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Tag Archives: California 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.

Fourth of July wine 2014

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Fourth of July wine 2014Why does the Wine Curmudgeon do a Fourth of July wine post (for seven consecutive years, in fact)? Because the holiday is a birthday party, and what do we do at birthday parties? Drink wine and celebrate, of course.

Consider these bottles for your Fourth of July wine — and don’t forget the porch wine concept, where what you drink has as much to do with how hot it is as anything else:

• Villa des Anges Old Vines Rosé 2013 ($9, purchased, 12%): This rose from the south of France, made with cinsault, features barely ripe strawberries and is so fresh that it almost doesn’t taste like wine. Highly recommended, and certain to be in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame. Yet another example of what a great grape cinsault is for rose.

Pacific Rim Riesling 2011 ($10, sample, 11.5%): Washington state white is medium dry, with a touch of lime fruit, honey in the middle, and wonderful oiliness. A sophisticated sweet wine, and especially for the price. Chill this, sit on the porch, and you won’t mind too much how hot it is.

Handcraft Petite Sirah 2011 ($10, sample, 14.5%): Intriguing, inexpensive California red that benefits from the addition syrah and zinfandel — more structure, less over the top fruit. It has petite sirah’s plumminess and spice, but isn’t too heavy (despite the alcohol).

• Gloria Ferrer Private Cuvee NV ($15, purchased, 12.5%): This sparkling wine, without a UPC code, was on sale at Kroger at  one-third of what it would have cost in the restaurant where it was supposed to be. How it ended up in a grocery store is a mystery, but if you see it at this price, buy it — firm bubbles, some caramel, and fresh green apple fruit. Failing that, the  Ferrer Sonoma Brut, often on sale around this price, is an equally fine value.

More Fourth of July wine:
Fourth of July wine 2013

Fourth of July wine 2012
Wine of the week: Stephen Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
My lunch with Provence

Mini-reviews 62: Hot to Trot, Sauzet, Dr. Pauly, Chateau St. Jean

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Mini-reviews 62: Hot to Trot, Sauzet, Dr. Pauly, Chateau St. JeanReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

14 Hands Hot to Trot Red 2012 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): The problem with this red blend is not that it’s very ordinary and slightly sweet (probably somewhere around E&J Gallo’s Apothic), but that it doesn’t say, on either front or back label, that it isn’t dry. As has been noted many times here and elsewhere, producers have an obligation to share that information. Otherwise, dry red drinkers will buy something they don’t want and sweet red drinkers will pass it by. The Wine Curmudgeon expects more from 14 Hands than this kind of winery sleight of hand.

Etienne Sauzet Bourgogne Blanc 2012 ($43, purchased, 12.5%): Impeccable white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France) from one of my favorite producers. Layers and layers of complexity, just like much more expensive wines from specific appellations within Burgundy. Still young, and I could have held on to it for six months or more. Some oak when first opened, but the wine eventually evens out to become a traditional Sauzet with white pepper and green apple fruit. Very reasonably priced considering the quality. Highly recommended.

Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube am Doctorberg Riesling Kabinett 2010 ($27, purchased, 7.5%): Gorgeous German riesling, rich and full, with honey, lemon, and minerality — exactly the way it should be, as anyone who appreciates this kind of wine can attest. Yes, it’s sweet, but it’s supposed to be; in fact, it’s surprisingly heavy and needs food (tuna steaks, perhaps?). Highly recommended.

Chateau St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2012 ($12, sample, 13.5%): California sauvignon blanc is flabby, heavy, and without any sort of style or grace, to say nothing of fruit. This used to be one of those wines that you could always count on; now it’s stuff sold at the grocery store.

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