries serve your wine in Riedel stemware – always with true wine glasses and never in those accursed stemless vessels.  J Vineyards was no different, and I admired the graceful stemware our waiter, Izzy, lined up in front of me.  I usually scorn Pinot Gris but I was pleasantly surprised by the J Vineyards version, and I found the Chardonnay lovely.  The Pinot Noirs, though, stole the show.  Given J Vineyards started as a sparkling wine concept, I wasn’t expecting high quality Pinots here (and I am very, very picky when it comes to Pinot Noir).  However, all three of the Pinots in my flight (and the two others in Brian’s Pinot flight, which by spousal privilege I did, of course, sample) were excellent!  Our cheese board was something of a work of art, each of the unique cheeses topped with some sort of pretty garnish.  Izzy was attentive and informative, rounding out the perfection of our visit.  I would definitely recommend stopping at J Vineyards if you find yourself in Sonoma, as the entire experience was fabulous.

Our two Jordan family experiences completed and satisfying, we started heading back towards Napa.  Lest anyone consider us irresponsible, my husband, ever the sophisticated pragmatist, carries with him a breathalyzer.  Not because he has ever been convicted of driving under the influence – quite the contrary, Brian has a sense of duty and honor that cannot be questioned, which is one of the reasons I admire and adore him so greatly.  He simply never wants to get behind the wheel when he would be unsafe to drive, not trusting the self-assessment of anyone who has imbibed.  We confirmed that both he and Steven were still well below the legal limit (we females in the group were borderline, so goes the losing battle of the BMI) and proceeded to our final destination of the day, Bouchaine Vineyards.  It was rather perfectly situated for our day, being located in the Carneros region on the way back to the Marriott.  It’s one of the wineries you can walk into without an appointment, which was nice given that, with the afternoon Sonoma traffic, it was impossible to predict exactly when we would arrive.

The grounds at Bouchaine.

We turned off the main highway onto a pastoral side road, past sun-soaked vineyards, leading to Bouchaine.  We entered their quaint tasting room, where we received some of the best of the already excellent service to be had in Napa.  Their hours are only until 4:30pm, but though we showed up at 4 o’clock there was no rushing us.  The two personable and cheerful women pouring at the tasting room bar chatted with us as though we were old friends as we moved through their tasting menu.  The Bouchaine rosé was the only rosé wine we purchased on the entire Napa 2017 trip.  Moreover, their Pinot Noirs are wonderful, the Carneros region with its cooler climes well suited to growing this varietal.  I definitely want to go back sometime and relax on their patio, which overlooks the idyllic grounds at Bouchaine.  This was another of Marcia’s recommendations, and per usual it did not disappoint.

It didn’t take long to wind our way through the Carneros countryside back to the Marriott Napa Valley.  Our day was not yet complete – we still had dinner to look forward to!

When we came to Napa last year we were blown away by a food and wine paring experience at Chateau Potelle (also a Marcia recommendation – have you noticed a trend?)  The wine at Potelle was so fabulous, it was the only wine my parents deemed worthy of purchase during that trip.  The food part of the pairing was prepared by the chef from La Toque, a Michelin star restaurant located within the Westin Hotel in Napa.  The food was so lovely I vowed to to have dinner there during our next Napa trip.  As such, it was to La Toque that we headed for dinner this night.

Dining room at La Toque.

There is one word to describe dining at La Toque, and that is “fabulous”.  The entire experience, from being greeted by the hostess, to our intimate table by the fireplace, to the immaculate service, to the exceptional food, was just amazing.  La Toque is the essence of fine dining, and is very much deserving of its Michelin star.

Seated and excited for dinner at La Toque!

We elected to do the 5 course tasting menu, which included desert.  We both ordered a glass of Chardonnay while the sommelier decanted our recently procured Jordan 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  To start we were offered an amuse bouche, a lovely little bite to “entertain the mouth.”  We followed this with a roasted baby beet salad, served on a slate board and looking more like a piece of art than something you would eat – though it was delicious, the morsels of roasted beet melding with the tendrils of mascarpone.  From here we moved to a grilled Pacific sablefish floating on a lush mouse studded with gems of sunchoke.  At this point our Jordan Cabernet was poured, just in time for our next course, a Spanish octopus served with olive puree and Romesco.  I love grilled octopus, and this was mouthwateringly delicious.  For our final course, I elected for a tortellini stuffed with mint and Mascarpone served in a broth with English peas.  The little pasta purses burst with flavor, the mint and the peas a smashing combination.  I really must try pairing mint and peas in future culinary endeavors.  Brian had some sort of steak, which he assured me was exquisitely done.  For dessert, Brian elected for some sort of chocolate concoction that, of course, was a work of art.  I wasn’t really in the mood for anything sweet, so I went with their cheese selection which I found a decadent end to my fabulous meal.

La Toque was probably the second-best dining experience of my life, to be surpassed only by the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, another Michelin star restaurant in Napa Valley.  Please, friends, make a point to dine at La Toque on your next Napa excursion – you won’t regret it!  They even have an all-vegetarian tasting menu, which I am sure is outstanding.

Sated and merry, we headed home to the Marriott.  It was a wonderful day.


Napa 2017 – Day 3 – Sonoma – Jordan Winery

“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.” — Alexander Fleming

I think of all the days I had planned for this Napa 2017 trip, I was most excited by Day 3.  I had never really been to Sonoma before (we will ignore my inglorious attempt at horseback riding, which admittedly took place in Sonoma during our honeymoon.  I endeavor to forget the experience on a somewhat regular basis, as I lack any semblance of grace when it comes to activities requiring any gear superfluous to that which God granted my person.)  People have often told me that Sonoma is fabulous, and it was my day to discover Sonoma for myself.

The four of us set off around 10am for the hour-long trip up Highway 29 through Napa Vally and west to Jordan Winery.  I was first introduced to Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon in medical school.  Marcia is the mother of one of my two best medical school friends, Maria, and over the years I have managed to finagle Marcia into becoming a friend of mine in her own right.  Maria is a fabulous human being – honestly, she’s one in a million – and it’s easy to see why is is the way she is when you meet Marcia and her jolly husband, Jose.  All three of them are brilliant, witty, thoughtful, and surpassingly kind.  No visit back to Denver is complete without dropping in on Marcia and Jose; they have become family, and I don’t think I can ever repay the kindness and generosity they have shown me.  I guess I’ll have to pay it forward, which is likely their intent.  Anyway, I digress.  In medical school Marcia learned that I was a fledgling wine aficionado and has been very influential in helping me develop my taste in wine.  Jordan was one of the first truly excellent wines I had ever had, sitting in her kitchen, chatting about everything and nothing.  Since that time I have taken every recommendation from Marcia seriously, and I have never once been disappointed.

Marcia, who is the essence of living life fabulously.

Driving through Napa is very beautiful, and it’s just amazing to appreciate the sheer number of wineries here.  Despite a slight and inevitable traffic jam through St. Helena, we arrived right on time for our 11 o’clock tour and tasting.  Jordan, located in the northern part of Sonoma in the Alexander Valley, is absolutely breath-taking, and photos really don’t do the place justice.  You notice the grandure  of the place immediately as you enter and then wind your way through the outer grounds of the estate, over several bridges, grateful to see signage confirming you haven’t gotten lost.  Then you come upon this gorgeous chateau, ivy growing along the sides, with a grand driveway overlooking the grounds you just traversed.  It makes for a pretty spectacular first impression.  We stood in the morning sun wondering over the place, and I could hear little else besides birds chirping and a light breeze rustling through the trees.

One side of the Jordan chateau. Beautiful.

I had to go back and read about it, but I learned that the majority of the estate grounds have been preserved as natural habitat (which explains a little of the meandering drive to the chateau itself).  The property includes 112 acres of grapevines, 18 acres of olive trees, a one-acre garden, two lakes, and grazing pastures.  That’s pretty unique for a winery, especially one situated on such valuable real estate.  Props, Jordan.

Exited to be at Jordan!

Already impressed, we checked in and were soon led along a path dappled with shade to the start of our tasting experience.  As we strolled we learned some of the history of Jordan from our guide.  Yevgeniya and I were delighted to find that we knew two members of our tour group – Angela and Jordan, both nurses from Loma Linda!  They were there to celebrate Jordan’s birthday at, appropriately, Jordan Winery.  Smiles and greetings exchanged, we stopped at an overlook shaded by majestic trees where we could gaze out across the rolling hills below us.  Here a taste of Jordan Chardonnay was poured, paired with a delectable savory ricotta topped with black caviar, furikake, and edible flowers.  It was so lovely I almost didn’t eat it, but was glad when I did as it was a perfect complement to the Chardonnay.

A delicious and beautiful morsel that paired perfectly with our delicious and beautiful Jordan Chardonnay.

Chardonnay still in hand, we were led along a gravel path to a second overlook, where we could gaze down over the farm.  There were cows grazing, goats milling about, and even a few donkeys resting in the shade.  Looking out to the horizon we could see some of the vineyards, as well as an olive grove.  Jordan also makes wonderful olive oil from the olives harvested on the estate.  The scene was pastoral and peaceful.

We were then led back to the chateau, into an immaculate dining room with a wall of windows looking over the wooden fermenting tanks.  Jordan has numerable on site events, many of which take place in this dining room.  They have a rather unique “membership” system; by simply providing an email address, you earn points based on purchases from the winery.  As you earn points you are invited to these various events.  You don’t necessarily have to sign up for a wine club, and I find this approach refreshing and rather democratic.  More props to Jordan!  We soon had the opportunity to walk through the fermenting tanks, where we learned more about the winemaking process at Jordan.  Something I found interesting is that they use a layer of egg whites distributed over the top of the tank to help filter the wine of debris.  Also, they do their blending in these massive oak tanks, and only after the final blend is approved is the wine moved into the smaller oak tanks for an additional year of aging.

jordan barrel room
Jordan Winery oak fermenting tanks, very attractive and unique!

From here we made our way into the library and (exciting!) through a secret passage into a hidden, intimate room where a beautiful spread awaited us.  We were each seated at a gorgeous dining table where an immaculate, individual cheese board awaited.  To go along with our delectable cheeses, which were seriously tasty, we were treated to a vertical tasting of the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from 2009, 2011, and 2013.

One of the best cheese boards ever, complete with a delicate Jordan olive oil.

Needless to say, each of the Jordan Cabs were outstanding, and each was a little different.  I was a fan of the 2009, while Brian preferred the 2011.  We ended up purchasing both!  It was quite the experience to relax in this elegant secret room, lazily enjoying our wine and cheese, chatting over the merits of this one versus that one.  I didn’t want to leave!

Per usual, Marcia’s recommendation was a home run all around – all four of us, and our two Loma Linda friends, agreed it was a fantastic experience.  They even made it possible for our friend Jordan to have her picture taken beside a bottled vintage from her birth year!  How fun is that?  We were sad when our time at Jordan came to its inevitable conclusion, but you can bet I will be back on future Napa visits!

Yevgeniya, Jordan, Me, and Angela, all smiles at the conclusion of our Jordan Winery experience.

Napa 2017 – Day 2 – Duckhorn and Cakebread

“Compromises are for relationships, not wine.” — Sir Robert Scott Caywood

By the time we departed from Silver Oak Cellars it was already getting on toward the lunch hour.  We didn’t have much time before our Duckhorn Vineyards appointment at 1pm, but no trip to Napa is complete without a visit to V. Sattui Winery.  Unique to wineries in the Napa Valley, V. Sattui has on its grounds an extraordinary deli and picnic area.  You can do your tasting, purchase your favorite bottle, then visit the deli for truly exceptional cheeses, meats, and other goodies.  You can then park yourself at a quaint picnic table on their lush lawn in the Napa sunshine.  Few luncheon experiences can compare!

To my disappointment, as mentioned, we didn’t have enough time for this – we lingered too long at Silver Oak.  So this visit to V. Sattui was more of a quick breeze through the deli, sampling cheeses and olive oils, selecting pâtés, and piling back into Steven’s Audi SUV where the goods were divvied up on paper picnic plates.  We happily nibbled as we wound our way up Highway 29, arriving right on time at Duckhorn Vineyards.

Duckhorn Vineyards is located off the Silverado Trail north of St. Helena.  It’s a lovely property and they produce very nice wines, but I found the tasting experience disappointing.  Though we were on time for our appointment, we were not greeted or seated for 30 minutes.  We sort of wandered around the little shop where you first enter; when we tried to ask someone to assist us, we were told to keep waiting.  Once we were seated, we sort of sat there looking at the line of empty wine glasses in front of us for a good 15 minutes before anyone came around to pour our first taste.  No one really took any time to tell us about the wines, and again there were long stretches between tastes where we seemed to be pretty much ignored.  It was odd for Napa, a region known for its hospitality and service.  I would say you could be safe in skipping Duckhorn Vineyards on your next Napa visit – stick to ordering your favorite wines from this winery online.

Our dear friends, Steven and Yevgeniya, at Duckhorn.

A bit underwhelmed, we departed Duckhorn for Cakebread Cellars.  I am definitely a Cakebread fan; we went to Cakebread last year with my parents, and I was impressed with their Pinot Noir as well as many of their other wines.  As such I was really looking forward to Cakebread, especially after the subpar Duckhorn experience.

Cakebread Cellars was founded in 1973 by Jack and Dolores Cakebread.  The estate is located between Oakville and Rutherford right off Highway 29.  The grounds are pleasing with the main building, a rustic wooden structure, rising above the rows of vines.  Since our visit last year the tasting room has changed, and they have established a pretty garden where they grow, among other things, vegetables used in their culinary endeavors.  Cakebread offers several tours and tasting options, as well as cooking classes for members and multiple other events.  One of the things I appreciate about Cakebread, in addition to their delicious wines, is that they are on the more reasonable end of the tasting fee spectrum for Napa Valley.

Cakebread Cellars.

Unlike Duckhorn, at Cakebread we were greeted immediately upon entry and offered a taste of their Alexander Valley Vin de Porche rosé during our brief wait for the entirety of our tasting party.  The rosé was bright and dry and perfect for sipping outside on a hot summer day.  Within moments we were led to the garden, where JP conducted our tasting al fresco surrounded by flowers, vegetables, and vines.

On the way to the garden at Cakebread Cellars.

I sat on a smooth wooden bench enjoying this tranquil experience, lazily sipping the delicious Cakebread offerings, listening to the pleasant voice of JP as she told us about each wine she poured.  I found one of their blends very interesting; it is called Guajolote (which is Spanish for “wild turkey”) made of 40% Merlot, 30% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% each Grenache and Cabernet Franc.  It was an unusual blend that I wasn’t sure about when she described it, but that I actually enjoyed very much!  At the end JP even gave us a bonus, a taste of a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon made from the fruit harvested at their Dancing Bear Ranch vineyard on Howell Mountain.  Still, it is the Pinot Noir from Cakebread Cellars that I fancy, and as such we purchased 3 different Pinot Noirs and a bottle of their Reserve Chardonnay.

Our tasting done for the day, it was time for dinner!  After a brief discussion, we selected Bouchon Bistro, a French restaurant concept from the famed Thomas Keller which proudly boasts a Michelin star.

Bouchon Bistro, Yountville.

Needless to say, everything at Bouchon was incredibly delicious.  We started our meal with oysters (amazing) and escargots (when in France…) served in the more traditional escargot dish, each morsel topped with a small puff pastry.  This we paired with a luscious Sauvignon Blanc recommended by our waiter.  Brian and I split a simple salad of greens, and for my entrée I had the most incredible trout of my life.  Tender, flakey, bursting with flavor, the fish was elegantly topped with haricot vests and toasted almonds.  Oh, it was soooooo good!  The service was equal to the quality of the meal, and the experience as a whole was immensely enjoyable.

I realize experiences like these are a bit of a splurge, but honestly it’s worth it.  What in the world is more joyous than good food with good wine and good friends?  How can you help but feel wonderful when all of your senses are replete with delight?  The smell and taste of excellent food and wine paired with the voices of friends chatting and laughing, the smiles on each other’s faces, the tactile feel of a hug or a handshake, the heat of other people nearby, the inner warm glow of love and happiness all around you.  It is divine, and yet also doesn’t need to take place at a fancy restaurant.  Those who know me know that I enjoy cooking and I love hosting – dinners, cocktail parties, etc.  It brings me so much pleasure to have people I love around me, sharing a good bottle of wine and an array of snacks and cheeses or a home cooked meal.  These experiences give me life, and thus I pursue them with great zeal.

Thus we closed Day 2 of Napa 2017, returning merrily to the Marriott, eager for what the morrow might bring.

All smiles on Day 2 of Napa 2017!



Wine Wise – Bordeaux Style

Before we get further along, you might be wondering: what, exactly, does “Bordeaux Style” or “Bordeaux Blend” actually mean?

Well, as you may have already discerned, Bordeaux is a region in France located here:


The Bordeaux region is huge: Napa is divided into 16 appellations, while in Bordeaux there are 60!  There are 6 varietals in Bordeaux that, by law, are allowable in the blends produced in the region:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, and Carmenere.  Not all 6 need to be included, but wine containing any varietal not in that list of 6 must be sold as merely as “Vin de France”.  The dominant varietal in red wine produced in Bordeaux is either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot; Left Bank wines feature Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary grape, and Right Bank wines feature Merlot.  The remaining varietals are usually found in small amounts, contributing characteristics such as color and additional tannin structure.

In the United States, if a wine label boasts a single varietal (e.g. “Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Chardonnay”), it must contain at least 80% of that varietal.  If the wine contains only 79% Merlot, the wine maker is not allowed to market the wine as “Merlot” and must call it something else (usually “Red Wine”).  Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon, such as the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Silver Oak Cellars, therefore must contain at least 80% Cabernet Sauvignon.  To be considered a Bordeaux-style blend, it must contain at least 3 of those 6 Bordeaux varietals.


Napa 2017 – Day 2 – Silver Oak Cellars

“Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.”— Michael Broadbent

We awoke on Day 2 excited for the real start of our Napa 2017 experience.  We hit the Marriott gym first, a nice space next to their spa with a good assortment of cardio equipment and strength training options.  Our muscles limber and our palates anticipating a full day of delicious wines, Brian and I met up with our friends and we set out for Silver Oak Cellars.  The Silver Oak experience was by far the best of the day, and hence deserves its own post, I think!

silver oak water tower
Silver Oak Cellars, with the iconic water tower that is featured on their label.


Silver Oak Cellars is located in Oakville, CA in the Napa Valley appellation, though they also have vineyards in Alexander Valley.  The winery derives its name from its location in Oakville and its proximity to the Silverado Trail.  It was started in 1972 by two friends, Raymond Twomey Duncan, a Colorado entrepreneur, and Justin Meyer, a wine maker and, believe it or not, former Christian brother.  The winery focuses on producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, and if you like Cabs, you’ve got to make a visit to Silver Oak.


We booked the Twomey and Silver Oak Experience, a private tour for our group with the opportunity to taste both Twomey and Silver Oak wines.  As a quick side note, Twomey essentially started when Ray Duncan purchased Soda Canyon Ranch Vineyard in 1999, intending to use it for expanded Cabernet Sauvignon production.  When he discovered it was planted with high quality French Merlot vines, it seemed there might be an opportunity to expand beyond Cabernet Sauvignon.  However, the Duncans were dead set on maintaining the purity of Silver Oak’s original mission: excellent cab, and only cab.  Instead of expanding the varietals offered under the Silver Oak label, they started a new company: Twomey Cellars.  Twomey now primarily produces Pinot Noir and Merlot wines.

Outside at Silver Oak, looking forward to our tour and tasting!

We pulled up to the quiet, airy estate and were greeted by Debbie, our guide.  If you go to Silver Oak, ask for Debbi – she’s knowledgeable, sassy, and a lot of fun!  We started our experience with a Twomey pinot, followed by a Twomey merlot in a room half occupied by the Duncan family private wine cellar.  I admit I wasn’t very impressed with the Twomey wines, but hey, that wasn’t what we came here for!  We soon moved on to the Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which we took with us as we started our walk around the grounds.

Duncan Family private wine cellar.  Believe me, the picture does not do it justice – it’s actually the size of the entire tasting room, encased behind a wall of glass.

The Alexander Valley cabernet was delicious.  The 2012 vintage is 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot.  I found it rich, bold, and velvety, with a subtle softness around the edges.  As we walked and sipped, Debbie led us through the winery and shared some history of the estate – they have certainly survived a lot of adversity!  Floods (more than one), fires (in the same year as one of the floods!), illness, etc.  At one point they actually hauled in dirt to raise the estate off the ground to avoid future flooding.  We breezed through a beautiful banquet room – you can rent the space for corporate events and such – and out onto the front lawn overlooking the vineyards.  We were then escorted into their production space, the steel fermentation tanks rising nearly to the ceiling.  Here Debbie poured us a taste of the 2012 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Napa Valley Cabernet is a true Bordeaux style blend.  The 2012 vintage is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot.  It was different from the Alexander Valley Cab; definitely more “old world,” more complex, with more acidity and structure.  It was absolutely lovely.

With this new treat in our glasses, we proceeded in to one of the many barrel rooms.  Silver Oak ages its wine for just about 2 years in American oak, and the wine spends an additional 20 months or so in the bottle before it is released.  As we stood in the chilly room surrounded by the 2015 vintage, I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy knowing this wine wouldn’t even be available for another 2 years, and that it would taste differently from the wine in my glass.  That’s the beauty of blending – at places like Silver Oak, the wine is always a little different, a little new, a novel experience.

Our group and the 2015 Silver Oak vintage!

We exited the barrel room before I could start shivering, returning to the tasting room and the grandeur of the Duncan Family cellar.  Once back we had the opportunity to sample one of the library cabernets (which basically refers to one of the older vintages).  After a few more laughs with Debbie and another splash of our favorite Silver Oak wine, we headed back into the Napa sunshine and on to our next destination: Duckhorn Vineyards.