This Tasting Room experience is going to be all about the top-selling white wine in the United States: Chardonnay. While we will touch on different styles of this popular varietal, the focus will be on the type that is exemplified by the iconic and highly sought-after Rombauer. In other words, we’ll be looking at some rich and creamy Chardonnays!
Rombauer defines a specific style of California Chardonnay – ripe fruit, vanilla-laced oak notes, and an all around rich and buttery mouthfeel. The wine has such a faithful fan base, it often faces a supply problem, especially if a vintage produces less than normal. So the idea behind this Tasting Room is to introduce Rombauer-loving palates to a few other Chardonnays made in a similar style.
Before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at this varietal. It is grown all over the world, in everything from cool continental climates to warm Mediterranean ones. It ripens reliably and is not as challenging to grow as some other grapes can be. Chardonnay also gives winemakers plenty of stylistic options. It is a vital component in most Champagnes and many other sparkling wines. Crisp, unoaked (or very lightly-oaked) versions abound, with the most famous example being Chablis from the eponymous region in north-central France. When blind-tasted, fans of the creamy versions of these wines might not even recognize them to be Chardonnay.
The grape has two other attributes that lend themselves quite nicely to the style of wine we’re discussing here. One is its great affinity for oak. This partnership works especially well when Chardonnay is grown in a warm climate like Napa Valley’s and gets quite ripe. At this level of ripeness, Chardonnay is a more full-bodied varietal than many other whites, and it embraces the oak-derived aromas and flavors of vanilla, toast, hazelnut, and spice, while also picking up an even fuller, more rounded texture. The second attribute is the grape’s desirable response to malolactic fermentation. This process converts sharper, tarter malic acid to lactic acid (found in dairy products), which lends the resulting wine a creamy, buttery texture and flavor.
So, if you want to stick with this classic style of Chardonnay but don’t mind branching into something besides Rombauer, here are a few options. The 2018 Raeburn Chardonnay from Russian River Valley is rich and succulent, with creamy, toasty oak and ripe peach flavors. Also from 2018 is the J. Lohr Riverstone Chardonnay from Arroyo Seco. This wine is enticingly rich and plush, offering peach and apricot fruit flavors accented by crème brûlée, spice, and vanilla.
Finally, we suggest another 2018, the ZD California Chardonnay. This vintage marks the winery’s 50th Anniversary, and they are justifiably proud of this wine. It bursts with pineapple, apricot, and orange blossom notes, plus accents of vanilla, honey, and pear adding depth and complexity.
We hope we’ve inspired you to try one or all of these. Obviously Rombauer is a fine choice; they’ve been hitting it out of the park for many years. But in a wine world with so many wonderful options, why not try something new? Who knows, you may even find the best buttery Chardonnay you’ve ever had!