There are certain wines in our portfolio I drink fairly often, and others that I hardly ever drink. The ones I drink a lot are probably predictable: I tend to have the current vintages of Cotes de Tablas and Esprit de Beaucastel with good frequency, both tasting with guests at the winery and working out in the market. I'm a fan of Mourvedre and Roussanne, and my wife is a fan of Vermentino and Rose, so we have those regularly at our house. And, because their cellar life is longer, because they're our most widely distributed wines, and because we keep a healthy library at the winery, I rarely go too long without tasting most of our vintages of Esprit de Beaucastel or Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc.
But I have gotten several questions recently on how different vintages of our Panoplie have been tasting. I realized that I honestly didn't know, and didn't have the knowledge to accurately update the vintage chart we maintain. For the unfamiliar, Panoplie is our top red wine, made only in top vintages, and in the model of Beaucastel's Hommage a Jacques Perrin. Like the Hommage, it is always heavy on Mourvedre, and tends to be light on Syrah. We choose Mourvedre lots that are structured enough to stand without Syrah (which lends structure, but also tends to dominate a blend and make it too monolithic). We blend Panoplie unapologetically to age. So, we're expecting all these wines to last two decades or more. But our first vintage of Panoplie is now nearly a decade old, and (understandably) some of the lucky customers who got some of those 67 cases have been asking whether it's drinking well now. I honestly couldn't tell them.
So, I decided it was time to open up a vertical of Panoplie, ranging from 2000 to the not-yet-bottled 2008, to get a sense of where in their evolutions the wines were, and what we might expect going forward. I also wanted to get a big-picture overview of how our thinking about this wine had evolved over the last decade. I was joined for the tasting by my dad, as well as winemaker Neil Collins and assistant winemaker Chelsea Magnusson. We chose the afternoon of the Wednesday before Christmas as an appropriate day: for most of us the last work day before the holiday weekend. We were feeling festive, and vertical tastings like this are one of the most fun rewards we get to give ourselves. The tasting notes (note that we didn't make a Panoplie in 2001):
- 2000 Panoplie (55% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 15% Grenache): a minty, menthol but dark, gamy nose. In the mouth, grippy tannins and very dark fruit. Very Syrah-dominant. It has nice length and good acids to balance the structure, but it's not very giving right now. This was the only wine in the group that was starting to show some secondary meaty, leathery flavors, but until the tannins calm down a little more I'd recommend that people still give it a little more time.
- 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): a really pretty nose with red licorice and berries. Sweet-smelling, but totally dry on the palate. Still has good tannic grip but is rounder than the 2000, with some flavors of bittersweet chocolate and grilled steak joining the brambly berry fruit. Neil commented that you could taste the Counoise in the brambliness. Delicious, and still youthful. My favorite of the tasting for drinking now.
- 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise; the only Panoplie where we used all four of our principal red varietals): a figgy, plummy, slightly porty nose with a hint of oxidation. In the mouth, sweet flavors of plum jam and mint chocolate. Juiciness builds on the palate, which shows more freshness than the nose. The finish turns darker and is still quite tannic. The wine doesn't seem fully resolved right now with the nose and palate not really in sync. I'd suggest people wait a little while and try again.
- 2004 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 10% Syrah): beautiful nose of cassis, raspberry, soy, and mint, fresh but layered and deep. The mouth is full of sweet fruit, particularly blueberry and currant, and the texture is seamless. You feel the tannins on the finish, but they're cloaked in fruit. At this stage, the palate seemed a little overtly sweet, but the wine is delicious. Chelsea commented that this was the wine she'd take home for her parents.
- 2005 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 5% Syrah): nose is a little more closed than the 2004; smells tight and extracted, with a eucalyptus and some dark fruit coming out with time. On the palate, the wine (like many of our 2005's) is still tannic, though it has a promising savory, tangy note that comes out on the finish. Neil called it "chunky" right now, which I thought was right on. Definitely wait on this one, probably at least another few years.
- 2006 Panoplie (68% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 5% Syrah): Smells young, with a little alcohol joining the brambly fruit on the nose. With a little time in the glass, this wine blossomed, with licorice, herbs and more fruit coming out on the nose. In the mouth, it's nice and juicy with the characteristic tangy acids of the 2006 vintage. Neil thought it tasted "a little wound up" but that it showed beautiful balance and promise. That said, it's a lot more approachable than the 2005, but anyone giving it a try should definitely decant. I'd suspect that it will shut down in another year or two, and then reopen a few years later and drink well for a long time. My dad's and Chelsea's favorite wine of the tasting.
- 2007 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is dense and extracted, and just exudes power. It tastes very rich, at least as dense as it smells, and vibrates with flavors of red and black licorice. There is an appealing brushy, herby character that suggests that when it calms down a bit, and develops some secondary flavors, it will be a remarkably complex wine. The tannins are powerful all the way through to the finish, and tend to block the finish a bit. Definitely wait... but expect to be rewarded handsomely for your patience.
- 2008 Panoplie (54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah; tasted from foudre; will be bottled summer 2010 and released spring 2011): A nice roasted coffee note on the nose, with an inkiness that appears to come from the higher Syrah content (the cool 2008 vintage was a great one for Syrah). In the mouth, you taste flavors in sequence rather than all together, which isn't unusual at this stage of a wine's life: first some nice sweet oak, then black fruit, then tannin. There is a nice lift and clarity on the finish that is totally characteristic of the 2008 vintage. It's a little disjointed now, but will be very classic and classy. Neil's favorite wine of the tasting. This wine will go out in the spring 2011 VINsider Wine Club shipment.
In the big picture, we've refined our model a bit. As with the Esprit, our percentage of Grenache has risen gradually as the vines have aged and we're liking it more. We also went through a couple of vintages (2003 and 2004) where the wines were a little sweeter, and have moved back to a drier style. We took advantage of the vintage character of 2008 to add more Syrah than we have in any Panoplie since 2000 (and will likely do so again in 2009). But what struck us more than the differences were the similarities. All these wines were more than half Mourvedre, and the characteristic Mourvedre flavors of plum, currant, mocha and roasted meat was a common denominator in all eight wines. And they all shared the chewy structure that ripe, concentrated Mourvedre brings and which gives longevity to wines. The vintages brought variations in character, and the denser, more tannic vintages like 2000, 2005, and 2007 all show even more structure than their corresponding Esprits. Right now, the relatively more elegant vintages of 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 gave more pleasure... but I don't have any doubt that even the biggest of these wines has the balance to age for decades.
It will be a pleasure to find out if I'm right.