Last year, we began what I hope will become an annual tradition: looking back as each year begins on the vintage from ten years previous. Doing so encourages us to open wines that we wouldn't otherwise open with a decade of age, and gives a wide-ranging perspective on the vintage as a whole and how it has developed over time. It also allows us to choose a representative and compelling subset of the lineup for the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 28th.
A few years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for the launch of our redesigned Web site, I wrote this about the 2005 vintage:
The 2005 vintage was one of nature's lucky breaks, with excellent quality and higher-than-normal yields. The wet winter of '04-'05 gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and a warm period in March got the vines off to an early May flowering. The summer was uniformly sunny but relatively cool, and harvest began (relatively late for us) in the 3rd week of September, giving the grapes nearly a month longer than normal on the vine. The resulting wines, both red and white were intensely mineral, with good structure and powerful aromatics. Red wines have big but ripe tannins that reward cellaring.
I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger. Would the red wines have softened, or would they still show the brawniness that characterized them in their youth? Would the whites have retained their freshness in what was a fairly ripe vintage, overall? And would the sweet wines, which I found disappointing in last year's retrospective, show better?
In 2005, we made 20 different wines: 9 whites, 1 rosé, 7 reds, and 3 sweet wines. But on Friday, we tasted 21 different wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2005 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. The lineup:
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. For some reason, we never made Web pages for 2005 Viognier or 2005 Bergeron. I'm sorry about that; if you have a technical question; leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.
- 2005 Vermentino (SC): An immediately appealing nose, both fresh and minerally, with lemon oil, rocks, and just a hint of nuttiness from age. It opened up increasingly with time in the glass, showing richer flavors of graham cracker, fennel, and preserved lemon. Its long finish was clean, with vibrant acids. Didn't nearly taste a decade old, or show any hint of its 14.5% alcohol.
- 2005 Picpoul Blanc (SC): Golden in color, notably moreso than the Vermentino. The nose was richly tropical, with pineapple and wet stone. The palate was both rich and fresh, with peppered citrus, full body and zingy acids. Fun.
- 2005 Grenache Blanc (SC): A more muted nose than the first two wines, some passion fruit and mineral, a little confected and a touch of scotch tape character I sometimes find in whites aged under screwcap. The palate was excellent, significantly better, I thought, than the nose: rich and viscous, with flavors of pear and marzipan, and great lingering acids at the finish to clean things up. Remarkably little sign of its 15.3% alcohol.
- 2005 Viognier (SC): An immediately recognizable Viognier nose of apricots, jasmine and orange oil. On the palate, peach syrup and orange creamsicle, marmalade and a touch of saline. Notably less acid than the three previous wines (not surprising for Viognier) with an appealing touch of tannin on the finish. Still very youthful.
- 2005 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC): The nose shows Roussanne and Marsanne more than the Viognier: honey, mineral and spicy fruit salad. On the palate, beautifully mid-weight, with a briny, minerally note and building to a mead-like, unctuous finish. 42% Viognier, 33% Roussanne, 19% Marsanne, 6% Grenache Blanc. 13.9% alcohol. I preferred this to the 2004 version, which (at 14.5%) I found a little heavy.
- 2005 Antithesis (C): Rich and blowsy on the nose: toasted marshmallow, coconut and pineapple, with just a hint of wintergreen providing relief. The mouth is rich, but with good acids too. The oak shows a fingerprint in the texture, without overt flavors. Toasted coconut on the long finish. A nice example of aged Chardonnay from a warm year.
- 2005 Bergeron (C): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A high-toned yeasty, briochy nose, like aged Champagne that's been allowed to decarbonate, with some ripe apple. The palate is tarter than the nose suggests, more green apple than red, with rich texture but a briny, bright finish. A really interesting interplay between rich and bright, but a more intellectual than hedonistic experience.
- 2005 Roussanne (C): The nose smelled older to me, perhaps unsurprising given acid's role in preserving wines as they age. Otherwise, not as much showing aromatically as the Bergeron. The mouth is notably rich, with an initial perception of sweet honey, then firming up on the finish, which shows a hint of tannin. Perhaps in an in-between phase; I'd hold this rather than drinking it now.
- 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C): The nose is exuberantly and vibrantly fresh, with mint, fennel, apricot and white flower notes. The mouth is spectacular: rich and long, clean, with sweet elements of honeycomb and candied orange peel, but totally dry, finishing with ripe, crisp apple and mineral notes lingering on the long finish. Perhaps the wine of the tasting, for me. 70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc.
- 2005 Rosé (SC): A deep salmon-pink color. The nose shows wild strawberries. The mouth is fruity and rich, some signs of age in the deepening of flavors, but still very much alive. A touch of pithy tannin on the finish. More a food wine than a quaffer now; we were fantasizing about pairing it with squab or charcuterie.
- 2005 Counoise (SC): A fascinatingly wild, fruity nose, with fresh raspberry and freeze-dried strawberry notes and a meaty, gamy character too, like roasted duck. Pretty on the palate, relatively light-bodied but with excellent complexity. The finish showed raspberry, baking spices and earth, with vibrant acids, some good tannins still, and tons of life left. Confirms my thoughts that on its own, Counoise is more akin to a cru Beaujolais than anything else from the Rhone.
- 2005 Cotes de Tablas (SC): Under screwcap, a bright, clean nose of peppered plum, youthful and fresh. The flavors were medium-bodied, a touch smoky, with baking spices and good acids. Tasted like a 3-year-old wine. 43% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 15% Counoise.
- 2005 Cotes de Tablas (C): Under cork, the same wine tasted totally different. A deeper, less fruity nose, more coffee, mocha and fig. On the palate, deeper, chewier, more tannic and older: tasted fully mature, with less life left but more depth. Like a 10-year-old wine.
- 2005 Mourvedre (C): Tangy and winey on the nose, with iron and plum, and chalky minerals. Like rare steak that's been marinating. On the palate, rich and still quite tannic, with a cooling bay leaf and minty note for relief. On the finish, a licoricey limestone note added to the complexity. Still lots of life left, and a beautiful showing for this wine.
- 2005 Syrah (C): The nose is meaty, leathery, rich and dense, with dark chocolate and black cherry. Still big tannins and quite chewy. We all thought it still too young, with the alcohol (only 14.5%) not quite integrated and showing more power than finesse. That said, with a grilled rib-eye, it would make quite a showy partner.
- 2005 Tannat (C): A bright-dark contrast on the nose, with minty blackberry and incense notes. The mouth is quite lovely, readier to drink than the Syrah, with mint chocolate and patchouli notes. A beautiful long finish with ripe tannins that suggest the wine will go another decade effortlessly.
- 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel (C): Shows aspects of both Mourvedre and Syrah, with a deep, meaty, leathery nose, with a hint of bay providing aromatic lift. The mouth is generous, with a clarity that neither of the two varietal wines showed, and brighter acids than either that highlight the fruit in an appealing way. I have to think that this luminous character comes from the Grenache component, and found it fascinating. Still some substantial tannins, and the wine should go out another decade happily. Another of my wines of the tasting. 44% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Counoise.
- 2005 Panoplie (C): A chocolate-cherry nose, rich and ripe. The palate was thicker than the Esprit red, with milk chocolate and super-ripe dark red fruit. Very rich texture that someone described as caramelly, and a finish of liqueur and chocolate. Still young.
- 2005 Vin de Paille (C): An amazing luminous amber color and an explosive nose of orange marmalade and white flowers. The mouth showed still quite young, with a rich texture, egg custard flavors and ripe apricot. For all its weight, it showed great acids on the finish. 34% Roussanne, 29% Grenache Blanc, 24% Viognier, 13% Marsanne.
- 2005 Vin de Paille Quintessence (C): Even more amber in color than the first Vin de Paille, with a deeper nose of almond brittle and apricots in syrup. The mouth is sweeter: vanilla creme caramel with its signature burnt sugar character. Rich, decadent and absolutely luscious. 100% Roussanne.
- 2005 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C): Compared to the two white vin de paille wines, the nose is savory, a tangy plum and cocoa powder. The mouth is sweet but less so than the whites, raspberry coulis, cocoa and tangy marinade. Long finish. 100% Mourvedre.
A few concluding thoughts
I was happier, overall, with how the wines showed than I was with the 2004's last year. That's probably indicative of the strength of the vintage, which was overall a great one (2004, by contrast, was probably more good than great). Of all the wines that we tasted, there wasn't a single one that tasted over the hill to me, and only a couple (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne) that I found only so-so.
I was thrilled that my favorite white and red were in both cases the Esprits. This showed clearly to me the value of blending, with the flavors of each varietal highlighted and focused by the additions of the other grapes. It wasn't that these wines were the biggest or the most powerful; instead, they were the most complete and the most complex, with the best clarity and persistence. Exactly what we'd want our signature wines to be.
The cork/screwcap contrast on the Cotes de Tablas was really fascinating, and provoked the most discussion around the table. We split nearly 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. In earlier tastings, we'd seen more consensus around the cork finish, which spurred me to go back and re-read my blog post Bottle Variation, Very Old Wines and the Cork/Screwcap Dilemma from 2008. In it, I examine a presentation from 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. The more I learn, the more I think he's right, with one important caveat: that most red wines aren't aged long enough in bottle to get to the point at which the freshness preserved outweighs the depth lost. This tasting provided another data point: perhaps, out 10 years, is where the two meet, at least on this wine.
Finally, we chose what I think will be a pretty fun list of wines for the February 28th Horizontal Tasting: Vermentino, Viognier, Esprit Blanc, Counoise, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Cotes de Tablas (cork), Mourvedre, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille. I hope many of you will join us!