We were recently invited to Silverado Vineyards in Napa Valley for a tasting experience and tour. Situated on the historic Silverado Trail in the equally historic Stags Leap District, Silverado Vineyards has caught our eye more than once on drives up and down the valley. As we prepared for our tasting this past Saturday we did some background research on the winery, as we often do. Way back in the 1970’s before Napa Valley was, well, Napa Valley, Ron and Diane Miller and Diane’s mother decided to buy land in Napa Valley. They brought with them a commitment to sustainable (and, increasingly, organic) farming and a desire to make wines that are not only balanced but faithful to their varietal and their terroir. With just a few exceptions, the Silverado Vineyards wines are offered at prices that are moderate by Napa Valley standards.
When we arrived at Silverado Vineyards for our “Silverado Experience,” we were fortunate to have Ray Vigil as our host and guide for the tour and tasting.
Ray was a veritable fountain of information as he took us through the property and told us the remarkable story of how Silverado Vineyards came to be. It all started in 1976 with the purchased of an 81-acre parcel of land in Yountville which is now known as the Miller Ranch vineyard. Anyone with a passing interest in Napa Valley wine history knows that 1976 was quite an auspicious year for American wines in general and Napa wines in particular: two Napa wines bested France’s top wines in a blind tasting that history refers to at the Judgment of Paris. You can read about it here: Judgment of Paris or, if you prefer movies to reading, check out the (highly fictionalized) movie rendition “Bottleshock” (so fictionalized, in fact, that the man who made the winning white wine never made it into the movie!).
Two years after purchasing the property that would become Miller Ranch, the Miller family purchased an additional 93-acre parcel in the Stags Leap District where (coincidentally?) the winning red wine was produced that beat the best of Bordeaux in the Judgement of Paris. Four other vineyard properties have been acquired since then to create a Silverado Vineyards estate property of nearly 400 total acres; all Silverado wines are made from estate-grown fruit.
Our seated Silverado Experience was a tasting of five different Silverado wines paired with local cheeses from Sonoma County. We started our tour on foot, though, with a glass of Silverado’s 2016 Sangiovese Rosato, a zesty and delicious rosé that was a perfect companion for the 95 degree day. We have tasted rosé produced from many varietals in Napa Valley but this was our first from Sangiovese; at $25 a bottle it is quite the bargain.
Our formal sit-down tasting started with Silverado’s 2015 Chardonnay from Vineburg Vineyard, a 30-acre property on the Sonoma side of the Carneros appellation (and about 2 miles from our house). For those that enjoy oak-induced flavors/aromas such as butter or pineapple, this Chardonnay is not for you! Silverado’s Chardonnay comes closer to the Burgundian style, with plenty of tart citrus and green apple. This Chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in French oak with a very small percentage of new oak.
Our second wine was Silverado’s 2013 Zinfandel from Soda Creek Ranch which is a few miles south and east of the winery property.
At 15.2% alcohol we were expecting an over-the-top wine but this Zin had a gorgeous silky texture with dark fruits dominating the aroma and flavor, along with a hint of vanilla and spice. With only 600 cases of this wine produced it can generally only be found in the tasting room – at a reasonable $45 a bottle.
Our tasting finished with a selection of Cabernet Sauvignon from three different vineyards: Oakville, which is generally warmer and produces riper fruit; Coombsville, generally a cooler climate; and the SOLO Cab whose fruit comes from Stags Leap District. Our first Cab, the 2012 Oakville Station, was aged for 19 months in approximately 40% new oak (85% French, 15% American). One of the things we like about having several Cabs to taste together is that we let them open up over the course of the tasting and revisit them and compare them to each other. The Oakville Station Cab was balanced from the start with medium tannins and a nice long finish; after a few minutes it opened up more and we were getting a strong aroma of coffee.
While the Oakville Station Cab was produced with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, the 2013 GEO Cabernet from Coombsville is mostly Cab but has 2% Cabernet Franc blended in. As with all of the Silverado Cabs, the GEO balanced fruit and acidity beautifully, delivering a final product that is definitely not the “big Napa Cab” that you can get up and down the Valley.
Our final Cab was the 2012 SOLO from Stags Leap District, a slightly bigger and bolder version than the first two we tried but also not an over-the-top Cabernet. Balance in winemaking showed up as well both aromatically and on the palate to produce a wine that would be nicely paired with a juicy steak but by no means requires one to be palatable. We could imagine opening this Cab and enjoying it with a good book and no food at all.
As we got to the end of our tasting, our host Ray glided by and slipped a glass of the 2013 SOLO so that we could compare it to the 2012. Although it was a little bit young, we enjoyed the 2013 quite a bit and look forward to trying this wine again as it matures.
Thankfully, Ray glided by several more times and we were able to taste the Silverado 2013 Sangiovese and the 2014 “Fantasia,” a nod to the Super Tuscan style of wines coming out of Italy’s Tuscany region. Silverado’s version of the Super Tuscan is 56% Sangiovese and 44% Cabernet Sauvignon. Both the Sangiovese and the Fantasia were lovely and affordably priced ($30 and $55, respectively).
All in all we had a very enjoyable wine tasting experience which generally requires the confluence of three important factors: top quality wine, friendly hosts, and a beautiful location. Our visit to Silverado hit the trifecta. As we have described, the wines are a wonderful expression of their varietals and vineyard locations, and Ray could not have been nicer or more generous with the wines he shared. Which brings us to location. Silverado Vineyards is perched on top of a hill with gorgeous views of the vineyards below.
On a sunny day there are few more inviting spots than the terrace at Silverado Vineyards, a spot we look forward to enjoying very soon.
John & Irene Ingersoll
August 29, 2017