May 8, 2013

Appel on wine: Dry Creek proof that, sometimes, simply dependable is enough

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"If you're a smaller producer," Bell said, "you can speak to all your customers and explain variations due to weather, native-yeast fermentation or other factors. But because we're relatively big (DCV produces 100,000 cases per year), I can't reach everyone to explain why this year is different from last."

The DCV red wines are hallmarks of consistency, integration, balance and restraint. Even the Heritage Zinfandel 2010 ($18) is listed with 13.5 percent alcohol, and while it can't be quite that low (actual and listed levels can vary by up to 1.5 percentage points in domestic wines), it's so bright and lively you just want to jump for joy.

Bell adores this cooler vintage, and is "particularly excited" about a new parcel DCV has bought, planted to many different selections of Zinfandel and Primitivo. They're head-training the vines, old-school Zin style, which allows each cluster of the notoriously soft-skinned grape to hang alone, protected and clean.

The wine is a spry mix of raspberry, barbecue sauce, Turkish coffee and warm spice, with plenty of grip via soft tannins. Forget Tom Hanks; this is Bill Murray: fun, intelligent, wry and poignant.

Back to Hanks for the Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($25), an exceptionally drinkable, smooth wine. And yes, estate-based California Cabs with tempered alcohol (again, 13.5 percent), ripe-but-not-bursting fruit, and integrated tannins are exceptional. There's a lovely, almost Sangiovese-like dust in the background, and a leafy quality, both of which are just what you want with all the flavors of sweet red candy, cherries and cola (cola like you still find in Europe: in 8-ounce bottles, sweetened with sugar instead of corn syrup).

Dry Creek also makes a "meritage" wine: a Bordeaux-blend with crushes on Malbec and Super Tuscans. The Mariner 2009 ($43) is supremely rich and bold; bold but calculated, proof of intense, careful blending and two years in new and used oak barrels. The aromas are just amazing: spicebox, humidor, fruit leather, ripe cheese. On the palate it's almost sexual: blackberry and black plum, simmered with pig fat; a crackling fire but no smoke. The beautiful tannins do what tannins are supposed to do: act in a supporting role, lengthening and deepening the moment but never taking center stage.

It's a powerful wine, but the power is wielded judiciously, even kindly. From a big winery with eyes on the big picture, you'd expect nothing less.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at


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