Eat Global, Drink Local

By Evelyne Fodor

[Editor's Note: With this blog, we welcome Evelyne Fodor to the blog. She is a woman of many accomplishments, including a PhD in French (she is a French instructor for the UCLA Extension), a tremendous chef, and a lover of food and wine. Evelyne has become one of Tablas Creek's best-loved wine consultants and made many fans in our tasting room. This is her first blog piece.]

One of the most frequently asked questions at the tasting room is also one of my favorites. “Which food do I pair with this wine?”  At Tablas Creek we take food pairing very seriously. For each of our wines we offer recipes and food pairing suggestions.  Each spring and fall, we invite our members to taste dishes created by local chefs to match our new releases.  We also have a monthly column on our Tablas blog dedicated to this topic.

When one has an eclectic, adventurous palate however, food pairing becomes a very elusive topic. The other day, long-time club members Tom and Karen from Atascadero showed me a picture of an Ethiopian dish they enjoyed and asked me for suggestions on which of our wines to pair with it. If, like Tom and Karen, you love experimenting with regional cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Moroccan - cuisines with high flavors but notably not associated with wines - the topic is worth exploring.

Spices

I am by no means a specialist but in our wine and food-centric community we have an in-depth understanding of both spices and wines.  I asked three local experts, Lori Di Ciaccio-Foster the owner of Spice of Life in Paso, Brigit Binns owner of cooking school and B&B Refugio and Neeta Mittal, owner of the boutique winery LXV to explain the complicated relationship between spices and wines.

Fascinated by what she refers to as the “mystery of spices,” Lori brings spices from all over the world and blends them in the back kitchen of her small shop. For her, the fusion between spices and wine is striking:  “Blending and harmonizing spices to create vibrant flavors satisfies the mind as well as the palate.” She explained that “each spice captures unique flavors, aromas, and emotions which can pinpoint a specific region or culture.” Like wines, spices thrive best in very specific regions where natural conditions create a unique terroir.  

Spice of Life

Next door to Spice of Life is Neeta Mittal’s LXV Wine Lounge.  With its deep blue walls, day beds full of vibrant colors and plush pillows, the place is a “sensory experience.” Neeta was born and raised in Kerala, "God's own country," a southern state of India also known as the "Land of Spices."  Besides its famous backwaters, elegant houseboats, ayurveda treatments and wild elephants, Kerala is also famous for delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling cuisine. When Neeta is not involved with her winery, she explores the principles of Ayurveda, vegetarianism and veganism: “As we become more demanding of flavors and more intuitive about our health, spices once thought to be exotic are making an exciting splash in the culinary world.”

Neeta

My last expert is my friend Brigit Binns, the acclaimed author of multiple cookbooks, including The New Wine Country Cookbook: Recipes from California’s Central Coast, in which every recipe is paired with a Central Coast wine.  Recently I met with several of Tablas Creek's wine club members at her Refugio for a class called “The Rosé Less Travelled," with chef Clark Staub, featuring both our Dianthus and Patelin de Tablas Rosé wines. It's also at Refugio that last May Neeta led a three-part cooking series to explore the flavors of Indian cooking and how they partner with Rhône varieties (beautifully!).  Brigit is currently working on a new book project called “Wine First: A Cookbook for Wine Lovers;” her concept is simple: “First, you choose the wine."

So we did! One evening at home, John Morris, Tablas Creek tasting room manager, Neeta and myself lined up a few Tablas wines and started a discussion on the ideal wine pairing.  We selected five whites:  Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2014, Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2012, Petit Manseng 2014, Vermentino 2015 and Picpoul Blanc 2014.  For the reds, we picked most of our Spring shipment including  Esprit de Tablas 2011, 2012 and 2013.  And at the last minute I added our newest release Terret Noir 2014.  I did not include our two rosés, because they simply are too easy to pair with almost anything.  Our challenge was to find affinities in both Tablas wines and regional dishes to create a perfect flavor pairing. We knew the style of cuisines would differ greatly based on climate and available local ingredients but certain spices such as coriander, cumin, cardamom, star anise and turmeric are common to all them.

Meal

John has a deep knowledge of our wines and he has also become an expert in Thai food, as his wife Christina was born and raised in Thailand. He quickly singled out Vermentino 2015. Vermentino is a white medium-bodied wine that grows mostly on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia as well as in Provence where it is known as Rolle. With its somewhat exotic character, citrusy aromas, minerality and crisp acidity, Vermentino is very much appreciated by our guests.  It also pairs very well with Asian dishes that play with the Star Anise spice such as Asian Style Shrimp.  

If for John the choice was simple and straightforward, it took Neeta more time and a few more tastings to figure out which of our wines would be ideal for her Southern Indian dish. She finally chose Esprit de Tablas 2012 which she described as “having a long and complex palate, with flavors of black raspberry, plum compote and leather.”  The moderate alcohol content and gentle tannins with nice fruit and spicy flavors was, according to Neeta, an ideal marriage with her delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling Tharavu (Duck Dry Curry).

When it was my turn, my first impulse was to pick Petit Manseng 2012 for its rich sweetness, stonefruit characters and sweet spice, which I thought would pair beautifully with my mom’s Moroccan chicken tagine. The word tagine refers to both the conical-shaped dish and the food that's cooked inside it, which in this case is braised chicken flavored with saffron, turmeric, preserved lemon and olives.  Moroccan cuisine has long been integrated into the French culinary tradition due to its colonial history. There is a natural continuity in choosing a Rhône style wine with a Moroccan dish since they both hail from Mediterranean climates. My mom’s tagine is a dish especially well suited here as Morocco shares the same latitude as Paso Robles.

Instead, I choose the Terret Noir 2014, our newest wine. We know very little about the Terret Noir grape, except that it’s a blending partner used in the southern Rhône Valley for red Châteauneuf du Pape wines. It is praised for its "qualities of lightness, freshness, and bouquet" which reminds me of Beaujolais’ Gamay grape. Like Gamay, Terret Noir is pale in color, low in alcohol with bright fruity flavors and a wonderful distinctive herbal aroma reminiscent of garrigue, the low, scrubby vegetation that grows around the Mediterranean coast. The wine’s relatively high acidity made the natural bitterness of preserved lemons and green olives a bit too aggressive, so I simply added (oh mon dieu!) a bit of crème fraîche.

With that in mind, turn up the heat and drink some of our suggestions with all the wonderful African, Asian, Caribbean and fusion dishes that you like!  This is the great way to learn and make your own decision about which Tablas Creek wine pairs best with your tastes.

Tharavu / Duck Dry Curry
A dish from the South of India

Neeta Mittal, LXV Wine Lounge

Duck leg

A few notes before we begin:

  • Always try to grind spices fresh. Spices sitting on your shelf have probably lost their essence.
  • Use a whole duck, if possible, but you can always substitute duck breasts
  • Curry Leaves can be found in an Indian store. You could use a couple of bay leaves with some lime zest, but it won't be the same as curry leaves. I have cooked this dish WITHOUT curry leaves and still tastes great.
  • Use small Green chilies like Thai chilies.
  • You can always email me for ordering just enough spices for this dish, including the curry leaves (neeta@lxvwine.com)
  • Guideline for pairing with Indian food: low alcohol, low tannin, low oak, high acidity, young fruit

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 full duck (skinned and cut into medium pieces and fat removed)
  • For Marinade:
    • Turmeric Powder : 1/2 tsp
    • Red Chili Powder : 3 tsp or to your spice level
    • Coriander Powder : 4 tsp
    • Whole Spices:
    • Cloves: 4 – 5
    • Cardamom: 1
    • Cinnamon stick: 1 inch
    • Bay leaves: 1-2
    • Slightly crushed whole pepper corns: 1/2 tsp
  • For Gravy:
    • Onion: 2 large (finely sliced)
    • Tomatoes:  2 (finely chopped)
    • Dried Whole Red Chilies: 4-5, each broken into two pieces
    • Mustard Seeds: 2 tsp
    • Curry Leaves: few
    • Green Chilies: 8-10 or to your spice level (slit, lengthwise)
    • Coconut Oil: 4 tbsp
    • Ghee: 2 tsp
    • Tamarind: 1 tbsp OR Vinegar: 1 tsp
    • Ginger: 2 tbsp (chopped)
    • Garlic:  2 tbsp (chopped)
    • Coconut milk: 1 cup

DIRECTIONS

  • Marinate the cleaned duck pieces with the marinade for at least 2 hours.
  • Heat coconut oil and ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan.
  • Add mustard seeds and when it starts to splutter, dried red chili, and whole spices. Sauté for a few minutes.
  • Add chopped ginger, garlic, curry leaves, green chilies and chopped onion; sauté till onions turn light brown.
  • Add tomatoes and sauté for a few more minutes, until the oil separates from the tomatoes
  • Add 1/2 cup of water, tamarind (or vinegar), the marinated duck pieces, and salt to taste. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the duck is half-done, stirring once or twice in between. Open and cook for 5 minutes at high heat until the gravy almost dries up, stirring in between so that it won’t stick to the bottom.
  • Pour in the coconut milk into half cooked duck and adjust the salt. Lower heat and simmer gently until the curry changes to a brown color and oil starts floating on top. (The coconut milk should get cooked and release coconut oil).
  • Serve Tharavu curry with hot Basmati Rice
  • Pair with a glass of slightly chilled 2012 Esprit de Tablas 

My Mom’s Tagine

Evelyne Fodor, Tablas Creek Wine Consultant

Chicken tagine in pot

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons of oil
  • 5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1½ cup chicken stock
  • 6 quarters preserved lemons
  • ½ cup pitted green olives
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoons chopped leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
  • Generously salt the chicken pieces on all sides. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

DIRECTIONS

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the fat in the bottom of your Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until they are well browned. Remove browned pieces from the pan and add the next batch, continuing until all the pieces are browned. Remove all chicken pieces to a plate.
  • Add oil and onions and sauté on medium high heat, stirring often and adjusting the heat as necessary, for 15 minutes, or until they are a rich golden brown.
  • Preheat the oven to 350F.  Add the spices and a pinch of salt to the onions and stir constantly for about 2 minutes to lightly toast the spices.  Return the chicken to the pan, pour in the chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
  • Cover the tagine, transfer to the oven, and cook for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and is beginning to pull away from the ends.  Remove the chicken from the pan.
  • Return the tagine to a burner and simmer for about 3 minutes to reduce the sauce. Add the lemons and olives. When they are hot, whisk in the butter, parsley, and cilantro.

Mid-July veraison suggests 2016 threatens to be our earliest-ever harvest

When you spend two weeks away in late June and early July, as I did, the vineyard can look quite different when you return than when you left. When I left, most berries were still pea sized, bright green, and hard. When I got out into the vineyard yesterday, things had changed. The grape berries and clusters looked more mature.  The vines' deep green canopies contrasted dramatically with the midsummer blue sky. Quantities look respectable: perhaps somewhat smaller than average but better than 2015.  The vines look remarkably healthy, with really no significant visible effects of the week-plus of 100-degree weather we saw in late June.

And, when I got to the top of the Syrah block, as I thought I might, I found veraison.

Veraison marks the point where a grape stops accumulating mass and starts accumulating sugar. At the same time, red grapes start their color change from green, while white grapes take on more of a yellow tint. Both red and white grapes start to soften. [For more about what's happening chemically, check out this veraison post from the archives.] This landmark comes roughly six weeks before the onset of harvest, and gives us our best estimate for when harvest will begin. A few of the most advanced Syrah clusters:

Veraison 2016

So far, of our red grapes, only Syrah has shown any color change. And only on the tops of the hills, which are typically most advanced, and even there there are many more all-green clusters than there are those like the ones above.  A good example is the photo below, where a more advanced cluster on the left is visible next to another cluster on the same vine that is still entirely green:

Veraison 2016_2

The transformation between hard, sour green berries and sweet, soft, red berries takes some time, and when it starts depends both on how early the vine begins its spring growth and on how fast the ripening progresses, determined by the amount of heat and sun after budbreak. Looking at the chart below, from the Western Weather Group's Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance forecast, suggests that we shouldn't be surprised to be seeing an early veraison, given that 2016 is among the warmest years since 1997:

Veraison 2016 - Degree Days - Resized

While six weeks is a good basic guide for the duration between veraison and harvest, it's not totally constant, and can be influenced by the weather that we get in the interim, as well as by the amount of fruit the vines are carrying.  For example, in 2014 our earliest-ever veraison (noted on July 9th) was mitigated by a very cool August, and we started harvest 45 days later, on August 23rd. By contrast, last year's first veraison was noted on July 18th, but a warm August and a light crop load meant that we began harvest just 39 days later, on August 26th. The last ten years are compiled in the chart below:

Year First Veraison Noted Harvest Begins # of Days
2007 July 20 August 28 39
2008 July 23 September 3 42
2009 July 20 September 1 43
2010 July 30 September 16 49
2011 August 5 September 20 47
2012 July 25 September 5 42
2013 July 17 August 26 40
2014 July 9 August 23 45
2015 July 18 August 26 39
2016 July 13 ? ?

It's clear that we're looking at another early harvest this year. Even if things cool off dramatically -- and there's nothing in the long-term forecast that suggests they will -- we're almost certainly starting harvest in August.  Our longest-ever veraison-harvest interim, from the very cool (and plentiful) 2010 vintage, was 49 days. 49 days from July 13th is August 31st. If, instead, we see an interim like 2015 or 2007, both of which saw small crops and warm weather, we could start as early as August 21st. If we did, that would be our earliest beginning ever. I'm guessing we end up toward the early end of that range, but probably not right at the minimum, given that our crop levels look somewhat better than they did in 2015. But we'll see. 

What's next for the vineyard? We'll watch the different grapes go through veraison. While Syrah is almost always first, Grenache and Mourvedre won't be far behind. Counoise is almost always last. It's an exciting time, with the view changing practically daily. Meanwhile, expect our winemaking team to take some vacation and rest up for the coming frenzy, and while they're here to be getting the last of the year's bottling done so there's space in barrels and tanks for the coming crush.

But while none of this is a surprise, it's still a significant milestone. We now know how much sand is in the hourglass. And that it's been flipped over.


A Nostalgic Ligurian Pairing: Clams in White Wine and Strozzapreti al Pesto With Vermentino

By Suphada Rom

One of my most profound food and wine memories takes me back to Italy, specifically the Ligurian coast. The allure of the crooked seaside streets with squeaking restaurant signs, beckoning you with wafts of dinners yet-to-come. Ducking my head (literally, I had to duck since the arched doorway was about five feet high, at best) into a small restaurant revealed half a dozen tables nestled into every nook and cranny. After quickly scanning the menu, I greedily ordered an appetizer of vongole al vino bianco (clams in white wine) and an entrée of trofie al pesto (a hand-made rolled pasta with a rich pesto sauce). I decided to complete the local trifecta with a cheap half bottle of a local white wine.

These were my pre-wine-geek days, where I was more focused on the food than the wine. And yeah, my wine vocabulary may have been no more than white or acidic, but I knew that what I'd ordered was delicious, and a perfect accompaniment to the dishes I ordered. Fast-forward six years later, and here I am working with all the gorgeous wines at Tablas Creek, including the Italian variety I had ordered that night, Vermentino. I may not have known what the grape was, or what its characteristics were, or anything about it, but I loved it then, as I do now.  

Vermentino and Pasta
Strozzapreti al pesto paired with our Vermentino

So, to pair with our recently released 2015 Vermentino, I chose two courses of nostalgia. The recipes I used were fairly simple and straight-forward, as I think some of the best are. I chose to use the recipe from Food52 for pesto alla Genovese. The clams recipe comes from Saveur for their Garlic-Steamed Manila Clams. I had to make a minor modification, as trofie is not a pasta you find at your local supermarket or even your artisanal Italian food shop. The origin of trofie isn’t entirely known, although it could be traced back to the the verb "strofinare", which essentially means to rub, which in turn could refer to the fact that this pasta is made by hand. Wherever its name is derived from, it finds its roots in Liguria and is commonly seen generously coated by fresh basil pesto. I found that using strozzapreti was a good substitute because its elongated structure and and curled crevices would store just enough pesto for every bite. The curled strips resemble a priest's collar (strozzapreti literally means "priest strangler", although there are alternate origin stories). Here are the results from the dual pairing:

Clams Mep
Steamed clams mis en place

Clams up close
The clams resting in their bath of white wine and herbs. Grab some crusty baguette and sop up the sauce. It's well worth it!

Pesto
Fresh pesto alla Genovese 

Strozzapreti on counter
Hand-formed strozzapreti pasta

Vermentino and Clams
Vermentino with the Garlic Steamed Clams (this plate lasted all of 60 seconds but hey, clams are tiny!)

My first bite consisted of a shell-full of clam, followed by a hunk of bread that had been soaking in the herbed broth. The clams were cooked wonderfully, but the broth is what truly made the dish. Before you even cook the clams, you saute shallots and garlic, whose deep, sweet flavor resonates through the broth. Using the white wine, you deglaze the pan, releasing all the little flavorful bits. Adding in fresh herbs at the end gives the broth not only fresh and vibrant flavor, but color too! I could seriously eat a vat of this broth with baguette. I did manage to disengage from the appetizer long enough to dig into the entree. The pesto was mild in flavor and complex in texture. When you're tossing in the pesto in with the warm pasta, the cheese can adhere to each individual pasta, leaving behind the pesto. I added a splash of pasta water to thin out the pesto slightly, garnering a more even coating. 

In between bites of clam and pasta, I managed to take a sip or two of our 2015 Vermentino. I know what you might be thinking- why is Tablas Creek, who is so focused on French (specifically Rhone) varieties producing Vermentino? The answer is at the very heart of Tablas Creek's existence- our importation of vine material from France. When we starting the vineyard, we wanted to import specific clones from France that would produce quality grapes in the limestone rich soils of Paso Robles. Based on the recommendation of the Perrins' French nurseryman, we began with a handful of varieties from the Rhone and a couple outliers, including Vermentino. Vermentino, also known as Rolle, is easy to grow in the vineyard and even easier on the palate. It exudes aromas of lemon and lime- I happened to find a little piece of my childhood in a whiff of cream soda. There is this expression of fresh citrus, with a rich mouthfeel that coats your palate long enough for the acidity to kick in, lending a generous "pick me up" on the finish. In terms of pairing, I like seafood with this wine a whole lot, especially when there's white wine involved in the sauce. There's a certain briny character in Vermentino that suggests the ocean, and the finish of pithy grapefruit provides a foil for the rich flavors of roasted garlic and shallot. And matching up pesto with this wine is a slam dunk. It's a regional pairing that, for so many reasons, is perfect in itself and needs little explanation except for Try It.

Looking back, I see that, even though I didn't realize it then, I was destined for the path I've been paving for myself. This road entangled with food and wine was one I was sure to not only continue down, but make a career out of. 

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:

  • Recipe for Steamed Manilla Clams can be found here, via Saveur.
  • Recipe for Pesto alla Genovese can be found here, via Food52.
  • You can purchase the 2015 Vermentino by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room
  • Although this wine was included in the Spring "Whites Only" Shipment, wine club members can re-order this wine at their 20% discount! Not a member yet? Learn more about the VINsider club here.

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.