In wine school, we learn to absorb the visual element before we taste. The same ought to be true of any given appellation. My first experience of Dry Creek Valley some years ago engaged the senses in the proper order. Hosted by a winery in Dry Creek, I ranged throughout Sonoma for a week of vineyard tours, tastings, and events, my morning eyes opening to Dry Creek, my wine weary soul returning with each sunset to the undulating vineyards and benchlands of Dry Creek. Awash in the wine wealth that is Sonoma, my actual tasting contact with Dry Creek wines turned out to be minimal. The visual love affair, however, left a lasting finish.
I am not really a travel buff. My notion is that you can encapsulate a place in a wine, bottle it, and send it to me, without the need to endure airport security or put wear and tear on my car (my parking space is a thousand miles from Dry Creek). That said, it helps enormously to already have a love affair with the place before you encounter its essence in a bottle. This was so with a trio of Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignons I recently received. While Dry Creek hosts more than fifty wineries, three times as many wineries outside the appellation use Dry Creek wines either under a full Dry Creek label or as a constituent in their blends. The three wineries here each have the full connection to that configuration of dirt and vine that once took my heart.
The 2009 Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $25, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with all four other Bordeaux varieties: Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. A deep ruby with excellent clarity in the glass, this wine brings delicate aromas: raspberry, cherry, dried herbs, and, especially, a range of floral elements. The tannin tapestry is particularly successful. Sophisticated along Bordeaux lines, with earthy notes and a flavor touch of dried leaves, this wine nevertheless brings satisfying California fruit to the table. The finish is noteworthy and highly civilized.
The 2007 Kachina Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $42, combines 95% estate and Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah (and I approve). The 36-month aging regime takes place in entirely new oak, 70% French and 30% American. Visually, the wine is a great example of dark color with fine clarity. I find this a direct, essentially New World style wine with aromas and flavors of cocoa, licorice and roasted coffee beans, black cherry and cassis. Chewy tannins and a flavor-filled finish make this one a stand-alone winner.
2010 Pedroncelli Dry Creek Valley Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, $15, is an excellent value: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Merlot, aged just over a year in French and American oak. A medium ruby in color, the wine brings aromas of direct red fruit – raspberry and red plum – along with some toasted oak, baking spice, and a layer of milk chocolate. Tannins in this one can benefit from some patient aeration; give it an hour in the glass or in a decanter – if you can. The finish shows primarily fruit.
Although Dry Creek produces a wide range of wine grapes, the appellation rightfully owns a reputation for truly stimulating Zinfandel. That reputation will continue, but it is time to give the Zin a nudge to make room for Dry Creek Valley’s “other” red grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, which, in fact, accounts for a greater level of production. Two stars are, I think, synergistically better than one.
True to the Terroir