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Tablas Esprit and Beaucastel Châteauneuf: Takes Two to Tango

By Darren Delmore

As the National Sales Manager for Tablas Creek vineyard, my travels keep leading me to circumstances where I’m asked to compare Esprit de Beaucastel to Chateâu de Beaucastel. “So which wine is better?” I’ve heard many times over, as if there’s a clear right or wrong answer to such an open-ended question. I’ve narrowed down the climate-soil-varietal-diurnal-historical pontification to the simplest response of “It’s all in the timing.” What you want out of the wine you want to drink and, most importantly when, are the real questions here.

A few recent examples follow. In Anacortes, Washington at a Tablas Creek tasting at Compass Wines, their best customer arrived on crutches wielding a bottle of 2006 Chateâu de Beaucastel and plopped it right down on the counter before he even introduced himself.

Compass Wines' legend and his 2006 Beaucastel offering.

At a Tablas Creek dinner at 32 East in Delray Beach, Florida that I hosted with Vineyard Brands’ south Florida manager Taylor Case, the owner paired off Tablas Creek and Chateâu de Beaucastel in a consumable course-by-course tango - blanc to blanc and rouge to rouge.

The show in Delray Beach at 32 East.

Some attendees of the collector persuasion snuck in some older vintages of the Beaucastel Chateâuneuf and were passing them around beneath the tabletops. Tablas Creek, as it always does in my experience, held its own very well, thank you very much, though we didn’t have any older Tablas Creek to put up against the surprise Beaucastel library wines. The 2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc was the talk of the tables, accentuated by a great wild mushroom crostini pairing. The contrasts between the estates’ top two red 2010’s, served side-by-side with the braised short rib and polenta main course, was fascinating. Taylor and I were blown away by this flight: the wines smelled nearly identical. Further swirling revealed just a touch more open fruitiness in the Tablas Creek, but not much. Onto the taste and the identities became clear. For me, what differentiated this young vintage of Chateâu de Beaucastel from Esprit de Beaucastel (and to a degree, differentiates Chateâuneuf-du-Pape from American Rhone blends) is a mid-palate gravelly richness that attaches to the sides of your mouth as if a soil-glazed galet was tossed onto your tongue. I could taste why so many collect this wine and normally keep it out of sight for 5 to 10 years before it softens up enough for stellar drinking. It was my first opportunity to taste each, and having read that the vintage brought eerily similar growing conditions to both the southern Rhône and Paso Robles, it was wholly fulfilling. Though both Tablas and Beaucastel benefit from time in the cellar, the brighter fruit and higher acidity of the Esprit gave it an accessibility that led patrons, that night, to attack it like white, touristy ankles by an angry mob of Biscayne bull sharks. And the bottles of the amazing 1994 Beaucastel Rouge that were secretly making the rounds were a convincing testament to the rewards of patience.

 The lineup in Florida.

One of my favorite comparisons of the two estates occurred last week in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the awesome wine bar and restaurant Arroyo Vino. At the end of a day visiting restaurant accounts in Taos, I brought the remainder of the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel bottle to Arroyo Vino’s owner Brian Bargsten. I’d first met Brian last fall at the Santa Fe Wine and Chile festival when his business was simply a high-end wine store at the foot of a luxury community just outside of town. Brian has since expanded Arroyo Vino with a beautiful, modern dining room and bar and hired chef Mark Connell, whose resume boasts stints at Salt (in Cambridge, MA) and the French Laundry (in Yountville, CA) to oversee the kitchen. After eyeballing the impressive collection of bottles for sale in the retail area, I found a seat at the bar next to a lone diner mid-way through a bottle of Bethel Heights Pinot Noir. The dining room was packed for a Wednesday night. I spoke with Brian for a bit and pulled out the Esprit. He introduced me to Larry – the man beside me – and told him the story of Tablas Creek and the Perrin family.

“They picked Paso Robles?” Larry protested, surprised that one of his favorite southern Rhône producers had set up shop in what he had always assumed to be a hot area known for “high alcohol, jammy Zinfandel.” This fired Brian up to talk about limestone-rich west-side vineyard sites, say “Larry, want to compare the two?” and disappear to fetch a 2010 Chateâu de Beaucastel off the rack. A couple other servers hovered around the bar as Brian returned, cutting off the foil swiftly and talking about Chateâuneuf-du-Pape when I noticed it was in fact the Côtes du Rhône 2010 Coudoulet de Beaucastel that he was driving the corkscrew into. “That’s the Coudoulet, Brian,” I said, seconds too late.

“What, that’s not the one?” Larry asked.

“No but it’s good,” I added. “The Coudoulet is their vineyard just outside of the AOC of Chateâuneuf-du-Pape.”

“Oh,” Brian paused mid-twist. “Well, guess we’ll do a flight of all three.” Sure enough he went over and grabbed the correct bottle and asked one of the servers to line up three glasses for each of us. Brian poured the wines in order: Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel, and Chateâu de Beaucastel.

Perrin Flight
Left to right: 2010 Coudoulet, 2010 Esprit, and 2010 Chateâu Beaucastel.

Larry pointed out that aside from Oregon Pinot Noir, he only drank and collected European wine. He was one of Brian’s biggest customers, a bona fide Burgundy lover and buyer of first-growth Bordeaux allocations, and familiar with only a couple of producers in the Rhône. It was as much a moment for Brian as it was for Larry to see how close California could get to real Chateâuneuf-du-Pape.

The Coudoulet was in amazing shape, with a juicy unison of savory herbs and reddish fruit, and a refreshing, snappy palate and long finish. The Tablas Creek was showing a warmer, more lifted aromatic profile of Mourvédre, with black olives, raspberries, baking spices, and foresty notes and a finish filled with graceful, plush tannins. The Chateâu de Beaucastel was the biggest wine of the flight, with a brooding nose of black licorice, roasted meats and rain soaked city streets, before a powerful sip unfolded into a gravelly, mineral-rich, thick dark wave of density that required a bit of my rabbit agnolotti dish to soak up some of its youth. I was more of a wine fan than a wine salesman at that counter, mesmerized by the diversity of these three related wines from two continents, and it wasn’t until much later when Brian leaned over and asked me, “are you selling this tonight?” that I came back around to reality.

“That Esprit is good, man,” he added.