Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tasting Wine at Joseph Swan Vineyards

When my girlfriend, brother, sister and I were finished tasting at Copain Winery, I asked the man who poured our wines if he could recommend another winery nearby. I knew we were headed to Merry Edwards later in the afternoon, but we had enough time for another stop. He suggested Joseph Swan, saying they make lighter, more Burgundian-styled wines. That sounded good, so we drove a few miles into Forestville and found the spot.

Joseph Swan is a small, no-frills kind of winery, housed in a barn packed full of barrels, tanks and winemaking equipment. When we arrived, the winery Labrador, who had been splashing around in a nearby pond, ran up to greet us with excited barks. The staff was very friendly and helpful, full of information about Joseph Swan’s vineyard sources and winemaking practices.

The wines I tasted were very diverse, but they all had a common aura, a rustic, hand-made quality that is unfortunately rare in a lot of California wines. Hats off to the people at Copain for recommending this winery and supporting other producers.

Now, the wines…

Near the entrance of the winery, a grandaddy vine.
It's not used for winegrowing, but it's pretty gnarly.
2010 Joseph Swan Vineyards Gewürztraminer Saralee's Vineyard - Russian River Valley
This was one of the more interesting surprises of the whole trip: a single-vineyard, bone-dry gewurtz with a lot of class. Aromas of lychee, white peach and spice. The palate is dry, almost chalky, with pineapple and banana peel flavors. Long finish with lychee nut. The group really liked this wine's unique personality. (88 pts.)

2010 Joseph Swan Vineyards Chardonnay Cuvée de Trois - Russian River Valley
Aromas of yellow raisins and white grapes. The nose is a bit boring, to be honest. The palate shows a hefty dose of plump tropical fruit. It seems quite typical in its style, but it's still a solid chardonnay. (86 pts.)

2010 Joseph Swan Vineyards Viognier Saralee's Vineyard - Russian River Valley
This viognier is a tropical explosion of aromas: honeysuckle, pear and pineapple. The palate is much different, with a strong clover honey flavor along with distinct notes of grass. It's thick, with honey and wax on the finish. The alcohol might bother some, but I enjoyed the density of this viognier. (88 pts.)

2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Saralee's Vineyard - Russian River Valley
I'd love to pour this pinot noir blind for some wine nerd friends. I'm willing to bet some would guess it as a pinot from the Willamette Valley, or maybe even Burgundy. It's a clear auburn/cherry color in the glass with medium viscosity. The nose shows fresh wild strawberry and a distinct beef bouillon and broth aroma. Fine tannins for structure. The mix of currant tea and savory beef broth flavors are really interesting and exciting. Sour cherry as well. Medium+ acid makes this easy to sip and a great accompaniment to a lot of foods. (The first thing that comes to mind is beef stew!) Very pure, light and sexy. This is a wine for those who love to slam Russian River pinots as being too fruity and extracted. Joseph Swan does some great things with the Saralee's Vineyard fruit, and this was no exception. (91 pts.)

2009 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois - Russian River Valley
For my palate, this pinot was tied with the Saralee's Vineyard 2007. Light cherry color in the glass. Richer fruit on the nose than the Saralee's, with red currant and a streak of minerality. Fresh cherry fruit, bold and bright, along with hints of earthiness. Superb acid and structure. This wine has years ahead of it, but it's so pure and fresh right now. I’m very impressed with the restrained, complex nature of this pinot. (91 pts.)

2006 Joseph Swan Vineyards Zinfandel Trenton Station - Russian River Valley
It's a light red color in the glass, but don't let that fool you. This is a big-ass wine. Juicy red fruit on the nose, gushing cherry and a hint of white pepper. The wine is creamy and juicy on the palate with raspberry, candied cherry and strawberry pie flavors. Those flavors are usually associated with boozed-up zinfandels, but this wine stays balanced and light with smooth tannins and fresh acid. Nice stuff, Joseph Swan! For a six-year-old zinfandel, this is still surprisingly young. Sadly, the winemaker notes, this is the last vintage of this wine because “
the vineyard was sold and the vines are no more.” Damn! (90 pts.)

2006 Joseph Swan Vineyards Zinfandel Stellwagen - Sonoma Valley
What a crazy/interesting zinfandel. Auburn/red color in the glass. The nose shows stewed cherry and freshly-cracked black pepper, along with a savory mushroom aroma. On the palate, this wine is really crazy. It starts off with sweet cherry and caramel (there’s some residual sugar in here, adding to the richness and sweetness). But then flavors of pork roast and peppered steak rush in. I really like the combination of sweet and savory flavors in this wine. My sister Bekah summed it up quite well: "This is the weirdest zinfandel I've ever tasted." Good thing I'm weird. (88 pts.)

The winery has posted a lot of great pictures of Saralee’s Vineyard here. If you’re ever in Sonoma and looking a laid-back and rustic wine experience, this is the place. And just check out their prices! Joseph Swan may put out some of the bargains in the Russian River Valley.

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