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Category Archives: Red wine

Wine review: Rodney Strong Merlot 2011

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Rodney Strong merlotRodney Strong is an example of how sophisticated the California wine business has become. It makes $15 wine that is sold in grocery stores, but is of better quality than most grocery store wine. It has a line of very high-end reds, aimed at the Winestream Media and the people who read it, and which are about as different from its $15 wines as possible. In all of this, Rodney Strong produces more than 800,000 cases a year, making it the 20th biggest winery in the U.S., according to Wine Business Monthly.

That Rodney Strong can do all three of those, and do it mostly well, speaks to California’s dominant role in the wine world. It’s not only the best place to grow grapes, but its business model is the best, too. The idea is to make wine the way Detroit makes cars, with something for grocery store consumers, something for people who want to spend more, and then the very high end stuff.

The trick to this approach is not sloughing off. The quality/value ratio at the bottom has to be as impressive as at the top, or you’ll never get anyone to trade up. The  2011 Rodney Strong merlot ($17, sample, 13.5%) shows how much care goes into the wines. The 2011 California vintage was one of the coolest in decades, but that didn’t stop a lot of producers from making their usual over-extracted, over-alcoholic, over-oaked wines — even though, thanks to the cool vintage, they had to use a fair amount of sleight of hand to do it.

But not the Rodney Strong merlot. It tastes like it came from a cool vintage — fresh and juicy, no cloying red fruit, a touch of oak at the back that makes the wine better and not like caramel candy, and almost spicy in a French sort of way. It’s about as honest a California merlot as I’ve had in years, in which the winemaker makes what the grapes give him or her, and not what the focus groups want (“smooth,” “sweet fruit”).

Highly recommended, and not just for dinner (beef and lamb almost certainly). This is a gift wine, to show someone you want them to drink interesting wine, and that you found a very interesting one for them to drink.

Wine of the week: Stephen Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

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stephen vincent cabernet sauvignon 2011The Wine Curmudgeon has fond memories of the Avalon cabernet sauvignon, which carried a Napa appellation and cost just $10 or $12 in the bad old days before the recession, when great cheap wine was becoming increasingly difficult to find. The Avalon is closer to $15 or $17 these days, replaced by a $10 or $12 California appellation version which isn’t quite the same thing.

Fortunately, the Stephen Vincent ($11, purchased, 13.8%) does a fine job of doing what the old Napa Avalon did. It’s a solid entry-level cabernet, with lots of black fruit and a flavor somewhere toward the back that can be described as chocolate for people who look for that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, there are enough tannins and acid to be varietally correct, so that it’s more than just another tarted up wine designed to please a grocery store focus group.  The Vincent’s great strength is that is well made enough so that those of us who want cabernet quality in their cabernet will probably enjoy just it just as much as people who want their red wines to be “smooth.”

Drink this with any red meat dish, and especially summer beef grilled on a backyard barbecue. And don’t be afraid to chill it a touch, so that the wine isn’t the same temperature as the back yard. Otherwise, you’ll miss some of the qualities that make the Vincent so enjoyable.

Winebits 339: TechCrunch on wine and more lawsuits

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techcrunch wineWhat about those wine menus? TechCrunch, for those of us who are sort of computer geeky, offers mostly reliable tech news, reviews, and the like. Which made last week’s post about the WineGlass phone app so odd, and not just because Josh Constine, who wrote it, kept referring to restaurant wine lists as wine menus. The couple of dozen comments (including one from CellarTracker’s Eric LeVine) were at times snarky and mean, and included plugs for other phone wine apps. It’s as if I reviewed a wine here, and everyone who makes similar wine saw it and recommended their wine instead. The other thing that was fun? The quotes from the app’s creator that his effort will help end restaurant wine ripoffs. At the risk of sounding especially curmudgeonly, there’s about as much chance of that happening as there is of me writing for the Wine Spectator. For one thing, none of the hundreds of previous wine apps have made a difference; for another, most restaurants don’t care, or the system would have changed years ago.

Doing the duck walk: The lawsuit between Duckhorn, the high-end Napa winery, and a Long Island winery called Duck Walk, which was settled 11 years ago, has reappeared, reports On Reserve, a wine law blog that is essential reading for anyone who gets a giggle about these things. The details are, not surprisingly, difficult to understand, and seem to have something to do with whether Duck Walk is complying with the terms of the settlement. And, lest those of us who aren’t attorneys become even more confused, this complaint is completely different from Duckhorn’s current action against Duck Dynasty.

Don’t count on .wine just yet: The Wine Curmudgeon, who recently checked to see if he could buy the winecurmudgeon.wine domain name, has run into a hurdle — the French.  They are furious that anyone will be able to buy a .wine name, which they claim violates the spirit of the various trade agreements they have negotiated to prevent non-French producers from giving their wines French names, like Argentine Bordeaux. For instance, what would prevent someone from selling non-French sparkling wine under the champagne.wine domain? This would imply they’re selling French wine, even though trade agreements mandate that only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne. Boycotts have been threatened, which will probably dissuade me from buying the name. I want the French to read the blog.

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