Rodney Strong Wine Tasting at Fleming's

April 19 2011 - 9:33 AM

Yesterday, a group of us from Chicago Foodies were invited to a wine event at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse in River North on Ohio Street.  Sonoma County, California, vintner Rodney Strong was pouring some of its major bottlings along with an array of appetizers offered by the restaurant.  As an initial matter, I'd like to thank the folks at Fleming's for their hospitality and the representatives from Rodney Strong for being gracious and quite informative.  I'm now informed that the style of wine blending, "Mertiage" is pronounced like the word "heritage" and not the commonly and apparently mistaken manner, "meri-TAHGE". I am forever indebted.  

That aside, we had some fun trying the various wines offered.  The Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc was the winner among those offered.  I've had this one before and it's a sturdy offering.  It's not excessive in any way; it's tamer than many New Zealand counterparts but has just enough grassiness and grapefruit on the nose to give it character. You can smell and taste its dalliance with French oak, as it has a bit of creaminess to it and hints of vanilla.  The very low level of acidity is rather buried in the mix.

To say I'm not a California chardonnay fan is polite understatement and I was least impressed by the Chalk Hill Chardonnay.  It announced its oakiness on the nose and this was not belied by the flavor.  For those who like the style, it is a pretty standard California chardonnay, toasty and a touch of green apple on the finish. 

There were three reds.  The Russian River Valley Pinot Noir had a pretty nose.  Ripe cherries emerged from other odors of vanilla and a bit of alcohol.  Flavor wise, it hinted at cherries and strawberries although the alcohol was perhaps the most prominent flavor.  The Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was also rather big, hot on the nose, and a massive nose at that, with a flavor displaying raisins, dark fruits, and a bit of  vanilla due to oak which rounded it a bit.  The body was not overly dense.  Finishing off the roster was the – say it with me – Meritage blend.  The nose was softer than the Cab and it too featured dark fruits on the palate with a strong vanilla oak structure and limited acidity. 

Overall, I would call the offerings a solid lineup of accessible California styled wines at a relative bargain.  They're not big on structure – across the board the acidity's just not there – but they'll appeal to a wide variety of wine drinkers.  Most liquor stores and some supermarkets carry Rodney Strong's primary offerings, generally for $15-$20 a bottle.  If you are in need of a bottle for a party or a late dinner and the boutique liquor store is closed or out of reach, these wines will more than suffice.

–Mark Sheppard