Being a history buff and a former history teacher, it was fantastic living in Philadelphia for close to two decades as there was history everywhere. The Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall were just a couple of miles away, and I regularly rode through Valley Forge on long summer bike rides.
The thing is, I rarely visited any of them. Sure, when relatives or friends would come to town, we would head off to the most historic square mile in the country for an afternoon of battling tourists (who all seemed to be from South Jersey) and sweltering in the heat. We would inevitably end up in South Philly at Pat’s King of Steaks for that ever-so-Philly “delicacy” the cheesesteak.
Why didn’t I take more advantage of what “my city” had to offer while I was there? Good question. I guess I was too busy chasing what was new, what was “hot”, instead of focusing on what was always there.
I used to have similar feelings about Rodney Strong Vineyards in Healdsburg. I had driven or ridden past the winery countless times before ever stepping foot in the winery that was built in 1970. I was always on my way to a new, “hot” winery, that was the “buzz” of the wine world. I guess I consciously knew that Rodney Strong would always be there and there was no real rush to squeeze it into my agenda.
Coincidentally, it was not until I moved to Houston and I realized how much I regretted not taking full advantage of one of America’s greatest cities when I lived there, that I visited Rodney Strong and discovered that a large winery (Rodney Strong produces about a million cases per year) can still be dedicated to producing high quality wines.
This spring I was sent the winery’s new releases to review.
2017 Rodney Strong Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Charlotte’s Home Sonoma County: Retail $17. Right up front, Sauvignon Blanc is not my favorite variety. In fact, it is likely near the bottom of the list of my preferred white varieties. Why? Well, it tends to be either overly grassy, too acidic, or flavorless. Well, this is none of the above. There are some green notes, but also plenty of citrus and tropical notes on the nose, followed by fruit (guava), minerality (wet chalky stone), and tartness (wow, this packs a jolt!). Sure, it is still a Sauv Blanc, but this gets away from its stereotype and pulls it back toward delight. This is one of the best Sauvignon Blancs I have had this year. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2015 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County: Retail $20. This is one of the more widely distributed wines from Rodney Strong, and there is little doubt that it is on many a supermarket shelf right now. That does not make it a lesser wine, though, I have visited the winery several times now and I am convinced of the company’s commitment to making high quality wines at every price point. Dark in the glass with blackberry and cassis, with touches of black pepper and vanilla. The palate is fruity and fun with tart blackberry, spicy but subtle oak, and silky tannins. Solid effort. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2016 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma County: Retail $17. Often, when I am sampling wine, I get caught up in one of three categories: the obscure, the expensive, the cutting edge. Either it is a Kerner, a Grand Cru, or an orange wine—wines that I do not come across often, wines that I would never find on the shelf of my local H.E.B. There are other times that I am in said grocery store and I run into a parent of one of my son’s classmates, a neighbor, or just another homo sapiens (or homo sapiens sapiens for the anal types) and they want to know what wine they should buy for the night’s meal of duck à l’orange or Kraft macaroni and cheese. This is a wine that most would find on most shelves, anywhere in the country for about $13. And you should buy it. Seriously. This often goes for around $12 and while it is not everyone’s definition of a “world beater” it is certainly budget friendly wine: lemon peel and vanilla lead to tartness, body, integrated oak, solid finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2014 Rodney Strong Merlot Sonoma County: Retail $20. Much like Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot is pretty much never my go-to variety. This has little to do with a certain 14-year-old movie but my feeling that Merlot is a bit of a “tweener” as it falls between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir when it come to pairing issues. Recently, Merlot has seen a bit of a resurgence, though, and Rodney Strong remains firmly committed to the variety. Black Raspberry, bell pepper, anise, and spice on the nose, and this was gangbusters with my mother-in-laws spaghetti and meatballs. Not a cellar standard, but perfect for mid-week coiffing. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2014 Rodney Strong Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley: Retail $20. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep purple in the glass, with a brooding disposition of blackberry, black currant, and black pepper paired with sweet vanilla and clove. Perfectly delightful with luscious fruit and spice, zingy tartness and just a hint of tannin on the finish. This wine will not cause you to change your political views, or even your underwear, but it will convince you that tasty Cabernet exists at $20 a bottle. Very Good. 87-89 Points.