Dashe Cellars wines provide quality, value, pleasure
Hallelujah. Appreciate and profit from progress when and where you find it.
Such was the case on a recent visit to the PLCB's Penn Circle South Premium Collection store in East Liberty. Much to my surprise and delight, the store offered Dashe Cellars' terrific zinfandels.
To my recollection, the wines never have appeared on Pennsylvania retail shelves. Dashe's wines provide excellent quality, good value and sheer pleasure.
Michael Dashe's training began at the University of California Davis' winemaking program. His wife, Anne Dashe, a native of Brittany, France, graduated from the University of Bordeaux's winemaking program.
Hands-on work at Paul Draper's Ridge Vineyards, Bordeaux's famed first-growth Château Lafite Rothschild, New Zealand's Cloudy Bay Winery and Schramsberg Wine Cellars shaped Michael Dashe's winemaking style significantly.
He learned to value balance over heavy extraction and excessive aging in oak barrels. So, when Dashe and his wife co-founded Dashe Cellars in1996, they worked to handcraft fruity, New World grapes -- especially zinfandel -- in an elegant and restrained Old World style to bring out the most interesting and characteristic personality in the wines based on the terroir.
In Dashe Cellars' case, this entails focusing closely on northern California's Dry Creek Valley. Located just outside of Healdsburg in Sonoma County, the area's vineyards fan out on rocky, infertile hillsides and in terraces and alluvial benches with gravelly clays and sandy loams.
The classic dry climate features intensely sunny and hot days balanced by refreshing, cool nights. But as veteran winegrower Lou Preston has noted, Dry Creek's climate has a twist.
Like neighboring valleys, late-summer-afternoon cool air from the Pacific Ocean to the West and San Francisco Bay to the South rolls in and creates overnight fog layers. The cool temperatures curtail grape maturation and allow the fruit to retain vital acidity.
But, because the Dry Creek Valley sits just a little farther inland from the water, it warms into brilliant sunshine more rapidly in the morning to reignite ripening in earnest. The end of growing season brings the risk of over-ripened grapes and the prospect of highly alcoholic, unbalanced wines.
Because excessively ripened fruit undermines a terroir-driven approach, Michael Dashe works closely each day with growers to monitor grape maturities. It means visiting vineyards frequently to taste the fruit and then picking as the grapes are at just the right moment to capture balanced flavors. The "boots in the vineyards" approach necessarily limits production to a modest 10,000 cases annually.
In terms of winemaking, Dashe's "minimalist" approach relies on native yeasts, submerged cap fermentations and limited fining and filtering. Aging the wines in large-format oak vessels, including 900-gallon foudres and 120-gallon puncheons, as well as older, traditional French barrels, eliminates the introduction of harsh tannins and excessive oak aromas.
While trying the following Dashe Cellars wines available in Pennsylvania, let's hope that PLCB buyers also see fit in the future to offer Dashe's terrific, earthy "Les Enfants Terribles" grenache-based red wine:
2009 Cellars Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California: Bright dark-cherry and spice aromas and flavors offer a glimpse of classic Dry Creek Zin at its elegant best. Zesty acidity provides terrific balance. Highly recommended.
2008 Dashe Cellars, Zinfandel, Florence Vineyard, California : Made from small, intensely flavored grapes grown in a single vineyard with special vine clones, this wine offers complex floral and dark berry aromas with pleasant spice and smoky, earthy notes. Rich flavors of ripe, dark raspberries with smoky spice notes balance with fine acidity and elegant, velvety tannins. Highly recommended.
2008 Dashe Cellars Late Harvest Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California : Using grapes harvested late in October from vines toiling on steep, rocky slopes, this sweet dessert wine offers intense, dark-raspberry and plum fruit with subtle chocolate hints Refreshing acidity and elegant tannins provide lovely balance.Highly recommended.
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