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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A Delicious Trio of Aromatic Whites from Chile

By now, most wine lovers know Chile as a source for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Those paying closer attention also realize that there is terrific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay reaching our shores from Chile. That, however, is just the entrée into the remarkable diversity and quality that Chile offers, often at outstanding price-points that will make you take note. Among the reasons that so many diverse grapes flourish in Chile is the regional diversity. Whether we’re talking about valley floors, mountain ranges or vineyards influenced by ocean breezes, Chile has them all — and more.

One of the things that particularly struck me when I was down in Chile was the number of aromatic white wines being produced by some wineries. Sometimes, they were small production items for larger wineries; in other cases, part of their main line of wines. The bottom line is that there are many wines in this general category worth both the time and money of interested wine lovers. With that in mind, I sat down and tasted some offerings that fit the grouping, and selected three standouts to look at.

First up is the Cono Sur 2012 Bicicleta Viognier. This wine was produced using hand-harvested fruit from the Colchagua region of Chile. It is a 100 percent varietal wine. Fermentation was accomplished in stainless steel tanks followed by eight months of aging. This wine most often sells for right around $10. Apricots, Lychee fruit and hints of white pepper all but explode from the nose of this Viognier. Peach and apricot star on the light palate that practically bounces on the tongue with enticing fruity goodness. Lemon zest, minerals and continues spice make up the finish, which has nice length. This is a crisp and refreshing wine that is vibrant and alive; if it could speak it would scream summer. I taste a lot of wine every week and there are those that — even though I like them a lot — I can put down easily. This Viognier from Cono Sur was not one of those. It is so mellifluous and engaging that I was compelled to keep drinking it

The Meli 2011 Riesling was produced entirely from fruit sourced in the Maule region. The fruit for this wine is 100 percent Riesling and was entirely hand-harvested. Fermentation took place over two weeks in stainless steel tanks. This offering most often sells for right around $12. White flower and stone fruit aromas abound on the nose of this Riesling. The palate is gentle and layered with continued stone fruit joined by spice and almond characteristics. The finish shows off tiny touches of mesquite honey and petrol. This is a perfectly dry, remarkably crisp wine that’s delicious on its own, and also paired with lighter foods.

Finally, we have the Anakena 2011 ONA White Blend. This offering combines Riesling (43 percent), Chardonnay (42 percent), and Viognier (15 percent). The fruit was sourced at the winery’s Las Brisas Vineyard in Leyda Valley. After fermentation, this wine was barrel-aged for approximately nine months. This wine most often sells for right around $15. Golden delicious apple, lemon and Lychee fruit aromas are present on the nose of this blend from Anakena. The palate is loaded with flavors that are simultaneously diverse and harmonious in their cohesion. Peach, apricot, bits of lemon zest and hints of orchard fruit are all present, along with spices galore. Bits of Granny Smith apple and green herb emerge on the finish, which is crisp, clean and pleasing. This wine grabs you and makes you reach back for sip after delicious sip.

With the warm weather months here I find myself reaching for white wine more often than not. In fact, I generally always have a few bottles chilled, whether it’s to pair with the lighter foods of summer or simply to sip on my deck. There is something about the warmth of the season that brings out my desire to drink whites far more often than at other times of the year. These three wines from Chile are perfectly suited for drinking all summer. They’re aromatic, refreshing and loaded with character. Each of them also represents an excellent value. I heartily recommend them and hope they’re a jumping off point for the exploration of the bounty that Chile offers in diverse, well-made, fantastically priced, aromatic white wines. There is no end to the diversity that Chile offers; even these wines are from three unique regions. The more of Chile you taste, the more impressed you’re bound to be.

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Spain’s Ribera Del Duero Region makes a strong impression

I recently attended an excellent tasting that featured wines from the Ribera Del Duero region of Spain. It’s always fascinating to taste a broad array of wines in one room from a specific part of the world. It allows side-by-side comparisons, and showcases how many excellent wines a region has. In the case of Ribera Del Duero the array of terrific wines I tasted in one day was a bit head-spinning, actually. While I’d had wines from this area before, I’d never sampled nearly as many at one time. A couple of producers kept reverberating in my mind days after the event, thus I decided to revisit a few of their wines so I could share my thoughts about them. Tempranillo has long been one of my favorite red varieties and this grape flourishes as well in Ribera Del Duero as anywhere.

The Bodegas Peñalba Lopez S.L. 2009 Los Cantos was produced from a blend of Tempranillo (95 percent) and Merlot (5 percent). The vineyards sourced were planted an average of 20 years prior to the vintage. Fermentation took place over nine days in stainless steel vats with native yeast. Barrel aging followed in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23. Lovely herb and floral aromas fill the nose of Los Cantos. The palate here is studded with layer upon layer of fresh, dark fruit flavors. This wine is marked by crisp acidity and refreshing flavors that beckon you back to the glass for sip after sip. Bits of French Roast coffee and sour black fruit flavors mark the finish; cherry and blackberry are of particular note and accompanied by minerals and copious spices. Los Cantos is a tremendous value in its price range. It’s the kind of wine you may want to buy a case of, to keep around for everyday drinking.

The Bodegas Peñalba Lopez S.L. 2006 Torremilanos was produced using Tempranillo (90 percent) and White Tempranillo (10 percent). White Tempranillo is a genetic mutation of the original Tempranillo grape and a relatively recent one. The vineyards sourced have more than 90 years of age on them. Fermentation took place in concrete tanks. Aging followed in a combination of French oak (80 percent), and concrete tanks (20 percent) over a period of 24 months. This selection has a suggested retail price of $30. Ripe black cherry aromas and bits of toast mark the nose of this wine. Spices such as cardamom and clove are present on the palate and support oodles of dark fruit flavors which are impressive in their combination of intensity and precision. Black tea, minerals and continued fruit flavors such as cherry are in evidence on the finish, which has excellent length and persistence. This wine will work wonderfully both on its own and paired with full-flavored foods, and is a real knockout.

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Want Killer Cabernet for Less Than $20? Look to Chile!

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon holds a special place in my heart. Back when I was getting deeply into wine, bargain priced Cabernet Sauvignon from South America, and Chile in particular, helped drive my interest. It was amazing to me that there was so much good wine for such a low price. Cabernet from other areas didn’t seem like it could compete dollar-for-dollar with what was coming from Chile.

Flash forward 20 years and some things have changed. Bargain-basement-priced Cabernet isn’t the thing I first think about when I think of Chile — instead I’m consumed with the amazing bounty and diversity hitting our shelves from there at more than fair prices. And when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon specifically, there may not be a lot of great ones for $6 these days, but other regions still have a hard time competing with Chile dollar for dollar. This time out I’m looking at three Cabernets from Chile that retail for under $20; they really spoke to me when I tasted them side by side.

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First up is the William Cole Vineyards 2010 Columbine Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This offering is 100 percent Cabernet. All of the fruit for this wine came from the Colchagua Valley. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks over eight days, and aging in French oak barrels over 12 months followed. This wine, which has a suggested retail price of $18, is widely available. Violet, plum and blueberry aromas are joined by vanilla bean on the nose of this Cabernet. The black fruit characteristics steal the show here, with blueberry and zingy black raspberry leading the way. Minerals galore, earth and spices such as black pepper and cardamom mark the finish, which is above average in length. This is an elegant and graceful Cabernet for the price point.

Next up is the Peñalolen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (85 percent), Cabernet Franc (7 percent), Merlot (6 percent) and Petit Verdot (2 percent). The fruit for this Cabernet came from the Maipo valley. After fermentation, barrel aging took place over 12 months, and 20 percent of the barrels utilized were new. Roughly 80,000 cases of this vintage were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $19. Aromas of Red Delicious Apple emerge from the nose of this Cabernet. Cherries, spice and bits of red raspberry are present as well. The palate here is proportionate and balanced with loads of red fruits, joined by hints of cinnamon and pepper. Soft tannins mark the structure, which is all about balance and grace. This Cabernet leans toward red fruit flavors from the first whiff to the last note on the finish, which has solid length. This is an approachable, food friendly Cabernet Sauvignon that will drink well over the next five years. This wine will work with a wider array of foods than the average Cabernet.

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Mumm Napa offers a window into new world sparkling wine

Several times a year, I head out to California to taste wine. Often, I spend the bulk of my time there in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. One of my personal goals each time out is to spend most of my tasting time at producers I haven’t visited, or at least haven’t been to in a long time. Sometimes the properties I haven’t been to yet surprise even me! So on my most recent trip, when I was compiling a list of potential appointments, Mumm Napa was on the short list. Amazingly, even though I’ve tasted in Napa for about 20 years, I never stopped here before.

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Since it was my first time, I arranged a tour and tasting so I could see the facility and then sample the wines. The tour was very consumer-friendly and took us through the winemaking facility with stops along the way to check out videos of their processes. If you’ve toured a winery, but not one that makes sparkling wine, you should do so to note the number of differences and unique steps involved. I’ve been on a number of tours at sparkling wine houses and I‘m still fascinated. Along the way we sampled three of their widely available offerings. The tour was conducted at a nice pace, leaving plenty of time for questions from the group. Once the tour was over I broke off from the group and sat down on their tasting deck with a friend who joined me that day, to do a more comprehensive tasting. They offer lots of different options for tastings at Mumm Napa and it’s a highly recommended stop for those who love California sparkling wine. There were a number of wines that I really enjoyed. Here’s a look at a trio of my favorites.

The Mumm Napa Brut Prestige was made from a combination of Pinot Noir (51 percent), Chardonnay (46 percent), Pinot Meunier (2 percent), and Pinot Gris (1 percent). The first three grapes are the classic triumvirate most often associated with sparkling wine; The Pinot Gris is something out of the standard realm that they have added. Fermentation took place primarily in stainless steel, and 18 months of aging on yeast followed. This widely available Brut style wine has a suggested retail price of $22. Bits of citrus and white stone fruits fill the nose this wine. This is an entry level selection in the Mumm portfolio, and it’s a classic Brut. The palate is dry and loaded with fruit and spice. Yeast and biscuit characteristics emerge on the finish, which has nice length. While the friendly price makes it an obvious choice for holiday celebrations, this wine will go very well with food whether it’s paired with a first course during dinner or alongside brunch. You’ll be pleased with the results.

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