Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

It’s Value Week with Rodney Strong, Toasted Head, Zaca Mesa, & 10 More

by Monty and Sara Preiser

We received an email this week from a friend of our daughter asking, in effect, “Don’t you guys drink anything that wine novices who are also new to the work force can afford and enjoy?” Well, the short answer is, “of course we do,” but the point is well taken. We have not written enough about them. Our daughter (following in the footsteps of two grandfathers, a father, and several cousins) is practicing law at a large firm and can pretty much drink what she wants. But even so, the entry level workers of this generation as a whole are creatures of the 2009 economy and are searching for quality and value in the same package. So here we go.

While there are a number of individual wines worth talking about, three wineries with long product lines have especially impressed us this year in the value category – Rodney Strong, Toasted Head, and Zaca Mesa. Dining on different days with (in the same order), winemakers Rick Sayre, Barry Bergman, and Eric Mohseni gave us good insight into their wines with and without food. Some of our favorites are below.

Rodney Strong – located in Sonoma County*

-2008 Sauvignon Blanc Charlotte’s Home ($15): Light and crisp, with good minerality. About 9% is aged in French oak and goes through full malolactic, which adds a beautiful roundness to the wine at the finish.
-2007 Chardonnay Chalk Hill Estate ($20): A wine we seek out on wine lists as it is always consistent in its creaminess, balanced minerality and fruit, and a hint of “something that makes it special.” 2007 is a particularly good vintage.
-2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alden Vineyards ($35): Earthy with deep black fruit and backbone to brag about, this Cab will lay down for 10 years, but who would want to wait?
-2007 Zinfandel Knotty Pines Estate ($22): Lots of interesting spices from the combination of French and American oak. Quite jammy. Quite flavorful.

www.rodneystrong.com 800-474-9463

Toasted Head – located in Yolo County

-2006 Chardonnay Russian River Barrel Reserve ($19): We were quite surprised and more than pleased at a $19 Chard that offers such brightness, balance, fresh peaches, and creaminess.
-2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($20): We thought the winery’s best, with rich, ripe strawberry flavors, a wisp of smoke on the nose, earth tones in the middle, and good balance.
-2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Reserve Alexander Valley ($20): Even at this price, the wine has structure for aging. It also offers vanilla and black plums on the nose, cassis in the middle, and some mocha to finish.
-2007 Late Harvest Viognier ($14 for 375ml.): Dried on raisin mats and aged in French oak, this lovely dessert wine features apricots, honeysuckle, and some Polynesian fruits.

www.toastedhead.com 866-505-8904

Zaca Mesa – located in Los Olivos

-2007 Viognier
($20): Full mouth with light honeysuckle dancing around the mid palate. The fruit, from the highest elevation in Santa Ynez is surprisingly noticeable.
-2006 Roussanne ($25): Perhaps the winery’s best effort, figs and honey fill the mouth, and a subtle but longish finish keeps you remembering.
-2005 Syrah ($23): Excellent tannins and good weight accompany spice and coffee flavors. Just 1% Viognier in this blend adds floral notes to the nose.
-2005 Z Three ($42): The combination of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache is a winner. Mourvedre adds blueberry, Grenache raspberry, and Syrah some tar and pepper. A big Rhone.

www.zacamesa.com 805-688-9339

And Ten More Worth a Try

-2007 Berghold Viognier ($19): Peach and flowers lead off, followed by some stone fruit that gives weight to the wine and then lingers on.
-2006 Esterlina Gran Rojo ($25): A disarming blend of Cab, Merlot, Syrah, and Petite Sirah, the flavors of this wine are layered and distinctive. Great plums and spice, with medium tannins.
-2007 Gregory Graham Sauvignon Blanc Rolling Knolls Vineyard ($16): From Lake County and a great winemaker, this one has good acidity, lime, and citrus.
-2006 Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon ($17): Though a bit short up front, this one rallies with good fruit on the mid palate, and some sage and dust at the end.
-2007 Lange Twins Sauvignon Blanc ($14): From Lodi with love, we found outstanding minerality with Meyer lemon and melon throughout. Sur-lees aging ensures creaminess.
-2008 Merriam Chardonnay Reserve ($25): 100% malolactic and 33% new oak produces a buttery wine with some smoke. Not in vogue for some, still sought after by others.
-N/V Mumm Napa Brut Reserve Sparkling Wine ($30): Made in the traditional manner, Napa’s ripe fruits mingle with a lacing of figs and vanilla, with the flavors being enhanced by a toasty character and some cake spice.
-2008 Talus Chardonnay ($7): Bring us the crow and the fork. We have said there are no Chards under $10 that we could recommend, yet here is one with bright fruit and a finish. Cases, anyone?
-2007 Willamette Valley Vineyards Chardonnay Dijon Clones ($18): This wine reminds us of the beach, with its coconut and pineapple profile. The long finish is impressive.
-2008 Swanson Salon Rosato ($21): A surprise in this column since Monty does not usually care for “Pinks,” this red-berry-centric Syrah has some weight to it, as well as some oomph by result of a full cluster press.

*Rodney Strong also makes a Meritage (Symmetry) and other small lots that are much more expensive and beautifully crafted. But writing about them is not our mission today (soon, though).

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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