Easton 2008 Pinot Noir Duarte-Georgetown (Sierra Foothills) – 14.2%. Despite positive verbiage on the label and the accompanying tech sheet (this is a free sample from the winemaker), I’m dubious. OK, pinot noir may have a history in the Sierras, but I suspect there must be a reason it doesn’t have a present. Certainly it would be an easier sell than the ubiquitous syrah, wouldn’t it? Well, anyway, first impressions don’t challenge my predispositions, with a vinyl, overworked quality to the sappy red fruit. There’s acid, and there’s minerality, but neither one works pleasantly towards a pleasant wholeness. So I leave the bottle alone for a while. One day becomes two, and two become three, and then I revisit. At which point I’m forced to walk back some of my criticisms, because the plastic element has disappeared, the structure has integrated, and the fruit is far more appealing than it was on the first day. There’s still minerality, and now there’s balance, and so now one wonders if there might be ageability. Is it a great pinot? No. Neither the Russian River Valley, nor the Central Coast, need quake in their boots (I’m not sure the Anderson Valley, for all its qualities, can quite afford boots yet). But it’s interesting, it’s markedly different, it’s from a trustworthy producer, and…well, who really knows? Worth a revisit, but mind the pop-and-pour mentality, because it doesn’t work here. (2/10)
Montevina 2005 Zinfandel (Sierra Foothills) – 13.5%. Sort of a sangiovese-esque take on zin, with spotlit raspberry/strawberry fruit geysering forth on a crest of acidity. This is neither as brambly nor as spirited (pun intended) as zins from this area usually are. Juicy, tasty, fun, and under $20. Not many of those left, at least among zins worth drinking. (3/09)
Domaine de la Terre Rouge 2003 “RO2X” (Sierra Foothills) – An interesting tribute to the partially-oxidized style of wine one can find all over Europe, but rarely (except by accident) here. The grape is roussanne, and its Californian interpretation is most definitely on display here, as despite relatively restrained rancio there’s a great deal of lush golden fruit of an intensity not usually found in its old world models. This upsets the balance somewhat, but that could just as easily be a matter of expectations. I find this wine most enjoyable, and wholeheartedly support further experiments in this direction. Plus, anyone who loves a good pun as much as me has to like the name. (1/09)
Perry Creek 1999 Zinfandel “Zin Man” (Sierra Foothills) – Pine needles, with its regional wildness still present but caged, as age wears away at the surface and exposes the gentler interior. This has lasted well, though I’m not sure it has actually aged. (2/08)
Easton 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Sierra Foothills) – Big and aromatic…is that a little creamy leesiness?…with a surplus of ripe gooseberry and some fat to the texture. The cream and its accompanying butter are deceptive, as the wine doesn’t go through malo, but the ripe greenness reasserts itself on the finish. It’s like sauvignon blanc aromatics wedded to a viognier texture (though with the heat that so often plagues the latter). Interesting, and unmistakably New World.(5/07)
Domaine de la Terre Rouge 2003 Syrah “High Slopes” (Sierra Foothills) – Smoked blackberry on enamel. A bit short. With more air comes more intensity and interest, so this might just need some time to figure itself out. (5/07)
Terre Rouge 2004 Vin Gris d’Amador (Sierra Foothills) – 51% mourvèdre, 34% grenache, 15% syrah. Unfocused and somewhat candied, this stumbles clumsily around its lazy fruit and finally passes out somewhere in a pool of alcohol. A rare misstep from this winery. (8/07)
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.
(Other wines, other stuff: visit oenoLogic’s parent site.)