Weekly Roundup for November 23rd, 2014: Natural Wine, Ancient Rocks, Knobbly Fruit & Thanksgiving

This week's Weekly Roundup is highlighted by a great thought piece on what makes wine "modern" or "traditional", and whether either of these have a relationship with the idea of "natural wine".  We've included a couple of our favorites of the many Thanksgiving wine recommendations omnipresent at this time of year.  And, of course, we check in with some members of our community who are doing cool stuff.  As always, please share in the comments what you like, and what you'd like to see different.

The bounty of (our) harvest

Artisan photo of quinces

  • We kick off this week's column with a gorgeous photo from Artisan Restaurant.  We've partnered with them on several dinners over the years, including one early this year which featured lamb from our property.  Their photo on Instagram (above) of some knobbly bright yellow quinces from one of our trees caught our eye.  We dropped some off there because we had many more than we had any idea how to use, and wanted to get them into capable hands.  This photo isn't an isolated event; there's beautiful stuff worth following on all of Artisan's social media feeds.  If you're wondering why we grow quinces (along with apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches and apricots) they're a part of the increased biodiversity we've been working to integrate over recent years.

Something in the (ancient) water

  • Halter fossilOur neighbor Halter Ranch posted a great photo (right, or on the Halter Ranch Facebook page for a high-resolution version) of one of the fish fossils that they found in their rocks and integrated into their winery building.  It's a great reminder that the soils that sit under our vineyards (and much of west Paso Robles) were deposited as seabed in the Miocene period (10-20 million years ago). These were lifted above the surface in the creation of the Santa Lucia Mountains quite recently, by geologic standards.  My dad wrote a great blog piece about our soils' history in 2011, if you're interested in learning more.

The 2014 Harvest

Is there a holiday coming up?

  • Thanksgiving is the American holiday most dedicated to eating and drinking.  Yet, many traditional Thanksgiving foods aren't naturally friendly to many of the most popular American wines, given their questionable affinity to oak and high alcohol.  Happily, Rhones, both red and white, make classic pairings, and it's always a pleasure waiting for the pre-Thanksgiving wine columns suggesting Rhones as an accompaniment.  I thought Laurie Daniel's Rhones for Thanksgiving column for the San Jose Mercury News was particularly good this year, and was pleased to see that our 2012 Cotes de Tablas ("bright fruit with savory notes of wild herbs") was one of her suggestions.
  • We weren't mentioned, but I still really liked Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving recommendation that the wine you choose should "Refresh the Palate". He highlights versatility and energy as two characteristics to look for in your Thanksgiving wine, and recommends an eclectic mix. I'm not sure I could find many of the wines he and his panel recommend (there are rewards for living in New York City, after all) but I do know that I agree completely with his basic advice. Read more »

An event to look forward to

  • This week, the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers announced the details of their 2015 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience. In the last seven years, this event has become a showpiece for the Rhone movement here, and it's a remarkable value: just $85 for the full slate of events, including a nine-wine seminar (this year led by the Wine Enthusiast's Matt Kettmann), a vintners lunch catered by Chef Maegen Loring, a grand tasting featuring some 50 Paso Robles Rhone wineries, and a silent auction that benefits the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund.  There's a $35 ticket for just the Grand Tasting, too. Details & tickets »

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?)

  • Finally for this week I wanted to point you to a blog that is writing some of the most consistently interesting and erudite pieces in the world of wine today.  Elaine Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews this week tackles the questions raised by the ambiguity inherent in the definition of "natural wine".  We fall in her category 3 ("Wine growers and/or makers that use organic and/or biodynamic viticultural practices and/or less interventionist cellar techniques with few additives but do not define themselves with the movement of Natural wine") and are often dismayed by the reductive arguments on either extreme of the debate. Her conclusion -- that what matters is "if we’re trying to listen, and have a conversation" seems right on to me. Read more »

Worried about preserving an opened bottle? Just stay cool.

Over recent weeks, I've received several questions from people wondering how to best preserve a partial bottle of wine for future consumption.  Typically, they're wondering if they should invest in a system that replaces the air in the bottle with an inert gas, or in a vacuum system that removes the air from the bottle entirely.  They tend to be surprised when I suggest that they just cork the bottle up and put it in their fridge.

Wine in fridgeTo begin, it's helpful to know what is happening to a wine once a bottle is opened and air begins to have access to the liquid inside. With the introduction of oxygen to the wine's surface, a complex series of chemical reactions begins, typically first with oxygen combining with phenols (flavor components) to form hydrogen peroxide, and then with the hydrogen peroxide interacting with ethanol (the alcohol in wine) to form acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde has a cidery aroma and a curious, flat texture.  For examples of the flavors, look to intentionally oxidized wines like sherry and madeira: the taste that distinguishes these beverages from traditional wine is their the elevated level of acetaldehyde.

[If you'd like a more thorough explanation of oxidation's causes and effects, I highly recommend Jamie Goode's 2008 piece for Somm Journal: Wine Flaws: Oxidation.]

Many wines benefit from exposure to oxygen, within reason.  This is particularly true with young red wines, which receive a high level of reductive compounds from the skins of grapes.  Adding some oxygen to these wines, either by decanting a wine or just by letting it sit in a glass after having been poured, will often liberate flavor compounds that are at first tied up by the reductive elements.  But eventually, all those reductive compounds are combined with oxygen, and even a young red wine will begin to oxidize and show the acetaldyhde in sherried, flat flavors.  And older red wines, and most white wines, have much lower tolerances for oxygen before beginning to show symptoms.

How long after opening do you have before a wine becomes unpleasantly oxidized?  For the most delicate older wines, which have likely already absorbed significant levels of oxygen through the slow breathing of their corks over decades, it may only be a few hours.  Most younger wines will give you several hours safely, and some robust red wines will last happily for a few days.  But eventually, all of them will start to show oxidation's undesirable effects.

Key to knowing how to slow down these symptoms is recognizing that oxidation is a chemical reaction.  Like most chemical reactions, the rate of oxidation is temperature-dependent.  Combine oxygen and wine at 70° (think room temperature) and oxidation happens relatively quickly.  Put them together at 40° and you slow the process dramatically.  And this is why the most effective way of slowing the process of oxidation once a wine has been exposed to oxygen is to chill it down.  Yes, it's as simple as putting the reclosed bottle in the fridge.  When you're ready to drink it, the next day or later in the week, if it's a red or a richer white, just take it out 20 minutes or so before you want to pour it and let it warm up a bit.

Note that you're not buying an indefinite amount of time by chilling down an opened bottle; cooler temperatures slow down the chemical reactions but don't stop them.  But if you get a week of drinkability rather than a day, as has been my general experience, you've made real progress.

Will the various systems that exchange the air in a partly-empty bottle for an inert gas (typically argon or nitrogen) help?  If the gas is being inserted into the bottle as the wine is removed (as in a typical wine in keg system, or with the Coravin) absolutely.  But if, like most at-home wine preservation kits, the inert gas is applied only after the bottle is partly emptied, they likely only help at the margins.  You're most likely to get benefit from these sorts of systems if you pour the wine out fairly swiftly and then replace the air in the bottle with that inert gas.  But it's often not practical to do that when a bottle is being passed around a table over the course of a meal.  Each time the wine is poured, oxygen is absorbed by the wine as it is sloshed around the emptying bottle, and after several pours, there's enough oxygen dissolved in the wine that the process of oxidation will continue even if there's a layer of inert gas applied to the surface.

Similarly, the vacuum pumps that remove oxygen from a bottle don't eliminate the oxygen that has already dissolved in the wine, and they have the added complication that they do cause the wine to respire carbon dioxide, which is typically in solution in wine as a by-product of fermentation.  This CO2 provides acidity in the wine, and removing it can make a wine taste as flat as oxidation would have.

One great technique, if you know or suspect you'll only finish half a bottle, is to have an empty half-bottle available, which you fill and cork (or screwcap!) right when you open your original bottle.  Because that wine has had only minimal exposure to oxygen and can't absorb any more because of the bottle's seal, you can typically preserve it for a week or more safely.  But it does take some planning.  If you find yourself with a partial bottle at the end of a leisurely dinner, don't stress.  Just reclose the wine bottle, and stick it in the fridge.


On the Road: Innovative Spots for Food and Wine

By Darren Delmore

It’s been a busy year selling Tablas Creek on the wholesale market. I’ve hit 12 states so far, many more than once, braved flight cancellations due to fog and dust storms, haggled with many a’ sold out rental car agency (cue the classic Seinfeld scene), and had one laptop and two license plates ripped off in the process. But the travel has had its rewards. Hopefully you're seeing more Tablas Creek in your necks of the woods than before, and based on my experiences I think the food and wine scenes around America get better every year.  This year, I was struck by the number of amazing restaurants and wine bars I saw who aren't afraid of charting new and unusual paths. Though there are many more to mention (to be continued), here's a shortlist of places I've come across in my travels that I thought were doing particularly cool things with food and wine.

Girl and the fig

Given our own Rhone focus, it's fitting that we start with Sonoma's The Girl and the Fig, whose wine list, aside from a couple of sparkling wines, has always been exclusively devoted to Rhone varietals.  Want a less-known grape?  No other restaurant would try dedicating a page of their wine list to older domestic Counoise. Their wine buyer Brian Casey cleaned us out of the few cases of 2005 and 2006 that were left in our library. After I met with him in March to taste through the new releases, he made sure to ask me, for the second time, “Would you guys make us a sparkling Picpoul Blanc next year?” 110 W Spain St. Sonoma, CA. 95476

Foragers city table

I first read about Foragers' City Table in New Yorker magazine. Equal parts grocery store, wine shop, and restaurant in Chelsea, they are big supporters of organically grown food and wine, and the vibe both times I've been in the place is infectious. You can see how the kitchen opens up to the grocery store in the photo above. Though the options are fresh and inventive, and the pricing a bit less than what you find in other acclaimed Manhattan restaurants, they may be best known for making the best deviled egg in the Big Apple, which is no small feat. 300 W. 22nd St. New York, NY. 10011

Deviled egg

HuskChef Sean Brock's Charleston outpost of Husk Restaurant has a bar space next to the more formal dining area where wine director Matt Tunstall has arranged a by-the-glass list of wines based on the rocks they're grown in. I've never seen this before. There's a limestone section, ironstone, sandstone, and even volcanic. The food is renowned, and the night I landed in town I had the Husk Burger and a $14 glass of 2004 Cote-Rotie, which you don't see that often either. Look for the Patelin de Tablas Rouge which is currently on the "calcareous" list he put together for the fall. (Photo courtesy of Husk) 76 Queen St. Charleston, SC. 29401

 

Covell night

A great wine bar I find myself returning to in Los Angeles is Bar Covell in Los Feliz. Owners Dustin Lancaster and Matthew Kaner just celebrated the 4th anniversary of this hangout on Hollywood Boulevard. They made waves in the area for being the first wine bar without a wine list. Even today if you ask for one you'll get politely denied. Don’t worry, the team knows what's up and will ask you what sort of mood you’re in, or what you feel like, then offer you tastes of a few options. When you taste something you like, that’s the glass they’ll pour you, with prices running anywhere from $8 to $15. A lot of the wines are small production and can border on the obscure, but there’s always a back story on why they have it on rotation. Covell added some great small bites along the way and even started doing themed nights like “Babes, Brews and Burgundy” and “Winemaker Wednesdays”, which Tablas Creek was a part of in July. (Above photo of TCV Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell and me, at the event, courtesy of Bar Covell) 4628 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA. 90027 

There is nothing ordinary about Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale, Arizona. One look at owner Peter Kasperski's wine list will not only take you an hour to get through, but it may make your head spin. He was a fixture at the annual Hospice du Rhone event in Paso Robles and is a devout lover of Rhone varietals from here and the world over. I've eaten at Ciao twice with our Arizona distributor, ordering a couple dusty gems from a server who disappeared down a hatch with a walkie-talkie. There's a $10,000 bottle of 1917 Bordeaux on that list, in addition to Peter's own personal collection intermixed with the odd new release or two. Where else can you order a 2002 Tablas Creek Vermentino to match with a quesadilla, or choose from twelve different vintages of Chateau de Beaucastel Blanc to go with raw Buffalo? (Photo courtesy of Cowboy Ciao) 7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ. 85251

Pressclub

Press Club in San Francisco is a large, lavish, underground space on Market Street that is home to a serious collection of wines. They host industry trade tastings and private parties throughout the year. It's a cool place to hang out on the later side of the evening and taste something on the fringe or famous. Wine director Mauro Cirilli is seen here using the Coravin to pour glasses of 2005 Chateau de Beaucastel Rouge. Though I've seen the Coravin (which uses a needle and gas to access wine without ever removing the cork form the bottle, keeping it fresh) being used at restaurants across the country in various capacities, Mauro went big and added five pages of magnums to his by-the-glass list. Now it doesn't have to be a special occasion to drink a glass or two out of a big bottle. He also has installed more wine taps than I've seen anywhere aside from Father's Office in Culver City, making this a real wine lover's dream lair. 20 Yerba Buena Ln. San Francisco, CA. 94103

Chaney post falltacular

Burgers are all the rage right now, but Chef Noah Blom at ARC in Costa Mesa may be getting the final nod with this one. Just look at it: a wood-fired animal trifecta of pig, duck and beef. It's the kind of burger that Noah says "you have to sort of mentally prepare yourself for." Noah does all of his own butchering in house, and everything is cooked in the fire. Since opening up in the OC Mix center off the 405 Freeway in Southern California in 2013, ARC has rapidly developed a rabid following, and Noah (to whom we are grateful for his help in a former life introducing Tablas Creek to key accounts in Orange County) has earned "Chef of the Year" honors from the Orange County Register. Befitting a chef with serious wine chops, there's not a boring wine on the glass list, managed by beverage director Koire Rogers, with $10, $16 and $20 options (oftentimes including our Grenache Blanc, Dianthus, and Mourvedre). 3321 Hyland Ave. Costa Mesa, CA. 92626

Tartare

When I worked in Minnesota last May, lawns were still frost-scorched by what the reps were calling the never-ending winter of 2014. Good thing the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have a vibrant food scene to keep spirits up. I was blown away by the quality of cuisine in the few restaurants I sought out, but even more so by the portion sizes and friendly service. I was told that 112 Eatery in downtown Minneapolis is the place where most of the city's chefs and servers go after work, and the inventive menu, including the deconstructed steak tartare pictured above, reflects this. A couple other places I loved in Minneapolis included Butcher and the Boar and The Bachelor Farmer.  

I'd love to hear who we're missing. Comment below and let us know!


Spring 2014 VINsider shipment food pairing dinner

By Lauren Cross

What better way to celebrate the recent release of our Spring 2014 VINsider shipment than to taste and enjoy each new wine with expertly paired dishes prepared by two of the best caterers on the Central Coast? Yes, there are benefits to working at Tablas Creek.

A little background, first. We asked two chefs (Chef Jacob Lovejoy and Chef Jeffry Wiesinger), with whom we often work for dinners and events here at Tablas, to put together six dishes, one for each new wine, so that our tasting room and wine club staff to get first hand experience with the different affinities of each wine and thereby more easily discuss food pairings with our guests.  I thought that a recap might inspire our fans to create new food and wine pairings in your own homes.

Personally, I was excited to taste the new shipment wines with dishes expressly created to pair with them and use this experience to draw conclusions about other potential pairings.  I didn’t grow up with wine being served at the dinner table and, as parent of two young children, my memorable food pairings are often unexpected: think Esprit Blanc and corndogs (which pair beautifully, by the way).  I’ve also been fortunate enough to stumble upon exquisite Tablas Creek wine pairings by accident.  I once paired our 2010 Counoise with barbeque chicken and almost fell off my chair it was so good. 

The tasting drove home to me that pairings can work because dish and wine share similar traits, and together they show harmony. But perhaps less intuitive was that certain pairings worked because of their differences, where contrasting flavors or textures highlighted each member's distinctiveness.

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Pairing 1: Shrimp ‘n’ Grits with 2012 Côtes de Tablas Blanc

The foundation of this dish was mini polenta cakes which provided a rich and savory texture that paired splendidly with the viognier-rich Côtes de Tablas Blanc. The fresh shrimp was topped with a creamy white butter sauce brightened by lemon and blood orange. The bright acid that lifts the 2012 Côtes de Tablas Blanc through a long finish loved the citric notes in the cream sauce.

This pairing was one of similarities: a delicate balance of richness and brightness in the dish mirrored the related complexities of the Côtes de Tablas Blanc.

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Pairing 2: Dungeness Crab Avocado Salad with 2012 Grenache Blanc

A beautifully quartered avocado, piled high with dungeness crab salad and topped with a ginger-infused asian pear brulee and a drizzle of yuzu vinaigrette, made for a sublime pairing for the 2012 Grenache Blanc.  The sweet and earthy crab brought out the mineral notes of the wine, and the avocado coated the palate while the acid of the wine cleaned it: a pairing of contrasts, each of which made the other taste more vibrant, capped off by the luscious ginger-infused pear garnish that accentuated the green apple crispness of the Grenache Blanc.

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Pairing 3: Duck Confit Bread Pudding with 2012 Roussanne                      

This pairing would make a convert of anyone who doubts that Roussanne is substantial enough to pair with traditional red wine partners. The fluffy and buttery bread pudding, served by Chef Jeffry, reminded me of Thanksgiving stuffing packed with egg, herbs and dried apricots.  The slightly gamy duck flavors deepened the whole and brought out the apricot notes in the 2012 Roussanne, while the rich texture of the wine proved a match for the weighty dish.

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Pairing 4: Smoked Pork Mac ‘n’ Cheese with 2012 Patelin de Tablas

We often recommend the 2012 Patelin de Tablas, with its smoky and peppery nose, with barbeque because of its moderate alcohol and its fresh acidity.  So I was not surprised by the elegance it brought to the gooey smoked pork mac ‘n’ cheese.  Another example of contrasts making each partner taste more clearly of itself: the elegance and freshness of this syrah-based blend paired was accentuated by the smoky richness of the pork, refreshing the palate where a more assertive wine could have made a fatiguing partner.

A side note: this truly was the people's wine paired with the people's food.

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Pairing 5: Kalbi Style Beef Short Ribs with the 2012 Côtes de Tablas

The Grenache-based 2012 Côtes de Tablas leads with bright chewy fruit accentuated by a good amount of spice and pepper. The combination of sweet and spicy flavors in the Kalbi style beef short ribs made for a spot on pairing, with the fruitiness of the wine standing up to the ribs' slightly sweet glaze and the combination's tingling spice echoing after each bite.  This pairing showed me why the Perrins talk about southern Rhone wines (most of which are based on Grenache) as natural partners for asian-inspired dishes.

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Pairing 6: Wet-Aged Prime Rib Roast with 2011 Panoplie

It probably won't surprise any of you that an aged prime rib paired well with our new 2011 Panoplie. As prepared by Chef Jacob, the prime rib was deliciously rich and tender, made even more luscious by a pat of blue cheese butter layered on top and the mouthwatering truffle mashed potatoes below.  The Panoplie is built on a base of our most powerful Mourvedre lots, whose combination of mid-palate richness, chewy tannins, loamy earth notes and silky-smooth texture matched the dish sip for taste, and whose higher tones of rose petals and raspberry fruit lingered perhaps because they were not directly mirrored in the dish.  All in all a fitting, and completely satisfying, way to end a wonderful night.

As always, we are thankful to and impressed by our chefs Jacob and Jeffry for working together so seamlessly and with so much intention and passion, and for creating dishes with such distinct personalities that still partnered beautifully with the wines. I hope that this inspires you in your pairings; if you have particularly memorable ones -- good or bad --  please share them in the comments.


Celebrating summer's end, locally (and a delicious pasta with lobster and fresh corn recipe)

By Robert Haas

Our California kids, Jason and Meghan, and our grandchildren Eli and Sebastian, and our Vermont kids, Rebecca and Tom, and our grandson Emmett, who live here, convened together here in Chester for the two weeks in advance of Labor Day.  We were graced by some of the best weather of the summer, and Vermont is rarely so accommodating, or beautiful, as it is in late August:

RZH - House from Becca's

RZH - duty listWith a minimum of nine and often with friends we were regularly numerous at the table. Cooking for a bunch for lunch and dinner (breakfasts are on one’s own) can become a chore, so it has been our family’s practice to schedule culinary tasks to all the family in rotation, as you can see from the chart that Jason did (right).  It includes headings and teams assigned to set, cook, clear/wash, and play with Emmett.  And Riley, as in "life of", which grants whoever has this assignment leave to relax before, during and after the meal without feeling guilty.

Diversity of cuisine and beverages is always a consideration.  Fortunately, good suppliers are nearby and an abundance of produce from the garden is available.  This time we did rack of Colorado lamb from the Village Butcher in Woodstock, roast local chicken, New York strip steaks from the Londonderry Butcher Block, and great Maine lobsters from Bill Austin's Lobster Pound, which we served with fresh local corn over pasta (recipe below).  The stay was also studded with cookouts and wiener roasts, complete with campfires and s’mores.

Besides Arnold Palmers and Lemonades (and good Vermont well water), there were, of course many bottles of fermented beverages consumed, both as aperitifs and with meals.   Samples of some of those are pictured:

RZH - bottles on porch

What fun tasting and sampling such diversity of type, style and origin: artisanal Vermont ale from Otter Creek in Middlebury, cider from Harpoon in Windsor, Backacre in Weston and Whetstone Ciderworks in Marlboro.  And, of course, we loved the beautifully mature Petrus 1970 and Blagny Rouge 1989 with our lamb and steaks.  Tablas Creek’s Esprits, Côtes, and Patelins, red and white, brought a little California into the mix.

The bounty we were able to enjoy, most of it local and much of it sourced from people we know, is available thanks to the burgeoning local food movement.  It would never have been possible even a few decades ago.  It felt right enjoying the end-of-summer cornucopia with the large, extended family that isn't together all that often.  May your summers end so deliciously, and with such good companionship. Should you want to feed them something special that isn't too much work, a recipe is below.

PASTA WITH LOBSTER AND FRESH CORN
Serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

12 oz. pasta
1 ½ cups lobster meat in bite size pieces
1 cup tender fresh corn kernels
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil or tarragon
6 oz. soft unsalted butter
3 tbsp. finely chopped shallots
3 tbsp. dry white wine
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS

  • Boil water for pasta, preferably short pasta like penne
  • Gently warm corn and lobster pieces in 1 tbsp. unsalted butter.  Once the ingredients are warm, cover them and turn off the heat. Then make the beurre blanc:
  • Cook the shallots, wine and vinegar very slowly in a small pan until the liquid is almost used up and shallots are soft. 
  • Remove from the heat for a few minutes, then whisk in the butter, 1 oz. at a time, just until incorporated, but never totally melted.  The final sauce should have the texture of thick heavy cream.
  • Cook pasta according to pkg. directions and drain into a deep bowl.  Toss the beurre blanc, warm lobster and corn with the pasta and sprinkle on the chopped herbs. 
  • Serve immediately in warmed bowls. 

Tablas Esprit and Beaucastel Châteauneuf: Takes Two to Tango

By Darren Delmore

As the National Sales Manager for Tablas Creek vineyard, my travels keep leading me to circumstances where I’m asked to compare Esprit de Beaucastel to Chateâu de Beaucastel. “So which wine is better?” I’ve heard many times over, as if there’s a clear right or wrong answer to such an open-ended question. I’ve narrowed down the climate-soil-varietal-diurnal-historical pontification to the simplest response of “It’s all in the timing.” What you want out of the wine you want to drink and, most importantly when, are the real questions here.

A few recent examples follow. In Anacortes, Washington at a Tablas Creek tasting at Compass Wines, their best customer arrived on crutches wielding a bottle of 2006 Chateâu de Beaucastel and plopped it right down on the counter before he even introduced himself.

Compass
Compass Wines' legend and his 2006 Beaucastel offering.

At a Tablas Creek dinner at 32 East in Delray Beach, Florida that I hosted with Vineyard Brands’ south Florida manager Taylor Case, the owner paired off Tablas Creek and Chateâu de Beaucastel in a consumable course-by-course tango - blanc to blanc and rouge to rouge.

Tablasvsbeau
The show in Delray Beach at 32 East.

Some attendees of the collector persuasion snuck in some older vintages of the Beaucastel Chateâuneuf and were passing them around beneath the tabletops. Tablas Creek, as it always does in my experience, held its own very well, thank you very much, though we didn’t have any older Tablas Creek to put up against the surprise Beaucastel library wines. The 2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc was the talk of the tables, accentuated by a great wild mushroom crostini pairing. The contrasts between the estates’ top two red 2010’s, served side-by-side with the braised short rib and polenta main course, was fascinating. Taylor and I were blown away by this flight: the wines smelled nearly identical. Further swirling revealed just a touch more open fruitiness in the Tablas Creek, but not much. Onto the taste and the identities became clear. For me, what differentiated this young vintage of Chateâu de Beaucastel from Esprit de Beaucastel (and to a degree, differentiates Chateâuneuf-du-Pape from American Rhone blends) is a mid-palate gravelly richness that attaches to the sides of your mouth as if a soil-glazed galet was tossed onto your tongue. I could taste why so many collect this wine and normally keep it out of sight for 5 to 10 years before it softens up enough for stellar drinking. It was my first opportunity to taste each, and having read that the vintage brought eerily similar growing conditions to both the southern Rhône and Paso Robles, it was wholly fulfilling. Though both Tablas and Beaucastel benefit from time in the cellar, the brighter fruit and higher acidity of the Esprit gave it an accessibility that led patrons, that night, to attack it like white, touristy ankles by an angry mob of Biscayne bull sharks. And the bottles of the amazing 1994 Beaucastel Rouge that were secretly making the rounds were a convincing testament to the rewards of patience.

Lineupfl
 The lineup in Florida.

One of my favorite comparisons of the two estates occurred last week in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the awesome wine bar and restaurant Arroyo Vino. At the end of a day visiting restaurant accounts in Taos, I brought the remainder of the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel bottle to Arroyo Vino’s owner Brian Bargsten. I’d first met Brian last fall at the Santa Fe Wine and Chile festival when his business was simply a high-end wine store at the foot of a luxury community just outside of town. Brian has since expanded Arroyo Vino with a beautiful, modern dining room and bar and hired chef Mark Connell, whose resume boasts stints at Salt (in Cambridge, MA) and the French Laundry (in Yountville, CA) to oversee the kitchen. After eyeballing the impressive collection of bottles for sale in the retail area, I found a seat at the bar next to a lone diner mid-way through a bottle of Bethel Heights Pinot Noir. The dining room was packed for a Wednesday night. I spoke with Brian for a bit and pulled out the Esprit. He introduced me to Larry – the man beside me – and told him the story of Tablas Creek and the Perrin family.

“They picked Paso Robles?” Larry protested, surprised that one of his favorite southern Rhône producers had set up shop in what he had always assumed to be a hot area known for “high alcohol, jammy Zinfandel.” This fired Brian up to talk about limestone-rich west-side vineyard sites, say “Larry, want to compare the two?” and disappear to fetch a 2010 Chateâu de Beaucastel off the rack. A couple other servers hovered around the bar as Brian returned, cutting off the foil swiftly and talking about Chateâuneuf-du-Pape when I noticed it was in fact the Côtes du Rhône 2010 Coudoulet de Beaucastel that he was driving the corkscrew into. “That’s the Coudoulet, Brian,” I said, seconds too late.

“What, that’s not the one?” Larry asked.

“No but it’s good,” I added. “The Coudoulet is their vineyard just outside of the AOC of Chateâuneuf-du-Pape.”

“Oh,” Brian paused mid-twist. “Well, guess we’ll do a flight of all three.” Sure enough he went over and grabbed the correct bottle and asked one of the servers to line up three glasses for each of us. Brian poured the wines in order: Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel, and Chateâu de Beaucastel.

Perrin Flight
Left to right: 2010 Coudoulet, 2010 Esprit, and 2010 Chateâu Beaucastel.

Larry pointed out that aside from Oregon Pinot Noir, he only drank and collected European wine. He was one of Brian’s biggest customers, a bona fide Burgundy lover and buyer of first-growth Bordeaux allocations, and familiar with only a couple of producers in the Rhône. It was as much a moment for Brian as it was for Larry to see how close California could get to real Chateâuneuf-du-Pape.

The Coudoulet was in amazing shape, with a juicy unison of savory herbs and reddish fruit, and a refreshing, snappy palate and long finish. The Tablas Creek was showing a warmer, more lifted aromatic profile of Mourvédre, with black olives, raspberries, baking spices, and foresty notes and a finish filled with graceful, plush tannins. The Chateâu de Beaucastel was the biggest wine of the flight, with a brooding nose of black licorice, roasted meats and rain soaked city streets, before a powerful sip unfolded into a gravelly, mineral-rich, thick dark wave of density that required a bit of my rabbit agnolotti dish to soak up some of its youth. I was more of a wine fan than a wine salesman at that counter, mesmerized by the diversity of these three related wines from two continents, and it wasn’t until much later when Brian leaned over and asked me, “are you selling this tonight?” that I came back around to reality.

“That Esprit is good, man,” he added. 


Can I get an ice bucket for my red?

If I'm in a restaurant and ask for an ice bucket, you're much more likely to see a bottle of red on the table (and a surprised server) than you are to see a white.  And I'm likely to wave away the proffered ice bucket with most of my whites, with the possible exception of something sparkling. An ice bucket for my red wine? And a white let to sit on the table and warm up?  Absolutely.

Red bottle in ice bucket

Some of my thoughts on this were brought into focus by an interesting conversation I had with Richard Dean, the Sommelier at San Francisco's Campton Place, as we were finishing up a wonderful wine dinner last week. He had featured several Tablas Creek wines, all of them paired expertly, and served -- not a given -- at exactly the right temperature to offer maximum enjoyment. I complimented him on this, and Richard (who has been pouring our 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc by the glass for several months) remarked that a regular customer of Tablas Creek had commented to him that the wine showed best when it had warmed up a bit.  Richard wasn't a stranger to this phenomenon, but moved the wine from the refrigerator where they store most of their whites to the cellar where they store their reds, and was amazed to see how many more compliments he started receiving on the wine. 

I was not surprised. 

Serve a wine too cold and the flavors are thinned and the aromatics deadened.  Serve one too warm and it tastes heavy and alcoholic. And serving temperature matters most to the white wines that are richest and most complex.  Within that category -- which includes powerfully built whites like Chardonnay, Semillon, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris, as well as most of the Rhone whites -- the wines that have the highest acidity hold up best to being served very cold, while those that tend to be broader and richer, and lower in acid, can show very little other than a sake-like creaminess when they're served straight out of the fridge.

We've noticed this in our own blending trials. Roussanne, which at cellar temperature is the richest and most complex white we make, shuts down dramatically when it's served right out of the fridge. And it does have an impact out in the market; I've noticed wildly divergent notes on CellarTracker about our Roussanne that I think are directly attributable to people tasting it at different temperatures.  Grenache Blanc, in contrast, shows quite nicely at low temperatures, in part because of its higher acidity and more traditional fruit flavors. One benefit of blending Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc into Roussanne -- as we do in our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc -- is that the blended wine shows much better than a straight Roussanne would at the cold temperatures at which it is often served in restaurants.  I still think it's important to serve the wine warmer, or at least let it warm up in your glass, but it gives us a fighting chance.

For reds, you often hear the recommendation that red wines should be served at "room temperature". That's all well and good, but whose room are we speaking about?  A beach house in Santa Monica?  An air-conditioned Manhattan apartment?  A Scottish castle?  What may have been normal room temperature (say, 65 degrees) fifty years ago in the United Kingdom, whence many of these wine maxims originate, is likely ten degrees cooler than your average American house.  And many restaurants are warmer still, heated by the massed diners and the kitchen burners.  Most high-end restaurants are now (happily) keeping their wines in a temperature-controlled cellar, but I still see too many restaurants with wines in bins or on racks on the walls, and even the ones with good cellars aren't likely using them for their by-the-glass wines.

Red wines aren't the same, either, as they were decades ago when the "room temperature" recommendation gained popularity.  Most red wines are riper, denser, and higher in alcohol than they were a generation ago, and while these wines can have a lovely richness when they're served cool, warmer temperatures emphasize their more unpleasant aspects, making them seem overweight, alcoholic, and sweet.

Thankfully, it's not that hard to make sure your wines are served at the right temperature. A typical wine cellar is kept in the upper 50s or lower 60s.  That's a great starting point for both reds and whites.  (And, as a point of reference, at Beaucastel they recommend that you serve all their wines, red and whites, at roughly 60 degrees.) If you're serving a sparkling, sweeter or lighter-bodied white, or a rosé, stick the bottle in the fridge for half an hour before you're going to open it, and figure you'll serve it around 50 degrees, and it will warm up a bit in the glass.  If you're serving a red, take it out of that same cellar maybe a half an hour before you open it, or less if your room is warm and the wine will warm up significantly in the glass.  But starting with the red wine too warm doesn't leave you many good options, as it's unlikely to cool off once it's poured.

But if you get an over-warm red wine when you're eating out, don't be shy about requesting that ice bucket. Hey, it's better than asking for an ice cube, right?


Our most memorable wines of 2012

As we move forward into the new year, I asked some of our key team members to reflect a bit on what wines stuck with them from 2012.  Some chose Tablas Creek, but most did not (and those who did all chose different wines!).  The wines they chose are every bit as eclectic as you might expect, but are, equally as you might expect, great reflections of the amazing team we have here.  They are presented to you in alphabetical order, in the original words of each person, except I'm saving my comments for last.

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker and Vineyard Manager
As someone who spends far too much time indulging in wines both fine and not so much this is generally a tough question. However not so this time around. Whilst on the east coast attending a charity event as the Tablas Creek guy behind the table, I took the opportunity to visit the Haas family home in Vermont. Splendid place. Now Robert Haas is not known for pouring the not-so-much ones anyway, but on this occasion, WOW. An absolutely perfect rack of lamb on my plate, the wine served was a perfectly cellared 1978 Clos de la Roche out of magnum. As I sniffed the glass I was taken aback with its subtle beauty, I glanced at Bob who with a glimmer of a grin merely raised an eyebrow in agreement, a rare one. The wine was stunning, with the lamb even better! Had I not already been seated I may well have fallen to my knees. I am a lucky boy!!

A slightly more attainable bottle was a Madeleine Cabernet Franc, my favorite non-Loire Cabernet Franc to date. CHEERS NEIL

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
My most memorable wine of 2012: 2008 Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard, Carneros, California.The Hyde Vineyard, in my opinion, is the best Chardonnay vineyard in America, and winemakers working with this site, like Whitethorn, HdV, Patz and Hall, and Ramey, have stories of harvesting Chardonnay at sky-high sugar levels, supernaturally low PH’s, and significant natural acidity levels. The matching of varietal to site is spot on here. Place, time, occasion and food are all key factors in determining an impressionable wine, and the Ramey ticked all the boxes. This was my first Father’s Day, even though my son was in the womb, and on a golden late afternoon on a ridgetop in Anderson Valley, I matched this weighty, citrusy, barrel-fermented beauty with a local abalone that was bigger than my face.

Best of 2012 - ramey

Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker
When prompted to talk about my most memorable wine of 2012, I have a feeling I will deviate from my peers in terms of criteria for my finalists.  While I did have some lovely wines this past year, for me, the most truly memorable wines are those that are shared with my favorite people in the world.  Sometimes that means the wine is a special bottle from a well-respected producer, a bottle that has been saved in the back of the collection waiting for the perfect occasion, or sometimes, it can be a bottle picked up from Trader Joe’s the day of the party and enjoyed with fabulous company. 

That being said, I’ll choose my wine this year based on the company it was enjoyed with and, I suppose, the way in which it was presented.  My family always enjoys a bottle of bubbles on Christmas morning and this year, we made it all the more memorable by sabering the bottle with a ski.  Why a ski?  Well, why not?  I certainly do not encourage this kind of behavior, but I will say it was exceptionally fun (and my skis are in dire need of a tune anyway, so I wasn’t particularly worried about the edges).   Tell me that doesn’t look fun.  And memorable?  Quite.

Best of 2012 - chelsea

Nicole Getty, Wine Club and Hospitality Director
I did not consume very much wine in 2012, as I was pregnant for most of the year, and even on special occasions, it was not appealing to me. However, a few days after my son was born, we celebrated with what I had been craving- a margarita with extra salt! Oh, and lots of salty chips and salsa! I plan on digging out some of my bottles of wine from my wine fridge in 2013 (including of course Tablas Creek and Beaucastel that I’ve tucked away).

Levi Glenn, Viticulturist
2011 Domaine de L'Idylle Mondeuse Noir (Vin de Savoie): Not a blockbuster is the traditional sense, this wine wins with charm, not brawn. It lies somewhere on the spectrum between Cru Beaujolais and St. Joseph, and is grown high in the French Alps. Aromatically it just jumps out of the glass with its bright macerated cherries, but as it opens up intense fresh ground pepper aromas starts to dominate while a warm stony minerality lurks below. Its light ruby color mirrors its impression on the palate. In the mouth the wine is lively and light on its feet. A nice punch of acidity hits you on the back end, and entices you to take another sip. A great example of a wine that is intense without  being heavy, and true food wine. Pair with a traditional Raclette meal.

Runner-up: 2010 Chateau de St. Cosme Gigondas: From my favorite appellation in any country or continent, this wine shows the cool side of Grenache. This AOC is higher in elevation than most in the southern Rhone, and while it doesn’t have quite the worldwide recognition of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the best Gigondas wines can be equally as good. They have plenty of concentration in most vintages, but they usually more acidity than CdP, and tend to exhibit more rustic tannin structure. Villa Creek Restaurant in Paso Robles is pouring it, but get it while you can, because this wine just received the No. 2 spot on Wine Spectators Top 100 for 2012. 

Robert Haas, Founder
I have been privileged to taste and drink many stunning older wines in my 63 years in the wine trade: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône back to 1870, Napa Cabernets of the '70s and '80s, and some remarkable Champagnes in the days when the special cuvées were made in the hundreds of cases rather than the tens of thousands.  This year I particularly delighted in two great 1981’s:  A Vosne-Romanée Orveaux of Mongeard and a Beaucastel.  I wrote blogs about them: A Summer Dinner in Vermont and A Truffly Duet.  

Two other wines struck me as outstanding this year, both from Tablas Creek.  One was on the young side, yet seemed in absolute perfect balance: the 2007 Panoplie.  It was surprisingly seamless from nose to finish and delightfully savory.  You can read about it in our blog, We Celebrate the Holidays with a Vertical Tasting of Panoplie.  The other was the 2011 Esprit tasted from one of the foudres after I returned from Vermont.  Its complexity, fruit and spices, all singing out in harmony, despite the fact that it was still nine months away from bottling, blew me away.  What a great release it is going to be later this year!

Sylvia Montague, Assistant Tasting Room Manager
I "think pink" a good amount of the time, not just when the temps begin to rise.  This year I was able to secure a case of the Robert Sinskey 2011 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir (after only being able to purchase one bottle of the 2010 while on a visit there in April of 2011) and have been enjoying them throughout the summer and fall.  It is dry, crisp, aromatic, nicely structured and above all, elegant.  The wine has great texture, a beautiful salmon color and pairs very well with a variety of foods.  To me it is, indeed, summer in a glass. The only dilemma is when to enjoy the one bottle remaining in my cellar…

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
My life has changed a quite a bit in the last few years.  Formerly a life-long bachelor, I married two summers ago and became an instant step-father to three.  This has brought a new sense of purpose to my life, but as you might imagine, has shifted my priorities considerably.  Seeking out the pleasures of food and wine has taken a back seat to new shoes, dance and cello lessons, a bottomless refrigerator, and rather lengthy Christmas lists.  Meanwhile, my cellar has shrunk to a few precious bottles I cling to with hope.

However, at the risk of seeming a homer, I have my work to look forward to, and the pleasure of tasting Tablas Creek wine every day.  We recently bid farewell to the last bottle of 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel, my favorite vintage to date.  We dread the end of the 2010 Côtes de Tablas, which we all pretend not to see coming.  The 2011 Roussanne, released in the latest wine club shipment, is a revelation.  But the wine that has moved me the most is the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Waxy and honeyed, floral and savory, minerally and refined with a long, sophisticated finish, it’s the embodiment of what a white Rhône wine should be. 

Deanna Ryan, Tasting Room Team Lead
I would have to say the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc for its fantastic balance of richness and acidity that never fails to satisfy, with or without food.  Also, the 2010 Counoise for its flirtatious gentility. I found it to be the ideal wine to reward oneself with at the end of a long workday.  Of course the 2010 Mourvedre is another strong contender due to its subtle layering of flavors and gentle tannins. Cheers!

Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager
As for me, I've found my most memorable wines this year to be signposts on the development of Tablas Creek.  There are three that stood out.  The first was the amazing discovery that Cesar Perrin and I made on the incomparable wine list at Bern's in Tampa, FL.  On a night when I tasted my first birth-year wines (1973 wasn't a year that many people felt like keeping around) and some incredible old Riojas and Burgundies, our indelible memory would be a 1966 Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape -- the first-ever Haas-Perrin collaboration, that neither of us knew existed.  The wine itself was elderly.  But the discovery of its significance was a revelation.

Best of 2012 - perrin

Moving forward in time, the family dinner my dad blogged about last week, where he opened a mystery vintage of Beaucastel to find a remarkable bottle of 1981, was probably my favorite meal of the year. Like the classic dish it was paired with, the 1981 Beaucastel didn't shout at you.  It didn't elbow the meal's other components out of its way.  But it sang, on its own and with the food, mellow yet still utterly sure of itself.  I didn't want to get up from the table.

But if I had to pick one wine that I keep coming back to from last year, it was (as it has been each time I've had the pleasure to drink it) the 1989 Beaucastel that Cesar Perrin poured for us in a farewell vertical before he completed his year-long stint at Tablas Creek in April.  That 1989 was perfectly poised between fruit and earth, between richness and freshness, between youth and maturity, and for all its meatiness and juiciness tasted indelibly like the rocks in which it grew.

May your 2013 be equally as full of good food, great wines, and memorable company with whom to share them.


Poulet demi-deuil and Beaucastel: A truffly duet

By Robert Haas

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

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

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

Beaucastel 1981 cork

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


Making Olive Oil In-House For the First Time

Our last harvest of the year is olives, which we typically pick in late November or early December.  In an ideal year, we might get some frosts before the olives are ripe, but we won't get any hard freezes, because if the olives freeze then they rot and aren't usable for oil.  Like the rest of the 2012 harvest, we got pretty much what we wanted for our olive crop, and were able to pick ripe fruit yesterday under sunny skies.

Olive branch dipped

Today, we processed the olives on site for the first time thanks to the marvelous mobile olive press from our friends Yves and Clotilde Julien of Olea Farm:

Olive mobile press yves and clotilde julien

Yves and Clotilde's press (which they've named "Mill On Wheels") includes components -- some imported from Italy and some made locally -- that wash the olives and separate them from any leaf or stem material, that crush the olives into paste, that separate the liquids from the solids, and finally that uses a centrifuge to separate the oil from the water.  I took a short video that tracks the process from the hopper full of olives through to the stream of olive oil pouring out of the centrifuge:

The oil will settle in our cellar for two months, and then be bottled: estate grown, certified organic Tablas Creek olive oil.  And it is already delicious; you could smell the rich, pungent aroma of fresh olive oil from outside the winery, even though we're processing the olives in our nursery, a few hundred yards away.  One more photo, because it's too good not to share: a single one of our Manzanilla olives, dipped in the oil made from the previous batch. Yum!

Olive dipped