Fred Swan is a San Francisco-based wine writer, educator and authority on California wines and wineries. His writing appears in SOMM Journal, The Tasting Panel, the blog at JJBuckley.com, winereview.planetgrape.com, th
Get to Know Fred
What is your favorite wine region to visit?
Well, I’ve never been to a wine region I haven’t enjoyed. And I’m very fortunate to live just an hour or so from some of the best in the world. However, if I leave California out of the mix, I’d have to say my favorite wine regions to visit are in Australia. Both the Barossa/Adelaide Hills/McClaren Vale area and Margaret River. You have to love being able to taste great wines while watching kangaroos bouncing around.
What is your favorite class to teach?
I have a soft spot for the CWAS classes, all of them. There are so many great stories to tell.
What's your most memorable wine experience?
I’m fortunate to have had many great and memorable wine experiences. Among them were the epic dinners and vertical tastings of the Masters of Food & Wine which used to be held in Carmel. There were verticals of Penfolds Grange, Henschke Hill of Grace, Chateau Margaux, etc. If I had to choose just one though, it was probably the week I spent in Bordeaux on a small tour led by Ralph Sands of K&L. It was fascinating, delicious and perfect from start to finish.
What's your most memorable food and wine pairing?
Well, the pairing that I’ll never say “no” to and isn’t too fussy to reproduce consistently is succulent Peking duck with high-quality, slightly aged sparkling Shiraz. Scrumptious!
Name some recent wine discoveries that you find exciting.
I just tasted some remarkable Garnacha Blanc in Spain’s Terra Alta DO. Regrettably, few of them are available here yet, but the producers are working on that. Truly remarkable wines.
What do you think is the most unappreciated wine or region in the world?
There are so many good answers to this. A lot of people, especially somms, value German rieslings very highly, but somehow those wines remain very affordable. So, clearly, people aren’t drinking enough of it. My personal unicorn is top-quality, aged sparkling Shiraz. You can’t get it in the U.S. and people laugh at the thought. But, the wines can be very complex and sophisticated. Really! As for regions, Lodi has amazing potential that is just now starting to be tapped.
Fred Swan Interviews SF Chronicle Wine Editor Jon Bonné
On Tuesday, December 9, I conducted an hour-long interview of Jon Bonné in front of a live audience for the Commonwealth Club. Bonné is the Wine Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, a two-time James Beard Award winner and the author of The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste.
2014 was a busy year for wine law changes. Here are just a few of them.
For more than 200 years, wine bottles have enabled easy transport, long-term cellaring and convenient service. Consumer and on-premise needs have evolved though. New technologies such as keg-on-tap wine, which address these requirements, are rising in popularity.
Paso Robles was long the largest undivided AVA in California. That changed on October 9, 2014 when the TTB approved a proposal to create 11 nested AVAs.
On October 9, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Board [TTB] approved 12 new California AVAs. Today, our focus is the new Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA. Next week, we’ll cover the other 11, all of which fall within the previously existing Paso Robles AVA.
Fasten your seat belt low and tight across your lap. Make sure your seat is in the upright position.
Santa Barbara County is one of California’s best and most diverse wine-growing regions. Among its five AVAs are climates ranging from cool “Region I” to St. Helena-like “Region III,” soils from deep sand to chalk to alluvial loam.
A Look at the Newly Approved Ballard Canyon AVA, Santa Barbara County
The Ballard Canyon AVA was approved by the TTB on October 1, 2013. It is a small wine-growing region within Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Though not yet a familiar name to most enthusiasts of California wine, it’s few vineyards are very high in quality. Some are strong brands on their own: Beckman Purisma Mountain, Stolpman, Larner and Jonata.
Which Wine is in Your NV Champagne Bottle?
Last year, I reported that wine critic Antonio Galloni would no longer be scoring non-vintage Champagne that didn’t list the disgorgement date on bottle. Consumers couldn’t be sure the wine they see in stores is the same as he wrote about. Similarly, shops, restaurants and collectors with multiple bottles have no way of telling bottles apart once they’re in the cellar.
The name Napa Valley AVA is somewhat misleading. Napa Valley is certainly dominant within the AVA but is far from the only valley. Some others are obvious by name or quick perusal of a map: Chiles Valley and Pope Valley for example.
Sitting in a winery tasting room outside Fort Worth, Texas I perused the wine list. “What’s this Blanc du Bois?,” I asked. The name reminded me of Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire. “It’s Blanc du Bois,” she said helpfully.
Fourteen grape varieties may be used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.1 Many of them are bit players, used to add traces of spice or color or acidity, etc. But they also make that region’s wines more diverse and allow winemakers to compensate for difficult vintages.
Conventional wisdom says magnums of wine develop more slowly than 750ml bottles. The smaller the bottle, the more rapid aging is assumed to occur. We rarely test this theory in a completely objective manner though. Recently, I did.
In the mid-1960’s, Oregon’s wine industry pioneers began planting grapes in the northern Willamette Valley. They focused on Pinot Noir, but also planted Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Those varieties are still widely considered Oregon’s best, just as the Willamette Valley AVA remains the state’s best-known growing region.
At the recent Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, I had the opportunity to talk quite a bit with Antonio Galloni of The Wine Advocate. He also agreed to a lengthy interview. He said on numerous occasions and in different ways that it is not his goal to be a taste-maker nor an agent of change for wine styles.