When you want value, Drink Dry Creek
One of the things that makes wine such a fascinating topic for me is the difference that can be detected between various regions. Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, is grown all over the world. When they’re well made there are subtle -- and sometimes not so subtle -- distinctions. This sense of place, as it’s often called, is something winemakers often rave about. This is especially true when they discuss their wines, and the reasons they may have chosen a specific parcel of land to plant the grape they’re talking about.
On one of my first wine tasting trips to California in the early ‘90s I discovered Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma. This appellation, within the broader world of Sonoma, quickly became a favorite of mine. There are characteristics, such as earthiness, that show up time and again in wines from Dry Creek Valley that truly help set it apart. I feel so strongly about Dry Creek Valley that I’m a partner in Drink Dry Creek, a new site dedicated specifically to highlighting this area. When I think of Dry Creek Valley, the three grape varieties that first come to mind are Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. I’m going to look at an example of each that I heartily recommend.
The 2007 Fumé Blancis 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, and this offering was fermented in stainless steel. Dave Stare, who founded Dry Creek Vineyard, was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley
Citrus peel emerges on the nose along with stone fruit and light but noticeable grass notes. The palate of this Sauvignon Blanc is rich and mouth-filling with a host of citrus, gooseberry and kiwi throughout. The finish is generous in length and loaded with continued citrus as well as tropical fruit notes. Mineral and spice characteristics also emerge, and linger to the very last. This wine has excellent acidity and good balance. It’ll work well as an aperitif or paired with a wide range of lighter cuisine.
The lasting impression from this particular wine is that of a Sauvignon Blanc that far outshines its price tag. There are countless Sauvignon Blancs in this price range, but few of them offer the rich fruit, complexity, quality, and overall pleasurable drinking experience that this fine example from Dry Creek Vineyard does. What I often find lacking in other Sauvignon Blancs in this neighborhood is that they can be out of whack. The subpar versions either have too much acidity, or lean too far towards the citrus or the grassy side. Thankfully this one has none of those issues.
With close to 30,000 cases produced, this Sauvignon Blanc is going to be easy to find. The suggested retail price is $14.50, but you’re likely to find it for closer to $12 a bottle.
The Zinfandel I’m looking at is from Papapietro Perry, and 2008 marked 10 years since their first vintage. The Papapietro Perry 2005 Pauline’s Vineyard Zinfandel is 100 percent single vineyard varietal. It was aged for 13 months in a combination of two and three-year-old French oak. Just 390 cases of this wine were produced and it retails for $36.
Decanting this wine is highly recommended. At first blush, out of the bottle it’s closed up and tight. Once it opens though, it tells a far more expressive story. Red raspberry and earthy bramble fill the nose along with subtler but present blueberry notes. While the nose has jam aspects, the palate rides the line. All the berry fruit is kept in check by fine acidity and a solid tannic structure. Dark plum notes emerge at the back end of the mid-palate, leading the way to the finish. Vanilla, nutmeg, white pepper and dust notes fill the lingering finish. That dust leaves the final impression, and is an indicator of its Dry Creek heritage. This wine will be a nice match for pepper steak, London broil or a burger topped with strong cheese.
What I like best about this Zinfandel is its impressive structure and clear ability to age. This should improve over the next year or so and drink well for a minimum of five years after that, likely longer. While $36 may not be a wine you have every night with a burger, not every Zin will improve with age, not to mention impress with its balance and overall finesse.
Forth Vineyards produces about a half dozen releases each year. A couple of those are Cabernet Sauvignon. The selection from them I’m looking at is the 2006 All Boys Cabernet Sauvignon, with 8 percent Syrah blended in with the Cabernet. The name refers to the fact that the vineyard belongs to male friends and family members. The suggested retail price for this wine is $24.
Blackberry, dark plum and black cherry aromas fill the nose of this wine, along with some light hints of vanilla. The wine is pretty accessible right out of the bottle, but decanting it for an hour really allows it to open up. Once you take that first sip, you’re hit with a solid and persistent core of berry fruit followed by earth and dust notes so typical of Dry Creek Valley. Dusty baker’s chocolate, mineral, espresso and toasty oak notes emerge on a nice lengthy finish. This wine is well structured with good acidity.
While the Forth Vineyards Cabernet retails for $24, it can often be found for $20 or less. In that price range, it really offers a significant value. If a Cabernet Sauvignon of this quality said “Napa” on it instead of Dry Creek Valley, it would easily sell for twice the price.
All three wines I’m recommending here will do a fine job of showcasing styles and characteristics that are typical of Dry Creek Valley. In their own price categories each of them also highlights the values that are available from this terrific, but criminally under-appreciated region in Sonoma. When you’re looking for some excellent wines at a fair price, remember to Drink Dry Creek!