Beyond Big Chardonnay: Rombauer Uncorked

IMG_1916-1024x683Don’t worry, Rombauer still makes those rich, full-bodied and buttery Chardonnays that many consumers love. But at a tasting there yesterday, I discovered they make a range of Chardonnay styles to satisfy the most discerning palates, as well as fruit-driven Sauvignon Blanc and intensely-made, ageworthy Cabernet Sauvignon.

Buchli Station Vineyard and Home Ranch Vineyard Chardonnays from Carneros
Buchli Station Vineyard and Home Ranch Vineyard Chardonnays from Carneros

I really looked forward to this tasting. People ask me all the time for recommendations on where they can taste the bigger, richer Chardonnays and there are only a handful of wineries in Napa Valley that are famous for this style. Rombauer is one of them. They achieve this in part through barrel fermentation in French and American oak, stirring on the lees to add the luscious flavors and creaminess to the wines. The 2014 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay ($36) is the classic and most widely available version with big upfront, tropical fruit while the 2014 Proprietor Selection Chardonnay ($65) is made with grapes from the best vineyard plots, leading to more weight and depth on the palate.

Being a terroirist, my favorite Chardonnays at the tasting were Rombauer’s single vineyard Chardonnays from Carneros. The 2014 Buchli Station Vineyard Chardonnay (120 cases, $70) in particular was a more subtle, refined Chardonnay, made with a discreet use of new French oak. The 2014 Home Vineyard Ranch Carneros Chardonnay (120 cases, $70) is a more fruit-driven but elegant Chardonnay with a rich, buttery finish.

Rombauer winemaker Richie Allen

Thanks to a young, enthusiastic winemaker Richie Allen, Rombauer now also makes a great everyday Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($24), the first new varietal wine in their portfolio in more than 20 years. As an Australian who’s worked in New Zealand, Allen knows his SB which in this case is easy drinking, more fruity than grassy, with only a small amount fermented in barrel to add roundness to the palate.

A well-seasoned spread catered by Calistoga Inn
Red Pairing: Perfectly prepared and seasoned duck and juicy pork loin catered by Calistoga Inn

Rombauer, established in 1980, has been making Cabernet Sauvignon from the start but today’s Cabernet wines have been perfected through use of optical sorters and labor-intensive barrel ferment in small, 100% new French oak barrique. While more wineries are fermenting Cabernet in barrel vs. the more typical large tank or vat, it may be only for a portion of the wines or as necessary, such as in the challenging 2011 vintage. At Rombauer, all the premium, small production red wines are made primarily through barrel ferment.

MG_6294-1024x576Allen believes this method provides the best integration of oak while adding a richer, more textured palate. Allen’s protocol is to destem but not crush the grapes to permit a small bit of carbonic maceration which contributes vibrant fruit to the wine. Maceration and extraction is controlled carefully via rolling the barrels on OXO racks.

My favorite red wine at the tasting was the 2012 Le Meilleur du Chai ($100), a Bordeaux-style blend of 83% Cab, 9% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc. It combined the best of these grape varieties in a rich, dense and powerful wine with great depth and seamless balance.

If you haven’t been to Rombauer lately, it’s time to re-visit and discover their wines all over again.

Rombauer Vineyards tasting room is open by appointment daily from 10 am. to 5 p.m. 3522 Silverado Trail North, Saint Helena.