Joseph Swan is an archetypal California winery. It’s been around forever (in California time), it’s rustic in all the right ways, it’s steadfast in its practices and its beliefs are consistent. It’s a winery that’s been known for its higher acid wines and for sticking to the conviction that California wines can age and be food-friendly.
It’s hard to say if Joseph Swan is more known for its Pinots or its Zinfandels. The Pinot was planted after Joe Swan bought a property full of old Zinfandel vines off of Trenton Road in the Russian River Valley in 1967. The Pinot clone that he ended up planting actually became the same clone that much of the Russian River Valley is planted with and is now known as the Swan clone. Yet, its Zinfandels are also well known for their brightness and ageablity — words not usually associated with most CA zinfandels. One of the more interesting things about Joseph Swan is that it always seems to have a lot of library wines available and occasionally these wines show up in the retail market and are fun to try. Although Syrah is obviously not their main focus, it’s still a varietal they’ve made for many year and deserves attention.
This wine is fabulous on the nose. It has that pure bright plum fruit and black pepper that’s characteristic of Syrah grown in the climate. It also has nice floral aromas. For a wine with 14.6 percent alcohol it is not over-extracted, it’s a wine with nice acidity and lift on the mid-palate, and the finish could be a touch hot but it has nice hints of black olives and licorice. It’s full and well-rounded but not too rich and it’s definitely another example of Syrah as a food-friendly wine.
The Russian River is quickly presenting itself to me as a region where Syrah can thrive as long as the vineyards are just cool enough. I’ve had a few wines from there that are over the top with fruit and heat, which is not the style that I enjoy so much. But many others are a perfect balance between warm and cool climates; they get that amazing aroma profile from the cool climates but the mid-palate is a tad richer and the finish a tad fruitier than other wines from vineyard sites that I would consider to be cooler in general. My not-totally-informed opinion is that the vineyards that are lower in elevation hold the fog and coolness longer into the morning and therefore get more of those cool-climate characteristics, whereas the vineyards that are higher and more exposed, are cleared from fog earlier in the day and the resulting wines take on warmer Shiraz-like characteristics.
I’ll find out more about Russian River Valley Syrah as I taste more wines for this blog but in the mean time, I’m going to finish my glass of this perfectly balanced wine.