Big, Bigger, Biggest: Martin Family Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Meet Mike Martin...

OK, this one’s for all you lovers of unabashedly, un-apologetically New-World-style wines.

I mean wines with boatloads of fruit and voluptuous textures that don’t feel obliged to meet Old World standards of restraint or delicacy. (Can you tell I’ve been hanging out with way too many Euro-phile wine drinkers?)

The wine that sent me over the edge last night was Martin Family Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. It comes from a small-production, family-owned winery that, “is basically a passionate hobby that’s gotten a bit out of hand…. sort of like starting out collecting baseball cards and then one day realizing you own a major league ball team,” according to Jim Morris, vineyard manager.

Mike Martin, owner and winemaker, got the ball rolling by making wines for family and friends. They were a thirsty lot, and “because they wanted more free wine,” he made more. Then he planted a vineyard and contracted with some of the best growers in the Dry Creek Valley. He now produces about 4,000 cases of big reds (Cab, Zinfandel and Syrah) from vineyards in this northern Sonoma County appellation.martin

The lazy waterway called Dry Creek is a tributary of the Russian River, which all you Pinot Noir freaks know is the epicenter of a cool-climate region that produces some of America’s best Pinot and Chardonnay.  The Dry Creek Valley AVA lies just north of the Russian River Valley, but has a very different micro-climate. Because its topography lies above the fog line, Dry Creek grapes begin each day in sunshine and cool-ish temperatures that warm considerably through the afternoon. A return to cool temps at night builds the structure that keeps Dry Creek fruit from becoming jammy.

Mike Martin takes it one step further: “the fruit for our wines is primarily from steep, rocky, hillside vineyards that produce super-concentrated, intense fruit flavors.”

Now I get it: that’s why the ripe, round aromas of blackberries jumped right out of the bottle, followed by rich mocha when it hit my glass. The color was deep garnet and almost opaque, showing good extraction and concentration.

The palate didn’t waste any time revealing gobs of rich blackberry and dark cherry fruit, along with some vanilla oak and chocolate. But just when all this opulence threatened to become jammy, the acid kicked in, brightening and cleansing the flavors. And right behind that were the well-integrated tannins that added depth and dimension.

This is what balance is all about, right? We can have our big up-front fruit and 14.8% ABV (that’s what the bottle says!) as long as we cool it down with proper acid and tannic structure.

Did I mention that all this goes for under $20? Yes, you can share the love for what I consider to be a bargain-basement price for wine of this quality. My next mission is to find the Martin Family Syrah — I can’t wait to see what they do with that grape… Cheers!

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