A Story of Love: Silver Oak Wines at The Houston Cellar Classic

The great thing about wine is that it can be an endless source of conversation. You can talk about everything from the nose to the feel on the palate to how it pairs with food. You can debate how it should be made, whether it should be aged in oak, which varieties of grapes blend well together, which regions produce the best types of wine or are developing the best wines. And then you can talk about how a particular wine or winery came into being, which is one of those backstories that you'll generally only hear when you visit the winery -- unless, of course, the winery comes to you.

This week, The Tasting Room (TTR) and sister restaurants under the Lasco Enterprises umbrella are holding their Houston Cellar Classic. Held each fall, the weeklong festival offers wine dinners, wine and Champagne tastings, and other events at which attendees can get to know the chefs, purchase specialty wines and learn more about a particular wine or winery that interests them.

Such was the case this past Saturday evening at a special Silver Oak tasting dinner held at TTR in Uptown Park. The five-course meal featured a menu prepared by TTR Uptown Park's new executive chef, Jonathan LeBlanc, and was paired with five wines from the Silver Oak family.

The dinner was held in TTR Uptown Park's new private dining room, which had just been completed a couple of weeks earlier. Dim lighting illuminated walls featuring abstract paintings by local artists, while tables set with maroon linens and empty wine glasses beckoned the diners. Approximately 80 guests mingled amid free-flowing Champagne before we settled down to the more important subject at hand: Silver Oak wines and the food.

As we dined on a first course of lobster salad served on thin rounds of sweet and sour-marinated jicama with pickled chanterelle and sipped Twomey Sauvignon Blanc, a Silver Oak representative who had flown in from Napa stepped up to tell us the story of how Silver Oak, and later Twomey, came into being.

It was a romantic story, about a man named Justin Meyer who had joined the order of the Christian Brothers early on as a Franciscan monk, only to fall in love with a fellow winemaker, Bonny, for whom he would forsake the brotherhood and marry. Together, the Meyers joined forces with Ray Duncan, who partnered with them to found Silver Oak Winery, focusing on making one very good Cabernet Sauvignon.

The fairy-tale story had a magical quality to it, heightening the experience as we were served a second course of seared scallop over roasted eggplant hummus; this was paired with a Twomey Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

The pairing was effortless, made all the more enjoyable as we listened to the story of how Twomey came into existence. According to the tale, as Meyer neared retirement, he placed an ad in the paper that said "Winemaker Wanted. Call Justin," which was answered by a young winemaker named Daniel Baron, who had trained at the famous Château Pétrus in Pomerol. Baron signed on in the mid-1990s and continues to be the winemaker for Silver Oak cellars today. In 1999, they stumbled upon a vineyard planted with Merlot, and Meyer convinced the Duncans to buy it so that he could start making Merlot, which they named Twomey, Duncan's middle name and his mother's maiden name.

Twomey's signature wine is still the Merlot, though they've expanded the portfolio to include Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. But it's the Merlot that is the star of the lot, a traditional, old-school, old-world Pomerol-style Merlot that was served with our third course of the night, an intermezzo of kiwi sorbet with watermelon and mint caviar.

For me, the Twomey Merlot, which we had the option of purchasing at the end of the night for approximately $47.99, was the standout wine of the evening for its supple, smooth lusciousness, and I found myself returning to the glass of Merlot even as I was served the more expensive Silver Oak later in the meal.

To be sure, the Silver Oak from Alexander Valley -- which had been paired with braised shoulder of lamb ras el hanout over braised pearl onion and leek confit -- and the Silver Oak from Napa Valley, which was served with our final cheese course, were excellent.

As the evening came to a close, the level of noise in the room had risen. We'd heard this wonderful story about how Silver Oak came into being, had an excellent meal all around, and enjoyed five generous pours of Twomey and Silver Oak.

Did I go in as a fan of Silver Oak? Yes. But having learned the story behind the wines, I left that dinner with a much stronger appreciation for it. I also found a new-world Merlot -- the Twomey -- that I could really enjoy on its own and paired with food.

The Houston Cellar Classic culminates with this weekend's Grand Tasting on Saturday afternoon. For more information on Houston Cellar Classic events, please visit the Houston Cellar Classic.

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