Talk to a reasonably well educated wine drinker – or even a wine professional – and ask them what they think of Kendall-Jackson. “Oh, it’s OK, but. …” they’ll say.
And the but? Usually something along the lines of K-J is OK for grocery store wine, or that people who like it don’t know a lot about wine, or it’s not my style of wine – anything to point out the difference between themselves and people who like Kendall-Jackson.
Well, those buts are mostly wrong.
Kendall-Jackson is quality wine made for a fair price. The vintner’s reserve line is solid $13 wine and the grand reserve line is solid $22 wine. (The company produces two other, more expensive labels, but they aren’t the wines most people talk about.) I have tasted recent vintages of the vintner’s chardonnay, syrah, riesling, and zinfandel, and enjoyed them all. In a blind tasting, I’d be willing to guess few people could tell they were K-J.
Is Kendall-Jackson first-growth French Bordeaux? Nope. But it’s not supposed to be, something that is lost on many of its critics. Or, as one review on Cellar Tracker, where I keep my wine notes and inventory, noted of the 2005 Grand Reserve Chardonnay: “This is much more that I expected.”
Because we have been trained to expect less. Even owner Jess Jackson got tired of the criticism. In 2005, the company increased the price of the vintner’s reserve chardonnay and reduced production, all in an attempt to shut people up.
I’m not quite sure why K-J gets so little respect, although it probably has something to do with the company’s success. Jackson’s family-owned business is the 10th largest wine company in the U.S. in terms of sales, a nifty feat at a time when family-owned wineries are being snatched by the multi-nationals that control the industry.
And I think much of the disdain comes from people who see a wine made in mass quantities for people who “don’t know” wine and immediately assume it must be crap. These are, of course, the Wine Curmudgeon’s least favorite people, because they’d rather pay $20 for a lousy chardonnay with a better name instead of paying $13 for the K-J.
Do I drink Kendall-Jackson at every mea?. Of course not. But when I’m on the road and the only place to buy wine in town has some poorly-made $6 wine, the Kendall-Jackson vintners reserve syrah or chardonnay, and some overpriced, over-oaked California junk, I’ll drink the K-J every time. And I think Jess Jackson would approve.