Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club. In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club. In others, the club gets a first look at wines that may see a later national release. And with each shipment, we reintroduce ourselves to these wines (which, in some cases, we may not have tasted since before bottling) with a tasting that we use to write the notes that will be included in the club shipments. I opened the wines this afternoon with Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, and thought that readers of the blog would be interested in what we found.
We base the fall shipments around the newest releases of the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and this fall's shipment is no exception. One difference, though, is that this year we reached back into our library to include not just the newest 2013 Esprit de Tablas, but also a bottle of the 2011 Esprit de Tablas that has been showing so well recently. I'm excited to hear the feedback that we get.
Finally, one quick note, before the notes on the wines. This tasting convinced me even more strongly that the 2013 and 2014 vintages are the best back-to-back vintages we've ever made: both showing remarkable intensity, but with different personalities. The 2013's are savory and darkly spiced, with great tension, while the lusher 2014's still retain a core of acidity that keeps them in balance.
The classic shipment included six different wines:
2014 GRENACHE BLANC
- Production Notes: 2014 was a great year for Grenache Blanc, with intensity from our third year of drought but with the characteristic bright acids of the vintage. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), then blended and bottled in the summer of 2015.
- Tasting Notes: An immensely inviting nose of green apple and nuts, sea spray, caramel and crushed rocks. The mouth is rich but buoyed with vibrant acids, showing more fresh apple, lychee, preserved lemon, and a lovely briny note. The finish is long, smooth, and refreshing, showing lime zest, nectarine, and more minerality. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 950 cases.
- List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60
2013 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: As our drought stretched into its second vintage, we pre-emptively cut back our crop levels, giving all our 2013's an extra level of concentration. For the Esprit Blanc, this showed most dramatically in a powerful, structured Roussanne component. To that, we added Grenache Blanc for sweet spice and openness, and Picpoul Blanc for floral aromatics and saline freshness. The final blend was 71% Roussanne (fermented primarily in foudre), 21% Grenache Blanc (from foudre and stainless steel) and 8% Picpoul (from neutral barrels). As we had done in 2012, we let the blend age in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in February 2015 and aging it an additional 8 months in bottle before release.
- Tasting Notes: A deep-toned nose of lacquered wood, peach pit, and butterscotch: absolutely Roussanne, richly layered, with an intriguing tarragon-like high note that emerged with air. The mouth is more tightly wound than the nose initially suggests, with a rich texture, flavors of grilled peach, clove and allspice. The finish opens back up, with nectarine, citrus blossom and a little sweet oak. Impressive now, it should also go out 15 years or more and gain additional nuttiness and complexity with time.
- Production: 2200 cases
- List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36
- Production Notes: 2013's lower crop levels produced Grenache with deeper, lusher flavors than usual, but the unusually large diurnal temperature shifts also provided good freshness. Harvested mostly in September, Grenache lots were fermented in upright wooden and closed stainless steel fermenters, then moved to neutral barrels. The lots were selected and blended in May 2014, aged a year in a mix of foudre and stainless steel, and bottled in April 2015.
- Tasting notes: A pretty garnet color, with an appealing nose of surprisingly dark fruit for the usually red-fruited Grenache: black raspberry, plum, black pepper, sweet spice and milk chocolate. The mouth shows redder than the nose and is nicely balanced between sweeter and more savory flavors, with wild strawberry, new leather, and a little welcome mintiness. Good acids and youthful Grenache tannins hold everything together, and it all smooths out and shows more red fruit and chocolate on the finish. Drink now or for the next fifteen years.
- Production: 670 cases
- List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32
2013 EN GOBELET
- Production Notes: Our sixth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill, planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. In this warm, dry year, our head-trained vineyards thrived, and in fact showed less decline in yields than our irrigated blocks. After several years of co-fermenting the components from Scruffy Hill, in 2013 we kept most separate to preserve our options in blending, and then included them in trials with our two blocks of head-trained Tannat, valuable for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The final blend was 34% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, 19% Syrah, 11% Counoise and 5% Tannat. It was aged in foudre and bottled in April 2015.
- Tasting Notes: A deeply spiced, minty, polished nose of black cherry, crushed rock and plum, with a tangy marinade-like element bringing lift. The mouth is rich and deeply savory, with chalky tannins cloaking blackberry and black cherry fruit, a spicy sage note, and a long finish showing mouth-coating, brambly fruit. Should be fascinating to watch age. Drink now and for the next two decades.
- Production: 580 cases
- List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36
2013 ESPRIT DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: Like all the 2013 reds, the Esprit de Tablas shows the results of the vintage's combination of intensity from drought-reduced yields and generosity from the classic Californian vintage. The comparative lushness of the year again convinced us to shift the blend toward the dark, smoky, savoriness of Syrah as opposed to the open juiciness of Grenache. Still, Esprit is as usual led by the red fruit, earth and mocha of 40% Mourvèdre, with additions of 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache and 10% Counoise. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended and aged a year in foudre before bottling in August 2015.
- Tasting Notes: For me, this wine was immediately evocative of Beaucastel on the nose: deep and meaty, with wild blackberries, currants, mint, and a spicy note that Chelsea nailed as cumin. On the palate, the wine shows wonderfully lifted red fruit (plum, and more currant) with a leathery, mocha richness behind it that is characteristic of Mourvedre in a great year. The long, savory finish shows a cedary, smoky spice over the fruit, like wild berries harvested on campout while the meat is grilling. We recommend that you hold the 2013 Esprit for a few months, then drink either between 2016 and 2018 or 2022-2040.
- Production: 3700 cases
- List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44
2011 ESPRIT DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: Like all the 2011 reds, the components that went into the Esprit de Tablas were concentrated by the vintage's spring frosts and then given acidity by one of the coolest years in our history. Upon release, the wine was medium-weight and dominated by an iron-like core, but in the intervening two years that core has opened and is now showing a creamy generosity while still preserving its dark, savory character. 2011 Esprit was as usual based on Mourvèdre (40%), while a relatively high percentage of Grenache (30%) brought rich mouthfeel, glycerin and a refreshing acidity, Syrah (20%) provided black fruit and mineral and Counoise (10%) added vibrancy and brambly fruit. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended and aged a year in foudre before being bottled in June 2013. The bottles have aged in our cellars ever since.
- Tasting Notes: Fun to taste after the youthful 2013, the nose shows as deep and plush, with a soy and squid ink darkness over a minty, black raspberry base. The mouth has developed an appealing integration over the last two years in bottle, with a noteworthy creamy texture, a saline iron-like firmness, and generous but very dark-toned fruit, like blackberry preserves. The finish shows savory and meaty, like the drippings from a steak that has been prepared with a salty dry rub. Drink over the next year or so, or hold until 2018 and drink over the next two decades.
- Production: 4000 cases
- List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48
There were two additional wines (joining the Esprit de Tablas Blanc and Grenache Blanc) in the white-only shipment:
- Production Notes: The 2014 Tablas Creek Vineyard Marsanne is just our fourth varietal bottling of Marsanne, the noble white grape of France's Hermitage appellation. We use most of our Marsanne in our Cotes de Tablas Blanc each year. However, in 2014 we felt that the Marsanne was so complete and compelling, and so representative of the Marsanne grape, that we selected out one small lot, fermented in foudre, for a single-varietal bottling.
- Tasting Notes: A pretty pale gold color, with a surprisingly tropical nose of fresh pineapple and lychee, baked apples, lemongrass and wet rocks. The mouth is pretty and composed, notably saline, with apple skin and candied lemon peel flavors that soften and broaden into a long, gentle finish with echoes of soft minerality. We thought it quite gorgeous, and that it should drink well for at least the next five years, likely longer.
- Production: 300 cases
- List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24
2014 PICPOUL BLANC
- Production Notes: The Picpoul Blanc is our eighth bottling of this traditional Southern Rhône varietal, used in Châteauneuf du Pape as a blending component, and best known from the crisp light green wines of the Pinet Region in the Languedoc. On its own, it shows the vibrant acids for which it is valued, balanced by a tropical lushness. We ferment it in a mix of stainless steel and neutral barrels, and use the majority of our production for our Esprit de Tablas Blanc, while reserving a small quantity for this varietal bottling. The Picpoul was blended in April 2015, and bottled in June 2015.
- Tasting Notes: A mostly savory nose of watermelon rind, dried pineapple, green herbs, white flowers and lemon peel. The mouth is exuberant by comparison, richly tangy with pineapple juice and sweet baking spices, bright acids, and saline minerality, with a long finish of fresh mango and crushed rocks. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 350 cases
- List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60
One additional red joined the Grenache, En Gobelet, and the two Esprit de Tablas vintages in the red-only shipment:
- Production Notes: Mourvedre is the one red varietal that we try to bottle on its own each year, partly because it is our most planted grape (and plays the lead role in our Esprit de Tablas) but equally because we think it is a wonderful grape that has an undeserved reputation as "just a blending variety". The 2013 vintage and our second year of drought emphasized Mourvedre's savory darkness. We ferment it in large wooden fermenters, then move it to neutral barrels to await blending. The Mourvedre was blended from selected lots in the spring of 2014, then aged in foudre until bottling in April of 2015.
- Tasting Notes: Absolutely characteristic of Mourvedre's tension between deeper and more high-toned elements, with aromas of black currant, leather, meat drippings, bittersweet chocolate, and rose petals. On the mouth, tangy and nicely balanced between sweet and savory, with plum skin, cocoa powder, leather, baking spices, and an appealing burst of acidity on the finish to clean everything up. Still a baby. Open a bottle now, if you'd like, but expect it to really shine between 2020 and 2030.
- Production: 690 cases
- List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32
If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try. This fall's party will be on Sunday, October 4th. If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this fall shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club