As part of our aforementioned fabulous LivingSocial deal (this is not a product placement! I swear! It was genuinely fabulous!), we received a free tasting at Silenus Vintners. We made an appointment for the earliest time we could, 10am. We got there about 15 minutes early, which gave us some time to poke around the grounds.
We peeked in a window only to see a gentleman waving us in. (From the looks of it, he’d been waving for some time. What can we say? We’d only had one cup of coffee at Ritual, and our caffeine levels were low.) The gentleman was Jim, and he would be our tasting associate for the morning.
Silenus Vintners, Jim explained to us as he set up to pour, is a collection of artisan wineries, all of which produce around 200 to 300 cases of wine per year. The facility has crush equipment and all the necessary tools for boutique vintners to create their wines, and the tasting room allows them to pour for interested visitors. Interestingly, the website notes that Silenus has also started an American-Chinese venture to produce wines in China as well.
We were each allotted six tastings. Jim allowed us to split each tasting so we could try everything on the menu. Looking over the list below, I think he slipped a couple of extras in there. That’s only one of the many reasons he’s awesome. Other reasons include: He clearly loves wine, enjoys sharing it with people, has a depth of knowledge about the wines he pours, and knows a lot about wine in general. Also, Jim completely failed to be a snob in any way.
One of the dangers we encountered on our Napa trip was that it’s really easy to lose track of time because the tasting experiences are all so fun! If you visit Napa, build some flexibility into your tasting schedule.
2009 Mario Bazan Sauvignon Blanc (Oakville AVA): I loved this wine! It had soft floral qualities like a viognier and lacked the strong acidity I’m used to tasting in most sauvignon blancs. Mike said, “This smells like a summer vacation for my nose.” He elaborated by noting the star fruit aroma and a hint of grapefruit pith on the tongue.
2010 Matthiasson White Wine (Napa Valley AVA): This is a blend that is predominantly sauvignon blanc, with old vine semillon, ribolla giallla and tocai friuliano making up the balance. It couldn’t have been more different from the previous wine; it had a mouth-puckering citrus-fruit tart tanginess, like lemon with a hint of grapefruit. Mike obtusely noted it tasted sleek and modern. Thanks Mike.
2010 Due Vigne “Bianco” Vioblanc (California AVA): It’s called “Vioblanc” because it’s a blend of viognier and chenin blanc. It was buttery on the tongue but still light, with flavors of citrus blossoms and a hint of orange pith. Very enjoyable. It reminded Mike of the candy necklaces he and his friends liked as kids.
NV Woodstock “Honey Pie” (Napa Valley AVA): This blend of sauvingon blanc and chardonnay is easy drinking. It was fruity with just enough acid to back it up and would be perfect for a summer day on the patio. The name is totally appropriate.
2008 Ideology Cellars “Blondie Gone Wild” Chardonnay (Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA): This had a nice warm oak smell. The taste was oaky and buttery, like a wood grilled English muffin dripping in butter, and gave me delightful flashbacks to my breakfast at the Model Bakery. Mike got a baked-goods vibe on the nose as well, but for him it was the scent of a cake in the oven.
2010 Silenus Rosé (Napa Valley AVA): This rosé, made from Cabernet grapes, was sweeter than I expected, smooth and very easy drinking. If your entry point for wine was white zinfandel, this wine would be a great way to experience something that hit those nostalgic flavor elements but with more complexity and depth. It is at once exuberant and elegant.
2009 Coleman Nicole “Morris Ranch” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast AVA): The scent had hints of cinnamon bark and pepper, reminding me of – don’t mock me – Trader Joe’s “Wintry Blend” coffee. The flavor was also peppery, but had nice fruit to back it up. Mike enjoyed aromatic elements of cedar, minerals toasted sugar and even “secret sauce.” The flavor matched, with the addition of pink peppercorns. Very well-balanced, with perfect body.
2007 Due Vigne Nebbiolo (El Dorado AVA): Mike’s a sucker for Italian wines, and this was no exception. It was a blend of 92% Nebbiolo and 8% Barbera. The smell made me think of chocolate, rum and plum pudding. I expected it to be fruity, but it wasn’t at all; instead it was complex, dry and velvety, with warm floral hints and a touch of nougat. Mike found a little more fruit on the palate, specifically grape, blackberry and cherry. It wasn’t as tart as he expected, and he though the tannins were perfectly balanced.
2008 Modus Operandi Vicarious (Napa Valley AVA): This blend of cabernet, syrah, petit syrah and merlot made me wish I wasn’t an vegetarian, because it smelled like it would match perfectly with short ribs. As soon as I tasted it and got that hit of caramelized plums, I wanted to take it home and drink it by the fire. (Of course, that would involve cleaning out the flue and figuring out how to start it.) Mike said he got a flavor of jam without a quality of jamminess. Cedar and mesquite tinted the tannins, and the finish was quite warm.
2009 Woodstock “Purple Haze” (California AVA): This smelled like peppered roasted stonefruit; the flavor had an intriguing hint of browned butter. Mike commented that it had a meaty quality in addition to the butter flavor, and while it had that flavor it did not have a particularly buttery mouthfeel. He also noted it was yet another example of just-right tannins. Here again the name of the wine is right on the money.
2006 Highlands Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA): I’ll just transcribe my notes: “This dances on my tongue. It’s so light and gentle, delicate yet full of flavor. At the same time, it feels like it leaves room on the palate to share with other things.” Mike got creme brulee on the nose and palate, with some minerality. He felt the tannins did not overwhelm, but the wine wasn’t as silky as he’d have liked.
2006 Matthiasson Napa Valley Red (Napa Valley AVA): This smelled like an oaky grilled steak. I enjoyed it, but I’m going to leave it to Mike to pin down the specific flavors. Mike sez: The aroma was mellow with a sugary quality. I also got just a hint of sulfur, imparting a meaty quality. The flavor had nice wood and mild fruit.
2007 Ideology “Reserve Block” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA): I could have just inhaled the scent from the glass all day; it was full of rich fruit and dark flowers. The flavor was peppery, with rich fruit and hints of cola. Mike said it jumped right into his nose with hugely inviting aromas of cherry, grape and caramel. “Dive right in!” it exclaimed. The flavor matched. The tannins came on a little strong at the end, but stopped short of dominating.
2007 Due Vigne Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA): I really noticed the alcohol smell, intertwined with plums and cacao nibs. This carried through in the flavor, which was like sugar frosted unripe plums with a hit of acid on the back. Mike felt the aroma was a little restrained, but mellow and inviting. He found the flavor a little spicy at first, flowing into mellow fruit and then finishing with nice woody tannins.
And just like that, we were done with our quest. With the Oakville, Napa Valley and Oak Knoll District AVAs, we’d hit 40. Silenus was a great place to hit number 40, and Jim gave us a great experience.
We could have stopped tasting at this point, but we were in Napa and we hadn’t yet seen any snobs. Clearly, we weren’t looking hard enough. It was time to try harder. Perhaps the by-appointment-only winery we were visiting next would have the snobs we were looking for.