Joseph Swan Vineyards Valdiguié 2018
Called "Napa Gamay" for years, the Valdiguié (VAL-dee-ghee) grape flew under the California wine radar for more than a century. It wasn't until the early '90s that DNA profiling revealed the minuscule amounts of Napa Gamay, grown mostly in Sonoma, to actually be this obscure southern French grape, likely brought over by early 19th-century French settlers. Today there are only an estimated 200 acres of it grown in the entire United States, almost entirely from the ancient vines of Teldeschi's estate vineyard, from which Swan has sourced for nearly four decades.
Only 92 cases produced in 2018, this California rarity shows bright exotic berry fruits, like wild blackberry and pomegranate, with delicate smoky notes of clove and bramble, wrapped in a lighter, silken package. Similar to a floral Pinot Noir, this super quaffable red is perfect for a beachy day at the park, your next camping trip, or with hearty fish, like river trout or wild salmon.
Jospeh Swan Vineyards is, hands-down, one of the most important wineries in Sonoma. A decorated WWII veteran, avid painter, and pioneering winemaker, Joe Swan bought the property in 1967 and made his first Zinfandel the year after. It was at Swan's winery that another legend, Joel Peterson, made his first vintage of "Ravenswood" Zinfandel in 1976. Swan is still family owned to this day; this Valdiguié is some of the only you can find in all of California.
Marketed since at least the 1970s, it would have been labeled as "light red wine" or simply "Napa Gamay." It was not, however, related to the Gamay grape of Beaujolais, France, but an entirely distinct grape. Before we had DNA testing, growers relied on anecdotal traits and leaf comparison, and Valdiguié does indeed look like Gamay on the vine and makes a similarly light, fresh, yet serious red that goes splendidly with diverse cuisine at the table. Oven roasted wild salmon with bay leaf, white pepper, and spring peas will shine next to this lovely Sonoma red.
As Joseph Swan said, "There are few more civilized pleasures in life than good company, good food, and good wine."