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.


Announcing the wines in the 2013 VINsider Collector's Edition shipment

One of my highlights each June is the tasting where we get to choose which library vintage of the Esprit and Esprit Blanc we will include in 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, and also opening reigstration for a short time, subject to available space.  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.

We have been keeping older vintages of the Esprit and Esprit Blanc since the 2003 and 2005 vintages, respectively.  So this week, I tasted through our library vintages to decide which wines we wanted to include this fall.  It's an interesting challenge, because we want the wines to have had enough time in the cellar to show signs of maturity, but still catch them at (ideally the beginning of) their peak.

In the tasting, for the second year in a row we chose wines from the same vintage.  This drives home what we see regularly, that Roussanne acts in many ways -- including aging in bottle -- like a red wine.  The vintage of choice was 2006:

Collectors Edition Bottles 2013

My tasting notes:

2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: A clear, vibrant light gold color.  The nose is bright and floral, showing jasmine, honeysuckle, melon and pear, as well as more savory notes of aloe and lanolin. The mouth shows the wonderful acids that I remember from the 2006 vintage, then flowing into richness: honeyed pear, marmalade and grilled pineapple, with a nuttiness from the seven years of age. The acids reassert themselves on the finish, emphasizing the wine's minerality and leaving a lingering impression of fresh honeycomb.  This seems to me to be at the beginning of a peak that will last for some time.

2006 Esprit de Beaucastel: Shows a deep, earthy nose of soy, dusty red fruit, licorice, black olive and mocha.  The mouth is lusher than the nose initially suggests, with rich flavors of plum, leather, anise and sweet spice, all underpinned by a brambly wildness I found totally captivating.  The tannins have softened but still provide a welcome counterpoint to the palate's richness, and a chewy texture that lingers on the finish, framed by the acidity I noticed in the white.  While this is beautiful now, I have the sense it can age for easily another decade in the cellar and likely more.


The Pleasure of Discovered Bottles

By Robert Haas

Over the last 59 years I have been buying, selling, and putting wines in my cellar, first in Vermont, and then in California as well.  And, of course, there is the house cellar and the storage cellar in each place.  So I have an excuse for occasionally (actually all too often) losing track of what is in the cellar and discovering bottles that I had forgotten that I owned. 

Sometimes those bottles are well over the hill and gone, but not too often, thankfully.  Good well-made wines are remarkably sturdy and generously long-lived when well stored.  Just the other night I discovered some Château La Tour Haut Vignoble 1970, a St. Estèphe crû bourgeois (now Château Tour Haut Vignoble) in our house cellar in Vermont that could have passed for the well-known grand premier crû Château Latour itself.

Sometimes even forgotten bottles of white wines turn out to be a revelation.  Such was the case at a gathering with friends Mel and Ynez Kaplan at their house in Charlotte, VT last Saturday.  Mel brought out a couple of bottles of Tablas Creek Clos Blanc 2000.  He asked whether I thought that it would still be good.  Mel has an underground cellar there so I said,  “Let’s give it a try.”  Clos Blanc was the name we attached to our reserve white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Viognier before we introduced the Esprit de Beaucastel name in the 2001 vintage.

Clos Blanc

The wine was still remarkably youthful in character after 11 years in bottle: pale green-gold in color, with aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle and almonds.  The palate was lively, rich and mouth-filling with citrusy, honey, nutty and saline flavors: a wine to match the best and a testament to the ageworthiness of Roussanne -- even from young vines -- and our terroir here at Tablas Creek.  What a happy discovery!


Of Broncos and Wine, 1996 Vintage

By Robert Haas

This week we had fun visitors from Vermont: our daughter Rebecca, her husband, their three year old, Emmett, and old friends Mike and Cheryl LeClair.  The LeClairs volunteered to drive our 1990 Ford Bronco here from Vermont in September of 1996 and help with the harvest.  That 1996 harvest was from our new, very young Tablas Creek vineyard but, since our own on-site winery was a year away from completion we vinified and bottled the tiny production over at the Adelaida Cellars winery, a few miles down Adelaida Road.

I wanted to sample a bottle of 1996 with the LeClairs while they were here, so I found a bottle of our Tablas Hills "Cuvee Blanc" from that year.  We used the Tablas Hills label for our wines in 1995 and 1996, grown on our property but made at Adelaida Cellars, and debuted the Tablas Creek Vineyard label we use today in 1997 with the completion of our estate winery.  The 1996 Cuvee Blanc was a blend of Roussanne and Viognier from our then-3-year-old vines.  I brought the bottle to a dinner party at Jason’s to which Cesar Perrin (François’ youngest son, who was 6 years old in 1996) and Neil Collins were also invited. 

1996 Cuvee Blanc

We were all surprised by the resiliency of the wine.  It was delicious: light golden in color, white flowers, honey and almonds on the nose, dry, soft, rich and structured on the palate, with only the slightest hint of its 17 years of age.  You can see the youthful color in the photo below.

RZH Drinking the 1996 Cuvee Blanc

We are often asked about our expected longevity for our wines; mostly about the reds.  Since our first bottlings from our imported vines were in 1996, we do not have decades of experience to go on.  At this point, we believe at least 20 years.  But this weeks’ experience of this 1996 demonstrates the ability of the whites, especially the Roussannes and their blends to age many years and improve in bottle. The blog has the report from one recent vertical tasting of the Esprit blancs.

The ability of a wine to not only age, but to age well, going from rich, juicy, sometimes tannic youth to elegant, nuanced maturity, has always been a mark of quality.  Paso Robles may not have yet deveoped the reputation of ageworthiness to rival that of Napa, Bordeaux or even Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but tastings like these give us every reason to expect that it will. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, that old Bronco that arrived in time to help us with the 1996 harvest is still running. It was great to see that the vintage it helped produce is keeping pace.


We conduct a vertical tasting of Syrah in honor of Paso Robles Syrah Month

It’s Syrah month here in Paso Robles.  At the beginning of the year, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance launched a “varietal of the month” program that cycles through the major grapes grown here, and are supporting it with a grower blog, a winemaker interview and a new installment of the Paso Wine Man video series:

In celebration, we decided to open up every vintage of varietal Syrah we’ve made, going back to our first-ever varietal red wine: the 2002 Syrah that we made three barrels of for our new wine club back when three barrels was plenty to make it around to all our club members.  Since then, we’ve made a Syrah each year other than 2009 and 2011, when spring frosts cut our Syrah crop sufficiently that we sacrificed the varietal Syrah to protect our blends.

One other element of interest was tracking how the three-year stretch (2005-2007) when we added 10% Grenache to our varietal Syrah changed the wines’ expression.  For all our commitment to blending, at this vantage point at least the group generally preferred the wines we made pure. Our tasting notes:

  • 2002 Syrah (100% Syrah): A dusty, spicy, minty/menthol-elevated nose. In the mouth, it’s mid-weight, with an inky soy-like darkness and a little cedary oak. There’s the classic Syrah creamy texture, and still firm tannins on the end.  A nice showing for this wine, which was more youthful than any of us expected.
  • 2003 Syrah (100% Syrah): A higher-toned, balsamic and meat drippings nose with a chalky minerality showing through. More of the tangy meat drippings on the palate with dark red fruit. Less density than the 2002 but more elegance, and in a very nice place now.
  • 2004 Syrah (100% Syrah): The nose just screams Syrah, with meat, pepper, mint and mineral components. The mouth is juicier than the nose suggests, showing blackberry and pepper and dark chocolate, and black cherry coming out on the finish. Opulent compared to the first two wines, with fruit/acid/structure all in synch. A consensus favorite of the earlier vintages.
  • 2005 Syrah (90% Syrah, 10% Grenache): This began a three-year experiment where we put 10% Grenache into our varietal Syrah. A rich, gamy, wild meat and juniper nose. The mouth is less juicy and more savory than the 2004 with flavors of olive tapenade and meat drippings, and still with big tannins that come out on the finish. My dad noted that the addition of Grenache made it taste more like Tablas Creek but less like Syrah. One to wait on, we agreed.
  • 2006 Syrah (90% Syrah, 10% Grenache): A similar nose to the 2005, focusing on the savory, meaty, balsamic and tapenade-laced nose, but somehow more gentle. The flavors reminded me of the drippings from a garlic and rosemary-rubbed leg of lamb, with additional, and welcome, flavors of blueberry and licorice. Medium-weight and in a very pretty place for drinking now.
  • 2007 Syrah (90% Syrah, 10% Grenache): Less giving on the nose than the previous wines, a little kiersch liqueur note but not much more. The mouth is big, rich and creamy with flavors of milk chocolate and good acids but with massive tannins.  We all thought that there was a ton of potential but that the wine was still so tightly wound that its complexity was still masked by a layer of baby fat and those huge tannins. It did open up with time in the glass, so a decant is suggested if you must open one now.
  • 2008 Syrah (100% Syrah): An inviting nose of pine forest, juniper, and tangy blackberry. The mouth is reminiscent of the 2004, but with an added dramatic saline minerality that I loved and lingering flavors of bacon and blackberries and cream, but firmly dry. The finish is energetic and elegant with a brambly soy note. A consensus favorite among the younger vintages.
  • 2010 Syrah (100% Syrah): A nose unlike any of the previous vintages, inky and foresty, smelling dark and saturated. On the palate, powerful flavors of black licorice, chalk, and bacon, with a creamy blueberry note and a long, berry-laced finish. The palate is terrific but the nose still coming around, which suggests a short-term rest in the cellar.

A few final conclusions. One, that Paso Robles really is a spectacular place for Syrah.  We found a combination of the grape’s classic savory, bacony, blackberry notes with a creamy minerality and acidity that everyone around the table attributed to our limestone soils.  That set the wines apart from many Syrahs made elsewhere in California, and from the great Syrahs that come from Hermitage and Cote Rotie, none of which have limestone and all of which show a lower-acid, lusher profile.  The wines were instead reminiscent of Cornas, the Northern Rhone’s sole limestone-rich red appellation, perhaps a bit less polished than its better-known neighbors just to the north, but with an energy and vibrancy that we all were proud of. 

Two, we generally agreed that we preferred the purer expression the Syrah character in the wines that were 100% Syrah to the more Southern Rhone character of the three vintages where we added 10% Grenache, though those wines were appealing in a different way, with more garrigue and mid-palate texture, and had their proponents as well.  The tasting was a good reminder that relatively small percentages make a significantly difference in the finished expression.

Finally, our favorites were 2004 and 2008 in large part because of how each, in its own way, spoke powerfully of the Syrah grape in all its glory: meaty and minerally and fruity and creamy: the classic flavors that my wife Meghan called “butter in a butcher shop” when she first tasted it out of foudre. They also finish with substantial tannins but don’t come across as blocky or heavy.  I’m expecting a similar evolution with our 2010 Syrah that is going to wine club members next month.  We’re all in for a treat.


Our most memorable wines of 2012

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

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

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

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

Best of 2012 - ramey

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

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

Best of 2012 - chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of 2012 - perrin

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

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

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


Poulet demi-deuil and Beaucastel: A truffly duet

By Robert Haas

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

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

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

Beaucastel 1981 cork

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


We celebrate the holidays with a vertical tasting of Panoplie

Over the last few months, I've gotten several questions on how the Panoplie was tasting, and I realized that this isn't a wine I'm fortunate to open enough to know what to tell people.  So, on Friday, the last day before our offices closed for the Christmas holiday, I decided to reward myself and our team with a chance to taste every vintage of Panoplie we've made, and share the notes so that anyone who's lucky enough to have a few bottles in their cellar can see what we think.

The Panoplie, for those who don't know it, is our elite red wine modeled after the Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin, with a very high percentage of Mourvedre and an extremely limited production.  This is not a wine that we put into distribution; it goes exclusively to our wine club members each spring, with the opportunity to purchase 2 or 3 more bottles maximum after each shipment.  Even so, it rarely lasts more than a month.

The lots that we choose for the Panoplie are the richest and most compelling in the cellar, and these wines are made to age.  In the tasting, all but the oldest (from 2000) tasted still to me like young wines, with decades ahead of them.  But one revelation for me that came out of the tasting was that there were only two vintages I'd caution people away from at the moment: 2009, which is just too big, young, and wound up, and 2006, which appeared to us to be in the in-between teenage stage that many Mourvedre-based wines go through 5-7 years after their vintage date.  The other wines all offered immense pleasure, even in their youth, and while they will undoubtedly add complexity with additional time in bottle, no one will be disappointed if they open one up this holiday season. Joining me and my dad for the tasting were Winemakers Neil Collins, Ryan Hebert and Chelsea Magnusson, Viticulturist Levi Glenn, and National Sales Manager Darren Delmore. The lineup:

Panoplie vertical

The notes, by vintage (note that we didn't produce a Panoplie in 2001):

  • 2000 Panoplie (55% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 15% Grenache): Rich and deep on the nose, with some deeper soy and roasted meat flavors from maturity but no sign of fatigue.  The mouth shows more of the mature meatiness of Mourvedre, still with some significant tannins on the finish that were different than later vintages perhaps because of the youth of the vines and perhaps because of the much higher percentage of Syrah than we used in any future vintage. Chelsea called it "sinewy", for its lean power. It made me want a braised meat dish to serve it with.
  • 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): An immensely appealing nose of milk chocolate and rich red fruit, with a mouth-filling weightiness in the mid-palate that was quite different from the lean power of the 2000.  The finish showed nice acidity and tightened a bit, suggesting to all of us some extra time in the cellar. My dad commented that "you'd never guess this was a 10-year-old wine" and we all agreed.
  • 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise): The showstopper, in my opinion, of the first five vintages, with a nose balanced between sweeter aromas of jam and confectioner's sugar and more savory elements like juniper and sage. The mouth is packed with sweet fruit, almost raspberry jam, and great length with a smoky garrigue note that was welcome after the palate's lushness. A great Christmas wine, with all the classic Christmas flavors wrapped up inside.
  • 2004 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is wonderfully seamless and refined, if less exuberant than the two previous vintages: more leather, licorice and plums.  The mouth was showing an almost unctuous richness with flavors of milk chocolate with a creamy texture that made me think of marshmallows. Then the wine lengthens on the dry finish with lots of ripe tannins and wild berry fruit, and a little sweet oak. Perhaps a touch on the sweet side right now for my taste, but an obvious crowd pleaser.
  • 2005 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 5% Syrah): A different nose than the previous three wines, smokier with grilled herbs and dark fruit. The mouth is very rich but clean on the mid-palate and adds an appealing sweet mintiness on the finish, more wintergreen than juniper. The wine's big tannins come out at the end, suggesting that people need be in no hurry to drink it. Like the other 2005 reds we've opened recently, it's a sexy wine, with what Darren called "racy tannins" and my dad called "come-hither" aromatics.
  • 2006 Panoplie (68% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 5% Syrah): More restrained aromatically (Neil called it "almost Pinot-esque") with a woodsy, foresty, savory nose.  It was fresh in the mouth with a raspberry brightness on the palate and something zesty that I thought reminded me of quince. The finish was shorter than the vintages around it, with a little menthol character that came across to several of us as a little hot.  This struck me as a bit disjointed right now, not unpleasant but neither what it was nor what it will be.  I'd wait another year or two and check back in.
  • 2007 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): Amazingly rich and dense on the nose, but not at all sweet: mint and iron and soy and roasted meat drippings. The mouth is just spectacular, rich and potent with big tannins cloaked by lush fruit and a spice box character, broadening out on the very long finish to show roasted meat and a lifting aromatic note that reminded me of a clove-studded orange. Neil commented that "it immediately took me to Beaucastel". Chelsea said "that one smells like a special occasion". A consensus favorite, along with 2010. If you're opening this in 2013, be careful to check our vintage chart; the clock suggests that this will start to shut down in the near future and it's so good it would be a shame to catch it at anything less than its peak.
  • 2008 Panoplie (54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): Very pretty, with some of the same Pinot character to the nose that we found in the 2006. A coolness to the tone of the aromatics showed pine forest, spice, and red berries. The mouth is elegant, translucent in comparison to the 2007, with tobacco, purple fruit, and a clean, pretty finish. Not the blockbuster that some other vintages are, but wonderfully expressive and, as Levi pointed out, "super cohesive".
  • 2009 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): The nose was a little unfocused after the two previous wines, and showed a touch of heat. The mouth is rich and coating, but clean, with powdered-sugar tannins, cherry, and tobacco flavors, and big tannins that come out on the finish and dominate the fruit a bit at this stage. Neil commented that there is "lots of stuff going on, but just not all together yet". Very young and wound up, but with lots of potential.
  • 2010 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah), will go out to VINsider club members in March: A really nice stony fruit character on the nose, blueberries and plum pit and a savory olive tapenade note. The mouth shows a lovely melted licorice character, rich yet tangy, with a saline note that I've noted in many of our 2010's, red and white. It's spicy, but in great balance with fruit and mineral components. The finish is long, clean and complex, with beautiful balance. And as good as this is now, Neil commented that "five years from now, this will be at another level".
  • 2011 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah), in foudre right now, will be bottled in July and released spring of 2014: So young, fresh and juicy, with a licorice note that we typically associate with Grenache and a campfire smokiness that owes nothing to barrel and everything to the unique combination of lushness and savoriness we find in the 2011 vintage. There's a creamy, white chocolate texture in the mouth, with lots of herbs and spice, and a long finish highlighted by 2011's characteristic fresh acidity. Shows wonderful potential.

Overall, we were impressed with how, even within a relatively narrow range of blends, the wines showed the character of the different vintages.  Years that showed more freshness and more translucency (like 2006, 2008 and 2010) showed that character in more elegant Panoplies, though they still showed plenty of power. More blockbuster years like 2003, 2005 and 2007 showed that lushness, but balanced it with savory notes.  All the wines seem like they have a long, happy life ahead of them.  But other than the couple of vintages noted (2006 and 2009) don't feel like you need to hold off opening one in the nearer term, particularly if you have a few bottles.  I know that we'll be picking out one for the New Year's Eve dinner at our house tomorrow. If you do the same... please share how it's tasting!