Friday, January 1, 2016

Bordeaux Via Dry Creek Valley

When you think of Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley AVA, Bordeaux may not spring to mind right away. You may think of Zinfandel, and with good reason. The wineries of Dry Creek Valley produce oodles of lovely Zin, even some pink versions that are as dry as a bone. You might fancy a Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley - It is, after all, the flagship wine for Dry Creek Vineyard.

But Dry Creek Vineyard also has a Bordeaux program. Winemaker Tim Bell has plenty of great fruit with which to work. On their website, DCV notes that “Dry Creek Valley may well be California’s undiscovered Cabernet country.” The region actually does have more acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon planted than any other grape variety. The winery notes that DCV Cabs lean to the dusty and earthy side of the grape’s spectrum, and that’s fine for me. The rustic feel, herbal notes and complex spiciness are what make red wines interesting, to me.

Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley 2012

The grapes were taken from hillside and benchland vineyards and represent everything Bordeaux-esque they could pick  - 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, 3% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged for 20 months in French and Hungarian oak barrels, most of which were neutral, only 20% new oak. The alcohol content sits at 14.5% abv and the wine retails for $25 per bottle.

Pour this ruby wine and just let it sit there a while. Take your time and you will be rewarded as the cherry and black raspberry nose takes on smoke, cedar, graphite and cigar aromas. It really opens up to be a massive bouquet. The flavors are certainly fruity enough - plums, blackberries and blueberries - but there are so many shades of complexity it's hard to not be taken aback. Anise gives way to vanilla, which gives way to sage, nutmeg and black pepper. That herbal, spicy feeling lasts into the lengthy finish.

Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage Dry Creek Valley 2012

This Bordeaux-style blend is composed of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 25% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol tips in at 14.5% abv. The wine retails for $45.

The winemaker notes inform us that we can expect this wine to age well for a decade or more. The winemaker notes also tip the DCV hat to Mother Nature for providing “the incredible growing conditions we were afforded in the 2012 vintage.” Sure, the weather’s always nice in California, right? (Pause to allow winegrowers to snort.) Well, apparently in 2012 everything actually came together just the way it says it should in the grape-growing textbook. And the wine certainly reflects that good fortune. The aging took place over 20 months in French oak barrels. Just over half of that wood was new.

The front label carries on the tradition of sailing imagery, although it’s not so peaceful a look at the sea as we are accustomed to seeing on the Dry Creek Vineyard labels. This sailor looks like he definitely has a peg-leg and an eye for the white whale. The quote is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The winery explains the name: “We called this wine ‘The Mariner’ because just as a mariner navigates his ship, so too must a winemaker navigate his way through a vintage.”

The wine is very dark; light barely passes through it. On the nose, nothing is spared. Deep red currant, blueberry, anise, pencil point, cedar, cigar - it’s all there in abundance. The palate is bold and brawny, to use two descriptors which always seem to go hand in hand. The tannins will attack that tri-tip steak and send it back to Santa Maria. It’s a lively wine, not just aggressive. It practically sparkles in the mouth. Blackberry and licorice meet that oak spice and the acidity is lip-smacking perfect. The finish falls away a little more quickly than I thought it would, but it’s a lovely taste while it lingers.

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