Selections for July 2016

A Silver Oak “Scion” or “Source”?

2013 MEYER FAMILY CELLARS ‘Spitfire’ CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Oakville, Napa Valley

You could say Meyer Family Vineyards is the offspring of much better-known Napa wine institution Silver Oak, which historically precedes it.  Alternatively, with respect to the people behind the two wineries, you could call “Meyer” the origin. 

In 1972 Justin Meyer and wife Bonny co-founded Silver Oak Cellars with partner Ray Duncan.  The brand “Meyer Family” came along much later – in 1987 – to foster Justin’s love of port.  The brand evolved to an actual location in 1998 when Justin and son Matt purchased a property in the Yorkville Highlands (adjacent to the Anderson Valley AVA) with cool weather Syrah production in mind.

What goes around has come around.  The Meyer Family sold Silver Oak to Ray Duncan in 2001.  Meyer Family Vineyards remains in the remote Yorkville Highlands but has widened its fruit sourcing sphere to once again include the original Napa Valley source.  Longtime fans of Silver Oak will recall their special “Bonny’s Vineyard” bottling.  That plot is now honored in Meyer Family “Bonny’s Vineyard” Cabernet costing more than twice as much as the wine before you.

Here is a dark and sensuous red which speaks more subtly than the more oak-induced Silver Oak Cabernets.  Like the latter, Meyer Family employs American Oak here, but only 50% of the barrels are new with the remaining neutral-flavored half keeping wood qualities from ravaging the dark fruit, black olive, and bouquet garni qualities of this elegant 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.   “Spitfire” shows calm restraint at this point in its life.  With a modest-for-Napa alcohol level of 13.8%, plus a good balance of tannins and acids, I feel it will age very gracefully for at least ten years rather than burning out sooner as more bombastic Napa Cabs are wont to do.  Let’s hear it for suaveness!

Bordeaux Meets New World

2012 DeLILLE CELLARS ‘D2’ – Columbia Valley, Washington State

At least 20 years ago, well before I was savvy enough to question a wine promoter’s spiel, I attended a tasting of higher end Washington State reds.  Alongside were reputable examples from Napa and Bordeaux.  The intent was to give validity to the lesser-known northwest wine region and by the taste of things- the advertisement was successful.  Looking back on it now, just one idea put forth that day makes this better-informed wine lover snicker just a little.   The presenter tried to reinforce Washington’s reputation with the trivial tidbit, “Our wine country lies roughly at the same latitude as Bordeaux.”

Oh, that’s supposed mean your place is like that place?  Michelangelo and Picasso were both world class painters, but how else do they compare?  All a common latitude guarantees is a comparable length of days and nights.  Granted, that’s interesting for Washington, as their longer summer days during which a grape cluster develops may render a certain effect compared with Napa to the south.  But Bordeaux and Washington are completely different in all other ways.  Bordeaux is adjacent to the Atlantic and very susceptible to seaborne weather systems.  Washington’s Columbia Valley occurs on the eastern side of the state; high desert, where only six inches of rain might fall each year and a very different diurnal shift (temperature swing between night and day).  Bordeaux’s dirt is different.  Bordeaux’s culture of wine style preference is different.  In short, there’s more that’s DIFFERENT than Bordeaux than similar when it comes to Washington State. 

Having finished my tirade and turning to this wine, I must make now reverse myself a little because DeLille actually aspires to a more “Bordeaux” wine style of restraint, indicating that with this wine’s name.  “D2” alludes to the road traversing the great Chateaux of Bordeaux.  The theme continues in the style:  This blend of 50% Merlot (Washington’s best grape, by my read), 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8% Cabernet Franc doesn’t pack a fruit wallop but speaks with more savory restraint.  Right now I’m smelling red peppercorns, graphite (a very Bordeaux descriptor), and reluctant cherries.  The palate feel follows with a Euro-classic tannic structure, yet soothing chocolate syrup loiters beneath.  This is what we call “well-framed” red wine.  This is also what Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate calls 93-point wine, with the additional remarks:

“It's one hell of a second wine and offers up awesome notes of blackcurrants, wood smoke, graphite, chocolate, truffle and damp earth to go with a full-bodied, ripe, layered and still focused and lively profile on the palate. This is a serious wine on all accounts and it has beautifully integrated acidity, moderate, sweet tannin and a great finish. It's easy to appreciate now, but will also have 20 years of overall longevity.”