Sierra Foothills


The surprise that came when I first received a bottle of the Renaissance Vineyard and Winery Vin de Terroir Granite Crown 2005, made by the winery in the North Yuba area of the Sierra Foothills, was the alcohol level: 15 percent. This factor was a shock to my fragile system since it came from a winemaker, Gideon Beinstock, who scrupulously keeps alcohol content lower than his counterparts in Napa and Sonoma and points south. Indeed, I found the bottle, which I tried early in 2012, uncharacteristically disjointed for a wine from Renaissance. Now My Readers who can add on their fingers will be thinking, “Wait, FK, this is a wine from 2005 and you were tasting it in 2012?” Yes, the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 was released, to be completely accurate, on May 15, 2011, that is, five years and eight months after harvest. A blend of 60 percent syrah, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 merlot, 2 cabernet franc and 1 petit verdot, from vineyards at 2,350-feet elevation, the wine aged 27 months in 225-liter French and American oak barrels, that is, the standard 59-gallon barrel. These containers were one- to five-years old, adhering to Beinstock’s usual credo of No New Oak. The wine was bottled on March 13, 2009. Now, that particular bottle I found rather unbalanced, but a second bottle that I was fortunate enough to receive seemed to prove that the first was (relatively) young to be consumed. A year and a half later, the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 is utterly beguiling. The color is radiant medium ruby with a garnet tinge; the ravishing bouquet offers notes of red currants and cherries with dusty plums, cloves, lavender and potpourri and touches of dried spices, graphite and earthy briers and underbrush elements; you could swim in these aromas and be happy. In the mouth, the wine is mellow, supple and lithe, beautifully balanced among soft grainy tannins, alert acidity, a finely-milled granitic quality and spiced and macerated red and black fruit flavors, all in all, a perfect medium for the mature expression of a personality, a time, place and agricultural product that becomes more structured as the moments pass. It this it for the wine? Is it finished? No, I would say that well-stored the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 will drink with seductive though perhaps slightly diminishing effect through 2018 to 2022. Provided you can find some or a single bottle. The rub is that Renaissance produced only 74 cases. The winery is still selling the 2002 version of Granite Crown; here’s a link that includes my review of the 2002 wine from Dec. 3, 2009, on this blog; production that rendition was 210 cases. My rating for Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 is Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

Elyse Winery is best-known for its single-vineyard cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels, though what I review today are three excellent examples of its Rhone-style wines. Elyse was founded in 1987 by Ray and Nancy Coursen, after Ray had spent nine years at Whitehill Lane. The wines were made at various facilities until in 1997 the Coursens purchased a small winery on Hoffman Lane in Napa Valley, west of Hwy 29 between Oak Knoll and Rutherford. Winemaker is Mike Trotta. These were samples for review.
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Elyse L’Ingenue Naggiar Vineyard 2011, Sierra Foothills. This Rhone-style white is a blend of 52 percent roussanne grapes, 32 percent marsanne, 11 viognier and 5 grenache blanc. The wine aged 16 months in “experienced” French oak barrels, that is to say, previously used. This is a lovely wine, offering a pale straw-gold color and beguiling aromas of jasmine and quince, pears and yellows plums, a touch of a slightly resinous herb like rosemary and a deeper floral note that I finally sussed out as camellia. Attractive flavors of roasted lemons and pears (and a hint of slightly honeyed peach) are balanced by a spare texture and delicately astringent elements of grapefruit and limestone minerality, all bound by spanking acidity. Saline and savory, sensuous yet elegant. 14.6 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Elyse C’est Si Bon Naggiar Vineyard 2009, Sierra Foothills. Here’s a blend much like a traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape — 39 percent grenache, 33 percent mourvedre, 12 syrah, 8 cinsault, 5 counoise and 3 viognier. The aging occurs in French puncheons — usually 500 liters (some manufacturers measure a puncheon as 475 liters) — a bit more that twice the size of the ubiquitous barrique at 225 liters (59 gallons); 10 percent of these barrels are new. I dwell on these matters of wood to show how careful the regimen is at Elyse, how little new oak is used, how the size of barrels varies. The wine lives up to its name: It’s so good, not merely as an expression of quality, though it is damned good, but as an embodiment of elan and joie de vivre and all that French stuff. The color is dark ruby with a magenta edge; the bouquet weaves notes of black and red currants and plums, mulberries and blueberries into a well-knit fabric that includes graphite and lavender, a hint of fruitcake, a touch of smoke. It’s light and fresh in the mouth, spicy and berry-like, invigorating and appealing, silky supple in texture yet slightly roughened by the sanding of subtle tannins. Not to mean that the wine is delicate; no, it delivers a firm foundation of vibrant acidity and granitic mineral qualities as well as a depth of smoke and ash and mossy earthiness. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 1,594 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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The raven, indeed. Elyse Le Corbeau Hudson Vineyard 2008, Los Carneros, a blend of 90 percent grenache and 10 percent syrah — more like a modern Chateauneuf-du-Pape — is as dark as a raven’s wing and offers something of that bird’s wild and irascible character; it aged 22 months in small French oak barrels, 20 percent new. The wine bristles with life and personality, but it finishes in a brooding manner that befits E.A. Poe’s famous bird, he of the limited vocabulary. Aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums seethe with notes of graphite, briers and brambles, smoky lavender and bitter chocolate. Luscious and deeply spicy black and blue fruit flavors are leavened by fine-grained and persistent tannins and vigorous acidity, all culminating in a close to profound earthy, rooty lithic character, though there is nothing ponderous or truculent here; the wine is too well-balanced for that. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Production was 300 cases. Excellent. About $37.
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