At some point in your wine-life every Wineaux (sorry I mean wine enthusiast) should experience Napa Valley. Unfortunately, so many Napa Valley visitors only experience the sometimes crowded tasting rooms combined with a tour or two. That is barely scratching the surface. Take the time to pull back the curtain. There are so many amazing wine experiences in Napa Valley that will both increase your wine acumen and send you away with a satisfied smile. One such experience is the Salon Tasting at Swanson Vineyards.
Swanson Vineyards dates back to 1985 when W. Clark Swanson bought 100 acres in Oakville at the heart of Napa Valley and enlisted the guidance of famed winery consultant Andre Tchelistcheff in an attempt to grow great Merlot in the land of Cabernet. The property is surrounded on one side by Silver Oak and the other by Opus One Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyards. While Swanson is known for great Merlots, there is much more to their offerings, as we found when we joined a six other wine lovers for the intimate Salon Tasting.
Seated around the octagonal Moroccan cedar burl inlayed tasting table while enjoying French period art and accoutrements, it doesn’t take much to imagine you are amongst friends in an 18th century French salon discussing the issues of the day while preparing for a feast and fine wines. The tasting of six wines was skillfully led by Michelle Eisner, our Salonniere (keeper of the Salon).
Our tasting began with a dry crisp Syrah Rose called Rosato ($21). The 2010 Rosato was perfect start with its aromas and flavors of cherries, rose and raspberries. We then moved into the crisp and satisfying 2008 Pinot Grigio ($21). Both were reminiscent of a warm sunny summer afternoon spent with friends sipping cool white wines on the patio.
The parade of red wines began with 2007 Merlot ($36), 2007 Alexis Cabernet ($75) and the 2006 Petite Sirah ($70). While Swanson is known for its Merlots, I personally preferred the Cabernet and especially the Petite Sirah. This dark purple wine was rich and intense with a beautiful finish. The flavors of blueberry, blackberry and spice were perfectly paired with supple tannins.
As for the Salon experience, Michelle (our Salonniere) kept us very entertained with engaging stories of the Swanson’s history and the back story of each wine. The intimate setting makes it very easy for the group of no more than eight, to engage in good conversation. Paired with the wines were selections of small bites selected for each wine. In one of the more fascinating exercises, we tasted wine, food and then wine again to discover the effect the specific bite had on the flavor of the wine. In some cases the food enhanced the wine but in others an aspect like fat took from the wine. Michelle did a great job of helping us to understand what it was about the characteristic of the morsel that had the specific effect on the wine’s flavor. This leaning experience is a real bonus for those interested in the finer points of successful and memorable food – wine pairing.
Our tasting finished on a sweet note with the dessert wine Angelica ($140) made from the once common Mission grape. Only 12 barrels of this red dessert wine are produced. Angelica is a lush, rich, fortified, vintage port-like wine that is frankly hard to describe other than to say that alone or paired with the chocolate truffle served in the salon, it was sensational.
The Swanson Salon Tasting offers three seating daily and the cost is $60 per person. The beauty of the salon itself combined with wine, food and friends will transport you to another time and place entirely.