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Loire Valley Inspiration from California
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 17, 2018
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Dry Creek Vineyard, Clarksburg, Chenin Blanc, 2017 ($15):  The weather was uncomfortably warm and humid when I prepared to taste wine samples, forcing me to scrap my plans to open powerful Australian reds.  Fortunately, I had on hand a lovely trio of white wines from Dry Creek Vineyard.  Over its 46 years of wine production in Sonoma County, Dry Creek Vineyard has held fast to its original inspiration, the white wines of the Loire Valley region of France -- the sort of wines that are perfect in summer.

My tasting involved three wines from the 2017 vintage:  Two Sauvignon Blanc wines and a Chenin Blanc.  True to the Loire Valley prototype, the two Sauvignon Blanc wines are different in style, one lighter and crisper and the other, a bit fuller and more complex.  The Chenin Blanc is made in a dry, medium-bodied style and is a wine that’s perennially applauded by wine critics.

Dry Creek Vineyard has made Chenin Blanc every year since the winery’s founding in 1972. Originally, the grapes grew in Dry Creek Valley, but for the past almost-thirty years, they have come from Clarksburg, an area in the Sacramento Delta -- and in 2017, from a single-vineyard. Not to my surprise, it was my favorite of the three wines.  With aromas of peach, honeysuckle, pear and honeydew, and flavors of lemon and green apple, this wine is simply delicious.  More than delicious, it is a solid, high-quality wine, its crisp acidity well-balanced by medium alcohol and substantial, rich texture, and its concentration of flavor impressive, especially considering the wine’s modest price.  Fresh, lively, flavorful -- what’s not to like?

Unlike the Chenin Blanc, the two Sauvignon Blanc wines hail from Sonoma County.  One is made from Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley fruit, and carries a Sonoma County AVA, while the other -- the one named Sauvignon Blanc -- comes specifically from Dry Creek Valley.  David Stare, founder of Dry Creek Vineyard, was the first person to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley, in 1972.  It was a controversial move then, but the success of his Sauvignon Blanc vindicated his decision; today Sauvignon Blanc is the most planted grape variety in the Dry Creek Valley region.

The winery’s classic Sauvignon Blanc, produced every vintage since 1972, is called Fumé Blanc ($15).  This name can be confusing for those who have come to associate the term Fumé Blanc with oak aging, because this wine is produced entirely in stainless steel.  It’s a straightforward, crisp Sauvignon Blanc, with pronounced aromas and flavors of lemon, grapefruit, some tropical fruit (pineapple, passionfruit) and a vague suggestion of fresh herbs.  It has good depth of flavor and enough richness of texture to be easy-drinking.  I enjoy this wine super-cold so that its crispness and depth are intensified.

The Dry Creek Vineyard wine named Sauvignon Blanc ($20) is quite different -- richer, more complex, and even more flavorful.  It’s made from 81.5 percent Sauvignon Blanc blended with 13.5 percent Sauvignon Musqué and 5 percent Sauvignon Gris.  It is also partially (18 percent) barrel-fermented.  The result is a dry, relatively full-bodied, mouth-filling Sauvignon Blanc with creamy texture.  Its aromas suggest melon, orange, and honey and its flavors suggest ripe apple, pear, tangerine, and tropical fruit, with an undercurrent of minerality; that minerality is key because it grounds the flavors and enables the wine to be more “serious” than such a flavorful wine might otherwise be.  Although I am captivated by the Chenin Blanc, I believe this Sauvignon Blanc is a higher caliber wine because it is more complex, with more textural richness and more staying power.

All three of these wines are terrific for warm weather drinking, and are also very food friendly. For me, the Chenin Blanc ranks as perhaps the finest $15 white wine from California.  But of course Chenin Blanc is a world-class, under-appreciated grape.  Hence the quality, and hence the value.

Chenin Blanc, 90 Points
Sauvignon Blanc, 91 Points