Back in the beginning of recorded history (somewhere around 1985), Kendall-Jackson was the new wine company on the block, and Jed Steele was their winemaker. Like most operations, they started as a boutique winery. Somewhere along the line they came to a realization shared by many others, before and since---boutique wine production may be where the action is, aesthetically speaking, but it's not where the money is. It may put you on the map, but it won't put you in a Lear Jet.
Before anyone could sort things out, Jess Jackson was making millions of cases of wine, Jed Steele had fled to start his own label and keep his sanity, and Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay was the preferred quaff of the yuppie generation. They stayed loyal to it as they aged. In the meantime, K-J had grown into a large and diversified wine company with something for everyone, making everything from plonk to collectibles.
But wait a moment---what about those Millenials? What happened to those damned kids who weren't drinking any wine? When no one was looking, they stopped chugging beer and spirits, and suddenly the entire generation seemed to be reaching for bottles with brightly colored drawing of animals on the label.. Jackson Wine Estates was producing more than 40 brands, but there was nothing for Generation Next.
Enter White Rocket, launched last year to appeal to "upcoming generations" of wine consumers. The wines are designed to retail for $8-12, and the target audience is---guess who?---those in the 21-35 age group. At present, they make Camelot, Tin Roof and Dog House (not reviewed here). There's no critter label yet, and probably won't be, since the trend of label design is veering away from childlike depictions of lizards, alligators and other reptiles.
The best news of all is that these wines are good---seriously good. Camelot is made by the talented Melissa Bates, a seasoned veteran of both Napa and Sonoma. With Camelot, Bates has not focussed on varietal identity, although the wines certainly taste like the grape varieties listed on the label. The most obvious and noteworthy aspect of the Camelot wines is their fruit---ripe, forward and very seductive. The Tin Roof releases are even better, showing considerable structure and breed. While not quite cheap, both lines are downright reasonable. Could this be the beginning of an American vin ordinaire? We can only hope.
Camelot Sauvignon Blanc, California, 2006 ($10)
The nose exudes ripe, attractive aromas of citrus and melon. The wine is just as attractive in the mouth, with good acidity, zesty spice notes, and vivid flavors of citrus, pear and melon. It has a pleasant, mouthfilling texture, with the gobs of bright fruit amplified by a touch of residual sugar. Finishes surprisingly long, with strong notes of white pepper. A very nice match with the usual suspects (goat cheese, shellfish, river fish) and a very good value. B
Camelot Chardonnay, California, 2005 ($10)
The nose yields restrained aromas of melon and pear. In the mouth, the wine is clean, fresh and well-balanced, with round flavors of citrus and melon underlined by good acidity and amplified by the slightest touch of oak. The texture is medium-full, assertive without being overbearing, and the wine is both graceful and mouthfilling. A perfect match with sauteed seafood and white meats. B
Camelot Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays D'Oc, 2005 ($10)
Like many other wineries seeking to line-price their labels, Camelot is currently sourcing their Pinot Noir from the south of France, where the impact of Sideways was minimal at best. This wine has a deep ruby-red color and a pleasantly earthy nose, which exudes aromas of dark berry fruit. The wine is medium-bodied in the mouth, with a silky texture, warm earth notes, and flavors of ripe berries, rhubarb and bitter chocolate, all of which is framed by good acidity and lively fruit tannins. A distinctive wine, and an excellent value at the price. B
Camelot Merlot, California, 2003 ($10)
The ripe, forward nose offers scents of black cherries and chocolate. The wine is ripe and straightforward in the mouth, with sweet cherry fruit and jammy cassis notes. This is classic cocktail wine, good as a 5 p.m. quaff or as an accompaniment to finger food, chicken and grilled white meats. B-
Camelot Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2003 ($10)
The nose offers textbook aromas of blackberry and cedar. The wine is medium-bodied and nicely concentrated in the mouth, with the richness of the fruit offset by good acidity and subtle accents of tannin and spice. A straightforward and very well-made wine, a good value, and a nice match with a variety of simply prepared poultry and meat dishes. B
Camelot Shiraz, California, 2003 ($10)
The peppery nose gives off scents of briar, anise and menthol. The wine is rich, ripe and mouthfilling, with delicious black fruit flavors, strong herbal notes, excellent acidity and balance, and a texture that cries out for red meats and slow-cooked stews. The finish is long, intense and peppery. A compelling wine. B+
Tin Roof Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, California, 2006 ($10)
The vibrant nose exudes aromas of grapefruit and fresh-cut grass. In the mouth, the wine explodes with intense flavors of citrus, melon and ripe pear, bolstered by good acidity; the texture is electric, and the overall mouthfeel is exhilarating. The finish is exceptionally long, with echoes of spring flowers, citrus and white pepper. B+
Tin Roof Cellars Chardonnay, California, 2006 ($10)
A delightful Chardonnay without a perceptible touch of oak---medium-bodied and forceful, with focussed flavors of citrus, apple and melon. Hints of cream and minerals emerge on the long finish. A good match with pork and poultry as well as fish, and a pleasure to drink. B+
Tin Roof Cellars Rosé Wine, California, 2006 ($10)
An unspecified blend of Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah. The nose displays an appealing, fruit-punch character, but the wine is more structured than it first appears. Vivid flavors of fresh berries are enhanced by good acidity, along with enough tannin to make it a serious accompaniment to food. Pairs very well with grilled vegetables, fish or poultry, and perfect with a dish of pasta in fresh tomato sauce. B
Tin Roof Cellars Merlot, California, 2005 ($10)
The complex nose reveals rich scents of kirsch, milk chocolate and stewed cherries. The wine is medium-bodied in the mouth, with a lush texture and and ripe notes of black cherries and dark berry fruit. The finish is long, spicy and pleasant. B
Tin Roof Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2005 ($10)
A nose filled with cedar-tinged black fruits is followed by a medium to full-bodied wine with firm blackberry flavors and powdery tannins. It is graceful and well-proportioned, and the finish is long and slightly minty. Like the Merlot, this serves equally well as a cocktail wine or as an accompaniment to meats cooked on the grill. B