The last (?) winter storm of 2009-2010
Antoine's 1940 Wine List, 70 Years and 40,000% Inflation Later

21 Beaucastel and Tablas Creek wines from 1985-2007 at one amazing dinner

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a dinner in Los Angeles with a group of wine collectors who call themselves the "X-Pensive Winos".  They are a group of friends who met largely online and who share a love of wine and a love of challenging themselves and each other.  They organize their monthly events in turns, and each is on a theme.  Themes can be based on varietal, on style, on provenance, or around a winery or winemaker, and each member is expected to contribute wine out of their cellars as appropriate to the theme.  They invite winery principals to participate when the theme is appropriate.

I was the lucky recipient of an invitation from one of the group's members who happens also to be a Tablas Creek wine club member.  After a few months of back-and-forth on ideas, we settled on an exploration of Tablas Creek and Beaucastel, with side-by-site pairings when possible and appropriate.  The dinner was hosted at Bistro LQ, Chef Laurent Quenioux's outpost in an otherwise unremarkable area on Beverly Blvd. south of West Hollywood and east of Beverly Hills.  There were a ridiculous number of wines (21 in all) spanning two colors, two continents and more than two decades.  I found the experience fascinating, and thought it would be interesting to comment a little on the wines that we tasted and also share a few general thoughts on what the wines suggested about Tablas Creek as reflected through Beaucastel.

First, I should mention the food, which was extraordinarily inventive and also excellent.  I had two favorite dishes, from opposite ends of the culinary spectrum.  The first was a geoduck clam, thinly sliced, over sea urchin tapioca pudding with yuzu kosho.  The chewiness and relative simplicity of the geoduck contrasted in an amazing way with the creamy, unctuous, slightly sweet and complex urchin.  It's a dish I could never have even imagined, let alone made, but it played well with the complex flavors of the older Beaucastel whites.  My other favorite was a homemade papardelle with rabbit meatballs, salsify, olives and cipollini onions.  It was very traditional, absolutely classic, and not mucked about with.  As a pairing with the flight of older Beaucastel reds, it couldn't have been better.

Aperitifs (unusual Tablas Creek whites)
  • 2009 Vermentino: Just bottled about 6 weeks before, in its first public appearance.  Scheduled for the fall 2010 VINsider club shipment.  Citrus, spice and mineral, a little riper than the 2008 Vermentino, but not as big as 2007.  Less herby than many of our Vermentinos, more citrus.  Key lime?
  • 2008 Grenache Blanc: I think this is the best Grenache Blanc we've ever made.  Bright, rich and mineral all at once.  Preserved lemon, wet rocks, and broad texture.  Very long finish.
  • 2008 Antithesis Chardonnay: Rich but unoaked, apple and sweet spice, mid-weight, with minerality coming out on the finish.  Nice core of acidity cleans up what is a pretty robust white.  A very good vintage for Antithesis (as is typically the case with our cooler years).
First flight (Beaucastel and Tablas Creek whites)
  • 1987 Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes: A revelation for most of the table, who had never had a truly old Beaucastel white.  It was clean and vibrant, minerally, slightly nutty, saline, and lemony.  A very different texture from young Roussannes: much less of the oiliness that is characteristic of the varietal.
  • 1997 Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes: By contrast to the previous wine, which was looked in the glass like a young wine, this was almost orange, with a notable oxidation on the nose.  Still, it didn't taste dead to me, with flavors of creme caramel (burnt sugar), thick texture, and decent acidity.  I actually think this was too young, and will come back around.
  • 2003 Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes: Rich and tropical, with just the first hint of oxidation.  Very thick texture compared to the first two wines.  Lots of honey and spice, in need of big food.  Worked great with the urchin.
  • 2002 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Fresher than the 2003 Vieilles Vignes which immediately preceded it, a little more acidity and a little less weight.  A little quiet on the nose, beautiful, rich and balanced on the palate with a lingering flavor of fresh honey.
  • 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Notably different that any of the other whites, much more floral with citrus blossom and honeysuckle.  Good intensity but almost delicate on the palate, flitting between white flowers, fresh honey and herbs.
Second flight (Older Beaucastel reds)
  • 1985 Beaucastel: This felt to me like it was right at the end of its drinking peak and just starting to dry out (particularly by comparison to the next wine).  It was still wonderful, with fully mature tannins, a nice combination of plums and leather and Provencal herbs.
  • 1989 Beaucastel: Much brighter fruit and more evident tannin than the 1985.  Has a wonderful vibrancy both to the fruit and the acidity.  Just a joy to drink (as it has been each time I've had it).  My favorite wine of the evening.
  • 1998 Beaucastel: Definitely young and still not really opened up.  A much darker, more monolithic nose of soy and mineral and creme de cassis.  Still quite tannic.  Going to be great but still a few years away, I thought.
  • 1995 Beaucastel "Hommage a Jacques Perrin": Quite youthful but not as polished, to my taste, as the three previous wines.  Noticeably tannic with flavors more of rosemary and underbrush than of fruit.  Didn't quite have the lushness behind this that the 1998 did; not sure if it's a stage (this wine is 70% Mourvedre, far more than any of the others) or if the structure will continue to dominate the fruit.
Third flight (middle-aged Beaucastel and Tablas Creek reds)
  • 2000 Beaucastel: Clean and pretty, almost delicate on the nose, with flavors of cherry skin and a herbs.  Not a blockbuster, but beautifully balanced and quite elegant.
  • 2000 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel: Deep, meaty and minty, with a nose of cassis and fig.  Still quite tannic and thick with youthful fruit.  Sort of like a more rustic version of the 1998 Beaucastel.  Several people at the table commented that if they'd had the two 2000's blind they would have guessed wrong which was Californian and which was the Chateauneuf.
  • 2001 Beaucastel: Not giving much up on the nose right now.  Some mint, some cherry skin, some mineral.  On the palate, hard as nails, though there is a very promising underlying warmth to the fruit that suggests good things to come.  Definitely wait.
  • 2002 Tablas Creek Panoplie: Delicious.  Classic Mourvedre flavors of plums, currants and milk chocolate (the wine is 80% Mourvedre).  Still quite young, but with nice chewy tannins.  Not a lot of meaty secondary flavors yet, but I suspect they're lurking there for the right time to come out.
Fourth flight (young Beaucastel and Tablas Creek reds)
  • 2005 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel: Rich and earthy, with mint, sweet spices, roasted meat and still quite a lot of tannin.  A little wild brambly character on the finish is a surprising and appealing diversion.
  • 2007 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel: Plays back and forth between brighter and deeper flavors, from sweet red fruit (raspberry?) to soy and even darker aromas.  Lots of sweet spices.  A blockbuster wine with a long, exciting life ahead of it.
  • 2007 Beaucastel: A treat for me.  The nose has a seriousness to it, soy and crushed rocks and dark berries.  The mouth is rich and dense with a current of mineral coolness running through it that I can still remember vividly, four days later.  Just gorgeous, and while it showed great, strikes me as totally uncompromising in its ageworthiness.
I didn't really take any notes on the two dessert wines (2006 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille "Quintessence" and 2006 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille "Sacrerouge") but then again I also didn't really eat much dessert.  I was still going back to the cheese course and revisiting the 2007 reds.

For me, the family resemblance between the Tablas Creek and Beaucastel wines was illustrated powerfully, and a lot more salient than the compare-contrast differences that I suspect some of the group was expecting.  I would have liked to try the 2005 Beaucastel alongside the 2005 Esprit, but it was a last-minute scratch from the lineup.  Still, 21 wines, none corked, only one oxidized (and that one might just be going through a stage).  And a really wonderful evening.  I am encouraged about the long-term ageability of the wines we're making, and -- as often happens to me around Beaucastel -- humbled by the quality and personality of the wines we're inevitably compared to.