Spirits of the Season 2015 sets a dinner table with deserving robust beefy cabernet sauvignon, a heavier more pronounced red wine than a pinot, merlot or syrah. The defining full body characteristics of cabernet sauvignon wine include higher alcohol levels and stronger tannins which allow a winemaker to age cabs in cellars for many decades.
Almost ten years ago, the Rombauer family decided to change how its cabernet sauvignon would be made, intending to bring to market a flagship red wine that would be a worthy relation to the winery’s award-winning highly rated chardonnay. Cabernet sauvignon grapes are relatively new, a hybrid from the 17th century when Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc were crossed. Winemakers grow cabernet sauvignon almost everywhere in the world that red wine grapes are used because they’re hardy grapes with thicker skins and vines that resist disease and rot.
In Napa, Rombauer Vineyards’ cabernets have gained real prestige and accolades, winning awards and beautifully complementing a rich roast or caramelized root vegetable side dish.
Cabs are total showboats; they’re the queen of red wines, with legs, that make an entrance and deserve a menu that can go toe-to-toe with the pronounced flavor profiles of a roast. This is not a wine to serve with a delicate white fish.
Established in 1980, “Napa Green Certified Land” Rombauer Vineyards has comfortably grown into outstanding appellations, a terroir that nets varietals considered pitch-perfect by oenophiles and critics alike all in that priceless Napa Valley climate that melds coastal desert swings of cold nights and warm days like a mad alchemist. Even France is envious of that perfect storm of California soil, weather, ethical farming and dedication to preserving the most sought-after grapes in the world.
The winery is owned and operated by the Rombauer family, who embrace what they call “The Joy of Wine,” a clever brand turn of phrase and their philosophy that the pleasure of wine lies in the sharing of it with family and friends. They produce award-winning chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel and sauvignon blanc.
And if the name Rombauer rings some bells, it is thanks to great aunt Irma Rombauer who penned the bible for all cooks, The Joy of Cooking.
When founders Koerner and Joan Rombauer moved their two children, two horses and five dogs to Napa Valley in 1972, their family history was realized, from the gourmand great aunt to their European ancestors originating from the winegrowing region of Rheingau, Germany, where wine is considered an essential complement to a meal. Slowly but surely the family made a mark and established a winery in Napa in 1980. That year the Rombauers harvested their first grapes — Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap District — marking the launch of Rombauer Vineyards. The first vintages are produced at Shafer Vineyards and even in Koerner’s garage, which is bonded as a winery for the purpose.
The years pass and the family acquired more choice lands in Napa to expand the varietal offerings. In 2003, they purchased a 20.5-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Atlas Peak. The 1,600-foot-elevation vineyard, which overlooks a veritable “who’s who” of Napa Valley vineyards, is the source of the Atlas Peak Single Vineyard Cabernet and a key component of the Diamond Selection and Napa Valley Cabernets. The Diamond Selection we sampled is 85 percent cab with 9% merlot and 6% petit Verdot from Calistoga making up the rest of the blend. The Diamond selections have concentrated dark cherry, cassis and plum notes which will please the hedonists who adore this varietal.
A few years later, the Rombauers obtain Stice Lane Vineyard, a 30-acre site planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in St. Helena. The vineyard’s classically structured fruit becomes a cornerstone of Rombauer’s Cabernet programs and the source for the Stice Lane Single Vineyard Cabernet, another sexy beast that was made to drink with a special meal.
Today the Rombauers turn out several enviable (over 90 points) cabernet sauvignon, buttery rich chardonnay, fortified wine, merlot, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel wines.
We were fortunate to taste and review the cabernet appellations from Atlas Peak, Calistoga. Los Carneros, Mount Veeder. Rutherford, St. Helena and the Stags Leap District representing in four submitted cabernets, all coaxed to perfection and blended artfully by their Australian-born director of viticulture and winemaking, Richie Allen.
Though he grew up near one of the most famous wine regions of Australia, it was an afternoon spent tasting wine in California that provided Richie Allen’s crystallized vision of his future career in wine. After graduating from the University of Adelaide and gaining practical experience making wine in Australia and New Zealand, Richie returned to California in 2004 to take up a harvest position at Rombauer. going from enologist to assistant winemaker to head winemaker. In 2013, he is named Director of Viticulture and Winemaking.
Rombauer has long been Napa Valley kings of the white varietal rather than cabernet, but thanks to Allen’s guidance, their reds like the 2010 Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, are winning International Wine Competitions and for good reason:
NAPA VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNON
2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $55.00
Why we love it: This is the most affordable and versatile red for a holiday table or gift for someone special. Staggs Leap, Atlas Peak, Mount Veeder, St. Helena. Calistoga, Rutherford, and Howell Mountain AVAs come together in this blended ruby gem. 2013 was a warm dry year that netted perfection, especially in this hand-picked, optically sorted grape blend that was racked and aged in French oak barrels. Crimson hued, full bodied, cassis and blackberry notes are held together with supple tannins. We used this in the recipes below and it worked incredible magic.
DIAMOND SELECTION CABERNET SAUVIGNON
2012 Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $80.00
Why we love it: Estate vineyards in Stags Leap, Calistoga, Atlas Peak. St. Helena and Howell Mountain are considered a near perfect vintage and this 2012 is one to stock up on if you can swing it. These grapes that made the cut for the Diamond vintage net a deep purple hue with strong stone fruit influence, dressed up with spice and lush tannins and black currant finishing notes. Gorgeous wine and incredible to give to someone as a gift.
STICE LANE VINEYARD
2012 Stice Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $90.00
Why we love it: This is pricier but so well worth it for the wine lover to experience. This reserve bottling is made from grapes grown in the St. Helena AVA, a former river bed that has gravel and mineral deposits which give this soil a distinct edge. Barrel-fermented and gently basket pressed before racked in French oak, this burgundy red wine has hints of nutmeg interlaced with Bing cherry, black currant and raspberry, a hint of licorice and fine tannins that make it a velvet hammer, defined by a fine line of acidity and fruit, tannins and spice. Just phenomenal.
ATLAS PEAK VINEYARD
2012 Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $90.00
Why we love it: Location, location, location. 10 barrel-blended grapes that showcase the rugged remote growing area’s gifts with a wine made from grapes grown above the fog line at some of the highest levels in Napa. This unctuous wine is made from smaller berries and boasts intense fruit flavors tempered with textured silky tannins. A perfect 60% barrel-fermented concoction sent to French oak for aging. Deep crimson ruby red, with cedar spice and strong stone fruit and berry notes, give this baby a long sexy finish that is smooth as silk. It’s hard to pick a favorite but this one sort of sealed the deal.
3522 Silverado Trail North
Saint Helena CA 94574
10:00 am – 5:00 pm daily- Go taste these beauties yourself!
Rombauer shared classic Joy of Cooking recipes paired perfectly with all their robust Cabernets:
Ragout of short ribs and mushrooms
Roasting concentrates flavors and caramelizes sugars. This cooking method can turn boring old potatoes into crisp, browned home fries or humble onions into melty, fragrant flavor bombs. Turn beets tender and a little bit caramelized and top them with a maple-balsamic reduction, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts. Well-marbled short ribs turn into a luxurious treat after a long braise. The flavorful meat falls off the bone, and the pan juices from short ribs make for an exceptional, velvety sauce.
We opted for Rombauer Cabernet as the braising liquid and a large addition of mushrooms—which gets reduced into a classic mushroom wine sauce. A sprinkle of Crispy Fried Shallots and Italian parsley add a welcome crunch and a nice, herbal counterpoint to the umami-rich sauce. Serve over polenta, but egg-rich pasta or noodles would be great.
Pro tip: like any long braise, this recipe is perfect for the crockpot/slow cooker!
Braised short ribs with mushrooms, red wine, and crispy fried shallots
Preheat the oven to 350°F (if not using a slow cooker).
- 3 pounds beef short ribs, excess fat trimmed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Fry in a Dutch oven or large heavy ovenproof skillet over medium heat until rendered and brown:
- 6 ounces bacon, cut into lardons or small chunks
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate (or a transfer to a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker) and reserve. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the ribs in batches, being careful not to crowd the pot and brown well on all sides. Remove the ribs and reserve with the bacon. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. Add and cook, stirring, over medium heat just until the vegetables begin to color, about 10 minutes:
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 1½ teaspoons black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
Add and constantly stir until browned, about 2 minutes:
- 2 tablespoons flour
Add and bring to a boil:
- 2 cups red wine
- 8-12 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
Return the short ribs and bacon to the pot (or add the sauce to the slow cooker). Tie together and add:
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 sprigs Italian parsley
Cover and bake until the ribs are tender and the meat pulls away easily from the bone, 1½ to 2 hours. If you want to serve these ribs with Crispy Fried Shallots, below, you can easily prepare them as the ribs cook. Remove the ribs to a platter and cover to keep warm. Discard the herb bundle. Skim off any fat from the surface of the liquid, and reduce over high heat until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Serve the ribs (bone removed if desired) over:
Top with the mushroom wine sauce and:
Crispy Fried Shallots, see below
Italian parsley, finely chopped
Crispy Fried Shallots
About ½ a cup
Make a double batch of these crispy shallots to serve atop Asian noodles, stir-fries, rice, and sautéed greens for the next few weeks. They will keep for a month at room temperature in a tightly covered container.
Mix together in a large bowl with clean hands, separating the shallot slices into individual rings:
- 4 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat in a small heavy pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking:
- ½ cup vegetable oil
With tongs, carefully add the coated shallot rounds evenly around the pan. Do not crowd; work in batches if necessary. Simmer in the oil until the shallots just begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove and drain.
You can actually buy balsamic reductions at the grocery store these days, but buy some inexpensive balsamic vinegar and make your own. The balsamic reduction can be not pleasant to inhale. Make sure you ventilate your kitchen, whether this means turning on your hood fan or setting up a fan and opening a window.
Roasted Glazed Beets
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Scrub well and cut into 1/2-inch slices:
- 1 1/2 pounds small beets
- Toss the beets in a roasting pan with:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Roast until tender, turning once or twice, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the balsamic glaze. Combine in a small saucepan:
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
Reduce the glaze over medium heat until thickened and syrupy. Be sure to take it off the heat while it still appears fairly liquid, as it will thicken considerably as it cools. One way to test this is to put a spoon in the freezer as the reduction cooks, and occasionally test the reduction by dipping the spoon into it.
When it thickens but is still liquid enough to pour, it is ready.
Arrange the beets on a platter. Spoon the reduction over them, then crumble on top:
- 4 ounces plain, fresh goat cheese
Sprinkle over the beets:
- 1/3 cup toasted walnuts
Wild rice salad with kale and roasted grapes
Serves 4 to 6
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss together in a roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet:
- 2 cups stemmed seedless grapes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Roast, stirring occasionally until the grapes have shriveled and are starting to collapse about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a salad bowl, combine:
- 6 leaves lacinato (dinosaur) kale, deribbed and shredded
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Massage the kale with your hands until it wilts. Add to the bowl and toss:
- 2 1/2 cups cooked wild rice (from about 3/4 cup raw)*
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
- 4 ounces blue cheese (the stronger and saltier the better)
When the grapes have finished roasting, add them to the bowl and toss. Taste and season accordingly with:
Salt and pepper
*To cook wild rice, rinse and drain 1 cup wild rice. Place in a saucepan with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, stir once, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender and most of the kernels are splayed, about 35 to 45 minutes.
A good rule of thumb for cooking steaks is 4 minutes per side in a very hot skillet. This will give you a steak with a nice crust on the outside but still pink in the center. There are all sorts of tests for figuring out when a steak is done, none of which I am any good at. I find it much more useful to just set a timer and go from there.
Yes, potatoes are a really great foil for a bloody, rich steak. And if those potatoes are a bit crusty? All the better. Rombauer’s simplified recipe for Pommes Anna is below. Pait this meal with a bold Rombauer Cabernet which accents the flavor of the warming black peppercorns and provides a fruity contrast to this rich dish.
Steak au poivre
Two 8-ounce steaks (sirloin, top sirloin, or tenderloin)
If you have time, let the steaks sit, uncovered, on a rack over a baking sheet in the refrigerator for a day or two. This will thoroughly dry out the surface of the steak and concentrate the flavor.
Press into the steaks, working the seasonings into both sides of the meat with the heel of your palm or the flat side of a cleaver:
1/4 cup cracked black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Heat a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat. Once the pan is hot, sear the steaks, without crowding, for 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Cook each side 1 minute more for medium. Remove the steaks to a platter and let stand, loosely covered with foil. Pour off any excess fat from the pan and set the pan over medium-high heat. Add:
1/4 cup chopped shallots or onion
Cook, stirring, just until barely softened, about 15 seconds. Remove pan from heat and carefully add:
1/4 cup brandy
If the brandy flames, let it burn itself out. Return pan to heat and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. Add:
1 cup beef stock or veal stock or broth
Boil until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add:
1/4 cup heavy cream
Bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add:
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and cracked black peppercorns to taste
Serve immediately over or alongside the steaks.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, clarified, or 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) melted butter
Pour the butter into a bowl and toss with:
- 2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
- Salt and black pepper to taste
Set a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat and layer the potatoes in the skillet. Build the bottom layer carefully with overlapping, nicely shaped slices.
When all the potatoes are layered in the pan and the bottom has formed a light crust, lightly butter or oil a skillet slightly smaller than the pan and press it firmly on top of the potatoes to compress them.
Cover the pan tightly with foil, or cap with the Pommes Anna pot lid.
Put the pan in the oven over a baking sheet to catch drips.
Bake for 20 minutes, remove the cover and press down firmly on the potatoes again. Bake, uncovered until the sides are visibly browned and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes more.
Holding the skillet or lid firmly against the potatoes, tilt the pan and pour off any melted butter that has not been absorbed. To serve, loosen edges from the pan with a knife, then invert the potatoes onto a plate and slice into wedges.