Our initial encounter with Rombauer wine was a 17-year-old sediment-laden 1998 Merlot from Napa Valley that we were given as a gift. The deep crimson typical of a young Merlot had evolved into a more brick-red with a rim of orange. On the palate, it tasted earthy and muted, without any individual fruit, spice, or barrel flavors asserting themselves. What made this wine taste past its prime? Had the bottle been stored improperly, or was it the just the natural result of too much aging?
With this Merlot mystery in mind, we put Rombauer Vineyards in St. Helena first on our agenda for our California Wine Country trip. We were, in fact, so eager to visit that, in our “beat the crowds” mindset, we arrived at 10:30 in the morning with no consideration that drinking would soon follow. Well, one can always spit if it’s too early (NOT).
The servers at the California tasting bars are not often certified sommeliers but are usually very knowledgeable, friendly, and eager to answer any questions you may have. One of the first fun facts about Rombauer Vineyards shared by our wine server was that the great-aunt of founders Koerner and Joan Rombauer was none other than Irma Rombauer, author of the classic cookbook Joy of Cooking.
We began our tasting with their Carneros Chardonnay which undergoes malolactic fermentation, giving the wine a creamy, buttery flavor and texture. Though we lean more towards drinking reds over whites, this Chardonnay has become one of our favorites. While tasting a 2013 Merlot, we recalled our recent observations of the 1998 vintage to the staff member. We were quite surprised when he produced a 1998 Merlot for us to evaluate. He explained that they keep older vintages to see how they age and compare them with newer vintages. Instead of opening the older bottle in the traditional way of popping the cork, he used the Coravin system where a needle passes through the cork. As wine is extracted, the space is replaced with argon gas to prevent oxygen from coming into contact with the wine. When the needle is removed, the cork expands back to position. What an ingenious way to test a wine’s aging potential! His 1998 Merlot had the same brick color, loss of fruit, and lots of sediment as the bottle we tasted at home. Assuming that bottles are carefully stored at the winery, we concluded that it was probably the way this particular wine ages, as opposed to our bottle at home having been damaged while stored.
During our visit to the Rombauer winery, we were first introduced to their Zinfandel which later became a permanent addition to our wine repertoire. Grapes are sourced from family-owned vineyards in several regions: El Dorado County (42%), Amador County (38%), Lake County (12%), Lodi (6%) and Napa County (2%). The wine is aged in American (10% new) and French oak for 16 months. The ABV clocks in at 15.9% giving the wine a big, full-bodied mouthfeel.
In the glass, briary aromas give way to ripe berries and currants. The wine is jammy on the palate with boldly fruity notes of plum and boysenberry, and spicy notes of cinnamon and black tea. A moderately long finish ends with a black pepper finale. If I were to describe Rombauer Zin in musical terms, I would say that it thrashes around my mouth like a bombastic heavy metal front man on a strobe-lit stage. As I write my impressions and tasting notes, it’s becoming clearer to me why this wine is one of my drinking buddy’s favorites!
Rombauer Zinfandel was our wine of choice for New Year’s Eve. We had originally thought to pair it with fondue (Melting Pot style) but were both feeling underwhelmed from head colds (tested negative for COVID, thank goodness!) so instead ordered Chinese food. It was a satisfying match for our lightly spicy, slightly sticky General Tso’s beef, although most of the bottle was finished by the time we got around to eating. This wine has so much going on that it’s perfectly fine to drink on its own, as we often do.
Thank you for reading and following the Boozy Lifestyle blog. We wish you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling New Year.