Thu 25 Feb 2010
Founded in 1978, Renaissance Vineyard & Winery turns out unfortunately minute qualities of Bordeaux- and Rhone-style wines that are sterling examples of individuality, integrity, restraint and frankly old-fashioned appeal. Old-Fashioned? Winemaker Gideon Beinstock uses minimal new oak and keeps alcohol levels low, as in generally between 12 and 14 percent. No commercial yeasts are employed and red wines are neither fined nor filtered; the vineyard now is completely organic. He also holds some of the cabernet sauvignon wines for extraordinary lengths of time before releasing them, as in 12 years for the Premier Cuvée cabernets. The winery is in Oregon House, about 70 miles north of Sacramento, in the North Yuba region of the Sierra Foothills; the vineyards lie at elevations of 1,700 to 2,300 feet. If you’re looking for wines that embody the antithesis of the over-ripe, over-oaked, high-alcohol fruit bombs still fashionable today, you need to search for the wines of Renaissance.
We’ll look today at Renaissance cabernets released in 2008 and 2009 (and one white wine after them). These were samples submitted for review.
The blend in the Renaissance Premier Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, is 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 11 percent cabernet franc; the alcohol level is an eminently sane 12.6 percent. This smooth, mellow but rigorously structured cabernet opens with classic and seductive scents of black pepper, licorice, black cherry and cedar. The wine spent two years in — you have to admire this forthright expression — “old oak barrels,” of German, French and American origin, so the effect of the wood is engaging shapeliness and suppleness, while grenadier-like acidity keeps a keen eye on appealing vibrancy and vitality. In the mouth, flavors of plums and dried red and black currants are packed with potpourri and dried spice and a hint of an earthy, granite-like minerality that expands into the slightly austere finish. 380 cases produced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
The Renaissance Claret Prestige 1996, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, is composed of less cabernet sauvignon (63%) than the Premier Cuvée ’96, more merlot (25%) and almost the same amount of cabernet franc (12%). Oak aging — 23 months — is a smidgeon shorter. Alcohol is also 12.6 percent. The color is radiant medium to dark ruby with a tinge of light brick-red at the rim. The bouquet is rich and ripe with currants and plums, roasted and fleshy, displaying touches of ground walnuts and walnut shell. Dense, dusty, chewy tannins along with a tremendous backbone of acidity lend the wine plenty of structure, while mossy, forest-floor-like elements provide support of flavors of macerated red and black currants and black cherries freighted with what seems like all the savory dried spices in your cabinet. 390 cases. A great achievement for drinking from 2011 through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
The Renaissance Library Release Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, was originally issued in September 1999 and then re-released in May 2009.The blend is a fairly straightforward 86 percent cabernet sauvignon and 14 percent merlot, but there’s nothing ordinary about the wine. The color is deep brick-red with a hint of garnet at the rim. Swirl the glass and take a sniff; the rich, warm bouquet is saturated with spice and dried flowers and black currants, cherries and plums seemingly macerated for a lifetime in spiced brandy. Solid, dusty and slightly gritty tannins give some indication as to the motivation for putting this wine on the market again; a decade ago it must have been formidable, and indeed from mid-palate back through the finish, this cabernet picks up dry underbrushy austerity. Best from 2012 through 2015 to ’20. How great this would be with a roasted game bird, though I typically drank a couple of glasses with a particularly hearty cheese toast. Excellent. About $50.
Released in May 2009 in a quantity of 830 cases — you understand that’s a huge production for this winery — the Renaissance Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, is a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent merlot and 3 percent cabernet franc and syrah. Aging was up to 18 months in used French, German and American oak barrels; the alcohol level is 13.6 percent. The wine is ravishing. The clean, fresh, perfectly defined bouquet offers spiced and macerated black currants, mulberries and blueberries wreathed with smoke, cedar and tobacco and an edge of dusty, flinty minerality. In the mouth, this cabernet is smooth and mellow but no wimp; as usual with the red wines of Renaissance, the dimensionality of dense, dusty tannins dominates but does not overwhelm the rich warmth of wonderfully proportioned red and black fruit flavors that seem slightly fleshy and feral, with a fillip of wild berry. Best from 2012 or ’14 through 2018 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
Here’s a note on a white wine from Renaissance that I tasted back in the Summer but neglected to write about.
The Renaissance Carte d’Or 2008, Sierra Foothills, is a blend of 70 percent semillon and 30 percent sauvignon blanc, aged six months in “neutral German oak ovals,” meaning large old German barrels. Few white wines made in California smell or taste like this one. The color is medium gold with a faint green highlight. Aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm, dried rosemary and thyme with that dried herbal dustiness, smoke and pine resin dominate the nose; the wine is very spicy and lively in the mouth, very dry, quite austere with a tremendous foundation of limestone and chalk minerality under notes of fig, gooseberry and lemon and lime peel all enfolded in the sort of sunny leafiness I expect from dry semillon. Wow, quite a performance and probably capable of aging through 2012. Try with seared trout or swordfish. Excellent. About $20, which would be a Bargain of the Century except that Beinstock made only 58 cases.
With your indulgence, I’ll append my review of this wine in its manifestation of 2007, so you can see the differences that vintages and proportions make, and notice how much more of the wine Beinstock made in ’07:
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.