Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Renaissance's New Releases: Syrah and Roussanne

Looking down at Renaissance's roussanne vinesTransparency isn't just good for government and for financial institutions (cough, AIG, cough), it's good for wine. I like fruit as much as the next guy and don't usually take to truly austere wines, but my favorite wines show mineral energy and the stamp of place.

As I've explained ad nauseum, Sierra Foothills producer Renaissance makes terroir-driven wines: the grapes are organically farmed (they're now converting to biodynamics), harvested at roughly 24.5 Brix, fermented solely with native yeasts, and rarely aged in new oak. Because of these winemaking decisions, their wines are not just balanced and (often) elegant, they really show the rocky minerality that's unique to their steep, Hermitage-esque hill of decomposed granite, no matter how much ripe fruit the wines have.

This is certainly true of the newest Renaissance releases: the 2005 Syrah, the 2006 Roussanne Estate, and the 2006 Roussanne Vendanges Tardives.

I sampled the wines over two nights. The first night I made ravioli using fell-off-the-bone beef short ribs, steamed potato cubes dressed in cracked sea salt and pepper and olive oil, and a simple green salad tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. The second night I fixed roasted yellow pepper salad and broiled lamb chops that had been marinated in fresh meyer lemon juice, fresh rosemary, garlic, and cracked sea salt and pepper. Roquefort and grapes followed.

Speaking of transparency, you should know that I received these bottles as press samples (my first ever).

Roussanne Estate 2006
I was able to taste some 2006 reds from barrel during my visit to the winery last fall and was extremely impressed by the wines' balance and depth. As it turns out, the whites aren't so shabby, either.

The Roussanne Estate smelled a touch muted and musty when first popped, and I feared this was corked. All it took was a few minutes and a good vigorous swirl for the wine to unwind, and in fact this is hugely aromatic: the rich and intense aromas of tarragon, coriander, chai, baked fruit, and soy candle wax are lively and powerful. I also smell fresh rain on warm stone. The wine is wonderfully spicy on the palate and tastes of cardamom-dusted poached pears and lemon-splattered rock.

What's truly gobsmacking, though, is that for all the suggestions of richness, the wine is weightless. Ethereal is actually the better word. At the same time, the wine is persistent and focused. Certainly the relatively low (12.8%) alcohol level helps, but I think the bulk of the credit goes to the strong minerality. Whatever the cause, this paired well with even the meats, although it paired most majestically with the earthy, steamed potatoes.

Syrah 2005
I have had some lovely, balanced, and just plain excellent California syrah from producers such as Unti and Lavoro. But balanced or blowsy, the usual calling card for CA syrah is serious, dark fruit. This is different.

The 2005 Renaissance Syrah, which sees no new oak, has beautiful aromas of violets, fresh rain on stone, grilled meat, and sweet boysenberries. It is aromatically intense. It is not fruit-driven and shows less black fruit than any other Renaissance syrah I've had. Instead, the spicy, peppery, fine-grained tannins deliver leather and blackcurrant (!) flavors. The acidity is strong and masculine and gives the wine great lift on the palate, even as tannins coat the tongue. And there's a nascent, elegant richness that slowly shows with air.

Given how well this went with my broiled lamb chops, I could say that this primary, evolving wine is drinking well now. But I'm going to give my purchased bottles the time they deserve to develop — this should last at least two decades. And if I can't keep my hands off it, I'll decant it 24 hours before my meal.

Roussanne Vendanges Tardives 2006
When was the last time you had a late harvest Roussanne? Never? Yeah, me either. This is utterly, completely different than the Roussanne Estate. Of course, the grapes were harvested in early December 2006, a full three months after the Estate grapes, so that's not a surprise. And whereas the Estate was aged in young barrique, the VT was aged solely in large, neutral oak ovals that Renaissance imported from Germany at least a decade ago.

The nose is not unexpected for a VT — I'm talkin' pineapple, fresh and dried flowers, caramelized honey, and browwwn sugar, sugar. But here comes the surprise: it's practically dry on the palate. If it were German, you'd call it halbtrocken. It's barely sweet on the attack and is clean and very minerally on the finish. In between, the full and spicy flavors of pear, white pepper, brown spices, and rock persist on the midpalate for at least 30 seconds. It's really quite intense! A secondary surprise is that the acidity feels more acute than with the dry Estate wine, although the numbers (see below) would suggest otherwise.

Clearly, this isn't a dessert wine, so I paired this with a Roquefort cheese and fresh muscat grapes. It didn't work so well with the grapes, which were much sweeter than the wine. But while I wouldn't say you should forget Sauternes, this was terrific with the cheese, as the spiciness of each played well with each other, although it'd likely be even better with a slightly less intense cheese like Rogue River Blue.

the new Renaissance releases

2005 Syrah14%3.26.47 g/l0.25%24 months in 1-6 year old barrique, then 9 months in large, neutral oak oval
2006 Roussanne12.8%3.186.9 g/l0.4%9 months in new and 1-2 year old barrique
2006 Roussanne VT14.4%3.4ns1.2%14 months in large, neutral oak oval

No comments: