Monday, January 5, 2009

Day 2: Morning in Alexander Valley

Our second day we managed to hit 5 wineries despite a fairly leisurely pace. It was ambitious, but by dumping, spitting or passing off shared tastings to the non-driver and mapping a big loop we pulled it off responsibly and well before sunset.

The first stop was at Stryker Sonoma Winery in Alexander Valley. Despite being relative newcomers to the area, the individuals behind Stryker are clearly aspiring and well-funded. Their winery and tasting room are located in an impressive new building that overlooks their estate vineyards. Their wines mirror what their winery embodies. They're bold, ambitious, and fairly costly. Although not subtle in any way, the wines generally had good structure to prop up the massive California fruit and balanced use of oak.

The tasting room offered a free mixed flight, a Zin flight and a Bordeaux flight. We opted for the free flight and the Bordeaux flight. The Zin and Cab in the initial flight were good but not particularly distinctive and for the $20 to $30 range were not pushing the right buttons. Unfortunately, jammy aggressive-berry alone doesn't quite do it for me. The Semillon, though, provided a minerally respite from the typical Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay bottlings that kick off most tastings.

The single vineyard, single varietal Bordeaux flight, however, had significantly more to offer. Stryker caught our attention because they produce all of the classic Bordeaux varietals and source some of their grapes from Rockpile, a rugged, remote appellation in the upper western corner of Dry Creek. The 2004 Alegria Vineyard RRV Cabernet Franc was fruit forward yet retained a dollop of the herbs and tobacco that make Cab Franc such a rewarding varietal. The pourer commented that the '05 vintage was more in keeping with their style (i.e. jammier), but the '04 is exactly what I'd look for from a Cali Cab Franc with its grippy tannins, some oak, and general lushness and bigness that leaves a little room for some semblance of balance. At $34, though, it wasn't screaming "Buy Me!"

Next up were the 2005 Rockpile Merlot, 2004 Speedy Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and 2003 Reserve Cabernet. These wines would best be described as big, bigger and biggest. Having missed out on the Rockpile Zin at Seghesio, I was pleased to see the Rockpile Merlot was available to taste. This Merlot had serious concentration, yet still has the softness and lushness one would anticipate from Merlot. Still, I had been hoping it would be edgier and more rustic as one might expect from a location named after a pile of rocks. The '04 Speedy Creek Cab from Knights Valley ended up being our favorite Cab and the one we took home. It tended towards dark fruit with maybe a hint of eucalyptus and had sufficient structure to keep the bigness balanced by other types of bigness. I only have one hedonistic Cali Cab in comparison to a dozen or so Cab Francs of various origins, so oddly enough an international styled Cab S likely adds diversity to what I'll be drinking in the next few years. The Reserve Cab brought more of the same though it seemed to have a little more red fruit.

Our pourer was happy to indulge our interest in the 2005 Rockpile Petite Verdot by opening a fresh bottle for us to taste. His description of "dead violets" was dead-on and we left with a bottle of that as well. If you're going to taste big versions of darkly-colored wines from an extreme sub-appellation, you might as well go with the most obscure grape that makes the inkiest, richest and most aromatic wine of the bunch. Stryker is definitely hitting the upper threshold of sensibility with most of their wines. Many are in the 14.5% to 15.0% ABV range with the Zins typically pushing 15.5%. But they do pull off this style without ending up with clumsy, undrinkable cocktail wines. Instead they're just very good New World fruit bombs. I'm particularly impressed that they produce so many different cuvees at such a small winery, though this is in no small part aided by the fact that they have a clearly defined style and fruit suited to this style.

Next up was Mosaic and deLorimier, with deLorimier producing the estate wines and Mosaic producing wines with externally sourced grapes at the same facility. They were clearly looking to move some inventory with big discounts on case purchases and were pouring just about everything. Nearly all the wines were good, but not necessarily distinctive. The only real standouts were the Crazy Creek Cabernet and the 2005 Mosaic Malbec. The Malbec offered the best value as well as some good underbrush and mushroom to complement the dark, lush California fruit. In fairness to Mosaic and deLorimier, most of their wines were priced very reasonably. But I'm typically not looking for a very well-made, generic wine in the $20-$30 range when I'm tasting. That's more for the $15 range in my budget, while the $20-$30 range really needs to have some unique quality to get my attention.

I'll cover our afternoon tastings in my next post.


Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

Thanks for the great reviews! I think you hit our wines spot on!!

Tasting Room Staff
Stryker Sonoma Winery

PS, If you can get your hands on an 05 Monte Rosso Cab Franc, it's well worth it!

CabFrancoPhile said...

I'm glad I was able to give your wines an accurate write-up. There's always a little presumption on my part to judge something that so many people put so much time and sweat into. It's a great complement that I've succeeded on some level in balancing my own personal biases with an objective stylistic description.

I love that Stryker has succeeded in maintaining varietal and vineyard characteristics while producing wines in a "user friendly" style. There's something there for both the hedonistic casual drinker and the acetic wine geek!