Rodney Strong’s 2018 Summer Concert Series a backyard garden party with great music and fantastic wine.

The perfect pairing for Rodney Strong's last Summer 2018 Concert

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The perfect pairing for Rodney Strong's last Summer 2018 Concert

It may be after Labor Day, but there's one more chance this summer to pack up the lawn chairs and sunscreen and post up on the lawn at Rodney Strong's 2018 Summer Concert Series.

For the first time, this summer I attended two in this series, and I was pleasantly surprised at how fun and easy it was — it's like a big backyard garden party at a friend's house, but your friend is Rodney Strong Vineyards.

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Healdsburg, California

I wouldn't have thought to go to a Melissa Etheridge concert in July, as I'm not keen on big crowds and parking hassle, if a friend with a couple free tickets didn't talk me into it.

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Healdsburg, California

Etheridge joked around with and played to a good crowd. The concerts are on a lawn bordered with shade trees and a fence, lending the venue a casual, intimate feel — and nobody has to spill out into the vineyards. It's an easy walk from parking to the venue, and food vendors include ice cream, Caribbean pizza, and Zazu Kitchen's Black Piglet food truck.

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Healdsburg, California

Then in August, The Temptations and The Four Tops played to a packed house, many in reserved seating upgrades. Finally, on Sunday, Sept. 9, the final Summer Concert features Boz Scaggs.

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Healdsburg, California

But what wine to have at a backyard garden party?

The winery offers plenty of choices at two wine bars, from Chardonnay to a bold new red blend (don't ask about beer, like I did: 'This is a winery,' is the answer).

But suppose you had to choose only one white wine, and please both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc partisans? Rodney Strong's 2017 Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc ($17) is the one to go with ($22 at the concert).

While this wine is not a single vineyard selection, it's a blend of grapes from the heritage Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc vineyard, which winery founder Rodney Strong established in 1971, with Sauvignon Blanc from other Russian River, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley vineyards (thus, the Northern Sonoma appellation).

I was surprised to learn that it's only 10 percent barrel fermented in French oak, with 90 percent cold fermented in stainless steel tanks, because the toasty, smoky aroma is so pronounced — a boon to Chardonnay fans who love a toasty style. Yet it's not really oaky, so I suspect there's a touch of 4-EG spicing up the aroma — not a bad thing at all, maybe even very Loire, in fact!

Ripe, tropical fruits and honeydew melon flavors fill out the palate, while candied green grass and white grapefruit flavors pull it in a leaner direction, and the concert-goer heads back in the direction of the wine bar for another glass.

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Healdsburg, California

Grilled Shrimp Salad

8 oz. large (20 to 24 per lb.) shrimp, shelled and deveined

1/4 teaspoon microplaned or very finely minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon toasted and ground coriander

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4-6 asparagus spears

2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

4 oz. small carrots, shaved thinly length wise on a mandolin - chilled in ice water for 10 minutes and drained well

6 medium radishes, cut into thin wedges

2 tablespoons dill or fennel fronds

4 ounces arugula

2 boiled eggs, cut in quarters

Place shrimp in a bowl with garlic, thyme, coriander, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper. Toss together and place in fridge to marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat your grill on medium high. Drizzle 1-2 teaspoons olive oil on asparagus, and season with salt and pepper. Place on grill to cook evenly and char slightly; about 1-2 minutes.

Remove from heat, slice in half, and set aside to cool.

Take shrimp from fridge and grill on both sides, about 30 seconds per side, or until shrimp have plumped and turned pink. Remove and set aside to cool.

Whisk together sherry vinegar with honey, and remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble salad: Toss together cooled asparagus, shaved carrots, radishes, dill or fennel fronds, and arugula. Drizzle dressing and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Divide between two plates and top with cooled shrimp, and garnish with boiled eggs. Drizzle with remaining dressing and season with additional pepper if desired.

James Knight