Back from the Rhone River Cruise

I am in Vermont, relaxing for a short time after a wonderful cruise up the Rhone River. And what an experience it was. We (Meghan and I, as well as our winemaker Neil Collins and his wife Marci) led a group of 62 up the Rhone, from Avignon in the south to Lyon in the north, with a short extension up the Saône to Macon for a little Burgundy experience to cap it off. From this floating home base, we made shore excursions each day to cultural, historic, culinary or oenologic destinations, reconvening each evening for a dinner paired with wines from Tablas Creek, Famille Perrin, Chateau de Beaucastel, and Maison Nicolas Perrin.  For those who made it, I wanted to share some photos. For those who didn't, but are considering coming next time (and yes, there definitely will be a next time) I hope this will give you a taste of what to expect. 

Our Home Base

Our home for this eight day trip was the Uniworld S.S. Catherine. This ship is one of the newest in Uniworld's fleet, named after Catherine Deneuve and showing much of the same glamour and elegance as her namesake. The exterior:

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The interior was beautiful, but the highlight for me was the roof deck, from which you could watch the countryside go by, the moon come up, or the sun go down:

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The Focus Visit: Beaucastel and Clos des Tourelles in Gigondas

Most of the itinerary of the cruise was that of the Uniworld ship we were on. However, we worked with our travel partners Food & Wine Trails to create two special experiences just for our group. A visit to Chapoutier, including both a tour of their Hermitage vineyards and a focused tasting and lunch in their cellars, was amazing. I'll dive into that more below. But the centerpiece of the trip for us (and, speaking to the attendees, for most of them) were the twin visits to the cellars at Beaucastel and to the Perrins' newer property in Gigondas: Clos des Tourelles. So that both visits could be more intimate, we divided the group into two. One half visited the first day of our trip, and the other half the second. We started with a tour of Beaucastel's Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards, with head-trained vines growing out of what looks like a moonscape of rounded river stones. That's Beaucastel's Hospitality Director Kirsty Manahan speaking to the group:

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Kirsty then brought us through the remarkable cellar, with stacks of bottles aging gracefully and big wooden tanks identical to those we use at Tablas Creek:

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We then moved to a tasting of the wines, including vintages back to 2001:

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One of the cool discoveries for me was a photo of my dad and Jacques Perrin from 1973: the beginning of the Haas-Perrin collaboration that ultimately resulted in Tablas Creek:

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From Beaucastel, we continued by bus to Clos des Tourelles, the Perrins' property in Gigondas. A former monastery -- the first permanent structure built outside the town's medieval city walls -- Les Tourelles is being renovated as the headquarters of the Famille Perrin umbrella, and is just a few months away from opening. We got to enjoy a reception on the property's patio, overlooking the walled vineyard that is the appellation's only "Clos":

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Charles Perrin joined us there, which was a treat for the guests:

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We walked up a short stairway to the town center, where the Perrins' restaurant l'Oustalet is located on a pretty shaded patio. I would submit Gigondas as one of the most picturesque villages in the south of France.

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The meal was delicious -- summer truffles, anyone? -- and the wines equal to the challenge:

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From there, fully sated, we continued to the first of our shore visits, a walking tour around the ancient town center of Arles.

The Shore Excursions

Each day, the participants in the cruise got a choice of ways to explore the towns and countryside we were passing through. Because it was a river cruise, and because we didn't have massive distances to travel, we woke up each morning in port, so the shore opportunities were daily and varied. Some were more sedate, like walks through quiet towns like Viviers (in which we also got to hear a short performance on the basilica's pipe organ):

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Other shore visits offered more activity, like the chance to kayak down the Gardon River to and under the remarkable Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard. This was one of my top highlights of the trip, and a bucket list thing to do:

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One nighttime excursion was a bus tour of Lyon (the "City of Lights"), serendipitously as the full moon was rising:

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And, at the end of the trip, we spent a lovely day in Beaune, including a visit to the weekly market:

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And a tour of the lovely, historic Hospices de Beaune, a hospital for the poor started in 1433:

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Focus Visit #2: Chapoutier and Hermitage

As we made our way north, we watched the landscape change from the southern Rhone's broad valleys and pebbly soils to the northern Rhone's steep terraced vineyards. When we reached Tain l'Hermitage, we stopped for the night. The next day, we were greeted at the ship by two representatives from Maison M. Chapoutier, the historic wine family who have farmed their vineyards in Hermitage since 1808.  We walked through the town and into the vineyard blocks at the foot of the hill which forms the town's northern border:

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The small size of the appellation was striking, as was knowing that this hillside has been the inspiration for a high percentage of the world's producers of Syrah. The tasting in Chapoutier's cellars was equally convincing, as we got a chance to taste wines from Hermitage (both red and white), Cote Rotie, and even Chapoutier's Chateauneuf du Pape, which was particularly interesting given where we'd just come from.

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We finished with a lunch in their cellars, which was a remarkable way to end a great day.

The Towns

We were docking in a new town each night, which meant new places to explore. Some of these I knew well (Avignon, for example) so I skipped the planned tours in favor of some simple wandering.  Others I'd visited, but rarely or not for a while, and in these cases I very much enjoyed the more formal narrative on the town's history and culture. Arles was one of these. The remarkable Roman amphitheater is one of the best preserved anywhere in the world, and was actually hosting a bull race -- the Camargue version of the "running of the bulls" famous from the Spanish city of Pamplona -- that day.

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The small town of Tarascon, just south of Avignon, has one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the south of France. 

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The castle had been converted to a prison during the French Revolution, which saved it from destruction. It also meant that the rooms had graffiti (largely from 18th & 19th century English prisoners) carved into their walls, which I found fascinating:

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It's particularly nice, I found, approaching these towns from the river. Unlike the typical entry points of railway station, airport, or even outside-of-town road sprawl, the river typically shows a historic face, and the docks were all in the middle of town rather than the outskirts. And it seemed like our schedule meant that we often arrived at dusk, which is hard to beat:

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The Onboard Program

As our group represented more than two-thirds of the passengers, whether we were mingling at breakfast, taking in the views of the river topside, or exploring the differences between pastis and pernod in the lounge, the ship's activities became group activities. And the length of the stay meant that after the first day or two everyone felt like family. But we did add a few enhancements to the ship's program. We sent over (or procured in France) special wines for each night's meal, doing our best to mirror what we were drinking to what we had seen that day or the parts of the Rhone we were passing. That meant wines like Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape and Miraval rosé in the south (and the Tablas Creek equivalents), Famille Perrin Gigondas and Vinsobres as we made our way north, and then the wines of Maison Nicolas Perrin in Tain l'Hermitage and Lyon.  It was a particular treat to be sipping on the (delicious) Nicolas Perrin Condrieu with dinner as we passed the tiny village of Condrieu on our way north from Tain to Lyon.

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Neil and I also hosted a seminar, where we got the whole Tablas Creek group together during a longer sail and deconstructed our flagship Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc blends, tasting these wines and varietal bottlings of each of the grapes that go into them. Coming toward the end of the journey, this also gave Neil and me a chance to put the visit into context:

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The River

But the star of the show was ultimately the Rhone. The engineering on display as we traversed 13 locks, each bringing us 60 vertical feet higher, was a recurring highlight of the trip. We would slow down and the windows would get dark as we entered the lock, massive yet barely larger than the ship. Then, after a pause, we'd begin to climb out of the manmade canyon, up to a new landscape at a rate of a foot every few seconds:

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It was equally impressive watching the technology required to pass under the low bridges, with the ship's awnings, railings, and even the captain's wheelhouse retracting into the deck:

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Wherever we were on our journey, we had the Rhone's patchwork of grain fields, vineyards, lavender and orchards on display, with the honey colored building stone of the old towns sprinkled in. That landscape was the constant backdrop of the many visits, and a lovely reminder of what draws millions of visitors to the south of France each year:

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If you joined us on this journey, thank you. I'd love you to share your own highlights in the comments. If you weren't able to join us this time, we'll definitely be back. And we look forward to sharing this experience with you then. 


Fresh Herbs in the Glass and on the Plate: Vietnamese Spring Rolls & Vermentino

By Suphada Rom

At Tablas Creek we make wines primarily from varieties known from France's Rhône Valley. I love pairing traditional French fare with our wines- that to me is elementary, in the sense that, well, it just makes sense to pair the two. However, the food scene is diverse and ever growing, and as much as I love French food, it's not something I eat everyday. Right now, I can't get enough Vietnamese food. There is just something so vibrant and fresh about all the ingredients used, whether it's freshly chopped basil atop a tart salad or leaves of mint tucked inside a rice paper wrapper. The fresh ingredients of this style of cuisine inspired me to produce a spring pairing - Spring rolls and Vermentino.

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I've been mildly obsessed with the craft of rolling the perfect spring roll. Luckily it's not that hard to make, I just tend to sweat the details, like is there just the right amount of noodles or is it equally balanced on either end with both shrimp and pork? That said, don't be intimidated by the wrapping portion and do have friends over to help you roll- it's not a spring roll party without them! For my spring roll recipe, I love my mom's recipe, but I swear, every time I ask for the recipe, it's slightly different (I think she's keeping some cooking secrets to herself!). I've outsourced a recipe from one of my favorite restaurants- The Slanted Door in San Francisco, California. Chef Charles Phan has an incredible cookbook (entitled The Slanted Door) from which I pull many recipes to share. I love his recipe for spring rolls, as it is simple and all about getting the freshest ingredients. Delicious and satisfying, I decided to have a couple friends over for a spring time spring roll party. 

Spring cuisine is all about fresh vibrant herbs, lighter fare, and mouthwatering white wine. And nothing we make is more mouthwatering than Vermentino. The 2016 vintage marks the fifteenth bottling of this mouthwatering Sardinian variety on the Tablas Creek property. We have about 3.25 acres dedicated to Vermentino plantings, and bottle (in generous vintages) a little over 1000 cases. It's one of my favorite varieties, simply because it's so clean and bright: citrus, bright acidity, and salty minerality. On the nose, the 2016 Vermentino is herby and chalky, with notes of key lime. On the palate it's delightful, with notes of nectarine and lemon. My mouth is left watering because the of the wine's acidity. The herbs in the wine's aromas tie in beautifully with the mint in the spring rolls. The surprising factor was the peanut sauce, which worked really well texturally with the wine. I love having something really bright and acidic paired with something rich and creamy.

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If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:


Flatbread (and Roussanne) Two Ways: Potatoes/Fennel/Rosemary/Onion and Leeks/Mushrooms/Corn

By Suphada Rom

How many times have you decided to have a casual get together with a couple of friends and then, all of a sudden, you're throwing some sort of backyard shindig for the neighborhood? We've all been there and trust me, I know the feeling of panic. The sensation rushes through your body as you try to figure out what you're going to make to keep the party going and keep the hungry well-fed. My go-to has always been pizzas (or in modern California parlance, flatbreads). Diverse in their nature, they serve as a blank canvas, ready for you to throw on a multitude of toppings. With that in mind, you can craft different flatbreads to appease all palates, not only making everyone happy but making you look like the most well planned host ever! We decided to have a little flatbread party of our own here at the winery, and went non-traditional. The result: two recipes for flatbreads that pair beautifully with Roussanne. Both are vegetarian, though if you're the type who that makes nervous, both would do beautifully with a sprinkling of crisped pancetta cubes too.

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Rosemary, Fennel, and Potato Flatbread with Comte Cheese to the left, and Leek, Mushroom and Corn Flatbread with Gruyere Cheese on the right. And Roussanne.

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Garlic and herb dough, ready to rise!

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After just an hour in the sun, the dough was so big and pillowy! 

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The flatbreads were delicious and versatile with multiple vintages of Roussanne, including the 2013!

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More Roussanne than I can (almost) handle!

For the flatbreads, I didn't follow a recipe, per se, but to say I created the recipe is certainly an overstatement. I picked elements I knew would play up the features of our Roussanne. Tender cooked leeks, sweet fennel, and rich potatoes were just a few of the ingredients I knew would marry well. All of those ingredients atop a light garlic and herb crust? Delicious. Also, whenever I cook with Roussanne in mind, I love caramelizing any and everything. Doing this step in cooking not only softens the ingredient for texture, but it tends to bring out this sweetness, and not the cloying kind, but the kind that is rich with mellow sweetness. Caramelized onion tart? How about oven roasted fennel? Yes to both- and yes to a fantastic pairing with our Roussanne.

Why Roussanne? Well, with the release of a new vintage along with some exciting news and press, I knew I wanted to pair these flatbreads with the pure varietal bottling. In any vintage, Roussanne reels in richness on the nose and persistence on the palate. Incredibly versatile, but not in the same way that, say, rosé is. You may have read my last post about tacos and rosé and how I love rosé's versatility. This is considering that most rosés should be consumed relatively youthfully. Roussanne is versatile in the sense that you could enjoy it now, in fact, we gladly did! However, if you stumble across a bottle that has a few years of age on it (maybe it's even a decade old), you'll be in for a real treat. Roussanne ages gracefully and through years in bottle, increases its depth and complexity ten fold. Youthful Roussanne evokes fresh honey and fresh floral notes while an older bottling may lean towards being a bit more towards notes of caramel- you may even detect a little saltiness. Drink now... or not. The choice is yours!

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas. As for us, well I'm advocating for more days with flatbreads... Flatbread Fridays, anyone??

A few resources:

  • Our Roussanne is making headlines! Recently given 93 points and described as "fragrant, ebullient, ripe and refreshing" in Wine Spectator  
  • Everything Roussanne:
     - 2013 Roussanne is almost sold out! Call the wine club office at (805)-237-1231 to reserve your bottle(s)
     - 2014 Roussanne is available in the tasting room or through our online shop
     - 2015 Roussanne is part of our spring wine club shipment. Members of our VINsider club get access to this exclusive        bottling and a 20% discount. Not a member yet? Find out more information here.
  • Curious about how Roussanne ages? Check out our Vintage Chart- we update every season to give you a better idea of how the wine is drinking!

Ingredients and recipe for flatbreads are as follows:

Flatbread No. 1:

- mini gold potatoes (skin on, and thinly sliced)
- fennel (thinly sliced and lightly sauteéd)
- yellow onion (thinly sliced)
- rosemary
- comte cheese

Flatbread No. 2:
- leeks (cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced and sautéed until soft)
- mushrooms (any kind will do, I used crimini- sliced)
- corn (oven roasted)
- gruyere cheese

Instructions:
1. Make dough according to recipe. You can use any you like, I chose one from the Minimalist Baker for a Garlic Herb Flatbread. Instead of frying it in a pan, I chose to bake them in the oven (with the toppings) at 375 degrees.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
3. While the dough is rising, you can prepare the toppings. The leeks should be sautéed in a splash of olive oil over medium-low heat, until translucent and tender. After the leeks are done, remove them from the pan, spoon into a bowl, and use the same pan to quick sauté the fennel. I stirred them around the hot pan for just a minute or two, just until they'd softened slightly. 
4. On a cookie sheet, spread out the corn kernels and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until tender and golden in color. 
5. Following the flatbread recipe, divide the dough up and roll each dough out. Coat the top surface of the dough with olive oil before adding toppings. Finish with salt and pepper.
6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until edges of crust start to golden slightly.


A Taste of Spring: Pairing Rosé With Carnitas Tacos

By Suphada Rom    

What a week it's been! We've been busy out here at the winery, pruning our vines and getting them ready for bud break, all while navigating our first bottling of the year. We typically order lunches for the crew working bottling. However, I took it upon myself to make lunch for everyone, all in service to researching a food and wine piece for the blog. Two birds, one stone or in this case, two rosés and one lunch. 

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Our two rosés, ready for drinking!

Life is so much sweeter with rosé. I love that rosé represents spring, warmth, and the kickoff of the post winter thaw. It's a milestone and the beginning of the endless days of spring and summer sunshine here in California. In the tasting room, it's the most situational wine we have. It evokes memories of sitting by the pool, toes swaying back and forth in the cooling waters, and thoughts of summer parties where you are greeted with a warm hug and a cool glass. Rosé is exciting and with the release of ours, it felt fitting to have a bit of a celebratory lunch in the warm glow of what is still technically winter sun. And I know that groundhog said there would be six more weeks of winter but I don't mind one bit, especially if it's filled with days like this. 

Tacos are delicious, easy, and an across the board favorite among our staff. I love a good braise and slow simmering of meats (I'm sure you've gathered from past posts!), especially pork. Carnitas here in Central Coast are like lobster to the east coast- a staple and something I choose not to live without. A great and straightforward recipe for Tacos de Carnitas can be found on the New York Times website. The meat simmers for hours in a broth warmed by sweet spices like cinnamon and clove, and given citrusy freshness by orange zest. Incredibly fragrant and full of flavor, it was a recipe I'll definitely keep around. Nothing I would have done differently with this recipe except for making more: enough for leftovers!

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Carnitas- so simple and so delicious!

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Any and every topping known to the realm of tacos

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Burying my nose in my glass- it smelled amazing!

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Family lunch on the patio, Tablas Creek style!

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Our shepherd, Nathan Stuart and National Sales Manager, Darren Delmore, having a moment over some wine. This photo was too good not to share! Today was an absolutely incredible day filled with amazing people, great wine, and a satisfying meal.

I absolutely love pairing food with rosé (coming in close second is food and Champagne pairings, which are just delicious!). They're so versatile. We were able to enjoy both our Dianthus and Patelin de Tablas Rosé. Both rosés show the 2016 vintage's vibrant acidity and teem with notes of bright fruit. The 2016 Dianthus is a blend of 49% Mourvedre, 37% Grenache, and 14% Syrah, combining rosé styles of both Tavel and Bandol. The color is a stunning bright pink with neon hues. The nose is fragrant and generous. I dive in and I can trace just about any red fruit under the sun. If it exists, it's in this glass. On the palate, it thoroughly coats each and every inch of your mouth. Close your eyes, you may even think you're drinking red wine, it's just got this amazing density and richness. Delicious notes of mint and lemongrass shine through. There's a little prickle of spice and some acidity makes your mouth water for the next sip. Drink this wine now and drink it with carnitas tacos! We loved the spiciness of the wine with the tacos, however be warned, with extra salsa roja, it can pack a punch and isn't for the faint of heart. Essentially, unless you're in the business of eating spicy food and you like a good pepper challenge, have a bite then take a sip- just don't say we didn't warn you! 

The Patelin de Tablas Rosé (73% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 6% Counoise, 4% Syrah) is modeled differently, and has more of the look and feel of a Provence rosé. The fruit is sourced from some of the top growers in Paso Robles. In the glass, it's inviting and in my mind, summer in liquid form, with its light peach and pink coloring. The smell is soft and delicate, with notes of fresh nectarines and a tinge of grapefruit. On the palate, it's balanced and generous. So bright and so fresh. Fresh peaches, raspberries, and tart strawberries. Incredibly mouthwatering, I found myself meeting the bottom of my glass quicker than I anticipated! Each sip after bite revealed some amazing nuances I didn't notice the first go around. Great bottling of this wine and already one of my favorite rosés of the year. 

So there you have it- it's officially spring, not just because of the weather but because the rosé is here, it's bottled, and ready for your enjoyment through the rest of the year (or until we run out!). If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • The recipe for Tacos de Carnitas can be found here.
  • Our 2016 Patelin Rosé is ready for your enjoyment! It is available for purchase in the tasting room, through our online shop.
  • Not local? No worries, our Patelins can be found throughout the country! Check out the distributors we work with here.
  • Good News! The 2016 Dianthus, allocated to our wine club, is part of the Spring Shipment, set to go out later this month. Members may purchase up to six extra bottles. Contact our wine club office at orders@tablascreek.com or call (805)-237-1231 x236.
  • Not a member yet? It's not too late- Find out more information here.

A Lesson in Thai Cooking and Pairing with a Flight of Tablas Creek Wines

By Suphada Rom

The Tablas Creek team, as you might suspect, includes a large number of foodies, each with a different background. Around the lunch hour, people congregate in the kitchen to cook or just reheat lunch and socialize.  John Morris, our Tasting Room Manager, always creates a buzz with his authentic Thai dishes brought from home. And these aren't leftovers from a local restaurant, either. His wife Christina is a very accomplished and well versed Thai cook. For years, we've all felt pangs of jealousy when he opens one of his Tupperware containers, revealing yellow-gold curries with floating shrimp and bamboo.

So, when Christina invited a group of us over for a lesson in Thai cooking, we brought willing and able hands to help, and a passel of Tablas Creek wines to enjoy with our feast.

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The happy (and hospitable) couple!

Walking into John and Christina's kitchen, the smell of the different spices was heady in the best possible way. I was hungry for food, but we were all eager to learn. Christina was incredibly warm and lovely and her years of restaurant experience show with her calm demeanor, warm hospitality, and a happy willingness to answer any and all of our questions. I'm sure she would have been able to balance a stack of books on her head the whole time, while maneuvering about the kitchen. I adore her and can't thank her enough for hosting all of us because, as I'm sure most of us know and have experienced, entertaining ravenous folks with a line-up of several bottles of wine is most assuredly always a handful!

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Christina starting the curry with some paste and coconut milk in the pan

We -- OK, I use "we" lightly when it comes to us cooking -- made a rich chicken and vegetable curry, fish cakes, tapioca dumplings, and papaya salad, all accompanied by a warm bowl of Jasmine rice. The chicken curry glimmered, a beautiful golden yellow color with vegetables poking through the surface. Fish cakes, seasoned with pungent curry paste and fried to perfection, quite literally rose to the occasion as they inflated in the pan while cooking. Tapioca coated dumplings were stuffed with a combination of fermented radish and ground pork, with dry roasted peanuts for texture. The papaya salad was done classically, with slivers of green papaya, mixed in with fresh cherry tomatoes and lime, tossed in crab paste and fish sauce. Christina taught us how to make it all, and like many good chefs, without a recipe. Tasting all these dishes was both familiar, yet intriguing. I tasted a lot of familiar flavors, but they appeared in different form. It's sort of like when you really start to smell all the different nuances in wine. It's surprising and intoxicating- I just couldn't stop smelling and tasting everything, and neither could anybody else. And in the spirit of togetherness, I really wanted to know what everyone else thought about our meal and what they thought the best pairing was:

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The line-up of wines we tried (not pictured was a jug of Bristol's Cider, made of course by our Neil Collins!)

Lauren Phelps, Marketing Coordinator:
My favorite pairing was the Patelin rosé with the papaya salad!  The crisp refreshing qualities of the rosé balanced the spicy tangy flavors of the papaya salad.  With the lingering spice of the salad, taking a sip of the rosé was like enjoying a refreshing sip of cool water, but better.  I also enjoyed how the savory berry flavors of the rosé sustained through the bite of salad leaving me with a tart raspberry flavor lingering before the next bite (which wasn’t very long).

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager: 
Vermentino worked with everything for me, especially the 2015.  It’s counterintuitive to the old saw of sweet wines with spicy food, but I think the aromatic sweetness works here.  Also, the acidity helps mitigate the heat.  The cider (Bristol's Cider, locally made by Tablas Creek's winemaker, Neil Collins) was great too!  I didn’t taste the Grenache Blanc, but I’m sure it would have worked as well.  I wanted the Petit Manseng to work, but for me it was just too sweet to balance everything. 

Amanda Weaver, Tasting Room Lead:
In my humble opinion, the Vermentino was the perfect pairing with all the beautiful dishes. The only close rival was the Patelin rosé. Both had refreshing acidity which complimented and challenged the notes of kaffir lime and Thai chilies that made their presence in most of the dishes. For a novice in spicy foods, the cool crisp Vermentino kept me from running for the fire extinguisher and kept me at the table enjoying our delicious meal! I'll be honest, when I heard that the first course was going to be fish cakes, I was ready to just stick to a nice full glass of Vermentino. However, once I caught a whiff of the tangy yet earthy Kaffir lime I knew I had to give it a try with the cool liquid in my glass! From there I was hooked. From fish cakes, to the translucent tapioca balls, to papaya salad and curry, I could not have asked for a more complete meal to pair with our 2015 Vermentino!

Leslie Castillo, Tasting Room Lead:
Out of all the TCV wines there were I only tasted 2014, and 2015 Vermentino and the 2014 Patelin Rosé; from those 3 wines, to me 2015 Vermentino had the most vibrant acidity and citrus notes which paired great with the fish patties, it contrasted the fatty content in them and complemented the fragrant lime leaves; that was my favorite pairing with the curry too!

Me:
This was a tricky one for me, as I truly enjoyed most of the wines at different parts of the meal. I loved the Patelin Rosé's liveliness with the curry, and how it sort of brought out more the curry's aromatics. Vermentino was incredibly versatile, bringing out the heady fresh herbs in the papaya salad, making my mouth water for more. Petit Manseng served as a rich and textured conclusion to our meal.  

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Curry with chicken and vegetables

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Leslie, assembling fish cakes

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Papaya salad

Life gets so busy sometimes, with kids, schedules, appointments, and outings, that it's often difficult to coordinate get-togethers. However, I've come to realize we need to continue to make the time and the efforts to do the the things we love with the people we care about. In my experience, time spent often has either food or wine weaved in. While both food and wine are great, without the right company, the experience isn't quite as sweet. How lucky are we that we get to call each other both coworkers and friends. 

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Cheers from the Tablas Creek team!


Spain, meet Paso Robles: Manchego, estate grown quince paste, and Rhone-style whites

By Suphada Rom

Scattered through the vineyard and amongst the vines are various fruit trees, planted to reel in beneficial insects to roost. Not only do the fruit trees break up the monoculture of solely growing grapes, they provide a healthy bounty of fresh and delicious produce for the staff to enjoy. Throughout the year, we are able to enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden and fruit from the trees. However, in the dead of winter when garden life is on a brief hiatus, we get to enjoy quince paste, made from quince off our estate and preserved in the chilly confines of our cellar. 

Quince paste (or membrillo) is simple in its ingredients and lengthy in its process. The fruit is harvested in the fall, around the same time as some of our late ripening grapes, like Mourvedre and Roussanne. As of now, there are three quince trees planted on the property. Even though they are quite youthful and small, they produce close to forty pounds of fruit. Once the fruit is harvested, it's cored and prepped for a stovetop simmer. [We detailed this process on the blog in late 2015.]

From the cores, the seeds are collected and wrapped in cheesecloth and thrown into the pot for maximum extraction of pectin. Pectin, for those (including myself) who do not can/preserve often, is a necessary ingredient that is basically the binding agent and key in the successful setting of the paste. Slowly reduced and concentrated in color, the quince paste is poured into baking dishes, where it sits and dehydrates for a few weeks before it's ready for consumption.  All this is overseen by Gustavo Prieto, jack of all trades, one of which is maker of quince paste here at Tablas Creek (for more on Gustavo, check out his recent interview). The result:

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Manchego cheese, quince paste, and the flight of Tablas wines

Quince paste can be enjoyed as a substitute for a jams and preserves in recipes, or simply spread on crackers or toast. In Spain, quince paste is traditionally enjoyed with Manchego cheese made from sheep's milk. Produced in the region of La Mancha, Manchego has a soft nuttiness and firm, creamy texture. As soon as I took a bite of the cheese and quince, I understood the pairing completely, but what I didn't understand was how I missed out on this for so many years! But what Tablas Creek wine pairs best with this classic combination? Gustavo and I decided to find out.

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Quince paste, or membrillo

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The line-up included 2 dry wines (2013 & 2014 Roussanne) and one with a hint of residual sugar (2o14 Petit Manseng)

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We had to dig into the library for this one, but as you'll find out, it was well worth it!

The four wines we tasted were: 2013 Roussanne, 2014 Roussanne, 2014 Petit Manseng, and 2003 Vin de Paille. Of the four, we leaned towards both the 2013 Roussanne and the 2003 Vin de Paille. 2013 Roussanne was beautiful with a slight salty salinity (try to say that 3 times fast!) brought out by the Manchego. Quince is quite rich and textured on its own, without being overly sweet (which is surprising, considering the recipe for making quince paste is just quince and sugar!). The 2003 Vin de Paille was just gorgeous. I was reviewing my tasting notes and I actually wrote gorgeous three times in a row! The viscosity and richness was there, without being offensively sweet. Sweet notes of ripe nectarines and honey shone through, making this an absolutely memorable wine in my book.  We also experimented outside of the three step pairing and did a tasting with just the cheese and were pleasantly surprised to find that the Petit Manseng was the best fit. We loved Petit Manseng's bit of residual sugar and nice tropical notes that stayed with us through each bite of cheese. It was as if the sweet notes of the wine replaced that of the quince paste, playing up the nice creaminess and saltiness of the cheese. Overall, we were really excited about exploring the many avenues of our wines, both new and old, dry and sweet.

If you love quince and Manchego or if you have another idea for a pairing that would work, be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • The 2013 & 2014 Roussanne are available for purchase in the tasting room or via the online shop, although quantities for the 2013 are getting low.
  • The 2014 Petit Manseng, although out of stock, has been replaced by the delicious 2015 vintage. Order in the tasting room or on our online shop.
  • If you're interested in the Vin de Paille, you're in luck! We have just under a case left and we'd be happy to sell you a bottle (or two!) in the tasting room or online shop.

Tablas Creek Lambs and Tablas Creek Lamb

As many of you know, we have been building up our flock this year. The animals help nourish our soil, spreading manure thoroughly and evenly, reducing or eliminating our need to bring in outside fertilizer. They help keep weeds down and reduce the number of tractor passes we need come spring. And they attract different microbes and insects into soil that is vibrantly alive in a way that just doesn't happen in a monoculture.  The past few years, we've had around 80 sheep, along with a few alpacas, two donkeys, and a llama.  Now, thanks to a fertile winter season, we're up to 165 sheep, plus the other members of the menagerie. The flock can at times be seen from the tasting room, but is more often working quietly, out of view:

Animals Feb 2017

The results, for us, have been remarkable.  In this record rainy winter, we've seen practically no erosion, as the soils have absorbed massive quantities of the rainfall we've received. The cover crops have thrived in the nutrient-rich soils the animals leave behind.  The regular movement of the animals around the property has meant that in what could have become an overgrown jungle, we've instead kept the grasses under the height of the cordons, which will help as we get to frost season.  And because we've moved the animals out of each block after just a day or two, they haven't overgrazed anything, and the grasses have resumed growing right away, giving us that much more biomass from our winter months.  We are excited for the vines to reap the benefits of this investment come spring.

Our goal is to graze the entire property twice each winter between harvest and budbreak, at which point we have to move the animals out of the vineyard lest they eat the new growth off the vines.  We'll probably manage that this winter, thanks to the early start to the rainy season and the early end to harvest.  But for a normal winter, Nathan -- the experienced shepherd who we brought aboard last year -- estimates that we'll need about 200 sheep to get the entire vineyard grazed.  Hence why we've been building up our flock.

As a general rule, you get 1.5 healthy lambs per ewe each year.  Many have twins, but some don't lamb at all, and some lambs don't survive.  But even so, you can grow your herd fast. We got 86 lambs this year from our 55 ewes.  Luckily, 53 of these were female, and will be added to the flock long-term.  But once they reach maturity, you can run into problems if you have too many rams in a flock.  Some rams will fight for dominance.1 But even if you get lucky and they don't, the extra rams are still mouths to feed during the dry summer season, where forage is at a premium because the animals can't be in the vineyard, and extra rams won't contribute to the building of the flock for the next year.

So, for the last few years, we've been reaching out to local restaurants about our male lambs, once they reach a certain age.  It's perhaps not surprising that these have provided some of our most memorable food and wine pairing opportunities.  The lamb, as you would expect from where and how they graze, is some of the most delicious -- as well as the most sustainable -- meat you'll ever taste.  And to have it come from the same place as the wine, grown on vines nourished by the healthy soils the animals helped create, ties together what we really love about Biodynamics.

LarderWith the growth of the flock, we're no longer talking about a dozen or so lambs a year.  This year, we have about 20 year-old lambs from last year's brood, and another 30 or so from this winter's.  We will continue to work with our local restaurants, and are in fact hoping that you'll see Tablas Creek lamb on more local menus.  But after receiving a number of inquiries from consumers, we've also started working in a small way with Jensen Lorenzen's Larder Meat Company.

Many of you will remember Jensen from the Cass House in Cayucos, where he was the chef and his wife Grace ran the dining room and wine program.  When the property sold a couple of years ago, he started what is, in essence, a meat club.  Using his contacts with local farmers, he's sourced high quality beef, pork and chicken, always whole animals, always pasture raised and humanely (and locally) harvested at a USDA-licensed facility.  He divides up the meats into a monthly "share", and his members receive a mix of cuts in each box, along with recipes and pairing suggestions. 

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So, when Jensen (above, working on a recipe with one of our lamb shoulders) reached out to us to see if we would be willing to create a "Tablas Creek lamb" offer with him, we agreed. If you'd like to try it, these lamb boxes are 6 lbs. each, and include a roast, rack and/or chops, ground lamb and sausage, as well as Jensen's Larder lamb seasoning and recipe ideas.  They cost $98, shipping included (CA only)2. If you'd like to learn more, or sign up, you can here.

Delicious lamb, raised on a certified organic (and hopefully soon certified Biodynamic) property, with recipes from one of our best local chefs?  Knowing that the lambs helped produce great wine (that I might even choose to pair with that lamb)? And knowing from first-hand experience that the lambs led good lives and were humanely harvested?  Even for me -- and I am typically skeptical of arguments touting ethical meat production -- that works.  If it works for you and you decide to try it, we hope you will let us know what you think. 

Plate with Esprit bottle

Footnotes:

  1. In the wild, young rams leave the presence of the dominant male, often spending several years on their own. When they come back, they fight for the right to breed. Neither the leaving nor the fighting are practical in a working flock. We left a young ram with the flock longer than we should have a few years back, and he was so badly injured in a fight with the dominant ram that he had to be put down.
  2. Jensen has not yet shipped anything out of state. But it sounds like it's possibly in the works for the future.

A Luxurious Supper for a Cold Winter's Day: Roasted Duck Legs and Tannat

By Suphada Rom

Grocery shopping while hungry is not for the faint of heart. I often end up with way more food than I could ever think of eating in the course of a week, while indulging in instant gratification snacks for the car ride home. So, whenever I feel a hunger impulse, I try to steer clear of the tempting snacks and head straight for the meat and seafood section. Better yet, I'll visit my local butcher. You can't eat those tempting cuts of uncooked meat, taunting you from behind the glass. You have to muster up patience and focus on creating a menu. This time, I was drawn to the fresh cuts of duck offered at the counter. Duck is a real treat. I don't cook it often. Duck tends to be on the upper end of the spending spectrum and I don't know about you, but if I'm spending more on a cut of meat, I like to know exactly what I'm going to do with it. Not a problem today; when I saw the duck at the butcher's shop, the lightbulb effect was in full force and I knew that I wanted roasted duck legs.

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Roasted Duck Leg and Butter Poached Potatoes with our 2014 Tannat

I love duck's rich dark flavors and almost butter-like consistency. When done right, it melts. in. your. mouth. My recipe choice: Roast Duck Legs with Red Wine Sauce from BBC Food. This recipe is a nice balance of flavor reward for time invested.  Seasoned simply with Chinese Five Spice (I've used this before on an oven roasted chicken- it's extremely versatile!) and roasted in the oven for just over an hour, makes for an incredible dinner or indulgent lunch. Also, I chose to use quince paste (made from Tablas Creek quince- stay tuned for a blog piece on quince paste production and a wine and cheese pairing!) in the sauce. Here are the results from today's efforts:

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The duck legs, seasoned and ready to go in the oven. The bed of rosemary and garlic not only flavors the meat but also separates the gradual pool of duck fat that will accumulate at the bottom of the pan 

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Butter poached fingerling potatoes; trust me when I say they look more indulgent than they are! I love that each potato keeps its form right up until you bite into it

The smell of roasting meat and herbs wafted through the office, effectively luring hungry individuals into the warmth of the kitchen. After a quick photo op, it was finally time to dig in. Cutting into the crispy skin, your knife meets rich and creamy textured meat. The aromatics from the rosemary and garlic that the duck was roasting on permeated through the meat and flavored everything wonderfully. Roasting the duck concentrates the flavor and give it this succulent texture. And the potatoes- oh man, these were light and pillowy. I love whipped potatoes, but sometimes even whipped potatoes can have a denseness and gummy texture that I wasn't looking for with this dish. I pulled the butter poaching technique from a dish we served at the restaurant I worked at. They're almost like a mashed potato on command- they stay in their whole form until you take a bite, when they reveal the creamy and buttery texture of a luscious whipped potato. 

Pairing this with the 2014 Tannat was a natural. I had tasted it earlier this week and in my mind, pairing it with the duck just clicked. On the nose, there are rich aromas of tobacco and juniper. I also got a whiff of black tea, sweet smoke, and citrus, steering more towards orange peel. Even in its youth, Tannat has a loamy and meaty quality that suggests the strong flavors of game. On the palate, Tannat's tannins are concealed nicely, making the wine approachable in it's youth, which isn't always this case for the notoriously powerful Tannat grape. I was absolutely thrilled with how well the wine complimented the dish. Duck is just so texturally rich that the tannins (silky as they were) in the wine provided a wonderful counterpoint. The sauce was lightly scented with the rosemary infused duck fat that collected at the bottom of the pan, playing up the savory tones of the wine. We were all quite pleased with this pairing, in fact, the only thing I was partly disappointed with was the quantity- I only wish I had made more (mostly to fulfill dream of shredded duck tacos for lunch the next day). Oh well, there's always next time!

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • The recipe for Roasted Duck Legs can be found here.
  • Our 2014 Tannat is available through purchase at our tasting room or on our online shop.
  • Not a member yet? Our 2014 Tannat will be part of our 2017 Spring VINsider shipment, set to ship out mid-March. Find out more information here.

A gentle exit from holiday excess: chicken braised with olives & lemon, paired with Grenache Blanc

By Suphada Rom

In the course of a month and a half, I've managed to fly to New York City and back, drive up to San Francisco, drive down to Los Angeles, and fly back out for an East Coast Christmas. These moments where I see friends and familiar faces are always incredibly rewarding. Most of the time, we haven't seen in each other in months and in turn we feast like we haven't eaten in years. I know you can relate- "just one more bite!" or "well what the heck- we never see each other, let's just have that extra bottle of wine". We kid ourselves slightly by getting more specific with the, "well, I haven't had that particular vintage yet" or "I had a creme brûlée, but you know, it wasn't as good as I know they'll make it here." Clearly, the time has come to ease into a transition from rich holiday fare to dishes that refresh and rejuvenate your palate. Right now, I'm craving simple, satisfying dishes with minimal preparation and a "set it and forget it" technique because with all that time on the road, I've got a lot of work to catch up on.

On one of my flights to the East Coast, I was reading The Raw and the Uncooked; Adventures of a Roaming Gourmand by Jim Harrison. One episode he mentioned (several decades ago) was the exportation of thousands upon thousands of pounds of chicken thighs, simply because at the time the restaurants and people of America wanted just the white, tender breast meat.  Of course, my mind instantly darted to dozens of recipes I have on hand that specifically use flavorful chicken thighs, or better yet, the whole bird. David Tanis has a fantastic recipe that I've used before and have always loved. But I was looking for something new. So, I scanned through one of the many cookbooks I received for Christmas -- I seem to receive several each year -- and found a great, nourishing recipe from It's All Good, co-written by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen: simply braised chicken with olives and lemon. This recipe is classic and clean eating at its most flavorful. 

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Braised Chicken with Lemon and Olives paired with 2015 Grenache Blanc


It was so good that I made it twice.  Note the second attempt (below) I showed a bit more patience when browning the skin. In case you were wondering, the 2014 vintage of Grenache Blanc paired and drank wonderfully, too!

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Lemony and tangy, this dish jumpstarts your  palate from any post-holiday daze it may be in. It's vibrant and fresh, and a surefire cure for the winter blues. And I don't know about you, but olives and lemons are household staple (I'll let you do the math on that one...). Assembly and preparation are a cinch. Per the usual, I recommend a good and patient browning of the skin. I wasn't overly patient the first go around (I was starving, can you blame me?!) and I flipped it a little too soon. It still tasted wonderful, but I wished I had gained a little bit more of that deeper roasted chicken flavor. Staying with the plan of keeping things simple but tasty, I opted for a smooth and savory white bean puree to go with it, but any starchy side will do. If you've got potatoes in your pantry, whip them up into a nice puree for the chicken to perch upon. 

Our 2015 Grenache Blanc is enticing. I take a whiff and I'm instantly enveloped in this sweet and citrusy aroma, reminiscent of candied apples and Meyer lemon peel. Don't let the nose fool you, because this wine is fermented dry, meaning there's no residual sugar to be found. On the palate, it's a dream. Rich with a coating texture -- a Grenache Blanc signature -- the weight is cut by precise acidity, making your mouth water from all angles. On the palate, there are characteristic notes of green apple and tart pears. The finish on this wine is long and graceful, with some nice citrus and spice providing depth and complexity. Sometimes you want a wine that's going to provide contrast with your food.  Sometimes you want a wine that's going to echo a dish's elements. This was definitely the latter: the wine and the dish both had richness and freshness, creamy texture and citrus notes. As you can see, I was excited enough to make it twice. The pairing was, in the words of our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore, "spot on". 

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:


A Shared Spotlight: Esprit de Tablas Paired With Porcini Mushroom Risotto

By Suphada Rom

When it's cold outside, you cook inside. Today the rain is steady and winds are gentle, but at the vineyard, we hope we're in for a big storm. The clouds are this ominous matte grey, as they whisk quickly across the sky, leaving behind generous rainfall for our vibrant cover crop, whose electric green makes it look like the rain gods turned on a switch to illuminate the grounds. Trust me- you've got to see Paso Robles this time of year. 

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Porcini Mushroom Risotto with our 2012 Esprit de Tablas 

Comfort food is just that- it makes you feel warm and cozy. Satiating and satisfying, we decided that a risotto was just what we needed on a day like this. Rich, creamy, and filling, this recipe for Porcini Mushroom Risotto by Food & Wine is classic comfort food with a touch of refinement. Risotto is versatile: a blank canvas, ready for additions of duck for a filling wintery preparation, or with leeks and asparagus for something more spring oriented. This recipe is winter, in and out, and paired with a couple of our wines is exactly what you need to get you through the rainy, snowy, and cold winter months. Here are how today's efforts looked:

Ingredients
Risotto mise en place

Saute
Mushrooms, onion, and garlic gently sauteed in olive oil and butter 

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The beautifully rainy-day view from our kitchen window

A couple notes about the recipe that aren't necessarily critique, but more "be-sure-to's". Tender cooked onion and garlic are the foundation, so when sauteeing them, take your time. Let them sweat it out until they're very translucent. When I'm eating risotto, I want the sweet and sumptuous flavors of both elements, but not the sharp and often astringent flavors of the more raw forms of both. And that porcini broth! That porcini broth is gold in earthly form, so save every drop you can (well, not the gritty bits at the bottom of the bowl) and add that to your risotto as it cooks. It makes the other stuff in the pan besides the mushrooms taste mushroomy.

Mushroom DNA, genetically speaking, sits somewhere halfway between plant and animal, which helps explain why its flavors are so meaty.  Mourvedre, which makes wines known for these rich notes of earth and game, is a spot on pairing for a mushroom driven risotto. Cue our Esprit de Tablas. Wanting something with just a touch of age, we chose the 2012 vintage. I am comfortable aging myself when I say, "I remember when I first had this wine...". No seriously, I do! It was my first day working in the tasting room and it was the most current vintage we were pouring. Now, it stands two years older with this incredible concentration and a finish that lets you know it's just getting started. Deep notes of balsamic and mint chocolate on the nose are enticing. I was left hung up on these deep flavors of roasted meat and blackberry on the palate. This wine is elegant dynamism at its best. It's vibrant without being overwhelming, and paired beautifully with the risotto. Each sip of wine made the risotto taste more like itself, and each bite of risotto made the wine taste more like itself. If there's a better sign of a good pairing, I can't think of it.

If you try this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

Oh, and in case you didn't believe how electric the vineyard looks right now, here's a glimpse. No rainboots required.

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