Dry Creek is one of Sonoma County's bejeweled locales. Bound by the Alexander and Russian River valleys in California, the tributary is a mere 15 miles long and two miles wide. Certainly Chateau Margaux epitomizes the Margaux district of Bordeaux. Does Dry Creek do the same?
History tells us that Zinfandel and Dry Creek have been tighter than Mary-Kate and Ashley, and for decades longer. And as time marches on, so have the impressive wines made from almost all varietals grown successfully in California. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc flourish in this heavenly host, as does a relative rarity—Chenin Blanc. Perhaps no other winery in the region makes such diverse examples as David Stare's Dry Creek Vineyard.
Founded in 1972, when much of this valley's production went into bulk wine (or dried prunes), Stare envisioned the potential of bringing the region into the production of single variety wines. His original vineyard holdings were across the street from the Dry Creek General Store, a business in the heart of the valley that continues to thrive.
Stare's initial dream was not of a West Coast Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhone. It was the whites of the Loire Valley, the wines of Pouilly-Fume and Vouvray, that were his inspiration. In fact, a recent tasting at the winery of Sauvignon Blancs, wines dating to the first year of operation showed that in numerous cases, this white can age and improve for up to 30 (!) years.
Whereas so many white wines from the U.S., Australia and South America fall apart after two or three years (alas, I know this from painful, personal experience), Stare's whites, including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, age gracefully, with little need to worry about an early demise. All the Dry Creek Vineyard wines have that important signature quality: They will improve with age. No long macerations to soften life-giving tannins for them: These wines are built, and power-packed today with softer, less fruity, more integrated flavors if given time.
They're bottling wines as this goes to press, and winemaker Lisa Forbes tells me that grape picking begins next week. "The big, fat, high alcohol, lots of oak style that some find appealing doesn't work here," she says. "Our wines are made for the table."
2006 Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County $14.50
Icy clean with a lemongrass, slate-like crispness. Substantial yet steely. Flavors are vigorous and alive—screaming for shellfish. Drink now-2012
2006 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley $20
Luxuriant, "chubby" baked apple fruit, subtle oak underpinning yet remaining clear and intense. Generous mouth feel with tangy mineral-laden flavors. Drink now-2013
2007 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg $12
Clear, round, flowery apricot nose. Lingering fruitiness and minerality. A Vouvray taste-alike with spicy pear element on the finish. Soft, flexible and charming. Good value
2006 Heritage Zinfandel, Sonoma County $17
Satisfying, solid, resonant plummy fruit. Substantial, berry palate but a bit bitter and short. A small chill would firm it up.
2005 Somers Ranch Zinfandel, Dry Creek $34
Tar, earth, dark cherry and pepper. Bursting with sunlight and warmth. Long, impressive dark as night mouth feel. Faint bitterness would be softened by some baby backs. Drink now-2014
2005 Beeson Ranch Zinfandel, Dry Creek $34
Middleweight, lithe and mild opening up energetically with piquant, ripe berry and flowery, fragrant overtones. Tart, bracing and tannic, but a sure bet for aging. It's power-packed. Elegance all over. Drink 2011-16 ()
2005 Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek $28
Perfumed, lithe liquid raspberry freshness. Open, mellow, it rolls out an invitation you can't wait to accept. Fabulous balance and long, high speed, breathtaking flavors. Tannin to lose but everything in place Drink 2010-17
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek $23
Deeply scented with fine herbs and oriental spice. Roses, touch of leather and engulfing elements. Delicious medium-bodied red with graceful fruit and finely etched flavors. Short-term improvement guaranteed Drink now-2013
2003 Endeavor, Dry Creek Valley $55
Cabernet Sauvignon with 5 percent Petit Verdot. Profound, dense and super rich. Coffee and blueberry compote grow in the glass. A penetrating wow. Massive flavors but balanced fruit layers. Chocolaty dark aftertaste with plentiful fruit masking the tannic structure. If you like to be impressed, fabulous. Drink now-2018
2004 The Mariner, Dry Creek Valley $40
Velvety, deeply scented mulberry, violet and black currant. Wondrous purity and refinement. Beautifully etched flavors. Never obvious nor heavy handed. Has a lightness of being that belies its size. Refreshing and tangy with tannins tickling the gums. A five-grape Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot predominating. Drink now-2016 , probable
So, does Dry Creek Vineyard state the case for the entire region it dwells in? Absolutely. Many years ago, the Feist Publishing Company used a slogan located at the bottom of the page, for its popular American sheet music: "You'll never go wrong with a Feist Song!" I'd like to propose the following adage for this exuberant, always intriguing winery: "Never Dine Without a Dry Creek Wine"
If some of your friends are still out of town for the summer holiday (the bums) then you not only need something to do in their absence, but also can use an amusement to share upon their return. The Web site Cellartracker.com will make instant experts and sharp buyers out of each of you. Say you're pondering buying the 2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc I've mentioned today. Go to Cellartracker and type in the information. Instantly you'll have varied opinions from across the country and the world. Will this put me out of business? Well, you'll never really know about this person who called the Dry Creek Fumé "so non-antiseptic." (?) Some reviewers are beginners. Some are old pros. But if wine X gets 15 reviews, it's easy to see in what direction the wind is blowing.
You can look up what you already own, something you'd like to try or perhaps what a friend is raving about. Cellartracker will give you an idea of not only its quality, but whether it's drinking well now. I readily admit that I've looked up some of my own oldies in the cellar to see what people think. If they all say, "Wish I had waited five more years before drinking it" then this is vital information. I probably spend way too much time looking up fascinating wines, but like a gambler, I really enjoy getting the spread. It's another Internet marvel that you can use fruitfully. I'm not on their payroll. I'm just in love.
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