If you’re a regular wine drinker and, like most of us, operating on some sort of budget, Rodney Strong Vineyards is a name you should know. They are one of Sonoma County’s most important wineries, if you ask me; perhaps that seems like a bold statement, but the evidence backs it up. Year after year they provide consistent quality and often over-deliver on value for the price in question for a specific bottle of wine. Add the fact that they do this in numerous price tiers from the $10 range all the way up to wines in the $75 range. And as importantly as any of that, they dependably turn out wines that are emblematic of their home in Sonoma County. Here’s a look at a number of their current releases from several tiers in their portfolio.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2013 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc, Suggested Retail Price $17
Much of the fruit for this wine comes from the vineyard of the same name. The balance is from other parts of Alexander Valley as well as Russian River Valley. 90 percent was fermented in stainless steel the rest in French oak. One of the trademarks of this wine year after year is the ebullient nose. It’s full and loaded with appealing citrus and bits of stone fruit. The palate is studded with lemon ice and peach characteristics as well as underlying bits of papaya. The finish is above average in length with racy acid and an overall refreshing crispness. Vintage after vintage, this is one of the best sauvignon blancs for the money coming out of Sonoma County. Count on Charlotte’s Home; its deliciousness is as predictable as the arrival of tax day but far more enjoyable.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2012 Sonoma County Chardonnay, Suggested Retail Price $17
Fruit for this wine was sourced in Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Coast. 60 percent of it was fermented and aged for six months in a combination of French and American oak; the balance in stainless steel. A variety of apple aromas explode on the nose here. The palate is loaded with orchard fruit as well; pear flavors join copious amounts of apple and all of it is wrapped in a ton of baker’s spice. The mineral-flecked finish is clean, crisp and straightforward with good length. At under $20, this represents a very good value in chardonnay.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2011 Sonoma County Merlot, Suggested Retail Price $20
The fruit was sourced throughout Sonoma County. Aging took place over 18 months in a combination of French and American Oak barrels. Plum, thyme and light cedar aromas are all part of the nose. The palate shows off a combination of blueberry and cherry. These flavors are dotted with cinnamon and clove spice. Raspberry, cherry and a bit of crème fraiche emerge on the finish which is persistent and long. This merlot is medium bodied and proportionate. It’s tasty all by itself but excels with food.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, Suggested Retail Price $20
This wine is composed entirely of cabernet sauvignon chosen from vineyards throughout Sonoma County. Barrel aging occurred over 18 months in a combination of French and American oak. Red raspberry, violets and bits of tobacco leaf are all present on the nose of this cabernet. Cherries dominate the even keeled palate along with some pepper spice. Cigar box, leather, and raspberry are each part of the finish. This cabernet is loaded with varietal character and the essence of Sonoma County is present. You’ll have a hard time getting more cabernet for under $20.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2012 Knotty Vines Zinfandel, Suggested Retail Price $25
The fruit for this Zinfandel came from the Northern part of Sonoma County ,including Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. Barrel aging took place over 16 months in French and American oak. Oodles of black raspberry and a hint of cream jump from the nose here. The palate is loaded with proportionate jam-laden fruit. An array of eager, dark, juicy fruit flavors fill the senses. Black raspberry, blackberry and bits of chocolate sauce emerge on the lengthy finish. Most of the Rodney Strong portfolio is consistent in quality year to year; Knotty Vines zinfandel, however, seems to be getting better each vintage. Pair this with sausage pizza for a memorable casual meal.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Suggested Retail Price $45
The fruit for this wine came entirely from Alexander Valley. This wine is 100 percent varietal. Barrel occurred over 21 months in entirely French oak. A touch of vanilla bean emerges from the nose and plays alongside dark fruits such as blueberry and black raspberry. Dark, somewhat brooding flavors are prominent through the palate. Blackberry raspberry and Kirsch Liqueur are all present in droves. Cocoa, roasted chicory and persistent bursts of sweet berry flavors mark the long and outstanding finish. This is an excellent cabernet sauvignon and also a terrific value.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2011 Symmetry Red Meritage, Suggested Retail Price $60
This Bordeaux-inspired blend was produced exclusively from Alexander Valley Fruit. In addition to cabernet sauvignon (73 percent), malbec (13 percent), cabernet franc (7 percent), merlot (4 percent), and petit verdot (3 percent) were blended in. It was aged for 16 months in French oak. Oodles of blackberry, cedar and spice explode from the welcoming nose of this blend. Dark chocolate elements and an impressive array of dark fruit are present on the palate which is layered with wave after wave of flavor. Continued bits of chocolate and spice emerge on the impressive finish along with more dark fruit. Symmetry is ready to go now but will age effortlessly for a decade or so. One vintage after another this wine is remarkably consistent in quality and overall style. If you’re looking for a wine for your holiday table or other special occasion, Symmetry would be an outstanding choice.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2010 Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon, Suggested Retail Price $75
The fruit (all cabernet) for this wine was sourced from two blocks within the Alexander’s Crown vineyards, a site first planted in 1971. Aging took place in French oak over 21 months; 42 percent of the barrels used were new. Black cherry dominates the nose and hints of red cherry are present as well. The big, bold, and dense palate is laden with blackberry, cassis, huckleberry and a subtle hint of charcoal. Bits of sweet chocolate emerge on the back end and lead to the long lusty finish whose velvety nature is marked by crushed cherries wrapped in bits of earth and roasted espresso. This is an intense and powerful wine loaded with concentrated fruit as well as just enough finesse to keep things honest. It’ll age nicely over the next eight or so years, but there’s no reason to wait. Enjoy Alexander’s Crown in its youth when all that bold fruit will pair perfectly with big, boisterous foods.
It just so happens that this year, Rodney Strong Vineyards is celebrating 25 years of family ownership. I recommend celebrating with them by enjoying one or more of their wines. Regardless of your budget or preferred price point, they have something that fits. No matter what you spend on wine, if the name Rodney Strong is on it, you’re going to get good (or better) value for your money. You can bank on that.