A Vertical Tasting of En Gobelet, 2007-2013

When we first made En Gobelet in 2007, it was driven by our feeling that the dry-farmed lots we tasted in our annual blind tastings shared a distinctive character, different from our trellised lots.  In my blog post from 2009 announcing the first vintage, I talked about these dry-farmed lots:

"they seem to share an elegance and a complexity which is different from what we see in the rest of the vineyard. Perhaps it's the areas where they are planted (generally lower-lying, deeper-soil areas). Perhaps it's the age of the vines and a comparative lack of brute power. But, whatever the reason, we believe that these lots show our terroir in a unique and powerful way."

The wine has always been a blend primarily of Grenache and Mourvedre, with a touch of Tannat to cut the perception of sweetness that both the primary grapes can have.  When, starting with the 2010 vintage, we got some head-trained Syrah and Counoise in production, we added those too.  Our largest head-trained block, from which most of our recent vintages have come, is called Scruffy Hill, and we've been interested in exploring how this might fare as a block-designate, so between 2010 and 2013 the core of the En Gobelet was a co-fermented lot from Scruffy Hill, with selective additions from elsewhere on the property.

While it started as a wine we made because we thought we tasted something interesting in the lots, with our increasing focus on dry farming and our plans to plant all 55 acres on our new property dry-farmed, we've also come to see our En Gobelet as an indication of our future.  In celebration, we decided to look back today at the six vintages of En Gobelet we've bottled so far, and I thought it would be fun to share my notes.  The lineup:

En Gobelets

  • 2007 En Gobelet (48% Mourvedre, 47% Grenache, 5% Tannat): The nose is rich, meaty, and still primary, with lots of ripe red fruit and an appealing touch of mint. A touch of alcohol showed at the (nearly room) temperature at which we tasted it.  A slightly caramelized tone to the sweetness of the fruit is the only sign of age. On the palate, it is rich, lush and chocolaty, brought back to earth with firm tannins like coffee grounds at the end of a Turkish coffee. There's a great texture to the finish, with a powdered sugar character to the tannins and lingering flavors of dark plum.
  • [Note that we didn't make an En Gobelet in 2008 because we didn't taste enough distinction between the dry-farmed, head-trained lots and the rest of the cellar.]
  • 2009 En Gobelet (56% Mourvedre, 23% Tannat, 21% Grenache): A remarkably chalky nose, with some menthol and kirsch. On the palate, an initial impression of balsamic-marinated cherries is quickly overtaken by some massive tannins.  The finish is actually gentler than it was in the back-palate, with a creamy minerality and flavors of milk chocolate.  Still very, very young,
  • 2010 En Gobelet (37% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 13% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 10% Tannat): Chelsea's comment, which I agreed with completely, was that this wine "smelled more like Tablas Creek" than the previous two vintages.  There was more fruit in evidence in the nose -- blueberries, we thought -- and a minty, cool, pine forest savoriness characteristic of the 2010 vintage.  The mouth is vibrant with flavors of plum skin, juniper, a creamy, chalky texture and a little saltiness coming out on the finish.  This is really good, and going to get better.  Patience.
  • 2011 En Gobelet (29% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 26% Tannat, 18% Syrah): The most appealing nose yet, dark with soy marinade, wild strawberry, and roasted meat.  The least rustic of the noses, surprising since we'd attributed that character to the Tannat, and at 26% it is the most Tannat we've ever had in the wine.  The mouth is defined by its texture more than its flavors: creamy, chalky, savory and salty.  The flavors of loam and new leather linger on the finish.  My favorite wine of the tasting, for right now, and it's clearly got a long, interesting life ahead.
  • 2012 En Gobelet (63% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 11% Syrah, 8% Counoise, 6% Tannat): Notably lighter in color, unsurprising given the predominance of Grenache in 2012.  It smells like Grenache, too, with red cherry, watermelon rind, orange peel and baking spices. There's something deeper lurking on the nose, too, with time: like a clove-studded orange and baker's chocolate. The mouth is full of high-toned fruit, lots of fresh strawberry, then firming up and turning darker on the finish, with a salty marinade character and something leafy. Not quite minty.  Maybe shiso? Complex and cohesive, if still young.
  • 2013 En Gobelet (34% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, 19% Syrah, 11% Counoise, 5% Tannat): Just bottled a few weeks ago, and the nose still shows some shyness from that, but the aromas of mint, cherry, strawberry and soy come out with time. The mouth is richer than the 2012, but similarly cohesive and complex, with red fruit held in check by something herby.  Maybe thyme? Lots of pepper, too, which Chelsea nailed as pink peppercorn.  Nice acids and some youthful tannins.  Obviously young, but going to a good place.  Will go out this fall to wine club members.

A few concluding thoughts:

We preferred the more recent vintages to the first couple of years.  There are several reasons why this might be the case.  The vines were older, with deeper roots.  Starting in 2010 we were sourcing the majority of the wine from the hillside vineyards of Scruffy hill rather than the low-lying areas that had formerly been rootstock fields.  The more recent vintages include Syrah and (in most cases) Counoise, which add a coolness and a vibrancy to the wines.  But in tasting the wines now, I think it might be ripeness as much as any of the other factors.  The first two vintages come across as a little over the top. At 15% and 14.5% alcohol respectively, the 2007 and 2009 were higher in alcohol than the 2011 (13.9%), 2012 (14.2%) and 2013 (14.0%).  The relative restraint of the recent vintages seems to play well with the dark savoriness of the wine.  Of course, the 2010, which was also 14.5%, tastes more like the later vintages than the earlier ones.

Despite the evolution in style and the often-varied compositions, there were recognizable currents that ran through all the wines.  The wines were all more savory than fruity, perhaps because of the Tannat component.  They all had a chalky texture and a salty finish, perhaps because of the necessarily deep root systems of all dry-farmed vines.  And they all felt like they could go out another decade easily, still fresh and vibrant even at the first vintages.

If this is what our future looks like, I'll take it.


A Retrospective Tasting of Every Wine from the 2005 Vintage

Last year, we began what I hope will become an annual tradition: looking back as each year begins on the vintage from ten years previous.  Doing so encourages us to open wines that we wouldn't otherwise open with a decade of age, and gives a wide-ranging perspective on the vintage as a whole and how it has developed over time.  It also allows us to choose a representative and compelling subset of the lineup for the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 28th.

A few years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for the launch of our redesigned Web site, I wrote this about the 2005 vintage:

The 2005 vintage was one of nature's lucky breaks, with excellent quality and higher-than-normal yields. The wet winter of '04-'05 gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and a warm period in March got the vines off to an early May flowering. The summer was uniformly sunny but relatively cool, and harvest began (relatively late for us) in the 3rd week of September, giving the grapes nearly a month longer than normal on the vine. The resulting wines, both red and white were intensely mineral, with good structure and powerful aromatics.  Red wines have big but ripe tannins that reward cellaring.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the red wines have softened, or would they still show the brawniness that characterized them in their youth?  Would the whites have retained their freshness in what was a fairly ripe vintage, overall? And would the sweet wines, which I found disappointing in last year's retrospective, show better?

In 2005, we made 20 different wines: 9 whites, 1 rosé, 7 reds, and 3 sweet wines.  But on Friday, we tasted 21 different wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2005 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. The lineup:

2005 retrospective

My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling. For some reason, we never made Web pages for 2005 Viognier or 2005 Bergeron. I'm sorry about that; if you have a technical question; leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

  • 2005 Vermentino (SC): An immediately appealing nose, both fresh and minerally, with lemon oil, rocks, and just a hint of nuttiness from age. It opened up increasingly with time in the glass, showing richer flavors of graham cracker, fennel, and preserved lemon. Its long finish was clean, with vibrant acids. Didn't nearly taste a decade old, or show any hint of its 14.5% alcohol.
  • 2005 Picpoul Blanc (SC): Golden in color, notably moreso than the Vermentino. The nose was richly tropical, with pineapple and wet stone. The palate was both rich and fresh, with peppered citrus, full body and zingy acids. Fun.
  • 2005 Grenache Blanc (SC): A more muted nose than the first two wines, some passion fruit and mineral, a little confected and a touch of scotch tape character I sometimes find in whites aged under screwcap. The palate was excellent, significantly better, I thought, than the nose: rich and viscous, with flavors of pear and marzipan, and great lingering acids at the finish to clean things up. Remarkably little sign of its 15.3% alcohol.
  • 2005 Viognier (SC): An immediately recognizable Viognier nose of apricots, jasmine and orange oil. On the palate, peach syrup and orange creamsicle, marmalade and a touch of saline. Notably less acid than the three previous wines (not surprising for Viognier) with an appealing touch of tannin on the finish. Still very youthful.
  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC): The nose shows Roussanne and Marsanne more than the Viognier: honey, mineral and spicy fruit salad. On the palate, beautifully mid-weight, with a briny, minerally note and building to a mead-like, unctuous finish. 42% Viognier, 33% Roussanne, 19% Marsanne, 6% Grenache Blanc. 13.9% alcohol. I preferred this to the 2004 version, which (at 14.5%) I found a little heavy.
  • 2005 Antithesis (C): Rich and blowsy on the nose: toasted marshmallow, coconut and pineapple, with just a hint of wintergreen providing relief. The mouth is rich, but with good acids too. The oak shows a fingerprint in the texture, without overt flavors. Toasted coconut on the long finish. A nice example of aged Chardonnay from a warm year.
  • 2005 Bergeron (C): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A high-toned yeasty, briochy nose, like aged Champagne that's been allowed to decarbonate, with some ripe apple. The palate is tarter than the nose suggests, more green apple than red, with rich texture but a briny, bright finish. A really interesting interplay between rich and bright, but a more intellectual than hedonistic experience.
  • 2005 Roussanne (C): The nose smelled older to me, perhaps unsurprising given acid's role in preserving wines as they age. Otherwise, not as much showing aromatically as the Bergeron. The mouth is notably rich, with an initial perception of sweet honey, then firming up on the finish, which shows a hint of tannin. Perhaps in an in-between phase; I'd hold this rather than drinking it now.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C): The nose is exuberantly and vibrantly fresh, with mint, fennel, apricot and white flower notes. The mouth is spectacular: rich and long, clean, with sweet elements of honeycomb and candied orange peel, but totally dry, finishing with ripe, crisp apple and mineral notes lingering on the long finish. Perhaps the wine of the tasting, for me. 70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc.
  • 2005 Rosé (SC): A deep salmon-pink color. The nose shows wild strawberries. The mouth is fruity and rich, some signs of age in the deepening of flavors, but still very much alive. A touch of pithy tannin on the finish. More a food wine than a quaffer now; we were fantasizing about pairing it with squab or charcuterie.
  • 2005 Counoise (SC): A fascinatingly wild, fruity nose, with fresh raspberry and freeze-dried strawberry notes and a meaty, gamy character too, like roasted duck. Pretty on the palate, relatively light-bodied but with excellent complexity. The finish showed raspberry, baking spices and earth, with vibrant acids, some good tannins still, and tons of life left. Confirms my thoughts that on its own, Counoise is more akin to a cru Beaujolais than anything else from the Rhone.
  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas (SC): Under screwcap, a bright, clean nose of peppered plum, youthful and fresh. The flavors were medium-bodied, a touch smoky, with baking spices and good acids. Tasted like a 3-year-old wine. 43% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 15% Counoise.
  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas (C): Under cork, the same wine tasted totally different. A deeper, less fruity nose, more coffee, mocha and fig. On the palate, deeper, chewier, more tannic and older: tasted fully mature, with less life left but more depth. Like a 10-year-old wine.
  • 2005 Mourvedre (C): Tangy and winey on the nose, with iron and plum, and chalky minerals. Like rare steak that's been marinating. On the palate, rich and still quite tannic, with a cooling bay leaf and minty note for relief. On the finish, a licoricey limestone note added to the complexity.  Still lots of life left, and a beautiful showing for this wine.
  • 2005 Syrah (C): The nose is meaty, leathery, rich and dense, with dark chocolate and black cherry. Still big tannins and quite chewy. We all thought it still too young, with the alcohol (only 14.5%) not quite integrated and showing more power than finesse. That said, with a grilled rib-eye, it would make quite a showy partner.
  • 2005 Tannat (C): A bright-dark contrast on the nose, with minty blackberry and incense notes. The mouth is quite lovely, readier to drink than the Syrah, with mint chocolate and patchouli notes. A beautiful long finish with ripe tannins that suggest the wine will go another decade effortlessly.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel (C): Shows aspects of both Mourvedre and Syrah, with a deep, meaty, leathery nose, with a hint of bay providing aromatic lift. The mouth is generous, with a clarity that neither of the two varietal wines showed, and brighter acids than either that highlight the fruit in an appealing way. I have to think that this luminous character comes from the Grenache component, and found it fascinating. Still some substantial tannins, and the wine should go out another decade happily. Another of my wines of the tasting. 44% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Counoise.
  • 2005 Panoplie (C): A chocolate-cherry nose, rich and ripe. The palate was thicker than the Esprit red, with milk chocolate and super-ripe dark red fruit. Very rich texture that someone described as caramelly, and a finish of liqueur and chocolate. Still young.
  • 2005 Vin de Paille (C): An amazing luminous amber color and an explosive nose of orange marmalade and white flowers. The mouth showed still quite young, with a rich texture, egg custard flavors and ripe apricot. For all its weight, it showed great acids on the finish. 34% Roussanne, 29% Grenache Blanc, 24% Viognier, 13% Marsanne.
  • 2005 Vin de Paille Quintessence (C): Even more amber in color than the first Vin de Paille, with a deeper nose of almond brittle and apricots in syrup. The mouth is sweeter: vanilla creme caramel with its signature burnt sugar character. Rich, decadent and absolutely luscious. 100% Roussanne.
  • 2005 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C): Compared to the two white vin de paille wines, the nose is savory, a tangy plum and cocoa powder. The mouth is sweet but less so than the whites, raspberry coulis, cocoa and tangy marinade. Long finish. 100% Mourvedre.

A few concluding thoughts

I was happier, overall, with how the wines showed than I was with the 2004's last year. That's probably indicative of the strength of the vintage, which was overall a great one (2004, by contrast, was probably more good than great). Of all the wines that we tasted, there wasn't a single one that tasted over the hill to me, and only a couple (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne) that I found only so-so.

I was thrilled that my favorite white and red were in both cases the Esprits. This showed clearly to me the value of blending, with the flavors of each varietal highlighted and focused by the additions of the other grapes. It wasn't that these wines were the biggest or the most powerful; instead, they were the most complete and the most complex, with the best clarity and persistence. Exactly what we'd want our signature wines to be.

The cork/screwcap contrast on the Cotes de Tablas was really fascinating, and provoked the most discussion around the table. We split nearly evenly as to which we preferred, with some people opting for the depth and weight of the cork finish and other choosing the clarity and vibrancy of the screwcap finish. In earlier tastings, we'd seen more consensus around the cork finish, which spurred me to go back and re-read my blog post Bottle Variation, Very Old Wines and the Cork/Screwcap Dilemma from 2008. In it, I examine a presentation from Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm in which he posits that most wines, in the long run, probably do benefit from screwcap's protection from oxidation.  The more I learn, the more I think he's right, with one important caveat: that most red wines aren't aged long enough in bottle to get to the point at which the freshness preserved outweighs the depth lost. This tasting provided another data point: perhaps, out 10 years, is where the two meet, at least on this wine.

Finally, we chose what I think will be a pretty fun list of wines for the February 28th Horizontal Tasting: Vermentino, Viognier, Esprit Blanc, Counoise, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Cotes de Tablas (cork), Mourvedre, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille. I hope many of you will join us!


Our most memorable wines of 2014

I asked some key members of the Tablas Creek team what their most memorable wines were of the last year, and loved the responses.  From my dad's:

Rzh wines of the year

Here's everyone's response, in their own words, in alphabetical order:

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker: 1964 Chateau Lafite
There is no question here for me. A few days before Marci's birthday I dropped this bottle off with Ian Adamo, the sommelier at Bistro Laurent, so he might care for and serve it properly. After wondering at the beauty of a 1976 Breton Chinon the wine in question was poured for the table, blind. The general consensus was that it was a French wine, perhaps a Bordeaux, some age but not as old as the Chinon. Revealed, it was a stunning Chateau Lafite 1964! Vibrant rich and far from over. Might put that one down not just for the year but for the decade!

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager: 2012 Le Puy Rolland Vieilles Vignes Chateauneuf-du-Pape 
My WOTY is the 2012 Le Puy Rolland Vieilles Vignes Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The day I attended the inaugural A7 Rhone event here in Paso, the family behind Font du Loup did a presentation and tasting of four of their wines. This 100% Grenache from 65 year old vines in a cooler sector of CdP floored the room with its purity,  savory and sweet aromatics and flavors, and the raspberry and spice speckled finish. Winemakers in attendance were raising their arms, asking for production information (fermented and aged in concrete), and scribbling down these insider secrets. This reminded me that Grenache from the right spots can be every bit as compelling as the Pinot Noir, if not more so.

Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room: 2013 Tablas Creek Dianthus
I had many memorable wines this year but nothing beats the Tablas Creek 2013 Dianthus Rosé I poured for my friends on the first day of summer day at my new home in Paso. The bright pink color, the freshness on my palate and the crisp dry finish brought me back instantly to the hot summer days I spent in Cassis. I paired it with my own homemade olives and a pissaladière.  It was deliciously perfect!

Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker: 2003 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon
Looking back on another exceptional year, it’s exceedingly difficult to nail down my favorite wine amidst the excitement of experience that was 2014.  From a fun little foray to Sonoma wine country at the start of the year, to drinking my way through Portugal with a group of winemakers, to making frequent trips to the Wine Connection wine shop while my husband and I were in Thailand, there were a lot of wines worth remembering.  Even with all those wonderful wines enjoyed in fabulous locations, I think the most special wine of my year was savored on December 26th with my husband and my family.  For dinner, we took a snowcat up to the mid-mountain lodge at Mammoth Mountain and brought along a bottle of 2003 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon that had been purchased when my parents took me to Napa in celebration of my 21st birthday.  It was beautiful and robust and everything I want in a Napa Cabernet.  But more than that, it was a special bottle from a special experience, shared with those I love while creating more wonderful memories.  To me, that’s what wine is all about.

Huet vouvrayLevi Glenn, Viticulturist: 2011 Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Vouvray Sec
This wine is not the best I had this year, it's the most memorable. I've never had a wine from this producer that wasn't anything but exceptional. This proves to me the quality of a great house, even in an unheralded year. While it was drunk at least a decade too young, it showed the potential of an outstanding wine. Made from Chenin Blanc, the wine showed cut, precision, and just a glimmer of the weight it will gain with age. Few producers never seem to swing and miss, and this is one of them.

Robert Haas, Founder: Dominus, Pine Ridge, Tablas Creek, Trapet & Ponsot 
I always have trouble selecting my "favorite" wine, except maybe my favorite wine of the day.  I can usually make that decision.

So I selected several wines that particularly struck me by their individuality over this past year.  Four of them are pictured [at the top of the article] but one, the Clos de la Roche 1976, is gone from my cellar.  Too bad.
 
I loved both the Dominus 1996 and the Pine Ridge 1984 as true to type examples of their generations from Napa.  The Pine Ridge was a great Cabernet, stylish, intense and perfectly at ease, mature and superbly drinkable at its 13% alcohol.  The Dominus, at 14.1%, to me represented a transition toward the higher pH, more extracted wines that we are seeing today.  However, I enjoyed its richness, intensity, and savory character that I am not finding in most of today's Napa cabs.  Perhaps its intriguing rusticity came from its small component of Cabernet Franc?

I have been an advocate the 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc from the very first time I tasted the completed blend after a few months in barrel.  It has terrific intensity, fine acid and a full palate of ripe melon, citrus and minerality.  It has all the elements of a wine that will mature and age beautifully.  I did not have a bottle here to photograph, but I also was intrigued by our En Gobelet 2012 just a few nights ago.  It had all the "garrigue" of Mediterranean vineyards of France in the nose and flavors of dark red fruits and brambles.  Barbara and I ended up drinking the whole bottle over dinner and left feeling that we wanted more.

Two memorable Burgundies of the year were the 1985 Trapet Chambertin and the 1976 Ponsot Clos de la Roche.  Both were beautifully, gracefully aged.  Actually, the Clos de la Roche could still use a few years.  1976 was a very tannic year and those tannins are softening but are still quite evident, along with the wine's strong cassis flavors.  What I particularly love about this wine is its Clos de la Roche-ness.  I think that Clos de la Roche and Clos St. Denis, Morey St. Denis neighbors, are my favorite Grand Crû vineyards in Burgundy.  The Chambertin, consumed with friends, was exquisite.  Just about a perfect Burgundy: deliciously, elegantly mature, still sturdy and rich.  It was all that could be expected of this fabled vineyard of the Côte de Nuits.

Sylvia Montague, Assistant Tasting Room Manager: 1996 Vineyard Drive Marsanne
1996 “Vineyard Drive” Marsanne, opened last week in the tasting room.  I was amazed at the flavors contained in that big, old bottle with the label most of us had not seen until now.  The sweet spice of gumdrops greeted me on the nose and a richness I did not expect filled my mouth before I enjoyed the very satisfying finish.   I am patiently waiting for other surprises from some of my older bottles of Tablas Creek whites... perhaps I should have asked Santa for an extra dose of patience for Christmas this year.  [Editor's Note: this was a very early effort from our young vineyard, in a year where the Viognier didn't come out successfully. We bottled the Marsanne, the only other white grape we had in production at the time, as a mono-varietal wine under the "Vineyard Drive" name that we used for declassified Tablas Creek a few times in the 90's. I was just as surprised as Sylvia at how well the wine had aged and how interesting it had become.]

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager: 2009 Les Vieux Clos Savennières by Nicolas Joly
During my annual visit to Seattle this summer, I was lucky enough to be invited to an old friend’s house to see her new wine cellar.   Her focus, interestingly enough, is whites from the Jura and the Loire Valley.  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in suggesting she may be the only person in the world with such a focus.  We tasted a number of interesting wines, but the one I’ll never forget is a 2009 Les Vieux Clos Savennières by Nicolas Joly.   I’ve had a number of Chenin Blancs from the Loire, including one or two Savennières, but I’d never had the opportunity to sample one by Joly, the most prominent producer in the region.  This wine was breathtaking!  I think its beauty was amplified by the simple, no-fuss setting, tasting in a cellar with nothing but a few good bottles, an unadorned table and chair, and a good friend.

Deanna Ryan, Tasting Room Team Lead: 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
Well, being the enthusiastic Roussanne  fan that I am, I would have to say our 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc hit the spot for me. With 75% beautiful Roussanne in there, who could wish for more. Because of its rich roundness, balanced perfectly with the necessary acidity and minerality, I find it extremely versatile with a myriad of different food items.  Can’t wait to open another one!

Ponsot Clos de la Roche 78Me: 1978 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche
As for myself, my most memorable wine this year I had over the summer on our annual pilgrimage back to Vermont with the kids.  One serious benefit of these trips is the chance to prowl around my dad's cellar (with his help, of course) and dig into some of the treats that have been aging quietly there for, in some cases, longer than I've been alive.  In a trip full of great wines, the one that stood out for me was a bottle of 1978 Ponsot Clos de la Roche.  Perfectly mature, still rich with fruit but with with the mineral-laced earthy gracefulness of aged Burgundy, it was one of the greatest wines I've ever had.  And the setting, with three generations around the table in the house I grew up in, just made the experience that much better.

A few concluding thoughts:
As you might expect, this was an eclectic list. Some wines are Tablas Creek, but most are not. Many were older, one a full 50 years old, which says that for all the challenges of storing and being patient with wines, the rewards can be marvelous. But the thing that stood out most for me was the extent to which our memories of wines are enhanced by the meaningfulness of the situation in which we open them. As it should be!


A Vertical Tasting of Esprit de Beaucastel & Esprit de Tablas, 2000-2013

Going back through a library of wines is a tremendously useful thing for a winery to do.  It not only gives you a better sense of how the wines from the past have been developing, but also gives you context for judging changes in style and idiosyncrasies of different vintages. It has somehow been four years since our last vertical tasting of our flagship Esprit red wines, in December of 2010.  So, on this rainy afternoon (our third in a row!) and with an eye toward our en primeur tasting this weekend, at which we'll offer futures on our 2013 Esprit and 2013 Panoplie, I suggested we sit down and try to find the 2013 Esprit's place in our history.  Joining me for the tasting were my dad, Winemaker Neil Collins, Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell, National Sales Manager Darren Delmore, and Tasting Room Manager John Morris.  The lineup:

Esprit vertical dec 2014

My notes:

  • 2000 Esprit de Beaucastel: A rich, meaty nose, with leather, pine sap, smoke, nutmeg and cardamom providing a great back-and-forth between savory and sweeter aromas.  Neil's first comment was "wow".  The mouth was rich, with still some big tannins, and flavors of gingerbread, black licorice, black tea and dark cherry.  This was the best showing for this wine that I've ever seen, and while fully mature I agree with Darren's closing comment that "it still has lots of life left".
  • [Note that we didn't make an Esprit in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage]
  • 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very dark in both aromatics and color.  Neil called it "broody".  My dad called it "bloody".  Chelsea summed it up, calling it "rather sinister".  The aromas of dusty earth and black licorice were followed by flavors of blackberry and wood smoke, with big tannins that came out on the long finish.  I think this is still a young wine, and wanted it with a stew.  The wine is almost entirely Mourvedre and Syrah (84% combined, easily our highest ever) and it felt like it.
  • 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel: Aromatically, it split the difference between the two previous wines: spicy and dark like 2002 with a meaty red fruit component like 2000.  Like a dark chocolate covered cherry. The mouth is rich, with sweet fruit, chocolaty tannins, menthol and anise flavors.  It's beautiful, and charming too: my dad called it "a runway wine".
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: A cooler, more self-contained wine than 2003, with aromatics lifted by a pretty violet note, above tangy marinade and meat drippings.  The mouth is integrated and silky, still showing that coolness in a mint chocolate tone.  Tyler called it "silky".  Beautifully precise, deep and harmonious.  My favorite of the older wines. 
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose is wild: meaty and leathery, very robust, with a slightly volatile note at first that blew off.  The mouth was more primary than the nose, with bright red fruit, some front-palate Grenache tannin, and a nice lingering red licorice note.  Still young.   Neil thought that "in 5 years this is going to be fantastic".  Chelsea thought it a "nice wine for the weather".  I thought that if you're drinking this now, it's a good idea to decant it in advance.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel: John commented that compared to the 2005, this wine "just seems so innocent" which to me caught its spirit perfectly.  It's a composed, pretty wine, more savory than flashy, with aromas of cocoa hulls, marinade and mint, a refined palate with licorice and dark red fruit in perfect balance with its ripe tannins, and a long, cool finish.  My dad thought it "has years ahead of it".
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very like the 2005 on the nose, with explosive wild aromatics, lots of leather, dark plum, and a sweet/savory balance that Chelsea called "waffles and graphite".  In the mouth, it was still quite primary, with terrific texture, big tannins, and lots of fruit behind.  My sense was that it's still coming out of a closed phase, and will be better-integrated in 6 months than it is now, but that patience will be rewarded handsomely.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel: This wine was a surprise to me, as the last time I'd tasted it, it was shut down, and I've been suggesting people stay away for a while.  Not any longer.  It had a gorgeous nose of gingerbread, purple fruit and mint, with a little sweet oak behind it.  The mouth is pure, clean, and refined, with milk chocolate.  Of all the wines, it was the most marked by Grenache to me, and showed Grenache's signature purple fruits and refreshing acids on the finish.  As it's 30% Grenache (tied for our highest percentage ever in an Esprit) this probably shouldn't be surprising.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose was closed at this tasting, with a little savoriness coming out with time: smoke, mint and bay leaf.  The mouth is big, powerful and dark, still quite tannic, plum skin and dark chocolate.  Still quite primary and impenetrable.  Chelsea called it "burly and polished" which led us to a fun round of imagining what that would look like.  An NFL linebacker in a tux?  I'd wait on this wine, probably for another few years at least.
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose to me felt familiar and appealing, as this has been one of my favorite Esprits since we first made it.  The aromatics of juniper and Christmas spices were tangy and foresty, savory but inviting.  The flavors of orange peel and clove, red plum and loam were mouth-watering.  The wine's flavors were crystal clear and its finish cool and minty.  Delicious, though it's likely to start shutting down sometime soon.  For now, enjoy.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas: The nose is coolly spicy; I thought of a pine forest in winter. Juniper and menthol, bay and clove, with some fig providing relief to the savoriness.  The mouth is still quite young, with chewy tannins, lots of grip, dark red fruit, and finish of cherry liqueur.  My dad described it as "still very primary", which it was.  Give it some air if you're drinking it now, or wait and reap the rewards in a decade.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas: Chelsea said the nose "smells like autumn" with dried leaf and spicy strawberry.  The mouth is richer than the nose suggests, with vibrant red fruit on the mid-palate, and some pretty sweet spices.  The finish shortens and shows the wine's youth; Tyler commented that it was "like I'm tasting it out of a barrel".  Give it a few more months to fully emerge into its first drinking window.
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas (out of foudre): The nose was rich and dark, with Syrah and its black licorice and chalky minerals at the fore.  The flavors were vibrating between dark (black raspberry and tree bark) and bright (wild strawberry and red cherry) with an appealing salty/sweetness that reminded me of sea salt caramel.  A knockout that John called "confident without being boastful".  Seemed like it was on a track that should take it on a similar trajectory as the 2004.  Should be a treat for everyone on Saturday!

If you aren't familiar with our en primeur program, it's one of the benefits of our VINsider Wine Club.  Members have the opportunity to taste the upcoming releases of our Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie wines out of barrel, the winter before they're bottled, and reserve wine at a futures-only 30% discount.  More information on our en primeur program can be found on our VINsider News page.


A Retrospective Tasting of Tablas Creek Mourvedre 2003-2012

At Tablas Creek we keep a library of every wine we've ever made.  Part of this is because we do get requests for specific older wines, either for educational seminars or dinners, or for the occasional special order for a restaurant interested in something pretty far off the beaten track (think the older Counoise for The Girl & The Fig detailed in Darren Delmore's last blog).  But just as much, we use this library to check in on how our wines are aging and where in their evolution they've reached.  We take this information and incorporate it into our vintage chart, which we hope helps our fans open wines when they're shining, and not when they're awkward.

Some wines have a simple development, from big, tannic and fruity when young, to soft, earthy and complex when old, in a fairly linear way.  Grenache usually follows this predictable pattern.  Mourvedre, however, does not.  It does start out young and juicy, and it does (eventually) end up mellow, meaty and complex, but it's not a linear path to get there.  Wines based on Mourvedre often shut down in middle age, and even once they reopen they can have unexpected personality changes from year to year.

So, it was with interest that earlier this week I opened up every vintage of Mourvedre we've made, to see how our newest wine fits into the continuum, and to see which of the older vintages are shining particularly now. The lineup:

Mourvedre vertical

The tasting notes (note that I've linked each wine to its detail page on our Web site, if you want production notes or more background on the vintage):

  • 2003 Mourvedre: Red fruit, menthol and dusty plum on the nose.  On the palate, very warm and appealing, with milk chocolate and cherry, baking spices and mellow tannins.  Long finish.  Really lovely, and still quite young tasting... hard to believe this was 11 years old.
  • 2004 Mourvedre: Much older smelling, less fruity, with leather and animal, mint, and a little briary red fruit.  In the mouth, saddle leather and cherry skin, loam and truffles.  Still some good tannins.  I'm not sure at this point if it would benefit from some more time or if it's nearing the end of its life, but I found it interesting more than pleasurable right now.
  • 2005 Mourvedre: Dark chocolate and blackberry in the deep, inviting nose.  The mouth is rich with sweet fruit, and like many of our 2005's still has some pretty big tannins, though they have the powdered sugar character that we associate with the really top vintages.  Feels impacted by the 10% Syrah we added in this and the next two vintages, and in tasting it now I think it may have made for a better, bigger wine but that the impact on the expressiveness of the Mourvedre fruit might be a larger cost than we're willing to pay.  I'd decant this if drinking it now, or wait another few years.
  • 2006 Mourvedre: Very winey on the nose, like balsamic-drizzled red fruit and some menthol.  The mouth is really pretty, mid-weight, with mint chocolate and brambles, and a clean, somewhat short finish.  Can't taste (or feel) the Syrah at all.  I'd drink this one sooner than later.
  • 2007 Mourvedre: Rich and powerful on the nose, like '05 with an extra level of plushness: roasted meat with aromatic herbs and crushed berries. The mouth has loads of sweet black cherry fruit, cocoa, and a mineral chalkiness on the finish.  It's lovely... probably the most impressive vintage of the lineup, and drinking great now but will go out another decade.
  • 2008 Mourvedre: 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.
  • (We didn't make a varietal Mourvedre in the drought- and frost-reduced 2009 vintage)
  • 2010 Mourvedre: Showing crystal purity in the Mourvedre aromatics of roasted meat, wild strawberry, orange peel, pepper and mint.  The mouth is beautiful: mid-weight 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.
  • 2011 Mourvedre: A nose dominated by non-fruit elements, like many 2011's, with cedar, wintergreen, coffee and (eventually) some dark plum.  The mouth is dark chocolate, black licorice and aromatic herbs, with fairly big tannins coming out on the clean finish.  If you wait on this, you'll be rewarded, and if you're drinking it now, a decant is strongly recommended.
  • 2012 Mourvedre: Quite a vibrant high-toned nose, notably different from any of the previous wines.  Showing spruce, new leather, tangerine and red cherry on the nose.  The mouth is gorgeous, with vibrant red/orange fruit (think cherry jolly rancher, but more natural), great acids, and a long, mouth-watering finish.  I'm really interested to see where this wine goes, and it makes excellent if unexpected drinking now.

A few concluding thoughts. 

First, the characteristic flavors of Mourvedre (red fruit, leather, chocolate) wove through most of the vintages, though the characteristics of the vintage determined whether it was, for example, red cherry and milk chocolate, or black cherry and dark chocolate. 

Second, my favorite vintages (2003, 2007 and 2010) were different in weight, with the 2007 the biggest, the 2010 more mid-weight and the 2003 somewhere in the middle, but all showed great balance between the fruit and non-fruit (think savory, herbs and mineral) elements.  That's just one more bit of evidence, if it were needed, that balance is the key to pleasure in wine, at whatever volume suits your palate. 

And finally third, the oldest wine tasted quite young, which is consistent with our experience that Mourvedre is exceptionally resistant to oxidation.  This happy character is why it's often blended with Grenache (to give what's typically described as "backbone") and on its own it's great to see that a wine that's not terribly tannic when young can still evolve gracefully over a long time.


Introducing the wines for the 2014 Collector's Edition shipment

Each June, I have the pleasure of tasting through our library vintages of Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, with the goal of choosing the wines for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment in September.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Collector's Edition, we created it in 2009 to give members a chance to acquire our flagship wines with some age on them, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.  We will be adding people on our waiting list to the Collector's Edition next week, subject to available space.  This is done based in the order in which people joined the waiting list; our current wait time is just over a year.  If you are currently a VINsider member you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online.  If you are not currently a member, you can indicate that you would like to join the Collector's Edition when you join the VINsider wine club.

In last year's Collector's Edition shipment, we chose to feature both Esprits from 2006.  This year, we'll use the 2005 Esprit red, and move to the 2008 Esprit Blanc.  Why the move back in vintage for the red, and up in vintage for the white?  The 2007 red didn't taste to me like it was quite ready.  It's still tight, laced with iron, with big tannins that seem to me like they need another year to resolve.  That's often the case for our most substantial vintages; they spend longer in each stage: youth, where they're exuberant and juicy, with big tannins cloaked by lush fruit; in middle-age, where some of the baby fat has faded and the tannins stand out more; and in maturity, where the tannins have softened and come back into balance with the fruit, and the wine has developed secondary flavors of leather and roasted meat.  These flavors are in full evidence in the 2005, as you'll see in the tasting notes below.  The 2007 white, on the other hand, was so luscious that we included it in our Collector's Edition shipment back in 2011, and we don't have enough left to include again.  So, the 2008 was next in line, and it will be a treat.
 
One quick note, before the tasting notes.  If you find the idea of an aged white wine surprising, consider that Roussanne acts in many ways -- in the vineyard, cellar, and bottle -- like a red wine.  It has big structure that takes time to come into balance, it is resistant to oxidation, and the secondary flavors that it gets with time in bottle, including hazelnut and caramel, fit well with Roussanne's more youthful flavors of pear, honey and mineral.  The wines:

Collectors Edition Bottles 2014

My tasting notes:

2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Shows a deep, rich nose of grilled bread, marzipan, menthol, butterscotch, sage and terragon.  The mouth shows powerful flavors of creme brulee, apricot, clove and marmalade.  The finish is long and creamy, with peach pit and saline mineral.  The wine's flavors broadened steadily as it sat in the glass, and I recommend a decant if you're enjoying it now.  If you're considering stashing this in your cellar, my feeling is that it's got a decade ahead of it still.

2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: A richly savory nose of leather, grilled meat, dark red fruit, mint and iron. In the mouth the wine is firm and spicy, with juiciness building through the mid-palate and flavors of blackberry, garrigue, and crushed rock.  The wine is meaty, rich, and very dry, with tannins that have softened but are still substantial, though I felt them more on the attack right now than on the very long finish, which showed an appealing chalkiness and notable refinement.  This wine, like the white, would also benefit from a decant if you're drinking it now, and should be at the front end of a peak drinking window that will last 15 years or more.


Celebrating "The New California Wine" with an old California wine

By Robert Haas

The New California Wine, by San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor Jon Bonné and subtitled A guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste, is an ode to wineries that are producing wines of place, whether single varieties or blends, often working with organic or biodynamic vineyards; wines that are of moderate alcohol levels and speak to their origin.  It is a reminder that there is a growing wave of journalists, sommeliers and wine lovers pushing back against what Jon terms “big flavor wine.” Big flavor wines are, in Jon’s parlance, generally highly extracted, high alcohol, low acid, often oaky and slightly sweet on the palate.  Many of them have a cult following. 

NewCaliforniaWine

I welcome Jon’s suggestions and enjoyed reading his book.  I will search out several of the producers he introduced me to.  But in reading the book I kept thinking that what Jon terms a revolution is really a move back to a classic norm.

The advent of boutique wineries such as Joseph Heitz, Freemark Abbey, Chappellet, Joseph Phelps, Clos du Val, Stags Leap, Spring Mountain, and even Robert Mondavi, among others, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s brought California, and particularly the Napa Valley, to the international wine community's attention.  Their wines were from specific vineyards, mostly their own, farmed for moderate yields, made in classic style and dimensions.  They took their lead from Beaulieu and Inglenook, estate producers before World War II, and looked toward France for inspiration.  Their wines were mostly in the 12.5% alcohol range. 

From back in the days when my company, Vineyard Brands, represented them, I still have Cabernets from Spring Mountain, Clos du Val and Chappellet from the 1970s, and some Pine Ridge from the 1980s.  They have aged beautifully.   Their tannins have softened and they are elegantly balanced with plenty of red and black fruit.  I recently opened a bottle of Chappellet 1974 Cabernet (12.7% alcohol) and was struck by its mature dark color with no oxidation.  It was powerful and densely structured, even still a little reticent with its blueberry fruit.  I had the feeling that it had reached a plateau of maturity (at 40 years old!) and would be enjoyable for some time to come.

Chappelet74_3

The “big flavor” wines are really a phenomenon of the last 20 years. As such, they are actually the new kids on the block.  Will they continue to dominate the paradigm or are they just a blip on the long-term chart of wine consumption?  I welcome the debate, and look forward to seeing whether a majority of vintners will continue to take advantage of the brilliant California climate to harvest ripe, high brix, low pH grapes and focus on lushness and power, or whether more will farm their vineyards to produce phenologically ripe grapes at lower Brix and make wines that focus more on terroir and elegance. Of course, there will be more than one "answer" to this question.

If I’m in harmony with the old standards, I know that the riper styles have their own passionate advocates as well.  But Jon’s book is a reflection of a conversation that it is important that the California winemaking community have. This discussion includes advocates of elegance -- both the newer producers he highlights and some established ones such as Calera and Ridge -- and those more exuberant producers, many of whose wines I see also preserving tremendous concentration while moving gradually away from excessive ripeness and new oak.  Perhaps this is California’s true strength: that winemakers with well-placed vineyards can, according to their beliefs, make compelling wines across the spectrum of ripeness.  In either case, greater diversity in the styles of California wine and the innovation fostered by the conversation itself will make the community stronger.  What do you think?


Vintage Hollywood

I have recently been finding myself contrasting two recent vintages primarily in terms of their personalities, rather than (or at least, in addition to) their flavors.  Our 2011 vintage produced wines that are tense, wound-up, powerful and brooding, that make you make an effort to get to know them.  The wines from our 2012 vintage are sunny, open, friendly, and easy to like without being simplistic.  Yes, these are notably anthropomorphic descriptions, and I have described each without mentioning anything about sweetness, acidity, flavors or texture.  And yet, don't you have a sense of what the two vintages' wines are likely to taste like?

That got me thinking of which movie stars might correspond to those two vintages, and once I got myself started, I couldn't stop.  So, I present to you the last ten vintages, with a female and male movie star who will help you get to know them, and a little explanation as to why. Images courtesy Wikipedia.

Star_Banner

  • 2004: "We didn't know they had it in them".  The 2004 vintage struck us at the time as likely to produce friendly, appealing wines without perhaps the structure and depth to age into elegance.  We were wrong, and the vintage has had remarkable staying power and has become something we didn't think it would be.
    • Female star: Mila Kunis, because when you saw her in That 70's Show, did you think she would be an A-list talent, as well as one of the most genuinely funny interview subjects in Hollywood?  Me neither.
    • Male star: Matthew McConaughey. Wooderson didn't seem likely to graduate to Dallas Buyers Club.
  • 2005: "Came through a few rough patches".  2005 wines were big and brawny when they were young, obviously with potential, but they shut down hard in middle-age and got downright difficult, to the point that we actually had to delay including the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel in our Collector's Edition Wine Club because it wasn't ready.  But now?  They're the wines I pick when I want to impress.
    • Female star: Drew Barrymore, who as a teenager didn't seem likely to mature into the funny, self-possessed star she is now.
    • Male star: Robert Downey Jr., whose transformation from talented tabloid regular to master of multiple genres has been remarkable to see.  Did you realize he's the most valuable movie star in Hollywood, and has been for two years running?
  • 2006: "The overachiever".  A little like 2004, except that the wines seemed more solid and less friendly at the start, likely to be respected and admired but unlikely to be loved.  Then they steadily put on substance while rounding off rough edges, until they were stars in their own rights.  It happened so gradually we were actually surprised when our 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel became our first wine to make the Wine Spectator's annual "Top 100" list.
    • Female star: Amy Adams, who seemed destined for typecast roles as the funny sidekick but who has pushed her boundaries until she's one of the most marketable women in Hollywood.
    • Male star: John C. Reilly, the consummate character actor who parlayed strong work in a steady stream of sidekick roles in great indie films into juicy lead roles in blockbusters like Chicago and Gangs of New York.
  • 2007: "The star".  Big, glossy, powerful, clearly A-list material, our most impressive vintage suggests the classic Hollywood star, at the height of his or her powers, who can play any role successfully.  Yet, you never forget you're watching a star conscious of his or her own power.  No one would describe the 2007 vintage as "cozy".
    • Female star: Catherine Zeta-Jones.  A-list lead.  Talented singer.  One of the most beautiful women of her generation.  Would I be terrified to meet her?  Absolutely.
    • Male star: George Clooney.  Ridiculously talented, funny, self-deprecating and successful in a number of different roles, but you never forget you're watching a movie star.  That's what 2007 is like.
  • 2008: "The quiet pro".  This vintage, sandwiched between the showier 2007 and 2009 vintages, was excellent in its own right, but didn't demand a lot of attention.  It's like the star you're always happy to see in a movie, but whose name probably isn't on the marquee.  Yet at the end, you're glad to have spent the time with them.
    • Female star: Julianne Moore: classy, elegant, always appealing, and often in roles that show off her acting rather than her beauty.  Always an asset to a cast.
    • Male star: Jake Gyllenhaal: ditto.  Can lead a major production, but it doesn't seem to happen as often as it could.
  • 2009: "The dark side".  Powerful, tightly wound, the 2009 vintage is like 2007 with some added menace: an a-list star willing to go without makeup in pursuit of a meaty role.  We're expecting the 2009's, which are a bit forbidding and tannic now, to unwind only gradually, but to reward patience handsomely.
    • Female star: Angelina Jolie, the classic female action hero, whose depth is promised and only gradually revealed. A powerful presence, alluring and intimidating in equal measure.
    • Male star: Daniel Craig, whose take on James Bond is darker than previous iterations, played straight rather than with a wink, still plenty suave while adding more muscle and an introspective streak. A Bond who doesn't let you inside.
  • 2010: "Classic elegance". The comparatively stress-free 2010 vintage, a wet year coming after three years of drought, produced wines that have to me always come across as effortlessly appealing, not notable for their power but beautifully delineated and in perfect balance, like a movie star who ages gracefully.
    • Female star: Gwyneth Paltrow, charming in whatever role she takes on, from the big screen to the kitchen, but seemingly most at home playing a version of herself.
    • Male star: Denzel Washington, whose quiet confidence and air of class allows him to imbue humanity into characters who in other hands would be straightforward villains or saccharine heroes. Watch Training Day and Remember the Titans and marvel that he starred in these back-to-back.
  • 2011: "A little intimidating". 2011 turned up the volume on 2010, gaining intensity from a spring frost and retaining bright acids from our second consecutive cold year.  All the wines have a brooding darkness and the promise of great depth. At the same time, they require a certain investment on your part as their consumer to meet them on their terms. They're not interested in pleasing the crowds.
    • Female star: Halle Berry, who could have settled into a comfortable role as model and actress playing beautiful people, but seemed to search out troubled characters that were impossible to pigeonhole.
    • Male star: Hugh Jackman, who inhabits Wolverine's character comfortably: funny and sociable in short, bitter bursts, but ultimately inward-focused and intense.
  • 2012: "Pleased to meet you". In dramatic contrast to 2011, 2012 comes to greet you with a smile. This isn't to say that there's not depth behind this happy facade, but the first impression I have with all the wines from 2012 is that they're charming, with generous fruit, engaging and enticing.
    • Female star: Reese Witherspoon, recent arrest notwithstanding, plays characters with an easy smile who you want to root for and for whom joy seems a regular emotion.
    • Male star: Tom Hanks, whose wide range never seems to include dour or unappealing characters.  Of course, if you were casting for an unappealing character, would you cast Tom Hanks?  Exactly.
  • 2013: "The prodigy". In our as-yet-limited experience of the 2013 vintage, it seems to combine the appeal of 2012 with the depth and intrigue of 2011.  We're not sure where it's going yet, but we know it's going to be fun to follow and get to know.
    • Female star: Jennifer Lawrence, whose range at age 23 is already staggering, and whose career arc is likely to be meteoric.
    • Male star: Leonardo DiCaprio, circa 1997.  There isn't really a current equivalent to the promise that a 22-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio showed, already nominated for an Oscar (at age 19) for his role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape and within a few months of becoming the biggest star in the highest-grossing movie ever.

I'm sure any list like this is going to create controversy, and would love to know your nominations for the characteristics of our different vintages.  Or maybe I'm totally off base and you've only made it this far because you're wondering if I've lost my mind.  In any case, let me know what you think in the comments.


Looking back a decade later at the 2004 vintage at Tablas Creek

2014 is a year of milestones for Tablas Creek.  It's been 25 years since we bought our property in 1989.  It's been 20 years since we picked our first grapes and made our first wines, in rented space at Adelaida Cellars down the road, in 1994.  Also in 1994, we got our first French cuttings in the ground, forming the foundation of the vineyard we have today.  Typically, the French wait until a vineyard is a decade old to use the grapes produced for their top wines, so 2004 is a landmark of sorts -- the vineyard's first "adult" vintage -- if you hold to such arbitrary things.  On a much more minor note, 2004 was also the first year we used screwcaps to finish a significant number of our wines.

In celebration of all this, we thought it would be interesting to check in on our 2004 wines to see how they were doing.  So, we did.  Sometimes, this job has its perks.  We opened every wine we made that year, with the goal of picking 8-10 for a slimmed-down (but hardly lean) version of this tasting we're planning for March 1st.  This later version will be open to the public, so please join us.  Details are here.

The lineup included 8 white wines, one pink, six reds, and two sweet wines, both white.  It was more than a bit intimidating:

2004 Horizontal

Joining me for the tasting were my dad, Winemaker Neil Collins, Viticulturist Levi Glenn, Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell, Sales Manager Darren Delmore, Marketing Coordinator Lauren Cross, and Assistant Tasting Room Manager Jennifer Bravo.  Below are my notes, in the order in which we tasted the wines. For complete production details and on-release tasting notes, click on the wine. For some reason, we never put up Web pages for the Bergeron and Antithesis, so I've tried to give a little extra background on those wines below.

  • 2004 Vermentino: At first, the nose came across as a little old, grassy, slightly scotch tape. But with air it improved, showing some sweetness and a nice lime peel note.  The mouth was still holding on, smooth, with nice acidity and appealing saltiness.  Darren thought it reminded him of an Australian riesling. We all thought it surprisingly fresh.  Screwcap.
  • 2004 Grenache Blanc: The nose showed some oxidation, with menthol, honey, and Scotch whiskey. The mouth showed better, with anise notes and a clean richness.  Neil, who liked it a lot, commented that with a nice paté or some rillettes, it would be beautiful.  The finish was long and rich. Cork.
  • 2004 Viognier: A similar plasticky smell at first on the nose as the Vermentino, and like the Vermentino, that blew off, to be replaced by green apple aromas with little hints of white flowers lurking behind.  The mouth was less exciting, not much viognier character, but with with both richness and good acids. An intellectual wine. Screwcap.
  • 2004 Antithesis: Our 100% chardonnay made from a small block in our nursery, named as such because on its first release in 2000 it was our only non-blend and only non-Rhone. This was the first white that I found pleasurable and not just interesting.  A darker color, likely from oak aging, with a nose unmistakably chardonnay: butter and butterscotch, and honey. The mouth is stone fruits (I thought peach syrup, Neil apricot preserves) but dry.  And for all these sweet descriptors, it had precision and length.  A pleasure, and a surprise. Cork.
  • 2004 Cotes de Tablas Blanc: The nose was rich, a little oxidized, and for me, a little heavy.  The palate was broad with bubble gum and mineral, fresh wet stone, maybe a little less acidity on the finish than I'd like.  This is riper (14.5% alcohol) and higher in viognier (55%) than we've been making our Cotes Blanc wines recently, and I like the direction in which we've taken them. Cork.
  • 2004 Bergeron: A wine that we made several years from roussanne planted in our cooler blocks and picked earlier, in homage to the roussannes of the Savoie. Very fresh on the nose, spicy, peppery and light in color.  The mouth showed to me a great coolness, with peppered grapefruit and good length.  Tyler noted its great acidity but with roussanne's characteristic breadth. Screwcap.
  • 2004 Roussanne: Smells older (which it isn't) and bigger (which it was) than the Bergeron, with peach pit and beeswax that's absolutely characteristic of our Roussanne.  In the mouth, it was powerful, with lots of texture and a little oak still that I was surprised hadn't integrated completely.  Big, and long, and very varietally typical. Cork.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: The nose shows aspects of both Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, with butterscotch and almond balanced by a menthol-like freshness.  The texture in the mouth was my most noteworthy aspect, saline and creamy, with less weight than the 100% Roussanne but fresher.  Levi described the flavor as "salted caramel".  The finish was lingering, with anise and mineral that someone described as "rain on the rocks". Beautiful. Cork.
  • 2004 Horizontal rose2004 Rosé: An amazing color (right), electric pink.  The nose shows age but wasn't oxidized, with marascino cherry predominant.  The mouth was rich, with a watermelon candy character and a little tannin from the 48 hours its mourvedre component spent on the skins.  My dad thought it "very mourvedre".  I thought it would showed a nice Beaujolais character and wrote down "quite yummy". A pleasant surprise to all of us. Screwcap.
  • 2004 Cotes de Tablas: We've consistently underestimated the Cotes de Tablas wines' ability to age, and this tasting gave us yet more evidence. The nose was gorgeous, with eucalyptus, fresh tobacco and bright, brambly fruit. Levi commented that it tasted "like a 2-year-old wine". On the mouth, it showed powerfully its grenache aspect (it was 64% grenache) with lots of strawberry fruit up front, and chalky grenache tannins on the end.  We all thought it could go another decade. We sold this for $22 at the time. Cork.
  • 2004 Mourvedre: My dad's comment, after only putting his nose in the glass, was "that's nice!". Meaty and leathery on the nose, with sweet red fruit and milk chocolate.  On the palate it was chewy and salty, leathery, with plums and incense.  Softer all around than the Cotes red, a fact which we all found interesting. Seductive. Cork.
  • 2004 Syrah: Classic syrah nose, with black fruit, juniper, and black olive. Very dark in color. Tyler identified boysenberry. The mouth showed baker's chocolate, black cherry, and peppermint on the finish.  There's still lots of tannin and a little oak on the finish, and the wine tasted to me like it's yet to reach its peak.  This drives home how much syrah benefits from aging. Cork.
  • 2004 Tannat: A woodsy, smoky nose of menthol and eucalyptus. Pine needles on the ground. Still pretty impenetrable (Darren asked if "bullet-proof" was a descriptor).  Neil thought it wanted some cassoulet, and at that point, who didn't.  The finish was if anything lighter than the attack, showing some red licorice and raspberry notes, along with dark chocolate.  My dad summed it up: "We don't call it Mr. T for nothing". Cork.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: On the nose, softer than the preceding two wines and definitely showing its Mourvedre aspect: plums, meat drippings and milk chocolate.  Jenn thought it smelled "like my jar of bacon fat". It was soft, supple and well rounded, fully mature, though we didn't think it was on the downslope. Classy and classic. Cork.
  • 2004 Panoplie: The nose at this stage I found less appealing than the Esprit, a little confected and a little pruney, but with fig and tar.  The mouth, on the other hand, tasted like it had just been bottled, with lots of powerful dark red fruit and tannins that built and built.  Someone called it "a time capsule". I'd decant this for a while if I were drinking it now, or hold it for another few years. Cork.
  • 2004 Vin de Paille: This was perhaps the hardest wine of the tasting for me.  The nose was a little weird, sweet but somehow pickley.  The mouth was more straightforward, with flavors of marmelade and honey, and a cedary note on the finish.  I'm not sure if it's in a phase it will come out of, or if it's past its prime. It shouldn't be over the hill given its 39% roussanne and its sweetness, but our experience with wines like this is limited. Cork.
  • 2004 Vin de Paille "Quintessence": From a single barrel of roussanne that we dried on straw and held an extra year in the cellar. Both cleaner and bigger than the regular Vin de Paille, with flavors of butterscotch, golden raisin and maple sugar.  Neil described it as "like the caramel of a creme caramel". We all wanted it with a poached foie gras. A great way to end the tasting. Cork.

A few concluding thoughts.  First, we preferred all our screwcap-finished wines after they had a chance to breathe.  Consider decanting your older wines that have been finished in screwcap, but don't shy away from aging them because of their closure.  Second, we've consistently underestimated the ageworthiness of our "lesser" wines and instead focused on the Esprits and the Panoplie.  I loved (in addition to the ones I expected) the Antithesis, the Bergeron, the Rosé (!), the Cotes red and the Syrah. There are rewards to be had from aging many wines.

Finally, come and see for yourself!  At the tasting on 3/1 we decided we'll show the Antithesis, Bergeron, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Rosé, Cotes red, Mourvedre, Syrah, Esprit red, Panoplie, and Quintessence.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon, I submit.


Who says Americans don't age wine?

I've written before, in a handful of contexts, about what a great tool I think CellarTracker is.  I use it to monitor what our customers are saying about our wines, to track when wines seem to be going through dumb stages, and to look in on how some wines I don't open that often are aging.  My starting point is typically a survey of tasting notes on Tablas Creek, sorted by date. In a recent search I noticed that several people have opened and written up our 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel in the last month or so.  That's hardly surprising; it's the library vintage of Esprit that we sent out to our Collector's Edition wine club members last month, and the wine's arrival to some 750 club recipients likely spurred at least some of those new tasting notes.

One thing I noticed in the search is that of the 2050 bottles of the 2006 Esprit that have been entered into CellarTracker, 1287 of them (63%) are still in cellars, while only 37% have been consumed.  I wondered whether or not that had been influenced by the fact that the wine is a new arrival for many customers, so I checked some other vintages and found that the 2006 is in line with other vintages around it:

Percent of Esprit Consumed
The data from 2000 (when there were only 347 bottles entered into CellarTracker, most of them, presumably, some time after they were purchased) looks to me like an outlier, and we didn't make an Esprit de Beaucastel in 2001, but starting in 2002 the data looks pretty regular, with well over 1000 bottles entered each year.  Not only does the data show that it's not until about a decade out that half of the entered bottled are drunk, but It also seems to show that consumers are following our advice to wait on particularly big, structured vintages (like 2005, 2007 and 2009) and instead drink the more open vintages from the even-numbered years.

I find it heartening that even in our oldest vintages of Esprit, released a decade ago or more, at least 40% of the bottles entered into the CellarTracker system have yet to be consumed.  I did a few spot-checks to see whether it's only this wine that people are saving, and found that CellarTracker customers are in aggregate behaving in a rational manner: drinking up the wines that are meant to be drunk young but aging wines (both reds and whites) that are worthy of aging.  A few of these data points, from least to most ageworthy:

  • Rosé/Dianthus: 2012 47% consumed; 2011 73% consumed; 2010 76% consumed
  • Vermentino: 2012 19% consumed; 2011 51% consumed; 2010 66% consumed
  • Esprit Blanc: 2010 23% consumed; 2006 56% consumed; 2003 72% consumed
  • Cotes de Tablas: 2010 35% consumed; 2008 64% consumed; 2005 72% consumed
  • Panoplie: 2010 6% consumed; 2007 9% consumed; 2004 25% consumed

Can we reconcile this evidence with the much-reported trope that the vast majority of wine purchased (between 70% and 90%) is consumed within 24 hours of its purchase?  Perhaps not.  The average CellarTracker user is clearly not the average wine drinker; there is a level of self-selection in the person who would choose a cellar management tool.  Those who do not routinely age wine are unlikely to need a tool to manage their wine inventories.

But I think it's a larger mistake -- and one that leads many winemakers to incorrect winemaking assumptions -- to assume that there is a single type of wine consuming American, who doesn't like to age their wines.  From talking to our customers, it's clear that there is a significant audience for whom cellaring wine is an important pastime, and that the 285,000 active users of CellarTracker are just a fraction of that number. 

Are there millions of wine consumers who wouldn't dream of cellaring a bottle for a decade?  Sure.  Should this matter to a winery like us?  I'm not convinced.  We're a relatively small winery with a direct relationship with more than half of the 50,000 customers we need each year to keep us going.  And the wine consuming market is tremendously heterogeneous.  Just as there are millions of wine consumers who drink nothing but sweet wines, or nothing but wines under $10, or nothing that requires a corkscrew, there is a market of millions who have the means and interest in buying ageworthy wines.  Heck, 2.8 million people read each issue of Wine Spectator, for a start.  It's great that there are wines that are directed at the wine drinker who wants immediate gratification.  But that's not the only market out there, and my sense is that the wine lover who wants to get to know a wine over time, and who enjoys the developing arc of a wine's personality as it ages, makes up a larger percentage of the American public than is routinely acknowledged. 

And thank goodness for that.