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A Horizontal Retrospective: Tasting Every Wine from 2008 at Age 10

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 11th.  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. In fact, each year that we've done this we've been surprised by at least one wine that we expected to be in decline showing up as a highlight.  The lineup:

2008 Retrospective

A while back, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2006 vintage:

The 2008 vintage was our second consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by spring frosts. Berries and clusters were small, leading to excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and harvest about a week later than normal. Crop sizes were similar to 2007 and about 20% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with good intensity, lower than normal alcohols and an appealing gentle minerality and red wines that were unusually fresh and approachable despite appealing lushness.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the elegance that we thought we might find? Would this vintage marked by elegance (sandwiched between two of our most powerful vintages) have retained the stuffing to make them compelling a decade later?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?

In 2008, we made 17 different wines: 8 whites, 1 rosé, and 8 reds. My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling (well, except for the Pinot Noir, which we only made one barrel of and never made a Web page; if you have questions about that, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer).  I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, and Brad Ely) as well as by our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore.

  • 2008 Vermentino (SC): A combination of bright and more aged notes on the nose: petrol, peppermint, grilled grapefruit, lime leaf, lemongrass, and wet rocks. The mouth shows nice acids, clean and younger than the nose, with citrus pith and a nice briny finish. It's in a nice place: like a dry riesling with a little age on it.
  • 2008 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): A deeper golden color. The nose is like that of a sweet wine: caramel and butter pecan and a little minty lift. The mouth is round, and, by contrast, dry. Tons of texture. Flavors of candied orange peel and nectarine, with a pithy bitterness like peach pit coming out on the finish. A touch low in acid, particularly compared to the wines before and after in the lineup. A perfectly admirable showing for this wine, but drink up if you've got any.
  • 2008 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A lifted nose: monty, watermelon rind, barely ripe honeydew, and wet rocks.  This filled out with time in the glass and turned into lemon meringue.  Pretty fascinating.  The mouth is fun: quite rich, with pineapple flavors and a creamy texture that remind me why I always think Picpoul evokes pina colada. A nice limestoney character comes out on the long, clear finish.  Still vibrantly alive, and one of my favorites of the tasting.
  • 2008 Grenache Blanc (SC, and in fact our first experiment with the Stelvin "Lux" that we now use for all our screwcaps): A quieter nose than the first 3 wines: preserved lemon, white pepper, and a little crushed chalky rock. The mouth is initially all about sweet fruit (lychee and candied grapefruit, for me), then the acids take over, and then a little tannic bite that's absolutely characteristic of Grenache Blanc plays back and forth with ripe pear and a spicy juniper character on the long finish.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 42% Viognier, 26% Roussanne, 21% Marsanne, 11% Grenache Blanc): A sweetly spicy nose, more floral than the first four wines, with honey, wild herbs, anise, and jasmine. The mouth is very nicely balanced between sweet attack (I thought peach syrup), good acids, and a little Grenache Blanc pithy bite on the back end. The long finish showed candied orange peel, honeysuckle, and marzipan. It's in a good spot, long after we would have thought.
  • 2008 Bergeron (C): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A cool nose of green pear, honeysuckle, and cantaloupe. The mouth is all about texture: smooth flavors of watermelon and lemon custard, with a soft minerality pervading everything. Still quite Roussanne, in its way, though it's medium-bodied and lively. A little hazelnut and lemon drop comes out on the long finish, but the persistent impression is of its cool, smooth texture. 12.8% alcohol.  We're offering this now as an extra taste in our tasting room, if you're curious.
  • 2008 Roussanne (C): A deeper gold color.  An explosive nose: butterscotch, grilled pear, and a yeasty pastry note: pear tart, anyone? The mouth is gorgeous: luscious, rich, caramel and vanilla, and nuts, but dry. A long powerful finish with apricot and baking spices and a little sweet oak. Really impressive, if you like white wines with power and density. 14.2% alcohol.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): An appealing nose, less powerful than the Roussanne but more complex: key lime pie, honey roasted peanuts, baked apple and a cool green bay leaf herbiness. The mouth shows sweet Roussanne fruit on the attack, pear, honey, and brioche. Then Grenache Blanc's anise lift and pithy bite keep order. Then a long, soft finish with flavors of kiwi and sweet spice, and a little salty minerality which I credited to Picpoul.  A few signs of age, but the wine is in a very nice place.
  • 2008 Rosé (SC; 58% Mourvedre, 32% Grenache, 10% Counoise): A pretty deep amber-pink color. A beguiling nose of candied fruit and baking spices that I thought was like fruitcake and Chelsea compared to "walking through a candy shop". The first of several descriptors that were more like a craft cocktail than a wine: singed orange. The mouth is nice: tart cranberry, cherry soda, grenadine, and campari. A nice texture, with a little tannic bite. Still an interesting wine, but we all remembered this as being insanely good on release, and while this was interesting, it would be a shame to have missed that.
  • 2008 Pinot Noir (C): Our second-ever Pinot, from a few rows of vines in our nursery we were using to produce budwood to plant at my dad's property for our Full Circle Pinot. Quite dark for a Pinot. A deep, ripe nose of root beer and figs and black cherry, with a little pine needle savoriness. The mouth is quite rich: chocolate-covered cherry, cola, dates, and sweet baking spices. Not particularly expressive of Pinot -- and to me less interesting than the Full Circle, which comes from a cooler spot -- but a nice rich red wine.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 7% Mourvedre): After several years of bottling under both cork and screwcap, we only bottled under screwcap in 2008. This was terrific: a nose of roasted meat, plum, raspberry, black pepper, and graham cracker. The mouth was vibrant, with beautiful lifted red fruit: cherry and red plum. There are nice dusty tannins. Still young, lively, and without any real signatures of age, and anyone who has some of this is in for a treat. 
  • 2008 Grenache (C): A nice medium-intensity Grenache nose: cherry cola, cocoa powder, and pepper. Like a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry syrup. A powerful mouth, with supple but significant tannins, great cherry fruit, and nice balance. A long finish with sweet spices and ripe fruit. In an excellent place, and carrying its 15.5% alcohol well. Neil commented "that's a wow for me". One of our favorites of the tasting.
  • 2008 Mourvedre (C): A fun contrast to the Grenache, with a nose more structured and savory: meaty, eucalyptus and garrigue around currant and chocolate. The mouth is medium weight, with more currant fruit and still some pretty big, dusty tannins.  It was a nice example of why Mourvedre and Grenache make such good partners: Mourvedre's austerity is opened up by Grenache's exuberance, while at the same time taming Grenache's tendency toward booziness.
  • 2008 Syrah (C): A different color palette than the Grenache and Mourvedre: all black on the nose, like blackberry, black olive, iodine, black pepper, and baker's chocolate. The mouth shows cool-climate syrah's austerity, with a minty, minerally, meaty darkness, tannins that are still just starting to resolve, and a mouth-filling character that suggests some additional time in bottle will be rewarded. Our best guess: wait another 5 years for peak.
  • 2008 Tannat (C): Also very dark: pine forest, soy, and dark chocolate. The mouth is comparatively friendly, with a sweet attack of milk chocolate, nice grapey purple fruit, a little violet floral lift, and tangy acidity that keeps everything lively. Then lots (lots!) of tannins come out on the finish, with a raspberry preserves note.  Fun to taste, at this stage more appealing, I thought, than the Syrah, but clearly capable of going another decade or more.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 38% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 6% Counoise): Lovely on the nose, tending more toward red than black, but with aspects of each: red currant, new leather, baking spices, balsamic glaze, and a minty garrigue-like savoriness. The mouth is luscious: strawberry preserves, milk chocolate, rare steak, tangy acidity, and really nice, persistent tannins. Elegant and in a good place, with plenty more development to come.
  • 2008 Panoplie (C; 54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): A nose of density and power: balsamic cherry glaze, meat drippings, and wild herbs, with more of Mourvedre's characteristic restraint than Grenache's exuberance. The palate was more luscious: dark red fruit, chocolate, raspberry preserves, dried cranberry, and big but ripe tannins. Very long. A little dustiness that comes out on the finish and the still-thick texture suggests that there are more layers to emerge with additional time in bottle.  Still, a very nice showing for the Panoplie, and an impressive wine.

A few concluding thoughts

I was very happy, overall, with how the wines showed.  I didn't have as clear an impression of 2008 in my mind as I did for the vintages surrounding it, perhaps because the character of the wines wasn't as dominated by the vintage signature as it was in, say, 2007, but also perhaps because the year was overshadowed by the massively powerful vintages on either side. That said, the wines were nearly all in good shape at age 10, and the year's elegance meant that there were more wines that I would want to drink at this stage than I found in 2007. The whites, in particular, were as a group the most impressive we've found in our five-year history of horizontal retrospectives, and presaged, I think, a shift toward the more elegant style that we prefer today.

Nearly all of the wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and particularly so with wines that have been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that all our older screwcapped whites have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant would have been welcome.

This tasting was yet another data point for me suggesting that Syrah really needs time, and yet its value in a blend.  This 2008 Syrah was still, I thought, too young, but the structure and austerity of the Syrah component gave the Esprit red and Panoplie a feeling of balance and restraint that were really valuable. We choose to harvest our estate Syrah at ripeness levels where it has good structural elements, because that's where it's most valuable when blended with Grenache and Syrah.  That's likely a few weeks earlier than we would if we were focusing on the wine as a varietal bottling, and I'm OK with the tradeoff of having to wait a few extra years for our varietal Syrahs to come around.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 11th Horizontal Tasting: Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Esprit, Panoplie, and Tannat. There are still some seats available; I hope many of you will join us!


New World meets Old World: Q&A with Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Lead

By Linnea Frazier

If you have ever visited the Tablas Creek tasting room, it is more than likely that you are familiar with Evelyne Fodor. We hear, again and again, that you cannot help but fall in love with the world she creates, and with her velvet French accent. She is also in charge of the merchandise of our tasting room as well as the training of our new tasting room associates. 

Not only could I listen to her speak about wine for hours, but (needless to say) she is also my go-to for not screwing up the pronunciation on our more obscure varietals.  One of the first things she ever told me was that wine is “pure emotion. It is about the relationship that you have with not only your glass but from the place the wine came from. Don’t ever forget that.”

I caught up with Evelyne recently to ask her about her journey from Lyon, in the Rhone Valley, to Paso Robles.

Evelyne Fodor pic

Where were you born and raised?

I grew up in Lyon, France. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France and is also conveniently located between the Beaujolais and Rhone regions, which are the wines I grew up drinking. I moved to Los Angeles after meeting my husband in the South of France and became fascinated with Paso Robles while visiting winemaker friends. In 2012 we decided to take the leap and sold our house in LA and moved to Paso.

Tell me about how you started working at Tablas.

Just a few weeks after moving to Paso, a sommelier friend from NYC came to Paso to visit wineries in the area and I went along with her. She had a long list of wineries on her agenda, one of which was Tablas. We came and did a Collector’s Tasting. At the end of it we were both so charmed that my friend ended up joining the club and I applied for a position in the tasting room that very night.

What is your role here at Tablas?

I serve as a wine consultant and Tasting Room Sales Lead. My role is to bring my wine expertise, my educational skills, and sales experience to promote our wines. Recently, I also took over responsibility of tasting room merchandise as well.

How would you describe the style of what we offer here at Tablas in terms of merchandising?

I have the opportunity to shop and select merchandise that reflects the integrity and style of our brand.  That’s why we promote local artists such as Heidi Petersen and her beautiful organic pottery, the eco-friendly Tablas branded clothing from Patagonia or our French influences with books by French-American cookbook writer Pascale Beale, Patrick Comiskey’s American Rhône, and an assortment of books on our Châteauneuf-du-Pape origins.  I also have introduced unique French manufacturers including Gien tableware and fabrics from Le Jaquard Francais, high quality, distinctive gifts that pair well with our own Tablas wines.


Evelyne Merchandising Pic Edit
What do you think is a great visitor experience?

I like to remind visitors that while wine can be complex and intimidating, its focus is all about the good things in life; good food, great company, and wonderful memories.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?

Locally, I am a huge a fan of Lone Madrone.  Here again Neil Collins delivers wines that are unique and distinctive; characteristically balanced with structure and finesse.  I especially like his take on Nebbiolo and Chenin Blanc.  I also recently had two very interesting tasting room experiences outside the Paso area.  I found the staff very engaging at The Ojai Vineyard and immensely enjoyed a food and wine pairing at Ridge Vineyard.  These wineries and their wines have in common with Tablas integrity and craftsmanship.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?

For the red, I would pick Terret Noir.  We served it at our tasting room’s pizza party last week and I was in awe.  I found the wine elusive, mysterious and hugely attractive, very different from my typical red experience.  For a white wine, I would select a Picpoul Blanc which I love to pair with roasted root vegetables, perfect for this time of year.  

You are quite the accomplished chef, do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

I grew up eating Mediterranean food usually paired with a Côtes du Rhône.  A roasted chicken with herbes de provence and a ratatouille, paired with our Cotes de Tablas, is so beautiful and perfect it’s my go to dish for an easy dinner with friends.

How do you spend your days off?

I teach French online for UCLA graduate students. I also experiment at producing my own wine [Author's note: I’ve tried one of her GSM’s and I can attest to their ability to leave you speechless]. I am also a voracious reader and lately my reading is all about wine. I am currently reading American Rhone, by Patrick J. Comiskey, an exploration of how the Rhone movement started in California.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

One of the first classes I took when I returned to UCLA for my Ph.D. was an accent reduction class in which I failed miserably.  I ended up with the worst grade of my entire academic career.

What is one of your favorite memories here?

Oh I have so many.  But one of my best happened on a Saturday afternoon in the tasting room.  I was pouring for a group of nine members of a chorus specialized in the singing of ancient Gregorian chants. I was explaining the complexity, balance and creativity of our blends using the analogy of music which led to an impromptu live performance.  Needless to say, it was a magic moment for both guests and staff alike.  

How do you define success?

For me, success is about reinventing yourself and becoming who you want to be. Reinventing yourself can sometimes be a conscious move, or it can be something you just stumble upon. I was lucky to stumble on Tablas. Being immersed in the world of wine is one of the most rewarding things I have yet to do.


Checking in on our first ever Tablas Creek red: the 1997 Rouge

In the early days of Tablas Creek, we followed a very simple model: one red wine (which we called "Rouge") and one white wine (which we called "Blanc").  In 1999, we got really crazy and added a pink wine, which we called (of course) "Rosé".

Things have changed since then, as we've come to know both our vineyard and the market better, and this year we'll bottle, by my count, 29 different wines: 13 reds, 13 whites, 2 rosés, and one sweet wine.  These include our three tiers of blends, a pretty wide range of varietal wines, particularly on the white side (thank you, rainy 2016-17 winter), some small-production wine club-only blends, and one special project we're doing in conjunction with the team at Bern's Steakhouse.  I'm grateful to have the flexibility and opportunity to make these different wines, which I feel show off the uniqueness of our grapes and the talent of our vineyard and winemaking team.

That said, when we get to the blending, Neil and I always look at each other and remark that it used to all be so easy: as long as we liked the lots, they all went to the same place.

So, it was with a mix of nostalgia and anticipation that I opened a bottle of our 1997 Rouge while I was back in Vermont for the holidays.  This was where it all began, and it was not just the reflection, or the essence, of the vineyard that year, but the entirety of our red production.  Even so, we only made about 2000 cases.  It was the first harvest off the Beaucastel cuttings we had brought into the country, as they were kept in quarantine between 1989 and 1992, and then required two years of propagation before we could plant our first block in 1994. To this, we added small amounts of fruit from our American-sourced one-acre blocks of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, most of which we have since grafted over to French clones.  And even these older blocks were only planted in 1992, so the oldest vines in the vineyard were five years old in 1997.

Jason decants 3

Given the youth of the vineyard, it was very much to our surprise that the 1997 Rouge ended up in Wine & Spirits Magazine's "100 Best Wines of 2000", receiving 94 points and the following notes:

"The scent of this wine draws you in, then the texture holds you effortlessly. What’s great about this Rhône blend, however, is not just the deep, dark scent of dried cherries and wet stones, not just the succulent red fruit flavor and voluptuous feel. When it’s gone it leaves a memory of earthiness and a clean, refreshing taste. The wine isn’t about complexity. It focuses on perfect ripeness, and the delicious savory flavors and textures that come with such impeccably balanced grapes. A joy to drink. This is the first release from Tablas Creek, a joint venture between Château de Beaucastel’s Perrin family and their longtime importer Robert Haas."

Because it was so long ago, because we no longer make a "Rouge", and because there wasn't much of the wine to begin with, I don't get to open the 1997 Rouge all that often.  So, it was a treat to see that, even as it approaches its 21st birthday, it's still going strong.

Jason decants 2

My notes from the dinner:

"A deep, rich nose of hoisin, pine forest, currant, green peppercorn, nutmeg, and a coolness that's surprising from such a warm vintage. The mouth is full of sweet fruit: red raspberry and cocoa powder, and a rich texture with tannins that feel like powdered sugar. A little mushroomy earthiness is the wine's best hint of its age.  Shows nice tanginess on the finish and some still-substantial tannins that linger.  Fully mature, but nowhere close to over the hill."

 What a relief that it's finally old enough to drink.


A cold, dry start to winter 2017-18, but a change is (hopefully) on the way.

It's going to be no surprise to most of you to hear that it's been a dry winter so far. You don't need to look any farther than the fact that much of the Central Coast has been dealing with fires at a time of year when we're more likely to be worrying about erosion. Even when we did get a little rain the week before Christmas, it served mostly to highlight just how unusually bare the ground was for late December:

IMG_6401

While the dry weather has meant pleasant afternoons that felt more like October than December, it was also very cold at night.  How cold?  In December, we saw 20 nights of frost at the vineyard.  Now a winter frost isn't unusual.  We typically get 30-40 nights a year that drop below freezing, and December is typically our coldest month.  Nor is it detrimental.  Grapevines benefit from being forced into dormancy, as it keeps them from expending energy they'll need in the spring on winter growth that won't help ripen grapes.

But it is unusual to see so many frost nights in a single month, and even more unusual for so many of those days to be warm.  The average high temperature in December was 68.9 degrees, and sixteen days made it into the 70s.  One day (December 13th) managed to set both Paso Robles' record high (73) and low (22) for that date.  What was the culprit?  Record low humidities, and a near-total lack of cloud cover.  Eighteen days saw relative humidity levels drop into the teens, with a stretch in early December where four days in a week saw levels in the single digits.  How unusual is that?  December 2016, which wasn't even all that wet, didn't see a single relative humidity reading as low as 30%.  Neither December 2015 nor December 2014 saw any days below 20%.  You have to go back to 2013, which for most of California's was its driest year on record, to find anything comparable, and even they only saw 11 days of relative humidity below 20%. No wonder our December brought us only a paltry 0.07" of rain.

The impact on the vineyard is likely to depend on what we see in coming weeks and months.  Typically at this point we'd expect to have accumulated 8.15" of rain. This year, we've only gotten 1.42", or 17% of normal.  Our cover crop has barely sprouted, and the soil is dry down through most of the root zone.  But there's still time.  Typically, more than two-thirds of our annual rainfall comes after the new year, and our two wettest months are, on average, January and February.  That said, there's no question that we're behind. Even with normal rainfall the rest of the winter, we'd only be at 73% of normal precipitation:

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 9.27.37 PM

There's no guarantee that we'll see normal rainfall the rest of the winter, either. The Pacific has settled into a mild La Nina pattern, which typically produces drier than normal winters in California.  That said, for the first time in over a month the near-term forecast is calling for some wet weather. The ridge of high pressure that has been responsible for our dry December is breaking down, and two small storm systems are forecast to impact the Central Coast this week. Even better, the following week is likely to see the storm track shift south enough for some potentially more significant rainfall.  Meteorologist John Lindsey shared the following graphic on social media, showing the two major model predictions of ten-day precipitation:

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While neither projection suggests we'll get drenched, both show an inch or two of rain as we enter January. That's not enough to get down deep into the zone where our dry-farmed vines' roots mostly are, but every bit helps.  At the least, it should get the cover crop germinated, and ensure that our flock of sheep, alpacas, donkeys, and llama has enough to eat this winter without our having to supplement.

Given how dry it's been so far this winter, we'll take whatever we can get. Fingers crossed, everyone, please.