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Chardonnay has quite a wardrobe. It can fashion itself into many styles.

That’s according to Richie Allen, director of agriculture and winemaking for Rombauer Vineyards.

Allen is behind our wine-of-the-week winner – the Rombauer Vineyards, 2013 Carneros Chardonnay at $36.

This is a striking chardonnay with a full range of flavors — nectarine, fig and vanilla. It’s a breezy chardonnay, but one that’s complex and therefore serious. Its lush texture is balanced with crisp acidity. The Rombauer chardonnay is a steal for the quality.

“Chardonnay is the most versatile grape in the world and makes more wine styles than any other grape variety,” Allen said. “From blanc de blancs, to unoaked chardonnay, to cool climate chardonnay to botrytis chardonnay. No other grape can claim to do all this in so many styles at a world class level.”

Allen never expected to be a winemaker when he was a kid. Back in Australia when Allen’s parents would visit wineries, he and his brothers would sit in the back of the car and pout.

“There wasn’t much for kids to do at a winery,” Allen said. “I never gave a career in wine a thought until 1998, when I took a year off university to travel around the world and go rock climbing. My first stop was California.”

At a tasting in Amador County, Allen tasted two red wines side by side and found them to be completely different. “I wanted to know more,” he said. “That was the catalyst that started it all.”

Allen said he’s still amazed at how a simple wine tasting completely changed the course of his life.

“Ten years later I was a winemaker at Rombauer,” Allen said. “Rombauer has a unique style that was developed over a number of years that our customers have come to love,” Allen said. “It starts with a core of ripe fruit, some tropical flavors, peach, nectarine and citrus. This combines with the other core elements of vanilla, toasty oak and a creamy texture with a buttery character that becomes more pronounced as the wine ages. This is all held together with balanced acidity.”

Allen earned a science degree at Deakin University in Melbourne and a winemaking degree at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 2003.

“Consistency is the most challenging part of winemaking,” Allen explained. “It’s easy to make a different wine every time. It’s incredibly challenging to do it right to make a consistent wine every year.”

The most gratifying part of winemaking, Allen said, is bottling.

“It’s the culmination of all the hard work from the vineyard to the bottle,” he said. “The only other thing that comes close is when you watch people try the wine for the first time and their face lights up.”

___

This week’s blind tasting: Chardonnay

TOP PICK

Rombauer Vineyards, 2013 Carneros Chardonnay, 14.6% alcohol, $36. ★★★★: An exquisite, tropical chardonnay with a full range of flavors. Notes of nectarine, fig and vanilla. A breezy chardonnay, but one that’s complex and therefore serious. A steal for the quality. Outstanding.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Iron Horse, 2013 Green Valley Vineyards of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.6%, $29. ★★★★: A lovely chardonnay with bright, green apple, a tasty tropical note of pineapple, and a hint of kiwi. It has lift -- great minerality and acid. A charmer.

Paul Hobbs, 2012 Richard Dinner Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain Sonoma County, 14.2%, $75. ★★★★: A decadent, supple chardonnay, but it’s not over the top. Gorgeous aromas of white flowers, and on the palate, notes of pear, apple and creme brulee. Complex. Seamless. Striking.

Williams Selyem, 2013 Heintz Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.7%, $58. ★★★1⁄2: This tasty chardonnay is ripe with flavor. Notes of pineapple, pear and creme brulee. Great minerality keeps this lush chardonnay in check. Lingering finish. A chardonnay with character.

Robert Mondavi Winery, 2013 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.5%, $20. ★★★1⁄2: Approachable, balanced and uncomplicated. A good summer quaff.

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