Oenarch's Club, Baltimore Country Club

Silver Oak has long been one of the most popular Cabernet Sauvignons made in Napa Valley. The late Justin Meyer developed a formula requiring nearly three years aging in Missouri barrels, which gives the wines an aggressive American oakiness as well as a soft, plummy, accessible style. Critics often feel the wines are too oaky, and do not age well. This tasting demonstrated that the Silver Oak Cabernets tend to be at their finest during their first 10-15 years of life, although several of the cuvées approaching twenty years of age came across as outstanding, immensely enjoyable efforts. The winery's finest offering, the Napa bottling, was not included in this tasting, which concentrated on the Alexander Valley and the now defunct, but often controversial, Bonny's Vineyard, a parcel that often produced wines with an herbaceous, sometimes dill pickle-like aroma.

The unquestionable winner of Flight One was the 1985 Bonny's Vineyard, a beautifully rich wine with lovely black currant fruit as well as plenty of spice box, cedar, and earth. Still rich and youthful, it is capable of lasting another 7-8 years. The second choice of the group was the 1984 Alexander Valley. Soft and oaky, with good density, it revealed copious quantities of plum, fig, and currant fruit. The excellent 1984 Bonny's Vineyard exhibited more earthiness along with notes of underbrush, celery, cedar, and spice box. The 1986 Bonny's Vineyard possessed tremendously intense bell pepper/herbaceous characteristics that was off-putting. However, the wine was concentrated.

The winner of Flight Two was the 1993 Alexander Valley, a beautifully dense, concentrated, youthful Cabernet with loads of black currant fruit intermixed with smoke, spice, and lavish toasty new oak. The group's second choice was the 1988 Bonny's Vineyard, an unexpectedly rich, concentrated offering (one of the surprises of the tasting). The 1987 Bonny's Vineyardpossessed abundant quantities of dill pickle and bell pepper characteristics (I felt like I was in the Carnegie Deli). It was too herbal for me, although the wine was rich and concentrated in the mouth. The 1989 Bonny's Vineyard was dull and flat, with washed out herbal flavors. It was clearly the most disappointing wine of the evening. Better, but nothing to get excited about was the 1992 Alexander Valley. It offered interesting notes of beet root and herbs in a dense, concentrated style, but it was just not singing at this tasting.

Flight three represented the younger wines, all of which were delicious, suggesting that consumers should drink these Cabernets during their first 10-15 years of life, even though some vintages last much longer. The star of the flight was the 1994 Alexander Valley, a brilliant, rich, concentrated Cabernet with the oak well-integrated with the ripe, jammy cassis, plum, and currant fruit. The group's second favorite was the 1999 Alexander Valley, which possessed the deepest color. There was noticeable new oak, but also abundant quantities of chocolate, smoked herbs, and ripe cherry and black currant fruit. It is a fine effort that should be consumed over the next 10-15 years. I was less impressed with the oak/fruit balance than my friends. The 1995 and 1998 Alexander Valley Cabernets both performed well. In fact, it was a toss up between the two, which one would not expect based on vintage reputations. The only offering that did not live up to expectations was the earthy, herbal 1996 Alexander Valley.

All in all, this tasting proved that this is a reliable, concentrated, obviously oaky wine, and if you like a touch of herbaceousness, many readers will admire the older vintages more than I did.

We finished with the 1970 Dow's Vintage Port. Although it was not one of the greatest bottles I have had of this sometimes colossal port, it was outstanding, just more evolved than bottles from my cellar. The food at the Baltimore Country Club was very good, certainly on a par with some of the city's better restaurants.

We began the evening with three Champagnes.

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