Tablas Creek is a finalist for 2013 Best Winery Blog!

WBA_Finalist_2013We are proud to have been named a finalist for "Best Winery Blog" at the 2013 Wine Blog Awards.  This is the sixth consecutive year we've been honored as a finalist, and we've taken home the trophy twice, in 2008 and 2011.  We'd love to make the 2013 awards a three-peat.

This year's finalists include several past nominees and two former winners, and is I think the strongest field to date. If you aren't reading them, you should: they're all compelling glimpses inside the world of a winery, from vineyard to cellar to market:

It seems an appropriate time to look back at some of my last year's most memorable blog posts. If you missed them, or you're a new visitor to the blog thanks to the recent nomination, it's an admittedly idiosyncratic selection of the posts that resonated most with me, with a brief explanations of why for color.  If you're a regular reader, hopefully you'll find some old friends here.  I am particularly proud that this is our most collaborative effort to date, with great posts by several members of our team supplementing my own work. In chronological order:

  • Seeing red -- and green -- in Santa Fe In which National Sales Manager Darren Delmore stakes his claim as the Hunter S. Thompson of the Tablas Creek blog. If you don't feel like you're in Santa Fe with him, check your pulse.
  • When wine tasting, step away from the carafe The post that got the most echoes this year, with excerpts or links posted on scores of other social media sites and the complete article reprinted in several wine associations' newsletters. Why the buzz? We made some simple experiments that showed that when you rinse your glass with water, the next wine is diluted 7%, with some effects you'd predict and some you might not.
  • Harvest 2012: The End of the Beginning I could have chosen any of Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi's posts; they're all beautifully written and illustrated with her terrific photographs, and give an amazing glimpse into the psyche of the cellar. But this one stood out for how raw it was, reflecting the exhaustion and elation of the end of harvest.  Maybe my favorite post of the year.
  • In which we dig ourselves a hole, on purpose Viticulturist Levi Glenn digs into the results of a soil survey on our new parcel conducted by a Cal Poly class.  If you're a soil junky, or just want to understand some of the complexity of what's there when you get below the topsoil, Levi makes this detailed, complex picture compelling and comprehensible.
  • Is the bloom off the user review site rose? I take a look at the number of reviews we and some other comparable wineries around us have been receiving from Yelp! and TripAdvisor, and come to the conclusion that we're in the middle of an industry-wide slump in review authorship. It was fun to see other wineries chime in on what they were seeing, confirming our suspicions.
  • Surviving consolidation in the wholesale market A preview of a talk I gave to the Unified Grape and Wine Symposium in Sacramento, in which I represented smaller wineries and shared some of the essentials of keeping yourself viable in a crowded, noisy market with an ever-shrinking number of wholesalers and an ever-growing number of wineries.
  • The costs of state alcohol franchise laws  I only put up one post this year focusing on the labrynth of legislation a winery has to navigate to get its wares to market, but it was an important one and will preview, I think, the next frontier of court challenges to state-sponsored restraint of the wine trade.
  • Can I get an ice bucket for my red?  A post I'd been thinking about for a while that also seemed to resonate with audiences, deconstructing the myth that red wines show best at room temperature and whites should be served cold.
  • When Terroir Was a Dirty Word A recent post by my dad that dives into the surprising history of the meaning of terroir.  You may not have realized that as recently as the 1960's, it was a bad thing for a wine to taste of terroir.  I certainly didn't.

As always, the winner will be determined 50% by the votes of the expert panel of judges who culled the nominations to the five finalists, and 50% by the votes of the public.  I encourage you to browse the finalists, and if, at the end, you believe us worthy, we'd be honored to receive your vote (Vote here).  Voting ends this Friday, May 24th.


When Terroir Was a Dirty Word

By Robert Haas

Take a look at this picture of the half-bottle of 2010 Meursault from Thierry and Pascale Matrot that my wife, Barbara and I opened for lunch on our little back patio yesterday.  We enjoyed lunch outdoors because the temperature at noon was 68 degrees, 20 degrees cooler than Monday!

RZH Meursault 2010

Who, only 49 years ago, in Burgundy, would ever have imagined that fine Burgundy wines would be finished in other than cork?  Not me, for sure.  Nor would have Thierry Matrot’s father Pierre or grandfather Joseph.  Matrot’s importer Vineyard Brands tells me that sales in the U.S. have soared since the wine was introduced in screw cap closure. 

The screw cap reads,“Noblesse du Terroir”. Terroir, the difficult-to-translate RZH Jancis 2French noun, has come to mean the cumulative impact on a finished wine of the soil and climate (and some say human) specifics of where the wine's grapes were grown. Wines with terroir are much sought-after and admired by today's growers, wineries and wine writers and critics, and consumers.  The Oxford Companion to Wine, published in 1994 and edited by Jancis Robinson (excerpted right) introduces the subject in four full columns, starting with the displayed paragraphs.  In Robinson's definition, terroir is noble, the underpinning of appellation controlée system and central to the philosophy of wine in the Old World.

Now take a look at the seven-line entry of Frank Schoonmaker, America’s foremost wine expert and author in 1964, about terroir.  His association, rather than the "somewhereness" the wine exhibits, is more of a taste of dirt, neither elegant nor elevated. Look at his description of gout de terroir: "somewhat unpleasant, common, persistent”:

RZH Schoon 2

Why this sea change?  I believe that it has been driven by the influence of new grape plantings in the New World, and particularly in California.  In the old world and particularly France, with thousands of years’ experience, the legislated Appellations Controllées designated the great “terroirs”. But even in the Old World, greatness was traditionally associated with particular vineyards and came only gradually in the second half of the twentieth century to be associated with the environmental conditions that gave those vineyards their specific character.

In California, modern planting and marketing history only dates back to 1933, the end of prohibition.  Early-on, California wines were field blends named after French appellations such as Claret, Burgundy, Chablis, etc., though the wines in the bottle had little or nothing to do with the wines (or even the grapes) traditional in these regions.  As the industry became more sophisticated, higher quality vintners -- led most influentially by Robert Mondavi -- adopted varietal names such as Cabernet-Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot to differentiate themselves from the mostly ordinary field blends. But while varietal labeling offered clarity, more was needed to identify quality wines.  Did they come from growing areas well suited to the grapes in the wine?  Thus began the American Viticultural Area (AVA) designations, and central to the AVA's raison d'etre is the concept that each appellation shares similarities in their soils and climate that gives the wines that are grown there a shared character. 

Of course, the AVA system is based on the models used in France, Italy, Spain, Germany and elsewhere in the traditional wine-growing regions of Europe.  But unlike Old World appellations, American AVA's are not restricted to specific grapes.  It may not be traditional to grow Tempranillo in Napa or Cabernet in Santa Maria, but you're welcome to do so.  The AVA just specifies where the grapes are grown, and it's up to you to make your case for the quality of the end product.  And central to the growing significance of terroir has been wineries' efforts to support their claims to quality by geographic designation.  After all, while Cabernet-Sauvignon could be grown anywhere, there are places where it's better suited than others.  Good “Terroir” implied not just a good place to grow grapes, but a good place to grow specific grapes, resulting in an appealing character of place in the wines produced there. 

Screwcaps share some of this history.  They were first developed in the late 1960's by a French company, popularized by wineries in the New World (Australia and New Zealand deserve most of the credit here) and now have reached sufficient acceptance that they're even being used for noble French terroirs like Meursault. 

Cheers to good ideas, wherever they originate.


Of Broncos and Wine, 1996 Vintage

By Robert Haas

This week we had fun visitors from Vermont: our daughter Rebecca, her husband, their three year old, Emmett, and old friends Mike and Cheryl LeClair.  The LeClairs volunteered to drive our 1990 Ford Bronco here from Vermont in September of 1996 and help with the harvest.  That 1996 harvest was from our new, very young Tablas Creek vineyard but, since our own on-site winery was a year away from completion we vinified and bottled the tiny production over at the Adelaida Cellars winery, a few miles down Adelaida Road.

I wanted to sample a bottle of 1996 with the LeClairs while they were here, so I found a bottle of our Tablas Hills "Cuvee Blanc" from that year.  We used the Tablas Hills label for our wines in 1995 and 1996, grown on our property but made at Adelaida Cellars, and debuted the Tablas Creek Vineyard label we use today in 1997 with the completion of our estate winery.  The 1996 Cuvee Blanc was a blend of Roussanne and Viognier from our then-3-year-old vines.  I brought the bottle to a dinner party at Jason’s to which Cesar Perrin (François’ youngest son, who was 6 years old in 1996) and Neil Collins were also invited. 

1996 Cuvee Blanc

We were all surprised by the resiliency of the wine.  It was delicious: light golden in color, white flowers, honey and almonds on the nose, dry, soft, rich and structured on the palate, with only the slightest hint of its 17 years of age.  You can see the youthful color in the photo below.

RZH Drinking the 1996 Cuvee Blanc

We are often asked about our expected longevity for our wines; mostly about the reds.  Since our first bottlings from our imported vines were in 1996, we do not have decades of experience to go on.  At this point, we believe at least 20 years.  But this weeks’ experience of this 1996 demonstrates the ability of the whites, especially the Roussannes and their blends to age many years and improve in bottle. The blog has the report from one recent vertical tasting of the Esprit blancs.

The ability of a wine to not only age, but to age well, going from rich, juicy, sometimes tannic youth to elegant, nuanced maturity, has always been a mark of quality.  Paso Robles may not have yet deveoped the reputation of ageworthiness to rival that of Napa, Bordeaux or even Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but tastings like these give us every reason to expect that it will. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, that old Bronco that arrived in time to help us with the 1996 harvest is still running. It was great to see that the vintage it helped produce is keeping pace.


Poulet demi-deuil and Beaucastel: A truffly duet

By Robert Haas

The end of fall and beginning of winter is the season that we enjoyed wonderful black truffle dishes during our travels to visit vineyard proprietors in France.  Alas, although we have learned to produce fine wines in California, we have not been able to do black truffles yet.

So, when the yearly truffle yearning comes along, we sometimes yield to the temptation of buying imported French truffles on line.  We do scrambled eggs with truffles (yum), as served at Beaucastel or chez Perrin, and last night, with our California family, a poulet demi-deuil (literally “chicken in half-mourning” for the dark color given to the chicken’s skin by the slices of truffle nestled underneath. Once appropriately dressed, the chicken is poached in chicken stock).  It is a dish y which we were stunned at first exposure at La Mère Brazier, just outside Lyon, many long falls ago.

What wine to serve with the poulet?  I had recently discovered an old bottle of Château de Beaucastel originally from my Vermont cellar, transported to California in the ‘90s, label damaged and vintage unknown, and wondered when to serve it.  The answer became obvious last night.  I knew that we would discover the vintage on the cork.  It turned out to be 1981: a great vintage at Beaucastel although dodgy almost everywhere else in France.

Beaucastel 1981 cork

The wine was absolutely perfect: mature yet no hint of oxidation, truffly in itself, echoing the dish, velvety, rich, leathery, with dark red fruits and a long finish.  Thirty-one years old and fully mature, in beautiful balance. What a nice memorable evening with food, family and a great wine!


We celebrate the release from quarantine of four new Rhone grapes

By Robert Haas

This week we are filing a petition to recognize Terret Noir, Vaccarese, Picardan, and Bourboulenc for use as grape varietal names on labels in the United States. The petition, ready to go out yesterday afternoon:

TTB petition

In 1990, when Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded, it was our intention to establish a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-like, Rhône-style vineyard and winery in the Paso Robles AVA.  Châteauneuf-du-Pape is famous for planting thirteen grape varieties, although over 70% of the acreage in the appellation is Grenache Noir, and many estates use only the “big three” of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre for their red wines and Clairette and Grenache Blanc for their whites.  Beaucastel is noteworthy for planting and using all thirteen (actually fourteen if you count Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc as two) approved grape varieties.  We wanted to do all thirteen here, too.  Because some of the thirteen didn’t exist in California, and we had doubts about the quality of those that did exist here, we decided to import cuttings from France and put them through USDA quarantine.

The first imports of cuttings of the major varieties were in 1990, and because the California USDA station was closed, they were brought through the USDA station in Geneva, NY.  Indexing was finished in 1993.  Nursery Manager Dick Hoenisch and I went out to Geneva in wintertime, washed the bare roots of the dormant plants and prepared the FedEx shipment to California. I remember that Geneva winter trip.  There were several feet of snow on the ground and it was freezing cold.  It seemed a long way from grape planting territory.

Those cuttings included Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Picpoul Blanc. All except Counoise, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul had already been recognized varietals in the U.S.  Tablas Creek subsequently successfully petitioned for acceptance of the last three, each of which has proven to have value both in our blends and on its own.

We have always wanted to plant, experiment, and work with all thirteen varieties authorized in the Châteauneuf-du Pape appellation of origin, but at the time we began, the other varieties weren’t available in the French nursery service for us to import, and we felt that taking field cuttings (which would likely be virused) would add a long, unpredictable delay to our launch.  But once we saw how successful the trace varieties in the first wave had been, we decided to move forward.  In 2004, we took cuttings of the remaining unrepresented varieties in a selection massale [field selection] from the Château de Beaucastel vineyard and sent them to (the now operating) Davis station for indexing and for eventual release to us. 

We were right that the vines were likely to have a tortuous process ahead of them.  All tested positive for virus, and had to be cleaned up by the scientists at UC Davis.  We received the first two of these (Terret Noir and Clairette) in 2010 and we just received news that Cinsault, Picardan, Vaccarèse, and Bourboulenc are being released. When we get Muscardin (hopefully in 2014) it will complete the virus-free collection of all the authorized Châteauneuf-du-Pape varietals in the United States.

13 Cepages Poster

What these grapes will do in Paso Robles is a good question.  For a few, there is so little planted in France that there is not much to go on.  But the success we and others in California have had with our other formerly unknown varieties such as Counoise, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc makes us hopeful.  Here’s what the literature says:

  • Bourboulenc is a vigorous and late budding white grape, which should be good news in our frequent spring frosts. It ripens late and maintains moderate sugars and good acidity.
  • Picardan is also a late budding white variety that gives a pale colored wine with good acidity.  This grape is one on which there is the least information available; we’ll likely be planting the first new block anywhere in the world in several decades.
  • Terret Noir is one of the Languedoc’s oldest red varieties.  It too buds late, and in southern France brings lightness and freshness to its blends with varietals such as Grenache.  We hope that it will do the same thing in our vineyard.
  • Vaccarèse is a fourth late budding variety that, according to the ampelographer Pierre Galet is said to have an “uncontestable original floral aroma, a fresh and elegant taste, particularly interesting for modifying the alcoholic ardor of the Grenache in the rosé wines of Chusclan and the red wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

Before we or anyone else can use the grapes on a wine label, they need to be accepted by the TTB into the lexicon of recognized American grapes.  Cinsault and Clairette are already recognized.  The petition we are sending off this week has assembled the available research for Picardan, Bourboulenc, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse. 

It will require patience to test our theories.  First, the bud material will have to be multiplied and then grafted.  Then, once the vines are propagated in sufficient quantities, we’ll plant a small block (perhaps a half-acre) of each. We’ll wait three years to get our first crop and vinify each separately.  Only then will we start to see what they’re good for.

We should have the vines’ names recognized in plenty of time.


A Summer Dinner in Vermont

By Robert Haas

One of summer’s greatest challenges for the Vermont gardener is keeping up with the zucchini production.  So we need to find recipes in order to benefit from our garden and, of course, wines to accompany them.  Here is an old standby recipe inspired by The Victory Garden Cookbook, by Marian Morash, published in New York in 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf.  Mr. Knopf, a customer of mine at M. Lehmann, was a great lover of good wine and food, and a frequent publisher of works by knowledgeable food and wine writers.

2 eggs
2 cups grated zucchini
2 ears local corn, scraped off the cob
¼ cup flour
1 Tb melted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup coarsely grated VT cheddar cheese
2 Tb oil for frying 

  • Grate the squash on the coarse side of a box grater, put into a colander and salt to drain of excess liquid.  
  • Slice the corn off the cob and scrape off the milky residue with the back of a knife. 
  • After about 20 minutes, gently squeeze the liquid out of the squash with your hands, and continue with the recipe.
  • Beat the eggs and combine with all remaining ingredients except the oil.
  • Heat a well-seasoned iron or non-stick pan or a griddle and add the oil.
  • Spoon the batter with a ladle into the hot oil and fry until crisp on both sides.  Smaller fritters are easier to turn.  
  • Drain on paper towels and serve hot.

For the wine, ironically I discovered one from about the same vintage as the book: a 1981 premier crû Burgundy: Vosne-Romanée Orveaux of Jean Mongeard, tucked away in the cellar.

Orveaux 1981

I brought it up expecting a gentle, elegant wine, albeit from a disregarded vintage.  Wrong!  The wine was rich and full-bodied, redolent of ripe sun-dried cherries, with a velvety palate and ripe tannins: unexpectedly intense, and at a perfect age, with a touch of that now unfashionable “barnyard" character which I learned to appreciate.  It went beautifully with the fritters.  I had put away several cases of 1981's from Mongeard and Ponsot in my Vineyard Brands days because both vignerons had beautifully farmed a vintage with heavy spring frosts, frequent storms during June and July and damaging hail in August.  However, they saved their harvest of a tiny crop by careful navigation during a difficult September.  The trade and the press wrote it off: “A vintage to forget.”  I’m glad that I didn’t.  And best of all, I still have some of the wines in the cellar.


Assembling Our 2011 Vintage Blends: Done. And Wow!

By Robert Haas

Thursday of last week we completed our decision-making process for the blending of our estate red wines: Panoplie, Esprit, En Gobelet, and Côtes de Tablas. This vintage we’ll also be making a varietal Mourvèdre.  We also found time to make the final decision on the Esprit Blanc, which had given us trouble in our white blending trials in March. Now that the proportions and lots have been selected, the wines will be assembled and the reds put into our 1200-gallon oak foudres for ageing until bottling in 2013.   The Esprit Blanc will go back into foudre as well until it is bottled before harvest.

Neil, Ryan, Chelsea, Jason and I form the core of the selection jury.  We like also to include a visiting Perrin, and when he’s in town, National Sales Manager Tommy Oldre as well.  Our general practice is to taste all the varietal lots first, blind, so we don’t know which vineyard block or which cellar lot each comes from: just what the variety is.  We give each lot a grade.  It’s not a complex grading system; the grades are 1, 2 and 3.  1 identifies wines with richness, elegance and balance, typically lots destined for, or at least of a quality suitable for, the Esprits.  Lots with a 2 rating are ones that we like, but which seem less balanced or less intense than those with a 1 rating.  These typically form the Côtes de Tablas and our varietal wines.  3’s are lots that are showing less well.  If the problem, such as oxidation or reduction, is correctable in the cellar, or incomplete fermentation, we revisit the tasting later in the cycle.  The  “3” grade serves as a flag for the cellar crew that something needs some attention, and typically, over time, the 3’s resolve themselves into 1’s or 2’s. The components:

Blending_2011_reds

The next stage is selecting for lots that we feel should be declassified out of our estate wines into our Patelin de Tablas and Patelin de Tablas Blanc.  These lots tend to be friendly and pretty, but less intense and showing less character of place than we like to see in our estate bottling.  This year it was very difficult to “select out” any of the varietal lots, and the 2011 Patelin wines reflect this: each has less than 5% Tablas Creek fruit in its final blend.

After this process (which we completed last month) we work from the top down, starting with the Panoplie.  In our tastings of the different lots, we discuss the character of the best lots, trying to identify those that seem somehow “above and beyond” the high quality we choose for the Esprits.  Then we taste a handful of possible blends for the Panoplie, reflecting different percentages of the different varieties of a suitable quality.  We taste these blends blind, not knowing which blend has which percentages, so that we’re free from our own biases.  Knowing only that a blend is one of 4 possible Panoplie blends keeps us all honest. 

We don’t move on until we reach consensus.  These trials are not a democracy, where if 4 of the 6 people around the table prefer one blend, but the other 2 believe a different one is the best, the 4 win by default.  We talk it out, coming back to the blends with new ideas until we reach agreement.  This process can take several days, and in fact with the Esprit Blanc we decided that the wines themselves needed a little more time in barrel before we felt comfortable making the right choices, so we kicked the final decision down the road in March (when we blended most of the whites). We finalized the wine last week.

In the end, we chose what for us is a classic Panoplie blend: 60% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache, and 10% Syrah.  Then we moved on to the Esprit, leaving out the lots that were now destined for Panoplie.  So each round went, eliminating from each succeeding round the wines that had been chosen for the higher tiers.  When we had decided on the Esprit (40% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise) and En Gobelet (33% Mourvèdre, 31% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 16% Tannat) we took stock of what we had left and realized that due to the low crop levels, particularly on Grenache and Syrah, we weren’t going to be able to produce varietal red wines other than Mourvèdre.  This made the blending of the Côtes de Tablas fairly straightforward: we knew the rest of the Grenache, Syrah and Counoise were going in, and needed to decide just on the right amount of Mourvèdre.  We tasted three different potential Côtes de Tablas blends, with differing Mourvèdre quantities, and settled on a blend of 49% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, and 8% Counoise. That left us 800 cases of a varietal Mourvèdre.

All this was done in three days, Tuesday-Thursday.  This is the first time I can remember that we reached consensus on each of the red blends on our first time around.  The quality was uniformly high, even as we reached the third and fourth tiers down, which made it easier: we just had to focus on what profile we liked best for each wine.

It was not obvious last fall that 2011 would be such a high quality year.  Much of the west coast suffered from unusually cold, foggy weather, and there were some early rains that began in late September.  This all on top of April frosts.  But we’d had a good sense since early December, when François Perrin visited.  Having heard of all the challenges of the 2011 vintage in California, he was anxious to taste through the vintage in the cellar.  It was early to taste.  We had just finished the harvest on November 9th.  Many of the wines were not even through their primary (sugar) fermentations, not to mention the malolactic fermentations, which often occur later in the cycle.

However, we plowed ahead, starting with the whites.  And with each lot that we tasted François became more excited.  “This is going to be a truly great white vintage,” he commented.  “Even this early I can see that the wines have great structure, fine aromatics, good intensity, saline minerality, individual personality, and lush fruit.  Can the reds be as good?”

Reds are less “tasteable” than whites in the early stages of their development, but experienced tasters can get a good idea of their overall style and quality even six or seven weeks after the harvest, as was the case here.  And with each lot we tasted, François expressed optimism for the 2011 reds.  They were showing concentration, richness, intensity and elegance.  As our blending sessions showed, the optimism was justified.  The wines are uniformly terrific.

What accounts for the extraordinary wines of 2011?  Several things combined to make it an exceptional vintage:

  • We started out with good moisture in the ground after two years of wet winters, so the vines were healthy and we did not need to irrigate.
  • The frosts we suffered on April 8th and 9th reduced our yields to a miniscule 2.15 tons per acre.  But the damage was not uniform; while our Viognier and Grenache and much of our Syrah was decimated, Mourvèdre and Roussanne (our two most important varieties) were largely spared damage.  These low yields provided excellent concentration.
  • We had a very cool growing season, so that all of the grape varieties had a longer than usual hang time even though the vines were carrying a smaller crop.  The result was balanced wines with excellent acidities, particularly important and unusual in a year with such great concentration.
  • Although it was cold, Paso Robles’ geography spared us from the persistent fog that plagued many California wine regions more open to the Pacific.  We avoided the issues with mildew and rot that many other regions saw.
  • The harvest rains turned out to be less than had been forecast, and significantly less than in many North Coast regions, which allowed us to wait for ripeness in this cool year without suffering through bunch rot, and a week of good weather in early November brought in several high quality lots we’d effectively written off two weeks earlier.

What next?  The wines will be blended and put to rest in the foudres you can see from the tasting room.  They’ll sit there ageing quietly through the coming harvest, and then be bottled next summer before the 2013 harvest.  We hope that 2012 will provide equally great raw materials as 2011.


Recipe and Wine Pairing: Sauteed Diver Scallops and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc

By Robert Haas

I got to do dinner for two last night because my wife, Barbara, had a 6 o’clock meeting to attend.  I had planned on diver scallops from our excellent local fish market, Pier 46 Seafood in Templeton.  As I was walking out of the winery to my car I saw walking in Chris Couture, the vineyard manager at Chequera Vineyard where we get much of our Syrah for Patelin de Tablas.  He was carrying a box of fresh asparagus from his organic farm picked that morning.  He kindly offered me two bunches.  What good timing!  I had been on my way to shop for veggies.  Now I could head straight to Pier 46 for my scallops.  I bought three quarters of a pound (8) of the big diver scallops.

2007_esprit_blancThe menu was to be sautéed scallops and simmered asparagus with a chopped hard-boiled egg vinaigrette dressing.  One of the great things about the menu was very little prep and very short cooking times: 15 minutes to hard-boil and chop the 2 eggs, and shave and trim the asparagus and make the vinaigrette.  Add about three minutes to chop a teaspoon of tarragon while simmering the asparagus and a total of about five minutes sautéing the scallops.

Scallops Recipe:

  • Heat the pan over medium heat and then add about two tablespoons of butter to melt. 
  • Add the scallops and sauté, half at a time, about three or four minutes each lot.  Don’t overcook! 
  • When each lot is done, transfer it to a bowl. 
  • After transferring the second lot to the bowl, add to the pan the chopped tarragon, the juice of one lemon and the scallops.
  • Cook just until everything is hot, turning the scallops to coat them in the glazed pan juices.

Asparagus Recipe:

  • Boil two eggs for 14 minutes until hard boiled, then cool and chop.
  • Make a vinaigrette by dissolving a generous pinch of sea salt into a teaspoon of good white wine vinegar, then stirring in a half-teaspoon of Dijon mustard.  Add 2 tablespoons of good olive oil, then whisk to combine.  Add fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
  • Trim the ends of the asparagus and shave the skin off the bottom portion of any thicker stems.
  • Simmer the asparagus in boiling water until tender but not mushy, 2-3 minutes.  Let cool slightly.
  • Arrange the asparagus on a plate, then top with the chopped egg and the vinaigrette.

We drank a Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2007 with the meal and I was reminded what a muscular vintage it was: rich and flavorful without being alcoholic or heavy.  Our tasting notes from a review tasting last year were:

Rich and powerful, with an explosive nose of ginger and honey, rose petals, and licorice stick.  In the mouth it's thick and broad, lifted nicely at the end by a herby white tea note.  A really long finish, the longest of any of the wines that we tasted [in our review tasting of 10 vintages].” 

And that is exactly the way it tasted last night: almost four years in the bottle and still young and vibrant.  It was terrific with the buttery scallops and even handled itself well with the asparagus with its egg vinaigrette.


A Winter Dinner and a Beautiful 1985 California Cabernet

By Robert Haas

As our late Indian summer in Paso Robles turns toward winter our appetites turn toward winter dishes. This last Sunday we had friends over for dinner and we served a Moroccan tagine, a savory slow cooked mixture of sweet and savory from a recipe in The Heart of the Artichoke, by David Tanis, published by Artisan. The book is a collection of delicious, traditional dishes organized by seasons.

Pine Ridge 1985

A tagine is a North African cooking vessel and tagine also is the name of the dish that my wife, Barbara, served us: Fragrant Lamb With Prunes and Almonds. The recipe includes, besides prunes and almonds, a panoply of spices: garlic, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and cayenne. We did not have a tagine handy so she used a heavy Le Creuset French oven for the two hours stay in our oven. We purchased shoulder of San Luis Obispo County lamb from J & R Custom Meat and Sausage in Templeton.

One would think that all the sweet and savory elements would be tough on a dry red wine but no! We ended up with a perfect match: a 1985 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon that has been in my cellar since the days back in the eighties that my Vineyard Brands company represented Pine Ridge in the U.S. market. The wine was perfectly aged and absolutely brilliant: soft, delicious, and beautifully balanced and accommodating the food and the palate at 12.7% alcohol.

It and the dish echoed each other beautifully: the dish bringing out the sweet fruit flavors and ripe, mature tannins of the cabernet and the wine accenting the savory lamb flavors. Yum!


A Day in the Life of a Limousin Oak Fermenter

By Robert Haas

When you enter our new tasting room you can see our Séguin-Moreau 1600 gallon Limousin oak cuves in the background:

Uprights_from_TR0001

We really love them.  But they are much more than a mise en scène for our visitors.  They are valuable because of their flexibility.  With the flat bottom and the wide door at the base, they can be used to ferment red wines (unlike our foudres).  They have a large stainless-steel door on the top, and if we want to ferment without oxygen (as we often do for Grenache and Counoise) we can close the door.  But if we want to use them for open-top fermenting (as we typically want for Syrah and Mouvedre) we just leave the door on top.  Instant flexibility.  And they're useful during the rest of the year, too: when their covers are fitted, they act like a foudre and provide large oak ageing before bottling. 

Four of them are new this year.  We are running several fermentations through each in order to minimize the influence of new oak on our wines, so when the primary fermentations are finished we remove the wine to other storage and the berries to the press, in a process known in French as écoulage, literally translatable as "detanking".  Then we reuse the cuves for the next lot of harvest.  A photo of the écoulage, below:

Cuve ecoulage

The interiors of the cuves are fairly high-tech, and include heat-exchange piping for cooling or warming as needed.  In the two photos below you can see the floor of one just emptied and cleaned and the inside with its piping.

Cuve bottom door Cuve interior

Looking up from inside the cuve shows its open top with its safety grid:

Cuve top grid_0001

We are picking mourvèdre today. The grapes are going to fermentation in the emptied tank.  They arrive from the vineyard in half-ton bins, are taken off with a fork-lift, weighed and dumped onto our vibrator belt to be conveyed to the de-stemmer.  From there the de-stemmed berries and their natural juice go into the newly emptied cuve (below) to restart its cycle of use.  Simple, huh?

Cuve recoulage_0001