One of the most intersesting times of year is when we first sit down to try to make the preliminary blends of either the red or white wines from the previous vintage. When we blended the 2005 whites earlier in the year, we became convinced that the 2005 vintage was special. This week, we sat down to take our most comprehensive look at the 2005 reds.
These wines completed their fermentation and have been aging in foudres and barrels for the past several months. We have kept the different harvest lots distinct, so that we preserve our options for later blending. So, we have 7 Mourvedre lots, 9 Grenache lots, 9 Syrah lots, and 2 Counoise to evaluate.
In our evaluation system, wines receive a grade of either 1, 2, or 3. Wines graded "1" are, in our initial evaluation, worthy of consideration for the Esprit de Beaucastel: rich, powerful, ageable, and balanced, with a clear sense of place. Wines graded "2" are good, but for various reasons less ideal for the Esprits: either we feel that they are going to be lighter or earlier-maturing lots, or their balance of flavors suggests they may be better suited to a single-varietal bottling. And wines that receive a "3" are wines we find flawed: either dilute, unbalanced, or showing signs of oxidation, reduction, or active fermentation. Most "3" wines, with some work in the cellar, resolve themselves into 1's or 2's with time.
In a normal year, if we were to evaluate 9 lots, we would likely rate 2 or 3 as "1" rated, 5 or 6 as various degrees of "2", and perhaps one lot as a "3". But, 2005 was not a normal year. We had tremendous quality as well as good quantity. And the lots of wine reflected this.
Mourvedre: The 7 Mourvedre lots were very impressive, but perhaps not quite so much as the Syrah or Grenache. We rated 3 lots as solid "1"s, 3 others as "2"s, and one fell (when averaging our scores) right in-between. The character of the wines was classic: meaty, showing dark red fruit and lots of spice.
Syrah: The 9 Syrah lots were a revelation. 7 of the 9 lots received a "1", while the other two were both very respectable "2" lots. We kept checking with each other to make sure we weren't off in our evaluations, but it looks like 2005 will be the best Syrah vintage we've seen at Tablas Creek. The character was rich, sweet, and dark, with blue and black fruit predominating. Despite all this lushness, the mineral character and firm tannins suggest it will produce wines with both power and appeal.
Grenache: As good as the Syrah was, the Grenache matched it. 6 of the 9 lots received "1" ratings, with two "2" ratings and one that fell in-between. The flavors were very Grenache, showing sweet red fruit (lots of cherry) with pepper and licorice spice, vibrant acids, and an immediate appeal. We were so impressed that we are looking forward to producing our first varietal Grenache wine from the 2005 vintage.
Counoise: Counoise is always the smallest production of our red components, and we had only two lots to evaluate. Each showed a side of Counoise: the first was light and fruity, with zippy acidity and relatively light body. The second was big, spicy, and rustic, with lots of acid and richness, and figgy, raisiny fruit. We'll use both in the blends (in small proportions) to provide spice, fruit, and acid, and to open up some of the more closed varietals. For the record, we rated the first lot a "2" and the second a "1/2".
So, things are looking good for the 2005 reds. We'll await the arrival of Francois Perrin in November to make our final decisions, but we know we're looking at an excellent vintage... likely the best we've yet seen at Tablas Creek.