After our tour of the vineyards and estate grounds, Svetlana and I headed over to Renaissance’s lakeside tasting room. As the winter light streamed in through the large windows, Svetlana began lining up the bottles.
But before we get started, let me provide a bit of winemaking backstory. Current winemaker Gideon Beinstock has been involved with Renaissance since its inception back in the late 1970s when he helped plant the fledgling domaine’s vineyards.
After wine travels and study in Europe, Gideon returned to Renaissance in 1994 and became the winery’s chief winemaker. The formative time and experience spent abroad inspired Gideon to affect a new beginning or “Renaissance” in the cellar.
Prior to Gideon’s arrival, the Renaissance wine style was one of considerable extraction, weight and tannic structure. The new spirit at Renaissance was going to employ different techniques. Gentle extractions, no inoculations for primary or secondary fermentations, no acid or must corrections, no fining or filtering, and only minimal use of sulfur dioxide.
The results are in the bottle. Elegant, ageworthy wines that at 5-10 years of age still had a lot to say. Moreover, I was grateful to see alcohol levels hovering around a modest 12.5-14%, the likes of which I rarely seen on comparable domestic wines of the same varietal since the early 1980’s.
In addition to his winemaking responsibilities at Renaissance, Gideon and his wife Saron are the owners of Clos Saron, their small familial domaine dedicated primarily to pinot noir.
Below you’ll find a brief list and description of the range of wines produced at Renaissance.
Estate: The blue/gray Renaissance label denotes Renaissance’s Estate level wines and exemplify the overall quality and thumbprint if you will of the domaine. Balanced and ageworthy 100% estate grown wines.
Vin de Terroir: these wines hail from specific vineyard sites planted on the estate. The object here is to showcase the potential of a particular terroir (soil, site, micro-climate) as and its relationship to a particular varietal(s).
Reserve: Wines given the Reserve designation can either come from specially selected vineyard sites noted for producing exceptional grapes, or from a lot of grapes that are specifically triaged (selected) from a particular harvest. Regardless of the selection process, Reserve wines are produced with long term ageing in mind.
Premier Cuvee: Represents almost exclusively a barrel selection of what Renaissance considers wines of the highest quality and ageing potential.
We began our tasting with a selection of estate whites whose grapes are grown on some of the cooler vineyard slopes of the property. The 2007 Carte d’Or (a newer addition to the selections listed above) is a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% sauvignon blanc. It is fermented in stainless steel and does not undergo malolactic fermentation.
Although this is a classic Bordeaux blanc blend, to me the Carte d’Or evokes more of an Alsace meets Provence esprit. Squarely medium bodied, but with a fresh, almost pungent herb nuance and bright minerality. Very interesting, and I suspect a winner with a farmhouse cheese such as Banon or Picodon.
Next, Sveltana cracked open 2 estate syrah releases which are currently being offered by the winery. The 2002 and the 2005 offered textbook examples as to the significance of vintage variation.
The 2002 displayed subtle darker fruit berry notes, with hints of savory-beef notes. The tannins were a bit more pronounced, and there was a distinct bramley-ness to the wine. Really delicious and exhibiting lots of classic rough-hewn syrah character.
In contrast, the 2005 was a decidedly fleshier and more forward rendition of syrah. More red-berry notes, less bramble, a more round and ample texture, and with finer tannins than its older sibling. Keep in mind that this “weightier” 2005 still comes in at a modest 14% abv. So it was by no means a bruiser.
Renaissance’s Granite Crown is 50/50 cabernet sauvignon and syrah blend, and comprises part the the estate’s “Vin de Terroir” selection. I have always loved this combination, and feel like it is a truly under appreciated and overlooked style of wine with awesome potential.
Dark berry fruits, smoky tea, roasted herbs.. the cabernet provides structure, while syrah provides a bit of fruit and floral nuance. Yalumba’s FDR1A, Domaine de Trevallon, and Renaissance’s Granite Crown should all occupy top spots in this category as all three age are built for the long haul and do it so gracefully.
Renaissance’s 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was a revelation for me. With all of power, press and hoo ha about Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, who would think that such a stunning (and appropriately aged) example would come from Oregon House California?
First of all, the 2001 Reserve comes in at a modest 13.6% abv. No excess heat on the finish or up my nose. And certainly all of the textbook characteristics that I am looking for when I drink Cabernet Sauvignon. Black current, hints of tobacco, eucalyptus, mineral, smoke.
Fine tannins and acid to boot, this cabernet should easily hold its own for another 8-10 years if stored properly. This is the cabernet sauvignon that I will open at my next dinner party, or open to “show off” California wines to my french wine friends. At $45 a bottle, this (soon to be) ten year old bottle of red is an absolute steal.
We capped off the tasting with Renaissance’s 1999 late harvest Semillon. Produced in a style similar to Sauternes, these botrytis affected grapes were harvested at 28.3 brix and completed fermentation with 9% residual sugar (or 90g/l). A bit lighter and with less viscosity and sweetness than most sauternes, this unusual late harvest would be a great match with an Epoisses (from Burgundy) or Roquefort (Aveyron).
Thank you Svetlana, and thank you Renaissance for showcasing such unique and expressive wines from California’s Sierra Foothills. A visit and tasting here is truly something to write home about.