When we have writers come and visit us at the winery, we try when possible to look both at what is current and what is coming up. Some years, we don't have a lot of ability to look forward, because the blends aren't finished, or at least we aren't confident that they will remain as they are. And, although we typically blend our reds in early summer, there are some years when we keep our options open to blend in additional lots later in the year. The last thing we want to have happen is to show a wine to a writer and then decide we want to make a change.
So, it's only when we're totally happy with an unbottled wine that we will show it to a reviewer.
Although we'd been pleased by our spot tastings of the 2008 reds over the summer (we blended them in May) we weren't sure whether they were ready to show. Still, with an important reviewer coming on Friday, we lined them all up last Thursday to taste. We were all tremendously impressed. 2008 was a difficult vintage, with lots of reasons to be nervous. But, similar to what we saw with the whites, the reds have shined once we've assembled them into their finished wines. Overall, all the wines showed a distinctive elegance: really nice intensity but no sense of tannic youth. The flavors were primary but still with good complexity. And I think that, more than the 2007's, the wines will drink well young. To my taste, the vintage falls somewhere between the elegance and restraint of the 2006's and the lushness and power of the 2007's. I thought it would be interesting to give you my notes on where the wines are right now.
We just focused on the six principal wines: Cotes, Esprit and Panoplie, and Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. In the order in which we presented them:
- 2008 Cotes de Tablas (42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 17% Mourvèdre): A juicy, vibrant, spicy nose with a little minty/menthol/juniper note. Respberry in the mouth; great acids with a clean finish with gently lingering tannins. A really pretty wine that is both ready to go now but still with some stuffing to it. To be bottled in December and released early in 2010.
- 2008 Grenache (100% Grenache): A really appealing nose of mint chocolate and cocoa, licorice vibrating between red and black. Very pretty in the mouth with more melted chocolate, strawberries, and a nice sweetness on the finish. To be bottled spring 2010 and released summer 2010.
- 2008 Mourvèdre (100% Mourvèdre): A darker nose than either of the two Grenache-based wines: soy, pepper and a little oak spice. Cherry and balsamic flavors overlay red plum and cassis; firm tannins are still tasting young. Will clearly benefit from the next year in foudre as it is still tight and showing more oak than usual. To be bottled summer 2010 and released fall 2010.
- 2008 Syrah (100% Syrah): Sweet oak and spice on the nose; blackberry and cassis in the mouth with great acids for Syrah and a very smooth, creamy texture until the tannins hit you on the finish. Tannins are a little dusty in the back, a good thing for a Syrah at this stage. To be bottled summer 2010 and released summer 2011.
- 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel (38% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 7% Counoise): Really lifted nose of rose petals and potpourri, raspberry and other brambly fruit. In the mouth more red fruit than black at this moment: sweet strawberry and cherry. Firms up on the finish and should darken in tone with a little more time in foudre. To be bottled summer 2010 and released fall 2010.
- 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Panoplie (54% Mourvèdre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): Darker on the nose than the Esprit, more black raspberry than red. At the same time, intensely floral and rather grapey. In the mouth very rich milk chocolate, then plum. Long, long finish with big tannins cloaked by fruit. Still very young and primary, but with great potential. Neil thinks that this is the best Panoplie we've done. To be bottled summer 2010 and released spring 2011.
Overall, it's clear that 2008 is a terrific year for both Grenache and Syrah. Mourvedre is really good, but maybe less outstanding than it was in 2007 (when it was so good that none of it made it into the Cotes de Tablas). We used less Mourvedre, and more Grenache and Syrah, in both the Esprit and Panoplie in 2008 than we had in 2007.
And this is a great thing about working with blends as our signature wines. Our wines don't have to hew to any specific formula. We're freed to make the best wines that the vintage can make, and our fans are able to trust that we're going to do so rather than try to match what happened in previous years.
I wanted to leave you with one photo, taken after Friday's tasting, that I particularly liked. All the bottles are lined up on our tasting bar, with the early afternoon sun shining through them: