Quick hit review tonight. I have to admit that I was very nervous popping open the 2008 Renegade, because Renegade Wine Co. is the second label of Sleight of Hand Cellars, the Washington State winemakers who put together the 2009 Spellbinder, a.k.a. the second lowest rated wine on PnP so far (82 points). All external signs pointed to the conclusion that the Spellbinder should be a better wine than the Renegade: a producer’s first label is generally of higher quality than its second label (which is the whole point of existence of the second label — it lets the producer make cheaper lower-end wines without devaluing its main brand), the Spellbinder was more expensive than the Renegade (mid-twenties as compared to high teens CDN), and the Spellbinder was actually grown and vinified by Sleight of Hand while the Renegade was blended together out of juice sourced from third party growers. But wine is always full of surprises.
What does it mean when you don’t see the name of a grape on a US wine label but instead you just see “Red Wine”? It very likely means that no single grape variety forms a high enough percentage of the blend to allow the wine to be labelled by its varietal. In Washington, in order for a wine to be labelled by grape (i.e. “Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Syrah”), at least 75% of the wine has to be made from the labelled grape. In this case, the Renegade is an unusual four-way blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (39%), Cabernet Franc (39%), Grenache (13%) and Syrah (9%); none of these grapes come close to 75% of the overall blend, so there is no single-varietal label.
This is not a tremendously complex wine, but it’s well-structured, tasty and packed with flavour at a bargain price tag. It has a translucent deep purple colour that gives away its youth and a sweet nose of dark currant fruit, vanilla, tobacco and dill, with a little dustiness on the back end. It manages to combine a soft, plush mouthfeel with substantial fine-grained tannins and a full body with fairly pronounced levels of acidity; each of these components and balances out the other, leaving a harmonious overall impression on the palate. The flavours mimic the nose closely — blackberry, raspberry, earth, wood — with the fruit shining through on the initial attack and the more rustic secondary notes gaining strength near the finish.
Much to my surprise (and relief), the Renegade easily betters its big brother Spellbinder: it is far more consistent front to back, and its flavours seem less artificial and more profound. On the other hand, its label is about a million times worse…guess the Sleight of Hand graphic artist was too exclusive for the second label.
$15 to $20 CDN[Wine Jargon Notes: mouthfeel = literally, the feel of the wine in your mouth, its weight, texture and body
attack/finish = when you taste a wine, the initial taste impression you get is called the attack; the final taste impression as and after you swallow is the finish; everything in between is the midpalate.]