The Stepping Stone Rocks! wines - both an affordable $18 - bring high quality and low price together like they were made to be that way. An everyday wine is good only if you actually want to drink it every day, and these wines certainly cover that base.
The grapes utilized by winemaker Jeff Keene are from California's North Coast AVA, an enormous expanse which includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and parts of Marin and Solano counties.
Cornerstone's decision to keep the blend percentages a "secret" is part marketing ploy and part winemaker prerogative. Their web content says "we want everyone savoring the results vintage to vintage, not the statistics."
Cornerstone partner Craig Camp says, "My love of interesting blends goes back to the now famous Vintage Tunia by Silvio Jermann in Italy's Fruili, which I was among the first American importers of back in the early 1980's. During the same period I was introduced to the many blended southern French wines by Christopher Cannan. No one debated too much the exact blends of these wines they way people do now. They were just enjoyed for what they were - delicious."
So the angle is, they juggle the numbers every year to be playful and fun, which is pretty much how the blends turn out and pretty much what a lot of us look for in a wine that's priced so it can be enjoyed every night. More likely, they find it cost effective to change the makeup each vintage based on the grapes' availability. If that brings a bottle of good wine to us for less than a twenty, it's alright with me.
The redesigned packaging for Rocks! is unpretentious and simple, and the move to bottle them under a screwcap was made with picnics in mind.
Zinfandel, Merlot and Grenache mix it up in a lively manner, with alcohol at 14.1% abv. Five months aging in stainless steel tanks gives the wine a brightness and freshness that is noteworthy. Very dark in color, the nose invitingly displays the brambly Zin, the smokey Merlot and the fruity Grenache. The palate is dark and fruit forward with a great acidity that is mouth watering and food friendly. Blueberry, blackberry and oak spice mingle in the flavor profile. Twist this one open for a backyard barbecue and everybody will be happy, even if you burn the steaks.
The grapes are Chardonnay and Muscat Canelli, and the latter one sure does make its presence known. The lightly green-tinted wine shows a lot of sweetness on the nose. Aromas of sweet flowers and sweet honey burst forth with a trace of minerals underneath. The roles are reversed on the palate, with the sweetness playing second fiddle. In the mouth, the White Rocks! has a zippy acidity and a ton of citrus zing - the sweet notes are there, just not as pronounced as the smell would lead me to believe. This wine is ready for shellfish or salad - or both - and can stand on its own as a refreshing sipper. The alcohol content sits at 14.1% abv, just like its red sibling.
These two Rocks! entries are both fun, playful, everyday wines that I'm ready for any day.
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