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Tasting the wines of Rombauer

by Thor Iverson

[“Moose” Rombauer]Brief notes from a lunch at The Butcher Shop with KR Rombauer, featuring his family’s wines.

Rombauer 2003 Merlot (Napa Valley) – Smoked black cherry residue and black pepper; there’s a char to this wine, probably from the oak, that somewhat dominates. There’s good acidity, but the wine hollows on the finish. (5/07)

The merlot is, according to KR, transitioning to a Carneros/Napa/Sonoma County blend, which will be evident in 2006, because a number of Napa Valley vineyards were lost to phylloxera. It spends 18-20 months in a blend of 80% French and 20% American oak, and the blending grapes are (roughly) 15% cabernet sauvignon, some cabernet franc, and a little bit of syrah.

Within the next year to sixteen months, 50% of Rombauer’s fruit will be from their estate vineyards, with the other half purchased on a tonnage basis.

Rombauer 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – Very austere, aromatically, with the palate showing tarred rosemary and not much else. It’s imbalanced in favor of its tannin, as well, which adds to its dry severity. (5/07)

The cabernet spends two years in barrel, and is from fruit grown on the valley floor.

Rombauer 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon “Diamond Selection” (Napa Valley) – Much more structured than the regular cabernet, but more balanced as well, showing espresso, dark black fruit, and leather with a light charred coconut aspect to the finish. More expressive and longer than any of the wines so far, though there’s also the faintest touch of brett. (5/07)

The Diamond Selection cabernet spends up to three years in French oak, then up to another two years in bottle before release. The name is a cover, of sorts; the actual appellation of the fruit will be Diamond Mountain if that site ever gains official status.

Also of note are the reasonable alcohols of the two previous wines: 13.2% and 13.6%, respectively. Rombauer insists that they don’t dealcoholize their reds, which makes these harvests remarkable examples of restraint in these raisin-loving times.

Rombauer 2005 Chardonnay (Carneros) – Oaky, full-bodied, silky and lush, and quite openly sweet on the palate. Very, very simple, and seemingly pointed at the widest possible audience of chardonnay-as-cocktail drinkers, in which context I think it should be viewed. (5/07)

The chardonnay is 100% barrel-fermented, put through 100% malolactic, then aged on its lees for seven months, with stirring.

Rombauer 2005 Zinfandel (California) – Grapey and slightly confected, with spicy-hot red cherries dominating. This doesn’t seem quite dry, either. Not my style. (5/07)

It must be noted that, at the end of this tasting, my idea of what these wines should cost was well below their actual retail. Some of that’s the Napa Valley prestige markup, to be sure, but from a consumer standpoint I think more of these wines in the $15-20 range than I do in the $25-60 realm they actually inhabit. Still, I’m sure others will like these wines more than I did, and for them the value proposition might be better.

Qupé 2005 Syrah “BobCat Cuvée” (Santa Barbara County) – 40% Bien Nacido Vineyard, 40% Purisma Mountain, 20% Alisos Vineyard, blended especially for (by?) Cat Silirie (wine director for the restaurant group of which The Butcher Shop is a member) and Bob Lindquist of Qupé. Smooth and gentle, showing leathery blueberry, earth, and good acidity with some complexing and welcome hints of green on the finish. Really, really fun. (5/07)

Disclosures: wines provided by and lunch paid for by the producer, except for the final wine, which is provided by the restaurant.


Copyright © Thor Iverson.