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Silver Oak, Forty Years Later by Jerry Kolins, MD, WSET Diploma Candidate

From the unique and superb French restaurant, Bistro Du Marché, in La Jolla, California, I ordered the tomato tarte and steak tartar. It’s wine pairing time. What would you choose? I chose Silver Oak, Napa Valley, 1983. Could the wine hold and evolve for 40 years?

In his recently published book, Message in the Bottle, Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser states that in 1982, he was given “a bottle of ’76 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet.” Tim writes, “I had never heard of the winery, much less tasted the wine, … I quickly put my nose in the glass only to be assaulted by a tsunami of blackberry jam and spice box. I had never experienced anything remotely like it…I had my first wine epiphany. From then on, whenever I put my nose in a glass, the wine smelled like “things” instead of just wine. In that moment, everything changed, and wine would never be the same. I would never be the same.” One could say that wine was the catalyst of a new master and author.

So, it’s no surprise after reading that page my choice in wine pairing was a Silver Oak. But my Silver Oak was 40 years old, not the six years of bottling age enjoyed by Tim. Parenthetically, Tim Gaiser is one of the Master Sommeliers who examines candidates for this coveted certification. He reviewed the examination and approved the performance of our Master Sommelier, David Keck. David instructs a few Vine Society members virtually or in person at the Davidson Village Inn in Davidson, North Carolina. I wish David could have been at the table with me last night when I opened that 1983 bottle.

When I put my nose in the glass, I didn’t get Tim’s bright lights nor hear the angels singing. Don’t get me wrong; I can have that experience and know what Tim is talking about. I drank that same bottle in the early 1980s, and the flowers from the glass were like the Sirens that tempted Odysseus. I was thankful not to be tied up, consumed the bottle, and bought more. I still have a bottle of that 1976 Alexander Valley. But flowers were not driving the bus in the 1983 Napa Silver Oak.

I was first hit by the tertiary notes of mushrooms and wet earth—like a forest floor that is to be expected in a 40-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon. But the blackberry fruit was still there. It survived 40 years. I struggled to detect the vanilla; I imagined a hint of it. Considering the wine spent about 20 months or so in oak about 40 years ago, it had to be there.

Let me tell you why I wanted to drink this wine with David Keck and Vine Society. I imagined how I would handle this wine in a blind tasting. I would not have chosen grapes sourced from Bordeaux though it tasted similar to wines from that region. Perhaps an aged Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Western Australia would be appropriate. I need help.

So, David, if you are attending your class in person on November 2 at the Davidson Village Inn, I will bring a bottle of 1983 Silver Oak Alexander Valley for all of us to share. Your job is to imagine it as a blind tasting and instruct us in locating the source of the grapes. It’s an exercise in happiness.

Finally, look at the image showing the back of the bottle. The price I paid for this wine in the 1980s was $21. My Wine-Searcher App shows the price today at $701. The 1983 Alexander Valley is priced at $400. I bought that bottle for $21. While Napa seems like a better investment, the nose and palate repeatedly bring me to Alexander Valley time and time again.

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