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.