The delightful ‘field blends’ of Dry Creek

When I think of outdoor grilling, my mind drifts towards grape varieties such as Syrah, Malbec and Zinfandel, as they can stand up to flavourful meats.

For today, we will just stick with one that is renowned for how it has adapted to California.

Let us start with the winery that coined the term old vine zinfandel, this happens to be Dry Creek Winery in Sonoma. It was back in the 1980s that they wanted to combine the 1985 and 1986 vintage.

As they did not want to just label it non-vintage, and as the vines were old, they came up with the term old vine which has now become an industry standard when it can apply.

There is no legal definition for this term but the average age of the vines in Dry Creek 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is 50 years although some are over 95 and a few over 120 years old. I have mentioned before that the reason that many zinfandel vineyards were not uprooted during prohibition was that these hearty grapes stood up well to shipping by rail or truck. A little known fact was that big cities like Chicago and New York allowed their populations to make wine in their homes and zinfandel was the perfect choice.

Dry Creek Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 is actually a field blend of 75 per cent zinfandel, 23 per cent petite sirah and 2 per cent carignane. For centuries, farmers have produced wine by harvesting and fermenting the miscellaneous assortment of grapes that were planted in their fields.

This tradition of “field blends” lives on today, though it is becoming increasingly rare to find a vineyard planted in this old-world style. Field blend vineyards are planted with multiple varietals, in a seemingly random way. This means that a zinfandel vine might be planted right in between a petite sirah vine and a carignane vine. The whole field is picked at one time, and all of the grapes are fermented together for a wine that is truly created in the vineyard.

I have heard of winemakers that employ this method as being called “loco”, but when their talent allows for it the wine can be quite spectacular.

Wine Enthusiast magazine rated this Dry Creek offering an impressive 93/100 and commented: “From vines averaging 95 years old, this is an impressive effort, in balance between savoury, sultry overtones of peppercorn and espresso and a riper, juicier core of blackberry. Supportive acidity provides a freshness to the wine, which offers plenty of length and breadth on the finish.” $35.65.

The Dry Creek Heritage Vines 2015 Zinfandel is delicious and beautifully balanced. This vintage presents enticing aromatics of raspberries, cherry and a hint of toast and black pepper. On the palate, brambly flavours of ripe boysenberry and spicy dark chocolate come forward. The wine is complex, with bright acidity complemented by notes of berry syrup and mocha.

The tannins are silky and smooth to lend a round, rich mouthfeel. From start to finish, this remarkable wine offers refreshing acidity paired with excellent structure: 79 per cent zinfandel and 21 per cent petit sirah.

I will quote the Wine Spectator: “92/100. Zesty and expressive, with jammy black raspberry and liquorice aromas and supple, layered blackberry, toasty dill and pepper flavours. Drink now through 2026.” $24.70

No article on zinfandel would be complete without a mention of Lodi, an area between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada, as it likes to bill itself as “the zinfandel capital of the world”. We should also include Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery as he is known as “the godfather of zin”. Natalie Maclean, Canadian wine critic, has this to say about Ravenswood Old Vine Lodi 2014 Zinfandel: “92/100. A gorgeously rich and full-bodied Californian zinfandel from one of the state’s top producers. Aromas of black plums, smoke and dark spice. Smooth and perfect for barbecued meats.”

Although I can find no reference to the grape blend I do suspect some petite sirah, and even another grape that Joel likes called alicante bouschet. $21.10.

So there you have it, two wines that rate 92 and one, 93. To win gold in a wine competition you must score 90 or above, so these are impressive scores, and wines, indeed.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit