(This article was first published May 3, 2011 on Simple Hedonisms wine blog)
Take a pristine, gorgeous day with spectacular vistas in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County, California. Combine it with a wide range of wine varietals and styles. Add generous portions of thoughtfully paired foods. Mix it up with music and friends – blues, salsa and even zydeco – and you have the makings of a weekend that brings together all of my favorite things. And, all the wineries have specials, case discounts, and in some cases $1 case shipping – a big saving for travelers. One of the best things about this wine event is the active involvement of the vintners, winemakers, vineyard managers, owners, and family members in serving the foods, pouring the wines, and mingling freely with the guests to share their perspectives on the wines.
This was Passport to Dry Creek 2011. Here are some highlights:
Dutcher Crossing: Coconut Prawn Cones with Mango Chili Sauce paired with 2009 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc. The taste is unique on this SB made with 9% Viognier, 7% Semillion, and 1% Roussane. It was well chilled and paired nicely with the prawns.
I found a hidden surprise in the tasting room: 2006 Dutcher Dry Creek Port, fortified with brandy and made from 40% Cabernet and 60% Syrah, all grown on the estate. The port was dark and chocolat-ey. Extra points for pairing it with Frozen Chocolate Whoppie Pies – two pieces of soft Oreo crust wrapped around a dollop of frozen chocolate ice cream. Yummy.
Sbragia Family: 2008 Gamble Family Ranch Chardonnay (grapes from Napa), paired with bean and pasta soup with Pancetta. I prefer unoaked, and this Chardonnay is made with oak. But it’s subtle oak flavors — without the buttery mouth feel and syrupy texture of so many over-done Chardonnays — made it highly drinkable.
Besides the wine, food, and hospitality, location is the highlight of Sbragia. The winery is a stunning building perched on a ridge opening to views all the way to Marin. By the time I got there the temperatures were in the high 70s, and live music from the terrace was filtering out over the property. Sbragias’ good wine and kitchen make this a must-stop for future tasting days. Now that summer weather is here, check the website for regularly scheduled music dates. An added bonus when you’re there: In the Italian tradition, Sbragia shares recipes from their kitchen. I took home a “Skewered Herb Crusted Pork Loin with Dried Fig Sauce,” recipe card from the tasting room – can’t wait to try this.
Unti Dry Creek Vineyards
Unti Vineyards: Unti sells about 50% of their 60 acres worth of grapes to other wine-makers. I’ve had wine made with Unti grapes, but this was my first visit and first taste of their wines. The Grenache wines were the highlight for me. Two: a 2010 Rose of 75% Grenache and 25% Mourvedre that was a lovely peach color, ultra-dry, 13.5% alcohol wine. Chilled, it’s a perfect lunchtime wine. And the 2007 Grenache itself was my favorite red wine of the day. Paired with a blues vocalist and tortilla nacho plate with melted cheese from Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. Thumbs-up.
Mazzocco. I couldn’t pass up the Cuban music and food theme at this wonderful winery location. Orchestra Borenquen and Zinfandel? Yes! The pairing was Flank Steak with Chimichuri and Saffron Prawns. It was the best food of the day. In addition to other varietals, Mazzocco makes vineyard-designate Zinfandels from 9 ranches in the region. They were barrel-tasting 4 of their 2010 Zinfandels for Passport. I favored the Stone Ranch Vineyard – their only Alexander Valley Zinfandel. Tasting right from the barrel, the wine was soft, fruity and naturally balanced. The Stone Ranch 2009 was sold out; but there were good discounts available on futures.
The Mazzocco property was beautifully laid-out for the event. The orchestra was shielded by a gigantic sunshade. Flank steak was cooked to order, perfuming the air. A Cigar Loft stood slightly away from the center, completing the Cuba theme.
Andre Thierry Zydeco
Seghesio Family. Seghesio went to town with a “Big Easy” theme. I loved the Cajun Barbequed ribs as served up by Pete Seghesio. They were meaty and succulent and went well with some of the featured Italian varietals such as a tobacco-ey 2008 Alexander Valley Sangiovese and a Zinfandel – Petite Sirah blend called “San Lorenzo.”
The Big Easy backdrop was the sounds of Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic. A local bay area group, Andre Thierry’s accordion brings his music heritage from southwest Louisiana together with an R&B sensibility to create upbeat and highly danceable music. If there had been a dance floor at Seghesio you would have seen some zydeco dancing too. As it was, the shaded venue on a warm afternoon was perfect … Mardi Gras beads handed out at the door and a glitter tattoo station completed the theme. That and the fresh beignets at the end of the tasting line.
A. Rafanelli. It’s always special to taste the limited production, handcrafted wines of the Rafanelli family. Even more special to visit this historic homestead winery, which is open by appointment only. And on Passport weekend the Rafanelli’s went “all-out.” I spoke to a number of people who return here each year for Passport. The 2008 Rafanelli Zinfandel and 2008 Rafanelli Cabernet – both of Dry Creek Estate-grown grapes – were pouring.
With this there were 5 food stations with 3 dishes each. Five stations! Fried artichoke hearts with Parmesan sauce, steak marinated and cooked in heaps of fresh rosemary, roasted red potatoes to name a few of the small bites offered each guest. The final station is two tables of chocolates. Two tables! The interplay of chocolate, Zin and Cab was sublime. Back outside the sounds of a traditional Italian trio with accordion and vocals set a festive mood.
Mounts Family. The short drive up to Mounts was worthwhile. The new 2010 Estate “Pink” Syrah (a light rose’) and delicate yet well-structured 2008 Estate Malbec were standouts, as was the shaded belly-dancing pavilion in the middle of a benchland vineyard just above the Dry Creek Valley floor. Middle-Eastern foods and a mini-cupcake of ginger capped with incredible syrah frosting completed the experience.
Quivira. A biodynamic winery and farm, Quivira served the only Sauvignon Blancs of the day. Both from the same vineyard and vintage but made in two different styles. One produced in pure stainless and the other in neutral oak with new acacia barrels and a hint of Viognier. I surprised myself by liking the acacia-fermented taste. Both wines were crisp and refreshing on the warm afternoon, and paired with small savory bites to enhance. My friend Sheri found her favorite wine of the day – a GSM+ red blend at Quivera. Called Elusive, the wine is 34% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 6% Petite Sirah. Quivera was also pouring a Mourvedre made from locally grown grapes; unusual because it is made without blending – it’s 100% Mourvedre. Mushrooms and blueberries delighted us in this wine.
Passalacqua. This is a charming winery hidden in plain sight across the road from Dry Creek Vineyards. I loved the gardens and vistas from their back deck, and their 2007 Sangiovese. This is a well-balanced Dry Creek Sangio with a highly satisfying tannic finish on it. Paired with flatbread pizza and Chocolate mousse gelato.
Mike Farrow, Amista Vintner
Amista Vineyards. I wasn’t hungry but I couldn’t pass up the Truffle Mac-n-Cheese with Arugula at Amista. It set off the Amista Syrah wines so nicely that I joined the wine club and brought some home. As a wine-club member I had access to the 2007 Syrah and a Sparkling Syrah that is not sold to the public. And soon a new Rockpile Cabernet will be available to members only. I’d been eyeing the Amista wines, their club and cooking events for some time. With the club benefits and entry-level membership, the time was right. We ended our tasting on a jolly note with proprietor and vintner Mike. A must-visit anytime you roll down Dry Creek Road.