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Golden Anniversary Wines from a California Classic
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 6, 2022
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Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley, Old Vine Zinfandel 2019, and “The Mariner” Meritage 2019 ($38, $50):  It was one of those evenings:  We were almost finished with dinner, and the bottle of Pinot Noir that we had opened the previous evening was empty.  But we each wanted just one more glass of wine.  Nothing so serious that it would be better served as the featured wine of a meal.  We grabbed a Zinfandel from Dry Creek Vineyards because we are not big Zinfandel fans, but after a couple of tastes we realized that we had seriously underestimated the wine.  We had to restrain ourselves from drinking the whole bottle.  The next day, I tasted the wine again for this column, opening another Dry Creek Vineyards red, The Mariner, alongside it.

One thing I believe about Dry Creek Vineyards is that its wines are always reliable, and that the wines — white or red — are great go-to options.  It feels as if I have known the brand forever, and I nearly have.  I remember the early Fumé Blanc wines that founder David Stare promoted in the NYC market in the mid-1980s, and through the years, the wines that Stare’s daughter, Kim Stare Wallace, became responsible for.  Last year’s 2021 vintage in fact marked fifty years of winemaking for Dry Creek Vineyards.  Whatever has changed has made the wines better than ever.

That Zinfandel that we underestimated was the 2019 Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley.  It derives from vines with an average age of 100-plus years, some as old as 140 years.  These are head-trained (gnarly, un-trellised) vines that are dry-farmed, without irrigation.  Yields are painfully low at 1 to 2 tons/acre.  The grape berries are concentrated with flavor and rich with color, producing concentrated, flavorful wine. This vintage is 78 percent Zinfandel, with 19 percent Petit Sirah and 3 percent Carignan.

For a while, I was a fan of red Zinfandels in general, but eventually found their heady richness and high alcohol excessive, as was the sweetness I perceived.  Now I will drink only truly dry Zinfandels. This Dry Creek Vineyards Old Vine Zin is truly dry.

The wine’s aroma is pronounced, focused and complex, with fruity notes (blackberries, boysenberries), spicy notes (cinnamon, black pepper), savory mineral notes of graphite, herbal notes of tea leaves and dried herbs, and powdered cocao — a wine to “drink” with your nose as well as your mouth.  The wine is dry, full-bodied, and juicy with concentrated fruit flavors, smooth-textured and well-knit with firm tannins woven through the fruit, as well as long and lingering when you swallow.  The wine hails from a mild and lengthy growing season that enabled the grapes to be harvested slowly over more than two months, for full ripening. The wine aged for 15 months in French, Hungarian and American oak, 27 percent of which was new.

The 2018 Meritage ‘The Mariner,’ Dry Creek Valley, is a wine whose blend varies according to the vintage. In 2018, Cabernet Sauvignon ruled the blend at 68 percent, with Merlot at 13 percent, Malbec and Petit Verdot each at 8 percent, and Cab Franc at 3 percent.  

As befits a Cabernet Sauvignon wine, the aroma is gentle and low-key. It carries many classic Bordeaux notes, such as cedar, graphite, red and black currants, and an early whiff of tobacco and leather.  Cranberry, chocolate, and coffee also are detectable.  In your mouth, the wine is dry, full-bodied with refreshing high acidity and soft, dusty tannins.  I find the flavors mainly earthy and savory, balanced by persistent but polite fruity notes that understand their supporting role in this graceful styling.

This wine aged for 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, 44 percent new.

For wine drinkers who consume mainly young, fruity wines, this 2018 ‘The Mariner’ is a great opportunity to experience a current release with some of the complexity of tertiary notes derived from aging, such as leather and earth.  This wine seems destined to develop beautifully with bottle age, about 10 years depending on your storage.

2019 Old Vine Zinfandel, 92 Points
2018 “The Mariner,” 93 Points     

Read more of Mary Ewing-Mulligan's Wine Columns:  "On My Table"
More wine reviews:       Wine Reviews