Going back through a library of wines is a tremendously useful thing for a winery to do. It not only gives you a better sense of how the wines from the past have been developing, but also gives you context for judging changes in style and idiosyncrasies of different vintages. It has somehow been four years since our last vertical tasting of our flagship Esprit red wines, in December of 2010. So, on this rainy afternoon (our third in a row!) and with an eye toward our en primeur tasting this weekend, at which we'll offer futures on our 2013 Esprit and 2013 Panoplie, I suggested we sit down and try to find the 2013 Esprit's place in our history. Joining me for the tasting were my dad, Winemaker Neil Collins, Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell, National Sales Manager Darren Delmore, and Tasting Room Manager John Morris. The lineup:
- 2000 Esprit de Beaucastel: A rich, meaty nose, with leather, pine sap, smoke, nutmeg and cardamom providing a great back-and-forth between savory and sweeter aromas. Neil's first comment was "wow". The mouth was rich, with still some big tannins, and flavors of gingerbread, black licorice, black tea and dark cherry. This was the best showing for this wine that I've ever seen, and while fully mature I agree with Darren's closing comment that "it still has lots of life left".
- [Note that we didn't make an Esprit in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage]
- 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very dark in both aromatics and color. Neil called it "broody". My dad called it "bloody". Chelsea summed it up, calling it "rather sinister". The aromas of dusty earth and black licorice were followed by flavors of blackberry and wood smoke, with big tannins that came out on the long finish. I think this is still a young wine, and wanted it with a stew. The wine is almost entirely Mourvedre and Syrah (84% combined, easily our highest ever) and it felt like it.
- 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel: Aromatically, it split the difference between the two previous wines: spicy and dark like 2002 with a meaty red fruit component like 2000. Like a dark chocolate covered cherry. The mouth is rich, with sweet fruit, chocolaty tannins, menthol and anise flavors. It's beautiful, and charming too: my dad called it "a runway wine".
- 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: A cooler, more self-contained wine than 2003, with aromatics lifted by a pretty violet note, above tangy marinade and meat drippings. The mouth is integrated and silky, still showing that coolness in a mint chocolate tone. Tyler called it "silky". Beautifully precise, deep and harmonious. My favorite of the older wines.
- 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose is wild: meaty and leathery, very robust, with a slightly volatile note at first that blew off. The mouth was more primary than the nose, with bright red fruit, some front-palate Grenache tannin, and a nice lingering red licorice note. Still young. Neil thought that "in 5 years this is going to be fantastic". Chelsea thought it a "nice wine for the weather". I thought that if you're drinking this now, it's a good idea to decant it in advance.
- 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel: John commented that compared to the 2005, this wine "just seems so innocent" which to me caught its spirit perfectly. It's a composed, pretty wine, more savory than flashy, with aromas of cocoa hulls, marinade and mint, a refined palate with licorice and dark red fruit in perfect balance with its ripe tannins, and a long, cool finish. My dad thought it "has years ahead of it".
- 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very like the 2005 on the nose, with explosive wild aromatics, lots of leather, dark plum, and a sweet/savory balance that Chelsea called "waffles and graphite". In the mouth, it was still quite primary, with terrific texture, big tannins, and lots of fruit behind. My sense was that it's still coming out of a closed phase, and will be better-integrated in 6 months than it is now, but that patience will be rewarded handsomely.
- 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel: This wine was a surprise to me, as the last time I'd tasted it, it was shut down, and I've been suggesting people stay away for a while. Not any longer. It had a gorgeous nose of gingerbread, purple fruit and mint, with a little sweet oak behind it. The mouth is pure, clean, and refined, with milk chocolate. Of all the wines, it was the most marked by Grenache to me, and showed Grenache's signature purple fruits and refreshing acids on the finish. As it's 30% Grenache (tied for our highest percentage ever in an Esprit) this probably shouldn't be surprising.
- 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose was closed at this tasting, with a little savoriness coming out with time: smoke, mint and bay leaf. The mouth is big, powerful and dark, still quite tannic, plum skin and dark chocolate. Still quite primary and impenetrable. Chelsea called it "burly and polished" which led us to a fun round of imagining what that would look like. An NFL linebacker in a tux? I'd wait on this wine, probably for another few years at least.
- 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose to me felt familiar and appealing, as this has been one of my favorite Esprits since we first made it. The aromatics of juniper and Christmas spices were tangy and foresty, savory but inviting. The flavors of orange peel and clove, red plum and loam were mouth-watering. The wine's flavors were crystal clear and its finish cool and minty. Delicious, though it's likely to start shutting down sometime soon. For now, enjoy.
- 2011 Esprit de Tablas: The nose is coolly spicy; I thought of a pine forest in winter. Juniper and menthol, bay and clove, with some fig providing relief to the savoriness. The mouth is still quite young, with chewy tannins, lots of grip, dark red fruit, and finish of cherry liqueur. My dad described it as "still very primary", which it was. Give it some air if you're drinking it now, or wait and reap the rewards in a decade.
- 2012 Esprit de Tablas: Chelsea said the nose "smells like autumn" with dried leaf and spicy strawberry. The mouth is richer than the nose suggests, with vibrant red fruit on the mid-palate, and some pretty sweet spices. The finish shortens and shows the wine's youth; Tyler commented that it was "like I'm tasting it out of a barrel". Give it a few more months to fully emerge into its first drinking window.
- 2013 Esprit de Tablas (out of foudre): The nose was rich and dark, with Syrah and its black licorice and chalky minerals at the fore. The flavors were vibrating between dark (black raspberry and tree bark) and bright (wild strawberry and red cherry) with an appealing salty/sweetness that reminded me of sea salt caramel. A knockout that John called "confident without being boastful". Seemed like it was on a track that should take it on a similar trajectory as the 2004. Should be a treat for everyone on Saturday!
If you aren't familiar with our en primeur program, it's one of the benefits of our VINsider Wine Club. Members have the opportunity to taste the upcoming releases of our Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie wines out of barrel, the winter before they're bottled, and reserve wine at a futures-only 30% discount. More information on our en primeur program can be found on our VINsider News page.