Checking in on 2015: an "Athletic" vintage

My dad got back to California earlier this month, and since his return we've been making time one day each week to taste through a thematic slice of what's in the cellar. Today, we took a look at the 2015 reds that have been aging quietly in foudre since we blended them late last spring.  

Esprit 2015 in foudreA lot has happened in the last six months, including the arrival of a whole new vintage into the cellar and our release of our flagship wines from 2014.  So, with both 2014 and 2016 more prominent in our thoughts than 2015, it was great to make a reintroduction to the wines today.  The timing was serendipitous because this coming Saturday we're hosting our annual futures tasting where we'll present the 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, 2015 Esprit de Tablas, and 2015 Panoplie.  This will be their first public appearances, and I wanted a preview.

[A bit of an aside: if you aren't aware of our futures tasting and en primeur offering, it's one of the benefits of membership in our wine club.  We offer members the chance to taste before bottling and reserve quantities of our top wines before they are otherwise allocated, all at a special futures discount. For details, click here and if you're a member and want to come Saturday, let us know right away since it's almost full.]

Overall, the 2015 vintage was exceptionally scarce compared to recent years, due to a combination of four years of drought and some unfavorable weather at flowering [for details, see my 2015 harvest recap].  Early grapes like Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier were particularly affected, while later grapes like Mourvedre and Roussanne saw yields closer to normal.

The 2015 whites have been notably powerful, thanks (we think) to their very low yields.  But the 2015 reds, while they had excellent power, seemed more noteworthy today to us for their focus, their purity, and their expressiveness.  Overall, it seems like it will shape up to be a superb vintage.  My notes on the four red blends (plus the Esprit Blanc, which I figured we should taste because it will be available at the en primeur event):

  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: An exotic and compelling nose of passion fruit, honeysuckle, lanolin, candied orange peel, and sweet spice. The mouth is both richer and more traditional than the nose suggests, with flavors of honey, pear, preserved lemon, and nutmeg. The finish is long, clean, and peachy.
  • 2015 Cotes de Tablas: A spicy, briary nose of raspberry and red plum, sweet spice and cherry pit. The mouth is juicy and generous, with strawberry, clove and milk chocolate flavors, and a long, clean finish with a little hint of mint bringing lift.
  • 2015 En Gobelet: A sweeter, denser nose than the Cotes, with notes of wine-soaked figs, licorice, pepper, new leather, and an exotic note that reminded me of cumin. The mouth was powerful too, with flavors of blackberry, roasted meat, tar, and that recurring curry note. There are nice chalky tannins on the finish, but elegance too.
  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas: The nose was instantly identifiable to me as Esprit: red plums, chocolate, sweet gingery spice, soy, and currant.  The mouth is vibrant, with flavors of chocolate-covered black cherry, more currants, and loads of structure. The long finish reverberated between red and black licorice, with chewy tannins and a lingering note of baker's chocolate. 
  • 2015 Panoplie: A very Mourvedre nose: loamy, foresty currants, with additional notes of cloves, balsamic, and juniper. The mouth is powerful, showing leather and earth and meat on top of its dark red fruit. It reminded me of my wife Meghan's description the first time she tasted Mourvedre out of foudre: that it reminded her of "butter in a butcher shop". The finish is rich, tangy, and long without being heavy.

A few concluding thoughts.

  1. This seems like a vintage with a somewhat different personality than the 2014, whose principal trait seems to be lushness.  2015 wasn't as warm a year as our other recent vintages, with temperatures more like average than the near-record warmth we've seen in 2013, 2014, and 2016.  The freshness that these cooler temperatures produced was noteworthy today, alongside the concentration from (presumably) the record-low yields. My dad called the wines "athletic", which I thought was a nice way of complimenting both their power and their lack of any sense of heaviness.
  2. It struck us all that these are wines that will age beautifully. To age well, wines need intensity and balance. All the wines we tasted showed both of these, in spades.
  3. Those of you coming for the en primeur tasting on Saturday are in for a treat.

On being a kid-friendly winery

I was pleased to see us mentioned in Mother Magazine's Paso Robles Guide, published online today. I was even more pleased to see Paso Robles recognized:

Mother Magazine Paso Robles

We moved out to Paso Robles in part because we were ready to start a family, and we haven't been disappointed.  From the great downtown park to a terrific library system, the different children's museums to an active youth sports community, it's been a great place to raise our two boys.  But I think that the kid-friendliness of the food and wine community has been noteworthy as well.  It's been fun to see the enthusiasm of the servers in the restaurants we visit, taking the kids seriously as they learn how to navigate their way around a real menu. And the bartenders we ask to make up fun kids' cocktails. We've never felt like we attract dirty looks by bringing the kids into the many great restaurants here, and for that we're grateful.

So it's really nothing more than paying it forward to do what we can to help make parents who visit Tablas Creek with kids feel welcome.  And, having been a parent in the shoes, so to speak, of our visitors, it's easy to remember how grateful even simple accommodations made us feel.  What do we do?  It's not rocket science.

  • Offer an activity for kids while parents taste. In our case, we have a kid-sized coloring table in the corner of our tasting room, with pictures of grapes and vines that they can color.  Heck, you don't even need to be a kid to use it, though if you're more than about 5'2" your knees may complain.  But giving parents the chance to focus on your wine instead of corralling a bored kid who otherwise is underfoot is good for your customers, your bottom line, and your sanity.
  • Offer events for families to do together.  Clearly, many or most of the events you're going to offer as a winery are going to be focused on wine drinking (or pairing, or making) and won't be appropriate to kids.  But much of what a winery does is agriculture, and it's important and typically fun to get kids involved in how things are grown and made.  We use animals as a part of our biodynamic program, and have created events to bring families out to meet the animals and learn their role in a healthy vineyard.
  • Be inclusive where you can.  We take as many people as are interested out on tours to see the vineyard, our grapevine nursery, and the winery.  All of this is interesting to kids, in my experience.  Have them taste different grapes and see if they can describe what makes them different.  Explain why you plant, or graft, or farm the way you do.  It costs nothing, builds goodwill, and gets kids involved in important conversations.
  • Be involved in your community.  The work that we do here is only one way that we interact with our customers.  Many of them live in our community, and most of them visit.  We have made it a point to get involved in the community activities that enrich the life experiences of kids who grow up here, from creating a partnership with the Performing Arts Center, to donating wine to raise funds for art in schools at the Paso Arts Fest, to creating a program with must! charities to support the Boys' & Girls' Club here in Paso and a local expansion of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  There are so many ways to make a difference... and many of the most compelling focus on kids.

It's really not the case where in making your winery family-friendly you have to choose to somehow make it less adult-friendly.  In general, thinking of the needs of kids who may be (unwillingly) accompanying their parents when they come out to visit you is going to make for a better experience for not only their parents, but also the kid-free customers who might otherwise be caught in the crossfire.

And if you can create an experience that involves an alpaca, some donkeys and a whole passel of sheep, so much the better.

Levi at meet the animals
Former Viticulturist Levi Glenn at our "Meet the Animals" family event a few summers ago


On the value -- and peril -- of waiting two years for Mourvedre

Last month, we hosted a vertical tasting of nearly every Mourvedre we’ve ever made.

Mourvedre Vertical

Mourvedre is our most important grape, the lead grape in the Esprit de Tablas every year, and the grape of which we have the most planted acres, at 27.  To put that number in perspective, it accounts for 26% of our 105 planted acres and about 5% of the total Mourvedre acreage in California.

The tasting was wonderful. Mourvedre is a grape that ages gracefully, which can be somewhat surprising to the uninitiated because the wines are not particularly tannic when they are young. Or, at least, not tannic in the sense that most people think of, with the drying force of a young Syrah or Cabernet. Mourvedre tannins are generally chewy rather than hard, but their capacity to resist oxidation is one of the reasons that the grape is planted in Chateauneuf du Pape despite the challenges of getting it ripe there. Even if you only include 5% in your blend (which there would be typically mostly Grenache) you’ve done a lot to improve the longevity of your finished wine.

The fact that Mourvedre is so late ripening was one of the key factors in our choice of Paso Robles as our location for our collaboration with the Perrins (which we would name Tablas Creek after the creek that runs through the property) back in 1989.  Paso Robles’ climate includes a very long growing season which can provide good ripening weather into mid-November. And while it hasn’t been necessary in the recent string of warm years, we’ve harvested into November nearly as often as we’ve finished in October.

All this is a lengthy preamble to a simple point: Mourvedre has meant a lot to us over the years, and we’ve bottled a varietal Mourvedre each year since 2003 except for the drought- and frost-reduced 2009. So, when we gathered with about 100 of our fans and VINsider Wine Club members in July to taste them all, it was an occasion that we were all looking forward to.

Although each wine was lovely in its own way – and the different personalities of each vintage were clearly reflected – there were four wines that people particularly gravitated towards. These included the 2003, for its mature flavors of leather, game, and meat drippings, and its soft tannins. Another favorite was the 2007, for its power and richness, with secondary flavors layered on top of still-intense fruit. A third was the newly-bottled 2014, which showed all of Mourvedre’s youthful charm, with bright currant and red plum fruit, and a loamy mocha depth that provided a wonderful counterpoint. The fourth was the 2008, which for many of us was the wine of the tasting: a lovely silky texture, expressive flavors of dark cherry and spice, and an ethereal quality that several people commented reminded them of what they loved about Pinot Noir: its ability to be intensely flavorful without being heavy or one-dimensional.

The last time we had tasted our full sequence of Mourvedre bottlings was in 2014. I wrote up that tasting on the blog shortly thereafter. It was fascinating to me to look back at the description of the 2008:

“It’s hard for any vintage to follow the 2007, but my sense from the shy nose and the clipped finish is that this is in a closed period that it will come out of. The aromatics of raspberry and black pepper are classic, and the good acids and modest tannin are in balance with the medium-intensity red fruit. Wait another year or so, then drink in the next 2-3”

One of the real standouts in 2014 was our 2010:

“Showing crystal purity in the Mourvedre aromatics of roasted meat, wild strawberry, orange peel, pepper, and mint. The mouth is beautiful: mid0weight with pure plum and currant, nice clean tannins, and good length. Like a kir made with a great Chablis, if such a thing weren’t sacrilege. If I were going to pick one wine to show off the appeal of the Mourvedre grape in its youth, this would be the one.”

In our recent tasting, the 2010 wasn’t many people’s favorite: a quiet wine, showing nice balance and modest intensity, but little of the sparkle that made it such a favorite just a few years ago.

So, what gives? I think the 2008 has emerged from – and the 2010 entered – the closed period that I’ve written about in the past. In that blog, I compared this phase to a teenager: with neither the charming exuberance of youth nor the elegance and balance achieved with age. And to have these two wines show this change would hardly be surprising; typically, Mourvedre is one of the grapes most prone to this midlife crisis, and it usually happens about 3 years after the wine is bottled, and lasts a couple of years.  The 2008 was bottled in 2010; it was 4 years in bottle in 2014, but is now 6 years in bottle.  And the 2010, which was bottled in 2012, was just 2 years old at our last tasting – still typically in its youthful openness – but is now 4 years old.

Many of you know that we maintain a vintage chart on our Web site, and update it every few months based on the tastings we do in-house and the feedback we get from fans and crowd-sourced sites like the remarkable cellartracker.com. We have different markings for appealing phases: youthful maturity, full maturity, and late maturity.  We also have markings for phases we suggest people avoid: some wines’ extreme youth (which gets red) or old age (pink), and wines in this in-between phase, which we mark on our vintage chart in purple. One of the main reasons that we created our VINsider Wine Club Collector’s Edition was so that we could give more recently converted fans a taste of what the wines were like after they’d emerged into their mature peaks.

Would someone who didn’t know the wine and opened it in it this middle phase be able to identify it as less than optimal? I doubt it. But I also think it’s unlikely to wow them, and they might well wonder – if it’s a wine that got great reviews or which a friend recommended highly – what all the fuss was about.

And based on our recent experience of the 2008, there’s definitely a fuss waiting on the other side, if you can have the patience to get there. 


A Fabulous Dinner in the Woods of Vermont

By Barbara Haas

[Editor's Note: I am very excited to share my mom's first contribution to the Tablas Creek blog. She has been an active partner in this project from the beginning, and the source of many of our best ideas (such as in making our first rosé back in 1999). While this is her first blog, she had a hand in much of the written material we produced in the early days of Tablas Creek. I look forward to many more entries. Thank you to the Windham Hill Inn, which took and shared the photos that appear with this piece.]

Being in the wine business means being in the business of giving pleasure.  We want our wines to taste good and to improve the moments in which they are served.  In order for us to do this, we frequently depend on the shared experience of good food.  The way that wine and food speak to each other is critically important to the appreciation of both.  Think of musical instruments either in tune or not. 

As someone who has been privileged to share a large number of “winemaker” dinners (dinners designed to highlight wine and food), I am reflecting on a recent experience which was one of the best I have had, and I have thought a lot about why this was true.

WinesThe lineup of wines for the dinner

The beautiful, historic Windham Hill Inn and Restaurant in Townshend, VT, has been a steadfast supporter of Tablas Creek wines and owns several vintages in their cellar.  To get there, you really have to know where it is!  A 30-minute drive from our house in Chester, the inn is tucked into a beautiful property at the end of a dirt road, and is totally peaceful and quiet.  The flagstone pathway is bordered by an array of lilies and hydrangeas, and the double entrance doorway (to keep out gusts of snow in the winter) leads you into a warm reception area, which could easily be in a French auberge.  Lots of polished wood, warm fabrics and comfortable furniture surround a small bar area and awaken your sense of anticipation for the aperitif and dinner to follow.

EntranceThe Windham Hill Inn's beautiful setting and entrance

Windham Hill Inn has created dinners to highlight our wines at least eight years in a row, and in my opinion, each year better than the last.  This year’s was a triumph:  focused, generous, and original.

RZH speakingRobert Haas, speaking at the dinner. Barbara Haas sits behind him.

The food was not heavy.  I was still as eager for the fourth course as I was for the first.  With each course, I was delighted by discovery: on my plate and in my glass.  The wines and their paired dishes sang in harmonious duets. 

MenuThe dinner menu

The harmony gave each element more than either had alone.  It was a remarkable experience.  For example:  a perfectly cooked piece of swordfish was accompanied by charred green onion, grilled pineapple, sesame and ginger.  Each element found a responding taste in the Tablas Esprit Blanc 2012.  I marvel at the talent which first recognizes the elements of taste in a wine, and then goes and finds a food which highlights that taste.

Another example was herb-rubbed Vermont lamb loin, with baby bok choy, and fermented black bean and garlic sauce.  The sauces throughout the meal had clean, clear flavors but no heaviness.  In the case of the lamb, the sauce was a simple, clear “jus”.  The rare lamb and its deep-flavored sauce gave the Mourvèdre 2011 ample room and encouragement to express itself.

The chef showed both intelligence and generosity by keeping his dishes focused and simple; in other words, not so tarted up with heavy sauces and irrelevant flavors that they dominated the wine.  This is not an easy job.  Home cooks and professionals alike tend to make food too complicated and “loud” when they are trying to impress, what I like to call “high-decibel food.”  The same tendency happens in wine making. 

LobsterThe second plated course: Maine lobster with a watermelon and heirloom tomato salad

Achieving balance and harmony is challenging but eminently more satisfying, and makes a diner want to come back for more.  A professional taster may recognize each achievement of the chef and winemaker.  A non-professional will simply have a wonderful, satisfying dining experience, without needing to analyze why. 

Thank you and congratulations to Chef David Crone and Wine Director Dan Pisarczyk of Windham Hill Inn for discovering the hidden secrets in our Tablas Creek wines and bringing them to light and value.

SunsetSunset over the rolling Vermont hills


Congratulations to Jason Haas, 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year

By Robert Haas

In 1989 The Perrin family and the Haas family bought a 120 acre pasture in Adelaida that was to become Tablas Creek Vineyard, named for the eponymous creek that flowed through the property.  I took over the management.

In 2002 my son Jason, fresh from a stint in the east coast’s tech world, arrived in Paso Robles and started working at Tablas Creek, focusing initially on our marketing and increasingly on our management.  Although Jason has taken over the day-to-day operations here, I'm still working because I enjoy our working together.  It's fun.  His leadership here and his accomplishments at the vineyard and in the community delight me.

Last Friday, the Paso Robles wine community came together at the Paso Wine Country Alliance's annual Winter Gala to honor Jason for “outstanding contributions toward the success of the Paso Robles wine industry”.  He was named the 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year:

BarrelJason, with Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Executive Director Jennifer Porter 

KatchoJason with State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (left) and State Senator Bill Monning (right) and the decree passed by the Californa legislature

Group
A healthy Tablas Creek contingent gathered to help celebrate

It was fun to hear the wine community recognize his accomplishments in the fourteen years he has been working here. They have been significant!

  • He started this blog back in 2005 and has been its principal author for a decade now. It has been a finalist for “Best Winery Blog” seven of the last eight years and won in 2008 and 2011.   The blog helped establish us as leaders in the wine community and himself as a source for media with thoughts worth seeking out.
  • His writing on the blog has led to invitations to contribute pieces on Paso Robles and Rhone varieties to Wine Business Monthly, Wines & Vines, Wine Industry Network, and Zester Daily, and to regular appearances on radio and television.
  • He established the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers chapter in 2007 and led it for the next several years. In that period, it grew from 15 members to 50 members and helped establish Paso Robles as the epicenter of California’s Rhone movement.
  • He has represented Paso Robles, Rhone grape varieties, and Tablas Creek to industry groups including the American Wine Society, the AIWF, the Unified Symposium, and the Society of Wine Educators, and has been a regular guest lecturer to classes and student groups at Cal Poly and Fresno State, spreading the word about our region and our winery to the next generation of wine consumers and wine professionals.
  • He has helped build Tablas Creek's standing in the community, working with and supporting deserving causes such as must! charities, Festival Mozaic, the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, and the Paderewski Festival, as well as volunteering as a youth basketball and baseball coach in Templeton.
  • He has volunteered diligently as a board member of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, of Rhône Rangers, and of Family Winemakers of California. It is easy to critique the actions of an organization, but much more significant to jump in and help it achieve its goals.
  • He has had, I feel, a particularly significant impact on the Rhone Rangers. When he joined the board in 2004, it was an organization whose sole footprint was one tasting a year in San Francisco.  He pushed the group to expand its Bay Area event to include a greater educational component and a winemaker dinner and auction.  He also led the charge to add additional events, including an annual Los Angeles tasting and “road show” visits to Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC.  The category of California Rhones has made amazing strides in the last decade, in part thanks to the work of Jason and the rest of the Rhone Rangers leadership.
  • Jason’s support of Tablas Creek’s role in the creation of and advocacy for the 11 new Paso Robles AVAs helped distill a complicated story into a comprehensible message of why this is a good thing for the region.

I'm proud of him.   He has made a difference.


Why the future may look a lot like the crazy 2015 vintage

I was honored to be invited to give the keynote address at today's Vintage Report Conference here in Paso Robles.

JH Keynote Speaker Vintage Report 2015

The topic was to provide an overview of the 2015 vintage, with technical discussions to follow on the vintage's impact on vine physiology, grapevine maturation, and berry/wine composition.  I thought that my keynote address might be interesting to followers of the blog, and have shared it below.  I have added a few concluding thoughts at the end. 

I am honored to have been asked to deliver this keynote address.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you that the 2015 vintage was unusual, or that most of what made it unusual presented challenges to viticulture throughout much of California. Nor am I likely to surprise any of you who experienced it with the roller-coaster of emotions that we saw out at Tablas Creek.  This roller-coaster, in order:

  • Hope from a great beginning to the rain in the early winter of 2014-2015
  • Disillusionment as an exceptionally dry late winter left us at about 50% of normal rainfall (again)
  • Relief to have avoided frost despite an early budbreak
  • Worry about cool, windy weather during May’s flowering (which resulted in widespread shatter)
  • Uncertainty after alternating significantly warmer-than-normal and cooler-than-normal months
  • Shock upon receiving multiple inches of rain in July
  • Disbelief in seeing just how light crops were (much lower than we’d projected)
  • And back to hope at the end with our late-season grapes coming in much closer to normal yields, and overall wine quality looking strong.

You’ll get details of all these pieces from the many speakers here today, but I wanted to illustrate in two ways just how unusual the year was. 

  • First, the rainfall by month that we saw last winter out at Tablas Creek. We finished at about half of normal rainfall, but it was anything but consistent.  It’s hard to have a good rainfall winter in California if it doesn’t rain in January and March:

  Winter Rainfall 2014-2015

  • Second, the ricochets between significantly warmer than average and significantly cooler than average months during the growing season. Only June was within 10% of normal heat accumulation, and some months like May, August, and October were way off the charts.

  Degree Days 2015 Growing Season

Degree Days vs Normal 2015 Growing Season

And yet, with all this uncertainty as a background, it’s looking like 2015 produced some remarkably compelling wines. 

The lessons from 2015 may well prove to be important ones moving forward.  The scientific consensus seems to be settling around the likelihood that droughts and extreme weather in our area are going to be more common in coming years thanks to global warming. The lessons we might learn from 2015, as unusual as it looks in historical context, may well need to be applied with increasing frequency in the future.

I look forward to hearing the conclusions that some of the state’s leading viticulture researchers will present today.  Thank you all for coming.

A few conclusions

It was interesting to me, in the research I did to put together this talk, the degree to which a consensus really seems to be building among the California wine community on the effects of climate change.  Droughts are likely to become more frequent and more severe.  The incidence of very warm stretches will increase, but so too will the threats from springtime frosts, as warmer March weather encourages earlier budbreak.  The climate of the California's Central Coast will increasingly resemble, in rainfall and temperature, that of Southern California.  And the increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms will make unusual summer rain events like the one we received last July more common.

A salient conclusion that Dr. Thibaut Scholasch, the organizer of the conference, made in his introduction was that the viticultural impacts we are likely to face more often given climate change (excessive drought, excessive heat) are more easily addressed by changes in viticulture and winemaking, as opposed to the opposite threats (excessive moisture, excessive cool) that put the success of a vintage largely outside of the control of a grower or winemaker.

Finally, I love that this high profile technical event, which takes place in four places around the world, has chosen Paso Robles as one of its four locations (joining Napa, Bordeaux, and Narbonne).


Tasting every wine from 2006, a decade later

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 20th.  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.  

A few years ago, 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 2006 vintage was a study of contrasts, with a cold, wet start, a very hot early summer, a cool late summer and a warm, beautiful fall. Ample rainfall in late winter gave the grapevines plenty of groundwater, and produced relatively generous crop sizes. The relatively cool late-season temperatures resulted in a delayed but unhurried harvest, wines with lower than normal alcohols, strong varietal character, and good acids. White wines show freshness and expressive aromatics, while red wines have impeccable balance between fruit, spice, and tannins, and should age into perhaps the most elegant wines we've made.

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 of moderate concentration (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 2006, we made 20 different wines: 8 whites, 1 rosé, 8 reds, and 3 sweet wines.  But we tasted 21 different wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2006 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. The lineup:

2006 Horizontal

My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine (except for the 2006 Bergeron, which for some reason we never made a Web page for) 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.  If you have a question about the Bergeron, or anything else, leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to respond:

  • 2006 Vermentino (SC): A nice nose of green fruit (maybe quince?), crabapple and petrol, with a stony/minerally note.  In the mouth it was fresh, medium-weight, with nice acids and flavors of apple skin and watermelon rind.  The finish was notably saline, with a yeasty note like aged Champagne.
  • 2006 Grenache Blanc (SC): An effusive nose of candied grapefruit, apple pie, and sea spray.  The palate was rich with glycerine but cut by a salty mineral note that reminded me of saltwater taffy. Flavors of preserved lemon and anise softened into a long and rich finish with a sake-like creaminess and a hint of menthol.  I loved this wine, though the group was less excited, with a few complaints as to the wine's heft (it was 15.3% alcohol) and thoughts that it could have used a touch more acidity.  Still, long after I'd expected this wine's natural life to end, it was a treat to taste.
  • 2006 Viognier (SC): A bright, herby nose of tarragon and sage, with some lemon peel and candied pineapple coming out as the wine opened in the glass.  The mouth was really nice, salty, not particularly fruity, with crunchy nectarine and some citrus pith flavrs.  The finish was clean with good acids.  It didn't play at all in the typical Viognier blowsy profile, instead much more linear and mineral.  My dad said it reminded him of "older Chateau Grillets" (a monopole producer of Viognier in the northern Rhone).
  • 2006 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): A deeper color and aromatic profile than the previous wines, with aromas of cedar, maraschino cherry, and butterscotch.  The mouth was still holding on pretty well, showing some oak, a very rich texture, and some ripe apple.  A little heavy on the finish.  A warm-climate rendition of Chardonnay, at the end of its life but still alive, but almost certainly better when it was younger.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 59% Viognier, 32% Marsanne, 6% Grenache Blanc, 3% Roussanne): The nose shows an herby peppered citrus Marsanne note (more than Viognier, despite its predominance in the blend). On the palate, lots of sweet fruit, like honeydew melon and mint, then a long, soft finish of chalky minerality and marshmallow.  Still showing nicely, though a touch low in acid.  I like what the higher Grenache Blanc percentages we're using now on this blend bring to the table.
  • 2006 Bergeron (SC): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. The nose was initially somewhat neutral, with a little tart green kiwi fruit coming out with time.  The mouth is medium-bodied, somewhat neutral as well, with good acids and nice minerality.  The finish came across as a touch sour, with a watermelon rind note.  A bit unexciting now, though we all remembered liking it quite a lot when it was young.
  • 2006 Roussanne (C): A first bottle was oxidized, but the second bottle was gorgeous: a medium gold color, with a stunning nose of orange peel, lilac, bit-o-honey, and something minty (tarragon, maybe) giving lift.  On the palate, the wine was rich, long, and caramelly but fully dry.  The finish was candied orange, citrus blossoms, and a nice saltiness that provided freshness.  Really impressive, if you like white wines with power and density.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): The nose was higher toned than the Roussanne, with an appealing bit of Grenache Blanc's austerity: pink grapefruit to go with the honey and herbs.  The mouth shows a good balance between sweet fruit and fresh acids, with white flowers, quince, and peach juice.  There are some signs of age but the wine is in a very nice place.
  • 2006 Rosé (SC; 60% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 12% Counoise): A pretty deep amber-pink color. The nose is like a light red, with bing cherry and wild strawberry.  The mouth is rich and luscious, with lots of grapey, plummy fruit.  There are still some good acids, though the wine finishes heavy at this age.  Not really a style of wine any of us drink, but still interesting to taste.
  • 2006 Counoise (SC): Quite dark for a Counoise.  A classic rustic Gamay-reminiscent nose, with peppered raspberry and cured meat.  The mouth is really nice, with spicy red plum fruit, still quite light on its feet.  A clean, youthful finish with still some noteworthy tannins.  Plays much more youthful than its ten years of age, and made us all think we're underestimating Counoise's longevity.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): Under screwcap, a bright, clean nose of raspberry fruit.  The mouth was medium-bodied, with strawberry and plum flavors, nice baker's chocolate tannins, and a bright finish.  Tasted very youthful.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (C; 72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): Under cork, the same wine tasted totally different. A deeper nose, more mocha than chocolate, with the fruit aspect more stewed than fresh. On the palate, deeper, chewier, more full-bodied and older: tasted fully mature, with less life left but more depth. Like a 10-year-old wine.
  • 2006 Grenache (C): A lovely meaty animal and red fruit nose.  The mouth was gorgeously balanced between sweet strawberry fruit, salty mineral, chocolatey depth, and earthy funk. Showed good acids and some tannins yet on the finish. A pleasure. 
  • 2006 Mourvedre (C): A nose of roasted meat drippings, milk chocolate, red cherry and currant.  The mouth is again beautiful, with great balance like the Grenache, a bit more weight, and a little longer and plusher (showing less acidity) on the finish.  Chelsea commented that it had "the right amount of unruliness" which seemed right on to me. A beautiful showing for this wine.
  • 2006 Syrah (C): The nose is meaty, with a little peppered bacon.  The mouth is still quite youthful, with fairly big tannins still, and a savory finish without the generosity of the two previous varietal wines.  We liked the nose more than the palate at this stage, and thought that the wine was really still too young.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 45% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Counoise): Fascinating to taste after the three varietal wines, as it shows aspects of each. A pretty nose of meat drippings, Provencal herbs, and balsamic marinade, with something cool and spicy (juniper?) behind it.  The mouth is rich and tangy, with sweet fruit and nice herbs, a meaty, chocolatey aspect, good tannins, and a clean, long finish.  It was still, we thought, on its way up, and fleshed out with time in the glass.  Decant this if you're opening it now.
  • 2006 Panoplie (C): A deep, dark, brooding nose of marinating meat and roasted root vegetables.  The palate shows sweet black fruit (black fig and black cherry), nicely tangy, plush and luscious.  Tannins are still big, but necessary with all the richness and body.  Chelsea said "if I was going to take a Panoplie home to my parents, this would be the one."  Impressive, from beginning to end.
  • 2006 Tannat (C): The nose was higher toned than we were expecting, with a yeasty chocolate souffle note.  The mouth was really nice, with milk chocolate, salty and tangy aspects. The tannins were pretty resolved for a Tannat, and the flavors as much red as black.  Mature, we thought (in contrast to the 2005, which still felt very young a year ago).
  • 2006 Vin de Paille (C; 40% Grenache Blanc, 23% Viognier, 20% Roussanne, 17% Marsanne): The nose felt a little unsettled, with poached pear, spice, and a slightly volatile potpourri note.  The palate was quite sweet, and still quite primary: peach syrup, candied violets, roasted pecans, and some welcome acids on the finish.
  • 2006 Vin de Paille Quintessence (C; 100% Roussanne): A deeper and more savory nose than the straight Vin de Paille, with intense essence of apricot, golden raisins and molasses.  The mouth was sweeter but also more textured and with more acid than the Vin de Paille blend: really rich and powerful, and long, long, long.  Tyler's comment was "I might not open a wine like this often, but if I wanted to show off to friends, I would".
  • 2006 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C; 100% Mourvedre): Compared to the two white vin de paille wines, the nose is savory, with saddle leather, black olive, and chocolate-covered cherries.  The mouth is younger than the nose, sweet with fig and date flavors, but medium-bodied.  Some tannins show up on the finish.  Still young, we thought.

A few concluding thoughts

I was very happy, overall, with how the wines showed.  This was the most different varietal wines we'd bottled to this point, including our first-ever Grenache, and I was happy with how well -- and how much varietal typicity -- they all showed. However, compared to our tasting of the 2005's, there were more wines that tasted like they were on the downslope (Antithesis, Bergeron, Rosé), and some wines that were fully mature whereas in 2005 they were still youngish at ten years of age.  But the elegance of our principal wines, including both Esprits, and the power of wines like the Panoplie, Roussanne, and Vin de Paille Quintessence, suggests that the best wines from 2006 are among the best we've ever produced.

I thought that tasting the Esprits after their principal components was the most interesting aspect of the tasting.  The Esprit Blanc showed both its Grenache Blanc and Roussanne aspects, in a way that complemented each.  And the Esprit red showed how each of its components combined to make something none of the parts could have achieved individually.

This tasting was yet another data point for me suggesting that Syrah really needs time.  This 2006 was still, I thought, too young, and it was the tannins and structure of the Syrah component that kept the Esprit red feeling younger than either the varietal Grenache or the varietal Mourvedre.  I guess this shouldn't be surprising given that Syrah-based wines from the northern Rhone and Australia are among the longest-lived wines in the world, but I'm concluding that a decade in, ours still want a longer rest.

The cork/screwcap contrast on the Cotes de Tablas was really fascinating, and provoked the most discussion around the table. We split evenly as to which we preferred, with some people opting for the depth and weight of the cork finish and other choosing the clarity and vibrancy of the screwcap finish. I preferred the brightness of the screwcap, but I totally understand why others (including my dad) preferred the cork.  If this sort of thing interests you, you might want to check out my older blog Bottle Variation, Very Old Wines and the Cork/Screwcap Dilemma, spurred by a conversation with Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm in which he posits that most wines, in the long run, probably do benefit from screwcap's protection from oxidation.  Of course, the $100,000 question is whether most wines are drunk before that point or after.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 20th Horizontal Tasting: Viognier, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Cotes de Tablas (cork), Grenache, Mourvedre, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille "Quintessence". I hope many of you will join us!


En Primeur: a Tablas Creek tradition since 2003

By Lauren Phelps

Today, we were joined by many of our most enthusiastic wine club members for our annual futures tasting, which provides the first opportunity for anyone outside the cellar to taste (from barrel) our newest vintage of Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie.  

Group
Our Cellar, Newly Decorated for the Holidays

For a little background, 13 years ago we began offering wine en primeur, which is a time-honored French tradition most often associated with first-growth Bordeaux estates. In outstanding vintages, valued customers are offered the opportunity to secure a limited quantity of sought-after wines at a special price in advance of bottling and subsequent general release.

Info
The Tasting List

Our focus today was on the 2014 vintage, which we have felt since blending may turn out to be one of our best.  We showed our two top red wines from the vintage, the Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie, each of which was blended this past spring.  They have been resting in foudre until this morning's tasting, and are only about halfway through their barrel aging; they'll remain in foudre until bottling next summer.

Bottles
The Wines

Jason Haas provided a bit of context for the tasting by summarizing how 2014 compared to other recent vintages, while Viticulturist Levi Glenn and Winemaker Neil Collins dove into the details of the challenges and opportunities that 2014 presented in the vineyard and cellar.  Finally, Robert Haas shared his thoughts on how these wines have come together and express themselves, and where they may go in the future.

The 2014 vintage produced wines that are notably luscious, but with good tannins behind them. Jason compared it to 2007, a similarly intense vintage with plenty of fruit balanced by substantial but ripe tannins.  We think that the wines will be impressive young (they showed very well today) but will also be among the most ageworthy we've made.

Neil
Neil (foreground) and Levi (behind) speak to the group

Bob
Founder Robert Haas

We find that often the most interesting topics are raised by the participants in our events, and very much enjoyed the lively question and answer session that followed the vintage discussion and tasting.

Wreath
A wreath hangs on a Roussanne tank

Because we feel it is important to taste these wines both on their own and with food, we asked Chef Jeffery Scott to make a dish that would pair well with them.  He chose a coq au vin, braised in syrah, and we contributed the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel out of our library to give guests a chance to see how a (relatively) mature version of the wine might look. [Editor's note: we're working with Chef Jeff to get the recipe, or at least a version that doesn't require a 3-day preparation of the stock, and will post it here on the blog if and when we do.]

Yum
Chef Jeffery Scott's delicious coq au vin

We hold this tasting every year, always in early December, if you're setting your calendars for next year. And if you missed the tasting,  you haven't missed your opportunity to buy the wines at their futures-only discount. Members interested in ordering wine en primeur should contact our Wine Club team no later than Monday either by email at vinsider@tablascreek.com or by phone at 805.237.1231 x36.

Mavis
Mavis


Choosing a Panoplie for a Naples Vintners Dinner

In 2016, we'll be appearing for the first time at the Naples Winter Wine Festival.  Our invitation was a pretty big honor; the event is typically one of the top few grossing charity wine auctions in the country each year, and has raised over $135 million for the Naples Children & Education Foundation since its inception in 2001. They only invite some 45 vintners each year, selected from top wineries around the world.  

The highlight, for us, of our participation will be a vintners dinner my parents will be co-hosting at a private home with Francois and Isabelle Perrin and Chef Dustin Valette of Valette in Healdsburg, CA.  Each course will be paired with a wine, poured from Magnum, from Beaucastel and a comparable wine from Tablas Creek.  We'll show our newest Esprit de Tablas Blanc (paired with a Beaucastel Roussanne Vieilles Vignes) with the first course, and an older Esprit de Beaucastel (paired with a Beaucastel Rouge) with the second. The fourth and final course is dessert, and we'll provide one of our Vin de Paille wines out of our library.

For the third course, Beaucastel is sending their 2001 Hommage a Jacques Perrin.  For those of you unfamiliar with the wine, it is their elite cuvee, made only in great years, and 2001 was one of the greatest of Beaucastel's (relatively) recent vintages.  The wine should be mind-blowingly good, just entering maturity at age 14. It was for this wine that we needed to find a partner.  

We have been making Panoplie, which we model after the Hommage a Jacques Perrin, most vintages since 2000.  Like Hommage, it's a cherry-pick through the cellar, typically two-thirds or more Mourvedre, showing off the combination of lushness and structure that Mourvedre can provide in a great vintage.  We always add some Grenache, and typically a little Syrah.  A few times, we've added Counoise. Looking at our magnum library narrowed our choices some.  We didn't bottle magnums before 2002.  We were nearly out of magnums of 2004 and 2006.  We were providing the 2005 vintage of Esprit de Beaucastel for the previous course, and thought it would be more interesting to show a different vintage.  And we didn't think that anything from 2008 or younger would have the age-given depth to stand up to the 2001 Hommage.  So, we pulled samples of 2002, 2003 and 2007 to choose between:

Panoplie 3 vintage vertical

Short story: we're sending the 2003 Panoplie to Naples.  My notes on each of the three wines are below, with why we preferred the 2003 at the end.  I've linked each wine to the page on our Web site with detailed production notes.

  • 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): A deep nose, showing some age, of old leather, black tea and herbs, not at all fruity.  Very classically Mourvedre.  The mouth is broad and almost thick in texture, very chewy, with baker's chocolate, red cherry, and cassis. A nice tanginess highlights the fruit on the palate, which isn't evident in the nose.  To us, this was incredibly evocative of Mourvedre, powerful, but a bit one-dimensional. This may not be surprising given it contains the highest-ever proportion of Mourvedre for a Panoplie.
  • 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise): A higher-toned nose, with crunchy red raspberry fruit, deepened by garrigue and rosemary.  The mouth is deeply fruity but still vibrant, higher toned and fresher than the 2002, with flavors of milk chocolate, red cherry, and ripe plum. It isn't quite as chewy as the 2002, but more than makes up for it with liveliness. The finish shows more raspberry and herbs, ripe tannins, and confectioner's sugar.  Lovely, and interesting too.
  • 2007 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is amazing: intensely fruity (blackcurrant and plum) but with earth and leather and aged meat underneath.  The mouth is big, still a little thick with fruit, then a little hollow on the mid-palate in this stage of its development, with massive tannins coming out and leaving lingering flavors of wild undergrowth, black currant and a steely minerality that is more impressive than friendly on the finish. We all thought that the wine would likely be stunning the next day, but that opening it (in magnum, no less) for a dinner in two months carried some risk.

So, we felt a little like Goldilocks. The 2002 wine was showing a little on the older side, not quite enough fruit or liveliness for what is likely going to be a blockbuster comparison.  (My dad said, "if I were serving this alone at my dinner table, I'd love this, but I worry about it sitting beside the Hommage".)  The 2007 was a little too young, too undeveloped and brawny, and we thought it would seem uncivilized beside its six-year-older partner.  The 2003 was just right: rich but vibrant, fruity but savory, appealing but thought-provoking too.

A few other concluding thoughts:

  • We have consistently underestimated the quality and longevity of the 2003 vintage.  When we made it, the wines seemed so appealing, so juicy and effortless, that we thought they wouldn't have the complexity to age.  Boy, were we wrong.  At each of our vertical tastings, from reds to whites, from Esprit to Cotes, the 2003's have been standouts.  If you have one in your cellar, open it up.
  • We opened and tasted these wines in the fairly compact time frame of roughly half an hour.  We all thought that the 2007 was opening up throughout the tasting, and would likely have been great another 12 hours later.  If you're opening one of these younger Panoplies, definitely decant it in advance.
  • I'm jealous of my parents, who will get to host the dinner.  

At least I got to try these three wines!


2015 International Grenache Day - The Cellar Crew Harvests Grenache

By Lauren Phelps

Today is International Grenache Day and enthusiasts are connecting all over the world and coming together to celebrate this unique grape. (For a fun overview, check out the #GrenacheDay hashtag on Twitter.) We celebrated by harvesting a half-acre block of our vineyard that was originally planted by our VINsider Wine Club members back in 2003.  The hands-on seminar focused on planting and vineyard care and gave members an opportunity to make an impact on the vineyard and wine we’re working with today.

Early this morning, Viticulturist Levi Glenn and his trusty vineyard dog Mavis collected samples from the block we call Grenache Noir Wine Club Head Pruned -- GNWCHP for short -- to test whether the lot was ready to pick.

Mavis Samples

Mavis is convinced; let's see what Neil Collins, Vineyard Manager and Executive Winemaker has to say.

Neil Sample

Neil used a refractometer to asses the sugar levels on the Grenache sample and decided we could harvest this block of estate Grenache.

Group Pick

Our cellar crew enjoyed a welcomed break from processing fruit and got to feel the sun on their faces as they picked Grenache in the vineyard this morning.

Grenache

The fruit looked spectacular and although yields looked light on this block, quality is fantastic!

Grapes with Hammer

We picked .75 tons from the head-pruned, dry-farmed lot.

Chelsea forklift

What a way to celebrate #Harvest2015 and International #GrenacheDay!  Cheers!