Renwood was a winery that I first encountered a long while ago, back when I was learning about wine a few years after starting college. At that time, I was pretty much a confirmed zinfanatic. My wine travails had been inspired by a bottle of Nalle Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, and I was completely hooked. I’d tasted many other wines by then, but the intensity of the wine in the glass really blew me away. Nalle was one of only a few producers back then who focused on producing zinfandel, and so I used that as a starting point, and went from there to tasting a number of wines from other zinfanatically-inspired winemakers.
There weren’t too many such producers back then, and the names that I recall clearly include Nalle, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, Rafanelli, Ridge, and Renwood. The list hasn’t changed too dramatically since then either. Alongside these makers I’d now include a few others that I’ve learned about over the course of the years, such as Dashe Cellars, Seghesio, and Elyse. But that original group still remains the heart of those producers who really put most of their energy into making great zinfandel. There are lots of other producers who make excellent zinfandels among their repertoire of wines, but in my mind, there is something different about a producer for whom a fantastic zinfandel is their raison d’être.
As it turns out, Renwood had only just begun making wine when I first discovered them. Their story began in 1993, when they founded their winery in Amador County’s Sierra Foothills. Fast-forward 18 years, and more than half of their lineup of wines is made up of zinfandels, including both notable old vine bottlings, single-vineyard wines, and well-crafted appellation-designated labels. The old vine bottlings are particularly interesting, with one of them, named Grandpere, made from grapes grown on vines that reside just behind the winery itself, in a 20-acre vineyard that, according to Renwood, holds the oldest zinfandel clone in America, “believed to be 130 years old”.
That last statement is part of what makes zinfandel so interesting. It’s the closest thing that America has to a native grape capable of making outstanding wines. Zinfandel has been grown in California for nearly two centuries, and has a long history of ebbs and flows in its popularity.
But, what really makes zinfandel most interesting to me is the wine itself. I enjoy wine generally, and particularly enjoy pinot noir – at least as much intellectually as gustatorily – but zinfandel is a wine that I find consistently exciting and intriguing. A zinfandel from a great producer, such as Nalle’s Dry Creek Valley Zin, or Ridge’s Lytton Springs, is simply outstanding, with layers and layers of intense fruit and earth flavors.
Of course, this post isn’t about one of Renwood’s zins (that post is coming a bit later), but their barbera. Now, here’s a grape that is rarely grown outside of Italy’s Piedmont region, and with good reason. It simply hasn’t produced great results when grown elsewhere. The grapes for this wine were all grown in California’s Amador County region, and Renwood separates out the resulting lots of wine into two bottlings – their black-label, Amador County series barbera, and their red-label barbera. The red-label series includes their more inexpensive, entry-level wines, and also has a very nice zinfandel and syrah.
The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel, with each lot fermented separately. The resulting wines are then aged in a mix of stainless steel and used American and French oak barrels for 13 months before being separated out into the black and red-label selections and bottled. This is the most recent vintage that they have released.
This wine rolls into the glass at a hefty 14.5%. But I’ll tell you straightaway, it did a great job of hiding that 14.5%!
The nose has notes of violets, leather, cranberry, and black raspberry. The palate begins with bright cranberry that opens up to include flavors of oak and blackberries. There is a notable acidity and medium tannic bite, neither of which detracts from the wine’s flavors, but instead gives the palate a fair amount of acidity that heightens them. The medium-length finish is made up of fruit flavors that are darker and softer than the palate.
We liked this wine quite a bit. The combination of lots of red fruit flavors and pleasant acidity really made for a fun wine in the glass. The flavors weren’t dazzlingly complex, but they were really well put-together and presented. And it’s a heck of a bargain – we picked this bottle up for somewhere around $10. What really put it over the edge, separated it out from your run-of-the-mill budget wine, was the acidity that really balanced out the wine’s other flavors, and added a note of complexity that most wines in this range lack.
Anyhow, go find a bottle of this and give it a roll. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it just as much as we did!