Friday, September 9, 2016

Dry Creek Valley - you must visit !

To me Dry Creek Valley is worth Napa , or even better, is much better than Napa considering it's much less busy and the wine is of comparable quality while being more accessible.

1. La Crema

While driving , as usual randomly, I landed in Healdburg. And across from the parking lot was the tasting room for La Crema. Quite a famous and commercial winery, I was still tempted to give it a chance.

And lucky me : they had an amazing selection of wines from different regions, sold only at the tasting room.

To me La Crema is a must visit . Why ? Because they have a very smart selection and a great region overview : for each grape type they make a wine from Carneros, Russian River, Alexander Valley and sometimes even other regions.

What does this mean ? It means you can try next to each other Pinot Noirs ( and Chardonnays) from Carneros, Russian River, Alexander Valley and sometimes even single vineyards. Same grape which is expressed extremely differently, and the wine maker knows how to express the exact differences and strenghts of each region.

I personally preferred Alexander Valley terroir and wine making style. But this was probably the best way to learn about wine. Stop by and have fun.

2. Simi

I continued with a visit of Simi winery. If  La Crema was so good and commercial perhaps Simi will be similar.
The tasting team was certainly fun. The atmosphere was great. They had snacks you could buy, and good ones too. But honestly I couldn't tell the difference between the $35 ones ( nothing cheaper ?) and the $100 ones.

I then decided to focus on Zins and I followd the recommendation of the tasting room team at La Crema and went to :

3. Limerick

Limerick Lane Vineyard, on Limerick Lane of course.
A wonderful little winery. Their wine maker being from Hungary they imported the grapes to make Tokaj but they make a dry wine out of them. Really interesting.

Tiny winery, family owned. The family lives in the house next door , with 3 ( or 4 ?) kids , and apparently a dozen pets of all species.
I particularly appreciated the tasting room manager who was both fun and knowledgeable. I am embarrassed to say that I appreciated it so much I forgot to take notes and I forgot what I tried.
I will have to go back :)

As I was set to find the famous Zins Dry Creek Valley is supposedly known for I googled : best Zins in Dry Creek Valley. And guess what came up ?

4. Papapietro's Winery

I walked into Papapietro's winery ready to try their apparently famous Zin. And guess what ? They make 10 Pinot Noirs and only 1 Zin. And the Zin is kind of a side wine for them. I am not the first customer to walk in to try their Zin and love their Pinot Noirs.
Prices vary, of course, from about $35 to a very reasonable top range of around $75. If you look at their wine ratings on Vivino they get as close to perfect as I ever found.
And rightfully so. I think they are an underrated winery, comparable to the $300 wines from Napa. A great kept secret. A fun staff, a great wine tasting room ...
One has to go and try their Pinots.
On the way out of Papapietro's I drove, yet again, by a sign saying "Old Vine Zin and Cab" .
I drove past. I stopped and turn around to finally, at the 3rd time I drove by, drive into:

5. Nalle Winery

On the way in I took this wonderful picture inspiring and calm thinking how much I wish I had a place like this to calm down sometimes for a little while.
I than walked in the it was the best visit of the day.
The wine maker, Andrew, and his wife , were doing the tasting.
They have a 5 months old daughter, named Lina. Mine is 6 months and called Mina.
And I talked to them about my Amarone project and... they brought out their own Amarone experiment Andrew had made especially for his wife for their wedding.

The winery has been in the same family for 4 or 5 generations. And they express their grapes in a  traditional way. Wines with a lot of aromas, perhaps nost the most elegant, the way I like them. Brut
 aromas of fruits and loaded with fun.

Left with a case, I think. If not I should have. I hope to stay in touch.

Russian River Valley

While I am staying in San Francisco for a few months I decided to explore off the usual path of Napa and Sonoma.
I spent 1 weekend around Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley.
Saturday was around Russian River Valley and it was a short day with only 3 wineries.

As usual I got there before the wineries were even open. And I randomly drove around and drove into a random winery. This has never failed me and it always led to fun places made even fun by the surprise and the adventure.

1. Battaglini

I started with Battaglini. The winery was bought by a couple of Italian origin more than 20 years ago. They were looking for a small 1/2 acre winery. But they found this 30 acres winery with really old vines who's grapes were being sold and they fell in love.
The owner has been making the wine ever since.
They have very interesting wines, made in the traditional style ( read: to be aged before you drink it , and with wild yeast off the grapes).

They have received quite a few prizes for their Zins. The most concentrated ones come off the slopy part of the vineyard where water is scarcer because it accumulates on the flat part. They therefore make 3 qualities of Zin : no slope (cheapest), medium slope  ( medium price) and steepest slope and most expensive. The prices are around $40. The slope combined with the extremely old vineyard ( grown in the old round shape vs the modern straight lines cuts) makes the Zins certainly unique and worth a detour.

What I retained even more in fact was the $18 2003 Chardonnay. Yes, you read well, 2003 Chardonnay that has the color of honey and a surprisingly low price. The price is low because most likely nobody buys aged Chardonnay. And personally I loved it. Everybody has difference taste in wine, and lucky me, I strongly prefer to be in the minority.  I left with a few bottles.

2. Hook and Ladder

We than randomly , of course, drove into Hook and Ladder. Not too far in fact from the quite famous DeLoach , of which I used to be a club member until I couldn't drink their wine fast enough.

What attracted us to drive in ? The red fire truck parked by the road in front of the vineyard.

Walking in I could tell they didn't have a lot of pretention.
And lucky I was.

They had a very impressive selection of grapes, among the most diverse I've seen in the region: Sangiovese, Merlot, Cab Sauv, Pinot Noirs,  Cab Franc etc. And in most of them multiple qualities of course. Quite a menu. And my favorite part ? The prices were in the $15 to $30 range.

I really think that keeping the wine below $30 makes it much more accessible and fun.
So many wines everybody had a different favorite. I left with the Sangiovese mostly, but also had a few other ones.

This business (or wine ?) strategy reminded me DeLoach's reasonable prices and great quality, at least for their entry level wines. ( I personally think the best quality to price for wineries like DeLoach and La Crema are their entry level wines which are typically $15 or so and I think have 80% of their $40 wines).

And guess what ? The owners of Hook and Ladder used to own DeLoach until they sold it to the French family. And they are at it again. I would certainly like to keep Hook and Ladder in sight.

And bonus points :  As great price to quality think alike on wine , they recommended Al's Place restaurant for a Michelin star restaurant at reasonable prices  in San Francisco. We went a few weeks later and Al's Place is probably among the top 3 most innovatives restaurants I've been at an unbeatable $75 per person ( very reasonable I think !). A must visit !

3. Russian River Vineyard

Do not be confused : there is a vineyard called Russian River Vineyard, in the region called Russian River. Somehow the name was not taken and they took it.
The best part : they have a great restaurant on the property. You MUST try the burger.
The wines ? Great , very good. But a little sad that they didn't have much under $65 except a "Beaujaulais style" Pinot Noir. And you know what ? I personally don't care much for the French Beaujolais , but I loved this one. But for $35.... I still feel it was a little steep.