Story and photos by Dwight Casimere
Scenes from the Taste of Sonoma 2010
Perfect Barbeque wines from Dry Creek of Sonoma
SONOMA—Deep in the heart of Sonoma County, California’s fertile wine growing region, is Dry Creek Vineyard, a family-owned winery with 38 years of grape growing and winemaking experience. A sampling of their latest summer releases reveals wines that are perfect for the barbeque.
Founded by David Stare in 1972, his original plan was to move to France to build his own chateaux, after several trips to the Loire Valley. After hearing about the burgeoning wine industry in California, he began taking classes at FUC Davis, the nation’s most prestigious oenology school, and spent his weekends surveying vineyard land. It was during one of those weekend forays that he was drawn to Dry Creek Valley. He stumbled upon his dream location, an old prune orchard across from the Dry Creek General Store. Ripping out the old fruit trees, he began planting grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, to be exact. Against the advice of more experienced vineyards managers, Dave stuck to his guns and continued planting Sauvignon Blanc. “It tuned out to be one of my best decisions,” he later recalled. Now the winery, run by his son in law, Dave Wallace, President and his daughter, Kim Stare Wallace, Vice President, the winery has become celebrated for a whole palette of exquisite wines that reflect the unique soil and climate of Dry Creek Valley.
Their 2007 The Mariner ($40), a red blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 4% Cabernet France and 4% Petit Verdot is a classic example of the rich, structured wines typical of the Dry Creek Valley. The wine is well put together, with a core flavor of rich, dark fruit with an overlay of chocolate and black plums. I had a couple of glasses with a bone-in the Gumbo Shop in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Adding a hunk of hickory wood to the ashen-white coals gave the steak a layer of smoke flavor that blended perfectly with the wine. Both the steak and the wine had an underlying mineral character that added to the flavor adventure. I’d put Dry Creek The Mariner high on my list for an outdoor cookout featuring marinated steak or ribs!
One of the first wines I tasted when I moved to California in the early ‘70s was a dry Chenin Blanc. I had it with a bowl of Cioppino, a hearty Italian-inspired seafood stew, unique to San Francisco’s North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf, which features jumbo Shrimp (called Prawns, by the locals) and copious chunks of Dungeness Crab meat and claws. My first experience with this wine and seafood combination was a heady one. I found myself reliving those moments, ducking in from the evening fog on Green Street into the North Beach restaurant, when I opening a bottle of 2010 Dry Creek Chenin Blanc ($12).
Dry Creek is considered the North American expert in creating great Chenin Blanc, and this vintage is no exception. It’s the perfect summertime wine. I made my own version of New Orleans-style Barbecue Shrimp. I do mine on the grill, Australian ‘shrimp-on-the-barbie” style, whereas the traditional New Orleans version involves searing the shrimp, marinated in Creole spices, in a cast iron skillet on the stove. There’s no ‘barbecuing’, per se, involved. Go figger! Anyway, since Chefs Prudhomme and Emeril weren’t staring over my shoulder, I proceeded to cook the shrimp (which I had trucked in from the Gulf, near New Orleans, just a few days before) over the open flame. Marinating them first in the aforementioned Gumbo Shop spices, I cooked them quickly, turning them after just a minute or so, being careful not to overcook.
I could barely wait long enough for the shrimp to cool off before I began biting into them and taking a healthy swig of the Chenin Blanc. It was like Mardi Gras in my mouth!
Dry Creek’s wine is 100% Chenin Blanc from the fertile Clarksburg, Sacramento Delta region, California’s version of the Nile. Fermented in stainless steel tanks for just over a month, the wine is bursting with zesty lemon, apple and pineapple flavors mingled with cantaloupe, white peaches with an undertone of chalky mineral. It’s simply delicious. I’m thinking about ordering a case of this one, because it’s quickly become my summertime favorite.
Zinfandel is always a sure bet for summertime drinking, especially casual food such as pizza, burgers, ribs and other types of barbeque. Dry Creek 2009 Heritage Zinfandel (a surprising $19) is one of the best Zinfandels I’ve ever had. It’s really lively and just brimming with jammy flavors that are characteristic of great Sonoma Zin. Just swirl it around in the glass and you get a face full of raspberries and blackberries. The smell practically jumps out of the glass! When you take the first sip, you get a mouthful of dense blackberry and anise flavors with a healthy dose of pepper. Ah-choo!!
This is truly an Old World Zinfandel (87% Zinfandel, 13% Petit Sirah, 198 months stainless steel, 10 months American and French oak) with the kind of snappy flavor that makes it an easy companion to the types of flavorful, ‘comfort’ foods that are staples of the summertime family cookout. I’ll be sure to have plenty of this wine on hand when I plan my Labor Day cookout.
Dry Creek wines are easily recognized by their distinctive label with the picture of a sailboat dominating. David Stare combines a passion for winemaking with his love of sailing. “Since the mid 1980s, when we first put a sailboat on our wine labels, Dry Creek Vineyard wines have become known as the wine for sailors,” said Stare. “The origins of our nautical themed labels are purely personal. We have enjoyed a long love affair with the sport of sailing and have a profound appreciation of America’s nautical heritage. “