Swirl n’ Spit

Swirl n’ Spit

Clos Du Val Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: “Did you see a big dog go out?” is the first question we hear as our eyes adjust from the bright sunshine to the dimly lit, cavernous tasting rooms of Clos du Val. If the big dog in question was the massive black poodle we both nearly stumbled over, then, yes, possibly.

But avoiding enormous, drooly pups is just half the fun of this decades-old winery tucked grandly along the Silverado Trail. We first had to escape the dive-bombing sparrows nesting by the thousands in the rafters above the castlelike door. Looking up at the mud nests and swarms of black birds darting in and out, success seemed unlikely. Hardly assuaged by the promise of good luck and a free tasting, should we be—ahem—soiled by a wayward dropping, we pressed on, covering head, hair and shoes.

A few near misses, but we arrived unscathed.

Safely inside, the lineup is a pretty standard set of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. But with Fred at the helm, stories are spun, jokes are told and a gathering of strangers feels like drinking at the bar with old friends from, where was it . . . Poughkeepsie?

Mouth value: Most of Clos du Val’s “classic” (read: affordable) wines are perfectly nice, and they should be, considering the winery’s reputation and premier location in the highly sought-after Stags’ Leap district. The 2003 Chardonnay ($21) is nicely oaked (meaning it doesn’t taste like a piece of toast), while the ’03 Pinot Noir is gentle for its relatively young age and is bright with fruit. The ’02 Classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) is still extremely tight, but opens up with some decanting. It pales in comparison, however, to the more complex reserve and estate blends which come at double and triple the price.

Don’t miss: Head outside for a game of pétanque, the French version of bocce ball. Outside courts are free to play on.

Five-second snob: Clos du Val was one of just five Cabernets selected to represent American wines at the legendary 1976 Paris Tasting, where California wines were judged to outmatch their French competitors for the first time in history.

Spot: Clos du Val Winery, 5330 Silverado Trail, Napa. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.261.5225.

From the June 22-28, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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