Tasting the wines in the fall 2012 VINsider club shipment
Looking forward to an El Nino winter in 2012-2013

New Marsanne and Grenache Blanc releases: data points on the unique 2011 vintage

With several of our white wines getting scarce in the tasting room, this week we decided that we would release two new varietal white wines: the 2011 Marsanne and the 2011 Grenache Blanc.  So, we opened them early in the week to write up the tasting notes for the Web site.  I was blown away by the power and vibrancy of both wines, and am coming to the conclusion that at least for whites, 2011 is a truly special vintage at Tablas Creek.  The combination of richness and high acidity is literally unprecedented in our experience.

A little background.  The 2011 vintage was marked by two factors.  First, we saw one of our most devastating spring frosts in our history in April, which reduced our yields by an estimated 40%.  Typically, a low-yielding vintage produces wines with noteworthy power and concentration, but also tends to produce sweet, low-acid grapes at harvest-time. Examples in our history include 2002, 2007 and 2009: ageworthy vintages with great lushness that balance their power with relatively pronounced tannins.  Enter the second defining characteristic of 2011: it was cold.  Really cold.  Either our coldest or second-coldest vintage (to 2010) ever, depending on which measurements you choose.  Typically, cold vintages produce wines with long hangtimes, low sugar levels at harvest, noteworthy minerality and great elegance.  2010 was this sort of vintage.  So, what happens when you combine low yields and cold temperatures?  Apparently, good things.  All the 2011 whites have a mouth-filling breadth that is only highlighted by their vibrant acidities.  The fruit is more apparent on the nose and on the palate than in 2010, but they still finish clean, with a powerful saline minerality. And they're some of the lowest-alcohol wines we've made. The two new wines, with my notes below:

2011 GB and M

  • 2011 Grenache Blanc: An intensely creamy, mineral nose that also includes sweeter flavors like pear and anise.  In the mouth its initial impression of sweet fruit (strawberry, quince and green apple) is followed by vibrant acids, then turning sweeter again on the finish, suggesting preserved lemon and anise  and leaving a lingering impression of saline minerality. Drink now and for the next two to three years. 13.3% alcohol, our lowest Grenache Blanc ever.
  • 2011 Marsanne: Aromas of peaches and cream, honey, and citrus blossom, with rich yet surprisingly bright flavors of pineapple, mango, and creamy minerality, a rich yet clean texture and long finish with tropical fruit and sweet spice. Drink now and over the next five years. 13.0% alcohol, exceptionally low for a white Rhone from California.

These wines are both small production (225 and 120 cases, respectively) and neither one will see much in the way of wholesale distribution.  Thanks to the frost, there just wasn't much fruit in 2011.  But the national market has already seen the 2011 Patelin de Tablas and the 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc, which show a similar combination of richness and vibrancy, though the expression of minerality isn't quite as apparent in our non-estate wines.  Perhaps the best early example has been the 2011 Rosé, which has been perhaps our favorite vintage of this wine ever.

The best news?  We're only at the beginning of the release cycle for our 2011's.  The next couple of years should be fun.