Most wine regions are defined by either a grape or a style. Last week, as I rode my bike through picturesque Dry Creek Valley, my thoughts turned to what I consider this Northern Sonoma appellation’s dilemma.
It doesn’t have a signature grape nor wine nor even winery.
Many grapes excel here. Most people consider Zinfandel its star red wine, and there are some excellent Zins for sure, witness the sheer power and opulence of the 2005 Carlisle Zinfandel (93 points, $33) or the 2006 (92, $33), or Mazzocco’s latest bottlings, the best turnaround effort in years. There are also gems from Carol Shelton or Dark Horse.
Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc also perform well here, too, and occasionally Cabernet stars, such as with the 2003 Dry Creek Vineyard Endeavour (90, $55).
But the highs seem too few and far between to get excited about. The area has several high-profile wineries, chief among them Gallo of Sonoma, but also Ferrari-Carano and the aforementioned Dry Creek Vineyards. But Gallo’s and Ferrari-Carano’s best wines don’t hail from this turf and some of the once-leading producers, such as Rafanelli, Ridge (with its Geyserville bottling), Nalle and Quivira, haven’t made exciting wines in years.
Rafanelli once held out the greatest promise with its richly flavored reds. Its Cabernet and Zinfandel were once among the best in the state, on equal footing with Napa’s top Cabernets. But the wines have been well off the mark now for several vintages, and the truth is, there are many dull and ordinary wines being made and poured and sold in tasting rooms here, and that’s too bad, because the wines could be and should be much better.
It would help if Dry Creek had a signature grape or wine, and certainly Syrah and Zinfandel have potential. It’s also a boost having Sbragia Family Vineyards here, too, with its excellent Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
But the area as a whole needs to rededicate itself to setting higher quality standards. If that happens we might all be surprised by how compelling the wines could be.