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Dry Creek Vineyard: Quality, value and dependability

Dry Creek Vineyard is one of the flagship wineries of Sonoma Valley, as well as the namesake producer of an entire appellation. It’s one of the largest producers in Dry Creek Valley, and like almost all of the wineries there, it’s a family-owned and run operation. Most of their wines are produced using fruit they grow or source right in their native valley, with a few other wines sourced from nearby appellations. They have a number of wines that are readily available all over the country at reasonable prices that offer consistent quality and drinkability one vintage after another. Dry Creek Vineyard also pushes the envelope and adds new offerings to their portfolio from time to time. Some of these are smaller production wines and sometimes they are larger production wines. Case in point: the first wine covered in this column is in only its third vintage.

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The Dry Creek Vineyard 2010 Foggy Oaks Vineyard Chardonnay is a single vineyard effort. All of the fruit for this wine was sourced at the namesake vineyard in Russian River Valley. It’s a 100 percent varietal wine. Foggy Oaks Chardonnay was aged entirely in French oak. Just a smidge less than 5,000 cases of this offering were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $20. Orchard and tropical fruit aromas are joined by spices and toast on the nose of this wine. Apple and pear characteristics in particular light up the palate, which is substantial and weighty but spry and well in proportion. Anjou pears, lemon zest and minerals are all part of a long and impressive finish. The bottom line is that this is an elegant, extremely well-crafted Chardonnay. In its price category it’s an outright steal. Russian River Valley is one of the best appellations in California for this grape and this is a terrific example.

The Dry Creek Vineyard 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced in the winery’s namesake appellation. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (86 percent), Merlot (4 percent), Cabernet Franc (4 percent), Malbec (3 percent) and Petit Verdot (3 percent) were also blended in. Fermentation took place over 28 days in a temperature-controlled environment. Twenty months of barrel aging followed in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak; 30 percent of the barrels utilized were new. Almost 12,000 cases of this Cabernet were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $25. Berry fruit, toasty bramble and bits of vanilla bean are all part of the nose on this 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberry and cherry are part of an overall mélange of red and black berry fruits that dominate the palate of this wine; black peppercorn and wisps of nutmeg add spice. Dusty earth, espresso and continuing fruit flavors are all part of the finish which has solid length. The tannins here are well-integrated and along with firm acidity lend to the excellent structure. This Cabernet is delicious now, but will age well over the next five to eight years. This is a fine example of Cabernet Sauvignon at a price that belies its quality.

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Finally, we come to the Dry Creek Vineyard 2009 The Mariner. This is a proprietary Meritage blend. It combines Cabernet Sauvignon (43 percent), Merlot (37 percent), Malbec (10 percent), Petit Verdot (5 percent) and Cabernet Franc (5 percent). The fruit for this wine comes from a combination of their own vines and neighboring vineyards within Dry Creek Valley that they’ve been working with for many years. Fermentation took place over 20 days, followed by 24 months in 100 percent French oak; 46 percent of the barrels were new. Dry Creek Vineyards produced 5,238 6-bottle cases, and this wine has a suggested retail price of $40. Dark fruit aromas, dotted with bits of red fruits, emerge from the nose of this Meritage. The palate here leads towards the darker fruit flavors: blackberries, raspberries and plum are all along for the ride. This wine has an awesome depth that’s matched by its precision and graceful power. Bits of chocolate sauce, earth, toast and minerals are all here on the finish. Firm acid keep things in check. This wine is an absolute delight to drink. The 2009 Mariner is a seamless blend that does what great Bordeaux-inspired wines should do: create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. This wine will age effortlessly for the next decade, but there’s no reason to wait — it’s delicious now and these folks are likely to put out another splendid Meritage next year. So my advice is to drink up!

This trio of wines is only a small window into the fine releases that Dry Creek Vineyard is producing year after year. Two of these wines feature Cabernet Sauvignon prominently. For me this is one of the secrets of Dry Creek Valley. Cabernet from there doesn’t often get the headlines, but there are some fine examples and two are covered here. Being in Dry Creek Valley, they of course make several Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel-based wines. They also make a Chenin Blanc that, at around $10, is one of the great picnic wines, vintage after vintage. Again these are just a few examples. By and large their offerings are easily accessible across the U.S. The wines have been fairly priced throughout their 40-year history, and they offer a consistency of quality that can’t be ignored. They are one of a small number of excellent go-to producers based in Sonoma County that fit all those criteria. If they’re not on your personal wine radar, they really should be.

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