A Horizontal Retrospective: 2007 at Age Ten

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we hold each year (this year's is February 11th).  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that most wines are at the end of their drink windows.  And, in fact, most of the 2007 reds are just entering their mature peak. 

Five years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2007 vintage:

2007 was a blockbuster vintage in Paso Robles. Yields were very low (down between 15% and 30% from 2006, depending on variety) due to a cold and very dry winter, which produced small berries and small clusters. A moderate summer without any significant heat spikes followed, allowing gradual ripening, and producing white wines with deep color and powerful flavors, and red wines with tremendous intensity, excellent freshness and a lushness to the fruit which cloaks tannins that should allow the wines to age as long as any we've made.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the balance of power and lift that made it one of the most exciting young vintages we'd experienced? How would the (at times massive) concentration have affected the balance over time?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?  Joining me for the tasting was our cellar team (Neil, Chelsea, Craig and Brad) as well as Darren, our National Sales Manager.

In 2007, we made 17 different wines: 6 whites, 1 rosé, 9 reds, and 1 sweet wine.  But we actually tasted 18 wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2007 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. Still, 18 wines was actually fewer than we'd tasted from the previous couple of vintages.  The short crop meant that some wines we'd made in previous years (like Viognier, Picpoul, Bergeron and Counoise) weren't practical, although we did add two new wines: our first-ever Pinot Noir and En Gobelet bottlings.  The lineup:

2007 Horizontal

My notes on the wines are below. Wines with SC noted were bottled under screwcap, while those with a C were finished under cork. Most wines are also linked to their technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or our tasting notes at bottling.  For some reason we never made Web pages for the Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, or Pinot Noir (perhaps because there was none left to sell after sending them out to our wine club?) but if you have questions about those, please leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer:

  • 2007 Vermentino (SC): Still bright and clear in the glass. On the nose, very reminiscent of an Australian riesling with some age on it: citrus pith and petrol. Clean on the palate, with a nice grapefruit/lemon curd citrus note and noteworthy richness for Vermentino. This wasn't a wine I particularly loved when it was young (I didn't feel that the 2007 vintage's density particularly played to the bright freshness I admire in Vermentino) but this was a very good showing.
  • 2007 Grenache Blanc (SC): A clean but fairly neutral nose, with a little green apple skin and a touch of sake-like alcohol showing through. The mouth showed round and very nice: apple and anise and baked pear and a mouth-coating texture.  Clean, fresh, and chalky on the finish.  Pretty impressive, I thought, for a variety that is not supposed to age well.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 38% Viognier, 25% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc): A little darker than the first two wines in the glass, perhaps from the unusually high percentage of Roussanne in this vintage. A rich nose of creamy mineral, caramel, watermelon rind and some fresh herbs (tarragon?) on the nose. The mouth was soft and round, with a creme brulee richness, nice acids, and flavors of honey and roasted hazelnuts on the finish.  A great expression of an aged white Rhone.
  • 2007 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): The nose predicts a sweet wine: butter and roasted nuts and caramel corn and honey.  Like Cracker Jacks turned liquid. The mouth is dry by contrast, with flavors of honeycomb and pine resin. The finish is rich, with some nice aged Chardonnay character.  This isn't going to go much longer; drink up.
  • 2007 Roussanne (C): I usually love our Roussanne at age 10, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of this. The nose is a touch medicinal (acetate?) with a hint of dried white flowers and a minty, honey note coming out with air. The mouth is more classic, but without the age-driven richness I was expecting: some fresh pear, baking spices and a graham cracker note.  I tend to think this wine is in a stage it will come out of, but I'm not sure.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): From a vintage where we maxed out our Picpoul percentage in the Esprit, to give balance to the weight coming from the Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. The nose is deep and spicy: honey graham crackers given lift by a minty tarragon note and a refreshing minerality that Chelsea called "ocean air and citrus blossoms". The mouth is rich, with nice acids framing that richness, and flavors of baked lemon, nutmeg and Bartlett pear.  The long, vibrant finish showed mineral notes and sea salt caramel flavors. The wine is showing its age in a really nice way, and I think will drink well for another decade.
  • 2007 Rosé (SC; 57% Mourvedre, 31% Grenache, 12% Counoise): A deep copper amber color. The nose is like an aged light red, almost bloody, like drippings from a roast, with some strawberry compote behind. The mouth shows candied orange peel, rose petal, and dried strawberry, and finishes dry.  I remember this as the apex of richness in our rosé; starting in 2008 we pulled back on the skin contact and focused on making rosés with more freshness and bright fruit. While this was interesting to taste, I like the direction we've been heading.
  • 2007 Pinot Noir (C): Fun to taste our first-ever Pinot, made from a handful of rows in our nursery block. A wildly expressive (if not particularly Pinot) nose: menthol and dried herbs and cherry cola. The mouth is darker: black cherry and sweet oak and black tea and eucalyptus. Substantial tannins still. In many ways, more like an elegant Shiraz than a Burgundian Pinot Noir.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise): Under screwcap, the initial impression is of a bright red-fruit driven nose, with deeper anise, chocolate, black cherry and spice notes coming out with air. On the palate, bright, luscious plum fruit, with black pepper and still some substantial tannins. Garrigue complicates the spicy fruit on the finish.  Beautiful.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (C; 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise): Under cork, quite a different nose: much more animal: meaty and spicy like a roast with a rosemary rub. The mouth was more similar to the screwcap version, with minty red raspberry and red plum fruit and youthful tannins. This really benefited from air; we definitely recommend a decant if you're drinking this soon.
  • 2007 Grenache (C): An inviting nose of cola, milk chocolate, campfire, red fruit, and spice.   The mouth is loaded with sweet fruit: like a milk chocolate covered cherry. There's a luxurious texture, brought under control by some still-substantial tannins.  The alcohol (the wine is 15.3%) shows a bit on the finish.  The wine showed quite young, and we thought that (in contrast to the fully mature 2006) this wine might still be on its way up.
  • 2007 Mourvedre (C): A nose of leather, roasted meat drippings, and chocolate.  The mouth is pretty spectacular: milk chocolate, plums, and currants, made savory with tobacco leaf spice. The texture is plush and appealing, with tannins with a powdered sugar character that we often find in great vintages.  There's a little spicy, herby lift on the finish. Neil said "bring on a leg of lamb" and we all agreed.  Delicious.
  • 2007 Syrah (C): Quite a different nose than the previous red wines: an iron-like minerality, with aromas of duck fat, pine nut, dark chocolate and Worcestershire giving a savory depth. On the palate, more dark chocolate, blackberry, with a creamy texture and lots of beautiful structure. There's a little nicely integrated oak on the long finish. Easily my favorite of our older Syrahs I've tasted, and (unlike the 2004, 2005 or 2006) ready to drink at age 10.
  • 2007 Tannat (C): A very dark black-red color. The nose is spice and juniper and coffee grounds and black cherry. The mouth is nicely lifted, brighter than the nose suggested, with sweet wild strawberry and blackberry fruit, before big, dark tannins reassert control. There's a cool florality on the finish, like candied violets.  A really fun interplay between brighter and deeper elements, and still a long life ahead.
  • 2007 En Gobelet (C; 48% Mourvedre, 47% Grenache, 5% Tannat): Our first-ever En Gobelet, which we made because when we were doing our component tastings that year, we noted that the head-trained, dry-farmed blocks seemed to share a mineral-driven elegance that the trellised, irrigated blocks didn't. At this tasting, we found a gentle, inviting nose compared to the Tannat: garrigue, lamb juices, raspberry and spice. The mouth shows sweet milk chocolate, playing off tangy cherry and ripe plum. There's a nice salty note on the finish that showed why we came up with this wine in the first place..
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 44% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 6% Counoise): A really beautiful mix of sweet and savory on the nose: roasted meat, currant, black pepper and eucalyptus. The mouth is luscious, with a great balance between sweet red fruit and savory meaty soy marinade character. The wine has been in a closed phase for the last three years, but only on the finish do I still see hints of this, with a little heightening of the tannins.  This is well on its way out of that closed phase, and will be even better in 6 months.  For now, decant it if you're opening one, but prepare to be richly rewarded.
  • 2007 Panoplie (C; 60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): Deeper and even more savory on the nose than the Esprit, with an umami rich density and lots of spicy wild herbs. The palate is spectacular: deep and rich, plum skin and dark chocolate and candied orange peel, with elegant tannins on the exceptionally long finish.  Fitting that this is the highest-scoring wine we've ever made; it's impressive, from beginning to end.
  • 2007 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C; 100% Mourvedre): A more port-like nose than is often the case with our Sacrérouge, perhaps because of the unusually high 15.4% alcohol: dried cranberries, dark chocolate, fruitcake and a little juniper lift. The mouth is sweet, rich, and showing younger than the nose: chocolate-covered raisins, with a nice bit of tangy acidity giving relief to the sweetness.

A few concluding thoughts

There was definitely a signature to the 2007 vintage: powerful fruit balanced by substantial structure and lifted by savory meaty and spice notes.  This thread carried through all the wines, but was particularly noticeable in the reds.  As we thought at the time, it's a better red vintage than white vintage, with only two whites making the 10-wine cut for the public tasting on February 11th. But those reds have really rewarded the decade in the cellar, and they'll all go out several more years without a problem.

Neil commented at one point in the tasting that "most of these wines could use half an hour in a decanter" and I very much agreed.  Both reds and whites -- and in the case of the Cotes de Tablas, both cork-finished and screwcap-finished versions -- became more expressive with time in the glass.  That's partly a function of the power of the 2007's, but generally a good idea for helping any wine that's been trapped in a bottle for a decade open up and express itself.

I was quite excited to see that the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel seems finally to be emerging from its closed phase.  As is often the case, the biggest wines take the longest time to get through the closed phase, but they reward those with the patience to wait by drinking well for longer once they've emerged too.  It seems like we'll finally be able to offer the wine to members of our VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition this fall.  I can't wait.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 11th Horizontal Tasting: Cotes Blanc, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, En Gobelet, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille "Sacrérouge". If you haven't signed up yet but are interested, please let us know soon; we have about a dozen spots left.


Creating an Experience Worthy of Being Called the "Collector's Tasting"

By Lauren Phelps

It is a very rare treat to pour an aged, library wine for guests in our tasting room.  Wines that have been carefully cellar aged have a rich and complex quality that many California wine drinkers have yet to discover.  After a few years of bottle aging our Esprit de Tablas wines are impossibly complex, with layers of complementary flavors ranging from dark cherry and plum to leather and spice.  I have exhausted myself and our guests attempting to explain with words and gestures the benefits of bottle aging,  imploring my audience to "forget about our wine at the back of your closet" or "write a special occasion on the bottle" and keep it aging for at least five years, upwards of thirty in the right conditions.  As you might imagine, my passionate attempts at persuasion are mostly met with doubtful gazes and guilty confessions about their lack of will control.  

Tablas Creek Vineyards 7

Our traditional tasting list guides guests through our new releases, which for many wines mostly conveys the wines' potential.  It's easy to judge these fresh, young wines as they are, without a perspective as to their long and developing lifespan.  It's like writing the biography of a teenager.  I would never suggest guests not enjoy our wines in their youth; they are lovely young as well.  I would simply caution tasters from only experiencing the wines before they've had a chance to fully develop.  I often suggest having a few bottles of the same vintage on hand and tasting one every couple of years to watch them mature and change over time.  [We provide a vintage aging chart on our website to help take the guess work out of when to open our wine.]  Alas, we cannot all have closets full of Tablas Creek wine on hand for such experiments and that is why I am excited to share our Collector's Tasting Experience (previously known as our "Reserve Tasting").

Tablas Creek '16 (4 of 8)edited

In our Collector's Tasting Experience, I can finally take a deep breath, relax and allow the wines to speak for themselves.  It's an intimate, seated tasting, focusing on wines that we've cellared for some years, and typically including multiple older vintages of our Esprit de Tablas. This allows guests to experience first-hand how the bottle aging process deepens and complicates the youthful flavors, while also often revealing  the secondary flavors a young wine just hasn't developed yet.  It is so satisfying to watch the recognition stretch across my guests' faces as they recognize how dramatically these wines develop with age.  I hope this tasting experience will encourage guests to purchase current release wines and hold them to their peak maturity, but we also have a small stock of these library wines to offer to the guests who've come for this special tasting.

Tablas Creek Vineyards 5

Whether you are a long-time member of our wine club or have recently discovered Tablas Creek, we hope that you'll find the Collector's Tasting to be both a memorable and worthwhile experience. We offer two sessions Sunday-Friday at 11:30am and 3:00pm; Saturdays and holiday weekends we offer one session at 10:00am. We ask that reservations be made at least 24 hours in advance. The cost for the tasting is $40 for non-members/ $25 for members, and each tasting fee is waived with $250 purchase. To reserve a spot for this tasting, please contact us at visit@tablascreek.com, or just give us a call at (805)-237-1231.

It is a honor to share these wines with our fans who appreciate them and those who are also passionate about the Rhone movement in California.  Please don't hesitate to call the vineyard or email me with any questions you may have (lauren@tablascreek.com).  Cheers!


We warm up for the Holidays with a vertical tasting of Panoplie 2000-2015

Panoplie, for those who don't know it, is our elite red wine modeled after the Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin, with a very high percentage of Mourvedre and an extremely limited production.  Because it's not a wine that we put into distribution -- it goes exclusively to our wine club members each spring -- it's our chance to make as spectacular a wine as we can, without worrying about having to make it in quantity. Members have the opportunity to purchase 2 or 3 more bottles maximum after each shipment.  Even so, it rarely lasts more than a month.

Because of the wine's scarcity and its long aging curve, I don't open one very often. So today, in anticipation of the upcoming holidays, I decided to reward myself and our team with a chance to taste every vintage of Panoplie we've made, and share the notes so that anyone who's lucky enough to have a few bottles in their cellar can see what we think.

The lots that we choose for the Panoplie are the richest and most compelling in the cellar, and these wines are made to age.  In the tasting, even the oldest (from 2000) was just at maturity, and had in fact improved since the last Panoplie vertical we did four years ago.  The wines from the mid-2000's were fresh and vibrant, and although they're showing well, will go out another decade easily.

That said, it was interesting to me to see just how well some of the more recent wines did, with vintages like 2013 and 2011 standing up proudly alongside the more mature favorites like 2003, 2005, and 2008.  In fact, there was really only one vintage I'd caution people away from at the moment: 2010, which appeared to us to be in the in-between teenage stage that many Mourvedre-based wines go through 5-7 years after their vintage date.  The other wines all offered immense pleasure, even in their youth, and while they will undoubtedly add complexity with additional time in bottle, no one will be disappointed if they open one up this holiday season. The lineup:

Panoplie Vertical Dec 2016

The scene:

Panoplie tasting panorama

From oldest to youngest (note that we didn't produce a Panoplie in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage, and that each wine is linked to its profile page on our Web site if you want detailed technical information or to see the tasting notes we wrote shortly after bottling):

  • 2000 Panoplie (55% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 15% Grenache): The nose was still quite fresh and vibrant, while still showing some of the trademark aromas of maturity: raspberry and fresh plums with roasted meat and Christmas spices. There's nice sweet dark red fruit on the mouth, deepened with flavors of chocolate-covered cocoa beans and given focus by some still-solid tannins.  After tasting the other wines, the Syrah here seemed quite noteworthy, giving power and tannic structure, but also making the wine a touch more monolithic than some later wines in the lineup.  Still, an outstanding performance for this, our first and oldest Panoplie, made from vines no more than 8 years old.
  • 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): A nose that was both more mature and more open than the 2000; I immediately thought of an old Beaucastel: anise, rosemary, sweet peppermint, and juicy red fruit.  The mouth was generous, fully mature and in a beautiful place, with a nice dash of white pepper on the finish.  We couldn't imagine this getting any better; drink up if you have one.
  • 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise): Rich and a little more vibrant on the nose than the 2002, with a touch more minty lift and the deeper aromas of milk chocolate and meat drippings more pronounced.  In fact, a nice mid-point (as the blend would suggest) between the 2000's meaty, woodsy power and the 2002's open red-fruited generosity. Rich and mouth-filling on the palate, chewy and savory, with little balsamic/soy/umami character giving relief to the fruit on the finish.  Beautiful.
  • 2004 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is complex but also a touch older than the previous wines, dense, with notes of pine brush, cola, bacon and orange peel.  The mouth shows nice tannic structure, quite dense, with dark fruit and a woodsy note that plays off the fruit nicely.  The finish comes off as a touch sweet right now, with flavors of licorice root, cherry syrup, and tree bark framing still-substantial tannins.  A bit disjointed for me right now, with the sweetness, savoriness, and tannins all fighting for dominance.  I'm interested to see where this goes in coming years.
  • 2005 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 5% Syrah): An explosive, dramatic nose, full of wild herbs, flowers, and dark, brambly blackberry fruit. On the palate, it's rich and dense: sweet fruit, plum skin, dark chocolate and a tangy marinade note. Amazing that this was from one of our highest-ever production vintages.  My dad called this "a wow wine" and Chelsea added a great analogy: "like driving a performance vehicle, with that weight, but how it holds the road". Should be great for some time.
  • 2006 Panoplie (68% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 5% Syrah): If less drama, and a touch more mature, than the 2005, no less appealing. A nose that shows both savory -- spicy eucalyptus and herbs -- and sweet -- sugarplums -- notes. On the palate, seemingly very Grenache in character with lots of fruit, a luscious salted-caramel-chocolate note, great mid-palate weight and mature tannins. A real crowd pleaser with nice sweet fruit on the long, fresh finish. We felt that this was aging faster than the 2005 and, like the 2002, was just about as good as we could imagine it getting. 
  • 2007 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A savory Old World nose with leather, root beer, baking spices, and soy. More youthful and Californian on the palate, with fresh plums, cocoa, a round, voluptuous texture, and big but ripe tannins.  After a long stretch in the closed period, this is singing now, though Neil commented "but it'll be even better in 5 years". This wine got smokier and more chocolaty with time in the glass; definitely decant it if you're drinking it now, but be prepared to be richly rewarded.
  • 2008 Panoplie (54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): The nose is spectacular, even after the remarkable 2007, focused and inviting with explosive aromatics of sweet spices, strawberries and cream.  The mouth was generous with sweet fruit, like cherry jam but smoother and richer. Lovely, lively, and pure.  My dad called it "a ballerina", which I thought was a nice way of talking about its graceful power.
  • 2009 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): A very cool, savory, and exciting nose of dark blue/black fruit, seemingly less about Grenache than the 2008. The fruit is fresh but concentrated, cherry and plum, with a powdered sugar character to the tannins that we often see in great vintages.  Some cocoa powder on the finish, which is still youthfully grippy and fairly primary.  It's still quite a young wine, from a powerful vintage, and may also still be emerging from its closed phase.  Should make great drinking over the next decade.
  • 2010 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is quiet compared to the previous wines, though appealingly savory, like baker's chocolate with a citrus pith note.  On the palate, the chocolate character predominates, with fruit, meat drippings, and a little minty lift.  The finish was a little short.  Four years ago, this was one of our absolute highlights of the tasting; this year it didn't get a single vote when I asked everyone around the table to pick three favorites.  That's a great indication it was in its closed phase, and should be hidden away for a few years.
  • 2011 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is all about dark, as are many of the 2011's right now: a slate minerality, with eucalyptus, black licorice, new leather, and charcuterie notes.  A little peppery lift (Chelsea thought pink peppercorn) gave some aromatic high notes. On the palate, highter toned, with strawberry preserves, a nice creamy texture, and beautiful tannins framing a long finish.  This wine was the one we chose to have with the main course of our Tablas Creek holiday party last weekend, and it shined opposite a braised short rib.  A beautiful wine, in a very nice stage, though it's next in line to shut down.  Anyone drinking it in 2017-2018 would be well advised to check our vintage chart, which we update every few months.
  • 2012 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is still primary, with wild strawberries, a nice rosemary note, and some creamy minerality. On the palate, some nice savoriness on the attack, with garrigue framing strawberry fruit, medium bodied, and very well balanced.  If it's a little simple compared to the 2011 or 2013, that seems a reflection of the vintage.  It will be nice to give this some time in the cellar to gain some secondary notes and a darker tone; we thought the same thing about the 2008 at a similar stage, and look where that is now.
  • 2013 Panoplie (75% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is explosive like the 2008 and 2005, dark and not particularly fruit driven, with flavors of marinating stew: bay leaves and herbs and meat, on top of plum skin and dark chocolate. In the mouth, it's luscious and powerful, not at all sweet, with concentrated flavors, chalky tannins, and a great precise, dry finish with tons of promise.  My mom commented that it "feels French" and it did.  It will be exciting to watch over the next two decades.
  • 2014 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 7% Syrah): Rounder edges than the 2013, with a nicely lifted nose of herby wild strawberries, orange pith, a briny mineral note, and grilled game fowl (we had a long discussion about whether the right game was quail, squab, or duck, which probably says more about the fact that lunchtime was approaching and we'd already tasted 13 wines than about any specific flavors). The palate shows the characteristic lush texture of the 2014 vintage: mouthwatering ripe raspberry, deepened by some brambly spice.  Still a baby, and only going to get deeper and better.  Will go out to VINsider Club members in the spring.
  • 2015 Panoplie (71% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 5% Syrah; from foudre): Still in foudre and smells very young: intensely grapey, with some meatiness and floral (gardenia?) lurking behind all that primary fruit.  The mouth is less in its infancy than the nose, with a great combination of spiciness, generosity, meatiness, and tannic power that reminded us of a slightly lusher 2011. It's going to be a treat to watch this evolve. It will go into bottle late this coming summer, and be released to VINsiders in the spring of 2018.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The overall level of quality was exceptionally high.  I asked the nine people around the table for their votes on three favorites, and eleven of the fifteen wines received at least one vote.  The highest vote getters were 2005 (6 votes), 2008 (5 votes), with both 2007 and 2009 receiving 3 votes. Really any of these wines, even the ones that aren't as good as they will be, will make for exceptional drinking if you open it.
  • Things move.  Looking back at our last Panoplie vertical from 2012 our favorites were 2003, 2007, and 2010.  The 2010 has moved into a closed phase, like the Esprit 2010, a process we more or less understand and can predict.  But the older favorites moved too.  The 2003 was still spectacular, but stood out less because of the evolution of wines like 2002, 2005, and 2006, which all showed more mature tannins and better balance than they did four years ago.  And the 2007, which was wildly exciting at age 5, came through its closed phase as a more settled, finished product.  Do I like it better now than I did then?  I'm not sure.  But it's been fun to see it at both stages, and to know that any one bottle you open is only a snapshot.
  • The young wines are drinking very well.  I know that when we let people know that these wines can age two decades it often scares them away from opening one young.  But the young wines in this flight were almost all drinking beautifully, and anyone who opens a vintage like 2011 or 2013 in coming months is in for a real treat.

Now... to decide which one to open with Christmas dinner!


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

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

Mourvedre Vertical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the real standouts in 2014 was our 2010:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Introducing the Wines for the 2016 VINsider Wine Club "Collector's Edition" Shipment

Each June, I have the pleasure of tasting through library vintages of our Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolove. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

This year, our selections will be the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. Each wine provides a clear signature of the vintage that produced it: 2009, with its power and density from the combination of spring frost (low yields) and warm weather, and 2010, with noteworthy elegance from an unusually cool summer that produced our longest hangtime ever. And yet time had, in each case, made the wine more complete, softening the tannins and opening the structure of the 2009 Esprit, and deepening the flavors and bringing more weight to the 2010 Esprit Blanc. And this isn't the end; both wines will go out another decade. It will be fun to get these in people's hands in a few months. The wines:

CE Wines 2016 Square

Tasting notes, from a tasting yesterday that Chelsea and I conducted:

  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  A nose balanced, I thought, between youthful and mature notes: white flowers, mint and pear skin on the youthful side, with beeswax, straw and nutmeg showing signs of maturity. The mouth is rich, with flavors of golden delicious apple and cinnamon (just bake the pie, already), creme brulee, and sweet straw. There's a welcome little bite of tannin -- likely from the 35% Grenache Blanc, our highest Grenache Blanc percentage ever for this wine -- that reminded us of mandarin pith to keep things clean on the long finish. Just beautiful. Drink now or for the next several years.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel: A darkly powerful, expressive nose of mint, black plums, petrichor, figs, baker's chocolate, and a savory note that Chelsea and I debated between balsamic and Worcestershire. The mouth shows both dark fruit notes and something higher toned -- think fresh black figs -- and is nicely focused with flavors of chocolate-covered black cherries, menthol, and new leather. There are some chewy tannins that suggest substantial food as a partner (as well as the capacity for more aging). The finish is beautiful, with cocoa powder, blackcurrant and sarsaparilla root. Drink now and over the next 15 years.

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is, I think, the best collection we've ever offered, with 3 different vintages of our flagship red, 2 of our flagship white, our newest En Gobelet (maybe my personal favorite wine we're making right now), and two gorgeous whites: the luscious 2014 Roussanne and the floral, mineral 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc:

  • 2 bottles of 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel
  • 1 bottle of 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2014 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2012 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2014 En Gobelet
  • 2 bottles of 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2014 Roussanne
  • 1 bottle of 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next week. If you're on the waiting list, you should look for an email with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can indicate that you would like to join the Collector's Edition when you join the VINsider wine club.


Wrapping Our Heads Around Petit Manseng

On Friday, my dad, Neil, Tyler, Jordan and I sat down to taste through each vintage of Petit Manseng we've made (2010-2015) with the hopes of coming to a consensus on what we want out of this obscure, compelling grape.

Petit Mangeng vertical

Petit Manseng is a grape from southwest France, most notably the small appellation of Jurancon, where it produces naturally sweet wines with remarkable levels of acidity.  [For a detailed description of the history of the grape, check out this blog post from 2011.]  Unlike most grapes, whose acids fall off sharply as the grapes reach maturity, Petit Manseng maintains very high acids even as it concentrates to high sugar levels.  A chart of our sugar/acid levels at harvest since 2010 gives a sense of how consistently unusual this grape is:

Year Harvest Date °Brix at Harvest pH at Harvest
2010 October 15th 26.2° 3.10
2011 October 27th 25.0° 3.26
2012 October 1st 31.0° 3.28
2013 September 16th 27.0° 2.97
2014 October 1st 26.2° 3.06
2015 September 25th 28.2° 3.28

Because of the grape's high acids, it's not really feasible (or at least advisable) to make a dry wine out of it.  If you were to pick it at a sugar level that you might ferment dry to at 14% alcohol (23° Brix), the pH would likely be in the mid- to high-2's.  That would make for a searingly acidic wine. 

When we made the decision to bring the variety into the country (back in the early 2000's) we hadn't yet tried out the vin de paille process that we now use to make balanced sweet wines from our Rhone grapes.  So, to make a sweet wine was our original intent in acquiring Petit Manseng.  But by the time we got it into production, we'd established the three different Vin de Paille wines we make, and decided to look instead to an off-dry profile for Petit Manseng.  In this style, you don't let the grapes get to dessert wine concentrations (say, 33°-35° Brix and a pH of 3.4-3.6) but instead aim to pick between the acids and sugars you'd choose for a dry wine and those higher dessert wine levels, and plan to stop the fermentation when the balance of residual sugar and high acids are pleasing.  Typically, these wines carry alcohols somewhere around 14% (so, they're not fortified) and residual sugars in the 50 grams/liter range.  They can make remarkable dining companions with foods that are too sweet (think a coconut-based curry) or too unctuous (think foie gras) for a dry wine, but without enough sweetness to stand up to a dessert wine.

My notes on the wines are below, with links to each wine's page for detailed production notes.  I have a few conclusions at the end.

  • 2010 Petit Manseng (66 g/l residual; 13.6% alcohol): A tropical nose of lychee and pineapple, maybe preserved citrus.  Nice freshness in the mouth, with spun sugar and tropical fruit balanced by lemony acidity.  Tyler said it "put Jimmy Buffett in my head".  Very fresh still, and didn't seem to have changed much from when it was released.
  • 2011 Petit Manseng (26 g/l residual; 14.6% alcohol): Less sweet and more savory on the nose, almost riesling-like with petrol and citrus leaf, maybe a hint of lime. There's also a little noticeable oak that adds an interesting spice element. Unlike the 2010, this is definitely not sweet enough to be a dessert wine, and we thought that following what you might pair an auslese riesling would be a good start: spicy curry, or a banh mi with the sweet Vietnamese pickled vegetables.  Or a charcuterie plate.
  • 2012 Petit Manseng (42 g/l residual; 13.7% alcohol): The nose was easily the oldest of the flight, more like a traditional sweet wine and perhaps a touch of oxidation: crushed rock and butterscotch. On the palate, alluring in its way but without the characteristic freshness of the other vintages: candied orange peel and cream sherry, with a touch of burnt sugar. We thought it would be great with a salty cheese like manchego.
  • 2013 Petit Manseng (63 g/l residual; 13.8% alcohol): The nose was beautiful: caramel, candied lemon, rocks and key lime. Quite sweet on the palate, but with almost electric acids (it was harvested at 2.97 pH, after all) and a savory, chalky, citrus leaf tannin mouthfeel. This was a somewhat polarizing wine, without perhaps some of the nuance of the less sweet/tart vintages but with amazing zesty appeal.
  • 2014 Petit Manseng (33 g/l residual; 14.7% alcohol): A nose like the 2010, tropical with lychee and maple syrup, and an appealing briny mineral note. On the palate, more like 2011, though without the hint of new oak: less sweet and less acidic than the 2013, a gentler wine, also appeared a little more mature.  On the mouth, preserved lemon and crushed rock, lightly sweet.  Try pairings like the 2011.
  • 2015 Petit Manseng (barrel sample; 79 g/l residual; 13.7% alcohol): Still cloudy and a little unformed on the nose, with orange peel and fennel coming out.  On the palate, quite sweet and appley, like honeycrisp apple juice concentrate, though with good acids cleaning things up at the end.  We'll try to keep this fermenting a bit longer.

Conclusions
In terms of direction, we decided that we wanted to aim going forward at something toward the middle of our range, where, curiously, we didn't have an example: something like 50 g/l residual at around 14% alcohol, with bright acids, though maybe not quite as intense as the 2013. Split the difference between 2010 and 2011, or between 2013 and 2014, we thought.

All the wines, with the exception of the 2012, were still showing very youthfully.  As both sugar and acid act as preservatives in wine, that's hardly surprising.  But it was nice to see nonetheless.

We all decided that we preferred the clear bottle (and the 500ml package) to the 750ml green bottle.  So, look for it to make its return with the 2015 vintage, to be bottled this summer!

 


What's in a (category) name? Maybe a lot.

One of (the literally hundreds of) Shakespeare's phrases that has entered common English parlance is Juliet's question to Romeo, "What's in a name?".  She continues, "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" with its implication that names are labels given meaning by those of us who use them, but that there is an essential quality that is independent of the name it carries.  One of the risks of any enterprise is that once you've assigned a name to something, you assume that the other people who hear or read that name understand its relationship to the essential idea described the same way that you do.  Industry jargon is only the most obvious example of this; in many cases the consequences of naming (or mis-naming) something can be much more subtle.

Those of you who have followed Tablas Creek are likely familiar with the vintage chart that we created back in 2006 and have updated roughly quarterly ever since.  With it, we try to help our fans be as informed as we are as to where in its evolutionary life each of our wines is at the moment.  After all, it's in our interest as much as our fans' that the wines that they open be drinking well, and there's no way even the most dedicated Tablas Creek follower is going to be opening as many of our wines, across as many vintages, as we do.  Sharing our experiences seems to me like the least we can do.    

Vintage chart in use
The vintage chart, in use in our tasting room

For the last several years, we divided up the wines into the following categories:

  • Hold - Too Young
  • Early Maturity: Drink or Hold
  • Peak Maturity: Drink or Hold
  • Late Maturity: Drink
  • Hold - Closed Phase
  • Past its prime

Most of these seem self-explanatory enough, except for perhaps "hold - closed phase", whose depths I dove into in a blog post from 2011.

Vintage chart Jan 2016 #2However, in recent months I've gotten a spike in comments from people who have been waiting and waiting on many of our wines to move from "Early Maturity" into "Peak Maturity". Since I've wanted to see some secondary flavors in a wine before moving it between these categories, this has meant that often several vintages accumulated as they waited -- with some wines, for a decade -- for wines to get to their peak.  Now, we're proud that many of our longer-lived wines should age for two decades.  But I also understand our fans' frustration that gratification delayed so long isn't particularly gratifying.  And my idea was never to encourage everyone to wait for full maturity, missing out on wines' juicy vigor.  That "early maturity" phase makes for wonderful drinking, and I almost certainly open more wines then than I keep until those secondary flavors start to show.  Yet it seemed that what I'd hoped would be helpful was becoming, for some followers at least, a burden.  And I understood why.  Wouldn't you, too, like peak enjoyment out of a purchase?  So, in the today's update to the vintage chart, I renamed the different categories as follows:

  • More Aging Recommended
  • Drinking Well: Youthful
  • Drinking Well: Mature
  • Late Maturity (Drink Up)
  • Hold - Closed Phase
  • Past its prime

I am hopeful that this change, minor as it seems, will continue to protect our fans from wines in stages likely to be disappointing while removing the stigma from opening a wine in its (relative) youth.  This change is in keeping with my suspicions of drinking window recommendations (think: "best between 2025 and 2033"), and the idea that there is a single peak when wines should be drunk. This is not to deny that wines can be too young to be truly enjoyable -- often with red wines, when tannins are so powerful, or the fruit is so thick and primary, that they dominate the other elements.  Or that wines can be too old, when the steady work of oxygen and time in breaking down tannins and other structural elements leave a wine tired and flat.  But between these two extremes lies a wide range of experiences during which the wine is in balance.  A consumer who prefers wines to show brighter fruit would typically drink wines earlier in this window.  Another who prefers her wines earthier and meatier might drink them later in this window.  

Or, if you're like me, and love to watch as wines move into different harmonies between fruit, acid, tannin and earth, you might consciously open wines at different phases.  It wasn't Shakespeare who said "Life is a journey, not a destination." (that was Ralph Waldo Emerson), but if what's in a name can encourage more people to enjoy the journey, I'm all for it.


Tasting every wine from 2006, a decade later

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 20th.  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. In fact, each year that we've done this we've been surprised by at least one wine that we expected to be in decline showing up as a highlight.  

A few years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2006 vintage:

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

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the elegance that we thought we might find? Would this vintage of moderate concentration (sandwiched between two of our most powerful vintages) have retained the stuffing to make them compelling a decade later?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?

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

2006 Horizontal

My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine (except for the 2006 Bergeron, which for some reason we never made a Web page for) is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling.  If you have a question about the Bergeron, or anything else, leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to respond:

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

A few concluding thoughts

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

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

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

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

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


We Taste a Vertical of Full Circle Pinot Noir, 2010-2015

For the last six vintages, we have found ourselves in the Pinot Noir business.  This is, of course, because we've been making wine from the 3-acre vineyard outside my dad's house in Templeton, on which he decided to plant Pinot Noir due to the cool microclimate, the north-facing hillside, and the calcareous soils so reminiscent of Burgundy.  [For the full story, see the blog from 2013 Robert Haas comes Full Circle on Pinot Noir.]  Each year that we make it, we've felt we learn something important about the winemaking of this notoriously fickle grape.  So, now that the oldest vintage is five years old, we decided to open all of them to see what larger trends we could discern.  The lineup:

Pinot Vertical

My notes on the wines:

  • 2010 Full Circle: The nose was rich but not particularly signed by Pinot: figgy, a little chocolaty, with some dusty, resinous, non-fruit element too.  The mouth is clean, plummy and savory, with bakers' chocolate and cola flavors and nice balance.  Just a little hint of age.  Quite a nice wine, but without the vibrant high-toned fruit we associate with Pinot.
  • 2011 Full Circle: The nose felt more massive than the first wine, with chocolate-covered cherry, coffee grounds, and a hint of oxidation.  The mouth is richer than the 2010, with bigger tannins and some still-unresolved oak.  The finish was long, though a touch pruney.  More like many California pinots we taste, a touch on the massive side for us.
  • 2012 Full Circle: The nose is deeper, more savory, with a little brooding black cherry and some baking spices.  The mouth shows clean dark fruit, with nice acids... kind of a sweet/tart black cherry skin experience.  Still pretty tannic.  We liked the weight and the acids, and thought that they both boded well for the wine's future.
  • 2013 Full Circle: The first wine, for me, whose nose was immediately recognizable as Pinot, vibrant and spicy, with the signature red cherry skin and sarsaparilla aromas.  The mouth was also classic, clean and refreshing if not particularly concentrated.  Silky, with some oak evident on the finish.  A delicate wine, quite classic, which should be fun to get in front of people in the next year.
  • 2014 Full Circle (from barrel): The nose was rich with watermelon and plum fruit and undertone of cola that marks it as pinot.  The mouth showed more watermelon fruit, still some youthful tannins and a little sweet oak.  This was most of the group's favorite, though I preferred the lighter-bodied 2013.
  • 2015 Full Circle (from barrel, only free run juice): The nose was primary, still grapey, very powerful.  The mouth was still so young (it hasn't even gone through malolactic fermentation yet) that it was hard to evaluate.  I got kiwi and passionfruit (likely from the malic acid), maraschino cherry, with good tannins and acids.  It seemed like it struck a nice balance in style between the elegance of the 2013 and the power of the 2014.

For me, the tasting was particularly interesting because of how many of the characteristics I really like in our Rhone reds (like weight and texture) tended to me to obscure the ethereal character I like best in Pinot Noirs.  So, the classic ways of judging how strong a wine or a vintage was didn't really work for this tasting.  The 2013 was easily the lightest in color of the tasting, and had the least body... but it was my favorite.  Go figure.

In any case, it was clear to everyone around the table that we're learning every year, and that every year we have done a little better at allowing the grape's essential character to show through.  The vines won't hit 10 years old until 2017, so we're going to have to remind ourselves to be patient with them.  I remember this being hard when our main vineyard was this age... we wanted to somehow accelerate a process that just takes time.


A look back at every vintage of Vin de Paille "Quintessence"

This holiday season, we've made the decision to try to look back systematically at several of the wines that we don't open that often, and try to wrap our heads around how they age and at what stage(s) they are particularly good.  This information will be incorporated into the vintage chart that we maintain.  Last week we took a look at some vintages of Panoplie.  This week, we turned to our Vin de Paille Quintessence.

If you are unfamiliar with the vin de paille process, it is a traditional method for producing sweet wines by concentrating the grapes on straw.  The advantage of this technique (compared to, say, a late harvest) is that you pick the grapes at ripeness, rather than overripeness, and concentrate not just the sugars, but also the acids, varietal character and mineral character.  [For a detailed look at the process, see my blog piece from 2010: Vin de Paille: A Dessert Wine Making Technique for the Obsessed.]

The Quintessence is a wine we've made five times: each vintage between 2003 and 2006, and then again in 2010.  It is 100% Roussanne, made by selecting one or two barrels out of the larger number (typically 4-6) of barrels of vin de paille we made that year.  After choosing the most concentrated barrel or two, we let it age an extra year in barrel before bottling it along with that same year's reds.  The time in barrel gives it extra depth of flavor, and allows it to pick up a little more oak, which we think suits this sweet, powerful Roussanne well.  The wines:

Quintessences

I was joined for the tasting by my dad, along with Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi and National Sales Manager Darren Delmore. The tasting notes (with alcohol and residual sugar listed):

  • 2003 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (9.1% ABV; 233 g/L residual sugar): A nose of candied orange peel, wheat, dried roses, and the caramel sauce from a crème caramel.  There is also a little volatility to the floral aromatics that I found a little challenging, like an aerosol spray of a floral scent.  The mouth is very sweet -- I found it inescapably reminiscent of golden raisins -- while others around the table called out dates and baked pear.  The texture was quite thick, and my dad's comment was that he felt the wine was "not winey enough; a bit on the syrupy side". Not my favorite of the the lineup, but I'm not sure if it's a stage it will come out of or if it's getting over the hill.
  • 2004 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (14.5% ABV; 153 g/L residual sugar): On the nose, it showed older and a bit more oxidized than the 2003, with aromas of caramel, hazelnuts, and (the first time I've ever called this in a tasting note) suede leather.  The mouth is fascinating: crystallized ginger, burnt sugar, maraschino cherry, and a little welcome bitterness that reminded me of pear skin.  My dad's comment was that it was "not for everyone, but would be really impressive with a caramel dessert".
  • 2005 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (8.6% ABV; 310 g/L residual sugar): Dark amber in the glass, even more so than the first two wines.  On the nose, brandy-soaked pears, yeasty, with some nice wood smoke (from the barrel, we thought) and a nutty, caramely pecan pie aspect.  On the palate, very sweet (the highest residual sugar of the five wines) but with more notable acidity than the two earlier wines.  The flavors of candied lemon peel and milk caramels were still young, rich, and massive.  Chelsea called the experience "bananas foster" which I thought nailed it.
  • 2006 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (8.6% ABV; 280 g/L residual sugar): On the nose, more stone fruit than the earlier wines, with dried apricots, baking spices (someone called out oatmeal cookie), and an almost-honey character that Darren identified as "bee pollen".  The mouth is tangy and seemed younger and fresher than the three older wines, with more pit fruit and dried mango, and great acidity on the finish.  My favorite of the older wines.
  • 2010 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (11.5% ABV; 199 g/L residual sugar):  On the nose, vibrantly and immediately Roussanne, with peppered citrus, ginger, mango, star anise, and a hoppy, savory bite that provided nice balance to the sweetness.  The mouth was very fresh, with more mango, passion fruit, wildflower honey and something floral that reminded me of once when someone had shared with me home-made candied violets.  There are excellent acids on the finish, which is quite a bit cleaner and more refreshing than the older wines.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • I think we may have been telling people to wait too long on these wines.  In general, the younger they were, the more I liked them, though there was more complexity in, say, the 2006 than in the more primary 2010.  With holiday season coming up, I'm looking forward to breaking into my stash of wines I've been saving!
  • The wines with more sugar (and correspondingly richer texture) seemed like they needed food more badly.  It would have been interesting to have this tasting done with a variety of desserts.  With something like a crème brûlée these richer wines would almost certainly have shown better, whereas they might have overwhelmed a fruit-based dessert like a peach or pear tart (for those types of dessert, the less-sweet 2010 seemed like a natural fit).
  • Boy, is acidity important in sweet wines.  The tasting reinforced my opinion that for wines like these, picking on the early side, and capturing more acidity to then concentrate, is highly recommended.
  • I really like the change in packaging that we made between 2006 and 2010, to put the wine in a clear glass bottle.

I hadn't focused on the fact that we haven't made this wine now in five vintages (though we did make our standard Vin de Paille in 2012).  In large part, this has been because of our low yields during the drought, and our desire to leave enough Roussanne for our dry wines.  But the fact that there's not a huge market domestically for dessert wines has also played a role.  That said, the wines really were impressive, and I've always gotten a great response when I've included them in a winemaker dinner.  if we have decent yields in 2016, I'd like to take another crack at this.