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A Steal of a Chardonnay
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 27, 2014
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Dry Creek Vineyard, Russian River Valley (California) Chardonnay DCV Estate Block 10, 2012 ($30):  Now that the era of over-oaked, heavy-handed winemaking is behind us, I find that California Chardonnays are reaching new heights of quality, and I am enjoying these wines more than I ever have.  In a recent blind tasting of ten Chardonnays ranging from $15 to $50-plus, I rated all but two of them at 90 points or higher.  Of my favorite wines, one that particularly struck me was this Dry Creek Vineyard Chardonnay -- not only for its quality but also for its exceptional value.

Dry Creek Vineyard is one of California’s old-school wine estates, having been founded 42 years ago and now well into its second generation of family ownership.  Unlike many elite brands born of purchased grapes that are vinified in rented winemaking facilities, Dry Creek Vineyard is a genuine wine estate with 185 acres of vines.  Of course, it is not alone in this category of family-owned wine estates, but among the long-established wineries in California, it deserves more recognition than it receives, in my opinion. 

The Chardonnay program at Dry Creek Vineyard has seen production narrow again and again.  From 30 thousand cases in the late 1990s, when the grapes were sourced from all over Sonoma County and only about 30 percent of them were estate-grown, the winery’s Chardonnay production dropped to only 7,500 cases in 2003 when the Chardonnay began to carry the more specific Russian River Valley designation.  In 2008, production again dropped by about half as the winery focused on a single-vineyard bottling called Foggy Oaks from an estate vineyard.  As of the 2012 vintage, production is down to only 1,250 cases of Chardonnay, all from the DCV Estate Block 10 in Russian River Valley -- a block that represents the finest part of that estate vineyard; the remaining 90-plus percent of the grapes are sold to other wineries.  Surprisingly, this wine costs only $30.

Stylistically, this 2012 is a Chardonnay that is both rich and structured -- not flamboyantly rich and not austerely structured, but a modulated wine that combines elements of both styles.  Its richness shows in the ripeness of the wine’s fruit aromas and flavors (apple, lemon, peach), in its full, broad palate weight and in its soft creaminess of texture.  Its sleeker, more structured side shows in the wine’s beautiful, refreshing acidity and in its freshness and delicacy.  Holding the wine in your mouth, you sense the richness and creaminess and fullness, but then you might notice, mid-palate, a firm backbone of acidity from which the richness is hanging.  Within its richness, the wine reveals freshness, vitality, and a juiciness of fruit.  It is a wine of superior balance.

Besides its very specific vineyard sourcing, this wine is the product of whole-cluster pressing of the grapes, native yeast fermentations for part of the juice, barrel fermentation in French oak barrels (30 percent of which were new), and extended lees contact.  Most of the wine (85 percent) underwent malolactic conversion. Other than a slight spicy note in the aroma, very little about the wine says “oak.”

This wine weighs in at 13.5 percent alcohol, another indication of its balance and its moderation.

91 Points