Dinner this past Friday night was a very special occasion—I finally got to open a vertical of proprietary red wines from a well-known winery in Oakville.
Swanson Vineyards has been one of my favorite wineries for sometime, both for the wines and for the unique artwork on display in the salon. Since 1985, they have grown Merlot between the vineyards of Opus One and Silver Oak along Oakville Crossroad and they have garnered a reputation for making some of the best Merlot in the Napa Valley. In addition to Merlot, they also make a delightful Pinot Grigio, a Cabernet Sauvignon dubbed “Alexis” (more on that in a moment), and limited production offerings (like Sangiovese and Chardonnay) to members.
The Alexis wine, named after the Swanson’s eldest daughter who is also the winery’s Creative Director, is a Bordeaux-style proprietary blend. Less than 2000 cases of this wine are made each year, and the blend varies from year to year (the exact percentages are not published on the label). At $75/bottle, the Alexis is designed to be aged. But I’ve heard from numerous sources that Napa Cabernet should generally be opened within 10 years of the vintage date (unfortunately, aging wine is not an exact science). Knowing this, I have been getting anxious to open my 2002 Alexis.
So that’s exactly what I did this past Friday night. We were invited to dinner at a friend’s house and because one bottle doesn’t go very far for four people, I also brought along the 2003 Alexis, the 2004 Alexis, and the 2008 Merlot (for comparison’s sake).
The 2002 Alexis Red Wine smelled like a mix of star anise, hot tar, asphalt and black tea. Black olive and green bean dominated the palate with undertones of sour cherry and blackberry. It was an interesting mix of mostly savory notes, albeit past its prime.
The 2003 Alexis Red Wine tasted better than the first. The bouquet offered aromas of cherry liqueur, currant and orange zest. Flavors of black cherry and tart cranberry were supported by dry tannins. If I had had a magic ball, I probably would have opened this bottle 2-3 years ago.
2004 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon was definitely our favorite of the four. The current winemaker, Chris Phelps, took over in late 2003; the difference between the 2003 and 2004 vintages was huge. Even the labels had been updated and a foil topper was added in 2004. In this case, change was a very good thing indeed. The ’04 smelled like burnt orange and spice. The palate expressed more fruity notes of black cherry and raspberry while the finish imparted notes of orange zest and red fruit.
We also decided to open the 2008 Swanson Merlot, the current release ($38/bottle). The Merlot seemed simple in contrast to the Alexis wines. It was robust and jammy, with flavors of black cherry, plum, sweet oak, and mocha. This is an easy-drinking wine and would pair well with many dishes, but I would not hold onto for more than a year after purchase.
I have visited the Swanson tasting room in Oakville on many occasions. They offer a beautifully appointed, sit-down salon tasting with food pairings (which, at $65 per person, is one of the most expensive experiences offered in the Napa Valley) or a more casual tasting in the Sip Shoppe (with flights starting at $20 per). Although pricey, it’s definitely worth a visit!