Into the Heart of Darkness: Tasting every Tablas Creek Tannat 2002-2017

Each year, we pick a wine we've been making for a while and open up all that wine's vintages, for the dual purposes of better understanding how it ages over time and better advising our fans which vintages to open if they're looking for peak drinking1. This year, we decided to look at Tannat, which is a grape renowned for its ageworthiness that somehow, we'd never opened systematically. So, it was with significant anticipation that we assembled each vintage of Tannat we've made, from our first (2002) to the newly-blended 2017:

Tannat vertical

An additional goal of this particular tasting was to choose a selection of the Tannats to show at a public retrospective tasting. Sixteen wines is too many, but we figure we can pick a representative sample that will give guests a great sense of how the wine develops in bottle, as well as how the vintage affects the wine's composition and flavor profile.  If this sounds like fun, we'll be hosting that tasting on August 19th.  Details are here.

Whether you're thinking of coming or not, I thought it would be fun to share my notes on each wine. I have linked each vintage to that wine's page on our Web site, if you'd like to see production details or what the tasting notes were at bottling.

  • Tannat 2002: On the nose, inviting, with eucalyptus, black cherry, chocolate and mint. The mouth is similar, still quite rich and tannic, with a little cedary oak coming out on the finish. So fresh, and still absolutely in its prime. A treat.
  • Tannat 2003: Smells a little more mature: leather and soy marinade, as well as mint and dark chocolate. The mouth was still quite tannic, elevated by Tannat's signature acids, with flavors of cream soda, chocolate truffle and raspberry liqueur. The finish was my least favorite part of the wine, a touch on the pruney side. 
  • Tannat 2004: Some wildness on the nose, very savory: aged balsamic, tobacco, dried strawberry, and green herbs. The mouth is generous, spicy, and richly tannic, with an earthy mulchy note playing back and forth with black cherry liqueur.
  • Tannat 2005: A lovely meaty chocolate-cherry nose, with meat drippings. Like a Burgundy from an impossibly powerful vintage. The mouth is comparatively gentle, with beautiful currant/plum/black cherry juiciness, with additional flavors of mint and hoisin.  Less overtly tannic than the first three wines, and a real pleasure. My favorite of the older Tannats.
  • Tannat 2006: A slightly oxidative note on the nose, on top of milk chocolate and baking spices. The mouth leads with sweet cherry fruit, given savory complexity by a pine forest note. Medium-weight (less than the four wines before) but nice tannin and acid on the finish, with higher toned flavors of chocolate-covered cranberry lingering.
  • Tannat 2007: Fresh on the nose: minty eucalyptus, cherry cola, and pork fat. Rich and figgy in the mouth, powerfully tannic, but with a sweet edge. It came across to me as a touch alcoholic at this stage, with a finish of chocolate-covered raspberry cordial.
  • Tannat 2008: Immediately different than the previous wines, more translucent on pouring. The nose is older, a touch raisiny, less spicy. The mouth too is quieter, with leather and golden raisin, and less tannin and verve. Not sure if this is a stage, or just a weaker Tannat vintage.
  • Tannat 2009: A blockbuster nose: soy, mineral, tobacco and potpourri.  On the palate, all black descriptors: black plum, black tea, and black licorice, rich and concentrated, with both juiciness and gaminess coming out appealingly on the finish.  Impressive.
  • Tannat 2010: The cool 2010 vintage produced a different, more elegant expression of Tannat: graphite, white pepper, lilac, pork fat, and molasses on the nose. Rich but not aggressive on the palate, with fresh cherry flavors, chewy mouth-coating tannins, and that pancetta-like note returning on the finish.
  • Tannat 2011: Spicy fruit jumps out of the glass: cranberry, eucalyptus, and cocoa powder. Bright on the palate, almost pomegranate-like in its vibrancy and tannic bite, roasted leg of pork and chocolate-cherry. Falls a little short on the finish, with a little raisiny note coming out. We thought this might be better in a few years.
  • Tannat 2012: Again, something different: more red fruit than black, with cedary oak and star anise spices. The mouth shows vibrant acids, then cherry skin, then tannic on the finish.  Still very young.
  • Tannat 2013: Spicy and powerfully savory on the nose: iron shavings, juniper, and fall leaves. The mouth is nicely balanced and more generous than the nose suggests, with cocoa butter, blueberry, and more minty spice. Nicely complete, with excellent finesse.
  • Tannat 2014: Electric and spicy, with za'atar and meat reduction, violets and strawberry on the nose. The mouth is similarly vibrant, with echoes of red cranberry fruit and a long, tangy, saline finish.
  • Tannat 2015: A darker nose, of black licorice, spicy eucalyptus, and a meaty note like a rosemary-rubbed leg of lamb. The mouth is dense and plush, yet lifted by a welcome bitter note that we alternately identified as blood orange and aperol. Really cool, and drinking great right now.
  • Tannat 2016: Just bottled 6 weeks ago, the nose still seemed quiet from the recent bottling: violets and black olive, but obviously more to come. The mouth is nice: dark chocolate, black plum, licorice, and plenty of tannin. Lots to show here, but much more to come. Will be released later this year. Patience.
  • Tannat 2017: Newly blended and living (for now) half in wooden upright tank and half in small barrels while we wait to free up foudre space. Smells like a baby: grape jelly, meaty, still youthfully thick like raspberry pie.  Lots of fermentation aromas.  Tons of potential, but a long way from bottling yet. 

I asked people around the table to offer a few of their favorites, and the wines that got votes included the 2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2014, and 2015, with the 2005, 2009, and 2015 pretty universally among everyone's top picks.

We ended up choosing the following vintages for August's public tasting: 2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • Tannat definitely has a strong personality.  We were commenting at about wine five that we were running out of ways to say chocolate, mint, and black cherry. That's not to say there weren't vintage variations; there definitely were. But unlike, say, Syrah, which is something of a chameleon depending on where it's grown, I think Tannat's personality is pretty well set, wherever it grows, both in flavors and in its full-bodied, richly tannic texture.
  • Tannat really does age gracefully. The oldest wines didn't taste at all elderly, and some (like that 2002) were almost impossibly fresh, with tannic structure, acids and density that suggested another few decades weren't out of the question. Now Tannat is famous for its ageworthiness, but it's still nice to have confirmation that this fact holds true here in Paso Robles too.
  • That said, I was surprised by how vibrant the younger wines showed. I tend to bury my Tannat bottles in the back of my wine fridge and assume I shouldn't even crack one open for a decade.  The 2013, 2014, and 2015 were all showing beautifully. I think that's one of the benefits of growing this grape here in Paso Robles: you have plenty of sun to ripen the grapes, and so there is fruit to balance the grape's tannins. But just as important, there is acidity from the cool nights and the calcareous soils that keep the wines fresh. If there was one surprise for me, it was the vibrancy of the wines.
  • The meatiness in Tannat is different than what we find in Mourvedre or Syrah. Mourvedre tends to remind me of the drippings from beef roasts. Syrah brings to mind smoky bacon. Tannat's meatiness was more fatty pork, but not bacon-smoky, more like pancetta or roast leg of pork. 
  • For all its meatiness, maybe the most fun thing about Tannat was the floral note that the younger wines showed. I've often found violets in new Tannat releases, which is a fun surprise, like a bodybuilder in a tutu. As the wines age, the floral tones deepen, becoming dried roses and eventually (in the 2009) potpourri. 
  • Those of you coming out for the tasting in August are in for a treat.

Footnote

  1. We update a vintage chart at least quarterly with the results of these tastings.

A Horizontal Retrospective: Tasting Every Wine from 2008 at Age 10

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 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 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.  The lineup:

2008 Retrospective

A while back, 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 2008 vintage was our second consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by spring frosts. Berries and clusters were small, leading to excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and harvest about a week later than normal. Crop sizes were similar to 2007 and about 20% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with good intensity, lower than normal alcohols and an appealing gentle minerality and red wines that were unusually fresh and approachable despite appealing lushness.

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 marked by elegance (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 2008, we made 17 different wines: 8 whites, 1 rosé, and 8 reds. My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling (well, except for the Pinot Noir, which we only made one barrel of and never made a Web page; if you have questions about that, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer).  I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, and Brad Ely) as well as by our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore.

  • 2008 Vermentino (SC): A combination of bright and more aged notes on the nose: petrol, peppermint, grilled grapefruit, lime leaf, lemongrass, and wet rocks. The mouth shows nice acids, clean and younger than the nose, with citrus pith and a nice briny finish. It's in a nice place: like a dry riesling with a little age on it.
  • 2008 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): A deeper golden color. The nose is like that of a sweet wine: caramel and butter pecan and a little minty lift. The mouth is round, and, by contrast, dry. Tons of texture. Flavors of candied orange peel and nectarine, with a pithy bitterness like peach pit coming out on the finish. A touch low in acid, particularly compared to the wines before and after in the lineup. A perfectly admirable showing for this wine, but drink up if you've got any.
  • 2008 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A lifted nose: monty, watermelon rind, barely ripe honeydew, and wet rocks.  This filled out with time in the glass and turned into lemon meringue.  Pretty fascinating.  The mouth is fun: quite rich, with pineapple flavors and a creamy texture that remind me why I always think Picpoul evokes pina colada. A nice limestoney character comes out on the long, clear finish.  Still vibrantly alive, and one of my favorites of the tasting.
  • 2008 Grenache Blanc (SC, and in fact our first experiment with the Stelvin "Lux" that we now use for all our screwcaps): A quieter nose than the first 3 wines: preserved lemon, white pepper, and a little crushed chalky rock. The mouth is initially all about sweet fruit (lychee and candied grapefruit, for me), then the acids take over, and then a little tannic bite that's absolutely characteristic of Grenache Blanc plays back and forth with ripe pear and a spicy juniper character on the long finish.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 42% Viognier, 26% Roussanne, 21% Marsanne, 11% Grenache Blanc): A sweetly spicy nose, more floral than the first four wines, with honey, wild herbs, anise, and jasmine. The mouth is very nicely balanced between sweet attack (I thought peach syrup), good acids, and a little Grenache Blanc pithy bite on the back end. The long finish showed candied orange peel, honeysuckle, and marzipan. It's in a good spot, long after we would have thought.
  • 2008 Bergeron (C): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A cool nose of green pear, honeysuckle, and cantaloupe. The mouth is all about texture: smooth flavors of watermelon and lemon custard, with a soft minerality pervading everything. Still quite Roussanne, in its way, though it's medium-bodied and lively. A little hazelnut and lemon drop comes out on the long finish, but the persistent impression is of its cool, smooth texture. 12.8% alcohol.  We're offering this now as an extra taste in our tasting room, if you're curious.
  • 2008 Roussanne (C): A deeper gold color.  An explosive nose: butterscotch, grilled pear, and a yeasty pastry note: pear tart, anyone? The mouth is gorgeous: luscious, rich, caramel and vanilla, and nuts, but dry. A long powerful finish with apricot and baking spices and a little sweet oak. Really impressive, if you like white wines with power and density. 14.2% alcohol.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): An appealing nose, less powerful than the Roussanne but more complex: key lime pie, honey roasted peanuts, baked apple and a cool green bay leaf herbiness. The mouth shows sweet Roussanne fruit on the attack, pear, honey, and brioche. Then Grenache Blanc's anise lift and pithy bite keep order. Then a long, soft finish with flavors of kiwi and sweet spice, and a little salty minerality which I credited to Picpoul.  A few signs of age, but the wine is in a very nice place.
  • 2008 Rosé (SC; 58% Mourvedre, 32% Grenache, 10% Counoise): A pretty deep amber-pink color. A beguiling nose of candied fruit and baking spices that I thought was like fruitcake and Chelsea compared to "walking through a candy shop". The first of several descriptors that were more like a craft cocktail than a wine: singed orange. The mouth is nice: tart cranberry, cherry soda, grenadine, and campari. A nice texture, with a little tannic bite. Still an interesting wine, but we all remembered this as being insanely good on release, and while this was interesting, it would be a shame to have missed that.
  • 2008 Pinot Noir (C): Our second-ever Pinot, from a few rows of vines in our nursery we were using to produce budwood to plant at my dad's property for our Full Circle Pinot. Quite dark for a Pinot. A deep, ripe nose of root beer and figs and black cherry, with a little pine needle savoriness. The mouth is quite rich: chocolate-covered cherry, cola, dates, and sweet baking spices. Not particularly expressive of Pinot -- and to me less interesting than the Full Circle, which comes from a cooler spot -- but a nice rich red wine.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 7% Mourvedre): After several years of bottling under both cork and screwcap, we only bottled under screwcap in 2008. This was terrific: a nose of roasted meat, plum, raspberry, black pepper, and graham cracker. The mouth was vibrant, with beautiful lifted red fruit: cherry and red plum. There are nice dusty tannins. Still young, lively, and without any real signatures of age, and anyone who has some of this is in for a treat. 
  • 2008 Grenache (C): A nice medium-intensity Grenache nose: cherry cola, cocoa powder, and pepper. Like a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry syrup. A powerful mouth, with supple but significant tannins, great cherry fruit, and nice balance. A long finish with sweet spices and ripe fruit. In an excellent place, and carrying its 15.5% alcohol well. Neil commented "that's a wow for me". One of our favorites of the tasting.
  • 2008 Mourvedre (C): A fun contrast to the Grenache, with a nose more structured and savory: meaty, eucalyptus and garrigue around currant and chocolate. The mouth is medium weight, with more currant fruit and still some pretty big, dusty tannins.  It was a nice example of why Mourvedre and Grenache make such good partners: Mourvedre's austerity is opened up by Grenache's exuberance, while at the same time taming Grenache's tendency toward booziness.
  • 2008 Syrah (C): A different color palette than the Grenache and Mourvedre: all black on the nose, like blackberry, black olive, iodine, black pepper, and baker's chocolate. The mouth shows cool-climate syrah's austerity, with a minty, minerally, meaty darkness, tannins that are still just starting to resolve, and a mouth-filling character that suggests some additional time in bottle will be rewarded. Our best guess: wait another 5 years for peak.
  • 2008 Tannat (C): Also very dark: pine forest, soy, and dark chocolate. The mouth is comparatively friendly, with a sweet attack of milk chocolate, nice grapey purple fruit, a little violet floral lift, and tangy acidity that keeps everything lively. Then lots (lots!) of tannins come out on the finish, with a raspberry preserves note.  Fun to taste, at this stage more appealing, I thought, than the Syrah, but clearly capable of going another decade or more.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 38% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 6% Counoise): Lovely on the nose, tending more toward red than black, but with aspects of each: red currant, new leather, baking spices, balsamic glaze, and a minty garrigue-like savoriness. The mouth is luscious: strawberry preserves, milk chocolate, rare steak, tangy acidity, and really nice, persistent tannins. Elegant and in a good place, with plenty more development to come.
  • 2008 Panoplie (C; 54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): A nose of density and power: balsamic cherry glaze, meat drippings, and wild herbs, with more of Mourvedre's characteristic restraint than Grenache's exuberance. The palate was more luscious: dark red fruit, chocolate, raspberry preserves, dried cranberry, and big but ripe tannins. Very long. A little dustiness that comes out on the finish and the still-thick texture suggests that there are more layers to emerge with additional time in bottle.  Still, a very nice showing for the Panoplie, and an impressive wine.

A few concluding thoughts

I was very happy, overall, with how the wines showed.  I didn't have as clear an impression of 2008 in my mind as I did for the vintages surrounding it, perhaps because the character of the wines wasn't as dominated by the vintage signature as it was in, say, 2007, but also perhaps because the year was overshadowed by the massively powerful vintages on either side. That said, the wines were nearly all in good shape at age 10, and the year's elegance meant that there were more wines that I would want to drink at this stage than I found in 2007. The whites, in particular, were as a group the most impressive we've found in our five-year history of horizontal retrospectives, and presaged, I think, a shift toward the more elegant style that we prefer today.

Nearly all of the wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and particularly so with wines that have been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that all our older screwcapped whites have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant would have been welcome.

This tasting was yet another data point for me suggesting that Syrah really needs time, and yet its value in a blend.  This 2008 Syrah was still, I thought, too young, but the structure and austerity of the Syrah component gave the Esprit red and Panoplie a feeling of balance and restraint that were really valuable. We choose to harvest our estate Syrah at ripeness levels where it has good structural elements, because that's where it's most valuable when blended with Grenache and Syrah.  That's likely a few weeks earlier than we would if we were focusing on the wine as a varietal bottling, and I'm OK with the tradeoff of having to wait a few extra years for our varietal Syrahs to come around.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 11th Horizontal Tasting: Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Esprit, Panoplie, and Tannat. There are still some seats available; I hope many of you will join us!


Checking in on our first ever Tablas Creek red: the 1997 Rouge

In the early days of Tablas Creek, we followed a very simple model: one red wine (which we called "Rouge") and one white wine (which we called "Blanc").  In 1999, we got really crazy and added a pink wine, which we called (of course) "Rosé".

Things have changed since then, as we've come to know both our vineyard and the market better, and this year we'll bottle, by my count, 29 different wines: 13 reds, 13 whites, 2 rosés, and one sweet wine.  These include our three tiers of blends, a pretty wide range of varietal wines, particularly on the white side (thank you, rainy 2016-17 winter), some small-production wine club-only blends, and one special project we're doing in conjunction with the team at Bern's Steakhouse.  I'm grateful to have the flexibility and opportunity to make these different wines, which I feel show off the uniqueness of our grapes and the talent of our vineyard and winemaking team.

That said, when we get to the blending, Neil and I always look at each other and remark that it used to all be so easy: as long as we liked the lots, they all went to the same place.

So, it was with a mix of nostalgia and anticipation that I opened a bottle of our 1997 Rouge while I was back in Vermont for the holidays.  This was where it all began, and it was not just the reflection, or the essence, of the vineyard that year, but the entirety of our red production.  Even so, we only made about 2000 cases.  It was the first harvest off the Beaucastel cuttings we had brought into the country, as they were kept in quarantine between 1989 and 1992, and then required two years of propagation before we could plant our first block in 1994. To this, we added small amounts of fruit from our American-sourced one-acre blocks of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, most of which we have since grafted over to French clones.  And even these older blocks were only planted in 1992, so the oldest vines in the vineyard were five years old in 1997.

Jason decants 3

Given the youth of the vineyard, it was very much to our surprise that the 1997 Rouge ended up in Wine & Spirits Magazine's "100 Best Wines of 2000", receiving 94 points and the following notes:

"The scent of this wine draws you in, then the texture holds you effortlessly. What’s great about this Rhône blend, however, is not just the deep, dark scent of dried cherries and wet stones, not just the succulent red fruit flavor and voluptuous feel. When it’s gone it leaves a memory of earthiness and a clean, refreshing taste. The wine isn’t about complexity. It focuses on perfect ripeness, and the delicious savory flavors and textures that come with such impeccably balanced grapes. A joy to drink. This is the first release from Tablas Creek, a joint venture between Château de Beaucastel’s Perrin family and their longtime importer Robert Haas."

Because it was so long ago, because we no longer make a "Rouge", and because there wasn't much of the wine to begin with, I don't get to open the 1997 Rouge all that often.  So, it was a treat to see that, even as it approaches its 21st birthday, it's still going strong.

Jason decants 2

My notes from the dinner:

"A deep, rich nose of hoisin, pine forest, currant, green peppercorn, nutmeg, and a coolness that's surprising from such a warm vintage. The mouth is full of sweet fruit: red raspberry and cocoa powder, and a rich texture with tannins that feel like powdered sugar. A little mushroomy earthiness is the wine's best hint of its age.  Shows nice tanginess on the finish and some still-substantial tannins that linger.  Fully mature, but nowhere close to over the hill."

 What a relief that it's finally old enough to drink.


We celebrate the holidays with a vertical tasting of 16 vintages of Esprit Blanc

The holidays are a time of year when many of us reach back into our wine libraries to pick out a special vintage we've been saving for just the right moment.  We keep our vintage chart updated for exactly these sorts of inquiries.  But while there are some wines that we open fairly regularly, there are others that come across our tables more rarely.  And so we try periodically to choose a wine and taste through every vintage of that wine, in order to assess how each wine is tasting now, should someone inquire, but just as much to track the arc of development of each vintage and to step back and take a big picture look at how our thinking about that particular wine has evolved.

So, with that in mind, I decided to get our cellar team together and open all the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and Esprit de Tablas Blanc wines we've made, from the debut vintage in 2001 to the 2016 that we just bottled last week and won't release for another 10 months.  It made for quite a kickoff to the holidays:

Esprit Blanc vertical Dec 2017

Now many people don't think about aging their white wines.  But Roussanne has a remarkable ability to maintain its freshness while also developing interesting secondary flavors, and the Chateau de Beaucastel white wines are some of the world's most ageworthy whites.  The Esprit Blanc, modeled after the Beaucastel Blanc and predominantly Roussanne, is no different.  Joining me for this tasting were Winemaker Neil Collins, Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm, Cellar Master Brad Ely, Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg, and Assistant Tasting Room Manager Charlie Chester.  My notes on the wines are below.  If you want detailed technical information, professional reviews, or our tasting notes from when the wines were first released, I've linked each wine to its page on our Web site:

  • 2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (44% Roussanne, 22% Viognier, 18% Grenache Blanc, 16% Marsanne): As it has been the last several times I've opened this, just a revelation at age 16. On the nose, still so fresh: minty Bit-o-Honey, with richer flavors of pie crust but no apparent oxidation. On the palate, vibrant, with well integrated acidity, and flavors of honeydew melon deepening to marzipan on the finish. Craig commented, "for a 2001, this is just crazy". And Neil added "it's wines like this that are why, when people ask me how long a wine will age I have to answer that I have no idea. I never thought it would go this long."  Just lovely.
  • 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Viognier): The nose shows more age (or perhaps its higher Roussanne content) than the 2001, with aromas of almond brittle, candied orange peel, and brioche.  On the palate, all our descriptors were sweet, though the wine is not: liquified cracker jacks, creme caramel, and vanilla custard. There is some noteworthy structure, almost a tannic feel, and chalky minerality that provides relief from the mouth-coating texture and rich flavors. The wine got fresher as it sat in the glass, and the finish of apple pie spices was my favorite part.  Still, the wine's density and power were its defining characteristics.
  • 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (68% Roussanne, 27% Grenache Blanc, 5% Viognier): On the nose, butterscotch, clove-studded orange, fennel, and a little cedary spice that I thought came from some well-integrated oak. The mouth is livelier than the nose suggested: toasted marshmallow, white tea, and salty minerality.  Quite chalky, with a little pithy bite on the finish.  A first bottle that we opened was more linear, with a matchsticky sharpness that seemed less appealing.  A good reminder that even non-cork-tainted bottles can expect a fair degree of variation at age 14.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): The first year that we included Picpoul in the blend (see my note at the end) and Neil immediately commented that "it smells like what we now do".  There was a cool lychee minty savoriness on the nose, over beeswax and white flowers.  On the palate, preserved lemon (from the Picpoul?), clementine orange, and a steely minerality that led to a precise finish of sea spray and spice.  This made us all want food, and the table was debating between dover sole, halibut piccata, and soft-shell crab when I moved us along to the 2005.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): Powerfully Roussanne on the nose with burnt honey, green tea, mint julep, and some cedary oak. The mouth was quite ripe, with flavors of apricot tart set off by some pithy Grenache Blanc tannins and surprisingly bright acids that felt a touch out of keeping with the rest of the wine's personality.  Tons of power, but maybe not 100% resolved into what it will be at maturity. 
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A pretty, striking, youthful nose that reminded me of Chablis and Chelsea of Riesling: wet rocks, fresh pear, spruce forest and fresh herbs that Chelsea insisted were lemon thyme. The mouth was more youthful and more open than any of the vintages 2002-2005, with flavors of grilled pineapple, spun sugar, vanilla bean, and a lovely salty minerality that came out on the finish. Gorgeous and integrated.  Pretty clearly our favorite of the older vintages.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): The nose's tangy pungency reminded us of '02 or '05, with a little more age evident than the 2006: candied orange peel, cedar, a little mentholy lift, and a dense fruit, not altogether sweet, that Chelsea nailed as pineapple core.  On the palate, very rich and round, but with nicely integrated acidity to pull it through and a salty beurre blanc character that came out on the finish.  I thought the wine was begging for lobster: something unapologetically rich.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Banc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A different wine on the nose than any we'd seen before, so fruity that a couple of people commented that they'd have called it Viognier in a blind tasting: peaches in syrup, with complicating flavors of tarragon, lemongrass, and Bartlett pear.  The mouth is similar, though less exuberant, with flavors of apricot and key lime, medium body, and nice balance, with a briny salinity coming out on the finish.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (62% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 12% Picpoul Blanc): A dense nose on which cedary spice was the most dominant element, not particularly friendly, but impressive. On the palate, some surprisingly red fruit descriptors: red apple skin and strawberry, with spicy lacquer and maple sap elements, and a smoky acidity that reminded me of grilled lemon.  More power than subtlety, at least right now.  The last of a sequence of wines that had a similar character that went from '02 to '05 to '07 to '09, all our most powerful vintages of the 2000's. 
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (60% Roussanne, 35% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A nose that manages to be bright and luscious at the same time: maple candy, sea spray, juniper, lychee, and honeysuckle.  The palate is soft and creamy, gentle compared to the 2009, like orange blossom honey with clementine notes.  Pretty and less evident structure than most of the earlier vintages, but with all of the pieces in balance.  Butterscotch comes out on the long finish.  I thought it a crowd pleaser; Neil thought it a little low-acid for his taste.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): A nose like the beach, with cocoa butter and sea spray. Brad compared it to Condrieu for its leanness yet its promise of power. On the palate, more savory than any other wine in the tasting, showing the effects of our coolest-ever vintage, with flavors of grilled lemon and flint and beeswax, yet with tons of texture and a finish of mineral and pear skin.  Not an easy wine, but one we all kept coming back to.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A nose like honeycomb, with additional aromas of baked apples, graham cracker, and a little sweet spearmint. The mouth is lush and creamy, youthful, with flavors of honeycrisp apple and just enough saline to keep it savory.  Gorgeous, balanced, and pure.  Chelsea commented that "if you don't want Champagne, this is your New Year's Eve wine."
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (71% Roussanne, 21% Grenache Blanc, 8% Picpoul Blanc): A sweet resiny character on the powerful nose that broadens into lychee, crystallized pineapple and vanilla bean, with savory notes of dried sage and alpine forest.  The mouth is rich but savory, with flavors of salted caramel and preserved lemon, a cool, minty lift, and a finish that features sea salt, sweet herbs, and crystallized ginger. Gorgeous now, and a wine that we all thought would be fascinating to watch evolve.  On the balance, and amidst strong competition, our favorite of the younger wines.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (72% Roussanne, 23% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): An explosively appealing nose with aromas of yellow peach, candied oranges, citrus blossom honey, vanilla custard, and pie spices. The mouth is structured but with an underlying note of sweet fruit, like orange creamsicle with a spearmint kick. The most floral of all the wines we tasted, with a beautiful jasmine note coming out on the long finish.  A close second to the 2013 among the young wines.
  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (55% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 17% Picpoul Blanc): Neil's first comment was that he was "running out of honey descriptors". And yes, even in its youth, the 2015 showed a smoky honey character, as well as kiwi and passion fruit and newly split firewood.  The mouth was less dramatic than the nose, pretty and savory and textural, some caramel and apple notes, and a drier finish of apple skin, beeswax, and briny minerality.  Still deepening, and as pretty as it is right now, we all thought it would be better yet with another six months in bottle.
  • 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (75% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc): Just bottled last week, so our expectations were modest, but the wine already showed nicely, with a classically Roussanne nose of baklava, vanilla custard, Haribo peaches and sweet oak.  Clean and tangy on the palate, with a little salted pineapple and a yeasty character that reminded me of rising bread.  Still a baby, but should be lovely when it gets to its release in a little less than a year.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The overall quality of the wines was exceptionally high.  I asked everyone around the table to pick three favorites, and the wines that got multiple votes were 2001 (2), 2006 (5), 2010 (2), 2012 (3), 2013 (4), and 2014 (2).  But there wasn't a single wine here that we thought people would be disappointed by if they opened it right now.  And I don't think, even with all of Roussanne's famous idiosyncrasy, that a single one of the vintages was is in a "closed" phase.  Yes, the wines change and evolve, and it's possible that you will prefer the wines old to young, or vice versa.  But they were all, we thought, showing well.
  • We are often asked, if we love Roussanne so much, why our flagship white wine isn't a 100% Roussanne.  The wines that we liked showed why, I think.  The vintages that were the most densely characteristic of Roussanne (2002, 2005, 2007, 2009) didn't receive many votes, as we found them a little one-dimensional, for all their power.  The lift that came from the Grenache Blanc and Picpoul were welcome counterpoints to the Roussanne power and density.
  • I still remember vividly the tasting in our lab in 2004 where we made the decision to switch from getting a little floral lift with Viognier to getting the same lift -- plus a lemony saline focus -- from Picpoul.  Tasting the blend, identical except for the 5% substitution of Picpoul for Viognier, was like cleaning your glasses when they are badly smudged.  You didn't realize how much more in focus the world could be, until it was.  And that lemony, briny thread that all the subsequent wines have is, I think, thanks to the addition of between 5% and 17% Picpoul.  Its contribution has been remarkable.
  • I very much like the direction the wines have moved in since 2010. Driven in part by what we learned in the cool vintages of 2010 and 2011, we have been picking our whites less ripe in recent years, and yet they show ample density and luscious textures.  But they are less structure-bound, and also show more high notes, with a fresher fruit profile.  More is not always better.
  • Anyone opening one of these wines with a meal over the holidays is in for a treat.  Happy drinking, everyone.

Tasting the Wines for the 2017 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 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. You couldn't pick two more different vintages; 2007 followed our driest winter of the last two decades, which combined with a warm summer to produce blockbuster wines, luscious with plenty of structure and tannin to age. 2011 followed our second consecutive wet winter, and was marked by the effects of a spring frost (reducing yield) and the coldest summer, and latest harvest, in our history. These factors combined to make powerful wines with a persistent coolness to their personality that matched the vintage.

Where the vintages overlap is that each produced wines that benefited from (and in many cases, really needed) a few years in the cellar to show their full potential.  What I found most fun about these wines was that both show the signature of their vintage with crystal clarity. And yet time has, in both cases, made the wines more complete. The 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel spent longer in its closed phase [for more on that, see here] than any other wine we've made: nearly 5 years, opening only gradually over the last year as its tannins softened and the finish lengthened. The 2011 Esprit Blanc was powerful but not very giving in its youth, a wine that impressed more than charmed. Its flavors have opened and deepened, without losing the characteristic spiciness and lift of the vintage.

It's worth noting that this isn't the end; both these wines will go out another decade, at least. The duo:

CE Wines 2017

Tasting notes, from tastings today:

  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc:  Medium gold, only slightly deepened with time. Spicy beeswax Roussanne on the nose, lifted by cool vintage signatures of menthol, tarragon, and crushed rock. The mouth is clean, with a cool dryness taking precedence over flavors that sound -- but aren't at all -- sweet: orange peel, dried pineapple, cream soda, and lots more honey. A cool mintiness and more lemon zest come out on the finish, along with a walnut oil character that is the strongest indication of the wine's time in bottle. Still quite youthful at age six. 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: What a pleasure to see the highest rated Esprit we've ever produced in all its mature glory. A meaty, minty, dense nose: like a leg of lamb roasting with garlic and juniper, with notes of baker's chocolate and crushed rock. On the palate, more dark chocolate, creme de cassis, rich and mouth-coating, with chalky tannins that will help this go out another decade at least. It tastes like a special occasion, and only improved with time open; it will almost certainly be better in another 6 months, and we strongly recommend a decant if you're drinking this in the near term. 44% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 6% Counoise. 

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is pretty stunning, if I may say so myself:

  • 2 bottles of 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel
  • 1 bottle of 2011 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2015 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2013 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2015 En Gobelet
  • 2 bottles of 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2016 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2016 Grenache Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next few weeks. 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.


A Vertical Tasting of Every Vintage of Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Tablas, 2000-2015

Some of the best days at the winery are the days when we open up back vintages of a specific wine, for the dual purposes of better understanding how it ages over time and better advising our fans which vintages to open if they're looking for peak drinking1. Somehow, the last time we'd done this with our flagship Esprit de Tablas/Beaucastel wines was December of 2014. So, it was with significant anticipation that we assembled each vintage of Esprit we've made, from our first (2000) to the 2015 that is going into bottle this week:

Esprit Vertical June 2017

An additional goal of this particular tasting was to choose a selection of Esprits to show at a public retrospective tasting. Fifteen wines would have been too many, but we figure we can pick a representative sample that will give guests a great sense of how the wine develops in bottle, as well as how the vintage affects the wine's composition and flavor profile.  If this sounds like fun, we'll be hosting that tasting on August 27th.  Details are here.

I thought it would be fun to share my notes on each wine. I have linked each vintage to that wine's page on our Web site, if you'd like to see production details or what the tasting notes were at bottling. Note that we didn't make an Esprit red in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage.

  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2000: A meaty, leathery, minty and smoky nose, very appealing, with dark red currant fruit lurking behind. On the palate, consistent with the nose: deep and meaty, with tobacco leaf and dark chocolate savoriness, and lots of texture. Chewy, with enough tannins still to suggest it's nowhere near at the end of its life. This is the best showing I can remember for this wine, and notably improved from that tasting in 2014.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2002: Smells younger and also more powerful than the 2000; menthol and crushed rock and brambles and meat drippings. The mouth is still quite tannic but also shows sweeter fruit than 2000: milk chocolate, plum skin, juniper, and black cherry, with a finish that turns spicy, tangy and floral among grippy tannins. Still on its way up, we thought. We're looking forward to trying it again in a few more years.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2003: An incredibly inviting nose, my favorite of the tasting: toffee and leather and milk chocolate and malt and black cherry. The mouth shows a mix of sweet dark fruit (plum jam, chocolate-covered cherry, figs), nice acids keeping things fresh, and a little minty lift on the finish. The wine is a little less dense than either 2000 or 2002, with tannins that are fully resolved, and I can't imagine this getting any better. Drink up.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2004: On the nose, showing density reminiscent of the 2002: menthol, roasted meat, sage, anise, and red currant. The mouth shows a mix of sweet fruit and big tannins: milk chocolate, dates, and candied orange peel, and a chalky, powdered sugar texture to the tannins that becomes more pronounced on the licorice-laced finish. I get a little alcohol sweetness on that finish, a pastis-like character, that seems heightened by some still substantial tannins. A big wine, with life left.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2005: A very meaty nose, gamy, with tobacco leaf and mint, and pine forest undergrowth. Savory, not fruity. On the palate, all that savoriness is leavened by dark red fruit, tangy acids, and bold but integrated tannins. The finish shows plum skin, black cherry, and an iron-like minerality alongside bold but integrated tannins. Neil's comment was that it was great now but would be even better in 10 years. I thought it on a similar path as the 2000.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2006: Smells less dense and more integrated/evolved (and more refined) than the earlier wines: cassis and mint and cherry candy and malt and meat drippings, with a pretty rose petal note coming out with air. On the palate, beautiful sweet red fruit, but great acids too: rose hips and ripe plums. A minty eucalyptus note comes out on the finish. Beautiful texture: just the right amount of tannin for the fruit, young and supple, and in a great place.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2007: A meaty, minty, dense nose: like a leg of lamb roasting with garlic and juniper, with notes of baker's chocolate and crushed rock. On the palate, more dark chocolate, creme de cassis, rich and mouth-coating, with chalky tannins that will help this go out another decade at least. It tastes like a special occasion. What a pleasure to have this wine out of its closed phase and firing on all cylinders, though it's still a little youthfully thick and blocky. It has plenty of complexity and richness to gain elegance without losing its fruit.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2008: This vintage is in the unenviable position of being squeezed between two blockbusters, but it showed nicely, if quieter than its brethren: a nose of mint and marinating meat and rosemary and soy. The mouth is gently delicious: raspberry and mint chocolate and clean, piney brambles. Seemed very Grenache dominated, with strawberry preserves and baking spices coming out on the finish. Not a dramatic wine, but a very pretty one.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2009: Bold on the nose, spicy and minty with garrigue and raspberry liqueur. The palate is still quite tannic, with plum skin, crushed rock minerality, and both red and black licorice flavors. The wine is showing very youthfully both in its relatively high toned fruit and its tannic structure. I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like when it turns the corner into maturity; my guess is that it will deepen in tone.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2010: A very different nose than the last several, clearly reflective of the cool 2010 vintage: soy and sage, but not much fruit. The palate is almost Nordic in its tone: elderberry and crushed rock and charcuterie and wild herbs. The texture shows nice chalky minerality, and the tannins are modest. I feel like this is still quieted by being in a closed phase, and will get more expressive in the next year or so, but there were several around the table who gave it votes as their favorites. Note that this doesn't mean either of us is wrong.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2011: Love this nose of spicy juniper and blackberry, with deeper notes of chanterelles that I'm guessing will turn meaty with a few more years. On the palate, nice poise and cool dark fruit, but lighter in body than the nose suggested to me. The finish is nicely balanced but shorter than I remember it, with chalky tannins and some lingering dark fruit. I suspect this is entering its closed phase, and will likely become less expressive over the next 6-12 months before reopening sometime next year.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2012: An appealingly brambly nose with both red and black components: soy and spice and plum and menthol and new leather. On the palate, mostly red: tart cherry, red licorice, sweet baking spices. Medium weight, some youthful tannins, good acids.  A baby, still.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2013: Dark on the nose, more like 2010/2011 than 2008/2009/2012, with soy and eucalyptus predominating. Not hugely giving. The mouth is tangy with blackberry fruit and baker's chocolate, black licorice, and good acids. Structural elements come out on the finish, with a spiciness to the tannins that Chelsea pegged as "Mexican hot chocolate". Still very, very young.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2014: So youthful on the nose: like cherry pie (both the fruit and the buttery crust), red licorice, and sweet spice. Beautiful on the palate, with red currant, rhubarb compote, and big, chewy tannins that show the wine's youth. Pure and primary right now, but with an exciting future ahead of it.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2015: At the time that we tasted it, this was about 2 weeks from bottling. A really appealing nose of blackberries in a pine forest. Deep. On the palate, beautiful dark fruit, tobacco leaf, black plum, and soy marinade.  Great structure and weight on the palate, with a finish showing black raspberry, black licorice, and lingering tannins. I am very excited to start showing this to people this fall.

I asked people around the table to offer a few of their favorites, and the wines that got votes included the 2000, 2003, 2006, 2010, and 2015, with the 2003 pretty universally among everyone's top picks.  There were other wines (notably 2005, 2007, and 2014) that got lots of positive comments for their structure and their potential, and which I think will end up in the next round's top picks.

We ended up choosing the following vintages for August's public tasting: 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • These wines really do reward patience. If we have consistently underestimated the wines' ability (and need) to age, I'm sure that most of our customers have. Look at a wine like the 2000: three years ago, I commented that it was the best showing for that wine I'd ever seen. This year's was better yet. Nearly every one of the older wines was better now than it was at the last tasting in 2014. This long aging curve wouldn't be a surprise for Mourvedre-heavy Chateauneuf, and I think we need to be recasting our expectations along those lines.
  • The degree to which the wines showed primarily red fruit vs. primarily black fruit was -- somewhat to my surprise -- not exclusively tied to the relative proportions of Grenache and Syrah.  Sure, some of the wines that show more red fruit than black (like 2006, 2008, and 2014) did have high percentages of Grenache. But others (like 2003 and 2012) didn't. And the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages both show mostly black fruit, despite their high percentage of Grenache. Variety matters, but vintage matters at least as much.
  • The tasting reaffirmed my belief that the 2014 and 2015 vintages are the best back-to-back showing we've had in some time, probably since 06 and 07. Both 2014 and 2015 Esprit de Tablas wines were beautiful examples of how this blend can have power without excess weight, fruit without sappiness, and structure without hardness. Both offer lots of pleasure now, but will age into something remarkable. And each shows its vintage's signature in an expressive way: the warm 2014's generous juiciness, and 2015's alternating cool and hot months in its tension and complexity.
  • Those of you coming out for the tasting in August are in for a treat.

Footnote

  1. We update a vintage chart at least quarterly with the results of these tastings.

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.