Cabernet Sauvignon, the venerable statesman


Rodney Strong

Rodney Strong, 2015 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% alcohol, $20. ★★★★

This is a cab that clearly overdelivers. It has generous fruit — black cherry and black raspberry — with herbs and spicy oak. It has good structure with firm tannins and a nice length.


J. Lohr, 2015 Hilltop, Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9%, $35. ★★★★: This is a pretty cab with black raspberry fruit, herbs and spice, and the flavors meld together seamlessly. The cab has good balance, ripe tannins and a lingering finish. It’s well-crafted.

Duckhorn, 2014 Three Palms Vineyard, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9%, $98. ★★★★: This is a gorgeous cab with notes of black raspberry fruit, and notes of cinnamon and clove in the mix. It has a soft and supple texture, with ripe tannins. Nice length. Striking.

Cliff Lede, 2015 Stag’s Leap District, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 15%, $78. ★★★★: This is a striking cab with complex aromas and flavors. It has notes of jasmine, black currant, blackberry, cinnamon and black pepper. The Cliff Lede has bright acidity and great balance. Top rate.

Justin, 2015 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5%, $25. ★★★1/2: This is a savory cab with dried herbs at the forefront, while cherry and black currant fruit play backup. What melds it together is a hint of caramel. Smart.

Justin Seidenfeld was a waiter at The Broker in downtown Denver when he first realized wine was magic.

“I saw the impact of wine on people,” he said, referring to the celebration of it. “The wine had a much greater impact than the food ever did.”

Seidenfeld decided to study wine so he could be part of that revelry, and today the winemaker is behind our wine-of-the-week winner –– the Rodney Strong, 2015 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon at $20.

This is a cab that clearly over-delivers. It has generous fruit –– black cherry and black raspberry –– with herbs and spicy oak. It has good structure with firm tannins and a nice length.

The backstory of this wine is about where the grapes were groomed.

“Site trumps everything in winemaking,” Seidenfeld said, “and most of the grapes in this bottling come from the Cooley Ranch. It’s one of the greatest sites in Sonoma County and potentially one of the last sites of its kind to be developed because of the regulatory climate.”

The winemaker said the site, at 2000 feet, offers optimum sun exposure and great drainage.

What people fail to realize, Seidenfeld said, is that cabernet sauvignon is really a diverse varietal and climate and soil are the distinguishing factors of the flavor profile.

This winemaker has his feet firmly planted in the vineyard; Seidenfeld said the most important decision is always when to pick the grapes.

“A truly exceptional winemaker needs to have a foot in both sides of the process, winemaking and farming,” he said. “Without great grapes and great sites we can’t make great wine.”

Seidenfeld studied at the University of California, Davis, graduating with a degree in viticulture and enology in 2006. He was an intern at Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol in 2005 and a year later landed a job at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. Seidenfeld joined Rodney Strong in 2010 and today he works alongside veteran winemaker Rick Sayre.

“While I’m constantly trying to strive for perfection, which I’ll never achieve, our wines are getting better,” he said. “I’m always pushing the envelope.”

Rodney Strong, Seidenfeld said, is the largest boutique winery in the world.

“We overdeliver,” he said. “Everything we do is in the ilk of $60 bottle of wine.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at or 707-521-5310.