Lately, I’ve tasted quite a bit of Italian wine. The wines I’ve tasted recently represent a real cross section of what’s available from Italy — they’re all over the spectrum in terms of price points, grapes used and style. And at the end of the day that’s really a microcosm of what Italy produces, which is great variety. The Vino Dei Fratelli line features wines made all over Italy, and made by several families that vary by area. Basically each family specializes in making wines from varietals that are indigenous to their area. By sourcing from a host of family producers throughout Italy, Fratelli is able to offer genuine regional wines at reasonable price-points under one umbrella. Here’s a look at a handful of their newest releases that I feel represent very good values. Read the rest over at Bullz-eye.com
Archive for the ‘Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris’ Category
Posted by Gabe on May 15, 2014
Posted by Gabe on February 21, 2014
Pinot Grigio is a grape that might confuse some people. On the one hand it’s very popular. On the other hand most of the wines spiking Pinot Grigio sales in the United States are at best anonymous and at worst just horrible. The thing is, Pinot Grigio can and does produce lovely wines of distinction. This can be true in various parts of the world, but nowhere more prominently than certain parts of Northern Italy. Here’s a look at one that comes from a small family producer in Friuli.
The Azienda Agricola Ascevi Luwa 2012 Pinot Grigio D.O.C. Collio was produced entirely from fruit sourced in the namesake region. This is a hilly area of Friuli which sits near the border of Slovenia. This offering is 100% Pinot Grigio and the fruit was harvested by hand. Fermentation took place over 20 days in a temperature controlled environment. Both fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel tanks. Bottling took place after approximately 6 months. 1,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18.99. White flower aromas are joined by bits of Lychee fruit on the expressive nose of this 2012 Pinot Grigio. The palate is loaded with ripe, yellow delicious apple flavors. Hints of lemon zest are present as well along with a nice roundup of spices such as white pepper and a hint of vanilla bean. Tart, green apple flavors emerge on the finish along with limestone, graphite and wisps of tangerine zest. Firm acidity lends to the refreshing and crisp nature of this wine.
Pair this Pinot Grigio with entrée salads, roast chicken, pork loin, or soft cheeses to name a few options. This wine boasts excellent varietal character and plenty of charm. It stands out from the pack because it is quite clearly Pinot Grigio. If you’re tired of spending $20 plus dollars on “Pinot Grigio” that is barely identifiable as wine let alone the named grape (regardless of how famous the name of the Winery is) drink the Ascevi Luwa 2012 Pinot Grigio instead. You’ll spend less and be rewarded with a far greater wine. It’s hard to imagine they’re made using the same grape. This small production wine from a family winery is exactly what I’m looking for in Pinot Grigio. Pass up the over-priced grape juice labeled Pinot Grigio and drink Ascevi Luwa 2012 Pinot Grigio, you can thank me later.
Posted by Gabe on June 24, 2013
I recently had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with Helfrich Winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin and taste current releases of his wines. Helfrich is a family owned winery that was founded in 1934; it sits in the northern part of Alsace. They farm the Steinklotz vineyard which is one of only 51 in all of Alsace that has Grand Cru status. Additionally they source some of their fruit under long term arrangements with trusted neighbors. Amazingly Nicolas’ family has had a winemaker in every generation dating back to 1560. Prior to his time back home in Alsace Nicolas studied and worked in Burgundy and then spent a six months in New Zealand. It was a pleasure tasting wine with Nicolas and witnessing his passion for his work. Helfrich’s portfolio includes a carefully considered array of wines that share commonalities of quality while they are also each distinct. What follows are my thoughts on a trio of my personal favorites from the evening.
The Helfrich 2012 Gewurztraminer was produced entirely from fruit sourced in Alsace. This wine is composed entirely of Gewurztraminer. After harvesting the fruit was destemmed and placed in a horizontal press. The juice was then passed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation. It was settled and racked on the lees to help round it out. This wine is finished in screw cap and has a suggested retail price of $14.99. This wine opens with a gloriously big nose that shows off tropical fruit aromas in abundance. The palate has apricot and Lychee fruit was well as white cling peach flavors. The finish is long and lusty with bits of mesquite honey and spice closing things out. The Helfrich Gewurztraminer is a gorgeous wine that I simply wanted to keep drinking.
The Helfrich 2012 Pinot Blanc was produced using fruit sourced within Alsace. This offering is 100% varietal. After harvesting the fruit was fermented at cold temperatures for about a week and a half. It was then racked on the lees. It’s bottled and closed with a screw cap. This Pinot Blanc has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Subtle hints of petrol emerge first on the nose of this Pinot Blanc. Fruit characteristics emerge next and dominate. Peach, wisps of nectarine and papaya are all part of the palate. Copious spice notes and a continued mélange of fruits make up the finish which has nice length. This wine is crisp and refreshing, perfect for warm weather sipping.
The Helfrich 2011 Pinot Gris Grand Cru was produced from fruit sourced at their own Steinklotz Vineyard. This offering is 100% Pinot Gris. The fruit was hand harvested and then destemmed. Whole grape membrane pressing followed. Fermentation was accomplished at cold temperatures in stainless steel tanks. This Grand Cru offering has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Bright stone fruit aromas burst from the gorgeous nose of this Grand Cru Pinot Blanc. The palate here is dense and layered with delicious, rich fruit flavors speckled with spice characteristics. Wave after wave of fresh and unctuous fruit flavors keep coming as this wine envelops your senses. The finish is substantial and lingering with spices, bits of honey and fruit flavors reverberating impressively. This Pinot Blanc was a sublime match with Pork Confit and side of sautéed Brussels sprouts.
What I love most about this trio of wines and the Helfrich portfolio in general is the great bang for the buck they represent. Alsatian wines, at this level of this quality, that we typically find on our shelves in the US often sell for much more. These are delicious wines that work wonderfully on their own and paired with food. In some cases they work well with cuisine more substantial than you might anticipate. These are well made wines that are affordable for everyday drinking and substantial and interesting enough for special occasion drinking as well, particularly in the Grand Cru tier. If you enjoy complex, aromatic whites with substance, do yourself a favor and look for one of the offerings from Helfrich.
Posted by Gabe on May 2, 2013
Warm weather has thankfully arrived, and with that white wine consumption rises dramatically. BBQ’s, parties and festive gatherings of all types also call for some everyday drinking wines that taste good but don’t break the bank. Here are two examples from Geyser Peak Winery, based in Alexander Valley that fit the bill for summer sipping.
The Geyser Peak Winery 2012 Pinot Grigio was produced from fruit sourced in Sonoma & Solano Counties. In addition to Pinot Grigio a small amount of Gewürztraminer was blended in as well. It was fermented entirely in stainless steel. 17,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11. Orange blossom and white stone fruit aromas abound on the nose of this Pinot Grigio. The palate is soft and appealing with lemon ice, white peach, mango, and papaya characteristics all in evidence. Bits of clover honey, lemon zest and white pepper are all part of the finish. This wine is fresh, fruity, juicy and overall loaded with curb appeal. I found that this wine was tastier a couple of degrees warmer than the average white, so avoid the tendency to over chill for best results.
The Geyser Peak Winery 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit sourced in a number of distinct appellations around California. This wine is 100% varietal. Fermentation took place entirely in stainless steel. 125,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11. Zesty lime aromas are joined by wisps of grass on the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. The palate tends towards citrus flavors with lemon, lime and hints of orange all playing a role. White melon flavors round things out a bit and lead right into the crisp and zesty finish which shows off minerals, spice and continued echoes of citrus. This is a solid entry level Sauvignon Blanc with good varietal character.
The bottom line is that these are two straightforward, tasty wines that are also well priced. You can serve either of them by themselves or with light foods. If you shop around, you’ll be able to find them for less than $10 a bottle; at that price you don’t need any excuse to pop these open all summer and quench your thirst.
Posted by Gabe on August 20, 2012
It’s a good thing I keep lists. In this case it’s a list of Wineries in Sonoma County I keep meaning to get to but haven’t yet. Thankfully I can now scratch Balletto Vineyards & Winery off of that list. A couple of years back someone had poured one of their wines for me and It had left an impression. Subsequently a few people whose opinions I trust had mentioned them to me as well. But I kept running out of time on previous trips and never made it there, until last week. I’m quite glad that I did. Balletto Vineyards sits at 5700 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa, CA and their phone number is 707-568-2455. Balletto is open every day from 10 AM to 5 PM.
Balletto started out as growers and farmers and they still are, selling off roughly 90% of their fruit in most years. The tasting room has a country charm which instantly brings to mind classic Sonoma County. The day I visited they had roughly ten wines they were pouring. Overall, both whites and reds left a very good impression as did the welcoming nature of their tasting room and operation as a whole. Here’s a look at a few of the wines that stood out the most on my visit.
Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2010 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Gris is the 9th vintage they have made of this particular release. All of the fruit came from their own vineyards. This wine is 100% Pinot Gris. Just fewer than 2,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18. A welcoming nose shows of bits of Lychee as well as vanilla bean. The palate shows an impression of sweetness in the droves of stone fruit such as Apricot and White Peach. Lemon Zest rounds things out and leads to the finish which is clean and crisp with zippy acidity. This is perfectly suited to pair with spicy food and light meals; it’ll also work perfectly as a welcome wine.
The Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Gewürztraminer is the 5th vintage they have produced this wine. This is a single vineyard effort with all of the fruit coming from their Piner Road vineyard. It’s 100% Gewüurztraminer. Just over 500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $18 but when I visited they were selling it for a bit less. White rose petal aromas emerge from the nose of this wine along with loads of fruit and hints of spice. Stone fruits, pear and bits of white pepper and vanilla are present on the palate which is gentle and layered with plenty of complexity. The finish here is lengthy as well as spice and mineral laden. This is a really beautiful example of Gewüurztraminer, something a bit too rare in California. Whether you drink it on it’s own or pair it with light foods, this wine is a sure fire winner.
The Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2011 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir was produced from fruit sourced at 5 different vineyards within the winery’s Estate holdings. It’s all Estate fruit and this is the 11th year that they have produced this offering. It’s 100% Pinot Noir. Just fewer than 3.900 cases of this brand new release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $29. Bits of tea and strawberry emerge on the slightly reticent nose of this 2011 Pinot Noir. This is a new release a bit on the young side and some additional time in the bottle will be a benefit. Cherry and cranberry lead the palate which has good depth as well as being gentle and proportionate. Nutmeg and clove as well as white pepper emerge on the finish along with bits of mineral characteristics. This is a really nice Cuvee style Pinot Noir that you should decant for an hour or two if you’re going to drink it soon. Otherwise hold it for another year or so and it’ll be immediately approachable.
The Balletto Vineyards & Winery 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Syrah is a Single site effort with all of the fruit coming from their Estate BCD Vineyard. This is the 5th vintage they have produced this wine. A mere 210 cases were made and it has a suggested retail price of $24. Aromas of smoked meats and black fruits fill the deep, dark nose of this Syrah. Dark, brooding fruits continue on the palate along with spices that include both white and black pepper. The smoked meat characteristics continue on the lengthy finish along with bits of dark, dusty chocolate. This wine, which is a killer example of how well Syrah can be made in CA when it’s grown and treated right, will pair well with a host of bold meat dishes.
I highly recommend Balletto Vineyards & Winery as a stop to anyone visiting Sonoma County. The wines are well made, delicious and quite reasonably priced. The folks manning the tasting room are friendly, welcoming and informative. In short it’s a great place to while away some time, tasting excellent wine. The day I visited they had several wines on sale which made those particular wines nothing short of a steal. It took me awhile to get there, but I’ll be back, on my very next trip.
Posted by Gabe on January 25, 2012
I’m regularly on the hunt for everyday wines. Certainly tasting and writing about wines in other categories is of interest as well. But when I taste something that’s bargain priced, which I can recommend, it hits a particular sweet spot for me. For a long time now our shelves have been loaded with low priced wines from Australia; some of them hit the spot, but a large number of them are indistinguishable from one another. Today I’ll look at two well priced Australian offerings that set themselves apart in a positive way.
First up is the Fisheye Winery 2011 Pinot Grigio. The fruit for this offering was sourced in South Eastern Australia. 360,000 cases of this wine were produced. It’s available in 750 ml and 1.5 L bottles as well as 3 liter boxed wine Casks. They’re priced respectively at $7, $12 and $18. Ginger and peach aromas jump from the glass with conviction. Lychee fruit, apricots and continued peach characteristics are prominent throughout the palate. Lemon zest, white pepper and coriander emerge on the finish which has fair length. This Pinot Grigio is fresh, vibrant and loaded with flavorful bright fruits. This is a great choice as a party wine. It pairs well with light appetizers and also works nicely as a welcome wine or aperitif. The 3 Liter Box works out to about $4 a bottle. If for some reason your party guests don’t finish it these modern versions of boxed wine will drink well for 30 days after opening.
The Fisheye Winery 2011 Shiraz was also produced from fruit sourced in South Eastern Australia. 115,000 cases of this Shiraz were produced and it’s available nationally. It’s also available in 750ml ($7), 1.5L ($12) bottles and 3L ($18) bag in a box style casks. Black raspberry and blueberry aromas are joined by vanilla bean on the nose of this Shiraz. Black cherry, blackberry, clove and cinnamon flavors are all present throughout the palate. Copious amounts of juicy black and red plum appear on the finish which has a hint of Kirsch liqueur. This is a straight forward, fruity Shiraz that’s also proportionate and very food friendly. As with the Pinot Grigio I believe the 3L Box is a particularly good value for a party, or everyday drinking that won’t bust your budget.
When I taste wines made in large quantities, that are widely available and well priced I’m looking for particular attributes. First and foremost of course they should be enjoyable wines to quaff. They should also have a taste profile that promises wide appeal. These selections from Fisheye hit the mark in those areas. If you haven’t tried any of the newer versions of quality and eco-friendly boxed wines that have become readily available the last few years, the Fisheye wines are a fine place to start.
Posted by Gabe on March 21, 2011
Hugel et Fils is a name that should be very familiar to US wine lovers. Their offerings have been on our shelves for many years. At a time when there were less Alsatian wines on ours shelves then there are today they were a friendly face that provided consistent quality. Even today, when our options have increased dramatically, they’re still providing solid wines vintage after vintage at competitive prices. Today I’ll look at a trio of their current releases.
The Hugel et Fils 2007 Pinot Gris was produced using fruit sourced in Estate vineyards in Alsace. This offering is 100% Pinot Gris. Fermentation took place in a temperature controlled environment. This offering has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Aromas of dried white flowers fill the nose of this Pinot Gris along with hints of tangerine and orchard fruits. Golden Delicious apples are prominent on the palate and accompanied by lemon ice. Nutmeg, tart green apple, white pepper and a hint of cream are all part of the finish which shows off good length. This wine has an elegance that belies its price-point and that’s particularly evidenced by the balance and proportion it shows off. The juicy fruit flavors that fill your mouth when you taste this are balanced by solid acid and a crisp finish.
The Hugel et Fils 2009 Riesling Classic was produced from fruit sourced at Estate vineyards and parcels of land under long term contracts. All of the fruit is from vines surrounding the village of Riquewihr in Alsace. This selection is 100% Riesling. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled vats. This wine has a suggested retail price of $24.99. Apple and grapefruit aromas emerge from the nose of this Riesling. The palate shows off Asian pear, peach and continued citrus notes. Granny Smith apple emerges on the finish along with minerals and a solid spice component. Overall this wine is lean and slightly austere. It’s a lovely wine that most importantly shows off good varietal character. Personally I would most often serve this a welcome wine when guests arrive.
The Hugel et Fils 2008 Gewürztraminer was made from fruit sourced at Estate vineyards in Alsace. The fruit is hand picked and transported to the winery in small vats. This selection is 100% Gewürztraminer. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled barrels. Filtering occured just prior to bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of $24. Lychee Fruit, apricot and hazelnut aromas each emerge prominently from the engaging nose of this 2008 Gewürztraminer. White cling peach, apricot, and nectarine are part of an explosion of stone fruits that dominate the palate of this offering. All of those rich, beguiling fruit flavors give the impression of sweetness, but this is a perfectly dry wine. Hints of tropical fruit and spices kick in as well. They lead to the finish which shows off fleshy white plum, citrus and continued wallops of spice. This wine has a long, lingering finish whose flavors persist on your tongue well after the last sip is gone. This is a really terrific example of Gewürztraminer. It’ll pair well with a wide array of foods, but is incredibly engaging and delicious all by itself.
This trio of wines represents a look at three distinct varietals that flourish in Alsace. Their flavor profiles vary greatly as do the situations they will each perform best in. While each of them represents a well made wine and a solid value the Gewürztraminer is my favorite from this trio. It’s the one I couldn’t stop drinking. Hugel et Fils continues to turn out classically styled wines from Alsace at reasonable prices. They’re also widely available across the country. These are all reasons to look to them as one of your go to producers for Alsatian wines.
Posted by Gabe on March 16, 2011
Last week I attended a tasting in Manhattan featuring the wines of Alto Adige. This region sits in the Italian Alps. Both red and white varieties are grown with white taking the lead at 55% of planted acreage. This two-part tasting included a walk around portion that featured tons of exciting new releases from a host of producers. Both red and white wines were showcased. That was the second part of the day; I’m going to focus on the first part. That initial piece was a 90 minute, sit-down seminar during which eight white wines were presented. The mission statement of the seminar was to illustrate the overall age-ability of white wines from Alto Adige. There are few regions in the world that produce white wines with the ability or intent of aging. The ones that have that capability however can often be transcendent. I was pretty curious to see how these wines would taste and if they really did have the as advertised potential for above average longevity. What follows are some brief thoughts about each of the eight wines we tasted.
Nals Margreid 2007 Pinot Grigio Punggl DOC Alto Adige. This single vineyard wine is 100% Pinot Grigio. Half of the grapes for this wine were fermented and aged in large oak barrels, the other half in stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $24. The 2009 is the current vintage of this particular wine. The 2007 features lots of yellow fruit flavors throughout a round and sweet but well balanced palate. It shows off the juicy flavors that are prevalent with relatively small production Pinot Grigio treated with care; as opposed to the vast array of anonymous Pinot Grigio that hits US shelves by the boatload.
Franz Haas 2004 Cuvee Manna. This wine is a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminer Aromatico and Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was sourced from four vineyards at altitudes of 350 to 850 meters. Each lot was picked and fermented separately. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc saw time in Barrique while the Riesling and Traminer Aromatico were fermented in steel. The blend was assembled at final fermentation and spent 10 months on yeasts prior to bottling. 50,000 bottles of this wine were made and at release it had a retail price of $40. The stated goal of this wine is the ability to pair with as wide an array of foods as possible. Apricots, and white cling peach characteristics are dominant on this wine which is driven by intense, fresh fruit flavors. There is a bit of honey on the finish. Ultimately this offering is layered with loads of complexity. For me this was one of the most interesting wines of the day.
San Michele Appiano 2006 Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin DOC Alto Adige. This wine was sourced from vines with 25-40 years of age on them. The vineyards selected sit approximately 450 meters above sea level. This wine was aged in a combination of new (40%) and used (60%) barriques. This offering spent 11 months on yeast. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35.99. Lilac, peach and a hint of petrol are all present in the nose of this wine. Apricots are prominent on the palate along with spices that carry through the finish along with minerals. This wine has terrific concentration of fruit and persistent, lingering and rather impressive length.
Caldro Castell Giovanelli 2007 Sauvignon DOC Alto Adige. The vines the fruit for this selection were sourced from average 5-10 years of age. This offering is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation and aging took place in oak casks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $48. This wine is incredibly aromatic with citrus and melon fruit just exploding from the nose. The palate shows continued citrus in droves. Minerals are the story on the crisp, clean finish. This wine has racy, slightly zingy acidity.
Terlan Nova Domus 2005 Terlaner Riserva DOC Alto Adige. This wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc (60%), Chardonnay (30%), and Sauvignon Blanc (10%). The fruit was sourced from vineyards sitting between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. Fermentation took place in large oak casks (50%) and 500 Liter Tonneaux. The wine spent a year on the yeast. At release this offering had a suggested retail price of $55. Citrus and spice notes are both prominent on the finish of this wine. Stone fruits dominate the palate. The finish of this selection just goes on and on. For a 5 + year old white blend the fruit on this wine is incredibly fresh and vital. It just keeps beckoning you back for more.
Alois Lageder 2002 Chardonnay Lowengang DOC Alto Adige. The fruit for this wine was selected from vines with 40 to 60 years of age on them grown at vineyard sites sitting 260-450 meters above sea level. This was fermented using native yeasts. It was aged in a combination of new (50%) and used (50%) barriques. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $40. Apple, limestone and minerals are all present on this wine. Its overall style in many ways brings to mind aged Burgundy. The purity of fruit and length of finish are both impressive.
Peter Zemmer 2006 Gewürztraminer Reserve DOC Alto Adige. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer, Fermentation took place with pure strains of yeast in temperature controlled tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $29. This wine is gloriously aromatic with spice and dried fruit and flower aromas emerging from the glass in droves. The palate of this wine is rich and layered with flavor; it’s also impeccably balanced and incredibly in focus. The finish has prodigious length that features a particularly impressive spice component.
Tramin 2004 Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer DOC Alto Adige. The Nussbaumer Estate Vineyards sit between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer. Fruit for this wine was hand picked. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35. Nectarine, lychee and hazelnuts fill the nose of this wine. Through the palate apricot and both white and yellow peach flavors are present in droves. This wine has a rich, layered and honeyed finish that lingers persistently. This wine has incredibly appealing flavors and you’ll be hard pressed to stop drinking this once you start.
The bottom line is that each of these selections was impressive in its own right. Taken as a group they were an impressive lineup that achieved the mission statement of showcasing the eminent age worthiness of well made white wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Each of them was drinking well and featured fresh flavors that belied their ages. As a group they also had more life ahead of them. Given the complexity, drinkability and obvious longevity these particular wines as well as the current vintages are well worth your time, effort and money.
Posted by Gabe on February 10, 2011
Pinot Gris is one of those varieties that, for my money, doesn’t get nearly the acclaim it deserves. Sure like any other varietal there are some forgettable examples out there. But when the fruit is grown in the right spot and the winemaker treats it with respect, the results can be dazzling. For Pinot Gris this mostly means a handful of spots in Germany, Oregon, Italy and Austria in my opinion. Today I’ll look at a release from Austria.
The Kracher 2007 Trocken Pinot Gris was produced using fruit sourced in their home region of Burgenland Austria. This wine is 100% Pinot Gris. After fermentation it was aged in large oak barrels for six months. 8,000 cases of this Pinot Gris were produced and it normally sells for right around $17.
White flower and golden delicious apple aromas fill the nose of this 2007 Pinot Gris from Austria. Peach and apricots lead the palate with is even keeled and loaded with engaging flavors. Hints of spice emerge as well and lead to the finish which shows off hazelnuts, white pepper, vanilla bean and touches of honeycomb. This wine has a crisp, clean finish and firm acidity.
This Austrian Pinot Gris is a really nice example of the varietal. It’s easy drinking, but layered with subtle nuances that kept me intrigued and engaged as I tasted it. This wine is absolutely lovely and delicious on its own but will also pair well with lighter foods. If you have friends who claim they don’t like Pinot Gris, here’s one that will change their minds.
Posted by Gabe on December 24, 2010
Swanson Vineyards has been in Napa Valley since 1985. In that time they’ve built a stellar reputation for a number of things. They’re perhaps best known for their Merlot which has been a consistent winner on restaurant wine lists and store shelves. Their Salon in Oakville is home to quite simply the very best tasting experience in Napa Valley, bar none. They have an impressive and eclectic lineup of dessert wines that rivals anything offered in the state of California. Quite frankly that only begins the list of attributes that makes Swanson a must for any California wine lover. Today I’ll take a look at three of their current releases. These offerings represent their widest distribution wines which are available across the country.
First up is the Swanson 2009 Pinot Grigio. Fruit for this release was sourced at the home estate on the Oakville Crossroad and in Santa Barbara. This wine was cold fermented and aged in stainless steel. 6,250 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $21. The nose of this wine shows of hints of honey which lead to scores of lychee and passion fruit. The palate of this wine is impressively layered and complex for its category. Stone fruits dominate along with hints of orchard fruit and an underlying citrus component. These all lead into the unctuous finish which has hints of orange, vanilla bean, and spice. The finish is crisp and refreshing, inviting you back for more. There is a lot of unimpressive Pinot Grigio both in California and all over the world quite frankly. The Swanson Pinot Grigio however is cut from a different cloth. Year after year, vintage after vintage, it impresses and blows away its price point. Is it the best Pinot Grigio in California? Taste it and decide for yourself. No question though, it’s in the running.
Next up is the Swanson 2007 Oakville Merlot. This wine was produced using fruit from two vineyards; Oakville Cross Road Estate and Schmidt Ranch. Barrel aging was accomplished over 20 months in French and American oak. 40% of the barrels were new. 9,200 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $36. Aromas of violet, leather and black cherry are all prominent in the nose of this 2007 Merlot. Cherry flavors dominate the palate along with raspberry and a touch of blackberry. Espresso, earth, dark dusty baker’s chocolate and a wallop of minerals fill the long and persistent finish. This wine has solid acidity and impressive structure. If you drink this Merlot over the next couple of years I’d recommend decanting it for about 90 minutes. However if you have some patience I’ve found that the Swanson Merlots really develop quite nicely in the bottle. To my own taste I think they really hit another level about 6 years from the vintage date. In any case this release underscores the fact that Swanson makes one of the very best Merlots in Napa Valley regardless of price point. You can call it a Cabernet lover’s Merlot if you like or point out its Bordeaux influence; I choose to simply call it my favorite Merlot.
Finally we come to the Swanson 2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was produced from fruit entirely sourced at the Schmidt Ranch in Napa Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (81%), some Merlot (19%) is also blended in. Barrel aging took place over 22 months in all French oak; 60% of them were new. 500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $75. Alexis started life as a proprietary blend of mostly Cabernet with a generous dollop of Syrah and Merlot blended in. A few vintages back it shifted gears a bit and became a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Black cherry aromas are prominent in the nose of this wine. A hint of vanilla bean and a touch of eucalyptus are present as well. The palate is loaded with deep, dark berry fruit flavors. Cherry is prominent here as well, along with blackberry and black raspberry. Dark chocolate and hints of kirsch liqueur emerge in the finish along with oodles of earth that keeps coming and coming. The finish on this Cabernet Sauvignon is impressive to say the least. It has length and structure to spare. This wine is delicious now, but it’s really just a baby. If you’re patient and have proper storage conditions I would recommend laying it down for about 10 years and drinking it in the 5 or so years that follow. There’s a lot of very good Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. Alexis from Swanson is one of the very best in it’s price category. And while $75 may not be an everyday bottle for most, this is an excellent choice to tuck away for special occasions.
If you’ve waited until the last-minute, these wines from Swanson make for elegant and delicious gifts. However they’re far more than that. This is a dependable and impressive trio of wines that is consistent in quality year after year. They’re available all over the country and will offer lots of drinking pleasure. They’re also quite likely to impress your dinner quests or the lucky recipient if you buy them as gifts. I’ve been drinking the Swanson wines for over a decade and I’m always excited to revisit them whenever the opportunity arises. That’s something I can only say about a handful of producers.