Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

Among wine snobs, Kendall-Jackson founder Jess Jackson is often regarded as the devil. Part of that is because he's famously prickly and litigious, but most of it is because of Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, which embodies virtually all of the characteristics that snobs detest about California Chardonnay. It's slightly off-dry, and it's a butter bomb. That is, time in oak barrels (plus full malolactic fermentation) imparts a toasty, buttery flavor to the wine that dominates it (along with coconuts and tropical fruits). It's very much an engineered wine. Jackson knew that American consumers preferred wines that were low-acid and off-dry (even though they didn't want to admit that the wines were off-dry), and that's what he produced. K-J Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay is, in its conception and execution, very much like Sutter Home White Zinfandel, only with more pretensions of sophistication.

Kendall-Jackson is a huge operation, and although the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay is their most popular wine, they make many, many other ones. Our Christmas wine was the 2004 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the grandiose name, the Grand Reserve line is just K-J's second-level line (above Vintner's Reserve but below the Highland Estates and Stature lines), and I tried my best not to like it. I did not succeed. I couldn't detect much varietal character (which, for Cabernet Sauvignon, is a distinctive cedar aroma), but it did have good concentration and lots of fruit. It was pleasant, and it went well with the standing rib roast. I didn't know how much this wine went for until I looked it up just now (around $23 a bottle), and I don't think that it offers a particularly good value. However, it was enjoyable, if you can put aside your preconceived notions about Kendall-Jackson.

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