Last year was a weird one for everyone, including me. I did not go back and check, but I am fairly certain that it was the first year since, I am guessing 1990 or so, that I did not visit a vineyard or a winery. That causes me to think that a) I might have a wine obsession and b) I am pretty old.
One of the wineries that I would have visited at least a couple of times last year (had there not been a worldwide pandemic, naturally) would have been Rodney Strong in Healdsburg, Sonoma County. It is always one of my first stops when I find myself in Sonoma for a number of reasons. The people there are great, the setting is beautiful, and the wines are fantastic.
As a part of this (hopefully) temporary new reality, instead of actually visiting wineries, I have been meeting with winemakers and tasting wines virtually on a regular basis. This past month, I “met” with the fine people of Rodney Strong twice, once for a tasting I co-conducted and another to go through the winery’s new releases. While it is nowhere near the same as being there in Healdsburg, it was nice to be able to see my pals and taste some of my favorite wines.
2019 Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc Charlotte’s Home, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $15. Under screwcap. Sauvignon Blanc? Meh. That is my normal reaction, but when it is a Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home, my mouth starts to water. Part of the reason? The people at Rodney Strong are wonderful, but the winery generally produces fantastic wines which are incredible values. Quite floral on the nose with some green apple, a bit of flint, and a touch of white pepper. The palate is balanced: fruit, tart, precise. Fifteen bucks? You bet. Excellent. 90 Points.
2018 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $15. Golden straw in the glass with ripe pear and white peach, vanilla, honeysuckle. The palate is quite luscious with plenty of fruit, initially a bit round and heavy with the acidity coming in on the midpalate (along with some depth and oak flavors). Medium-length tart finish. A lovely Chard (that certainly falls more into the “traditional” style of Cali Chard). Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25. 100% Pinot Noir. Under screwcap. This is always one of my favorite rosés every year, but curiously, this is my first sip of the 2019. Light pink, with a salmon hue, this wine shows a bit of strawberry, cherry, and minerality on the nose. That minerality takes the lead on the palate, but the fruit quickly comes rushing in shortly thereafter. And, um yeah, this is good. For around fifteen bucks (typically) in the local grocery store? Oh yeah. Giddy-up! Excellent. 91 Points.
2017 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25. While this lists at 25 bucks, it is available in most markets for under twenty bucks. Last year at this time, for my Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir, I found this delightful. I still do. A Classic New World Pinot nose here: plenty of fresh red and black cherry, eucalyptus, and touches of spice and earth. Yum. The palate more than holds up to the nose with luscious fruit, balancing acidity, and a marvelous finish. Gangbusters. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2017 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, CA: Retail $22. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Syrah, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Petite Sirah, 2% Zinfandel. A real kitchen sink kind of Cabernet with six other varieties thrown into the mix. I have said before that Rodney Strong produces some of the best Quality-Price Ratio wines in California and this wine is proof. They produce a sheet-ton of this wine, but it is still fantastic. Tons of dark berry fruit, plum, spice, and a decided herbal, vegetal note that I love. The palate is equally stellar with rich fruit, zingy tartness, and a surprising level of tannins. This really is a great wine regardless of the price. Excellent. 91 Points.
2016 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Sonoma County: Retail $45. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 50% Cooley Ranch, 49% Brothers, 1% Rockaway. 50% Sonoma County, 50% Alexander Valley. As I have mentioned many times before in this space, I would be hard-pressed to find a winery in California that has a higher Quality to Price Ratio (QPR) across the board than Rodney Strong. This is a perfect example to prove my point. Dark, opaque crimson (almost black) in the glass, with luscious fruit notes of blackberry, plum, and cassis. There is also a green/black pepper component, which I really love. The palate does not disappoint either, with an intense first wave of all that dark fruit, followed by depth and spice. It finishes long with a healthy dose of soft tannins. All this for forty bucks? Sure, it is not an everyday wine for most of us at that price, but it punches well above its class and outperforms wine at twice its price. Decant or cellar for 5-10 years. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2016 Rodney Strong Symmetry, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $55. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. B.A.B. One of Rodney Strong’s top wines every year, this Meritage has been produced for three decades, regularly scoring top scores from the various critics. Dark and spicy in the glass, with luscious fruit (plum, blackberry), vanilla, oak, and spice (black pepper, allspice). The palate is even more complex with an initial wave of fruit, then a nice dose of acidity, and several layers of depth. Perhaps the most striking element of the wine, however, is the finish, which lasts for at least a couple of minutes. Initially quite tight, this wine did not really open up until after a healthy decant and several hours open. Excellent. 92 Points.
2016 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Brothers, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $75. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Really B.A.B. Brothers (along with Alexander’s Crown and Rockaway) sits atop the Rodney Strong pinnacle of wines. It is a single vineyard Cabernet from the northern reaches of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County (near Cloverdale for those wondering). Dark in the glass with rich, really rich, dark fruit (blackberry, plum, cassis), mocha, subtle oak, and both black and white pepper. The palate is nothing short of glorious (particularly after several hours open), with rich fruit, an “elegant heft,” balanced acidity, a multitude of flavors and depth, and an absolutely killer finish. Incredible. Outstanding. 95 Points.