This past Fall, the wonderful folks at Rodney Strong rolled out a “new” brand, Knotty Vines, which were touted to be affordable, approachable, and designed to appeal to perhaps a younger crowd. Soon after the announcement, I found the four wines on my Houston doorstep. Based on my experience, it seems as though they hit their target.
2018 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Knotty Vines, California: Retail $15. Under screw cap. This is the new brand from Rodney Strong, one of the leaders (at least in my opinion) of value-driven quality wines. I have been a fan for a number of years and I was excited to try this new line of wines that is targeted for younger, entry-level wine drinkers (so clearly not me). Quite light in the glass with tropical notes (papaya), melon, and lemon curd on the nose. The palate is quite fruity as well, but there is also a touch of sweetness and a decided oak influence. It seems to me to be more of a nod to “traditional Cali Chard” than an appeal to the younger crowd. Very Good. 87 Points.
2018 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Knotty Vines, California: Retail $15. Under screw cap. The second wine of this new brand from Rodney Strong that I have tried and it is certainly a notch above the Chard. Tons of fruit both on the nose and the palate, this is what I would call a “crowd-pleaser” Pinot. I have stated many times that it is hard to produce a introspective, layered, “sophisticated” Pinot, it needs to be north of thirty bucks. This checks in at half of that (more like a third in actuality) and while it perhaps falls short of “introspective” it is pretty darned good. Fruity (tons of cherry), nice acidity, even a bit of earth. I doubt there is a better $10 Pinot out there. Excellent. 90 Points.
2016 Rodney Strong Knotty Vines Red Blend, California: Retail $15. Under screw cap. Really heavy B.A.B. 47% Merlot, 38% Malbec, 8% Zinfandel, 6% Petit Verdot, 1% Syrah. This is the third of the four new Knotty Vines from Rodney Strong, and it might be the best of the lot (I still need to try the Cab). Medium garnet color, laden with fruit in the glass (blackberry, plum, black cherry), along with some mocha and baking spice. The palate is fairly rich and balanced between fruit, tartness/acidity, and some soft tannins on the finish. This will probably sell in the $10-12 range on the supermarket shelf and that might be a steal. Very Good. 89 Points.
2018 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Knotty Vines Rodney Strong, Northern Sonoma, CA: Retail $15. Under screw cap. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 2% Petit Sirah, 1% Zinfandel. The fourth and final Knotty Vines offering that I received from Rodney Strong a few months ago and this Cab falls in line with the other three: affordable, quaffable, delicious. Dark and red berry fruit (cassis, cherry), a hint of green pepper, mocha, and a touch of chalkiness in the glass. The palate is tasty with subtle fruit (more subdued than one would have guessed based on the nose), ample acidity and some soft tannins on the finish. At the risk of redundancy, another great value from Rodney Strong. Very Good. 88 Points.
Here is one more that I found in the far recesses of my cellar (and proof that “Knotty Vines” had been around for a bit at Rodney Strong).
2010 Rodney Strong Zinfandel Knotty Vines: Retail $25(?). I was knee deep in tasting samples and I was checking to see if I had any more Knotty Vines Wines (a relatively new brand from Rodney Strong) left in my samples pile. On that check of stock (I use Cellar Tracker now for all of my samples as well as my personal cellar), I came across this wine. I entered it into the database in November of 2019 with the note “I have no idea how I got this wine.” Truer words have yet to be spoken. I did not become “known” to Rodney Strong as a writer until 2014 (at the absolute earliest) and this wine would have been likely long-gone in their cellars by then. In 2019 I was (and am) living in Texas and while I did visit Rodney Strong that year, I doubt that they would have offered me this bottle (nor do I think that I came across it in a retail establishment here in Houston). So, how I came to acquire this wine is a mystery. What is clear, however? This wine is pretty fantastic. Initially, upon opening, it was a bit of a fruity mess. Sure, there was some structure there, but the over-arching theme was fruit–and yes, that surprised me to no end for a ten year-old wine. But. An hour or two after dinner, once the dishes had been done and the kids put to sleep, my wife suggested that we retire to the couch and watch some TV. Being that it was a rather chilly night and such an activity would result in the use of a cozy quilt, I assented. Thus, within moments, we were watching either Buffy or MMA–I could not tell the difference as my attention was, well, elsewhere. Soon (or later?) thereafter my wife requested wine. I grabbed this. Why? It. Was. Open. I poured us both a splash, not expecting all that much.
I took a quick sip.
And. Then. It. Happened.
Perhaps due to the time open? Or maybe my state of… (never) mind, this wine was absolutely singing. Holy Cow.
Dark and slightly brooding in the glass, aromas of dark cherry, cassis, plum, dark earth, and, I have to admit, a bit of heat, leapt out of the glass. This was a completely different animal from just a few hours before (as my wife and I, coincidentally[?], had been sipping the wine and discussing my older son’s college options). Rich, engaging, sensual–yes, I am talking about the wine (get your head out of the gutter), this wine had completely transformed from a fruity, even messy (albeit crowd-pleasing) typical “Cali Zin” to a layered, enchanting seductress. It would be easy to say that I was hammered (I wasn’t–yet) but the truth is that this wine had completely evolved from crowd-pleaser to introspective inducer. I have been “around” wine for quite some time now but I doubt I have ever seen a transformation on this level prior. Whoa. Upon opening? Very Good. 88 Points. Now? Outstanding. 93 Points. Easy.