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...

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