Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 8

8 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I am on a Chardonnay kick of late. Admittedly, though, California Chardonnay has not been on the docket much. If it were, Carneros would perhaps be one logical starting point for a guy who enjoys delicate renditions. This AVA spans both Napa and Sonoma counties, is moderately cool and windy, and enjoys a number of day degrees comparable to Beaune. Make no mistake, however. The sunshine is more intense and the growing season is longer than in Burgundy, leading to more prominent fruit flavours even as the grape’s acidity is preserved. A gentle winemaking hand yields a sip full of pure crystalline citrus and apple fruit character, gracefully lifted up by the acid and a distinct silky texture. A heavy-handed approach mars this regional signature almost completely, yielding a wine that might score points with some reviewers but that shows little distinction by way of place.

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With family roots in the Rheingau, Koerner Rombauer, his wife Joan, and their two children arrived in the Napa Valley in 1972. They became partners in Conn Creek winery, learning the wine business there and then staking out on their own in 1982. Rombauer vineyards was a run-away success, serving as an initial home base for numerous other up and coming California wineries (e.g., Duckhorn, Spottswood) while Koerner and Joan also made their own wines. Rombauer Vineyards purchased its first Chardonnay from the Carneros region in 1990, from the Sangiacomo family. This partnership fit lock and key, with Carneros grapes and Rombauer’s winemaking providing a synergy that resulted in numerous accolades, including four appearances on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines” list. The Rombauers purchased their own vineyard in Carneros in 2002, the same year that Joan tragically died from pancreatic cancer. Today a third generation of Rombauers remains employed at the winery. Carneros Chardonnay remains one of their standard bearers, with Wine Spectator claiming that “Rombauer defines the California Chardonnay style that so many adore”. So a big boozy white, ripe with tropical fruit aromas, buttery and decadent? Hmmm.

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There are aspects of such sybaritic wines that I do enjoy, despite a firm preference for mineral notes and an elegant lift in my Chardonnays. Plus, I enjoy reading the publication but Wine Spectator says a lot of things. Let your own palate be your guide. This was a warm vintage, described as “ideal” on the Rombauer website. Ideal for what? One cannot accuse these guys of being sloppy, however. Each separate parcel of grapes received its own constellation of sustainable farming practices based on aerial photography. The grapes were harvested at night in an aim to preserve freshness and then whole-cluster pressed, the juice pumped to tank to cold-settle overnight before being racked to barrels (American and French oak, 1/3rd new) for both primary and malolactic fermentation. The juice then spent 9 months in oak, with the lees stirred every two weeks. This meets some loose criteria for “Burgundian style”. Curious about the balance.

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Stelvin Rating: 7.5/10 (fairly regal… a tad old fashioned in a good way.)

Nose speaks to California sunshine. There’s a juicy core of yellow Bosc pears and Golden Delicious apples, with some apricot and mango seeping in around the edges and a nice top note of citrus (lemon, Meyer lemon, lime). Tastes like Carneros fruit, spread with vanilla icing, creme brûlée, and movie theatre “butter”. The fruit is exquisitely ripe but not soppy, and I notice some further notes of starfruit, pineapple, green banana, and even guava butting up against the orchard stuff. I enjoy getting fruits that I’m not expecting. Roasted almonds and Bismarck donuts. The acidity provides a reasonably sturdy backbone and this freshness contributes to a sense of poise, that all-important balance. The oak is prominent but tasteful. The ABV is sneaky. This drinks like a 13.5%, although the body gives away the truth if you’re listening. Careful man, there’s a beverage here! I’m into it, even if I’m having some trouble because this feels not quite grounded. One last note, navel orange in the buttery finish. This is a companion wine. One that can accompany you on a chill evening (or afternoon in this case…shhhhh), commanding just enough of your attention.

89 points

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