Malolactic, Misunderstood
Why "California's Driest Year on Record" is less serious (and more) than you're hearing

Looking back a decade later at the 2004 vintage at Tablas Creek

2014 is a year of milestones for Tablas Creek.  It's been 25 years since we bought our property in 1989.  It's been 20 years since we picked our first grapes and made our first wines, in rented space at Adelaida Cellars down the road, in 1994.  Also in 1994, we got our first French cuttings in the ground, forming the foundation of the vineyard we have today.  Typically, the French wait until a vineyard is a decade old to use the grapes produced for their top wines, so 2004 is a landmark of sorts -- the vineyard's first "adult" vintage -- if you hold to such arbitrary things.  On a much more minor note, 2004 was also the first year we used screwcaps to finish a significant number of our wines.

In celebration of all this, we thought it would be interesting to check in on our 2004 wines to see how they were doing.  So, we did.  Sometimes, this job has its perks.  We opened every wine we made that year, with the goal of picking 8-10 for a slimmed-down (but hardly lean) version of this tasting we're planning for March 1st.  This later version will be open to the public, so please join us.  Details are here.

The lineup included 8 white wines, one pink, six reds, and two sweet wines, both white.  It was more than a bit intimidating:

2004 Horizontal

Joining me for the tasting were my dad, Winemaker Neil Collins, Viticulturist Levi Glenn, Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell, Sales Manager Darren Delmore, Marketing Coordinator Lauren Cross, and Assistant Tasting Room Manager Jennifer Bravo.  Below are my notes, in the order in which we tasted the wines. For complete production details and on-release tasting notes, click on the wine. For some reason, we never put up Web pages for the Bergeron and Antithesis, so I've tried to give a little extra background on those wines below.

  • 2004 Vermentino: At first, the nose came across as a little old, grassy, slightly scotch tape. But with air it improved, showing some sweetness and a nice lime peel note.  The mouth was still holding on, smooth, with nice acidity and appealing saltiness.  Darren thought it reminded him of an Australian riesling. We all thought it surprisingly fresh.  Screwcap.
  • 2004 Grenache Blanc: The nose showed some oxidation, with menthol, honey, and Scotch whiskey. The mouth showed better, with anise notes and a clean richness.  Neil, who liked it a lot, commented that with a nice paté or some rillettes, it would be beautiful.  The finish was long and rich. Cork.
  • 2004 Viognier: A similar plasticky smell at first on the nose as the Vermentino, and like the Vermentino, that blew off, to be replaced by green apple aromas with little hints of white flowers lurking behind.  The mouth was less exciting, not much viognier character, but with with both richness and good acids. An intellectual wine. Screwcap.
  • 2004 Antithesis: Our 100% chardonnay made from a small block in our nursery, named as such because on its first release in 2000 it was our only non-blend and only non-Rhone. This was the first white that I found pleasurable and not just interesting.  A darker color, likely from oak aging, with a nose unmistakably chardonnay: butter and butterscotch, and honey. The mouth is stone fruits (I thought peach syrup, Neil apricot preserves) but dry.  And for all these sweet descriptors, it had precision and length.  A pleasure, and a surprise. Cork.
  • 2004 Cotes de Tablas Blanc: The nose was rich, a little oxidized, and for me, a little heavy.  The palate was broad with bubble gum and mineral, fresh wet stone, maybe a little less acidity on the finish than I'd like.  This is riper (14.5% alcohol) and higher in viognier (55%) than we've been making our Cotes Blanc wines recently, and I like the direction in which we've taken them. Cork.
  • 2004 Bergeron: A wine that we made several years from roussanne planted in our cooler blocks and picked earlier, in homage to the roussannes of the Savoie. Very fresh on the nose, spicy, peppery and light in color.  The mouth showed to me a great coolness, with peppered grapefruit and good length.  Tyler noted its great acidity but with roussanne's characteristic breadth. Screwcap.
  • 2004 Roussanne: Smells older (which it isn't) and bigger (which it was) than the Bergeron, with peach pit and beeswax that's absolutely characteristic of our Roussanne.  In the mouth, it was powerful, with lots of texture and a little oak still that I was surprised hadn't integrated completely.  Big, and long, and very varietally typical. Cork.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: The nose shows aspects of both Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, with butterscotch and almond balanced by a menthol-like freshness.  The texture in the mouth was my most noteworthy aspect, saline and creamy, with less weight than the 100% Roussanne but fresher.  Levi described the flavor as "salted caramel".  The finish was lingering, with anise and mineral that someone described as "rain on the rocks". Beautiful. Cork.
  • 2004 Horizontal rose2004 Rosé: An amazing color (right), electric pink.  The nose shows age but wasn't oxidized, with marascino cherry predominant.  The mouth was rich, with a watermelon candy character and a little tannin from the 48 hours its mourvedre component spent on the skins.  My dad thought it "very mourvedre".  I thought it would showed a nice Beaujolais character and wrote down "quite yummy". A pleasant surprise to all of us. Screwcap.
  • 2004 Cotes de Tablas: We've consistently underestimated the Cotes de Tablas wines' ability to age, and this tasting gave us yet more evidence. The nose was gorgeous, with eucalyptus, fresh tobacco and bright, brambly fruit. Levi commented that it tasted "like a 2-year-old wine". On the mouth, it showed powerfully its grenache aspect (it was 64% grenache) with lots of strawberry fruit up front, and chalky grenache tannins on the end.  We all thought it could go another decade. We sold this for $22 at the time. Cork.
  • 2004 Mourvedre: My dad's comment, after only putting his nose in the glass, was "that's nice!". Meaty and leathery on the nose, with sweet red fruit and milk chocolate.  On the palate it was chewy and salty, leathery, with plums and incense.  Softer all around than the Cotes red, a fact which we all found interesting. Seductive. Cork.
  • 2004 Syrah: Classic syrah nose, with black fruit, juniper, and black olive. Very dark in color. Tyler identified boysenberry. The mouth showed baker's chocolate, black cherry, and peppermint on the finish.  There's still lots of tannin and a little oak on the finish, and the wine tasted to me like it's yet to reach its peak.  This drives home how much syrah benefits from aging. Cork.
  • 2004 Tannat: A woodsy, smoky nose of menthol and eucalyptus. Pine needles on the ground. Still pretty impenetrable (Darren asked if "bullet-proof" was a descriptor).  Neil thought it wanted some cassoulet, and at that point, who didn't.  The finish was if anything lighter than the attack, showing some red licorice and raspberry notes, along with dark chocolate.  My dad summed it up: "We don't call it Mr. T for nothing". Cork.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: On the nose, softer than the preceding two wines and definitely showing its Mourvedre aspect: plums, meat drippings and milk chocolate.  Jenn thought it smelled "like my jar of bacon fat". It was soft, supple and well rounded, fully mature, though we didn't think it was on the downslope. Classy and classic. Cork.
  • 2004 Panoplie: The nose at this stage I found less appealing than the Esprit, a little confected and a little pruney, but with fig and tar.  The mouth, on the other hand, tasted like it had just been bottled, with lots of powerful dark red fruit and tannins that built and built.  Someone called it "a time capsule". I'd decant this for a while if I were drinking it now, or hold it for another few years. Cork.
  • 2004 Vin de Paille: This was perhaps the hardest wine of the tasting for me.  The nose was a little weird, sweet but somehow pickley.  The mouth was more straightforward, with flavors of marmelade and honey, and a cedary note on the finish.  I'm not sure if it's in a phase it will come out of, or if it's past its prime. It shouldn't be over the hill given its 39% roussanne and its sweetness, but our experience with wines like this is limited. Cork.
  • 2004 Vin de Paille "Quintessence": From a single barrel of roussanne that we dried on straw and held an extra year in the cellar. Both cleaner and bigger than the regular Vin de Paille, with flavors of butterscotch, golden raisin and maple sugar.  Neil described it as "like the caramel of a creme caramel". We all wanted it with a poached foie gras. A great way to end the tasting. Cork.

A few concluding thoughts.  First, we preferred all our screwcap-finished wines after they had a chance to breathe.  Consider decanting your older wines that have been finished in screwcap, but don't shy away from aging them because of their closure.  Second, we've consistently underestimated the ageworthiness of our "lesser" wines and instead focused on the Esprits and the Panoplie.  I loved (in addition to the ones I expected) the Antithesis, the Bergeron, the Rosé (!), the Cotes red and the Syrah. There are rewards to be had from aging many wines.

Finally, come and see for yourself!  At the tasting on 3/1 we decided we'll show the Antithesis, Bergeron, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Rosé, Cotes red, Mourvedre, Syrah, Esprit red, Panoplie, and Quintessence.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon, I submit.