Oakville Uncorked: Swanson Vineyards

It has been said; “There is no friend like an old friend who has shared our morning days, no greeting like his welcome, and no homage like his praise.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“Paying Homage” a term very much in vogue in our day and age; it flows from the concept, which now often appears in the “arts” where one artisan shows respect to a style of art. Whether that artisan is a winemaker, painter or author, by calling it homage, such as Homage to Bordeaux it allows each creative artist an opportunity to show respect to an admired tutor, by alluding to their work on a similar, but different canvas.

It's with this idea in mind that I want to highlight the work of Mr. Chris Phelps, an artisan, a winemaker, a painter whose canvas sprawls across the 100 acres of prime real estate in the Napa Valley. In fact it sits on the valley floor, in the Oakville appellation: on the Oakville Cross Road, between Opus One and Silver Oak [you may have heard of these wineries]. The brush in his hand represented by acres of prime-time Merlot fruit from the famed Oakville Appellation, which was planted in the 1980's, I didn't see that coming.

Chris decided to get on-board with Swanson Vineyards in 2003; in-part because he thought it would be the perfect fit for his desire to pay homage to Château des Laurets in Puisseguin-St. Emilion where he "cut" his winemaking teeth during the blockbuster 1982 BDX harvest. Swanson Vineyards must have seen the opportunity to bring Chris on-board as a way to continue their storied history of consistently producing French-style wine from their Oakville vineyards. A match made in heaven and one painted on the finished wines awaiting your purchase in their cellars. In my mind, wine is an everyday luxury and wines from Swanson Vineyard are emblematic of that thought.

2008 Swanson Vineyards Oakville Merlot: This again is the type of wine, that says, "hey I'm from somewhere". The kind of Merlot that gives me hope for California Merlot, which has been getting slapped around pretty good lately by the bruisers from Washington State. In the glass a shimmering ruby colored core, a nose full of ripe plums, cassis, floral accents. After the first slurp, abundant red and dark fruits, smooth tannins, nicely balanced by bright acidity and great overall structure. A wine built for years of aging, but is drinking very nicely at the moment. I would recommend an hour of decanting for maximum enjoyment. Looking for a pairing suggestion; I'd go for a wonderful fresh made grilled Burger, which is what I did and it was fantastic. This wine sells for a SRP of $38, but I've seen it selling a few places for well under $30. For those keeping score, this wine scored a solid 89 points.

2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon: A brillant, rich wine produced from the Schmidt Ranch Vineyard located in the Oakville AVA. Many wine writing gurus and commentators have dubbed the '07 vintage in Napa as being one of the best in recent memory. Of course there is a cadre of dissenters out there poking holes in that theory, saying how wrong headed it was to make that proclamation. All of that aside, I really enjoyed this very "big" wine, which  is drinking nicely now, but I think it would be so much better years from now. For someone like me, this is the a wine to purchase, lay-down and uncork for a special occasion years from now. In the glass a densely packed crimson colored core. The nose is engulfs your senses with rich cassis, dark espresso and ripe plum covered in a bit of vineyard dust. After giving this wine a-go, a rich velvet curtain of black ripe cherry, black licorice, a silky structure and a long plush finish. After the first slurp, I thought it would break out the decanter; to coax out all this wines many fine points and nuances, a long decanting at room-temp is recommended. This wine sells for a SRP of $75, but the savvy shopper can find this long-term cellar gem for somewhere south of the SRP. I gave this wine a score of 91 points, it's highly recommended.

In the interest of full disclosure, both of these wines were sent to me for the wine review process. If you find yourself in the Napa Valley give Swanson Vineyards a call to book your own tasting, they have a couple different and unique experiences available. Until next time folks continue to sip long and prosper cheers!


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