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Viognier, Oursins and Age

By Robert Haas

A few days before Christmas I was consolidating the wines in my “cellar” -- refrigerated wine cabinets in our garage plus a refrigerated indoor wine closet -- in order to make room for a several new cases of young white wines, mostly Burgundies, that I recently got from my old company, Vineyard Brands

While shifting wines around I uncovered three bottles of Tablas Creek Adelaida Hills Viognier 1995, hand bottled by Jean-Pierre Perrin and me directly from the single barrel that came from the vines that we planted at Tablas Creek in 1992. I had serious doubts about how that wine from three-year-old vines, from a frost-reduced crop, would be tasting after fourteen years, so I grabbed a bottle and opened it that night. I was astonished at how good it tasted. I re-corked the almost-full bottle remainder and put it in the fridge. 

Viognier bottle

Before there was a Tablas Creek winery, we produced wine in a rented space under the labels "Adelaida Hills" and "Tablas Hills" from the American-sourced Rhone varietals we planted in 1992.

I had ordered some fresh Santa Barbara sea urchins from a great neighborhood local fish market, Pier 46 Seafood in Templeton, and picked them up the morning of the 24th. I got the sea urchin habit while traveling in France in the ‘50s and ‘60s, where oursins were regular entrée offerings, along with huitres, on many menus. In France, as for oysters, they are sized and priced by the number of o’s: ooo being the largest and o the smallest. These guys would have been ooooo in comparison.


Les Oursins

I have not yet gotten many followers in my family for my oursin love so I only ordered a half dozen for myself and had them for lunch at home on that Thursday before Christmas with the opened bottle of Viognier.

The wine was even better the second day, perhaps encouraged by its pairing with the luscious, iodic, slightly sweet marine flavor of the oursins. It had a pale straw, brilliant and clear color. The nose was of honeysuckle, slightly gone-by roses and Meyer lemon. There was hardly any hint of age on the palate. The wine was still vibrant, forceful and young with great balance of apricot fruit, rich feel and fine acidity, and again, a hint of Meyer lemon on the long and graceful finish.

At Tablas Creek, we are often asked how long and well our wines will age. The real answer is that we do not know yet. Our experience is too short but we feel that because of the exceptional terroir of chalky clay soils, cold nighttime temperatures, organic farming and natural winemaking, they will age gracefully, even the whites, for many years. This delightful 14-year-old wine seems to me to be pointing the way.

RZH with viognier and oursins