Off the Vine: Kendal Jackson is hard to beat

August 14, 2013 

It is hard to believe that Kendal Jackson produced more than 1 million bottles of its 2011 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay. This Chardonnay is bargain at $14 a bottle and it is readily available almost anywhere wine is sold. Kendal Jackson has been the No. 1 best-selling American Chardonnay for 20 years running -- what a feat.

The 2011 Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay received a 88-point rating from Robert Parker and is made entirely from estate fruit (meaning that the grapes were all grown in Kendall Jackson-owned vineyards). For those of you who enjoy a creamy, oaky Chardonnay, all of this wine is barrel-fermented and 100 percent went through malolactic fermentation. This is quite amazing when you consider that there are so many bottles of this wine and the costs associated with barrel fermentation. This wine contains notable flavors of lemon and peach, but there were also hints of vanilla and apple.

The winery was founded by the late Jess Jackson in 1982 and remains a family owned and operated business, producing more than 35 different wines under the Kendall Jackson label in a wide variety of price ranges. Kendall Jackson owns more than 14,000 acres of vineyards.

I should note that Jess Jackson began his career as an attorney, and in a 2007 interview with the Los Angeles Times said that he "wanted to get away from law and become a farmer" because he was attracted to that lifestyle. Jackson's empire all started with an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard that his family purchased in 1974 and

eventually converted into a vineyard.

In addition to the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, also tasted were the Kendall Jackson-produced a 2009 Vintner's Reserve Merlot and a 2009 Vintner's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines were paired with a grilled flank steak, marinated in oil, garlic and rosemary served with a side of angel hair pasta that was topped with fresh sautéed tomatoes.

The 2009 Vintner's Reserve Merlot possesses scents of mocha and is fruit forward (the first flavor you taste upon drinking the wine) with the flavor of black cherry, but is very light on the finish.

The 2009 Vintner's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon contains the aroma of soft oak and is somewhat spicy with a fair amount of black currant, containing hints of vanilla on the finish. The Cabernet held up very well to the flank steak and pasta dish. The Merlot was slightly over-powered by the rosemary flavor of the beef, but tasted better with the pasta dish topped with fresh tomatoes.

Speaking of tomatoes, many of the California vineyards grow more than just grapes. Kendall Jackson holds an annual Heirloom Tomato Festival. This year will the 17th and is scheduled to take place on Sept. 28.

There will be 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes grown in the wineries garden. And of course, there will be plenty of different Kendall-Jackson wines available to taste.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at

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