Kenwood Vineyards has become one of the best-known names in California wine since its establishment in 1970, almost 50 years ago. However, sometimes this Sonoma County winery seems to fly under the radar. Winemaker Pat Henderson recently brought me up to date on goings-on at the property and tasted me on three current wines. He says a lot of activity has started to happen recently at Kenwood, and I should expect to see a lot more. There are new wines, new labels, and new branding.
Kenwood wines are released in various series. For example, the Yalupa series targets everyday restaurants and sources fruit from all over California. Then the series become progressively more selective (and expensive): there are the Sonoma, Six Ridges, Reserve, Jack London, Single Vineyard, and, at the pinnacle, Artist Series.
We started with the 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($12) from the Sonoma Series. It is a bargain and in major national retail outlets. “Not a butterball,” says Henderson, but 100 percent or near 100 percent malolactic fermentation and moderate French oak creates a bright, fruity, and varietally distinct wine that is unmistakably New World in style. This is a great one for poolside quaffing or for serving with chicken or, as I tasted it recently, with a Mexican- style seafood cocktail.
The 2013 Six Ridges Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($26) is a step up the ladder. This is from the Six Ridges series, a name that refers to the mountains and ridges that ring the winery’s vineyards; this series was created to celebrate the appellations of Sonoma County. This wine is classic Dry Creek zinfandel, ripe and fruity, with seemingly endless layers of flavor atop a soft tannin backbone. The peppery notes are subdued. Congratulations to Henderson and team for not making this wine overly alcoholic or overly sweet in the oafish style that came to dominate (and spoil) zinfandel a few years ago. This wine is refined enough to enhance food, especially barbecued brisket, lamb, or almost any variety of burger.
Finally, the 2013 Jack London Sonoma Mountain Merlot ($28) is an example of what is good about California merlot (forget what you heard in Sideways; remember, Miles steals from his mother!). It is intense with dark fruit flavors, nuanced by chocolate, licorice, and vanilla. Nineteen months in French and American oak produces subtle wood effects. This would be a luxuriant quaffing wine or could be served now to accompany lamb or steak — though I think it will improve and would cellar it for a decade.
These are just three of the current range from Kenwood, and we did not even get to the Single Vineyard tier, let alone the Artist Series. This tasting convinced me that there is some really good work being done at this winery and that I should follow Kenwood more closely in future.