Renwood “Sierra Series” 2003 Syrah (Sierra Foothills) – Chunky, monolithic and dark Sierra fruit, clunky tannin, and a chewy texture. Certainly drinkable, but it lacks class.
The entire Sierra Foothills area has enormous potential, though much of it is destined to go unrealized given its lack of proximity to major California tourist centers (the region itself isn’t all that far from San Francisco, but getting anywhere once you’re there is a different story. And the major flow-by of tourists are heading either to the Tahoe-area ski fields or to Reno; not the sort of drop-in business on which one can rely. Wine regions need recognition, they need acclaim, but most of all they need funds…money to improve viticulture and cellar operations that will in turn lead to better wines, reinforcing the cycle.
Of course, there’s an upside to all this: the area is a lot of fun to visit, and largely devoid of pigeon-like hordes of tourists.
Renwood is as big a name as the area has (the other contender would be Domaine de la Terre Rouge/Easton), but not all fame is good fame. The winery has a long and checkered history, and the ownership is not the most popular in the region (or, for that matter, among in-the-know wine buffs). History and gossip aside, what’s more immediately relevant is that the quality of Renwood’s wines has slowly but inexorably declined. Part of it is related to the slow bleed of high-quality vineyard sources, as in the above-referenced article. Part of it is an inability to attain new high-quality sources of fruit…and that, too, is tied, for better or worse, to the reputation of the ownership. But mostly, it’s a clear and (one presumes) deliberate shift away from higher-end wines (though Renwood does still make a few of those) to mass-market bottlings at a lower price tier. The “Sierra Series” leads this movement, and while the wines are never exciting, they’re usually fairly solid and at least quaffable.
Ultimately, the whole Renwood saga is a little sad; a lot of might-have-beens quashed by the usual palette of human frailties. What could be a standard-bearer for an underappreciated region is, instead, an outsider in its own environment, and while the wines do present some vague notion of Sierra-ness, they are certainly not representative of the capabilities of the region.
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