Want to find a wine that compares to a $37 bottle of wine, at less than half the price? Me too! We tested the favorite, then, compared two far less expensive contenders for the Chardonnay throne. We wondered, is the more expensive Rombauer worth the price? Our taste test included the 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay – which is “Considered to be one of the most important Chardonnays”, along with two less expensive oaky style California wines that have been compared to the Rombauer. Here’s a bit of background and our results.
Here’s a little about the wines we tasted:
Hoping for a less expensive version of one of the most popular California wines, we compared two similar wines that were priced at less than half the price of the Rombauer. Here’s a description of all three wines and how the critics have rated them, followed by our winning results at the end.
Rombauer has a unique style of Chardonnay that has developed over time with select vineyards from the Carneros region of California. The 2013 Chardonnay displays juicy peaches, pineapple and lime greet the nose, followed by vanilla and cedar. Ripe tropical fruit and fig jam flood the lush, silky palate. Soft spice, vanilla and nectarines mark the lengthy finish.
Rombauer Vineyards, founded in 1982 by Koerner and Joan Rombauer, sits on a tree covered knoll overlooking the Napa Valley. The winery features caves that extend for over a mile into the hillside. The caves provide a constant temperature and humidity which result in optimum conditions for aging wines. The wines are consistently ranked high in the wine trade journals. Many of the finest restaurants throughout the country include Rombauer wines on their list and feature them by the glass.
2013 Rombauer Chardonnay – “Considered to be one of the most important Chardonnays” Rich and creamy with alcohol of 14.6 abv, and priced at $37 per bottle (as of June 2015), it is described by critics as:
WS93/100 Wine Spectator – “A creamy-textured, charming style that’s easy to drink yet is deceptively complex and layered, with a mix of vanilla-scented oak and vibrant peach, nectarine, honeydew and apricot flavors. Long on the finish.”
WW90/100 Wilfred Wong of Wine.com – “One of California’s most important Chardonnays, the 2013 Rombauer is so well made; ripe peach fruit in the aromas; delivers well on the palate; smooth and layered in the finish, with excellent firmness. A first-class choice with seared scallops.”
2014 Jam Cellars Butter Chardonnay – “Earthy, buttery, oaky, butter flavors…”
Here we tried a wine by a former Rombauer winemaker. It’s interesting to note, one of the former winemakers at Rombauer eventually created his own version of a buttery Chardonnay at Jam Cellars as a co-founder. Rob Lloyd, after graduating in 1999 with his Master’s Degree in Enology at UC Davis, and working at La Crema, eventually became the winemaker at Rombauer Winery in Napa, where he helped them become named Wine Spectators Top 100 Wines in the World in 2007. Later, as a winemaker at Jam Cellars, he created his own version of Rombauer Chardonnay, for $16, at half the price of the Rombauer. One of the most popularly search items at Winesearcher.com. It is described by a wine critic as follows:
JM88/100– A hearty bottle of Chardonnay with the simplest label you could imagine, it emphasizes earthy, oaky, buttery flavors over fruit components. This is medium-bodied, dry, rich in texture and moderately tannic. – Jim Gordon
2012 Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay– “The “poor man’s” Rombauer”.
How about trying one with the same type of Chardonnay root stock by vintners who have been making wines for a long time in California? This one was made by a well-established and highly respected winery. Since 1883, the historic Wente winery with vineyards throughout California’s wine regions, these Chardonnay grapes are grown in both Arroyo Seco and Monterey. Wente is considered as “California’s First Family of Chardonnay” because many of the most established California growers have used the Wente Chardonnay clone vine for their Chardonnay grapes’ root stock.
Sold at $15 a bottle and often on sale for much less, this is a Chardonnay for those who appreciate a smooth and creamy taste that’s enhanced with Sur lie aging (French for “on the lees”) which imparts a toasty quality and enhances complexity.
Big woody spice and lots of vanilla greets the nose along with rich pineapple, a little nutmeg, and subtle backing notes of tropical fruits. In the mouth this is fairly rich and very true to the nose with powerful flavors dripping in peachy, pineapple, spicy tropical fruit flavors all backed up with vanilla, a touch of red flowers, and wood spice. Good acids keep this fresh and lead to a clean finish, with just a hint of tannin adding some textural complexity. –Gregory Dal Piaz
All three of the wines we tasted are at least good as voted by the tasters. But, surprisingly we were evenly split between the wines. The Wente Chardonnay is a wonderful drinking wine, very pleasant and enjoyable to drink on its own. All 3 wines are good with food, but the Jam Cellars and the Raumbauer are much improved when served with food. Also, they became creamier the more they approached room temperature. The Jam Cellars is more astringent, almost slightly fizzy, and the Raumbauer had more texture and complexity and a longer finish. I think the Wente Chardonnay would be something to serve at a large event because it is not as challenging to enjoy and was the least expensive. It happened to be my favorite. So, I’m looking forward to trying Wente’s other Chardonnay, Morning fog. The winery is located in Livermore, California, about 45 minutes south/east of San Francisco. Well worth a visit!