The next delight on the roving birthday party itinerary was a visit to Swanson Vineyards and winemaker Marco Cappelli. Wed met a year earlier and this was my first chance to take him up on his offer to check out the winery.
We started in the tank room, climbing up to the catwalk for a sample of the latest vintage of Pinot Grigio. The 2002 had just been blended in final form and readied for bottling. This gave me the chance to tell Marco that the light color and lack of characteristic bronze tint of his wine had tripped me up in blind tastings more than once. He explained that their fruit has relatively high tannin levels, therefore, he does a fast whole cluster pressing and takes extra care to avoid skin contact. This reduces color and phenolic pick-up. Half was fermented in tank and the balance in neutral barrels, building complex interplay of flavors and textures. Aging on the lees and battonage created luxuriously unctuous mouthfeel. Marco asked whether I thought the slight phenolic catch at the back palate was too obtrusive. I felt the little extra boost of structure helped balance this intense and richly flavored wine and the bit of alcoholic warmth.
We then headed into the Salon to sit-down for more tasting, shown below. Yes, the walls really are that color! The décor is Gallic, but more urban than provincial, with many fanciful paintings. I dubbed it a Parisian fantasy. In the left hand picture of Marco with bottles is the Provençal fireplace flanked on either side with beautiful old gnarled Syrah vines that had been trained in a modified goblet and uprooted when the vineyard was ripped for replanting. On the right is shown the octagonal table that seats up to eight guests and the Portuguese tooled leather chairs.
I tried five wines -
1999 Salon Wine Selection Schmidt Ranch Merlot
2000 Petite Sirah
2002 Petite Sirah barrel sample
The 2000 vintage in Napa Valley yielded lighter than usual wines for most producers, and the Merlot and Alexis (Cabernet and Syrah blend) are not as dense and concentrated as typical for the house style. Yet, I found them more appealing in some ways for the lively fruit expression and ease of drinking at a young age. Each has more character than many wines of this vintage. Both are recommended.
The 1999 Schmidt Ranch Merlot is part of a portfolio of special bottlings sold only at the Salon. Like other 1999s, this wine had closed up somewhat hiding its fruit and could not be evaluated.
The two Petite Sirahs were a study in contrasts. The 2000 is the first vintage produced after budding over the estates Sangiovese vines to Petite and reflects some of the imbalance of vines still recovering from surgery. It was also the first Petite Sirah that Marco had worked with. It was a pleasant red wine, but as I commented to him, its varietal origin would be hard to pinpoint. In contrast, the 2002 sample from barrel shows all the spicy black fruit intensity, depth and character Id expect from Napa Valley Petite Sirah. Ill look forward to trying this again when its released.
Again, my tasting was private and a different format than the usual set-up at Salon. Yet from this visit, Id certainly recommend a stop here for visitors to the Napa Valley. To make an appointment or for more information about wine tasting at the Salon, check the link below.
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