This week, Francois Perrin joined us at Tablas Creek for one of his semi-annual visits. Francois' visits are always a pleasure. He gives us someone with decades of experience off of whom we can bounce ideas or with whom we can search for solutions to problems that have been worrying us. We also try to time these visits with when we put together our blends, and we spent Monday tasting through our blended but unbottled wines (reds from 2007 and whites from 2008) and Tuesday tasting components of our 2008 reds, with the goal of creating some preliminary blends.
2008 looks like it's a very strong vintage, with similar intense fruit and lush mouthfeel to the spectacular 2007's but perhaps a touch softer and less structured. But that's a story for another blog post.
One other thing we always try to do is to look back as we're looking forward, and to that end we pulled samples of every vintage of our Esprit de Beaucastel wines (red and white) to taste in vertical format alongside the soon-to-be-bottled 2007 Esprit red and the 2008 Esprit Blanc. I thought that it might be a nice thing to share what we found in this tasting. First, a photo of my dad and Francois behind the impressive lineup of bottles from the vertical:
I'll address the wines in the order in which we tasted them, from oldest to youngest, starting with the whites. My favorite whites at this tasting were the 2003, the 2005 and the 2007; I thought that the 2002 and 2004 were in closed stages.
- 2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: A rich nose of honey, pine and spice. Very fresh in the mouth with a juicy pear character and a slight tannic character on the finish that gives balance to the richness. This showed much better than the last time I tasted it and seems to be out of the closed stage that many Roussanne-based wines enter. A touch of heat on the finish, but nothing too distracting. Drink now or for the next 2-4 years.
- 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: A somewhat darker, denser nose with some oxidative character. Darker in color. Relatively closed on the palate, with flavors of pine and burnt honey. The wine cleans up on the finish. There's still a lot here, but it's not giving much pleasure now. Wait another year and try again then.
- 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Very nice nose of baking spices (cloves and nutmeg) and honey. Excellent equilibrium on the palate with richness balanced by a pleasing mintiness on the finish. Very elegant, with no sense of heat at all. A touch of tannin on the finish suggests this wine has a long way to go yet.
- 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: A youthful, powerful nose of olives, herbs and spice. On the palate this is more mineral and restrained than it is fruity. Mouth-coating and rich. It should be very, very good but isn't quite ready right now and will benefit from some time to flesh it out. Give it 6 months. This is the first vintage where we used Picpoul Blanc rather than Viognier in the blend and it shows in the wine's powerful structure.
- 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: An exuberant nose of honey, white flowers, rose and pear. On the palate this has a beautiful impression of sweetness. Francois Perrin called it "a charmer". The finish is very, very long. This may be right at its peak but should go for quite a while too.
- 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: The nose is elegant and slightly tropical. More restrained than the 2005. You smell the minerality more than in any of the older vintages. The palate is very long but without any rough edges, absolutely characteristic of the 2006 vintage at Tablas Creek. A nice mintiness and a little touch of sweet oak on the finish. Very nice.
- 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Wow. Explosive nose of camphor, mineral and honeycomb. More like the savory/mineral character of '03-'04 than the fruit-driven character of '05-'06. Flavors are of honey, rose petals and herbs, with significant tannin. No feeling of alcohol at all (13.5%). Very rich and concentrated, characteristic of all our 2007's. Drink now or later.
- 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Still very young, with some leesy fermentation aromas still present. A nice minty/eucalyptus note on the nose, too. More finished on the palate, with soft, generous honey and pear flavors, a little lemony lift, and good freshness. The finish is very long and clean with a lingering flavor of fresh honeycomb.
The reds, surprisingly, didn't show any wines in a closed stage. The 2002 and 2003, both closed last year, have opened back up, and the 2004 hasn't shown any signs of shutting down yet (though I expect it will sometime in the next year). Consistent with other recent tastings, I loved the 2002, 2006 and 2007. Note that we didn't make an Esprit de Beaucastel in 2001.
- 2000 Esprit de Beaucastel: A meaty, earthy nose lifted by the impression of acidity. A little rustic on the palate, with acid elevated at this moment lifting what would otherwise be dark red fruit to a brighter tone (red plum, particularly). The tannins are a little drying at the moment. The wine improved with some air. It's not closed right now, but I feel that it will be better in another year or two.
- 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel: A rich, deep nose with a little minty character giving it lift. The mouth is powerful with rich flavors of mocha, leather and currant. There are still some substantial tannins there but they're very well cloaked. This should give a lot of pleasure for another decade.
- 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel: A little alcohol on the nose, then mint, cherry and spice. Very nice in the mouth with good acids highlighting the dark cherry and plum fruit. Mint chocolate on the finish, still with some tannic edges. This seems to me to be mostly out of its closed stage, and may well be even better in 6 months than it is now. Should be good for another 6-8 years at least.
- 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: A nice elegant and restrained nose. Very self-contained; Francois Perrin called it "un vin carré", literally translated as "a square wine". Beautiful structure, with flavors of figs, chocolate and mineral. Not hugely giving right now, this has another decade ahead of it at least.
- 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: A gamy nose but with lots of fruit behind it, particularly after some time in the glass. The fruit is high-toned compared to '02-'04, perhaps because of the increased percentage of Grenache and the decreased percentage of Syrah. There are nice powdery tannins on the finish, and lingering flavors of leather, chocolate and plum. Definitely decant if you're drinking it now or wait up to 15 more years.
- 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very precise fruit and mineral on the nose, with a little Counoise-driven briary wildness lurking behind. Dark cherry and mint in the mouth along with a nice foresty character that provides counterpoint to the fruit. Very clean all the way through. Drinking great now, and should have another 15 or more years ahead of it.
- 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: A spectacularly rich, layered nose with waves of dark red fruit, mineral, meat and mocha. The palate is equally intense, with balance given by a combination of nice, fresh acidity and substantial but fine-grained tannins. There is a powdered-sugar character to the tannins that I often find in great wines. This will be wonderful young but should age for 20 years or more.
It was clear from these tastings that 2007 is a truly special vintage, a notch above anything else that we've achieved. But still, there was a consistency of character and style to these wines, even as the vintage and varietal blend has changed. And that's a good thing.
Anyone who is interested in taking advantage of our experiences in tasting through our older wines can get our assessments on the stage that our library wines are at by looking at our Tablas Creek Vintage Chart, which we update every few months.