Introducing the Wines for the 2016 VINsider Wine Club "Collector's Edition" Shipment

Each June, I have the pleasure of tasting through library vintages of our Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolove. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

This year, our selections will be the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. Each wine provides a clear signature of the vintage that produced it: 2009, with its power and density from the combination of spring frost (low yields) and warm weather, and 2010, with noteworthy elegance from an unusually cool summer that produced our longest hangtime ever. And yet time had, in each case, made the wine more complete, softening the tannins and opening the structure of the 2009 Esprit, and deepening the flavors and bringing more weight to the 2010 Esprit Blanc. And this isn't the end; both wines will go out another decade. It will be fun to get these in people's hands in a few months. The wines:

CE Wines 2016 Square

Tasting notes, from a tasting yesterday that Chelsea and I conducted:

  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  A nose balanced, I thought, between youthful and mature notes: white flowers, mint and pear skin on the youthful side, with beeswax, straw and nutmeg showing signs of maturity. The mouth is rich, with flavors of golden delicious apple and cinnamon (just bake the pie, already), creme brulee, and sweet straw. There's a welcome little bite of tannin -- likely from the 35% Grenache Blanc, our highest Grenache Blanc percentage ever for this wine -- that reminded us of mandarin pith to keep things clean on the long finish. Just beautiful. Drink now or for the next several years.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel: A darkly powerful, expressive nose of mint, black plums, petrichor, figs, baker's chocolate, and a savory note that Chelsea and I debated between balsamic and Worcestershire. The mouth shows both dark fruit notes and something higher toned -- think fresh black figs -- and is nicely focused with flavors of chocolate-covered black cherries, menthol, and new leather. There are some chewy tannins that suggest substantial food as a partner (as well as the capacity for more aging). The finish is beautiful, with cocoa powder, blackcurrant and sarsaparilla root. Drink now and over the next 15 years.

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is, I think, the best collection we've ever offered, with 3 different vintages of our flagship red, 2 of our flagship white, our newest En Gobelet (maybe my personal favorite wine we're making right now), and two gorgeous whites: the luscious 2014 Roussanne and the floral, mineral 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc:

  • 2 bottles of 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel
  • 1 bottle of 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2014 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2012 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2014 En Gobelet
  • 2 bottles of 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2014 Roussanne
  • 1 bottle of 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next week. If you're on the waiting list, you should look for an email with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can indicate that you would like to join the Collector's Edition when you join the VINsider wine club.


A Provençal Pairing: Rosé and Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese

By Suphada Rom

In the heat of summer, there is nothing quite as palate pleasing and thirst quenching as rosé. It's appealing to wine drinkers across the board, given that it is produced (most of the time!) from red grapes but served at a refreshing chilled temperature. It may be hard to remember, given rosé's current popularity, that less than a decade ago, if you were looking for rosé, your average bartender would have likely poured you a white Zinfandel, scratching his head, and thinking, "seriously?". Thankfully, more and more people are not only learning about what real rosé is, but seeking it out at every wine shop or winery they go to. And it's about time! 

Patelin Rose and Fennel plated

Caramelized fennel with its various accoutrements of goat's cheese, fresh lemon zest, dill, and fennel fronds

One of the best attributes of rosé is its flexibility. It's incredibly versatile, whether you're pouring glasses of it as a party starter with an assortment of appetizers, enjoying it alongside a sushi dinner, or drinking it at a barbeque. So, what to pick as a "signature" pairing? You might remember that some time ago we suggested gazpacho, and that works great. But I decided to pair our Patelin de Tablas Rosé with something a little more French: a delicious caramelized fennel recipe taken from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. This dish is so simple, yet so good! It takes about 10-15 minutes to create from start to finish, which isn't even enough time to break a sweat in the kitchen (but if it does get hot, just grab another stove side glass of chilled rosé and you'll be more than fine). The only suggestion I have to making this in less time is to have a couple of pans going (another set of hands wouldn't be a bad thing, either) with the fennel spread out evenly. It's also important to give the fennel enough space where they can have the opportunity to caramelize (they steam if they're in too-close proximity). That's about as high maintenance as this dish gets, but enough with my critique, here are the results from this afternoon's pairing:

Fennel in Pan
The fennel getting cozy (but not too cozy) in a frothy bath of butter and oil; the only action shot I took due to how quickly the dish came together!

Patelin Rose and Fennel
The finished product with our 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé

I had made this recipe only once before but because of its clean flavors and ease in terms of preparation, I couldn't wait to make it again. Fennel is such a amazing base to work with. Raw and as is, it's bright, crunchy, and full of life. I love a good shaved fennel and apple slaw. When fennel is cooked, whether you caramelize it on the stovetop or purée it into a soup, its bright tangy character is replaced with a more sumptuous and mellow flavors of anise and licorice. Caramelizing the fennel creates this gorgeous toasty layer that leads to the creamy and decadent interior. I ended up leaving the fennel in the pan for a few minutes longer than the recipe because honestly, I was prepping the seeds and ingredients for the next step and wasn't really multitasking successfully. Which is a little funny given that I tout the importance of an organized mise en place! One piece of advice I have is when you're caramelizing the seeds, that you do this with unwavering eye. Seriously, just give those caramelizing fennel seeds 30 seconds of your undivided attention and they will coated to perfection. When I finally plated everything, the fennel still held a little residual heat, allowing the goat's cheese to melt ever so slightly into its many crevices.

Pairing the fennel with our 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé was a no brainer. I've spent a fair amount of time.. erm... getting to know our rosé, and feel incredibly comfortable throwing all sorts of dishes at it. This wine can be deceptive; it is very pale and light in color, but truly expressive in its aromatics. Right off the bat is this intoxicating smell of perfectly ripe nectarine and apricots, as well as the classic Grenache rosé signature of wild strawberries. But there are non-fruit aromas, too, like jasmine and rose petals. On the palate, there is a confirmation of the stone fruit and berries, with additional notes of ruby red grapefruit and spice. This wine's acidity keeps you wanting another sip, which is good since the dish's flavors will keep you wanting another bite! Have a bite, then a sip, then another bite and sip, and before you know it, you've got a clean plate and empty glass. The tangy quality of the goat's cheese teams up well with the body and acidity of the wine, where the fennel marries the elements on the plate with what's in your glass. The subtle spice from the fennel is accentuated by the spice of the wine. This was a pairing that was simple to make, easy to consume, but hard to forget!

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 small fennel bulbs
  • 3½ tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • coarse sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • ¾ cup roughly chopped dill (leaves and stalks)
  • 5 oz goat's curd or other young and creamy goat cheese
  • grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions

  • Start by preparing the fennel bulbs. First take off the leafy fronds and keep them for the garnish. Then slice off some of the root part and remove any tough or brown outer layers, making sure the base still holds everything together. Cut each bulb lengthwise into ½-inch-thick slices.
  • Melt half the butter with half the oil in a large frying pan placed over high heat. When the butter starts to foam add a layer of sliced fennel. Do not overcrowd the pan and don’t turn the fennel over or stir it around in the pan until one side has become light golden, which will take about 2 minutes. Then turn the slices over using tongs and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the pan. Continue with the rest of the fennel, using up the remaining butter and oil.
  • Once all the fennel has been seared, add the sugar, fennel seeds and plenty of salt and pepper to the pan. Fry for 30 seconds, then return all the fennel slices to the pan and caramelize them gently for 1 to 2 minutes (they need to remain firm inside so just allow them to be coated in the melting sugar and seeds). Remove the fennel from the pan and leave to cool down on a plate.
  • To serve, toss the fennel in a bowl with the garlic and dill. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Arrange on a serving plate and dot with spoonfuls of goat cheese. Finish with a drizzle of oil and a scattering of lemon zest. Garnish with the fennel fronds. Serve at room temperature.

Reprinted with permission from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books 2011).

A few other resources:

  • Goat's curd, a light cheese made from goat’s milk, is known for its soft and creamy, yet not terribly unctuous, texture and for its wonderful freshness. It’s hard to get, though. You'll want to ask around at your local farmers' market or a good cheese shop. Still, there is no need to despair if you can’t find it. There is an abundance of young and fresh goat cheeses that will do the trick equally well. My favorite is Caprini freschi, from Piedmont in Italy.
  • A little about the 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé:
    • Its blend is 68% Grenache Noir, 13% Counoise, 11% Mourvédre, and 8% Syrah
    • It is mostly produced by the direct press method, where the fruit is pressed as soon as it arrives in the cellar, to minimize the skin contact and keep the wine as fresh and bright as possible.
    • You can find Patelin de Tablas Rosé in the market, hopefully poured by the glass at your favorite restaurant. You may even see it on tap -- we kegged up 440 5-gallon kegs this year. Talk about instant summer! 
  • You can purchase the 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé by clicking here, visiting us in the tasting room, or by way of distribution throughout the country.
  • This wine is part of our current VINsider shipment! Members can reorder this wine here. Not a member yet? Become a VINsider today by clicking here.

Addressing Syrah Decline (or, If You Change Your Mind...)

OK, maybe I should have picked a different title, just so that I wouldn't have ABBA running through my head for the rest of the day. But it seemed appropriate. 

Step 4 new growth 2

We have been concerned with low yields on our Syrah. Typically a pretty vigorous producer, our Syrah yields have declined more than the rest of the vineyard, from an average of 3.4 tons/acre between 2003 and 2008 to just 2.2 tons/acre since 2009. Some of this can be attributed to the frost years of 2009 and 2011, and the drought we've seen since, but even in the otherwise vigorous year of 2012 yields were just 2.6 tons/acre, and they declined all the way to 1.5 tons/acre last year. Low yields in Syrah are a particular concern because typically we prefer it with somewhat higher yields, which can soften its often-powerful tannins and increase its complexity by lengthening its hang time.

Our largest and oldest block of Syrah, on the western edge of our original property, seems most to blame. We attribute its decline to at least two issues. Much of the block is low enough, and on flat enough ground, that it gets frozen even when most of the rest of the vineyard escapes. While a grapevine generally recovers after a single frost, repeated frosts, year after year, can lead to significant vine mortality. And so it was in this block. Compounding its problems, that Syrah block has also shown significant symptoms of trunk diseases, where fungal infections get inside the bark and gradually choke off the vine's ability to nourish the new growth further down the cordon. This has led to additional vine mortality, as well as decreased yields in the remaining vines.

Although we think we've mitigated the trunk disease issue by switching that Syrah block to a new trellis system that produces new growth each year rather than relying on the same cordons, there are so many missing and weak vines that we have decided that the only real solution is to pull the block out and start over. But even with its declining yields, that block still accounts for roughly half our Syrah production each year. So we've been struggling with when to pull the plug over there and wait out the 4 years it will take to get the vineyard replanted and in production, and what to do to keep our Syrah crop reasonable in the interim.

Our solution: graft over a two-acre Roussanne block to Syrah, and get that in production before we pull out the old block. We've got plenty of Roussanne -- about 16 acres overall -- and often find in our white blending that we have surplus to what we really need. We looked in April at the different Roussanne blocks to see if we could find one that we wouldn't miss too badly if it went away. And there is such a block, which over the last several years has usually finished toward the bottom of our rankings in the blind varietal tastings that we do to start each blending session.

Step one in the changeover was to go through and cut off the tops of the existing Roussanne vines, which we did in early May. We then let the vines bleed for a few weeks to reduce the sap pressure that can interfere with the connection between the new buds and the existing trunk:

Step 1 saw off cordons

Next, we came through (the photo below is from mid-May) and cleaned up the vine tops, peeling back the bark to allow a clean graft:

Step 2 clean off bark

Then, two weeks ago, we brought in a specialist grafting crew to come through, cut little wedges out of each Roussanne trunk and shape Syrah buds to fit into the wedges, slot the buds in place and tape the graft unions together:

Step 3 graft and wrap

Now, 2 weeks later, the buds are starting to sprout:

Step 4 new growth

This year, we'll let the new bud grow into a cane, and over the winter we'll start to train it into the shape we'll want for the finished vine. We won't get any crop this year, but we will get a small crop next year and a full crop, supercharged by the 20-year-old vine roots, the year after. We did the same thing with our old Chardonnay block in 2013 -- grafting half of it to Mourvedre and half to Counoise -- and got a good crop off of that block last harvest. One of the Counoise vines today:

Final - Counoise ex-Chard 2

If you're interested in seeing this in action, check out the video we made in 2013 of that Chardonnay/Counoise changeover. The voice you hear is our former Viticulturist Levi Glenn, explaining: 

What will we do with the old Syrah block? We're not sure yet. Given its tendency to be frost prone, at least in the lower parts of the block, It's probably not ideal for the early-sprouting Syrah. But for something like Mourvedre? That seems like a slam dunk. Stay tuned.


Pennsylvania is on the verge of allowing direct wine shipping!

Don't faint.

This afternoon, I saw an alert from Free the Grapes that the Pennsylvania Legislature passed House Bill 1690 by a tally of 157-31. The bill is on its way to Governor Tom Wolf's desk, and while he has not indicated that he will sign it1, the statement he posted on his Web site, the fact that he's on the record as supporting direct wine shipping, and the fact that the file name of the page calls the bill "historic" all seem encouraging:

Tom Wolf Statement

Although it does not do away with the state-run liquor stores, the bill does modernize the sales of alcohol in several ways. It allows wine to be sold in grocery stores (where beer is sold already) as well as in other establishments that sell prepared food. It allows state-run stores to be open more consumer-friendly hours, including on Sundays and holidays.  And it allows those same stores to implement discount and loyalty programs, which should be good for consumer prices.

Almost hidden in the announcements about the bill's passage were the sections that allow out-of-state wineries to apply for a $250 permit to ship wine to Pennsylvania consumers. As is typical in direct shipping bills, we will collect the sales taxes that are due the state, and remit them to the state.2 Of course, the permit details will have to be worked out; I couldn't find in the text of the bill anything about how often and to whom the tax reports would have to be filed.  But it looks fairly straightforward, which would place Pennsylvania into either Tier 2 or Tier 3 of my State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition that I published early last year. The bill would go into effect 60 days after being signed by Governor Wolf.

As Pennsylvania is easily the largest state to prohibit direct wine shipping outright, it was at the top of the target list for wineries. But given the arcane and unique nature of Pennsylvania's liquor distribution system, and the breakdown of last year's negotiations over a Republican requirement to tie modernization with the privatization of the state stores, it really wasn't on my radar screen as a possibility this year. I'm evidently not the only one caught by surprise; the Free the Grapes home page today offered "hot topic" templates for contacting legislators in Rhode Island, Delaware, Arizona, and Oklahoma (but not Pennsylvania). Why was it revived?  Apparently, as a relatively uncontroversial way to help close a projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall. The additional liquor licenses, and the increases in liquor tax revenue, are projected to add an additional $150 million/year to the state's coffers.

FreethegrapesMore money for a state in need of it? More choice and potentially better prices for consumers? And access to consumers in the 6th-largest state in the country for wineries? Sounds like a win/win/win. Thank you, Free the Grapes, for staying on this.

Footnotes:
1. At 6am Wednesday, June 8th (PDT), Governor Wolf tweeted that he would sign the bill, calling it "historic" and "the most significant step to reform the liquor system in 80 years". 
2. An earlier version of this article indicated that purchasers would still be responsible for paying the 18% PA "Johnstown Flood Tax". It appears that this is not the case (!) and only the 6% statewide sales tax, plus any applicable county and city taxes, will be collected on direct wine shipments.


Tablas Creek is a 2016 Wine Blog Awards Finalist

WBA_logoI was excited to learn today that we are a finalist for the 2016 Wine Blog Awards. These awards, created in 2007 by the tireless Tom Wark to honor the growing number and quality of wine bloggers, have been awarded each year since.

This is the tenth year of the awards, and the eighth year where we've been a finalist. Our consistency is the accomplishment I'm proudest of. Blogging can be a slog at times. There is a start-up period where no one much is reading what you're saying. And then, after a few years in a seasonal, cyclical endeavor, it becomes a struggle to feel like you aren't just repeating yourself. In order to keep the blog feeling fresh and relevant, I've tried to bring new voices into the mix, and this past year, we've added two new series, both of which I think add a fresh perspectives: the Eat Drink Tablas series featuring food & wine pairings by Suphada Rom, and the Q & A with Tablas series, where Lauren Phelps interviews some of the key members of our team.

Like last year, our category is "Best Winery/Industry Blog". There is one other returning blog from last year's finalists (last year's winning Berry Bros. & Rudd blog, from the venerable UK retailer). The other finalists are all new to the awards, though I was excited to see a personal local favorite (the Wine Lohr blog, from J. Lohr, which should win for its name alone). The other three entries are new to me, and I look forward to getting to know them over the next few days.  And, of course, ours is just one category; there are seven categories in all.  Getting to know the other finalists' work [click here] is always my favorite part of the whole process.  I hope that you will as well.  If, after doing so, you'd care to vote for us, we'd be honored.  The winner will be determined half by the voting of the judges, and half by the votes of the public.  Voting ends June 13th.

I like to celebrate these nominations by looking back at some memorable posts from the last year.  Here are ten of my favorites of the 62 entries we've posted in the last year, with a little about why each has stuck with me:

  • The Early Years of Tablas Creek. Last summer, I received a treasure trove of photographs from Dick Hoenisch, our original nursery and vineyard manager who has since moved on to a career in academia.  These photographs, from when we bought the property in 1989 through the original construction of our winery building in 1997, were like a time capsule that I think anyone who only knows us as a mature winery will find fascinating.
  • On the Rhone: a Post-Cruise Appreciation. My dad helped lead the Tablas Creek Rhone River cruise last August.  When he came back, he wrote up the experience vividly enough that you'll feel like you were there. The amazing photographs provided by Jeffery Clark, a wine club member on the cruise, are the icing on the cake.
  • Coming (Soon) to Fruition. I always love Chelsea Franchi's blogs because of their combination of intimacy and humor. Read this, and you'll know what it's like to anticipate (and dread) the onset of the harvest season. 
  • What's Next for the New Paso Robles AVAs. I was invited late last year to present at a continuing education law seminar, focused on the AVA approval process and prospects for the 11 Paso Robles sub-AVAs. It gave me a chance to look forward at what the future might look like. What these new AVAs mean (and should mean) in the marketplace is a fascinating question, and I enjoyed delving into it in some depth.
  • Customer Service Lessons from an Overcrowded Restaurant. I think this is one anyone can relate to: a favorite place that's just not on its game one night. But in the age of Yelp, the consequences to that place can be lasting. Hopefully, I helped someone, somewhere, avoid this.
  • A 60 Year Career in a Bottle of Delaporte Sancerre. A second piece by my dad, reflecting on opening a bottle of wine he'd first encountered (many vintages earlier) on his first buying trip to France. Even more fun: that same day, the original proprietor's great-grandson had presented the estate's newest wines to Vineyard Brands, the company he founded.
  • Braised Short Ribs: A Cold-Weather Pairing Fit for Rain or Snow. I could have picked any of Suphada's Eat Drink Tablas entries, but this was maybe my favorite: seasonal and delicious, with her super photographs illustrating every stage of the recipe.
  • Why the Future May Look a Lot Like the Crazy 2015 Vintage. This came out of my being invited to give the keynote address to a viticulture conference held here in Paso Robles. The opportunity to go back and look at what made 2015 so unusual was, I think, both instructive and unsettling.
  • The Swarm, the Hive, and Tablas Creek Honey. Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg's first blog was a knockout, taking you inside the quest to catch a wild swarm of bees. The photographs that accompanied the piece were equally amazing.
  • Grenache Blanc's Moment in the Sun. Some blogs take work to write. This was one that sprang onto the keyboard almost fully formed, thanks to conversations I'd had in recent weeks with both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Love seeing the attention for this grape that we introduced into California more than two decades ago.

Thank you for accompanying us on this journey with me and with us: 660 posts in all since we began the blog in November of 2005. As we pass our ten year mark, it's gratifying to know that we're still going strong. And if you're still reading, but haven't checked out the other finalists, go do that now. Wine blogs, at their best, plunge you into the inner workings of a world that is too-often shrouded in mystique. Dive in.


Rethinking Group Tastings

You all know the group. Maybe you've even been a part of the group. Fourteen friends -- or maybe family -- out for a day in wine country. The van has been reserved for the day, so everyone can partake in the tastings. Your friend -- or cousin -- Phil is the master of ceremonies, and the life of the party. Most of the group likes wine, but only a few are really into the details. For everyone else, it's a fun day out, a chance to socialize and catch up. A few wineries make a great backdrop for the day's socializing.  Look familiar?

Wine Group Tasting Stock Photo

For a winery tasting room, or for our more serious visitors, these groups are a challenge.  They can come unexpectedly and monopolize the attention of one of our tasting room servers.  They tend to be loud and mostly interested in interacting with each other.  And while we can always find a way to fit another 2 or 4 people into one of our tasting bars, fitting in a new group of 10 or 14 isn't always possible.  Our focus has been on making sure that the core visitors who are our bread and butter are well taken care of, and over the last year or so we've been letting groups know that while we'd love to host them at a time when the tasting room is relatively quiet, we often can't accommodate large groups during our busy times.

Why? If we're looking at what the relative benefit is to us of a large group vs. a more traditional couple or party of 4, it's not close.  On average, large groups buy about 20% as much wine per person as smaller parties. We comp our tasting fee on the purchase of even one bottle, which has meant that less than 10% of our traditional tasters even pay it.  Historically, looking at our large groups, around 85% end up paying the tasting fee. While the tasting fee (barely) covers our costs, it's hardly possible to base a business on charging customers $15 for an hour of entertainment plus 6-8 tastes (between 1/4 and 1/3 of a bottle) of wine that averages $40/bottle.

At the same time, I hated the thought that we were turning away potential new customers.  Sure, they might not buy anything on this visit, but who's more likely to buy later -- either on a return trip to Paso Robles, or when they see Tablas Creek on a restaurant list or retail shelf -- someone who's spent a fun hour out here, or someone who's been told that we couldn't accommodate them and then went and had a fun hour at some other local winery?

So, while I knew that we were making the right decision about where to prioritize our efforts, I was never happy with the outcome.  Until now.

Those of you who visited before March of 2011 will remember our old tasting room, on the west side of our winery building. The below photo is from 2006 or thereabouts, with a second room (off-camera to the right) that had in very early days (pre-2005) been our conference room holding three additional tasting bars:

Tablas Creek Tasting Room Interior

We decommissioned this tasting room when we moved into our current space in 2011.  At that point, we turned the conference room back into a conference room and the original tasting room went back to being the office entrance it was between 1997 and 2002 while we waited for inspiration on what to use it for.

That inspiration is here.  Please welcome our two new group tasting spaces:

Old New TR Set

Seated Room Set

These spaces give us two options, one seated and one standing, for hosting groups. It gives each group a dedicated pourer and its own space. It allows them to be as focused (or as unfocused) as they like without impacting anyone else's experience.  It keeps their mini-buses and limousines from displacing our customers' cars from our parking lot.  And it allows us to keep our main tasting room focused on the experience of the couples and smaller groups who are our most important customers.

These new rooms are available to groups of 10 or more on weekends.  We ask that groups make a reservation (you would, wouldn't you?) but if we get a walk-in group and have the space available, we'll bring them back to the group space.  All the details for our group tastings, including tasting fees and available times, can be found on our Visiting Page.

I hope that this will make everyone's experience better, allow us to continue to take great, personal care of our visitors, and mean that the times when we have to say we just can't accommodate someone who wants to come visit are truly few and far between.  Meanwhile, if you've been a part of a particularly good group tasting somewhere, or you have any suggestions for our new program, I'd love you to leave a comment.


A Briny Pairing, No Ocean Required: Roasted Branzino and Picpoul Blanc

By Suphada Rom

The repertoire of wines that I work with at Tablas Creek are French-centric: Rhone, with a California inflection. This means that I'm surrounded by complex blends.  Still, we've tried to bring to light some of our lesser known varieties, to help people understand what makes them appealing. In fact, one of my favorite things about our tasting room experience is sharing some of the solo bottlings of things normally found in blends. Like Counoise. Or, when I have someone really interested in our white wines, Picpoul Blanc. 

If you've never had Picpoul Blanc before, you're definitely in for a treat. To me, it has acidity and citrus notes like a well balanced Sancerre, with structure similar to that of Muscadet. I am a huge fan of this grape variety, whether it's blended in small portions into our Esprit de Tablas Blanc or on it's own. By itself, it has this beautiful savory quality, and because of its structure and a minerality that is almost briny in character, I chose to pair this with roasted Branzino. Branzino is a Mediterranean white fish that is known under a few different monikers, including the French loup de mer. Known for its firm texture and light/delicate flavor, it's versatile in the kitchen. Roasting whole fish is one of my go-to's in the summer time, and although it's not technically summer yet, the longer days with the stretches of mid-eighty degree weather have got me feeling like it's time to break out some of my favorite summer recipes. Also, I often forget I live in beautiful Paso Robles, California, where there are certainly more days of warm weather and sun than I used to see in Vermont! A favorite recipe of mine is Roasted Branzino with Caper Butter (contributed by Steve Corry to Food & Wine Magazine). I couldn't resist roasting some fennel, onion, and potato additionally to this dish (so that's what I did!) Here are the results from what I consider to be a very successful pairing:

IMG_3294
The fish mise en place- the fish was incredibly fresh, purchased from the local fish monger

IMG_3296
"Food Styling"- Note to self, fennel is not very stylish, just very awkward!

IMG_3305
Stuffed with herbs and lemon, ready for roasting!

IMG_3316 rotate
Getting that skin nice and crispy in a well seasoned cast iron pan

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The caper and herb compound butter- the best part was it melting not only all over the crisp fish, but the roasted veggies, as well!

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Just about ready for that compound butter finishing touch!

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The finished product with our 2014 Picpoul Blanc

Picpoul Blanc is a grape variety that is known well in the southern realm of France, specifically in in the Pinet Region in the Languedoc where it is seen bottled in its pure form. Elsewhere in the Rhone Valley, it's typically used as a blending grape. It is one of the 13 grapes permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and one of the nine original varieties Tablas Creek brought over from our sister winery, Chateau de Beaucastel. It had never before been used here in California, and there are still fewer than 50 acres planted in the state.

Wine notes: our 2014 Picpoul Blanc was taken from a vintage where we saw early budbreak (in fact, our earliest to date!) followed by a consistently warm summer, until an unusually cool August slowed things back down. When the fruit did come in in September, we found that the extra hang time gave the fruit focused concentration and lushness along with the grape's typical bright acids. On the nose, the wine shows savory aromas of dried pineapple and light white flower aromatics, along with the slightest underlying smokiness. On the palate, things like pineapple juice and sweeter baking spices come to mind upon taking a sip. There is also this distinct minerality that reflects the limestone soils the vineyard is planted on. Most outstandingly, there is acidity! I love Picpoul's ability to bring such a savory nose to the table, while balancing that with a refreshing and tangy palate.

This wine and the Branzino brought a Mediterranean pairing full circle. Branzino's texture is rich, but subtle in it's flavors. You know that moment where there are so many tasty elements on a dish and you're trying your darndest to get a bit of everything in one bite? It is quite a struggle (and may require using the complete surface area of your fork!) but it's so worth it. The fish is light in texture and delicate in flavor. The skin, which is coated in caper butter, is crisp and crunchy (think about that sound when you squeeze a fresh baguette!). The fennel, potatoes, and onion, roasted simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper, were a great compliment to the dish. Just grab a forkful and don't forget to dredge it around. The caper herb butter was a great finishing piece of this dish, with it's creamy texture and briny taste. I am really looking forward to trying this recipe again in the heat of summer -- maybe I'll even (gasp) vary from the recipe and grill it!

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:

  • The 2014 Picpoul Blanc is our featured wine of the month of May 2016! VINsiders get 30% off this wine, VINdependents get 20%, and retail consumers get 10% off. What are you waiting for? We only made 350 cases. Order it here.
  • The recipe for the Roasted Branzino with Caper Butter can be found here.
  • Looking for another wine to pair this with? Try our Vermentino!

The 2014 vintage was our third consecutive drought year and saw our earliest-ever beginning to the growing season.  The summer was warm but without serious heat spikes, and our coolest August in a decade slowed ripening at a critical period. When it warmed back up in September, the fruit tumbled in, and we finished in mid-October, about two weeks earlier than normal.  The result was a vintage with excellent concentration balanced by good freshness, which should be vibrant and powerful young, but with the balance to age. Our picpoul was harvested between September 17th and October 6th.

The Picpoul grapes were whole cluster pressed, and fermented using native yeasts in a mix of stainless steel and small, mostly neutral, barrels to achieve a balance of freshness and richness. It completed malolactic fermentation in barrel, and was blended in April 2015 and bottled in June 2015.

- See more at: http://www.tablascreek.com/wine/267/2014_Picpoul_Blanc#sthash.X28faPOC.dpuf

The 2014 vintage was our third consecutive drought year and saw our earliest-ever beginning to the growing season.  The summer was warm but without serious heat spikes, and our coolest August in a decade slowed ripening at a critical period. When it warmed back up in September, the fruit tumbled in, and we finished in mid-October, about two weeks earlier than normal.  The result was a vintage with excellent concentration balanced by good freshness, which should be vibrant and powerful young, but with the balance to age. Our picpoul was harvested between September 17th and October 6th.

The Picpoul grapes were whole cluster pressed, and fermented using native yeasts in a mix of stainless steel and small, mostly neutral, barrels to achieve a balance of freshness and richness. It completed malolactic fermentation in barrel, and was blended in April 2015 and bottled in June 2015.

 

- See more at: http://www.tablascreek.com/wine/267/2014_Picpoul_Blanc#sthash.X28faPOC.dpuf

The 2014 vintage was our third consecutive drought year and saw our earliest-ever beginning to the growing season.  The summer was warm but without serious heat spikes, and our coolest August in a decade slowed ripening at a critical period. When it warmed back up in September, the fruit tumbled in, and we finished in mid-October, about two weeks earlier than normal.  The result was a vintage with excellent concentration balanced by good freshness, which should be vibrant and powerful young, but with the balance to age. Our picpoul was harvested between September 17th and October 6th.

The Picpoul grapes were whole cluster pressed, and fermented using native yeasts in a mix of stainless steel and small, mostly neutral, barrels to achieve a balance of freshness and richness. It completed malolactic fermentation in barrel, and was blended in April 2015 and bottled in June 2015.

 

- See more at: http://www.tablascreek.com/wine/267/2014_Picpoul_Blanc#sthash.X28faPOC.dpuf

ROASTED BRANZINO WITH CAPER BUTTER CONTRIBUTED BY STEVE CORRY, PHOTO © JOHN KERNICK, PUBLISHED MARCH 2008, FOOD & WINE MAGAZINE.


Grenache Blanc's Moment in the Sun

A decade ago, there was a flurry of interest around Syrah.  A few years ago, it was Grenache.  This spring, it seems to be Grenache Blanc's moment in the spotlight.  In February, within a week of each other, I got phone calls from the Wine Spectator's MaryAnn Worobiec and the Wine Enthusiast's Matt Kettmann, each looking for insight into this grape that had impressed them in recent blind tastings.  The results of these conversations were published recently. [The Wine Spectator article is available behind their paywall, and the Wine Enthusiast article is free access.]

Grenache blanc rows in May

Why Grenache Blanc, and why now?  I've got a few theories.  

Grenache Blanc has an unusual and appealing combination of bright acids and full body.  
There are a few other grapes that can hit this, in the right climates (Riesling in a cold environment, or Chardonnay in a cool one, are two) but most white grapes exist somewhere on the continuum between bright and lean on one end, and rich and soft on the other.  Grenache Blanc, like its red-skinned cousin1, is a grape that typically comes in at high sugars (providing glycerine and richness) and high acids (providing freshness).  Take a look at its numbers from 2014 (our last relatively normal vintage) compared to our other white grapes:

Grape Avg. pH Avg. ° Brix
Viognier 3.51 20.8°
Marsanne 3.82 19.2°
Grenache Blanc 3.33 22.9°
Picpoul Blanc 3.17 22.0°
Roussanne 3.83 21.0°

The pH differences between Grenache Blanc and the Roussanne / Marsanne / Viognier trio is even more significant than the above chart likely suggests.  The pH scale is a logarithmic scale (so, a solution with a pH of 3 has ten times the acid concentration as one with a pH of 4, and one hundred times the acid concentration of one with a pH of 5, etc).  This means that Grenache Blanc, with a pH of 3.33, has 50.7% more acid ions than Viognier (pH 3.51), 214.4% more acid ions than Marsanne (pH 3.82), and 217.3% more acid ions than Roussanne (pH 3.83).  It's no wonder that even a small addition of a higher acid grape like this can have a major impact on the taste of a finished blend.2

And yet, with many high-acid grapes, you run the risk of thinning out the mouthfeel of a wine.  Not Grenache Blanc.  You can see from the above chart that even though its acids are high, it also has the highest average sugar content at harvest.

Grenache Blanc's ideal climate matches California's well.
For many of the world's most popular white grapes -- I'm thinking Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc here -- California is a challenging climate because of its sun and its warmth.  These grapes reach their peaks in relatively cool parts of France, and so in California, growers are searching for sites that have significant marine influence, or fog, or extreme altitude, because otherwise they end up picking in August and making wines without much complexity.  There just aren't that many spots like this in California, particularly not after you realize that most of these climates are also highly desirable as places to live.  Grenache Blanc is originally from Spain, whose warm, sunny climate far better approximates most of California's than does that of Burgundy, or of the Loire.  There are far more places where Grenache Blanc is likely to do well. So, whether you're looking in Paso Robles, in Santa Ynez, in Dry Creek, or in El Dorado, you're going to find people doing a good job with Grenache Blanc.  

Grenache Blanc is productive and relatively easy to grow.  
There are grapes that we feel like we fight with each year, either in yields or in keeping it balanced.  Viognier is famously low-yielding.  Roussanne and Marsanne (and Viognier, for that matter) pose challenges in keeping acidity levels while you wait for ripeness.  Viognier and Roussanne are both susceptible to drought-induced stress symptoms.  But Grenache Blanc is pretty easygoing.  Its yields are naturally higher than our other white grapes; over the last 10 years, it has averaged a healthy 4.2 tons/acre here, better than Marsanne (3.7 tons/acre), Picpoul (3.4 tons/acre), Roussanne (2.8 tons/acre), or Viognier (2.4 tons/acre).  This means that people can produce Grenache Blanc at a reasonable price, which translates into more affordable wines and more opportunities to get it in front of potential new customers.

Grenache Blanc blends well, but it's also good on its own.  
We originally planned to use our Grenache Blanc as a complement to our Roussanne and our Viognier, as is typically done in the Rhone.  And we still use Grenache Blanc as a supporting player in our Esprit de Tablas Blanc (behind Roussanne) and Cotes de Tablas Blanc (behind Viognier), as well as in a starring role in our Patelin de Tablas Blanc (along with Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne).  In a blend, it adds brightness, rich mouthfeel, sweet anise spice, and green apple fruit, all flavors that are easy to like and easy to incorporate.  But it has exceeded our expectations as a varietal wine.  We first bottled our Grenache Blanc in 2002, and we haven't missed a vintage since.  Part of the reason why is that, at least at first, it was new to many people, and having it on its own was a great educational tool.  But the more time we spent with it, the more we came to appreciate that it's a worthy and appealing grape on its own, textural and rich, bright and lively, with sweet spices on the attack and a dry finish.

Grenache Blanc ready for harvest

So, it's little surprise to me that in the last decade, Grenache Blanc plantings in California have grown from 101 acres to 333 acres, an increase of 229%.3  And based on all the reasons it's done well in recent years, as well as the new attention the wine press has been giving it, I fully expect this growth to continue.  It couldn't happen to a more deserving grape.

Footnotes

1 There is also a pink-skinned variant (Grenache Gris). For a longer dive into Grenache Blanc's history, characteristics, and family relations, check out this blog from 2010.

2 You might note that Picpoul shares most of the characteristics of Grenache Blanc.  It's one reason that if I had to lay bets on which Rhone white would be the next to be "discovered", Picpoul would be my answer.

3 Over that same 10-year period, Roussanne acreage has increased 96% to 347 acres, Marsanne acreage 90% to 131 acres, and Viognier acreage 34% to 2969 acres. Picpoul isn't sufficiently planted to be included in the California Grape Acreage Reports, which require 50+ acres to escape the category of "other".