Harvest, weeks of September 20 & 27: A warm start to fall and a slow start to the harvest
Grapes of the Rhone Valley: Syrah

A first in-depth look at the 2009 Tablas Creek red wines

2009 was a challenging vintage, with very low yields from three years of drought and some significant April frosts.  It was further complicated by a record-breaking October rainstorm that dropped a foot of rain on the vineyard and stopped harvest for three weeks while everything dried out.  The net result was a vintage with the lowest yields per producing acre we've ever seen: 1.85 tons per acre of reds.

As the grapes were fermenting, we noted the lushness of the fruit and the power of the wines, both unsurprising in such a low-yielding vintage.  We also noted relatively high pH levels, which gave the wines a softness at early stages that worried us a little.  It's only as the wines have had some time in barrel to settle down that we've come to recognize the beautiful tannins that firm up the wines and give them balance.  The emergence of these tannins in barrel has changed our opinion of the harvest from one that was impressive but perhaps overly lush to one that we're exceptionally hopeful will be a great one.

We will be showing the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel and 2009 Panoplie for the first time in December at our annual futures tasting and en primeur offering.  Offering wine en primeur is a time-honored French tradition most often associated with first-growth Bordeaux estates. In outstanding vintages, valued customers are offered the opportunity to secure a limited quantity of sought-after wines at a special price in advance of bottling and subsequent general release.  We've done an en primeur offering to VINsider Wine Club members on our two top red wines each year since 2003, and it's become an event we all look forward to as it's our first opportunity to show, in effect, what's next to our biggest fans.

We are in the process of putting together an invitation that will go out in November to our club members, and so needed tasting notes on the two wines that will go into the offer.  I thought it would be an appropriate opportunity to take a look at all of the 2009 reds together, and wanted to share what we found.  It's worth noting that the tiny yields meant that in order to protect our flagship wines we had to sacrifice some wines (including the Mourvedre, which we've made each year since 2003, and the Syrah, which we've made each year since 2002) that have been a regular part of our portfolio.  Still, we did make the decision to make our second-ever En Gobelet, as well as the Cotes, Esprit, Grenache and Panoplie.  The wines are all sitting in foudre, and will remain there for the next 9 months or so until they're bottled. 

09 Esprit in Foudre

The tasting notes:

  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 16% Counoise, 15% Mourvedre): A Grenachey, spicy nose that resonates between black and red fruit, showing red licorice, sweet spices, and dried strawberry.  In the mouth, it's notably rich for a Cotes de Tablas, showing candied red fruit, sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and a long finish that turns darker and is firmed by fine tannins and an almost iron-like minerality.  Very impressive, I thought.  
  • 2009 Grenache: A nose brighter than the Cotes red, very fruity, showing watermelon, red cherry, raspberry and blueberry.  The mouth continues the flavors suggested by the nose, with cherry cola and an appealing creaminess to the texture.  The finish is the most interesting part to the wine for me, with nice acids framing the fruit and then showing a chalky minerality before ending with a sweet spice that might be sarsparilla.
  • 2009 En Gobelet (56% Mourvedre, 23% Tannat, 21% Grenache): A darker nose, showing the menthol, black cherry and mineral notes that are characteristic of Tannat.  The mouth is still relatively tannic, with bittersweet chocolate, leather, mesquite, cherry liqueur and a bloody, beefy character that is often characteristic of young Mourvedre.  The tannins actually soften on the finish, leaving mineral and a garrigue-like herbiness (thyme? sage?) as the last impressions.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel (40% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 5% Counoise): Showing more red than black fruit at the moment, with a nose of red plum and currant, and a little Mourvedre-driven meatiness and gaminess lurking behind the fruit.  In the mouth, cassis, cherry, and mineral shows the Syrah component, as does a chalky/mineral/meaty/bone marrow character that my wife once described as "butter in a butcher shop".  The finish shows the wine's youth, with a primary grapiness that should evolve into something more complex.
  • 2009 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): Oh, boy.  An explosive nose of pepper, grilled meat, boysenberry, currant and blackberry.  It's the most polished and resolved on the nose of any of the wines.  In the mouth, it's hugely mouth-filling, with sweet fruit but big tannins that give definition.  On the finish, it shows a saline minerality that highlights the roasted meat flavors and the dark red and black fruits.  Absolutely gorgeous.