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Swan down, two to go

A 2004 Sonoma/San Francisco travelogue; part 6

by Thor Iverson

15 August 2004 – Healdsburg & Russian River Valley, California

Oakville Grocery – Of course it’s overpriced, and of course it’s right at the center of Healdsburg’s overrun-with-glitzy-tourist-fodder square, but it’s also a lovely source and setting for a little wine country lunch. Though I do wonder about some of the wines on offer, like a fright-inducing viognier “port.” No, I’m not kidding, though I suspect I’d wish the winemaker was, were I ever served the concoction. We assemble some cheese (Cowgirl Creamery and other Sonoma-sourced comestibles), saucisson, and prepared foods and settle down in their busy courtyard.

Dashe 1999 Zinfandel Todd Brothers Ranch (Alexander Valley) – Closed up, to the point where only lovers of extreme structure will find enjoyment here. A little dark, baked fruit remains, but since this wine is in it for the long haul, it would be best to wait. Give it, oh, another six-plus years or so, and then revisit. It was a monster when young, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be great when it emerges from sleep.

Swan – Always ultra-casual, always enjoyable, and always somewhat surprising. No surprise that winemaker Rod Berglund’s pouring the wines, though what he’s pouring is a bit unexpected (more in a moment). But we’ve also got VIPs from across the mountains; Susie Selby is here, looking relaxed on what must be a rare day off. We chat amiably about old acquaintances, which draws a speculative eyebrow-raise from Theresa. Anyone who’s met Ms. Selby will understand.

Swan 2003 Gewürztraminer Saralee’s Vineyard (Russian River Valley) – Berglund explains that he made this because he wanted some dry gewürztraminer to drink at home. I consider pointing out that some people just buy the stuff when similar desires strike, but restrain myself. In any case, he’s done a very credible job: smoked lychee and pork skin jerky with dried pear rind and some light grape tannin, which isn’t unusual for gewürztraminer. Pretty decent acidity. It lacks the intensity of the finest Alsatian versions, though that’s hardly unusual, but it manages to be balanced and varietally correct, which is unusual for New World gewürz.

Swan 2002 Pinot Noir “Cuvée de Trois” (Russian River Valley) – Plum, orange rind, strawberry, and red cherry fruit with great acidity; light and lively, this is the sort of delicious, ripe but lightly elegant pinot noir that some winemakers, enamored of their efficiency in extracting every last bit of sugar and orgasmic phenol from their well-hung grapes, insist just can’t be made in California. This won’t blow down anyone’s doors, but then why would you ever want a poor, defenseless pinot noir to do such a thing? It will be awfully fun to drink. And what more can one ask, really?

Swan 2001 Syrah Trenton Estate (Russian River Valley) – There’s light brett-derived funk (though it’s actually more on the Band-Aid side of things) with bubbly, fresh blueberry and black pepper hardened up by a light tannic sheen like walnut skins. Almost more akin to syrah juice than wine, with good acidity and a friendly face belying a more serious veneer. Very good, though I’m not sure it will age in an entirely satisfying way.

Swan 2002 Syrah Great Oak (Russian River Valley) – Smoky blueberry and pepper with slightly green notes, tannic and chewy and not entirely well-balanced. Unlike the Trenton Estate, this will need age, but that greenness is worrisome.

Swan 2001 Mourvèdre (Russian River Valley) – Ashen flecks of burnt pine needles, blackberry, blueberry, and cashew-studded earth with a keening tin note throughout. Fleshy on the midpalate, but slightly underripe on the perimeter, and a bit zingy and uncontrolled at the moment. I’d give it a few years to settle down, but not so many that the tannin starts to really dominate.

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