Tag Archives: California

1998 Silver Oak Alexander Valley


California, $84

I was at a Halloween party a few months back with an open bar, but a particularly uncouth guest had brought a few bottles of his own “special” wine that he tucked around the corner for him and his pals to partake. He asked me if I wanted some and winked “It’s Silver Oak” and it was all I could do a stifle a small laugh. Silver Oak was one of the great CaliforniaCabernet stars back in the day but has had a much tougher time finding its place in the world of California Cult Cabs like Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate; not only did this guy have poor manners, but he used a 1991 copy ofThe Wine Spectator to help him buy his fancy wine.

This incident was on my mind last night when a group of friends got together to drink a few cabs side-by-side in the name of science. (And drinking.) There was a 2005 Bordeaux from Chateau Cantemerle (nice, but oddly subdued), an insanely muscular wine from Washington’s Doubleback (owned by Drew Bledsoe, and big and pricey) and Burrowing Owl, which held up not badly against wines that were twice the price. And then there was my bottle, a 1998 Silver Oak that had been in my cellar forever. I only had one, and my expectations were that, given the vintage, it might be less than stellar. Boy was I wrong—it was still dark and full with great classic cabernet notes of cassis and bitter cherry and an integrated long finish. What a great wine. The weird thing is I think I paid $60 for it all those years ago, and the current vintage is only $84, making it a pretty great deal.

So I was wrong about the Silver Oak. But that guy at the party was still a horse’s ass.

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2010 Lake Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon

Alexander Valley, $27

I see it every summer. American tourists coming up to cruise or Stampede looking at our restaurants’ wine lists and recoiling i

n horror at the prices shown for California wines. How does a Seghesio Zinfandel go from $11.99 (with Safeway Club Card) in La Quinta to $75 on a wine list up here? “Free health care ain’t free,” one pal quipped recently and the truth is the taxes on wine are ludicrous, and no area fares worse under this sad regime than California. We get absolutely jacked when it comes to California wine up here, which kills me because I love California wine.

The result is I hardly ever get to drink good California Cabernet anymore. I don’t mean that gunk that is labeled Central Coast or some other appellation so enormous that it’s meaningless without further refinement. The best option in BC is Beringer’s excellent (and priced accordingly at $45) Knights Valley Sonoma Cab—until now.

Tony Stewart of Quail’s Gate and Ted Zepponi (formerly of ZD Winery and Mission Hill, now Valley of the Moon) brought out a Napa Cab—Plume—a few years back, and at $30 it was the best-priced Napa juice around. Now they’re back with a new offering—a Sonoma Can from the famed Alexander Valley—and it’s $27. The only other Alexander Valley Cab available at the BC Liquor stores is Silver Oak, and its $80.

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Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2011


California, $55

There seem to be an endless number of acolytes of Sauvignon Blanc these days. Driven by the wines Kim Crawford and Oyster Bay, they have no problem plunking down $25 for a grape that never used to rise above $12 in any new world iteration. And I don’t really blame them—I enjoy drinking most NZ Sauvignon Blanc, and they’re as reliable as a Volvo in delivering a refreshing shot of citrus, gooseberry and just a sweet hint of melon. But it’s that very reliability that keeps me from fully joining the revolution: I need some surprise, heck, even some disappoints to keep me excited.

So when I was Sonoma Coast tasting bottle after bottle of the best cool Pinots I needed to mix things up a bit, so at Merry Edwards—whose Pinots are amazing—I took a detour and reached for a glass of her Sauvignon Blanc. My expectations were not high; California SB in general gets little respect, and who in their right mind would grow this grape in the heart of Pinot country, either stylistically or financially?

And, of course, it was amazing. Take a step back, and say “Whoa, amazing.” At $32, it was both half the price of the Pinots and the most expensive new world SB I’d had in a long while. It’s tough to find up here—my friend Paul is on their list so always seems to have a bottle, but Bin 905 and Highlander in Calgary carry it and the price is near $50. But if you’re one of those people who love SB this is your next special occasion bottle. It sees some oak and that saps some of the freshness but not that much and theBordeaux-like depth and complexity more than make up for it. There’s lychee, peach, pear, there’s all you could want frankly. It’s awesome.

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Ridge Lytton Springd 2010

Ridge Lytton Springs 2010

California, $50

Is there a better winery in California than Ridge? There are flashier ones, older ones, ones with longer wait-list, but taken as a whole, Ridge may be my favourite—and that’s saying a lot, because I often don’t love Zinfandel, one of their signature grapes. A lot of the credit goes to the legendary Paul Draper, one of the wine world’s greats, and the man who had guided Ridge for the past 40 years. He poured some aged examples this past week of the winery’s Zinfandel blends, Geyserville and Lytton Springs, and even the 1987s were still alive, kicking and wonderful. He also poured the estate’s flagship wine, Montebello, and it proved that it is the better of many johnny-come-lately “cult” wines (ahem, Hundred Acre) that charge double, triple or quintuple. The crazy thing is you can stroll to your local store, grab a bottle of Lytton Springs for $50 without any fuss. Drink now, age it 10 years or age it 20—it, like the winery, will never disappoint.

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