Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wine: Vinography: Trying To Pin Down an Apellation's Flavors

A post to Vinography today describes a 40 bottle tasting of Dry Creek Valley zinfandels. The express purpose of the tasting was to establish what Dry Creek on the whole tastes like. This got my attention because the Dry Creek Valley is just about the only American wine growing region that I have had a sense of tasting a particular way. Namely, like cherries.

I've mentioned this before in relation to two wines in particular — a 1996 Peterson Winery Zinfandel and the 2002 Somers Ranch Zinfandel. The Dry Creek Vineyards folks prefer to describe the fruit as pomegranate, which has an attractive specificity but seems a little willful.

It would be tempting to say that Paso Robles also has a distinctive terroir, if pressed though I could only describe wines from the area as characteristically huge and high in alcohol content. Which isn't to say that Dry Creek doesn't have it's fair share of full-bodied and 15+ percent wines. We had one from Hop Kiln last month that gave the well known Rosenblum Rockpile Road a run for it's money. Both also evoke cherry.

Still... regardless of my sense that wines from Dry Creek Valley taste a particular way, an attempt to isolate the characteristic taste derived from that place in particular seems almost necessarily quixotic. The idiosyncractic sensibilities of the wine makers are part of what make Dry Creek so attractive in comparison to Napa.

I have never heard of an effort to isolate the taste unique to wines from Napa. What I do tend to hear when people describe cabernet from Napa, is how characteristic a given wine is with relation to some groupthink archetype of the varietal. I believe a tremendous effort goes in to ensuring that this is so, and it was never more clear to me than during a visit to Cakebread Cellars.

After years of steering clear of the larger wineries of Napa and Sonoma, we took a tour of Cakebread after spending a week in and around Anderson Valley. Our guide described an elaborate system of sensors planted among the roots of each head vine in the vineyard. Any fluctatuation in the precise moisture and mineral content of the soil of a given head vine triggered an actual alarm in the wine maker's home. The financial stakes that encourage this sort of approach to viticulture are clear enough, but the end result is almost necessarily increased homogenization - precisely the opposite of terroir.

No comments: