Tag Archives: merlot

Wine review: Rodney Strong Merlot 2011

Rodney Strong merlotRodney Strong is an example of how sophisticated the California wine business has become. It makes $15 wine that is sold in grocery stores, but is of better quality than most grocery store wine. It has a line of very high-end reds, aimed at the Winestream Media and the people who read it, and which are about as different from its $15 wines as possible. In all of this, Rodney Strong produces more than 800,000 cases a year, making it the 20th biggest winery in the U.S., according to Wine Business Monthly.

That Rodney Strong can do all three of those, and do it mostly well, speaks to California’s dominant role in the wine world. It’s not only the best place to grow grapes, but its business model is the best, too. The idea is to make wine the way Detroit makes cars, with something for grocery store consumers, something for people who want to spend more, and then the very high end stuff.

The trick to this approach is not sloughing off. The quality/value ratio at the bottom has to be as impressive as at the top, or you’ll never get anyone to trade up. The 2011 Rodney Strong merlot ($17, sample, 13.5%) shows how much care goes into the wines. The 2011 California vintage was one of the coolest in decades, but that didn’t stop a lot of producers from making their usual over-extracted, over-alcoholic, over-oaked wines — even though, thanks to the cool vintage, they had to use a fair amount of sleight of hand to do it.

But not the Rodney Strong merlot. It tastes like it came from a cool vintage — fresh and juicy, no cloying red fruit, a touch of oak at the back that makes the wine better and not like caramel candy, and almost spicy in a French sort of way. It’s about as honest a California merlot as I’ve had in years, in which the winemaker makes what the grapes give him or her, and not what the focus groups want (“smooth,” “sweet fruit”).

Highly recommended, and not just for dinner (beef and lamb almost certainly). This is a gift wine, to show someone you want them to drink interesting wine, and that you found a very interesting one for them to drink.

Wine of the week: Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot 2012

Maybe it’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s always-assume-the-worst nature, but whenever I start to feel better about cheap wine and its place in the world, I run across something like this, from a user on CellarTracker about the Velvet Devil: “A nice wine if you need a half cup of red wine for a recipe and want to enjoy drinking the rest.”

What does this person expect from a $13 wine? First-growth Bordeaux?

In fact, the Velvet Devil ($13, purchased, 13.5%) is another in a long line of well-made and well-priced wines from Washington state winemaker Charles Smith and deserves much more than damning with faint praise. This is a red wine for family dinners, with enough merlot varietal character to be recognizable — lots of blueberry fruit, a little leather, and a few tannins — and all more or less in balance. It’s a red meat wine (Christmas, even(, but not so fussy that it wouldn’t pair with roast chicken.

And, it’s a huge step up from all those grocery store merlots burdened with jelly jars of dark fruit, wines that somehow taste sweet even though they don’t have any residual sugar. If the Cellar Tracker user thought the Velvet Devil was ordinary, I don’t want to know what they would say about the other.

 

Wine of the week: Falesco Merlot 2011

Wine of the week: Falesco Merlot 2011The Wine Curmudgeon does not like merlot, and I fight this prejudice every time I taste one. I’ve had too many poorly-made, fruit-charged merlots (yes, California, this means you) to have an open mind, and the blog has suffered for it. In the six-plus years I’ve been doing this, only two merlots have been a wine of the week. Given that they were from Bulgaria and Texas, that’s hardly representative.

It’s time to change that, and what better time than Birthday Week and what better wine to do it with than the Falesco ($15, sample, 13.5%)? After all, didn’t the blog’s readers choose Falesco as the best cheap wine brand?

The various Falesco wines have been a fixture here since I started the blog, and almost every single one I’ve tasted in the past decade has offered quality and value, enough for the Vitiano to make the $10 Hall of Fame every year. The merlot is no exception, and that it’s Italian just makes it more interesting. Look for typical merlot richness and subdued tannins, combined with black fruit and enough acidity to remind you this is an Italian wine. Highly recommended, and worth every bit of the five bucks more than $10 that it costs.

And I have mentioned that Falesco’s Riccardo Cotarella is a genius?

Barefoot wine review 2016

Barefoot wine review 2013

Barefoot wine review 2013This year, the Wine Curmudgeon picked two Barefoot award winners to review ? the pink moscato, which earned a double gold this month at a prestigious California competition, and the merlot, which got a gold at the 2011 Critics Challenge (the 2013 version of which I judged over the weekend).


The 2014 Barefoot wine review


My impressions? Both were sound, not flawed, provided value, and were much more impressive than the pinot noir and sauvignon blanc in the 2012 Barefoot review.

I write an annual Barefoot review because hardly anyone one else does; the Winestream Media can ?t be bothered reviewing wines that people actually drink. Not surprisingly, the Barefoot post is always among the most popular on the blog, with Barefoot reviews coming in at No. 2 and No. 4 in 2012 ?s top 10. This year, it was heartening to see others taking up the cause, and my annual Google search found a handful of other recent reviews. How can one not appreciate a blog called Honest Wine Reviews?

The pink moscato ($6, purchased, 9%), made with California grapes and non-vintage, was surprisingly balanced for a wine cashing in on the moscato craze. Think of it as sweet pink lemonade with a bit of fizziness, and make sure to chill it. Having said that, it was firmly sweet, much more in the style of white zinfandel than rose. But, having said that, it was one of the best sweet wines I ?ve tasted recently, and especially for the price.

Was it a double gold medal wine? Yes and no. When I first tasted it, the moscato didn ?t seem much more than a very well-made, lemony white zinfandel. But, on a hunch, I tasted it after I tried the merlot, and the difference was amazing. That ?s when I got the pink lemonade, and the wine tasted fuller and more complete. I ?d have given it gold, too, and I think I know what happened.

The contrast with the merlot, which was drier and more tannic, brought out the moscato ?s flavors. This happens all the time in wine competitions, where judges alternate between colors to lessen palate fatigue, and that was probably the case at this competition.

The most noticeable flavor in the merlot ($5, purchased, 13%) was caramel. Who knows how many valiant oak chips sacrificed their lives for this wine? In this, the merlot goes for the chocolate cherry flavor that so many casual wine drinkers look for, and mostly succeeds. It ?s a simple wine (also made with California grapes and non-vintage), and is almost certainly not the one that won a gold two years ago. A merlot from Bogle or McManis would be more interesting. But you ?ll get your $5 worth with the Barefoot.

Ironically, I chilled the merlot before I tasted it, on the theory that some cheap red wines are better cooler. That wasn ?t the case here, and the wine needs to be red wine temperature (60-ish F/16-ish C) to be at its best. And don ?t worry if you smell burnt rubber or cork when you open the bottle, something I ?ve noticed with many Barefoot reds. The aroma goes away quickly (in wine terms, it blows off), and is probably a function of the sulfur used to help preserve the wine.

For more on Barefoot wine:
The Internet loves Barefoot and Cupcake wine
Barefoot and the wine magazines
Barefoot wines (again): Value or just cheap?

Expensive wine 42: Newton Merlot Unfiltered 2005

It ?s probably too much to call this wine an anachronism, but it is a snapshot of what life was like in a certain part of the wine business just in those warm, sunny summer days before the recession.

The Newton ($40, sample) is Napa Valley wine the way a certain segment of wine drinkers, critics, and retailers thought Napa Valley wine should be ? rich, luscious, ripe, and alcoholic (15.6 percent, believe it or not). It screams ?Give me more than 90 points! ? and descriptors like intense only begin to tell the story.

These days, it ?s more difficult to find wines made this way. The recession played its part, devastating the super-premium wine business. Meanwhile, consumers seem to be tiring of high alcohol, while cooler harvests in California the past couple of vintages have made it more difficult to get wine to taste this way.

For the Newton is distinctive. Though it ?s a huge wine, it is more interesting than others of its ilk, with more balance between dark fruits, silky tannins, and the acid than I expected. Having said that, it needs food, and manly food at that ? big slabs of red meat. Otherwise, after two glasses, you're done. That so many people wanted that sort of thing almost makes me want to wax nostalgic.

Mini-reviews 30: Nouveau, Napa Cellars, Vieux Papes, Honker

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month:

? Georges Dub uf Beaujolais Nouveau 2011 ($8, purchased): To quote a regular visitor here, "Better than it has been, but not better enough to buy again." Not as much ripe banana as usual, but still more juice than wine.

? Napa Cellars Merlot ($22, sample): Two or three years ago, these wines did not impress; today, with a little aging and a change in winemaking styles elsewhere, it's a winner: correctly tannic, with black fruit and even a bit of earthiness. Missing is the sweet fruit so common in these wines today.

Vieux Papes Blanc de Blancs NV ($6, purchased): You get what you pay for — thin with a bit of green apple and not much else. Think of it as the French version of Two-buck Chuck.

? Cerruti Cellars Honker Blanc 2010 ($14, sample): California sauvignon blanc that would make a nice $10 wine but costs $4 more. Well crafted and clean, with some lime and tart apple.

Mini-reviews 29: Stag’s Leap, Flat Creek, Le Grand Nor, De Bortoli

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month:

? Stag's Leap Merlot 2004 ($35, sample): Cleaning out the wine cellar, and found this gorgeous, beautiful wine. Tastes like Napa, with deep, luscious black fruit, but with other qualities that make for a wonderful wine, including a long chalky finish and a full, rich middle.

? Flat Creek Estate Pinot Grigio 2010 ($18, purchased): Texas white wine that sits between tonic Italian pinot grigio (has more lemon) and fruit forward Oregon pinot gris. There was something odd in the back that bothered me, but may not bother anyone else. And it would be a better value at $14 or $15.

? Le Grand Noir Chardonnay 2009 ($8, purchased): French white with too much badly done fake oak and without enough fruit to cover up the oak. Not very interesting one way or the other.

? De Bortoli Sauvignon Blanc Emeri NV ($11, sample): Very odd, but intriguing, Australian bubbly made with sauvignon blanc. Sweet tropical fruit but not as much citrus as one would expect. Less tight and bubbly than cava, but not as soft as some Italian sparklers. Keep in mind for the holidays.