Thu 3 Jul 2008
I always feel guilty when I write about the wines of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery because so little is available. The eccentric winery in Oregon House, California, north of Sacramento in the Sierra Foothills — specifically North Yuba — turns out minuscule quantities of generally superb wines. Under the guidance of winemaker Gideon Beinstock, Renaissance eschews the use of new oak, keeps alcohol content to sane levels and follows organic practices. The wines adhere to a principle of dignity and sometimes nobility, of purity and intensity, that often makes a mockery of the the over-wrought shenanigans that occur in wineries to the south. So, know beforehand, that these wines are not only Worth a Search but that they Demand a Search.
The Renaissance Rosé 2007 is the first rosé I have tried from this producer. It’s made from 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes and ages four months in used German oak ovals, an old-fashioned type of barrel that typically holds 1,000 to 1,200 liters; the ubiquitous French barrique holds 225 liters, or 59 gallons. This is one of the most unusual rosés I have ever encountered. The bouquet is spicy and foxy in the way of muscadine wines, offering notes of dried strawberries, orange rind and dried thyme over a wild and foresty element. The wine is very dry, with a seriously firm, supple structure, yet it displays a winsome, almost ephemeral quality of dried red fruit, spiced citrus and limestone. Drink through the end of summer 2009. Renaissance made 55 cases of this wine, plus 12 cases of half-bottles, so good freakin’ luck, Jack. Excellent. About $18.
LL called the Renaissance Carte d’Or 2007 “a gift to vegetarians,” and indeed the wine’s striking fruity, herbal nature would make it appropriate for all sorts of vegetable-based dishes, including risottos (which don’t have to be made with chicken broth) and pastas. The wine is a blend of 60 percent semillon grapes and 40 percent sauvignon blanc that ages six months in neutral German oak ovals. It opens with herbal-grassy scents with touches of apples and figs and smoky dried pear. Carte d’Or ’07 is very dry, spare, clean, crisp and tart without being citrusy (read: no grapefruit), and it brings up hints of celery, ginger and melon, a bit of riesling-like honeyed peach, a wafting of jasmine. Don’t mistake this for an aperitif wine; it’s too serious, too thoughtful for that blithe purpose. Drink through the end of 2009. Production is 258 cases. Excellent. About $20.
Get this: The alcohol content on the Renaissance Semillon 2006 is 12.3 percent. When was the last time you saw a wine from California with such a mild alcohol level; it’s positively (and refreshingly) archaic. Part of the winery’s “Vin de Terrior” series, the Semillon ’06 offers a brilliant pale yellow/gold color. The bouquet spills out like a cornucopia of figs, melons and pears accented with dried thyme and bay leaf. The wine is quite crisp and dry but luscious with spiced and roasted pear and lemon flavors bolstered by a burgeoning limestone element. The wood, from those neutral German oak ovals, frames the wine deftly. I suspect that this wine will gather depth and nuance as it ages through 2010 or ’12. Production is — sorry — 71 cases. Excellent. About $30.
I have not been a fan of the viognier wines that come from Renaissance. On the other hand, LL said that the Renaissance Viognier 2007 was the best she had even tried, but that’s because the doesn’t like viognier, and it’s true that some examples can be cloyingly, overwhelmingly floral and spicy; those are the ones she doesn’t like. On the other hand, I think the Renaissance versions, which puritanize the grape, err on the side of spareness, even to the point of attenuation. Not that this is a bad wine; it’s quite drinkable and enjoyable, but I think it does not take advantage of the grape’s natural virtues of full-bloom sensuality. So I rate this Very Good. 202 cases produced. About $30.
Renaissance wines have new labels, and I wish I could reproduce them for you, but, as much as we admire the winery’s avoidance of technology in the winemaking process, I wish it would exercise a little more technology when it comes to the website — rvw.com — and provide more useful tools and information.