Thursday, 4 February 2010

News about some new wines, plus detailed notes on the Joseph Swan wines

Despite my renewed intention to post more often, I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front over the last few days. I've probably mentioned this before, but the numerous tasks involved in adding a dozen or so new wines to my portfolio is not to be underestimated (though I always seem to do just that). Logging the stock, preparing tasting notes (enjoyable, of course, but a lengthy process) and grower notes, photographs, at-a-glance lists, downloadable lists all have to be done. All very laborious and time-consuming, but if a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing well. You can never have too much information, as far as I am concerned. And if you are trying to sell wine via the sometimes sterile medium of the Internet, then it is - in my opinion - essential to convey one's enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject. If I can engage my customers (and potential customers) with a well-written and enthusiastic tasting note, then then I'm half way there. Of course, the wines need to be good - as President Obama once said, "you can't put lipstick on a pig"! And if you try and do that, you'll soon get found out.

Anyway, the latest additions to my list are somewhat of a departure, in more ways than one. Despite my desire to largely list wines that I have discovered myself and import myself, it is simply not possible to grow the list (and, consequently, my business) as fast I want to by sticking rigidly to such a policy. And much as I hate the concept of wine agencies, with their rather protectionist demands for exclusivity on their growers'  wines, they do serve a useful purpose for merchants like me. For instance, although I have tasted a good many Alsace wines in my time, I have yet to actually visit the region and taste extensively. I've been to Burgundy on a handful of occasions, but usually only briefly. I have also made brief visits to the northern Rhone, but its total production is relatively small and most (if not all) of the best growers have already been discovered - and are mostly tied-up with the agency importers. I have yet to visit America, and the idea of importing wines from there would, for me, be a logistical nightmare, not to mention a very expensive risk - I simply don't have the customer base to guarantee beinbg able to sell them in any great quantity.

And so I have taken the (for me) radical step of introducing some wines to my list that I haven't actually imported myself. That isn't to say that these additions are a stab in the dark. It has taken me a long time to make this leap of faith, so I've been very careful to choose wines that I myself love and can have complete confidence in recommending to my customers. I'll tell you more about the Burgs, the Alsace and the Rhones in a day or two. For now, here are my thoughts on those fantastic wines from California grower Joseph Swan Vineyards that I mentioned last week.

Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 Russian River Valley
This is made from a very small plot of Chardonnay vines, with only 2 barrels made per year (around 50 cases). Seductive aromas dominated by fruit - both fresh and crystallised - together with notes of honey, flowers, lime and orange peel, with the sort of stoney, flinty minerality you might expect in a top notch white Burgundy. The palate offers richness and elegance in equal measures - complex and concentrated, with fabulous acidity and an impressive length of flavour. It is undoubtedly up there with the very finest new world Chardonnays. Indeed, if you added it as a "ringer" to a line-up of 1er or even Grand Cru Burgundies, you might just pick it out as the imposter - but then again, you might not. Stylistically, think Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault, with a touch of new world richness - though you would never guess that it is 14.5% abv, such is it's elegance. A magnificent wine. £21.50

Joseph Swan Vineyards Cuvée de Trois Pinot Noir 2006 Russian River Valley
This is so pale, it isn't much darker than a rosé. But don't let that fool you. An initial whiff of American oak vanillin gives way to red berries and currants and cherries, with gentle balsamic and volatile notes - intense and very expressive. As it opens out with air, it reveals further notes of undergrowth, roses and tar. The palate is richly fruity and earthy at the same time, with notes of creamy vanilla, tar and spice, with the sweet fruit being offset by ample acidity and fine tannins. The finish is long and spicy. A full 2 days after opening, the remains of my bottle had developed extra layers of complexity, with distinct aromas of crystallised red fruits and rosewater, whilst the palate was still fresh and vibrant - quite wonderful, in fact! This is a wine which can be drunk with pleasure now, but has so much more to give over the next 5 to 10 years. £21.50

Joseph Swan Vineyards Cuvée de Trois Pinot Noir 2007 Russian River Valley
Another deceptively light-coloured wine - raspberry red at the core, fading to a pink rim. The nose suggests ripe summer fruits, exotic mixed spices, leather and forest floor. The entry is soft, velvety and full of sweet, succulent fruit, with gentle tannins and perfect acidity making for a supremely balanced wine. There is little or no oak influence - this is a wine dominated by fruit, with flavours of raspberries, strawberries and cream, with a distinct cranberry tanginess. It is relatively primary at the moment, and shows enormous potential for development over the next decade or so. But my goodness, it is so lovely to drink now! It is even better the next day, and the nose is just stunning - like smelling a bunch of roses! Very hedonistic, very California and very, very lovely. £22.95

Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Russian River Valley
At just 12.9% abv, this is no new-world bruiser. Again, the colour is light by Cabernet standards and semi-transluscent. The nose offers aromas of raspberry and cherry, polished leather and cedarwood, a trademark (for Swan, that is) dollop of refreshing volatile acidity and an interesting note of beetroot. The red fruits are augmented by blackcurrant notes on the palate - but tangy and almost citrussy, rather than sweet, with delicious acidity - no chance of this Cali Cab being fat or blowsy! It is also quite atypical for the grape, with none of the green notes you would associate with Bordeaux and none of the sometimes overpowering intensity of many new world Cabernets. In fact, it really is quite elegant. The tannins are fine and almost resolved, which makes this wine very easy to drink, although the makers say it is a style that can also age very well for a decade or two. But why wait, when it is drinking so well already? £18.95

Joseph Swan Vineyards Lone Redwood Ranch Zinfandel 2001 Russian River Valley
This, on the other hand, comes in at a whopping 15.3% abv - but you'd never think so. The nose is quite intense, with rich, brambly fruits mingled with aromas of herbs and spices along with a whiff of eau de vie. A refreshing hint of volatile acidity adds yet more interest. The palate is also rich and warming, and yet possessed of amazingly fresh fruit flavours and lip-smacking acidity. It is a big wine, but not a bruiser - rather, it is surprisingly elegant and light on its feet. And it certainly belies that 15.3%, but is nevertheless long and warming. It is yet another classic "next day" wine, with earthy, bramble and raspberry flavours combining seamlessly with grippy (but fine) tannins and that mouth-watering acidity. A cracking wine to enjoy now, or to age for a few more years.

I love the wines of Joseph Swan - they are never boring, and almost invariably lovely. Those price tags aren't cheap by European standards, of course. But, compared to most other iconic wines from California, they actually offer remarkably good value. Try them. But be careful - you may just get hooked!

Joseph Swan Vineyards has a really excellent website, where you can read all about its history, its philosophy, its winemaker and its wines. It's a great read.

1 comment:

AlanM said...

Leon, I wish you success with the new wines. No doubt I shall buy at some point. I'm such a francophile that I very rarely drink Californian wines and too often find them overblown. These sound elegant and lighter which would suit my palate much more.
I'm off to Alsace at Easter, and a few days in Burgundy on the way back from the Languedoc in summer so look forward to reading about your other new selections. Once more, good luck.