Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Visit to Renaissance, Part 2 - The Tasting

Renaissance vineyards - looking down on semillon and syrah
Here we go with the tasting. As I mentioned in Part 1, Renaissance holds back many of their wines for years prior to release, which allows us to drink history. The practice also reflects the values of patience and generosity.

I was talking to Shahar, the new vineyard manager, as he finished his lunch with his toddler. As we discussed the winery's conversion to biodynamics and the difficulty in finding cow horns, his happy toddler kept plucking noodles from her bowl and placing them on his plate, giggling all the while. She wasn't playing with her food as much as she was having fun feeding daddy.

What follows are wines that reflect that generous spirit.

After speaking with Shahar at the winery, marketing manager John Brooks and I drove down to the tasting room. Midway through the tasting, we were joined by winemaker Gideon Beinstock. All the below were tasted from bottle and most were opened at least a few hours prior to tasting but not, to my knowledge, decanted.

Though each wine is distinct, the hallmarks of nearly every Renaissance wine, white or red, are: sane alcohol levels, excellent acidity, and most importantly, sustained chords of tensile minerality that become both deeper and louder over the wines' long lifespans. The mineral expression is particularly true (in all senses of the term) in the syrahs and the cabernets.

Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2007
As I mentioned previously, Renaissance makes low alcohol wines naturally, despite the climate, and here we have a wine that clocks in at a mere 12.4 degrees. A foxy note joins peach fruit, and with its good minerality and acidity, it drinks like a white, with excellent presence on the midpalate. I was unable to taste the '06 rosé, which a la Bandol had a significant proportion of mourvedre, but apparently it was quite a different beast.

Carte d'Or 2006
As you'll see in the next post, I was extremely impressed by the 2006 reds I tasted in barrel; my good feelings about the vintage extend to this Bordeaux-style blend of sauvignon blanc (60%) and semillon (40%). The grassy notes here are soft and there's just a hint of brown spices on the finish; even more exciting is a concluding note of ginger. It's really well-balanced and long-lived on the palate, and it hits but 13.2% abv. Wish I could have tried other '06 whites.

Roussanne 2004
This impressive wine leaves a broad impression in the mouth, but it's absolutely balanced. It's nutty but not waxy and it tastes quite young and fresh, with yellow orchard fruits predominate. Beinstock feels this will age for 10-15 years. 2004 was a warm vintage, and I am all the more impressed that this wine displays such balance.

Syrah 2004
In this vintage (and to a lesser extent 2003) Beinstock experimented with pushing up ripeness levels before harvest. The result is what you might call a "delicious vintage" — the wines are tasty, and they are neither overripe nor bereft of terroir, but the fruit envelops the mineral backbone like a pelt. It's quite a good wine, but I still want to pluck the fruit out of my glass to get to the bones. Beinstock says "I went too far," and since the 2005 vintage Beinstock again picks grapes at 26 brix or less; and he feels that 24.5 brix is the perfect level of ripeness here. In contrast, many California producers pick at 28, 29, or even 30 brix.

Mediterranean Red 2004
I smell a raspberry patch here, stems and all. I also smell some heat, but there's no heat on the palate, and this softly peppery blend of grenache (54%), mourvedre (26%) and syrah (20%) has a fair amount of tannins and structure.

Claret Prestige 2000
2000 is a vintage with a lot of fruit and richness, but as I noted last month, the wines are quite structured and, with its robust acidity and mineral frame, this long-lived wine demands further aging. Just terrific stuff. If only right bank Bordeaux were typically this good.

Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Terroir 1999
John Brooks thinks this is perhaps the most elegant of Gideon's reserve level cabernets, and certainly I swirled and sniffed and swirled and sniffed this beguiling wine for some time, trying to get a handle on what it's all about. Even now, at nine years old, it's still young, fresh, and just beginning to exhibit its deeper nature. Behind the lovely black and red fruit, layers of clove, gravel, and earth keep unfolding on the finish. Interestingly, the wine's tannic structure sat toward the front of my mouth and not toward the back. No new oak was abused during the making of this wine. Note: "Vin de Terroir" is the label that Renaissance gives to their very best site-specfic wines, be they cabernet, semillon, or syrah. The grapes for this wine were sourced from slope 16 near the top of the mountain.

Le Provencal 1999
Renaissance now makes a line of wines labeled Granite Crown, which is typically (but not always) a 50/50 blend of cabernet and syrah. This was the first such blend and in this vintage was labeled Le Provencal. The nose here is rich, soft, and trends to blueberry-laden port. There's still plenty of structure here, but this wine is almost fully evolved.

Merlot 1997
I rarely take to even terrific merlot as it lacks the structure I seek. But this wine, which has 10% cabernets franc and sauvignon blended in, has structure in spades. The nose is dominated by dust, cranberry, musk melon, and mulberry. It's very drying on the palate, even if it was aged in 2-4 year old barrels, and it demands food.

Cabernet Sauvignon Premiere Cuvee 1995
This top-level cabernet was released in September 2007 — it took that long to come around. And what a wine it is, with the legs to last many more years. This has a lot of earth, gravel, and dry red dust notes, but in contrast to the above merlot, it's not at all drying. Rather, there's a hidden richness here, and it is a very elegant wine, with great balance and length. Again, no new oak was abused here. And you wanna know what's really crazy? The alcohol clocks in at 12.7 degrees. Yep.

Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest 1991
We now enter the pre-Gideon Beinstock era; this was made by his predecessor, Diana Werner. This is very fresh tasting and it would be silly to leave this until after a meal, as it's so light on the palate with subtle ginger and brown sugar notes that you could easily pair this with a cheese course, if not a rich entree. Oh, and this was just released this last year! Astonishing.

Riesling Late Harvest 1985
Back in the day Renaissance made its name with late harvest dessert wines, including this beerenauslese-level riesling. Gideon notes the irony, however, that their sauvignon blanc has proven to be longer lived than their rieslings. This is very advanced in aged. It's still pretty tasty and the sugars are well-integrated, but this very dark wine lacks the required acidic snap and has little steam left (an overly long cork often resulted in an incomplete seal, which of course does not help with aging).

The tasting from bottle thus concluded, Brooks took me back up to the winery to taste from barrel, which I cover in part 3.

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