2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard

The 2017 Mariner is the second vintage covered here in Notes; the previous entry (written nearly six years to the day) presented the 2012 produced by the Stare family’s Dry Creek Vineyard. Based in Sonoma County, the vineyard has been on-task since 1972 and is known for its single-vineyard wines.

2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.
2017 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

Like the last bottle, this one was a thoughtful birthday gift from my mother and I uncorked it to much delight. On the nose it’s a pleasing blend of blackberry and leather…like unleashing a whiff of history. There’s also a hint of dryness and tannins promised, but that’s diminished when you pour The Mariner in your glass. It is purple-red in its hue, and shows medium legs.

Many winemakers (including several of my favorites) do not disclose their proprietary blends, preferring the mystique and the buzz that accompany their big reds. That’s not the case here, and I think I’m glad—a good wine is more than just the sum of disparate grapes. Having said that, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (15%) Cabernet Franc (6%), Petite Verdot (5%), and Malbec (5%) grapes make up The Mariner and that’s proudly displayed right on the bottle you see before you.

This evening, the 2017 Mariner was served with a delicious garlic-butter chicken and lemon asparagus, and I suggest the food brought out the blackberry fruits in the wine as well as just a kiss of pepper and maybe a little oak barrel goodness. Wine is great for creating memories, and the Mariner does that in spades. Thanks for the gift, Mom, and for making such a positive impact on our evening—we were both enjoying this one!

2016 Dry Creek Vineyard, “Old Vine” Zinfandel

After an unprecedented amount of October work travel, it’s amazing to just unwind for an evening. The world slows down for a beat and lets you appreciate the finer things in life. A day spent relaxing, sipping a fine glass of wine (or two!), and enjoying quality time. That’s what this night is all about.

Margaux’s Restaurant is playing host. It’s just into the cocktail hour, and the bartender is attentive with hors de’ouevres as well as the stemware. Having skipped lunch, we’re out early and seeking sustenance in all forms. Company, foodstuffs, and grapes too of course—this bottle is the 2016 “Old Vine” Zinfandel from Dry Creek Vineyards in Sonoma Valley (Healdsburg, actually). It’s an apt selection for Zin fans, and the winemakers pride themselves on harvesting fruit from old vines that are over 95 years in age—and in some cases more like 130. That’s a lot of time to take on the character of the terroir (here an iron-rich, rocky and gravelly loam), I am sure.

2016 Dry Creek Vineyard, “Old Vine” Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

So what about this Old Vine Zin? It’s a swirl of dark fruit flavors, with definite vibes of blackberry and perhaps plum in the mix. Like all the zins that resonate with this guy, there is a spicy note or two, and several other intangibles that I can never quite define as precisely as I’d like. This 2016 bottle is a combination of zinfandel (78%), petite sirah (19%), and carignane (3%) grapes, and it has a nice, rich finish that’s very gentle. 

Here’s how the Dry Creek team describes for you: “This vintage presents alluring aromatics of blackberry cobbler, fresh cranberries with notes of white pepper, cola and dried herbs. On the palate, brambly layers of black cherry, black raspberry and dark chocolate come forward with nuances of nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon.

Okay, so “spicy note or two” is vague but directionally solid. Sounds great, right? In researching I also uncovered that the 2016 was actually harvested the first week of September 2016, and it was stored 5 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak (27% new). We’re sampling with roasted Brussel sprouts, a chilled platter of Old Bay steamed shrimp, and a funky salad (or should I say “salat”?) involving a bit of Belgian endive wizardry. 

Thankful the evening and all the good things that it portends. Hoping you can put your hands on a bottle too and share your thoughts in the Comments section below. Enjoy your night, and your wine too. 

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rued Estates

The 2008 Rued Estate Cabernet Sauvignon packs a powerful cherry punch. You can taste it right away, a red fruity salvo that announces cherry to anyone sampling this Sonoma County Cab.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 6.59.18 PM

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rued Estates, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA.

I still don’t know if this is pronounced “red” or “rude” but it is striking in label design and obviously in its taste. Regardless, the winery is located in Dry Creek Valley, a fertile 2-mile stretch of land that receives cool morning fog and abundant afternoon sun. Notes has profiled a Dry Creek wine or two in its day, including a Cabernet Sauvignon, and you can see the overall semblance of this red gem to those wines if you care to explore those tastings further.

This bottle I had with a hearty winter dinner, a sheet pan deviled chicken (slathered with a smoky spice / Dijon coating) and a really delicious side of collared greens (accented with yellow onion and garlic) and a baked sweet potato. All tasted great and probably would be even better if not for the head cold that has plagued me and my taste buds as of late.
I don’t have as much experience with the 2008 vintage but this one is worth a repeat. The initial production was less than 400 cases, though, so you may not have many options for doing so. This 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is barrel-aged for 30 months in French oak (more old oak than new) and smells of cherry from the very first pour. Consequently, you see the color as red but probably veers closer to purple than you’d initially think. There is a hint of pepper in play too, but not like a Syrah, and the ’08 from Rued has gentle, dry tannins.  I hope you enjoy this wine as much as I did and thanks for your continued readership of Notes.

2010 Meritage, Dry Creek Vineyard

This 2010 Meritage was part of a great gift set that I received from my mother for my birthday last month. It was not supposed to be the headliner of this trio (that was due to be The Mariner) of reds, but in truth it was. We enjoyed The Mariner to be sure, but whereas that wine did not quite live up to its reputation (I still think of its sharp notes) this Limited Production 201o wine very much did.

2010 Meritage, Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma, California, USA.

2010 Meritage, Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma, California, USA.

We uncorked the 2010 without much fanfare as part of our dinner preparations and did not let it breathe before tumbling it out, fresh, berry, and vibrant, into our waiting glassware. By contrast to the vineyard’s Mariner, it is much more even and less tannic in its makeup. You get a big whiff of cherry and black berry layered together, and a subtle little ribbon of vanilla that winds through the red blend. I’ve previously broken down the mix of this big red, and I think you get that vanilla from the Cab but am not really sure. Is it perhaps the Merlot that helps get that nice, meaty balance here? Try it and let me know.

The 2010 Heritage from Dry Creek Vineyard–one of the first post-Prohibition vineyards in Dry Creek Valley–accompanied a set of delicious steaks. My wife had doctored up the meat with a great spice rub of rosemary and sage, plus the usual salt and pepper, and I for a change remembered to pull the steaks from the grill with enough time to let ’em set up nicely on our plates. Complement that and the wine with some roasted potatoes (fingerlings?) and fresh asparagus and you’ve got quite a nice spread to enjoy with loved ones.

My only disappointment was the end of the bottle, and knowing that no more of these rest comfortably on our wine shelf for next weekend. Here’s to always leaving ’em wanting…

2012 The Mariner, Dry Creek Valley

This Bordeaux-style red blend is produced by Dry Creek Valley Vineyard, a family-owned winery in northern Sonoma Valley. It’s been in the Stare family since 1972 when, inspired by trips to the Loire Valley, founder David Stare purchased an old prune orchard in Dry Creek Valley and started planting grape vines that would become his family’s winery. Today they produce single-vineyard wines, reds and whites in their “signature” series, and this Mariner–which I received as a special birthday gift.

The 2012 vintage has had accolades from various reviewers, and you can find them scattered throughout the web. If you’re still reading here on Notes, though, you’re less interested in numeric scoring or some high-brow critic’s take on this 2012 meritage. You’re looking for a “real world” analysis and I’m happy to share.

2012 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma, California, USA.

2012 The Mariner, Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma, California, USA.

The first thing you should know is that the 2012 The Mariner accompanied our steak dinner on this Memorial Day weekend. My wife and I had an opportunity to slow down from the usual pace of the week, and we used it to great advantage. Our steaks were seasoned with a special home-made “proprietary” blend of spiced salt and smelled of sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. The steaks set for perhaps an hour, and we thought The Mariner would be a great complement, given its own hints of spice and blueberry smells. We also had corn fresh from the cob and a killer potato salad that tied the summer meal together–quite a platform on which to display The Mariner.

Here’s how the Stare family shares its summary of this delicious 2012 red blend: “The wine displays high-toned perfume aromas of rose petal, cranberry, blueberry and oregano. Several more minutes reveal hints of wild sage, allspice and dark cherry characters. The palate is full and rich with mouthfilling complexity carrying notes of espresso, sweet vanilla, anise and dark fruit tones. The tannins are smooth and supple providing balance and sophistication.” I wholeheartedly support their fruit flavors, but I am not sure the tannin profile is quite accurately posed. Even after allowing the bottle to breathe for some time, my wife noted its sharper scent on the nose and, though I thought it less pronounced in tasting, it is definitely still present (is that from the Malbec?). Not sure if aging the bottle for a longer period or perhaps decanting would bring it more in line with the winemaker’s original intentions?

The 2012 is a red blend consisting of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc, and its is aged for 20 months in French oak (50% new oak). It is very easy drinking and would be great to have another at some point in the future. The meal was fantastic, and the wine was really damn good too–there’s not a drop of this left after our Sunday dinner.