Thursday, July 1, 2010

2008 Theresa from Denner Vineyards

The Rhône varietals thrive in California, and the growers and winemakers handles them better today than ever. Syrah is with is 7 642 hectares under vine the far most planted and popular Rhône grape in California, followed by Grenache with 2 818 hectares and Carignane with 1 499 hectares. Viognier is the most widely planted green Rhône varietal, and in 2008 it covered 1 204 hectares. Introduced in the 1970s, winemakers used the same techniques as with Chardonnay, resulting in full bodied, heavy and overly oaky and alcoholic wines of Viognier with no finesse. Since then, the style has moved towards lighter wines (still, alcohol levels reach 14.5 percent or even more) with less use of new oak, shorter ageing time in oak, less bâtonnage if at all, and no malolactic fermentation to retain the so needed acidity.
Of the other Rhône varietals, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc are the most important, if a total of 141 hectares and tiny 65 hectares for them can be called important. For most American consumers, these grape varieties are almost unknown, for the simple reason that they were rarely mentioned on the labels, until quite recently. With a growing interest for both red and white Rhône styled wines, the acreage of these grape varieties are steadily growing.
In Paso Robles, which is a great source of fine wines in this category, there are numerous producers of distinction. My favorites are l’Aventure, Ed Sellers, Tablas Creek (they make the most French styled wines in California) and Denner Vineyards, which has been presented before here on California Wine Report.

2008 Theresa / 92 p
This is a blend of 62 percent Roussanne, 24 percent Viognier and seven percent each of Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. The four grapes are processed separately in either steel drums or used French oak barrels – Ron Denner and his winemaking son Brian doesn’t want to hide fine fruit in too much oak, which is wise – and to preserve the so needed acidity in these moderately acidic grape varieties, the malolactic fermentation is always blocked. The color is golden straw, and the nose invites you to a journey in white and yellow flowers, honey and tropical fruits, almonds and spices like black pepper and licorice. There is really note more that a smallest trace of the oak, which is just perfect. It’s really intriguing and a very good example on how good the Californian whites of Rhône varietals can be. Without any doubts, this wine could easily be taken for a profound Rhône wine in any blind tasting, at any time. It’s really the best out of two worlds – the ripeness is there, the body and the texture as well, but alcohol is at 13.5 percent (or, at least not more than 14.0 percent) and the classic finesse found in classic wines from Europe dominates over power and richness. Also, even though the acidity is moderate, it’s good enough to balance the fruit and together with a tickling note of mineral, it actually gives the wine a delicious freshness. It’s not the best, but it is one of the most elegant white Rhône styled wines from California I have tasted.
Drink it 2010-2013.

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