Dutcher Crossing – 2007 Cooney Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

November 30, 2010

The Facts:

Dutcher Crossing Winery has a flair for making small lot wines from select vineyards. Many of these are sourced in Dry Creek Valley; a few of them come from surrounding areas. The 2007 Dutcher Crossing Cooney Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is such a single vineyard effort. The Cooney Vineyard (formerly Nevins Vineyard) is located in Alexander Valley. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and underwent open top tank punch down fermentation. It spent 24 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels were new. 361 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $43.

Dutcher Crossing Winery is located at 8533 Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg. They’re open every day from 11 AM until 5 PM. They close on a handful of major holidays. Please check their website for those specifics, or call them at 866-431-2711. Tours and private tastings are also available by prior appointment.

Gabe’s Take:

The Dutcher Crossing portfolio is loaded with impressive, full flavored wines. The small lot offerings, made from specific sites however are the ones that put them over the top. In terms of overall excitement from vintage to vintage those wines are the ones that speak to me the most. I’m glad to see with the vineyard changing hands and names that Dutcher Crossing is still making a Cabernet from this fruit.

Aromas of dark plum, black raspberry and spice fill the nose of this 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberry, cherry and toasty oak notes reverberate through the palate which is layered, intense and nicely proportionate. Hints of dust and smoke lead the finish which also features black tea, oodles of earth, and pencil lead. This wine has firm, grippy tannins and solid acidity.

If you’re going to drink this wine over the next couple of years I highly recommend decanting it for a couple of hours. However in a perfect world I’d lay it down for 3-4 years and drink it in the 5 years after that. After tasting through this wine I was stunned to learn that the alcohol clocks in well over 15%. That level isn’t betrayed on the palate which shows no signs of heat. As winemaker Kerry Damskey is prone to do, he’s taken a small lot of site specific wine and allowed it to shine. Cabernet Sauvignon is the variety that sparkles the most in Alexander Valley, and Kerry has made sure this one does just that. This is a terrific wine to lay down for a special occasion, Christmas 2015 perhaps?

Dry Creek Vineyard – 2007 Somers Ranch Zinfandel

November 29, 2010

The Facts:

The Dry Creek Vineyard 2007 Somers Ranch Zinfandel is a single vineyard effort with all the fruit originating at the namesake site. The vines at the Somers Ranch have over 20 years of age on them. This offering is 100% Zinfandel. This wine was aged in a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak over a period of 17 months; 50% of the barrels were new. 469 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $34. Dry Creek Vineyard is located at 3770 Lambert Bridge Road in Healdsburg. They’re open daily from 10:30 AM until 4:30 PM. Private tasting options and tours are available by prior appointment. Check their website for the details or call them at 800-864-9463.

Gabe’s Take:

With several of their wine programs Dry Creek Vineyard offers numerous expressions. Zinfandel is one of the varieties that are represented in that manner. They produce both cuvee style offerings and single vineyard efforts. Over the years I’ve found each to be distinct and interesting in its own right. That said the Somers Ranch had been amongst my very favorites, so I was eager to taste the current vintage.

Aromas of bramble and spice light up the nose of this 2007 Single Vineyard Zinfandel. Red and black berry flavors along with plum and pomegranate shine brightly throughout the palate. Fleshy dark fruits lead the finish which also shows off copious spice notes; cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla bean among them. Dark chocolate, pencil lead and hints of black pepper provide the final wallop of flavor. This Zinfandel has supple, yielding tannins and solid acidity.

This Zinfandel is an excellent expression of Dry Creek Valley. It’s also a Zin that can be thought of with age-ability in mind. While it’s delicious now this wine will improve in the bottle over the next 4-5 years and drink well for several after that. If you’re looking for serious, classically styled Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley, the single vineyard efforts from Dry Creek Vineyard are a particularly great place to start.

Pedroncelli – 2008 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

November 23, 2010

The Facts:

The Pedroncelli 2008 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit sourced at their estate vineyards as well as from a couple of other growers. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (84%), Cabernet Franc (15%), and Malbec (1%) are blended in as well. This wine was aged for 15 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels; 30% of them were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $16.

The Pedroncelli Family has been making wine in Dry Creek since 1927. Their current releases can be tasted daily from 10 AM to 4:30 PM at the Pedroncelli Tasting room located at 1220 Canyon Road in Geyserville. Many times when I’ve been in their tasting room they have something older from the library open to taste and purchase. As with their current releases they offer these library selections at very reasonable prices. So keep an eye out for them when you stop in.

Gabe’s Take:

Zinfandel gets the headlines and the attention, but there is also quite a bit of exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley. It’s one of the secrets frequent visitors come to learn. The other part of the secret is that the great Cabernets that do emerge from DCV are generally terrific bargains when compared to wines of similar quality from neighboring regions. The Cabernets from Pedroncelli have been cut from that very cloth over the years, so I was eager to see how the 2008 vintage of their Three Vineyards release stacked up.

Hints of rose petals emerge in those nose and they’re quickly followed by red fruit aromas such as cherry and raspberry. The cherry characteristics play a strong role through the palate as well. It’s also joined by lots of spice, hints of earth and other additional red fruit flavors. Espresso, black pepper and continued earth notes all play a role in the finish which has good length. This wine shows off firm but yielding tannins and racy acidity.

This Cabernet Sauvignon, like the rest of the Pedroncelli portfolio is built with food in mind. You could pair this with a host of dishes of varying style and intensity of flavor. It’s a well rounded Cabernet that will adapt. It’s delicious now and will drink well over the next 4-7 years. You’d be hard pressed to find another California Cabernet Sauvignon of this quality for $16.

Wilson Winery – 2007 Roger’s Fault

November 18, 2010

The Facts:

The Wilson Winery 2007 Roger’s Fault was produced from Dry Creek Valley fruit. This blend contains Cabernet Sauvignon (43%), Merlot (21%), Petite Sirah (21%) and Cabernet Franc (15%). 340 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $30. Wilson Winery is located at 1960 Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg. They’re open daily from 11 AM until 5 PM. Several tasting options are available (some require a prior appointment). They close on some major holidays so check their website for those specific details or call them at 800-433-4602.

Gabe’s Take:

Zinfandel comes to mind first when I think of Wilson Winery. Rightly so I believe; because that trademark Dry Creek Valley variety is also their calling card. They make a wide array of very popular Zinfandels. However, if you take a slightly closer look you’ll see that their portfolio has so many other things in it. That includes Roger’s Fault which is a blend comprised of 3 Bordeaux varietals as well as Petite Sirah, which for my money is one of the noble grapes of Dry Creek Valley.

Dark berry aromas are supported by wisps of pencil lead and eucalyptus. Dark fruit characteristics carry through the palate; blackberry is the star. There are also components of dried cherry and plenty of spice. Dusty baker’s chocolate, emerging earth, chicory and black pepper all emerge in the finish which shows off good length. This wine has firm tannins which yield with some air.

I like this wine a lot for a variety of reasons. It shows off characteristics of the varieties in the blend nicely even as they come together to form a fully realized wine. It’s a tasty wine today, but those who are patient enough to lay it down for a few years will be rewarded. For $30 it represents a very good value.

Michel-Schlumberger – 2007 “La Brume” Chardonnay

November 17, 2010

The Facts:

Michel-Schlumberger is best known for their production of Bordeaux varietals. However quite a few other varieties also stand out there. Their wines are crafted from organically grown estate grapes. The goal at Michel-Schlumberger is to allow the fruit to shine through and speak of its place of origin, Dry Creek Valley and even more specifically with bench land, hillside and mountain vineyards, as part of the estate they shoot to highlight a sense of place far more specific than simply Dry Creek Valley. The 2007 Michel-Schlumberger “La Brume” Chardonnay was 100% barrel fermented in French oak and aged in barrel for 8 months. 1,760 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $32.

Gabe’s Take:

The white wines at Michel-Schlumberger are akin to sleeping giants. They’re probably not the first thing most folks think of when the winery comes to mind, but boy are they memorable. Between their Pinot Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay it’s hard to pick a favorite. However I do know Michel-Schlumberger is one of the Dry Creek Valley producers who does an equally adept job at both whites and reds.

The rich golden hue of this 2007 Chardonnay is immediately apparent when you look at this wine in the glass. Pear and citrus aromas lead the nose of this offering; they’re joined by gentle hints of subtle spice. Golden Delicious apples, pear, minerals and cream are all in evidence through the fruity, weighty mid-palate. Gentle wisps of toasty oak and copious spice notes in the form of white pepper, clove and nutmeg are all in evidence on the lengthy finish. More than anything this wine practically scream with tons of pure varietal character.

This Chardonnay is delicious on it’s own but is certainly made to excel with food. Roasted apples topped with mascarpone cheese would be a particularly delicious match. There aren’t a ton of Chardonnays in Dry Creek Valley, even fewer Estate Chardonnays. But there are a handful of exceptional ones, you can count this one in their number.

A. Rafanelli – 2008 Zinfandel

November 16, 2010

The Facts:

A. Rafanelli Winery has a long tradition in the Dry Creek Valley that dates back to the early 1900’s. Winemaker Shelly Rafanelli-Fehlman is the fourth generation vintner for her Family. Zinfandel represents their largest overall production. They also make Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a tiny amount of Reserve Cabernet. In total they produce approximately 10,000 cases of wine in most vintage years. The vast majority of their wine is sold through their tasting room and direct to consumers on their large mailing list. However, on a rare occasion, a small amount of Zinfandel can occasionally be found on select store shelves and usually sells for approximately $42. The 2008 A. Rafanelli Zinfandel was released in May of 2010. 6,000 cases were produced.

Gabe’s Take:

What has most impressed me over the years about the Rafanelli wines is the consistency of quality as well as their ability to maintain it year in and year out. Regions and Wineries have good and bad vintages but somehow the Rafanelli wines always maintain an excellent level of quality. Their dedication to managing their own fruit and putting the best of the best in their wines goes a long way. I was eager to taste the 2008 Zinfandel and see how it stacked up with the previous vintages I’ve had.

Ripe red and black raspberry aromas fill the heady nose of this 2008 Zinfandel. A touch of white pepper peeks out as well. Through the full flavored, layered and complete palate flavors of blackberry, plum and raspberry take center stage. Black pepper and plum pudding spice notes play a key role as well. Berry fruit flavors continue through the finish where they linger and reverberate along with a slight hint of earth and persistent spice. Firm acidity keeps things in check, making this wine a food lovers dream.

Similar to all the other Rafanelli wines I’ve tasted over the years this 2008 Zinfandel is full bodied, full flavored and well balanced. As with those other releases it’s also built for the long haul. While it’s delicious now a few years of patience will reward those who wait. If you do drink it over the next few years I recommend decanting it for a couple of hours to get the most out if it. This is another release from A. Rafanelli Winery that perfectly expresses the provenance of Dry Creek Valley, and the specific qualities of the Rafanelli Vineyards. This wine is well worth any extra effort that might be required to get your hands on some. I heartily encourage you to do just that.

Blending for a Cause at Dutcher Crossing

November 15, 2010

The Facts:

Debra Mathy spent a great deal of time looking for the right Winery before ultimately purchasing Dutcher Crossing. She made most of that journey across states and continents with her Dad. Unfortunately he passed away after battling a long illness before Debra found Dutcher Crossing. However he was certainly present in spirit when she ultimately found the winery she would purchase in 2007. In tribute to her dad Charles F. Mathy, Dutcher Crossing produces a wine each year in his honor. The proceeds from these releases benefit Cancer research.

Gabe’s Take:

It was both an honor and a privilege to be invited to take part in a blending session at Deb Mathy’s house for the next release of the Charles F. Mathy Tribute wine. While this wine each year is far from being the one with the most cases made, it is amongst the most important releases in their portfolio. Deb’s continued dedication to funding melanoma research is a terrific tribute to her father. However it also exemplifies the spirit of giving that embodies the best of Dry Creek Valley.

In addition to Deb and winemaker extraordinaire Kerry Damskey, about ten of us took part in the blending session. Amongst our group was grape grower and local legend, Tom Passalacqua. We started off with 5 glasses in front of each of us, representing the wines we’d use to pick the blend. The number of glasses grew as the session wore on. Represented were 2 Cabernet’s, a Merlot, A Zinfandel and a Syrah. We tasted each of the wines in succession and then we discussed what percentages of each we’d like Kerry to put together for us to sample. The only instruction we received about the blend was that the Cabernet from Tom’s TR Passalacqua Ranch should be the base from which we built. This lot of Cabernet, which was brilliant on its own, comes from Luciana’s Block, named after Tom’s granddaughter.

Over a couple of hours we kept Kerry busy; he put wines together in his beaker forming six distinct blends. It was particularly fascinating to note how a seemingly small splash of a couple percentage points could alter a blend significantly. Ultimately, while we all seemed to enjoy the second Cabernet quite a bit too, popular vote really favored highlighting the wine from Tom’s grapes as much as possible. The last vote came down to 2 blends. The tally was close but it was quite democratic. The final blend will be as follows: Cabernet Sauvignon from Luciana’s Block (76%), Merlot from Nelson Vineyard (9.5%), Syrah from Stagecoach Vineyard (9.5%) and Zinfandel from Bernier Sibary (5%).

This next version of the Charles F. Mathy Tribute wine will be released on Father’s Day 2011. There won’t be a lot of it, mark your calendar so you don’t miss out. It’s a delicious wine that will be even better after the components have time to come together over the next 6 or so months. I would be remiss if I didn’t offer another shout out and really a tip of the cap to Tom Passalacqua. Deb revealed that he generously donated the Cabernet from his vineyard for this project. That will make the proceeds from the sale of the 2008 Tribute higher, so more money for research. Kudos to Deb, Tom, and Kerry as well as everyone who took part in a fun afternoon of blending and tasting wine for an excellent cause.

Visiting Truett Hurst Winery

November 11, 2010

The Facts:

Truett Hurst in Dry Creek Valley is a partnership between Paul & Heath Dolan as well as Phil & Sylvia Hurst. They’re one of a growing contingent of Dry Creek Valley producers committed to Organic and Biodynamic farming. Their tasting room is located at 5610 Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg. They’re open every day from 11 am to 5 pm.

Gabe’s Take:

When I pulled into Truett Hurst the other day I hadn’t tasted there in over a year. Try as I might It’s hard to get everywhere sometimes. I’d recalled really enjoying my visit during Passport 2009 and they were on my short list of places to hit on my current trip. The things I recalled from that trip are still true. The grounds are beautiful with the estate serving as truly natural habitat for fish and creatures of all types. That’s in addition to fruit trees and vegetation of varying types as well. Not to mention some vines as well of course.

The tasting room at Truett Hurst is tastefully designed and easy to get comfortable in. Even its look is easy on the eyes and relaxes you the moment you walk in. Lots of natural light, comfortable furniture and soft colors help a lot. Of course none of that would matter much if the wines weren’t terrific which they are. Regardless of your taste you should find something to like. A Zinfandel Rosé is beautifully dry and everything crisp Rosé should be. Their just released 2009 Dark Horse is a blend of Grenache, Petite Sirah and Syrah from Paul Dolan’s Dark Horse Vineyards in Mendocino. It’s still a baby, but a delicious and sturdy one. Of course this is Dry Creek so there is Zinfandel to be had. Truett Hurst currently has four they’re pouring and each of them is distinct. My favorite wine on the list this trip was their Petite Sirah. It’s made from Dry Creek fruit as are the majority of their releases. A dark and luscious dessert wine ends things in the current Truett Hurst Portfolio. However they are also pouring several things from associated labels and projects.

To visit Truett Hurst is to see one of the newest producers in Dry Creek Valley; one whose ideas, farming practices and wines are very forward looking. And in addition to all that, it’s a hip, relaxing place to spend some time. That it’s staffed by warm, engaging folks who know their wines is important too.

Quivira Vineyards & Winery Ushers in a New Era

There are certain changes a Winery makes on a year to year basis that are transparent to consumers and don’t necessarily affect the wine that ends up on the shelf. And then there are changes that impact every aspect of an operation, from soup to nuts; bringing in a new winemaker is a wholesale change that can have a dramatic impact. Just about a year ago Quivira Vineyards and Winery brought aboard winemaker Hugh Chapelle. About a month ago I had the opportunity to Read The Whole Thing>>>

Wilson Winery – 2009 Sydney Vineyard Zinfandel

The Wilson Winery 2009 Sydney Vineyard Zinfandel was produced from fruit sourced at the wine’s namesake vineyard. This property which was planted in 1989 sits at an elevation of 1,500 feet. The Sydney Vineyard Zinfandel is a 100% varietal wine. Fruit was hand harvested and fermented in open top vessels with punchdowns three times a day. Aging took place in a combination of French and American oak over a period of 18 months. 540 cases were produced.Read The Whole Thing >>>