Ridge Vineyards’ Paul Draper is a legendary winemaker and one of the three best and most knowledgeable zinfandel producers (wine geeks can guess the other two), having made zins from some of the best vineyards from across California. I was talking with him a few years back for an article I was doing on Paso Robles reds and asked Draper about their zins. There were some great vineyards in Paso, he said, but the best zins came from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley where, he believed, they reached a special level of complexity and depth.
They have been producing great zins for more than a century in Dry Creek, so it’s always a pleasure to come back to taste a DC sampler, in this case five from 2009 with one older one thrown in. They are big wines — all over 14 percent alcohol — but they are charming, gentlemanly big wines that won’t rough you up.
2009 A. Rafanelli Dry Creek Zinfandel
The dark side of zin — like a brooding red from northern Rhone or Howell Mountain with earthy flavors of shriveled blackberry fruit and a cakey texture with a fragrant finish of baking spices. Unfiltered and absolutely delicious — eat it with a spoon!
Verdict: This is the tall, dark and handsome gentleman at the party, lurking over in the corner of the room. (About $47)
2009 Mounts Family Dry Creek Zinfandel
Excellent, ripe fruit with a dominant black raspberry finish — but not a creamy raspberry. Juicy, but yet lean with great length and acidity. A touch of heat on the finish, but still well-presented. Good price.
Verdict: A muscular guy, well-buffed. ($20)
2009 Mauritson Dry Creek Zinfandel
Truth be told, I did some business not long ago on a one-time-basis with Mauritson. That said, the winery makes some of the biggest, yet friendliest wines in the neighborhood. Lots of fresh, ripe black raspberry fruit with a little creaminess and a dark chocolate finish. Very fruity, but well-structured, not the least opulent. Dusty, pecan-shell tannins in the finish.
Verdict: The BMOC, still lookin’ good at the 10-year class reunion. ($29)
2009 Ridge "Lytton Springs" Zinfandel
Draper loves blending, and the zin here is at 71 percent with 23 percent petite sirah (another Draper favorite grape) and 6 percent carignan. Ridge’s reds are often mistaken in blind tastings for big bordeaux, perhaps from St. Estephe, and this one is no different, with flavors of black and red berry conserves, followed by ground-coffee flavors and lots of dusty tannins. Still a little tight — all Ridge reds are agers — so decant if you drink now.
Verdict: A versatile, cosmopolitan chap that can handle itself well in the drawing room or on the playing field. (About $38)
2009 Pedroncelli "Bushnell" Dry Creek Zinfandel
A bit puckery. Dominated by dried currant flavors and a (pea)nutty finish. Medium body, good structure, dry tannins.
Verdict: Nice to have around, but, in this company, it won’t turn many heads. ($20)
2006 Rued Dry Creek Zinfandel
If Ridge is Bordeaux, this Rued is southern Rhone or Languedoc in nature — yummy dried raspberries and a hint of prunes, a touch earthy with hints of dried herbal garrigue, tickling bitters around the edges and a leathery finish. Complex and enjoyable, but drink now, as it is drying out a bit.
Verdict: An older man of the world, terribly charming, but has picked up a few nicks and scars here and there. ($25)