The Napa Valley is one of the world’s great wine
growing regions, but it’s also kind of crazy. Wine-loving Americans
have plenty of disposable income, and they like their own wines, so
even mediocre Californian Cabernets can fetch eye-watering prices, and
the best ones are some of the world’s most expensive wines, many
sold exclusively through mailing lists (usually with a lengthy queue
to get on them).
As a result, you don’t see all that many Napa wines
in the UK. We see a lot of Californian wine over here, but almost all
of it at the bottom end – brands like Gallo and Blossom Hill.
There’s hardly any representation of good quality Californian wine
in the UK.
But some Napa producers are still keen to target the
UK. One such estate is Silverado, and I was invited to lunch with
general manager Russ Weis. Now Russ is one of those guys who you think
might have missed his vocation. He’s incredibly engaging, warm and
talkative, without being in your face. I reckon he’d have made a
great chat show host. Also joining us for lunch, which was at the
lovely Art Deco Bibendum restaurant, was the equally gregarious Lenz
Moser, who worked with Russ at Mondavi before the sale to
Constellation. The Russ and Lenz show – I reckon it would be a
‘The story is that there is life after Mondavi’,
says Weis (pictured above). The last couple of years at Mondavi
were quite difficult and so Russ spent more and more time at the small
estate he’d purchased with a few partners in Spain’s Priorat
region in 1999. ‘It was a lifelong ambition’, says Weis. ‘The
vineyard we purchased was very old, and we had to rebuild terraces and
do some replanting. During the last couple of years at Mondavi I spent
a lot of time there. In 2004, once he’d set up the winery for the
first vintage, he came back to the USA. Ron and Diane, the owners of
Silverado, were looking to hire because their winemaker had just
retired. So he took the job.
‘Silverado is a pleasure’, says Russ. ‘There are
six vineyards, and it’s just under 400 acres. We get to control
everything from berry to bottle’. The vineyards are in cool climate
Napa regions, Carneros and Stag’s Leap. ‘All my life there has
been some negotiation, so it’s great to have my own vineyard in
Spain and to be running a great estate in Napa.’
Silverado makes around 85 000 cases each year, of which
22 000 cases are Chardonnay and the balance Bordeaux-style wines.
There’s a tremendous following for these wines in the USA, but
little knowledge of them elsewhere. Russ is keen to see the wines in
export markets, even though they can sell everything in the USA. In
part, this is because he’s keen that someone is flying the flag for
Napa. Also, the perception of scarcity in the USA isn’t going to be
bad for image and prices.
First we tried one of Russ’ Priorat wines. The main
wine is Melis, but this wasn’t available, so we tried the second
Elix 2005 Priorat Wonderful tight spicy, savoury, dark fruited nose is ripe but
balanced. The palate is powerful and bold but with smooth tannins.
Nice structure here and a bit of earthy minerality. Dense and youthful
now, this has real potential. A superb wine. 92/100
Then we tried a couple of the Silverado wines. I was
really impressed by these.
Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Napa
Valley Focused ripe nose is spicy and dense, with a lovely tarry focus to
the black fruits. The palate is quite earthy and dense with good
tannins, some spiciness and generous fruit. Lovely. 92/100
Silverado Vineyards ‘Solo’ Cabernet Sauvignon
2002 Stags Leap District, Napa Lovely ripe, dark fruits on the nose. Smooth, sweet and pure but
with nice dark minerality. The palate is ripe and smooth with lovely
density and purity of fruit. There’s an elegance here, which carries
through the smooth, firm tannins. A lovely wine. 14.7% alcohol, but
not hot. 94/100
can see Russ on this video I found on YouTube, talking about the
heritage vine selection at Silverado: