A Sangiovese Perfectly at Home in the Napa Valley

Is it fair to write about wine that is available only through club membership? Perhaps not, but the history and legacy that Salvestrin winery represents, together with the rarity of the Sangiovese grape in this region, makes it worth sharing in my opinion. They also make a Sangiovese dominant blend, called Retaggio, that you can purchase directly from the winery’s website, along with their outstanding Cabernet Sauvignons, so please keep reading.

I’m not saying that this is the only Sangiovese from Napa Valley, it certainly is not. But it is not a common thing. You can reference the 2019 data from the Napa Valley Vintners Association to see that although there are more than 40 grape varieties growing in the AVA, six of them account for 94% of the grapes grown. That translates to only 6% of vines representing 34 other varieties, including Sangiovese.

Screenshot from the Napa Valley Vintners Association

This Salvestrin Sangiovese hails from the Dr. Crane vineyard, which dates back to 1859 when Dr. George Crane purchased 335 acres right on what is now Highway 29 in St. Helena. Portions of the land were sold off over the years – the St. Helena High School sits on the site of former vineyards – Italian immigrants John and Emma Salvestrin purchased 25 acres from the Crane family in 1932. I love that they did this despite the fact the Prohibition still existed. Fast forward to today, and the story now includes a fourth generation of Salvestrins.

The land included the original Dr. Crane home, which is now the Inn at Salvestrin. In between John and Emma, and current winemaker Rich Salvestrin, Ed Salvestrin continued the grape growing. He also planted fruit trees that he still tends to today at 86 years old. The vineyards and the winery are certified Napa Green and employ sustainable practices, which include all of those fruit trees that Ed Salvestrin added many years ago.

It was Rich Salvestrin who decided to make wine, rather than sell all of their grapes, and the Salvestrin Cabernet Sauvignon debuted in 1994. I think it is safe to say that Salvestrin is best known for their Cabernet Sauvignons, so it makes this Sangiovese even more special. I feel like it is a labor of love that honors the Italian heritage. I’d love to know who planted the Sangiovese vines, how long ago, etc. I reached out to the winery but I have not heard back. I will update if and when I do. In the meantime, let’s take a look at these Napa Sangiovese wines. In 2001 the family added a winery and tasting room to the property that sits right next to the historic Inn.

Salvestrin|Dr. Crane Vineyard|2017 Sangiovese|14.8% ABV

There are definite similarities to a Tuscan Sangiovese here but this wine is also unique. It opened with aromas of bright red fruit, evolving to black cherry and baking spice. It completely changed over the course of a couple of hours, which included aerating as I broke my decanter, luckily immediately BEFORE I poured this wine into it.

A medium bodied wine with the acidity you would expect for Sangiovese, it was all so well integrated that it really felt silky on the tongue. I would say that is a trademark of all of the Salvestrin wines, silkiness. By the end of the bottle I was picking up an earthiness – honestly like fresh tilled garden dirt – but in the best possible way. I am not the most eloquent at tasting notes, so just trust me on this. We paired it with ricotta meatballs and it was an excellent pairing.

The wine is aged in neutral oak for 16 months, you get an excellent expression of the grape without overpowering oak influence. Just 140 cases were produced.

Salvestrin|Dr. Crane Vineyard|2017 Retaggio|14.8% ABV|$65

The Retaggio is 42% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc. A Super Tuscan if you will. There is a reason that Super Tuscan wines put Tuscany back on the radar of fine wine lovers a few decades ago – Sangiovese plays well with others.

I’m gong to be honest, I love this wine more than the 100% Sangiovese. There is just so much going on in this wine. There is fresh fruit, dried fruit, spice, floral notes, and savory-ness. It keeps changing as it opens and I absolutely love that in a wine. It also feels silky on the palate. This wine would be beautiful with so many foods but it was also great completely on its own.

This wine was aged in a combination of French and Hungarian oak, 24% new, for 16 months. Only 508 cases were produced – still not a ton – but you can find the 2020 vintage of this wine at the Salvestrin website under current releases.

Tandem|Extra Virgin Olive Oil|2017|375 ml|$28

So here’s a little surprise that I can’t help thinking ties an Italian heritage directly to the Napa Valley. Rich and Shannon Salvestrin have added 3 daughters to the Salvestrin legacy – hence the name of their 3D Cabernet Sauvignon. Middle daughter Emma, and life long friend, Payton Rockwood, began their own venture of producing olive oil. The olive oil is called Tandem because Emma and Payton grew up together – in tandem – in the Napa Valley.

I found there is a tech sheet for olive oil – who knew? This one is made with 100% Arbequina olives. I don’t know enough about olives to tell you anything other than this is a lovely olive oil that smells as good as it tastes.

I love that it is a California olive oil. As much as I love Italian wines and olive oil, I also love when gorgeous examples of either hail from the somewhere in the U.S.A.

Small production and family owned, I felt like I had discovered a well kept secret treasure when I first discovered Salvestrin a few years ago. I recently I saw that they are the featured winery at the the Lake Oconee Food & Wine Festival in March of 2023, so if you are in the area, that would be a great way to try their wines. Of course, you can always visit them by appointment in Napa Valley. I’m not arguing with Audrey Hepburn, but Napa Valley is also always a good idea;)

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