Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Rombauer Vineyards--Works of Excellence
Everyone who drinks wine has a favorite, but for wine writers who taste thousands of wines a years, it is a difficult task to select just one wine or winery as a front runner, or to judge it the best. After all, the same wine of a producer changes with each vintage, some wineries make only a minimum number of wine varietals so they can more easily concentrate their efforts, and other vintners might offer many varietals while living on the reputation of only a single good one.
Occasionally, however, a winery is able to produce an entire line of excellent wines, and when that happens, special recognition is due. This does not mean that each of its varietals is better than those produced by its competition. It means that taken as a whole, the winery produces the best depth of products. For example, many feel that Opus One is a fabulous red blend, or that Silver Oak produces an upper echelon Cabernet Sauvignon. While either position may be true, neither winery makes any other varietal. In the same vain, we are enamored with some of the reds produced by Beaulieu Vineyards, but have no trouble ignoring their whites.
Today we focus on a winery that has, as one might say, put it all together. From producing terrific wines across the board to operating one of California's best tasting rooms, it is difficult to find anyone doing it better than Rombauer Vineyards, founded and owned by the affable Koerner and Joan Rombauer, with increasing involvement by the next generation, KR Rombauer (son - national sales/marketing) and Sheana Rombauer (daughter - PR/special projects). Winemaker Greg Graham is recognized as one of California's best, and the tasting room is busy and instructive.
But make no mistake, while each person above has his or her designated area of responsibility, excellent wines are the result of the entire group working together daily to achieve its mission statement, to wit, the crafting of ultra-premium varietal wines of exceptional quality from California's premier grape growing regions, using the finest fruit, best equipment, and an extremely talented staff.
Let's examine the wines produced by this outstanding winery. If you notice we have not broken down the vintages, it is because the wines are remarkably consistent, and because the descriptions below generally apply to each varietal every year.
Carneros Chardonnay: This is the wine that "put Rombauer on the map." It has been accorded accolade after accolade by wine judges, writers, and prestigious publications, and we take no issue with any of these findings. 100% barrel fermented, the Rombauer Chardonnay is distinctive among all its competitors for its perfectly balanced, smooth, buttery flavor, influenced by a touch of toasty oak. You might also detect some peaches, pear, honeysuckle, and nutmeg, but we don't usually bother to break down the components of this one. It is simply fabulous as a whole. Interestingly, because it is so full and tasty, some people choose to serve the Chardonnay as an aperitif prior to meals, and it works that way, too. Fortunately, you will be able to find this wine at most good wine stores throughout the country.
Napa Valley Merlot: Greg Graham says, "Merlot is a lazy wine, like a big old dog rolling over to have his tummy rubbed." We like to think of this varietal, when good, as soft with good up front fruit. The Rombauer Merlot is prototypical, evidencing blackberry, plums, cherries, and vanilla. Some find cinnamon. All agree that the spices are long in the finish. You will also be able to obtain this wine in a good shop.
El Dorado Zinfandel: If you haven't tasted, or
think you don't like, red Zins, you must give this one a try. We have never given
a glass to anyone that did not fall in love with it. The grapes are picked at
5:00 a.m. to ensure coolness, which allows the creation of a huge, jammy wine,
with tastes of blueberry, boysenberry, and pepper. The fruit is incredible, and
sticks around for a long while. This wine is also available from your better wine
Note: Rombauer also produces, in a limited quantity, a Napa Valley Zinfandel, sold only in the tasting room. It is not necessarily "better" than the El Dorado, but different. Perhaps even more pronounced in its flavors. Very big.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: In the style of all good Napa
Cabs, this one is big and full, with nuances of black currant, blackberry, and
oak. Some comment on the taste of chocolate. The tannins are well integrated and
allow for aging. Once again, this wine can be easily obtained.
Note: Rombauer distributes, on a very limited basis, its Diamond Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It's even bigger than its Cab, with lots of cassis. You might get lucky and find it outside California, but you may have to buy it there.
In fact, if you visit Napa, you should make this winery one of your first stops and consider buying the wines available only at the winery. We have already commented on the Napa Zinfandel, but one of the industry's best dessert wines (and at a relatively competitive price) is sometimes made, and sometimes available, as well. Delicious and composed of 100 % late harvest Chardonnay, it is, appropriately, called "Joy." You will also have an opportunity at the winery to sample a uniquely made Zin Port, and, if made that year, a Bordeaux blend known as "Le Meilleur de Chai," which mirrors the French style of less fruit and an extended texture.
But whether you visit the winery to sample from lots not found elsewhere, or to see the beautiful mountain top views, or just to have a great time with the tasting room personnel, don't miss the opportunity. And don't miss the opportunity to drink those Rombauer wines that are available to you, either. You'll thank us.
5322 Silverado Trail
St. Helena, CA 94574
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.