Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Dry Creek Valley

I'm blazing down a potholed country road in Sonoma county buzzed and raging, three knuckles deep in a wine tasting excursion in the Dry Creek Valley.

In the passenger seat is C, she's the brains (and legs) of our operation. A wine tasting first-timer, she keeps the rest of us grounded in the real world, not spewing forth nonsense about the ephemeral green olive notes we pick up on our sauvignon blanc. In the back seat are S and A, two gallant gentlemen with more sense than money--a trait I wish I exhibited more often.

As I downshift hard in my VW I'm struck by the phenomenon that wine tasting inevitably involves drinking and driving on some of the most dangerous roads in the state. I firmly support this phenomenon.

I've been to most of the major wine growing regions of the state, but I hadn't hit up this stretch of Sonoma county before. Our first stop is Christopher Creek, a boutique hilltop winery (not technically in Dry Creek) spewing out what would prove to be a theme: zinfandel(s), syrah, petite sirah, and an obligatory chardonnay. All are big, jammy, spicy, and tannic. Universally.

Christopher Creek was good if unremarkable. Some of the wine would've been worth buying but they all started at close to $30 a bottle. In Napa and the Anderson Valley I found consistent quality in the $15-$20 bottle range (not to mention consistent industry discounts) on wines that were comparable and/or superior to the wines I tasted in Dry Creek. Irritating. Not a single waived tasting fee or industry discount on purchases either.

Doesn't make a professional want to recommend the wines, does it?

Nevertheless, whore that I am, I bought a bottle of their Deux Barriques Cuvee--a 50/50 blend of a single barrel of petite sirah and a single barrel of zin, aged separately for 18 months and then aged together for another 18 months.

Next stop was Ridge's Healdsburg tasting room. The standard bearer for zinfandel, Ridge proved to be a couple heads above any other zins that we tasted. Four different zins, four different vineyards, all different, all great. Ridge is Dry Creek's gatekeeper. They should put up those severe tire damage strips to keep people out. No need to go any further.

Optimistic after our satiety at Ridge we piled into the VW and tore the road up deeper into Dry Creek. We blitzed through the wineries with names like tranny hookers--Bella, Quivira, Preston, Zichichi. And just like with tranny hookers we found ourselves cockslapped with same tits and balls combo of zin/syrah/petite. That's all that anyone made. It was all competent or even good. It was all significantly too expensive.

Robert Parker must take particular pleasure in how wineries bend over backward to make wines to match is palate. He could probably rub one out just thinking about the wines from Dry Creek.

Not to say it was bad! The wineries were nice and the tasting room workers were friendly, if rather coked up and undressing me with their eyes, erect nipples on sagging withered dugs staring conspicuously through knit sweaters. Nothing I can control. I've come to accept it.

We decided to cut our losses and hightail it out of there, speeding out of the valley like a a bat out of some place worse than hell. I was fuming, A was banging his head on the window, S was bellowing profanities like a sodomized sailor, and C just wept softly as she clutched her knees to her chest.

All was not lost, however--we zigzagged our way through town and ended up at Landmark Vineyards (not in Dry Creek) where, despite having closed early, we were treated to a private tasting by the winemaker himself. Here we found nuanced chardonnays and pinot noirs--some of the most burgundian that I've had in California--coupled with informative discussion of the winemaking process. Tasty, intersting, subtle, and priced comparable to the jammy clusterfucks from Dry Creek.

Our final stop, a good final stop for anyone working their way back to the east bay, was at Cline in the Carneros area. What's this? Marsanne! Roussanne! Carignane! Amazing! Solid, interesting wines showcasing a variety of varietals at competitive prices. Redemption at last.

I don't want wines that are palate abusers. We've lost our taste for nuance in California wines, whether they're jammy reds or buttery whites. If we're not punched in the face with flavor we don't think it's good. There are so many varietals that grow great in California but our under-utilized because nobody's willing to be experimental. Nobody's willing to try new things. And I love zin--it's my favorite red varietal overall--but I Dry Creek wasn't doing anything interesting with the grape. It was rote.

So do us all a favor and make a point to dry new varietals and exciting blends. It'll be worth it.

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