Blending is always an exciting time for me. Up until that time, the different wine lots in the cellar have been potential, and we're looking at them principally in terms of the problems that they might present. One might not be through fermentation. Another might be a little oxidized, or a little reduced. Yet another might still be spritzy. In each case, we're trying to round these component pieces into form so that we can make our evaluations on them and aim them at the appropriate wine. This period can last as long as six months, starting with harvest and not concluding until April.
Once the lots are behaving, blending can happen startlingly fast, and these components that we have been regarding as potential problems (or, if you prefer, as diamonds in the rough) can in a week become the young wines that we'll spend the next years or decades getting to know. In addition, that week provides our best opportunity yet to get to understand the personality of the vintage and try it next to its predecessor for context. The finished products:
When we blend, we start by tasting every lot from each varietal, blind. This year, we had 14 Grenache lots, 12 Mourvedre lots, 8 Syrah lots, 3 Counoise lots and 3 lots that we'd blended early in the fermentation process (including the Scruffy Hill lot that forms the base of our En Gobelet each year). Each lot is given a grade between 1 and 3, with 1 being the best. My notes from this year are below; note how many 1's there are and how few 3's: the sign of a good vintage and one that is polished enough to evaluate:
Once we've graded and discussed each lot, we start from the top, blending the Panoplie first from the lots that received "1" grades and exceptional comments. [In the notes above, I use an asterisk to identify the first Mourvedre lot and the sixth Syrah lot as clear Panoplie candidates.] We taste a handful of possible blends blind against one another until we reach consensus. Once we're satisfied with the Panoplie, we remove the lots that went into it from our calculations and start the same process on the Esprit, and so forth through the Cotes de Tablas and our varietal wines and eventually to the estate lots that will be declassified into our Patelin de Tablas.
Since each blend may contain 20+ lots, each of which themselves might be composite blends of dozens of barrels, it takes the cellar a while to blend the wines we have to taste, and it's nearly impossible to make decisions on more than one tier a day. So, the seven blending days that we took this year is just about the minimum possible, and another sign that the components were in good shape for blending. Below are my notes from last Wednesday's tasting of the finished blends. At this tasting, I was joined by my dad, my brother Danny and our winemakers Neil, Chelsea and Tyler.
- 2013 Patelin de Tablas: A spicy, meaty nose with leather and mineral notes. In the mouth, Syrah is at the fore: creamy, with chalky texture, very savory, with charcuterie and tobacco coming first, then brambly black fruit, and some welcome black licorice on the finish. Final blend: 45% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 22% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise.
- 2013 Cotes de Tablas: The nose is juicy, generous, raspberry and spice, with a little leather lurking behind. The mouth is clearly marked by Grenache, with juicy wild strawberry and chalky tannins that balance the lushness. The finish is long and silky, with red licorice notes lingering. Neil said he thought it was "the deepest, most thoughtful Cotes we've made". 55% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5% Mourvedre.
- 2013 Esprit de Tablas: A nose of dark red fruit, currant and plum, black cherry and meat drippings, and a loamy minerality that Neil called "after a rain out in the vineyard". The wine is mouth-filling, rich with bittersweet chocolate and blueberry and the powdered-sugar tannins that are for us a sign of great Mourvedre. Danny called it "classy and refined". 40% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache and 10% Counoise.
- 2013 Panoplie: The nose is rich, inky and inviting, with spicy purple fruit, a meaty note that someone identified as reduced beef stock and I thought was like a leather armchair. In the mouth, plums, black raspberry and black cherry vibrate between red and black and the texture is rich and chewy. Despite only being 10% Syrah, it was the darkest color, with an exceptionally long finish showing off grilled meat, licorice and chalky tannins. Wow. 70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah.
- 2013 Grenache: The nose was immediately identifiable as Grenache: milk chocolate and cherry, with a little white pepper adding spice. The mouth was open and generous, with more red cherry and strawberry fruit and a nice chocolatey note. Tangy acids come out on the finish to keep things balanced, but the impression is of lusciousness and baby fat right now.
- 2013 Mourvedre: The nose has an appealing, classic cedary, foresty, loamy note on top of mint and currant fruit. The mouth shows very similar flavors, with nice chunky tannins at the end. It's serious, dry, and long, and should be fun to watch evolve.
- 2013 Syrah: Classic Syrah nose, with chalk, black olive, coffee grounds and squid ink predominant. Not much fruit showing yet, but a little sweet oak. In the mouth, you find the fruit: blackberry, with big tannins that suggest it will benefit from the next year-plus in barrel, and likely additional time aging in bottle. Very chewy and dark.
One of the things I was happiest with was the definition between the different blends, between the different varietals, and between the varietals and the blends that were led by those grapes. It's important to us that the Cotes de Tablas not taste too much like the varietal Grenache -- and that it not taste too much like the Esprit or the Patelin. This year, I think we nailed it: each varietal wine is a classic expression of its varietal characteristics, and each blend shows the signature of its leading grape but is, as we typically find, more than the sum of its parts.
It will be a pleasure to get to know these wines over the coming years.