Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
SWANSON IS SWEET, BENESSERE BRINGS NEW BOSS, CENTRAL COAST WINE CLASSIC CONTINUES CHARITY
Arsene, Minuit, Tardif, Luminous, Crepuscule. Are these:
a. Jovian moons
b. Egyptian Gods, or
c. Chevrolet’s new line of fuel efficient motor vehicles?
OK, OK. Last option:
d. None of the above.
Well, good for you (we assume you all chose “d”). Actually, these enticing words are the names of Swanson Vineyards’ unusual dessert wines, which are fast gaining status as one of the Napa Valley’s hidden treasures. And why not? This collection of extremely limited production wines is the most extensive array of dessert wines found at any winery in the Napa Valley, and maybe just anywhere.
The 2006 Arsene Fortified Petite Sirah, ($75 and the only one of Swanson’s dessert wines to be presented in a ‘standard’ 750 ml bottle) is a port-style blend of co-fermented Petite Sirah and Viognier. It is fortified with brandy and then aged in French oak for 13 months. Though not so politically correct, this is a masculine, muscular wine with good tannins.
Unusual in that it is made entirely of black muscat grapes, the 2004 Minuit Black Muscat ($65 for 375 ml) is vinified in a process developed by Spanish missionaries two hundred years ago—where by adding brandy to the just harvested juice, the resulting wine remains stable and flavorful for a long period.
The 2005 Tardif Late Harvest Chardonnay ($80 for 375 ml), is from the winery’s Oakville vineyards which underwent botrytis cinerea (a/k/a noble rot), a phenomenon of nature which happens irregularly. The grapes were pressed by hand into new French oak barrels and underwent a slow fermentation with native yeast. This produced a nectar-like concoction that is complex and full bodied.
As late harvests are relatively rare, so are ice wines. Swanson makes the country’s best in its 2006 Luminous Gewurztraminer Ice Wine ($85 for 375 ml), where the grapes are frozen and then gently pressed, creating a thick, complex wine which expresses the classic lychee and honeysuckle.
The extraordinary 2006 Crepuscule Late Harvest Semillon (90 for 375 ml) is a wine which Swanson has made only eight times over the past 22 years, needing exactly the right conditions for ‘noble rot.’ The wine includes some Sauvignon Blanc, and is fermented in new French oak with native yeast. Crepuscule is the French word for twilight, that magical in-between time perfect for a wine like this.
Speaking of sweets and desserts, Swanson offers proprietary bonbons that are not to be missed. Daughter Alexis collaborated with Chicago-based Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut Chocolate to produce the stylish and aptly names Alexis bonbon, a velvety heart of exotic cacao melded with Swanson’s Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon, and then dusted with curry. These are available only at The Salon, or at Le Cirque on the Swanson property.
One of our favorite places has long been Benessere Vineyards of St. Helena. In early January the winery named Jack Stuart as its new winemaker and general manager. Jack spent more than two decades at Silverado Vineyards and was the first American to win the Robert Mondavi Trophy for Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. His new Trivium Cabernet was one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Wines of 2008.
Benessere Vineyards, owned by the Benish family, produces small lots of excellent Italian varieties, single-vineyard Zinfandels, and proprietary red blends on gravelly terrace soils west of the Napa River.
If anything deserves coverage (and we try to do so when we can) it is the work being engaged in by those in the wine industry who spend countless hours running wine events to raise money for charities. The Central Coast Wine Classic is one of the best in terms of education, fun, and fund raising.
In 2009 the Board gifted grants totaling $205,025 to the following beneficiaries: Community Youth Performing Arts Center of Santa Barbara; Foodbank of Santa Barbara County; Foundation for the Performing Arts Center of San Luis Obispo; Friends of Prado Day Center in San Luis Obispo; Friendship Adult Day Care Center of Santa Barbara; Gatehelp, Inc./Gryphon Society in Atascadero; Public Radio KCBX San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara Counties; Los Padres Forest Watch of Santa Barbara; Morro Bay High School Band; Paderewski Festival of Paso Robles; Santa Maria Philharmonic Society; Senior Volunteer Services of San Luis Obispo and Transitions Mental Health Association of San Luis Obispo. The total includes $67,500 from the Annual Fund-A-Need Auction Lot to fund Respite Care for the Central Coast Alzheimer's Association.
The grand amount of funds conferred by the Foundation over the last six years is a small-population-area-staggering $1,350,000.
It is really wonderful to see so many wine events benefit those who are so needy. Napa does it, Naples does it, Atlanta does it, Mendocino does it, and so on. There are still a few that give their profits to what we believe are less worthy outlets, and we think it is sad to say you are a charity and funnel money to a project that pleases mostly those who could pay for that endeavor themselves. Of course, people can give their money to whom they want, but that does not mean you or we have to support a so called charity function that is not helping the usual recipients of charity funds. Our time, anyway, is better spent.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.