Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wine people like vs. wine for oenophiles, Rombauer edition

I have a feature on Rombauer up right now on Wine Searcher, from my gig as the site's California Editor. I quite enjoyed reporting it, had a great time tasting with winemaker Richie Allen and KR Rombauer, and brought home a simply outstanding Rombauer Chardonnay to have with dinner.

I thought it was outstanding, but it wasn't something a modern Rombauer Chardonnay fan would recognize. It was a 1985 wine from French Vineyard made by Bob Levy, who now makes wine at Harlan Estate.

We talked about this wine in the article. KR Rombauer called it "very austere. A beautiful wine that 2 percent of our customers liked."

I'm in that 2%. I don't know what it tasted like 29 years ago, but terrific acidity still carried it. Look at that alcohol level: 12.9%. It wasn't fruit-driven: it was earthy and soulful and every sip seemed different. If I put it in a tasting with top Burgundies from 1985, it would have held its own.

KR Rombauer didn't like it. He mixed it with the 1986, which was oxidized yet fruitier, and I have to admit I also tried that blend and liked it, but that was because of the vibrant backbone of the '85.

I also brought home the entire lineup of current release Rombauer Chardonnays, to have with Dungeness crab. They sell 100,000 cases of very rich, super-ripe Chardonnay a year to people who love it, know what it tastes like, and buy it because that's exactly what they want.

I'm on the record as being a big fan of the current release of Rombauer Merlot, which was one of 11 I picked out from a blind tasting. Rombauer being synonymous with generosity, KR also sent me home with a '96 Rombauer Merlot, which I served to friends the day after Christmas, and it was stellar.

So here's the thing: does it matter what I thought of the current-release Rombauer Chardonnays?

This is a wine I hear people in the industry -- I mean you, sommeliers -- being snarky about all the time. But people love it. It's not some cheaply made crap: in fact, I was surprised to learn how much work in the vineyard goes into producing that consistent Rombauer style.

One reason I wrote the story is because nobody writes about Rombauer. It's just not cool. I'll bet there are more stories about California Trousseau than about one of America's favorite wines. I know there are more stories about California Syrah, and nobody orders that.

Rombauer could have kept making wines like the '85 Chardonnay and some oenophiles like me -- who mostly drink free sample wines -- would have praised them. Instead, they made your mom and her friends happy.

Sometimes I wonder how so many wine writers stay so far out of touch with what people really like.

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Paul Franson said...

Right on. I hate wines that taste of oak, butterscotch and caramel, but many people love them.

I'm often asked, "Where can I find a Chardonnay like Rombauer?"

I answer, "Buy Rombauer!"

Chris Wallace said...

For a long time the wine world was marred by snobbery. And it seems to me that more recently the wine world has become marred by reverse snobbery. I like this article; it cuts through both and just points out an opinion about the wine.