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Live Blogging from Swanson Vineyards

I'm at a writer's event today at Swanson Vineyards. We're in the elegant Salon, tasting wine and chatting with winemaker Chris Phelps. I'm going to take a shot at live blogging. Keep checking in for updates.

We've started out tasting the 2008 Pinot Grigio ($22). It's a nice wine with medium plus acidity and body. The body is derived from spending time on the lees, not from alcohol or sugar. The wine has aromas of stone fruit, mineral, pear and a touch of yeastiness from the lees.

Tasting the 05, 06, 07, 08 Merlots now. The 2008 was just bottled a week ago. Despite that, I'm liking it a lot. Very well balanced and nice aromas and flavors of cherry, plum, spice and smokey wood. You'll want to look for this one at release ($36 at the winery, not including the 20% club member discount).

The 05 is drinking very well now too. The tannins are integrated and flavors include dark cherry, dark chocolate, vanilla and toasty oak. Chris says that, unlike the 08, the 05 really closed down after bottling and took a year to come into it's own. It is doing fine now, but can continue to age for at least a few years. (All of these wines seem to have pretty good acidity.)

The 06 and 07 Merlots show promise, but the tannins quickly dominate the palate. They need a bit of time.

Update on the Merlots... none of these were decanted. Chris recommends 2 hours of decanting prior to service. The 06 is starting to open up now.

We're tasting the 05, 06 and 07 Alexis Cabernet's now ($75). The 05 and 06 are very good, the 07 is outstanding. It'll be on sale in late Fall.

All of the Alexis wines use Cabernet grapes from the Schmidt Ranch vineyard in Oakville (benchland). Most of them include a measure – 10 - 20% – of Merlot from Swanson's vineyards and the 08 also includes 2% Petit Verdot. All of the wines have prominent, but not oppressive, chalky tannins. Jim White says he's been buying these wines for years and likes them best after 8 years of age.

A quick sales note: Swanson is opening a less formal tasting room called the Swanson Sip Shop in early Summer. That will also be appointment only.

We took a break for some barrel tasting and lunch. The 09 Chardonnay, still in it's neutral barrels is lovely with pineapple, guava, apple, pear and a touch of banana. No malolactic.

The 09 Zinfandel is also very attractive though my notes will vary a lot from the final release. I tasted out of a new oak barrel, but the final blend will be just 30% new oak. I found smokey oak, blackberry, vanilla, blueberry, spice, chocolate and more.


Chris is talking about how the winemaking at Swanson is being transformed under his lead. Pinot Grigio now fairly low alcohol, 100% stainless and under screw cap for maximum freshness.

He's also talking about being more selective in selecting the grapes and making the blends, making sure that there are no unwelcome green flavors. He's also eliminated heavy toast barrels. He also thinks that removing Syrah from the Alexis blend was very important. The Syrah tended to overshadow the Cabernet Sauvignon's varietal characteristics. The result was a very nice wine that didn't taste enough like Cabernet Sauvignon to suit him. (The last year Alexis included Syrah was 2004.)

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