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Strong Showing

By Michael Schiaparelli · March 17th, 2010 · Fermentations



News Flash! I have an affinity for esoteric wines from little-known regions.

As a result, I tend to assume a lot of wines aren’t sufficiently “interesting” to sample. So when an opportunity recently arose to attend a dinner featuring the wines of well-known California producer Rodney Strong, I was dismissive.

But my interest was aroused by a lineup of vineyard-designate and “reserve” bottlings.

Apparently, winemaker Rick Sayre has re-committed the winery to showcasing Sonoma’s unique terroirs. Their Web site proclaims that it all “starts in the vineyards where place … determines the flavor of the grape and ultimately the wine. Place matters.” I heartily agree that wines should reflect their origin. So, somewhat warily, I decided to attend.

Hosted by the engaging Liz Rutherford, the winery’s National Sales Manager, the dinner started with their 2008 “Charlotte’s Home” Sauvignon Blanc ($12). Bright and appealing, it was like drinking a fruit cocktail (honey dew, ripe pear, lime juice) that finished with an iron-like minerality.

The acidity was juicy and round, unlike the more mouth-puckering variety familiar in New Zealand Sauvignons.

We followed that up with a far more-expensive white, the 2007 “Reserve” Chardonnay ($42), described by Liz as “double dry,” which apparently means it’s vinified to zero residual sugar while undergoing 100 percent malolactic fermentation. Rich and still fruity, it’s bursting with tropical fruit accented by toasted hazelnuts and a touch more creamy, buttery flavors than I tend to prefer. Still, I imagine there are those who would love this wine.

The next course featured two reds. First, we had a 2007 “Jane’s Vineyard” Reserve Pinot Noir ($51) that smelled like root beer but came across a bit hot on the palate, where the cherry-cola fruit seemed overwhelmed by cocoa and coffee. Still, it paired nicely with a juicy, pink lamb chop.

Their flagship red blend followed: 2006 “Symmetry” Meritage ($62) was a surprisingly subdued blend of 79 percent Cabernet along with lesser amounts of Malbec, Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals. Here, black cherries, plums and dark chocolate lead the way onto a silky, satisfying palate that turned nicely complex on the earthy, licorice-tinged finish. Ample fruit and well-integrated acidity helped balance the alcohol, so “Symmetry” proved a particularly fitting name for the bottling. I imagine it will age gracefully for many years, though it’s drinking surprisingly well already.

Dessert featured a 2007 “Knotty Vines” Zinfandel ($20), which would have shown better alongside short ribs, and a winery-exclusive, Zin-based 2006 “Gentleman’s Port,” which was pleasantly earthy and not as overtly sweet as I had expected.

Now, I’m constantly mocking those who get too set in their ways and only drink one kind of wine. This “strong showing” served as a useful reminder that I, too, need to keep an open mind about regions and producers that I might otherwise unfairly dismiss because I perceive them as “not sufficiently obscure.”




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