Checking in on two of our earliest reds: 1997 Tablas Rouge and 1999 Reserve Cuvee

It pays to keep in touch with long-time fans.  We were lucky enough to have two of those fans, long-time club members Steve and Kathleen Vogeding, reach out to us in advance of a visit today, letting us know that they'd found two older Tablas Creek bottles in their wine cellar and asking if we would be interested in tasting these bottles with them.

Um... yes!

So, it was with pleasure that we circled around a tasting bar with them to open the 1997 Tablas Rouge and the 1999 Reserve Cuvee.  The honored guests:

Vogeding couple

The wines:

Vogeding bottles

I wanted to share my notes on the wines, as well as a little of their histories.

1997 Tablas Rouge

  • History: 1997 was the first year that we had much of our estate vineyard in production, albeit from very young vines.  Still, we felt that the quality was there to launch the Tablas Creek Vineyard label.  Working under a very traditional French model, we made just one red (called "Tablas Rouge") and one white (called "Tablas Blanc").  We didn't put the varietal mix on the label, although we did list on the back that the wine was made from Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Counoise, in that order.  As this was the only red wine we made in this vintage, it contains 100% of the red grapes harvested from the estate that year.  Still, we fermented each varietal separately, and waited until spring to confirm that all had gone well before blending the lots together and aging it in foudres in our cellar.  We made about 2000 cases of it, and most of it was sold and was drunk long ago, I'd guess.  It did get some nice press, particularly for a first release: it made it into Wine & Spirits Magazine's "Top 100 of 2000".  We have just a few bottles left in our own library.
  • Tasting Notes: I was surprised with the vibrancy that the wine showed, lots of high-toned red fruit that reminded me of raspberry, with an appropriately brambly, brushy herbiness to it as well.  The palate was medium-weight, with vibrant acids highlighting the flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry, cooled by flavors of juniper and mint and then deepened by baking spices and balsamic reduction.  There were still some solid tannins, also highlighted by those acids.  I'm not sure how much longer it will go, but it didn't feel elderly at all to me.  A real pleasure, still pretty and lithe, if not profound.

1999 Reserve Cuvee

  • History: By 1999, we had come to the conclusion that in order to make the best wine we could make, we needed a home for lots that offered friendliness but didn't have the concentration we wanted for our top wine.  So, we split our production into two wines, Reserve Cuvee (which, the next year, would become Esprit de Beaucastel) and Petite Cuvee (which, the next year, would become Cotes de Tablas).  Splitting our production had multiple benefits, one of the most important of which was to allow us to shift our top wine's personality more toward Mourvedre, while putting a higher percentage of Grenache into our second wine, and letting it shine there.  The resulting 1999 Reserve Cuvee was more marked by Mourvedre's dark, chewy, leathery meatiness than any wine we'd made before, resulted in our first-ever 90-point rating from Robert Parker, and convinced the Perrins that the winery was ready to add the Beaucastel name to the label the subsequent vintage.
  • Tasting Notes: More mature on the nose than the 1997, and also deeper in tone, with aromas of cocoa hulls, leather, and baking spices.  On the palate, it was quite rich, more full-bodied than the 1997, and with lower acidity.  There's a little appealing smokiness that I thought was from fully-integrated oak, adding a nice edge to the characteristic meatiness of Mourvedre.  The tannins are soft at this point, and the finish quite long and textured, with the flavors more of mocha and spice than fruit or acid.  The wine was from a half-bottle, which tends to accelerate the aging process, which likely contributed to it being a bit more advanced than the 1997.

The last time we'd tasted these two wines together was nearly five years ago, and while I've had the 1999 Reserve Cuvee a few times in the interim I don't think I've had the 1997 Tablas Rouge since.  It's interesting to go back and look at my notes from that last tasting; the wines' personalities are still consistent, but the intervening years have continued the process of evolution.

I think we all underestimated the ageworthiness of our earliest wines.  If you find that you have one in your cellar, you're likely in for a treat. Thank you, Steve and Kathleen, for sharing the experience!


Introducing the wines for the 2015 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.  [for the origin story of the Collector's Edition, from 2009, click here.]  This club gives us a chance show off the ageability of our flagship wines, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

This year, Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi and I tasted the 2007 and 2008 reds, and the 2009 and 2010 whites.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about why we didn't choose the 2007 Esprit, and because the 2008 was showing so well, it made the choice easy.  As for the whites, the choice was made for different reasons, but equally clear-cut.  I have always loved the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel.  I bought two cases of it myself when it was released, thinking I'd drink one and let the other one develop.  I ended up having to buy a third case because I couldn't keep my hands out of the one that I was supposed to be laying down.  But in tasting it again this year, we felt like it was nearly unchanged: still high-toned and juicy, fresh and clean.  Delicious, but not showing enough signs of evolution to be really interesting as a library offering.  The 2009, on the other hand, was fascinating.

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:

CE Wines 2015

My tasting notes:

  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Rich and broad on the nose, with flavors of marzipan, creme caramel and hazelnuts, lifted by a little tarragon.  Chelsea commented that it "tastes like a gala event". The mouth is more youthful, with a rich texture, flavors of yellow pear and grilled peach, good acids, and a little tannin, like toasted walnuts, on a long finish lifted by a minty, citrus zest note.  The wine got more and more interesting as it sat in the glass, so a decant wouldn't be a bad idea.  And definitely serve it at cellar temperature, not too cold.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel: An immensely appealing nose of red fruit, pine forest, sea spray, boysenberry and mint.  The mouth is bright with crunchy red fruit (Chelsea nailed cranberry) and deeper flavors of semi-sweet chocolate and baking spices.  The finish is darker, with macerated cherries and a spicy, brambly note.  The 2008 is a graceful and elegant wine that is at the beginning of what should be a long peak lasting another decade or more.

A few bits of housekeeping: we will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next week.  Members of the waiting list should look for an email with news, one way or the other, of whether they've made it on.  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 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.


Checking in on the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel

The 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel is our highest-rated Esprit to date.  It got mid-90s ratings from Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer, and the Rhone Report, and capped off its year by being named the Wine Spectator's #33 wine of 2010.  And we sold most of what we had, fast.  We typically keep two year's supply of our Esprit red for our tasting room, so we can show two different vintages to people.  Because of its ratings, and because it was so showy, we sold our two years' worth in one year.  And I understand why: it was luscious and powerful, with big tannins cloaked by generous fruit and an underlying meaty wildness that kept the wine from coming across as either simple or sweet.  I'm sure much of it was drunk within a few months of when it was purchased, and enjoyed.

Our Esprit wines have two drinking windows in which we think they are best enjoyed: a window around 3-5 years after the vintage date, when some of the youthful rambunctiousness has had a chance to calm down a touch, but when the wine is still big, juicy, and primary.  Then there is a second window, typically in the 8-12 year range, where the wine's tannins have softened, the texture has opened up, secondary characteristics of meat and earth have developed, and the fruit tone has deepened.

You will have noticed that there is a gap in between these two drinking windows, when the wine's tannins are still strong, but the cloaking fruit has receded a bit, and the wine can come across as closed. I've written about this closed phase on the blog, comparing it to being in its teenage years.  Not all wines, and not even all of our red wines, go through this phase, but the Esprit red nearly always does. How long it spends in this phase depends on several factors, but tends to be longest for the wines that were the most powerful to start with.  This variability is why we recommend that customers bookmark our vintage chart (updated every few months) and why we don't put much stock in predetermining specific drinking windows upon release.

It's been a few years now that we've been waiting for the 2007 Esprit to come out of its closed phase. Yesterday, I opened it, along with some other nearby vintages, as a part of the tasting we do each summer to determine which wines we'll send out to members of the VINsider Wine Club "Collector's Edition".  I had been hoping that this 2007 would be ready to go, but it wasn't to be.  It had smoothed out greatly since the same tasting last year, but still had a shortness and blockiness on the finish that suggested to us that it will greatly benefit from another year of patience.

I thought I'd share my notes, both to give a sense of where it's at now, and to explain why we think that patience is recommended.  The wine:

Esprit07

Tasting Notes (5/28/15): A classic 2007 Esprit nose of hung meat, baking spices, dark red fruit, menthol and leather.  The mouth is still massive and thick with fruit, with big tannins.  Currant and plum (dark red fruits) predominate over a creamy texture that masks some of the complexity it will have. The tannins build in the wine, and clip the finish.  The wine opened significantly with time in the glass (a decant is highly recommended if you're drinking it now) but never lost that clipped character, or the thickness of texture.  Check back in another six months, but expect to enjoy for two more decades.

My notes, I hope, explain what someone who opens it now is likely to get: not a bad wine, but a wine that is less than it will be.

What will the wines be that we chose for the 2015 Collector's Edition shipment? Stay tuned!

 


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?