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We warm up for the Holidays with a vertical tasting of Panoplie 2000-2015

Panoplie, for those who don't know it, is our elite red wine modeled after the Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin, with a very high percentage of Mourvedre and an extremely limited production.  Because it's not a wine that we put into distribution -- it goes exclusively to our wine club members each spring -- it's our chance to make as spectacular a wine as we can, without worrying about having to make it in quantity. Members have the opportunity to purchase 2 or 3 more bottles maximum after each shipment.  Even so, it rarely lasts more than a month.

Because of the wine's scarcity and its long aging curve, I don't open one very often. So today, in anticipation of the upcoming holidays, I decided to reward myself and our team with a chance to taste every vintage of Panoplie we've made, and share the notes so that anyone who's lucky enough to have a few bottles in their cellar can see what we think.

The lots that we choose for the Panoplie are the richest and most compelling in the cellar, and these wines are made to age.  In the tasting, even the oldest (from 2000) was just at maturity, and had in fact improved since the last Panoplie vertical we did four years ago.  The wines from the mid-2000's were fresh and vibrant, and although they're showing well, will go out another decade easily.

That said, it was interesting to me to see just how well some of the more recent wines did, with vintages like 2013 and 2011 standing up proudly alongside the more mature favorites like 2003, 2005, and 2008.  In fact, there was really only one vintage I'd caution people away from at the moment: 2010, which appeared to us to be in the in-between teenage stage that many Mourvedre-based wines go through 5-7 years after their vintage date.  The other wines all offered immense pleasure, even in their youth, and while they will undoubtedly add complexity with additional time in bottle, no one will be disappointed if they open one up this holiday season. The lineup:

Panoplie Vertical Dec 2016

The scene:

Panoplie tasting panorama

From oldest to youngest (note that we didn't produce a Panoplie in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage, and that each wine is linked to its profile page on our Web site if you want detailed technical information or to see the tasting notes we wrote shortly after bottling):

  • 2000 Panoplie (55% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 15% Grenache): The nose was still quite fresh and vibrant, while still showing some of the trademark aromas of maturity: raspberry and fresh plums with roasted meat and Christmas spices. There's nice sweet dark red fruit on the mouth, deepened with flavors of chocolate-covered cocoa beans and given focus by some still-solid tannins.  After tasting the other wines, the Syrah here seemed quite noteworthy, giving power and tannic structure, but also making the wine a touch more monolithic than some later wines in the lineup.  Still, an outstanding performance for this, our first and oldest Panoplie, made from vines no more than 8 years old.
  • 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): A nose that was both more mature and more open than the 2000; I immediately thought of an old Beaucastel: anise, rosemary, sweet peppermint, and juicy red fruit.  The mouth was generous, fully mature and in a beautiful place, with a nice dash of white pepper on the finish.  We couldn't imagine this getting any better; drink up if you have one.
  • 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise): Rich and a little more vibrant on the nose than the 2002, with a touch more minty lift and the deeper aromas of milk chocolate and meat drippings more pronounced.  In fact, a nice mid-point (as the blend would suggest) between the 2000's meaty, woodsy power and the 2002's open red-fruited generosity. Rich and mouth-filling on the palate, chewy and savory, with little balsamic/soy/umami character giving relief to the fruit on the finish.  Beautiful.
  • 2004 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is complex but also a touch older than the previous wines, dense, with notes of pine brush, cola, bacon and orange peel.  The mouth shows nice tannic structure, quite dense, with dark fruit and a woodsy note that plays off the fruit nicely.  The finish comes off as a touch sweet right now, with flavors of licorice root, cherry syrup, and tree bark framing still-substantial tannins.  A bit disjointed for me right now, with the sweetness, savoriness, and tannins all fighting for dominance.  I'm interested to see where this goes in coming years.
  • 2005 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 5% Syrah): An explosive, dramatic nose, full of wild herbs, flowers, and dark, brambly blackberry fruit. On the palate, it's rich and dense: sweet fruit, plum skin, dark chocolate and a tangy marinade note. Amazing that this was from one of our highest-ever production vintages.  My dad called this "a wow wine" and Chelsea added a great analogy: "like driving a performance vehicle, with that weight, but how it holds the road". Should be great for some time.
  • 2006 Panoplie (68% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 5% Syrah): If less drama, and a touch more mature, than the 2005, no less appealing. A nose that shows both savory -- spicy eucalyptus and herbs -- and sweet -- sugarplums -- notes. On the palate, seemingly very Grenache in character with lots of fruit, a luscious salted-caramel-chocolate note, great mid-palate weight and mature tannins. A real crowd pleaser with nice sweet fruit on the long, fresh finish. We felt that this was aging faster than the 2005 and, like the 2002, was just about as good as we could imagine it getting. 
  • 2007 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A savory Old World nose with leather, root beer, baking spices, and soy. More youthful and Californian on the palate, with fresh plums, cocoa, a round, voluptuous texture, and big but ripe tannins.  After a long stretch in the closed period, this is singing now, though Neil commented "but it'll be even better in 5 years". This wine got smokier and more chocolaty with time in the glass; definitely decant it if you're drinking it now, but be prepared to be richly rewarded.
  • 2008 Panoplie (54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): The nose is spectacular, even after the remarkable 2007, focused and inviting with explosive aromatics of sweet spices, strawberries and cream.  The mouth was generous with sweet fruit, like cherry jam but smoother and richer. Lovely, lively, and pure.  My dad called it "a ballerina", which I thought was a nice way of talking about its graceful power.
  • 2009 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): A very cool, savory, and exciting nose of dark blue/black fruit, seemingly less about Grenache than the 2008. The fruit is fresh but concentrated, cherry and plum, with a powdered sugar character to the tannins that we often see in great vintages.  Some cocoa powder on the finish, which is still youthfully grippy and fairly primary.  It's still quite a young wine, from a powerful vintage, and may also still be emerging from its closed phase.  Should make great drinking over the next decade.
  • 2010 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is quiet compared to the previous wines, though appealingly savory, like baker's chocolate with a citrus pith note.  On the palate, the chocolate character predominates, with fruit, meat drippings, and a little minty lift.  The finish was a little short.  Four years ago, this was one of our absolute highlights of the tasting; this year it didn't get a single vote when I asked everyone around the table to pick three favorites.  That's a great indication it was in its closed phase, and should be hidden away for a few years.
  • 2011 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is all about dark, as are many of the 2011's right now: a slate minerality, with eucalyptus, black licorice, new leather, and charcuterie notes.  A little peppery lift (Chelsea thought pink peppercorn) gave some aromatic high notes. On the palate, highter toned, with strawberry preserves, a nice creamy texture, and beautiful tannins framing a long finish.  This wine was the one we chose to have with the main course of our Tablas Creek holiday party last weekend, and it shined opposite a braised short rib.  A beautiful wine, in a very nice stage, though it's next in line to shut down.  Anyone drinking it in 2017-2018 would be well advised to check our vintage chart, which we update every few months.
  • 2012 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is still primary, with wild strawberries, a nice rosemary note, and some creamy minerality. On the palate, some nice savoriness on the attack, with garrigue framing strawberry fruit, medium bodied, and very well balanced.  If it's a little simple compared to the 2011 or 2013, that seems a reflection of the vintage.  It will be nice to give this some time in the cellar to gain some secondary notes and a darker tone; we thought the same thing about the 2008 at a similar stage, and look where that is now.
  • 2013 Panoplie (75% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is explosive like the 2008 and 2005, dark and not particularly fruit driven, with flavors of marinating stew: bay leaves and herbs and meat, on top of plum skin and dark chocolate. In the mouth, it's luscious and powerful, not at all sweet, with concentrated flavors, chalky tannins, and a great precise, dry finish with tons of promise.  My mom commented that it "feels French" and it did.  It will be exciting to watch over the next two decades.
  • 2014 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 7% Syrah): Rounder edges than the 2013, with a nicely lifted nose of herby wild strawberries, orange pith, a briny mineral note, and grilled game fowl (we had a long discussion about whether the right game was quail, squab, or duck, which probably says more about the fact that lunchtime was approaching and we'd already tasted 13 wines than about any specific flavors). The palate shows the characteristic lush texture of the 2014 vintage: mouthwatering ripe raspberry, deepened by some brambly spice.  Still a baby, and only going to get deeper and better.  Will go out to VINsider Club members in the spring.
  • 2015 Panoplie (71% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 5% Syrah; from foudre): Still in foudre and smells very young: intensely grapey, with some meatiness and floral (gardenia?) lurking behind all that primary fruit.  The mouth is less in its infancy than the nose, with a great combination of spiciness, generosity, meatiness, and tannic power that reminded us of a slightly lusher 2011. It's going to be a treat to watch this evolve. It will go into bottle late this coming summer, and be released to VINsiders in the spring of 2018.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The overall level of quality was exceptionally high.  I asked the nine people around the table for their votes on three favorites, and eleven of the fifteen wines received at least one vote.  The highest vote getters were 2005 (6 votes), 2008 (5 votes), with both 2007 and 2009 receiving 3 votes. Really any of these wines, even the ones that aren't as good as they will be, will make for exceptional drinking if you open it.
  • Things move.  Looking back at our last Panoplie vertical from 2012 our favorites were 2003, 2007, and 2010.  The 2010 has moved into a closed phase, like the Esprit 2010, a process we more or less understand and can predict.  But the older favorites moved too.  The 2003 was still spectacular, but stood out less because of the evolution of wines like 2002, 2005, and 2006, which all showed more mature tannins and better balance than they did four years ago.  And the 2007, which was wildly exciting at age 5, came through its closed phase as a more settled, finished product.  Do I like it better now than I did then?  I'm not sure.  But it's been fun to see it at both stages, and to know that any one bottle you open is only a snapshot.
  • The young wines are drinking very well.  I know that when we let people know that these wines can age two decades it often scares them away from opening one young.  But the young wines in this flight were almost all drinking beautifully, and anyone who opens a vintage like 2011 or 2013 in coming months is in for a real treat.

Now... to decide which one to open with Christmas dinner!