When you head up to the Park City Food & Wine Classic next week, you’ll want to make a point of seeking out the Rodney Strong booth. I recently had the good fortune to be able to taste my way through an array of wines from Rodney Strong Vineyards and was very impressed. You can do the same thing up in Park City.
Rodney Strong—the founder of Sonoma’s 13th bonded winery in 1959—was originally a professional dancer before turning to “his second love”: winemaking. And, like most dancers, the wines that bear his name are simultaneously elegant and powerful—beautifully balanced, like a graceful grand jeté. Among the founder’s accomplishments: He was one of the first to plant Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley and the first to make a single-vineyard Cabernet in Sonoma County. The winery, which was purchased from Rodney Strong by Tom Klein in 1989, today produces wines made from grapes grown exclusively in Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill and the Sonoma Coast—some of Sonoma’s finest appellations. Sustainable farming and utilizing solar power resulted in Rodney Strong becoming Sonoma’s first carbon-neutral winery.
More recently, renowned winemaker and consultant David Ramey has been lending his expertise to the Rodney Strong effort, and I can certainly detect his influence in the latest Rodney Strong releases. That, along with a determination to focus on single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon a couple of years ago, is producing wonderful results.
Among the single-vineyard wines is Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Rockaway 2006 ($70), which is a concentrated, rich, bold Cabernet with loads of black and red fruit flavors and hints of anise and eucalyptus. I can’t help but think of the Ramones when I hear the word Rockaway, and, like those power-pop punkers, this wine packs a punch. Can you say “succulent”? For those of us not used to drinking $70 wines, I have good news: It’s called Rodney Strong Sonoma Country Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($17). This is the entry-level Cabernet from Rodney Strong (as opposed to single-vineyard), but it is still highly enjoyable. Although not as opulent as Rockaway, this Cab has classic blackberry and currant fruit flavors, along with cocoa notes, cassis and dusty mint aromas. Like the more expensive Rodney Strong offerings, this is a very well made, mid-palate wine, with no flabbiness or excessive oak to mar your pleasure. Take it out for a spin with a grilled rib-eye.
If you’d prefer a Bordeaux-style blend, look no further than 2007 Symmetry, Red Meritage ($55). It’s made with classic Bordeaux varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This is one of the wines that David Ramey has influenced and consulted on, and it is made in small lots with cluster pre-sorting, berry sorting and extended maceration, all of which leads to a rich, silky-textured treat brimming with blackberry and plum flavors. Powerful elegance is how I’d describe it.
In 2007, Tom Klein purchased Davis Bynum winery, so now those wines are also under the Rodney Strong umbrella. Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 2007 ($28) is a Russian River Pinot Noir that is rich in flavor yet silky soft in mouthfeel—an excellent rendition of RR Pinot and a very food-friendly wine.
And, let’s not overlook the Rodney Strong Chardonnays. Hints of vanilla from barrel fermentation (about 60%) and good acidity with tropical fruit flavors makes the inexpensive Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma County 2009 ($15) a good choice for summertime sipping. Or, if you’re looking for something a bit more elegant, try the Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2008 ($40), which has skilled winemaker David Ramey’s fingerprints all over it. Trust me; this is a good thing.