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Four surprising reasons Silver Oak wines deserve a spot on your table

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Cult-favorite, pricey and snooty -- three adjectives you may have heard associated with Silver Oak Winery at some point in your life as an oenophile. The first two are true enough: A passionate set of followers obsess over the brand, hoarding prized vintages in cellars for future generations to savor; that its main bottlings typically run upwards of $50 certainly makes it tough to call them frugal buys. Given the paltry sum allotted to our monthly wine habit (and our oft-professed preference for old world style flavor profiles), we'd be lying if we told you that frequent -- okay, make that any -- consumption of this Napa Valley luxury wine takes place in our household. So when we received a recent, random invitation to a special Silver Oak wine dinner, we didn't exactly fall out of our seats with excitement. More than a little skeptical, we decided to take our own advice about making 2012 the year to live the fullest wine lifestyle possible, part of which involves drinking wines that typically fall outside of your comfort zone. Curious to know how the wines of Silver Oak managed to win us over? Read on for the details (and the winery's surprising Colorado connection):

"Even if the wine blows, at least we'll finally get to do some skiing," we griped to ourselves as we trudged up I-70 last weekend toward the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, the appointed setting for the Silver Oak dinner. We came to learn that our craving for fresh powder was a natural tie-in for the event, spearheaded as it was by local ski legend / Warren Miller athlete Chris Anthony. It was Anthony, in partnership with the hotel and the winery, who conceived the event as a way to bring together a few of his favorite things: the slopes at Beaver Creek, great food and good friends Kevin and Leeanne Duncan, with whom he'd bonded on an Italian ski-and-wine adventure a few years back (with absolutely zero awareness that Kevin's dad is none other than Silver Oak founder, Raymond Duncan).

At the start of the evening's festivities, co-host Kevin Duncan greeted the guests with a joke. "Several people have been asking me how our flight in was," began Duncan. "I told them the drive from Durango was pretty smooth." True story: The Duncan family are Colorado natives (surprise!), and their initial Napa Valley land purchase back in 1972 was fueled by the family patriarch's oil-and-gas exploration skills. Their decision to purchase the plot of land destined to become the home of Silver Oak was made after inquiring as to the location of most productive vineyards in the area (the theory being that vines would thrive as an oil well would).

Duncan's laid-back intro definitely knocked some of the air out of our perception that the affair would be full of pretentious wine snobs. In fact, it turned out that we had a lot in common with most of the guests (surprise number two) -- a bunch of die-hard wine and food fanatics who looked like they needed a drink as much as we did. After a brief description of the menu by Christian Apetz, the chef of the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek's signature restaurant 8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill, we were thirstier than ever to sample these infamous wines.

The first splash to whet our palate was the Twomey Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($24). Twomey, you say? Wasn't this supposed to be a Silver Oak wine tasting? Well, the Silver Oak label affixes exactly two bottles of wine, and they're both cabernet sauvignon. Twomey is its sister vineyard, where the family makes its one and only white wine, as well as a merlot (more on this later) and a pinot noir. Our first sip of the sauv blanc delivered our third surprise of the night: a brisk, highly mineral-driven offering that if we hadn't known any better, could have been the product of a particularly sunny Sancerre vintage. Notes of kaffir lime and lemon zest rounded out the palate and worked like a charm with our first course, a trifecta of seafood delights which included roasted diver scallop; a gigantic, Madras curry powder-dusted shrimp and a scrumptious, bacon-wrapped lobster tail. Score one for Silver Oak...er, Twomey.

Next in our glass was the Twomey Merlot 2006 ($45). This single vineyard wine from the Calistoga AVA turned out to be a love letter to French winemaking, leveraging an old-school technique called soutirage traditional. Rarely employed in the US, the wine is decanted from barrel to barrel during the aging process, leaving sediment behind and softening harsh tannins. The process also takes aromatics to an elevated level, revealed to us in the form of spicy cinnamon, clove and blackberry. We swooned over swallow after swallow of full-throttled, yet wonderfully balanced cherry pie flavors, especially once the accompanying savory course arrived. Crispy foie gras sat perched next to a rare slice of plum conserve-glazed duck breast, and provided the ideal creamy-earthy counterpoint to the lush wine.

A perusal of the menu tucked underneath our plates tipped us off to the tasty-sounding third course: grilled elk loin, with a side of black currant truffle grits and a single origin dark chocolate steak sauce. Poured into a fresh glass next to that gorgeous dish was our first exposure of the night to an actual Silver Oak product, the Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($85). Having done a bit of homework before heading to the hills, we already knew that this was the winery's flagship bottling. The mack daddy. The one with all the awards and north-of-ninety point scores. This was the wine we'd been waiting all day to taste, to see if it was truly worth all the hype (and all the coin one has to drop to enjoy it). Surprise number four: We. Loved. It. Continuing to dispel our preconceived notions that this, like so many Napa other cabs, would be a boozy fruit bomb, this wine instead served up a symphony of nuanced flavors, a tribute to the true Bordeaux blend it was (eighty percent cab sauv, with splashes of merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot mixed in). Do what you must to allot the cash to score a few bottles of this wine. Drink one immediately, and then open the others in five-year increments to savor what will surely be its glorious evolution.

It was a stroke of brilliance to pour the most bad-ass wine of the night second-to-last, because ending with it would have been akin to having hit Lotto, only to lose the entire pot on a single hand of blackjack. This is not to say that the fourth and final wine, the Silver Oak Alexander Valley 2007 ($60) was a disappointment. Aged strictly in American oak barrels (a technique virtually unheard of in Napa Valley, where French oak reigns supreme), sipping this one hundred percent cabernet sauvignon gently eased us back to earth from the stratospheric heights we'd scaled with the prior course. We adored its richer, fruitier bouquet of cassis and vanilla, as well as its mouth-coating palate of blackberry, cola and baking spices. Paired with a perfect anti-dessert course of braised oxtail arancini (aka delectable fried balls of risotto) topped with a fig-onion marmalade and drizzled with buttermilk blue cheese cream, we found ourselves wanting nothing more than to curl up in front of the restaurant's roaring fireplace and drift off to our special happy place.

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