Thanks to Tiffany and the good folks at Balzac, I had the chance to do a rundown of the Tin Roof Cellars portfolio. Tin Roof, a widely-available series of wines from California, produces a slate of reds and whites all available for around $8-9. All the wines are in Stelvin screwtop bottles, a delivery system of which I heartily approve, especially as an evening wears on.
Balzac sent me six of their recent releases. My thoughts on this set of yummies:
Tin Roof Cellars 2011 Chardonnay – Simply put, this is a solid, basic California chardonnay. Fermented in stainless steel and aged for five months in oak, the fragrance and flavors are largely apple and peach, with a strong shot of vanilla on the palate. There’s some woodiness and buttery, creamy flavors but thankfully not too much of either. It’s a little bit heavier palate-wise than chardonnays I usually prefer, but if you’re into a fuller style for whites, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Tin Roof Cellars 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – The grapes for this sauvignon blanc are from Lake County and the Sacramento delta, both cooler climate regions. Cooler climate whites tend to have a little more complexity in my experience, and that was the case here. At first sample, some slightly herbal overtones led to a green apple scented nose. This wine’s mouthfeel has pretty reasonable weight with tart apple and lime as the major flavors. The finish has a bit of an acidic bite, but that’s what you’d expect in a sauvignon blanc. I found it flavorful and drinkable, although this isn’t the season where I drink a ton of sauvignon blanc. I’ll keep it in mind after winter.
Tin Roof Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon & Tin Roof Cellars 2009 Merlot – The evening menu came up “steak and sweet potatoes,” so these two got a side-by-side tasting. The merlot is sourced from North Coast and Central Coast and includes small amounts of petit sirah. The Cabernet is sourced from grapes across California and includes a splash of syrah in the blend. In all honesty, the Cabernet was one of the better sub-$10 bottles I’ve had in quite some time. Good tannic structure, nice flavor, and actual complexity within its dark cherry and berry notes. With both the steak and the chocolate, also a winner. An excellent effort.
As for the merlot – on its own, I wasn’t impressed. I thought it was rather flabby and unremarkable. I thought it leaned over to the fruit juice side of the ledger, and the tannins were so soft that they were almost unnoticeable. I did notice that this wine improved greatly with food. One thing I don’t see U.S. winemakers doing very much is making (or at least marketing) inexpensive, all-purpose table wine – wines that can be poured with almost any sort of food and be decent, as with inexpensive Italian Chianti. This merlot showed a little more backbone as a complement to the strong, meaty flavors in the food – largely by staying out of the way. That would be this wine’s niche, in my opinion.
Tin Roof Cellars 2011 Lodi Zinfandel – When Zinfandel began its recent meteoric rise in popularity, California winemakers engaged in an arms race to see who could create the highest alcohol fruit bomb possible. I cut my wine-tasting teeth on Sonoma County zin, but as the years went by, the profiles of most California Zinfandels became so in-your-face that I stopped buying – turning instead to its Italian cousin, Primitivo. This relatively inexpensive California Zin gives me hope that the pendulum has begun to reverse its swing. Clocking in at a modest 13.5% alcohol, this wine actually has a lighter touch than some California pinot noirs I’ve tasted recently. It’s not especially fancy or complex, featuring raspberry and blueberry flavors in a reasonable balance with alcohol and tannin. With roasted meats, barbecue sauces, and (of course) chocolate, it’s a nice quaffable entry that reminds me more of an import from Puglia than a California monster with some “zin-based” pun for a name.
Tin Roof Cellars 2011 Red Blend – The vast majority of domestic wines you’ll see in a wine store as “Cabernet Sauvignon,” “Merlot” and so on are actually blends. If a US wine contains at least 75% of a single varietal, it can be labeled as that varietal. (See above, for instance.) If a wine is called a “blend” (or “meritage” or “claret”), it’s a blend where no one varietal is above 75% of the composition. In this case, this wine is a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Petit Sirah. Honestly, I found it a little too fruity for my tastes. It reminded me a great deal of the Merlot I mentioned before, although it’s got a little more structure. I got berries and cherries here with a tannic finish. All in all, I think it’s decent but unremarkable on its own. Like the merlot, however, it would work as a table wine if you’ve got some heartier fare on the table. I had it with roasted red pepper and eggplant soup and it worked just fine.