Rodney Strong Over-Delivers on This Quintet
This array of Rodney Strong wines over-delivers for its price points. Per my previous post, this isn’t surprising. They have a smartly balanced oak influence, meaning that any new oak flavors present are well-integrated and don’t over take the fresh fruit nuances. They also do a terrific job of showing regional and varietal typicity. I’ll gladly endorse these, especially the Chardonnay Chalk Hill and the Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2016 Chardonnay Chalk Hill 14.5% $22
This is a cuddly and caressing Chardonnay, which an instantly recognizable, classic California style. It smells of ripe apples and cinnamon butter-coated pie crust. It feels generous and expansive with a rounded and glycerol-driven palate that fades gracefully to a lightly pithy and lingering finish. That textural back palate tug is a definitively Chalk Hill character, first recognized by its own AVA in 1983 thanks to its volcanic, white ash soils. It is vivaciously flavored with delightfully ripe fruits, including nectarine, pineapple and quince. The back palate cleans up with strong acidity and a definitive toasty tone accented by vanilla bean. This was 97% fermented in French oak barrels. It delivers lots of wine for the price, and so much flavor that, in fact, it is almost a meal in a glass in a very good way.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2016 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 14.5% $25
This is delightful, thirst-quenching Pinot Noir that delivers very solid value for its price point. Succulent yet vibrant, it is packed with blueberries and black cherries. The acidity is mild and integrated, but the tannins are a bit dry. It a surprising juxtaposition for Pinot Noir that works very nicely in this wine. This will hold a while, but its relatively straightforward flavor profile suggests that there is little to gain by waiting. This was aged for 14 months in small, French oak barrels, presumably with some portion being new or only once used.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 14.5% $28
Pent-up with extraordinarily youthful and feisty fruit, this blackberry and black cherry wonder peels back its layers as it opens up over five or six hours. While it’s perfectly enjoyable from the start, it’s worth a vigorous decanting or a reasonably long wait in the glass for the extra lift given by the dried herbs that eventually surface. The tannins are supple and suave and lead the palate into the fine-grained and lingering finish tinged with coffee beans and toast. While less expensive than the Knights Valley of the same year, this wine has considerably more depth of flavor and a longer finish. My money is on this bottling now and for the long haul. I'd love to retaste both wines in a few years.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley 14.5% $35
This is a bright and mulberry-driven Cabernet Sauvignon. It is lush on the palate – surely driven in part by its Pacific-protected positioning and its dollop of 8% Malbec generosity – with gently sculpted tannins and well-placed but relaxed acidity. The fruit power here is compelling, but its flavors are rather one-dimensional compared to its Alexander Valley counterpart. While ostensibly the better wine of these two, single appellation Cabernet Sauvignons, its lushness and lenient structure seem less well-suited to long-term aging. Were these younger releases, I might be inclined to think that waiting six months to a year would do the trick. However, while I do think the Knights Valley will hang on, I don’t think it will develop the complexity that the Alexander Valley has so far and should continue to do.
Rodney Strong 2014 Symmetry Alexander Valley 14.5% $55
A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 5% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc aged 20 months in French oak barrels, 53% new, this is no wall flower. It hails from some of the winery’s best parcels: Brothers Cabernet Block 1, Pine Flat Merlot block and the top of Rockaway. This wine’s nose and palate have a breadth and generosity unlike the two other Cabernets in this review. The 20% non-Cabernet influence gives the wine a plumper palate-scape and a smoother, more sculpted mouthfeel. There’s more flavor sophistication, too. Mulberries and blueberries join the black Cabernet Sauvignon fruits while lightly earthy undertones accent the drying evergreen needles. The solid finish shows excellent concentration and structural balance highlighted by feathery tannins. All of this is a promising start for the evolution to come.