Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club. In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club. In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release. About 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments. In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming weeks and months. In some cases (like this time) where the shipments contain wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be week after next) it's a chance to get to know wines that are newly finished. Over recent years, I've given followers of the blog a first look at these notes.
These shipments include wines from the 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages. It was interesting to taste these three vintages, all of which we think were very strong, together, and to get a sense of how they compare. My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are that 2013 is a classically-styled, old-world vintage, on the brooding side, with substantial tannins, more about balance than exuberance. It should be exceptionally ageworthy, and I think that most of the reds will benefit from a little time in bottle. 2014 is a blockbuster vintage, with wines that are luscious and forward, yet not lacking in tannin and structure. Both our 2014 Cotes de Tablas and 2014 Cotes de Tablas Blanc are a part of this shipment, and I think they're the best examples of these wines we've ever made. I can't wait to get the 2014 Esprits into bottle. Finally, 2015 (we only tasted two wines) seems to be explosively vibrant, with intense fruit and a sweet-tart character that should be immediately appealing.
I'll start with the classic mixed shipment, and then move on to the red-only and white-only shipments, noting which wines will be included in each. I was joined for the tasting by Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi. The wines:
2014 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas Blanc is our showcase for the floral, lush fruit of Viognier (39%), grounded by the texture, acidity, and citrus of Grenache Blanc (29%), with Marsanne (20%) providing gentle minerality and Roussanne (12%) providing structure. The components were blended in April 2015, aged briefly in stainless steel, and bottled in June.
- Tasting Notes: Stunning in its intensity for this bottling: honey and nectarine and spicy passion fruit on the nose, with something cooler, like wet stones. In the mouth, it's rich and tangy, with ripe pineapple fruit lifted by orange blossom and deepened with a briny sea-spray element. The finish is rich, long, and clean, with a creamy expansiveness that reminded me of lemon meringue. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 1250 cases
2011 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: Although 2011’s spring frosts largely spared the notoriously late-sprouting Roussanne, yields were still low and these low yields combined with the unusually cool growing season to produce structured Roussanne with good acidity, suitable for aging. Knowing this, we held back a good chunk of this wine, and are releasing it to club members now. 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Picpoul Blanc, aged for a year in foudre and then for 3 more years in bottle.
- Tasting Notes: The three years in bottle have brought depth and additional substance to the classic Roussanne flavors and aromatics, and like many Roussanne-based wines it has become more aromatic with age. It's showing candied orange peel, ginger, creme brulee and lychee fruit on the nose. The mouth is savory, with green plum, grilled bread, honeydew rind, lots of mineral, and a hint of nutty oak on the long, stony finish. When it was released, I called it "a fascinating combination of rich and very dry". That's more true than ever now. Drink now or continue aging for another decade.
- Production: 2480 cases
2015 PATELIN DE TABLAS ROSÉ
- Production Notes: Our fourth vintage of the Provencal-style dry rosé that we base on Grenache and source primarily from other vineyards with our grapevines in the ground. Always heavy on Grenache (68% this year), the wine also includes additions of zesty, vibrant Counoise (13%), rich, floral Mourvedre (11%) and for the first time, a little spicy Syrah (8%). Most of the Grenache and all the Syrah were picked for the rosé program and direct pressed upon arrival at the winery, with the balance bled off after a few hours on the skins. It is just a shade darker than our 2014, but still pale, fresh, and clean.
- Tasting Notes: A pretty light peach color. On the nose, explosive aromatics of nectarine, wild strawberries, grapefruit pith, and jasmine. The mouth is rich but vibrant, with flavors of rubired grapefruit, plum, mineral, spice and rose petals. The acids are bracing on the finish, and the wine is really long. I can't wait to get this in front of people. Drink now and over the next year.
- Production: 2150 cases
2014 COTES DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our chance to let Grenache shine, as it does in most Chateauneuf du Pape blends. The luscious 2014 vintage led to us using a closer percentage of Grenache (44%) and Syrah (36%) than normal, to keep Grenache's generosity and fruitiness from tilting over into sappiness. Additions of Counoise (12%) and Mourvedre (8%) added a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2015 and aged in foudre until its bottling in February 2016.
- Tasting Notes: Shows a deep, spicy nose for a Grenache-based wine (of course, there's a lot of Syrah in here): new leather and blackcurrant and licorice and a sweet spiciness like a clove-studded orange, all held in check by a minerality that Chelsea called "rock quarry". The mouth is generous with chocolate-covered cherry and a minty, juniper note. It reminded me of the best grape jelly you could ever imagine. Beautiful chalky tannins clean things up at the end, and the finish is long, with licorice, mint, and chalky mineral notes. Drink now and over the next decade or more.
- Production: 1600 cases
- Production Notes: Our twelfth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging. While we often blend ours with Cabernet Sauvignon, in this vintage we bottled the Cabernet separately and the wine is 100% Tannat. We aged it in neutral demi-muids for nearly 2 years before bottling it in July 2015.
- Tasting Notes: On the nose, dark, savory and winey, with baker's chocolate and an iron-like bloodiness that reminded me of marinating meat with rosemary and soy. The mouth is lusher than the nose suggests, with dark chocolate flavors, brambly black fruit, and a creamy texture. The iron-like minerality came back out on the long finish, which also showed Tannat's signature tannins and smoky character. A wine to watch evolve over decades.
- Production: 720 cases
- Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always giving pride of place to Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2014. The wine was bottled in August 2015 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then. The blend is 75% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache and 10% Syrah.
- Tasting Notes: A nose that manages to be both brooding and inviting, with notes of pine forest and aged balsamic and cassis and meat drippings. The mouth is luscious, with red plum, black licorice, leather, cocoa powder and cigar box flavors. The finish is long, with big tannins enlivened by a minty lift. A wine to wait on if you possibly can, at least in the short term, but one that should have two decades of life, easily.
- Production: 670 cases
There were two additional wines (joining the Cotes de Tablas Blanc and Esprit de Tablas Blanc) in the white-only shipment:
- Production Notes: Our fourteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottle it in screwcap. Normally a generous producer, our yields in 2015 were down by nearly 50%.
- Tasting Notes: A classic Vermentino nose of white grapefruit, citrus leaf, and crushed rock, but then surprisingly generous and mouth-filling, like lemon-lime soda, with a briny sea spray minerality and a long, clean, luscious finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 575 cases.
2014 PATELIN DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas Blanc is our white Rhone-style blend sourced from our many great neighborhood Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (49%), with Viognier (31%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, and Roussanne (12%) and Marsanne (8%) adding minerality and texture. The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled young (in May 2015) to preserve its freshness.
- Tasting Notes: The nose is very polished, with toasted marshmallow and lemongrass, honeydew, orange zest and preserved lemon. In the mouth, the wine is luscious, with caramel apple and rose water flavors, and a little Grenache Blanc tannin that maintains order on the long, aromatic finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 3000 cases
Three additional reds joined the Cotes de Tablas, Panoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:
2013 FULL CIRCLE
- Production Notes: 2013 is the fourth vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside Robert Haas's family home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects his career: from a start introducing America to the greatness of Burgundy, through decades focusing on grapes from the Rhone, he's now growing Pinot at home. The grapes were fermented in one-ton microfermenters, punched down twice daily by hand. After pressing, the wine was moved into year-old Marcel Cadet 60-gallon barrels, for a hint of oak. The wine stayed on its lees, stirred occasionally, for a year and a half before being blended and bottled in April 2015.
- Tasting Notes: A classically Pinot nose of sarsaparilla, nutmeg, milk chocolate and black cherry. In the mouth the wine is beautifully fresh and medium-bodied, with cherry cola flavors and a touch of sweet oak on the finish. Really pretty, and (for us) a validation that we can make classic-styled Pinot Noir here in Paso Robles. Drink now and over the next decade.
- Production: 310 cases
2014 PATELIN DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from our many great neighborhood Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (55%), with Grenache (29%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (10%) and Counoise (6%) earth and structure. Fermented in a mix of upright oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks and aged in wooden uprights, it was bottled in July 2015 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
- Tasting Notes: A dark, Syrah-driven nose that is creamy, meaty, minerally, and a little bit wild. A little blue fruit lurks underneath and comes out with air. The mouth shows both Grenache and Syrah's influence, with black plum, boysenberry, chalky minerality and nice powdered sugar tannins that come out on the finish. Decant if you're drinking now, or age for up to a decade for secondary and tertiary flavors of meat and earth.
- Production: 3500 cases
- Production Notes: Our first varietal bottling of Syrah since 2010. Despite the warm 2013 vintage, the vintage proceeded largely without extreme heat spikes, and cool-loving Syrah showed both power and freshness in our blending trials. So, we kept aside one foudre (assembled from a mix of newer and older small barrels) of our most expressive Syrah, and aged it there for a year before bottling in May of 2015.
- Tasting notes: A dark, spicy brambly campfire wildness that is absolutely characteristic of Syrah. There is also a marinade wineyness that seems to be 2013's signature in our red wines. The palate is vibrant with blackberry and briary spice, big tannins and a little sweet oak. I don't think this will hit its peak for a decade or more, but it should be pretty amazing once it does. Decant in advance if drinking soon, or wait up to two decades.
- Production: 550 cases
If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try. This spring's party will be on Sunday, April 10th. If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club