A couple of weeks ago, I was part of an online tasting of the new releases from Rodney Strong, a fixture in the Sonoma County wine scene since its founding in 1970 by former and much acclaimed professional dancer, Rodney Strong.
The tasting was billed as “The Rodney Strong Winery Rejuvenation” a process which started three years ago and includes a complete remodeling of the tasting room on Old Redwood Highway in Healdsburg, the elevation of Justin Seidenfeld to head winemaker (only the third person to hold the post in the 60 year history), and brand new labels, the first in a couple of decades.
While tasting wines over Zoom is not the ideal way to experience a winery, these days it is not only the next-best way, it is pretty much the only way. So I sat down with my buddy Christopher O’Gorman, the Direstor of Communications at Rodney Strong, and the aforementioned Justin Seidenfeld, to taste through a few of the newly “rejuvenated” wines.
2020 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25. Under screwcap. I first tasted this as part of my Fifth Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosé back in May and here is what I wrote then: Cotton Candy pink. Lovely nose: great fruit, floral. The palate is quite lovely. Another one that sits near the top of the tasting. All of that remains true with this bottle and for the third (fourth?) year running this remains one of my favorite rosés. At right around fifteen bucks at my local grocery store? Back up the Tesla. Excellent. 93 Points.
2019 Rodney Strong Chardonnay California: Retail $17. Under screw cap. While this is listed at $17, it sells for a shade over $10 at retail. At that price? This is a steal. I have been telling the fine people at Rodney Strong that their wines are too inexpensive–few wine writers take a ten buck Chard all that seriously (particularly with a generic “California” appellation). But Justin Seidenfeld has once again proved his worth to the brand with a wine that really over-delivers. A bit of golden hue to the pale straw with aromas of lemon curd and oak (albeit subtle). The palate really is surprising, shocking, even. This really shows as a wine 3-4 times its price with rich citrus, an integrated degree of “butter” and a measured hand with the oak. Sure, it is closer to a “traditional” Cali Chard than the popular “unoaked” style, but this really is delicious. Excellent. 90 Points.
2017 Rodney Strong Merlot Sonoma County, CA: Retail $20. 100% Merlot. DIAM5. I am not a huge fan of Merlot. In fact, if pressed, my highest compliment is usually “nonplussed.” And even that is rare. Sure, there are good, even great, Merlots out there, but when am I going to drink one? With a ribeye. Nope, Cabernet. With salmon? Hardly (Pinot Noir). Pork? (Chard or Pinot.) Chicken? (See pork.) So, well, it gets a little awkward when it comes to Merlot. I really want to like you, but I see absolutely no situation when we will ever get together romantically, er, gastronomically. This Rodney Strong, though? I could see a fling or two in my future. First, it is a cheap date–about $14 bucks on the shelf. There is really good fruit (which one would hope from the variety), plus some earth, and wonderful balance. There are few “values” in wine these days, but Rodney Strong has to be at the top of that list. Very Good. 88 Points.
2018 Rodney Strong Zinfandel Old Vines, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25. 100% Zinfandel. DIAM10. Even though many people see “California Zinfandel” as a bit of a monolithic concept, there is actually quite a bit of variance within the genre. This Rodney Strong Zin seems to be a compromise as it is a blend of cooler climate fruit (i.e., the Russian River Valley), warmer vineyard fruit (Alexander Valley), and more of a mid-range approach (Dry Creek Valley). That philosophy comes through in the wine as there is an inherent tension between the abundant fruit, the unifying acidity, and the subtle complexity on the mid-palate. For about $18 on the supermarket shelf? This, like many a Rodney Strong wine, is a steal. Excellent. 91 Points.
2018 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, CA: Retail $22. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. DIAM5. According to the winemaker, Justin Siedenfeld, this is by far the top wine, in terms of production, at Rodney Strong (I think he said 150K cases). With a statement like that, one would expect the wine to be rather nondescript and generic. Nope. Not even close. This is a quality Cab regardless of price but at ~$15? No brainer category here. Great fruit, some depth, and enough acidity to develop a solid narrative. Very Good. 89 Points.
2018 Rodney Strong Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, CA: Retail $28. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. DIAM10. This is a new release, with a revamped label design, but it is still the same Rodney Strong wonderfulness in the bottle. Dark color in the glass with dark fruit (blackberry, plum, cassis), black pepper, and maybe some dried fig. While the palate is initially an explosion of fruit, the acidity announces its presence on the mid-palate and immediately assumes direction. This is a wonderful wine that will please both those in search of luscious fruit as well as those looking for a dining table stalwart. Outstanding. 93 Points.