Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Releases from Renaissance

Renaissance ChardonnayRenaissance makes some of the most distinctive wines in the US as well as some of the best, and as I've written before, their terroir's signature is carved into the wines, be they red or white, in stone and spice. And yet the more I come to know Renaissance and its wines, the more I've come to learn that they will in various ways surprise me, as do their latest releases (which, disclosure, I received as a press sample).

Renaissance Chardonnay 2006
What, Renaissance makes a varietal chardonnay? Since when? And not only is this a chardonnay, it's also the most mainstream dry white Renaissance I've tasted. Not unlike many fine California chardonnays, it was aged for 9 months in a mix of new and used oak barrels, which contributes to the aromas of salted butter, toast, flowers, and tropical fruits that dominate the nose.

But before you think, "Renaissance sells out!" know that this limited production (76 case), estate grown wine was fermented solely with native yeasts and minimally sulfured. It's fine, fresh, and lively on the palate, with robust acidity, cool orchard fruit tones, and nice structure — it's not at all blowsy or fat (this clocks in at 13.6% abv and a pH of 3.3). As it warms in the glass, the cool spice and herb tones inherent in all Renaissance wines begins to emerge — albeit to a lesser degree than in, say, their Roussanne — and the long finish is enlivened by the zippy minerality. It's definitely a top-of-class California chardonnay, and it stayed very fresh and alive over three nights of tasting.

Renaissance Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest 1992
This new release, a spicy dessert wine, is 17 years old. The nose is rich with aromas of apricots caramelized in brown sugar. It's clean and silky in the mouth, not heavy or sticky, and the robust acidity helps it stand up on the palate. Straightforward flavors of pears poached in ginger hit the mid and back palate immediately; an initial impression of modest viscosity then ebbs quickly, leaving a light but warm glow on the finish for some time. This isn't as complex or as interesting as the drier, more recently made late harvest wines that Renaissance releases, but twist my arm and I'll drink this with a pear tart.

Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon Première Cuvée 1998
This is a fascinating wine. At the first pop of the cork this smells just like a Renaissance cabernet, with deep aromas of black currant and worcestershire, but on the palate it drinks almost like a young Barbaresco, very tannic yet somehow light. The rough edges abate somewhat with just a bit of air and the palate deepens with flavors to match the aromas. On night two, the flavor of cassis comes to the fore and the acidity is more prominent, too, although the weight has dropped and the finish is slightly thin. Black cherry and black pepper flavors come to the fore on the third night — it's a living wine, ever changing — and if the finish is still a bit short, the wine seems a touch more focused: the tannins no longer have a sweet quality, the palate is silkier and just a touch more substantive than it was the previous night, and dried herbs show up on the finish. There's plenty of structure and acidity in this baby (pH is 3.4) so while it's perfectly fine to open this now, there's no need to rush. 82% cab sauv, 7% merlot, 6% cab franc, 5% malbec.

By the by, I recently drank a bottle of the 2007 Carte d'Or white Bordeaux blend, which I last drank a year ago, and it's showing brilliantly. The melon fruit is luscious, generous, and layered with crushed white stone and gingery spice, and it was a great with the smoky, tangy, earthy flavors of middle eastern cuisine. I can't imagine anything pairing better with the smoky, umami flavors of middle eastern cuisine than any dry white from Renaissance; but now that I think about it, maybe I should consider a good cru Beaujolais...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Anaba's Excellent Rhone(ish) Blend

2007 Anaba Coriol RedI continue my quest to track down balanced, complex, traditionally-proportioned, terroir-expressive New World wines, and in that context (or in any other context, really) I'm very happy to have come across the 2007 Anaba Coriol Red Sonoma County.

Made from 38% grenache, 27% mourvedre, 25% petite sirah, and 10% counoise, this Chateauneuf / Provencal-ish blend is rich and spicy, but it's also nicely proportioned, refreshing, and detailed. The nose shows concentrated dark fruit, dried herbs, black pepper, and a hint of citrus peel. I'm extremely pleased by its balance and presence at midpalate and surprised by just how much lift this has. It does show a touch of alcoholic heat, but only a touch, so that's but a small ding. This has the acidity and the balance to age nicely at least in the short term, and possibly longer.

I want to underscore the great lift this wine has, for as it turns out, the wine was aged for 21 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Winemaker Jennifer Marion must know what she's doing, for the wine is not at all glossy or laden with the cocoa or vanilla characteristics I typically find in wines that have this level of new oak. Instead, the nicely integrated herb, pepper, and citrus characteristics shine through.

I can't say that this is terroir-expressive per se, as it's sourced from a range of vineyards — the grenache was sourced from the Landa Vineyard just east of Healdsburg, which is a warm site, while the other grapes were sourced from cooler vineyards in the northwest part of Sonoma. On the other hand, I can say that the wine is just plain expressive and that it delivers balance, complexity, and plenty of character for about $30, which by artisan California winery standards seems pretty darn good to me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Two Sparklers From Argyle

Argyle 2002 BrutDundee Hills producer Argyle makes a range of still wines but they are best known for their sparkling wines. Partly that's because few Oregon producers make sparkling wine, but Argyle's also receive a lot of acclaim of the "why-drink-Champagne-when-at-this-price" type as well as high scores in rags like the Spectre [sic].

The first thing Argyle does after pressing is store the juice at a cold temperature so it "settles" without fermenting. After a few weeks, they then innoculate with a proprietary yeast, achieve at least partial malo, age the fermented juice on its lees in barrique for at least three years, and add what tastes to me like a fairly standard level of dosage. The result, as far as my palate is concerned, is solid, consumer-friendly sparkling wine that is complete and satisfying. The wines are tasty and fairly priced, but while the two bottles I tried each had a story to tell, the story is about the vintage more than the terroir, which seems to be obscured.

2002 Argyle Brut
At Argyle, the vintage decides the blend (all their sparklers are vintage dated) and in 2002 the wine is 75% chardonnay and 25% pinot noir. This verges toward the austere, in a good way, like some Loire brut chenin that I've had. It showed a touch of heat when first opened, but that dissipated, and I got herbs and yeast on the nose. The mousse shows nice texture, and then there are herbs and citrus and pear on the firm, linear, well-structured finish. I was hoping that after 7 years this would show complexity or perhaps a mushroomy aspect, but it was not to be. This was satisfying nevertheless.

2005 Argyle Brut
Here the blend flips to 65% pinot noir and 35% chardonnay. On the nose, subtle hints of yeast march in lockstep with red fruit aromas. The palate is generous but still dry (RS clocks in at 1.2%), with a fine mousse and nice layers of strawberries, apples, pear, and dry stone. The acidity is nicely energetic, and the wine paired well with a peppery, fennel-laced vegetable soup.

I can't decide if I prefer the 2005's more generous texture or the 2002's relative austerity. I'm happy with both. Still, I would have liked to have seen greater depth and more of that Dundee Hills minerality. As I said, the wines are fairly priced at $25, but if I can find deeper and more terroir-expressive Cava and Loire sparklers at a slightly lower price — and I can — I'm in no hurry to return to Argyle's lineup.