|From Replica Wines' website|
Replica liked the story, apparently so much that you might see my verdict of the company's imitation of Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay on a shelf talker. (Read the story here.) The company wanted me to try its new imitation of Rombauer Chardonnay, called Retrofit, so it sent me the wine, along with a bottle of Rombauer.
I learned something about the way ordinary consumers buy wine, because there's an interesting twist after the blind taste test.
For Replica's versions of K-J and The Prisoner, I invited a professional food writer to blind taste with me. For Rombauer, I asked a friend who drinks wine but is a non-connoisseur: he doesn't know the grapes that go into Burgundy, for example. It seemed appropriate because Rombauer is one of the most beloved wines by non-connoisseurs.
I set up the tasting the same way as the previous blind taste-off.
My wife poured four glasses of wine for Myles and myself. I told her to pour either two of both, or three of one and one of the other, without telling us. The task for Myles and myself was to determine which wines were the same. Could we tell the difference between the wines? Secondarily, which did we like better?
The difference was apparent. I only needed to smell the wines to tell them apart (my wife poured two and two.) Tasting was easy confirmation.
|The real thing|
Retrofit North Coast Chardonnay 2015 got the sweetness right, and the lemon-lime fruit isn't bad, and it also has good length. So it's not a bad effort. But even though its label alcohol is 14.5%, exactly the same as Rombauer, it's missing the richness, and that's a big difference. Texturally, it's nowhere near as satisfying as Rombauer.
That said, I'm not the right person to judge Rombauer Chardonnay. They call it Cougar Juice for a reason. It's not made for fussy oenophiles; it's made for average drinkers. My friend Myles is in the right age bracket, and though he's not the perfect gender, he did just get engaged.
Myles could tell the two wines apart from the nose, just as I did (I kept my opinion to myself so I would not influence him). He didn't initially trust his palate, but when I assured him there were no wrong answers, he said, "I like (Wine) A (Rombauer) the best. It's the softest-tasting. It doesn't have any afterbite or anything like that."
He said he would drink it. I asked how much he would pay and he said, "It's very good ... I'd pay like $18-$19 for that." Of course Rombauer actually costs about $30. He also said that while he didn't like the Retrofit as much, he would drink it, and, "I'd pay like $12-$13." That's inconvenient, because Retrofit is expected to cost more in stores. It's brand new and I can't yet find it on Wine Searcher, but the initial press release said it would cost "less than $25" and about 30% less than Rombauer.
Here's where the story gets interesting. Myles left San Francisco to visit his cousin in Sacramento. They went to Costco to buy wine. Myles asked about Rombauer, and a woman at Costco convinced him to buy a bottle of Highway 12 Carneros Chardonnay for $12.99. Myles told me by email, "It has a different name. The grapes are from Rombauer vineyard."
I wrote a feature story on Rombauer last year; it is one of my favorite features for Wine Searcher. "People think it's like Coca-Cola, we can just turn the tap on and make more," winemaker Richie Allen told me. "But it's very hard work and you have to have the right vineyard sources."
Allen didn't say anything about Rombauer selling grapes from their estate vineyard. Doesn't mean they wouldn't, but I was surprised that the company would allow a non-Rombauer wine to be marketed in that way.
I told Myles that I needed a photo of the bottle (he's excited about appearing in this blog post.) So he sent it to me. Clearly not Rombauer. Clearly Highway 12 Carneros Chardonnay. Nothing on the front or back label about grapes from Rombauer Vineyard. Which I told Myles.
I wasn't there at the Sacramento Costco. Perhaps the woman said that "the grapes are from Carneros, the same as Rombauer." That's not how he heard it or remembers it, but clearly the specificity of wine is not important to him. He got something he believed to be Rombauer Chardonnay for $12.99, and that made him happy. (He hasn't tried the Highway 12 as of this writing. I hope I didn't ruin it for him.)
So there's obviously a market for Retrofit. On Retrofit's website, the copy reads, "Compare to Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay." That's probably enough to convince people who aren't paying much attention that it's not only like Rombauer, but maybe even made by Rombauer.
And while Myles thought Rombauer and Retrofit were pretty different when we had them both open, if you only have a bottle of Retrofit open, you might not think anything amiss.
One concluding note to this. While Myles was here in San Francisco we drank skin-contact Slovenian Pinot Gris rosé, Austrian Gruner Veltliner and Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, and he liked all of those. But the one wine he sought to buy after leaving was Rombauer Chardonnay. So don't blame me, fellow enophiles. I tried. But frankly, his fiancée will probably love it, and might even thank me for it. Accept no imitations, Myles. You wouldn't give her a cubic zirconia engagement ring ... or did you?