Saturday, June 11, 2016

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco Horizontal Tasting

Produttori del Barbaresco is the benchmark producer of Barbaresco. Always reliable in quality, they represent remarkable value too. And with their 9 single-vineyard riserva cru's, you get a look at the nuances of the various terroirs of Barbaresco. Though 2011 was a warmer than ideal year, it is considered a good vintage in Barbaresco, with wines on the riper, richer, darker, sexier end of the scale, but with good tannic structure and sufficient acidity, giving them serious ability to age. The fruit is by no means roasted or raisiny, as may happen in hot years. In short, 2011 vintage in Barbaresco is a vintage of considerable early appeal, but with serious capacity to age.

Here are my impressions of the 2011 line-up from Produttori del Barbaresco, in the order I tasted them. There was a clear familial similarity among all the wines, including the Normale bottling. They were suave, rich, ripe, and tannic, shifting from red berries to blueberries and plums, hints of herbs and spices, with medium body and beautiful translucent garnet color (as typical for Nebbiolo). I would not call this a classic vintage for Produttori because the wines are quite rich, but nonetheless, they are delicious, perfumed and structured. They can also be enjoyed now with some decanting and food.

2014 Produttori del Barbaresco, Langhe Nebbiolo - before diving into the 2011's, we started with the impressively drinkable 2014 Nebbiolo. Supposedly a crap vintage, one expects top-grade juice to be declassified into the Nebbiolo Langhe, and indeed it showed.  Very perfumed red fruits and herbs. Perfect (imaginary) match to a Naples-style pizza.

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Normale - this is blend of multiple vineyards from grapes that didn't make it into the single-vineyard cru's. Terrific value in 2011, for the quality and richness you get. I think this wine will age a long time, even though it already drinks very well. Perfumed berry jam, with noticeable structure and tannins. This punches way above its weight class. Tasted on at least 5 occasions with consistent notes.

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Pora - red berries, bitter spices, tannin

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Paje - riper nose than Pora, some tea and blue fruit components, richer than Pora, plum, tannins kick in, beautiful, velvety blanket, leather, spice on the backend. Excellent! Tasted on two occasions with consistent notes.

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Ovello - more red fruited, more strict, drier than Paje, tannic and linear. This comes across cooler and more restrained, and I really like this for aging. Very good! Tasted on two occasions with consistent notes.

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo - less tannic, slightly more watery, a bit anonymous.

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Asili - tight nose, but I sense depth. On the palate, nearly silky, elegant spice, seamless balance, similar to Paje but more elegant, classier version. The most polished cru in the lineup. Beautiful symmetry in this wine. Paje seems a bit rustic by comparison. This is great!

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja - wow! darker, a fortress of Barbaresco, more dense and monolithic, this will go the distance, fanning out with age. A blanket of blue fruit buffering the considerable tannins that arrive later. A powerful Barbaresco destined for greatness!

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Muncagota - strawberry nose, red fruit on the palate, tannins in the end, not as complex as others, a bit anonymous.

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano - nice deep, ripe nose. Palate is ripe, spicy plum, blueberry, leather, long finish. Very good but a notch below Paje, Asili and Rabaja.

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva Montefico - unfortunately I didn't get to taste this one.

It was no surprise, I suppose, that the two most famous Barbaresco vineyards - Asili and Rabaja - were the two most impressive wines, followed by Paje, Ovello, and Montestefano, in that order. Notice on the photo, the Asili (on the left) is clearly redder and more translucent than the darker Rabaja. The Ovello and Rabaja were the most distinctive wines representing opposite ends of the spectrum - Ovello being cooler and red-fruited, and Rabaja being dark and rich. While some wines clearly stood out, there were no slouches in the lineup. Tasting these seductive wines filled my mind with images of Italian food - a board of charcuterie, a plate of thick pasta with wild boar ragu, a bowl of mushroom truffled risotto, a pot of short ribs with polenta... Yum! Who's hungry?!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Meeting George Derbalian of Atherton Wine Imports

The other night I had the privilege of attending a private dinner hosted by our neighbors, who invited the owner / founder of Atherton Wine Imports - George Derbalian and his wife Sue-Min to be the wine stuarts for an aspiring group of wine aficionados. Atherton have been around for over 30 years and established reputation for carrying some of the top names in Burgundy, including producers like Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Groffier, Roty, Hudelot-Noellat, Anne Gros, and many others whose wines I cherish in my cellar. They also import some other famous regions, but it's Burgundy where I have typically seen and bought their bottles. The dinner hosted by a prominent Chinese family consisted of home-cooked Shanghai-style (non-spicy) seafood, vegetables, poultry and pork-based courses. I have noted in the past that Chinese food when not spicy, tends to pair well with both white and red burgundy, and this experience further cemented that belief. George and Sue-Min seemed like a delightful couple, and it was my true pleasure to hear their remarks on the producers, vineyards, and vintages before us.

1. Upon arrival, guests were treated with a glass of chilled Krug Grande Cuvee (NV), one of my favorite champagnes, always classy, with great energy and precision, and a touch of gingery complexity and a brioche note. Krug for me strikes the perfect balance between ripeness, roundness and crystallinity.

Two superb white burgundies and seven red burgundies followed to delight taste buds. Here are my notes.

The Whites

2. 2013 Lucien Le Moine Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Canet - despite the 2013 vintage having reputation for producing leaner, higher acid, zesty, crystalline whites, it was clear that the richer style of Lucien Le Moine resulted in something different... and decadent. Exotic notes of botrytis were evident, with tropical fruits supported by excellent acidity and oak - an incredibly delicious pairing for a ginger stir-fried crab with noodles.

3. 2014 Charles Van Canneyt Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets - my first time with Charles' own (negociant) label, one of the two excellent wines represented at the dinner, and another stroke of greatness of the 2014 vintage for the whites of Burgundy, this wine was much more classic in profile than the previous one - more crisp, structured, very clean and pure, with perfect balance of elements. As all other 2014 white burgs I've tasted so far (probably 20 or so), this is already delightful, and will only get better with a few years of age!

The Reds

For the reds, we had three excellent examples of the same Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru vineyard that I had never had before - Les Hauts Doix, which was exciting! We then had a brand-new 2014 Vosne Petits-Monts from Hudelot-Noellat's Charles Van Canneyt who now makes some clearly excellent wines under his own label. We finished the progression with three Grand Cru's.

4. 2013 Lucien Le Moine Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Hauts-Doix - very open and fruity, this is a pleasure to drink now for its breadth of aroma and exuberance. The structure is currently obscured by the fruit.

5. 2012 Groffier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Hauts-Doix - comes across as more serious, with more power, more structure, and more refinement. Superb with time.

6. 2008 Groffier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Hauts-Doix - with few more years of age under their belt, the 2008's are starting to drink well. This bottle was great - some secondary development, excellent balance of fruit and earth. Broad wine without hard edges, and my favorite of the 3 examples of this vineyard, although the 2012 seems to be destined for even brighter future. In general, the Groffier style came across as more refined, while Le Moine was (as usual) more opulent and luscious.

Then came the excellent 2014 Vosne-Romanee from Charles Van Canneyt.

7. 2014 Charles Van Canneyt Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Les Petits-Monts - an excellent vineyard, this was the only Vosne Romanee in the line-up and the more serious, more sculpted character of the commune was evident. Blind, I could have mistaken it for a 2013, but perhaps with a slightly better balance, and less acidity sticking out, which pointed to 2014. There are several excellent producers such as Joseph Drouhin, Georges Noellat, Comte Liger Belair and Mongeard-Mugneret now competing for top honors at Petits Monts, and I suspect Charles Van Canneyt will soon be among them. While this 2014 is still not fully integrated, it seems very well balanced. I wish I had more time to spend with it, but alas, the next set of wines was ushered in.

The party closed with three red Grand Cru's.

8. 2007 Domaine Joseph Roty Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru TVV - this is a flagship wine for the famous domaine, and considered by many to be the best example of that vineyard due to very old vines. It is also hardly a secret to Burgundy lovers that 2007's have been drinking superbly for a couple of years now. So this was the right time to take a look at this wine, and we were not disappointed. Though Roty's Charmes has a reputation for being deep, dark, extracted, and destined to last decades, it was apparent that the lighter 2007 vintage served well to soften the wine and make it approachable relatively early. Excellent density of material, perfectly balanced between red fruits, earth and herbs, still with long evolution ahead, this wine easily betrayed its pedigree without any overt flash, exoticism, or opulence. In the evening's exemplary line-up, this was the quiet but confident star.

9. 2002 Frederic Esmonin Chambertin Clos-de-Beze Grand Cru - the most elevated grand cru at the dinner, from an excellent vintage, this wine should have been fantastic. But the truth is it was relatively uninteresting, and perhaps too young and undeveloped (?) Not bad but nothing special. Bummer. Frederic Esmonin is much better known for his Ruchottes-Chambertin, so I was not totally surprised that his Beze did not shine.

10. 2000 Nicolas Potel Clos Saint-Denis Grand Cru - I have had this wine a number of times over the last few years and it has never disappointed, as first described in my ecstatic note three years ago. It has continued to evolve and is getting better. This was the bottle I brought, and funny enough, it had been imported by Atherton. It was stellar this time too, with pungent, vibrant, powerful, complex cherry, pomegranate and forest notes, clearly grand cru weight and intensity. Drinking well now, but no hurry.

The wonderful evening organized by the gracious hosts underscored the versatility and charm of Burgundy. Having multiple bottles of Le Moine, Groffier, and Charles Van Canneyt, and that's before even getting to grand cru's, is not something that happens every day, and in fact, each bottle would have brought great pleasure to accompany a whole meal all by itself. Drinking them all in one evening was clearly too much "fun", and I paid the price (of hangover) the next day, but who's complaining?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

La Paulee San Francisco 2016 - Featuring 2013 Burgundies

Another La Paulee is in the books. The 2016 edition roared through San Francisco to the delight of Burgundy lovers. The 3-hour (all-too-short) Grand Tasting focused on the 2013 vintage, and it did not disappoint. The reds and whites across the board showed clear and consistent vintage characteristics. For the reds, this meant tart acidity and sufficient ripeness and depth without overt over-ripeness, suppleness or fat of such recent years as 2009 and 2012. The whites were consistently excellent, with high acidities, citrus, minerality, crystalline purity, and loads of grip. The best reds I think came from higher cru's, which had a bit more flesh on the bones to balance out the high acidity of the year. Same with whites - the higher cru's with a bit more sweetness were well balanced by a level of freshness and purity rarely seen. I have generally recommended caution with 2013 whites, as this is a rather leaner, high-acidity vintage. The tasting did not change my mind, but it also confirmed that good producers made classic white burgundies from great terroirs. From my limited experience tasting the 2014 whites, that appears to be a much surer vintage across the board, with more flesh and slightly better balance. Yet, the 13's tasted here were beauties that will deliver pleasure over many years.

w/ Jean-Marie Fourrier
Overall, in terms of the entire lineups presented at the tasting, the most consistently delicious producers were Fourrier, Hudelot-Noellat, Drouhin, Chateau de la Tour, Bernard Moreau and Antoine Jobbard. Obviously it's hard to omit Roulot, Lafon , Dujac, Mortet, Lamy, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey from this list, and they certainly poured excellent wines, some of which were among the very best, and I would be happy with any of their wines in my cellar, but they just didn't impress me across the board quite as much.

The top 3 reds of the tasting for me were Fourrier Clos St Jacques, Mortet Lavaux St Jacques, and Hudelot-Noellat RSV. Arnaud Mortet noted the lowering of new oak in his Lavaux in the last few vintages. I think the sleeker, slightly more angular style of 2013 also worked well in the wine, giving it a level of definition and elegance I hadn't seen since Arnaud took over. Among the whites, Bernard Moreau Grandes Ruchottes, Drouhin Batard, and Comtes Lafon Charmes were the most memorable.

Other notable reds were Domaine Jean Grivot Les Beaux Monts, Dujac Aux Combottes and Clos de la Roche, Chateau de la Tour (all wines), Lafon (Santenots), Hudelot-Noellat (Vosne villages, NSG Murgers), Jadot (Ursules), Drouhin (Chambolle 1er & Clos Vougeot), Camille-Giroud (Santenots), and Chandon des Briailles (Corton-Bressandes).

Other notable whites were Domaine Lamy (En Remilly), Paul Pillot (Grand Ruchottes & La Romanee), Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey (Chassagne Caillerets & Meursault Genevrieres), Roulot (the whole lineup), Antoine Jobbard (the whole lineup), Pierre Labet (of Chateau de la Tour -- Meursault Tillets), Mikulski (Poruzots, Goutte d'Or).

I must mention the wines of Nicolas Rossignol. They were very distinctive and obviously good quality, but they surprised me with high level of extraction and power, unparalleled at the tasting. The acidity of the year helped balance the wines. Still, I was taken aback by how potently concentrated and ripe they seemed, making me wonder about the alcohol level. Another interesting showing was from Benjamin Leroux, whose Volnay Clos de la Cave des Ducs was very pretty and distinctive and Clos St Denis tasted like a beautiful fruity Barbaresco, delicious but perhaps not exactly what I expect from a burgundy. A few people remarked how much they liked the wines of Grivot. Unfortunately, to me they were too reduced (full of meaty stink and coffee grinds) to appreciate, other than Vosne Beauxmonts which showed enough fruit underneath the mild stink to give a glimpse of future potential. Chandon de Briailles' lineup of two Pernand-Vergelesses and Corton Bressandes was very solid. Camille-Giraud's David Croix is getting much recognition these days in the wine community, but unfortunately only his Volnay Santenots showed well, while NSG Boudots and Clos Vougeot were just so-so for me.

And now, for reference, here are my rushed tasting notes. Apologies in advance for missing some of the wines and providing rather insufficient notes for many others. Although every two years I try to refine my tasting strategy and tactics, three hours is clearly not enough for this caliber of tasting. Oh well...

Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin vv - plush, fruity, delicious
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Les Gruenchers - spice, crunchy red fruits, silky
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Cherbaudes - long, perfumed, silky, tart and suave
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St-Jacques - silky, plush, gorgeous hints of blueberry, cream, pepper, dark pine forest, great wine

Domaine Dujac Morey-St-Denis - savory, stem, nice and smooth, a hint of earth and leather
Domaine Dujac Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru - savory, tannic, quite tart with green peppercorns
Domaine Dujac Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes - nice spice, more volume and precision, red fruits
Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche - darker fruits, stems are evident but in a classy way, quite silky

w/ Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac

Denis Mortet Fixin vv - creamy nose, creamy tart red fruit
Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Mes Cinq Terroirs - tart, silky, creamy
Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru - plusher, fuller, suave, very nice
Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St-Jacques - great, darker tone, perfect silkiness, great balance, new oak in 60-70% since 2011 or 2012.

Arnaud Mortet

Camille-Giroud Volnay Santenots - rich, very well balanced, dark fruits, spice, very nice
Camille-Giroud Nuits-St-Georges Aux Boudots - oak nose, toasty oak palate
Camille-Giroud Clos de Vougeot - very primary, good balance, but not special, just ok for me

w/ David Croix of Camille-Giroud

Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru - silky smooth, very pretty, creamy, nice
Drouhin Clos de Vougeot - intense, pure, penetrating, balanced, some vanilla, very nice
Drouhin Batard-Montrachet - intense, zesty, oyster, grippy, long.

Veronique Drouhin-Boss

Grivot Vosne-Romanee - stinky, reduced, meaty nose, similar palate, like out of a can
Grivot Nuits-St-Georges Aux Boudots - tannic, stem, spice
Grivot Vosne-Romanee Les Beaux Monts - again reduced nose, but the palate is silk fruit, good intensity, very nice, other than reduction, long creamy aftertaste with lingering tannins and sweatness that comes on later.
Grivot Clos de Vougeot - oak, tart, tannic

Hudelot-Noellat Vosne-Romanee - whiff of vanilla nose. The palate - oooh very nice, clean, focused, balanced, nothing sticks out
Hudelot-Noellat Nuits-St-Georges Les Murgers - very smooth, nice spices, tannins, quite good
Hudelot-Noellat Vosne-Romanee Les Suchots - smooth, less focused than previous wines
Hudelot-Noellat Romanee-St-Vivant - excellent, feminine, delicate, silk and lace, sweet and perfumed, vanilla and flowers

Charles Van Canneyt of Domaine Hudelot-Noellat

Benjamin Leroux Volnay Clos de la Cave des Ducs - ooh, pretty mint spice, nice.
Benjamin Leroux Clos St Denis - beautiful fruit jam nose, reminds me of Barbaresco, similar on the palate - very Barbaresco-like, vanilla, tart creamy raspberries

Benjamin Leroux

Jadot Beaune Clos des Ursules - very good, deep, tannic, dark fruit, mint, I like it.
Jadot Corton Pougets - tart, meaty, sleek dark fruit, quite nice

Thibault Gagey of Louis Jadot and Resonance (Jadot venture in Oregon)

Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses Les Vergelesses - quite nice, tart, sleek, but enough sweetness
Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses Ile des Vergelesses - stem, riper and more suave
Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes - stem nose, dark, quite serious, long finish, I like it.
Chandon de Briailles Corton (blanc) - just ok, not memorable

Claude de Nicolay of Domaine Chandon de Briailles

Chateau de la Tour Clos Vougeot classique - perfume, great tannic palate, delicious fruit, structure.
Chateau de la Tour Clos Vougeot vv - focused, pure, intense, long, tighter than the classique
Pierre Labet Beaune Coucherias - sweet stems, perfume, vanilla, soft tannins, very nice
Pierre Labet Meursault Les Tillets - wow, great spice.

Francois Labet of Chateau de la Tour and Domaine Pierre Labet

Hospices de Beaune Pommard Epenots "Cuvee Dom Goblet" - meaty, reduced nose. Palate: plush fruit, quite silky
Hospices de Beaune Corton "Cuvee Charlotte Dumay" - soft, vanilla, hint of meat, very nice and tasty

Nicolas Rossignol Volnay Clos des Angles - sweet, intense, wow big wine!
Nicolas Rossignol Volnay Chevret - very stemmy, intense, wow tannic big wine!
Nicolas Rossignol Volnay Cailleret - meaty, more elegant, spicy, wow that's a long finish
Nicolas Rossignol Volnay Santenots - very intense, rich and ripe, meaty

Nicolas Rossignol

Lamy St Aubin Derriere Chez Edouard - orange and cream
Lamy St Aubin Les Frionnes - lemon/lime and slate
Lamy St Aubin Clos de la Chateniere - nose of spice, flower pollen and white pepper, long creamy finish
Lamy St Aubin En Remilly - more volume, slightly sweeter

Olivier Lamy

Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet -- ooh nice and sweet, really delicious
Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chenevottes - full, ripe, great acid, intense and flavorful
Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet La Maltroie - a bit fresher with floral spice, tons of perfume in my mouth, grippy
Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet Les Grandes Ruchottes - sweet, spicy, floral, intense, hint of honey, but fresh with lime acidity. Great.

Alexandre Moreau

Paul Pillot Chassange-Montrachet Clos St Jean - spice, stone, cream, very nice
Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets - stony, lime, tannic grip
Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet Les Grand Ruchottes - mineral, grippy, high acid, consistent with vintage
Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet La Romanee - intense mineral, fresh, really good

(2014) Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey St Aubin Chateniere - viscous, flowers, lime, stone, intense
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Les Ancegnieres - riper, cream, minerals
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets - more viscous, spicy, lime, cream, long finish
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Meursault Les Genevrieres - honey, flowers, cream. I like the sweet and acidic combo. The honey really makes this stand out. Lovely.

w/ Pierre-Yves Colin

Roulot Bourgogne Blanc - intense, sweet, concentrated for the level
Roulot Meursault Meix Chavaux - straw, long mineral finish
Roulot Meursault Tesson Clos de mon Plaisir - sweet and mineral, grippy
Roulot Meursault Clos des Boucheres - spice, grippy, sweet.

w/ Jean-Marc Roulot

Comtes Lafon Meursault - nice, rich and full
Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre - flowers, lime, perfume in my mouth
Comtes Lafon Meursault Charmes - nose of straw. Wow, intense, pure, expands in my mouth. Cream, perfect balance, big step up from Clos de la Barre.
Comtes Lafon Volnay Santenots-du-Milieu - spice, nice grip, intense and focused. Good.

Dominique Lafon

Antoine Jobbard Meursault En la Barre - intense, iodine
Antoine Jobbard Meursault Blagny - same style as above
Antoine Jobbard Meursault Poruzots - similar, intense chalk, creamy aftertaste
Antoine Jobbard Meursault Genevrieres - sweet

Thierry & Pascale Matrot Meursault Charmes - a lot of spice, rather ripe and spicy
Pierre Matrot Puligny-Montrachet Les Chalumeaux - really ripe and spicy, almost painfully

Francois Mikulski Meursault Poruzots - delicious
Francois Mikulski Meursault Charmes - high acid
Francois Mikuslki Meursault Goutte d'Or - grip, intense lime and mineral

Truly an embarrassment of riches, so to speak, the 2013 vintage gave us many delicious wines which don't seem to need a very extended cellaring. Already showing well, perhaps a few more years will better meld the fruit and acid.

(The 2014 coverage of the 2011 vintage two years ago was documented here.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

La Paulee 2016 coming to San Francisco

This year the much heralded La Paulee event comes back to San Francisco (last year was in New York), with the focus on 2013 vintage in Burgundy. It really needs no advertisement, the event tends to be fully booked, regardless of the lofty admission price tags, because of the quality of wineries and wines showcased there, and the grandeur of the events. I will be attending the grand tasting for the 4th time in a row, and this tends to be my most memorable wine event of the year, and the opportunity to taste once-in-a-lifetime burgundies and rub elbows with gods of the wine world. Last time in SF (in 2014) featured the 2011 vintage and was covered here.

I will point out a couple of lesser known events in the week-long La Paulee program. The Off Grid tasting and the Roulot Play.

The Off Grid "Tasting of Burgundy's Hidden Gems" event showcases 50 wineries from Burgundy's less premium appellations and up-and-coming winemakers, along with small plates from SF's trendy restaurants. For more info, click here.

The Roulot Play is unexpectedly a theater act by one of Burgundy's preeminent winemakers - Jean-Marc Roulot, who also happens to be an accomplished actor. He will be starring in Meursault Les Luchets 2011, A Play by Jean-Marc Roulot. This sounds cool! See details here.

Enjoy! And hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Rombauer Vineyards

I don't always drink new-world Chardonnay, but when I do, it's Rombauer! Stay thirsty, my friends!

kidding... kidding...

My palate gravitates toward French, Italian, and German. For whites - white burgundy - Chardonnay that expresses fruit, minerals and cooler climate of Côte de Beaune (Burgundy, France) and Chablis in a leaner, higher acidity, and dare I say, a more nuanced way that challenges many American palates. Polar opposite of Rombauer. Rombauer is colloquially known as everyone's mother's favorite Chardonnay - a rich, sweetly, buttery, and approachable California Chardonnay, a style that huge number of domestic consumers adore. I rarely make it to Napa anymore, but recently when I got an invitation for a press tasting and tour at Rombauer, I cast my personal preconceived notions aside, and decided to learn more about what makes Rombauer a public's darling, with 100,000 cases of their "house-style" Carneros Chardonnay sold each year. It's polarizing - on one side are wine geeks for whom Rombauer is a symbol of what's wrong with New World wine. On the other side are consumers who just love the taste at the price they can afford, without necessarily the need for intellectual intrigue of Old World, or the prestige, exclusivity and price tag of California top "cult" producers (like Kistler, Marcassin, etc). Keeping an open mind, and after having tasted Rombauer Chardonnay before, and again at this event, I find it an unapologetically rich and oaky style, and I think it represents "sweet spot" (pun intended) value $$-wise. I respect that. I could see enjoying a glass of Rombauer Chardonnay by itself or with buttered lobster or heavier fried foods that can stand up to the caramelized fruit and oak flavors - a slutty, guilty pleasure. In fact, tasting their four Chardonnays, I couldn't help but imagine I was drinking liquified buttered lobster. It turned out to be the wrong imagery because a few days later when paired with lobster roll from Lobsta Shack, the Rombauer all but overwhelmed it.

Frankly, having a whole meal with the 2014 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay initially seemed like a good idea, for about 1 glass. After that I couldn't go on. The (14.5%) alcohol, heft, and the sweet caramel / butterscotch really tired out my palate long before the dinner ended. A bit too young obviously, I expect with age the oak flavors would integrate better. Some of my friends who love Rombauer told me they love drinking it without food.

At Rombauer I learned that their Cabernets are also of solid quality but seem to be made in less opulent style than the Chardonnays. They too are value in the category of premium Napa Cab.

The tasting and tour began with Richie Allen greeting the press with a glass of 2015 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Very fresh expression, a good start. Richie is the director of viticulture and winemaking since 2013, after he had worked his way up through the ranks of Rombauer, starting as a harvest-time intern in 2004. They have 2 more winemakers, but Richie is the boss now. Originally from Australia, he is extremely enthusiastic and passionate about Napa Valley and his employer.

The owner, "KR" Rombauer (Koerner Rombauer III), son of the founder Koerner Rombauer, showed up with his dog. He explained his family had moved to Napa valley in 1972, and been in wine business ever since. His dad's great aunt, Irma Rombauer was the author of the internationally-renowned Joy of Cooking cookbook, perhaps the most famous American cookbook of all time! Originally partners in Conn Creek winery, the Rombauers founded Rombauer Vineyards in 1980, and over the years have been expanding their holdings to support the enormous appetite of American public for their Chardonnay. His philosophy: "Understand what customers like, and what customers love. Make wines their customers love."

All wines were opened for ~1-2hrs prior.

1. 2015 Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc, 14.2%. 10% neutral (5yr old) French oak, pick in August (cooler site) bottle in Dec. Very classical grass and lime, some glycerol but not thick, actually quite fresh and elegant, good acidity, and not hot despite the alcohol in the 14% range. $24. Quite good quality. Richie recommends drinking this from Spring 2016 while young.

For reds, 40% of 2013 Napa Valley cab and all reserve cabs are barrel fermented and barrel aged in new French oak. The red varietals are partly barrel fermented for richer, deeper, rounder profile. Richie would have them all that way, but he is constrained by time, resources, space, etc. Barrel fermentation approach is extremely labor intensive, as it requires turning barrels by hand frequently during fermentation. He talks a lot about relentless focus on the quality, sorting, types of barrels and how key they are to the quality and style of their wines. Clearly at Rombauer, Chardonnay is the claim to fame, but Richie is very serious and excited about their reds program as well.

Then we head to the chilly caves dug in the side of the mountain abutting the production facility where hundreds of barrels are resting. Here we have a taste of Merlot. A bit too cold. Everything is so pristine, without the spittoon I can't gather the courage to spit on the ground. So I take a small sip and savor it in my mouth for a long time, before finally swallowing.

2. 2012 Rombauer Carneros Merlot - 86% merlot, clay soil, small amount of barrel fermented. Chocolate, ink, smoke/tar, black cherry / blackberry. Quite good. Not heavy, not thick, quite lively actually. $35

Back at the main facility, we continue with a sit-down portfolio tasting of Rombauer Chardonnays, Cabernets, and Zinfandels.

3. 2014 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay (house-style) ripe pineapple coconut vanilla nose (Pina Colada). Heavy rich full body, very viscous, spice, a lot of melted popcorn butter, caramel, butterscotch. Recommended started drinking 2 years in. Low acidity. Really begs for lobster with butter, but in actuality turns out a better match with coconut-popcorn shrimp. KR Rombauer recommends cellaring for 7-10 yrs for aged flavor. 100k cases. 1/3rd new oak. 14.5%

4. 2014 Rombauer Buchli Station Chardonnay more lifted nose. A bit lighter in profile, more refined and citrusy, but otherwise similar. Longer finish. 120 cases. 50% new oak, mostly French. 14.6%. This was my favorite of all the Chardonnays.

5. 2014 Rombauer Home Ranch Chardonnay lifted citrus again on the nose, sweet flower pollen. Spicy minerals more evident on the palate. Verbena? (Aloe spice?) Quite spicy finish. Sweet caramel & flower spice. Heavier and slightly less acidity than Buchli. 14.6%. 120 cases

6. 2014 Rombauer Proprietor Selection similar. A lot of thickness, viscosity. It's solid underneath, but why this much sweetness? 800 cases. Recommend drinking 4-5yrs.

Then come the Cabs.

7. 2013 Rombauer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - crushed stones, spice, well balanced, deep but not thick or heavy. Tannic. 12k cases

8. 2012 Rombauer Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon - tannic, clean & spicy. 1500 cases

9. 2012 Rombauer Atlas Peak Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - smoother & sweeter, graphite, but still tannic. 250 cases

10. 2012 Rombauer Stice Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - quite grapy (welsh's grape juice), unsweetened chocolate, crushed gravel. 250 cases

11. 2012 Rombauer Le Meilleur du Chai "Best of the Cellar" blend (75% cab) - tannic, dark, still not super dense (which I appreciate), inky. 250 cases.

The Chardonnays are poster-boy Cali Chard, full of richness and brute-force sex appeal. If that is the style you like, I think the quality is solid and they are a relative value at $30+/btl for the Carneros Chardonnay (wine-searcher pricing) and $65 for the single-vineyard and reserve cuvees sold at the winery. The cabs are more restrained but are also well made and represent value, in the range of $35-100/btl, possessing a consistent, intense but not heavy style with some strong fine tannin, relatively light on their feet, not thick texture, crushed gravel & graphite. Solid stuff.

We were also served 3 different Zinfandels with lunch. They paired nicely with duck confit smothered with lentils and roasted dry fruit jam. I recall Fiddletown Zin was particularly satisfying in a sweet and juicy kind of way.

And finally, a rare and quite tasty bottle of 2011 vintage Zin Port from El Dorado County, which is Richie's pet project, currently not commercially available.

Bottomline - good quality, good value. Matter of style. Chardonnay is a bombshell Napa. I asked Richie if he had tried making them without oak, just as an experiment, and he replied "I like my toast buttered." There you have it. At 100,000 cases of their "house" Carneros Chardonnay made and sold each year, the public clearly agree.

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