"What’s this wine?" my husband asked a couple of weeks ago.
I stopped cold. He almost never queries me about what wine he’s drinking. He just takes whatever I pour him and either says, "that’s nice," or shrugs and says, "it’s ok," or says nothing at all and just keeps sipping.
But for him to immediately ask what he was drinking was a rare occurrence. And I could tell by his tone that it wasn’t because he didn’t like what he had in his glass. It was the exact opposite. He was impressed. I could tell. You don’t spend 35 years with a person and not be able to figure out whether their reaction is good or bad.
So I was delighted. Because I liked this wine, too. Loved it, in fact.
"It’s the Rodney Strong Chardonnay," I replied with obvious delight.
"Hmmm," he murmured, contemplating the pale yellow liquid in his glass. "It’s good."
For him, "good" speaks volumes. Not necessarily a man of few words all the time but certainly some of the time, I knew he was really enamoured with this wine. Which was wonderful, as far as I’m concerned. He always says he can’t tell the difference between wines, and he always can, which has been an ongoing source of frustration for me years now.
Anyway, back to the Rodney.
I was first introduced to Rodney Strong in the summer of 2010. We’d had dinner at our friends’ place, and since we were having so much fun, our host pulled out a bottle that had been a gift to him and that he’d been saving for some time. The wine, a cabernet sauvignon, was by California vintner Rodney Strong, and was called Alexander’s Crown after the portion of land from which its grapes had come.
I tasted it, and my reaction was strong (ha!) and immediate.
‘Wow!’ I said. I had another sip.
‘Wow!’ I said again.
The wine was stunning. Refined dark berry flavours with earthy undertones, and top notes of mint, other herbs and oaky spice. I was over the moon.
It was, without question, the nicest Cab I’d ever had.
Since then, I’ve been gifted by other friends with not only more of the very special Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown, but also a pink baseball cap from the winery. And, despite its $24.99 price tag, having recently been very impressed by the 2011 Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir — it’s primarily cherry aroma had just a hint of earthiness, and it was velvety smooth yet still had a backbone — it didn’t take much — well, any — convincing to get me to give the Rodney Strong Merlot and Chardonnay a try.
And when the Liquor Mart was offering samples of said wines a while back, I had my opportunity.
I was really enthralled by both the merlot and the chard. It certainly didn’t hurt that I was already a fan of the Rodney Strong winery’s products, but each wine has to be judged on its own merits regardless of labels. But Rodney came through for me all over again.
The merlot was rich and redolent with flavours of blueberry, black cherry, plum, with just a hint of liquorice. The tannins were dusty but well integrated, and the finish was of spice and toasted vanilla. It’s a lot of wine for $19.99 a bottle.
The chardonnay, which is the same price, boasts slight lemon and apple aromas and tropical fruit on the palate. While it’s traditional style, meaning there’s more than a tinge of oak and it’s full-bodied and buttery, it still manages to be bright and lively, which makes for a magnificent combination. Well chilled or just slightly cool, this is a wine that I’ve gone back to again and again.
In fact, it’s become my new favourite chard. Many of the chardonnays now being produced in California are intentionally going the way of no oak and more citrus flavours, and I bought into that mentality for a while. I still like unoaked chards, but while I’ve enjoyed them for the better part of a year now, I’ve returned to my first love — oaked chardonnays.
And Rodney Strong was the one that moved me firmly in that direction. So again, the Rodney Strong line impresses. Both the merlot and the chard are great on their own and have plenty of backbone to stand up to food. Peppery chicken pasta with a garlicky, lemony mushroom Alfredo sauce is great with the chard, as is any other food featuring white meat or fish. The merlot is stellar with pork, but can take on gutsier foods such as venison or steak or barbecued ribs if you like that sort of thing. And I do!
So for consistency, for value, for memorable wines, think Rodney Strong. I haven’t tasted anything but stunning wines from them. Ever.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 29, 2014