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!


We finally open the iconic wine that began the Haas-Perrin collaboration

Regular readers of the blog will remember my post from May which detailed the discovery on the incomparable wine list of Bern's Steak House of the first Haas-Perrin collaboration: a 1966 Chateauneuf du Pape under the Pierre Perrin label (pictured below).  If you missed that post, go read it now and we'll wait for you.

66PierrePerrinCdP_1

OK, welcome back.

I brought that bottle back to California with me, but wanted to wait to open it with my dad, and he spends summers in Vermont and didn't get back until last month.  Then, in the busy harvest season, it took us another month.  But last weekend, we opened it:

66PierrePerrinCdP_2

Here are our notes: a very pale, orange-amber in color, but clear.  The nose is clearly that of an elderly wine, but in no way flawed: aromas of coffee grounds, orange liqueur, creme de menthe and nutmeg.  The mouth is still very nicely balanced with candied orange peel, forest floor, and a minty heathery note that I often find in old wines. There's something meaty and savory there too... the closest I could come was mincemeat pie, which also suggests the wine's brandyish character. It's not particularly a fruity wine at this stage, but amazingly, with air, some prune and pomegranate comes out.  The finish is clean but short, and leaves only a hint of unsweetened cocoa powder.

My dad's comment was that "it's still honorable... there's still something there." He added that he picked lots -- mostly or perhaps all Syrah -- for their appeal at the time, and fully expected them to be drunk up within the first few years.  He was as amazed as anyone that there's still some of this wine out there to be found.

If you should find yourself at Bern's, it's definitely worth a taste (particularly at Bern's incredibly modest price).  How often, after all, do you have the chance to drink a 46-year-old Chateauneuf du Pape of which there were only 300 cases originally?  But whatever its current state, it's most amazing as a landmark in the history of the American Rhone movement.  Without it, we quite literally wouldn't be here.


An anniversary dinner of rack of lamb, roasted tomatoes and avocado salad with Esprit de Beaucastel

This is a busy week of celebrations for me. Meghan's birthday was Friday. Sebastian's birthday is Monday. And our anniversary was Saturday. As it's squeezed between other parties, we often keep it low-key, and certainly compared to Friday night's amazing dinner at the Cass House (and even Sebastian's Star Wars-themed birthday party) Saturday night's dinner was relaxed. But it's such a spectacular time of year for our back yard garden and for our local farmers' markets that what started as a simple weekend meal turned out to be pretty extraordinary. It was also easy and relatively quick to prepare, and seemed like a good time to put the new camera that I got for my own recent birthday through its paces.

The menu: rack of lamb, roasted tomatoes, and avocado salad. I particularly like the combination of lamb and tomatoes, as lamb needs something with some acidity to balance its richness. 

The rack of lamb is basically no prep.  I got a small rack (about 1.25 lbs) and rinsed it off, patted it dry, rubbed it with salt and pepper, and let it come up to room temperature.

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The tomatoes were almost as easy. I modified a recipe ("roasted cherry tomatoes with basil") from one of my favorite cookbooks -- Vegetable Love, by Barbara Kafka -- to suit the many smallish heirloom tomatoes our backyard garden has been producing.  I cut the tops off the tomatoes and cored the larger ones, then put them in a baking dish with some peeled garlic cloves and poured olive oil and sprinkled salt over everything.  After I'd rubbed the oil around, it looked like this:

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To cook the lamb, I used the tried-and-true Joy of Cooking recipe: sear both sides for 2 minutes on the stovetop then put the whole pan (rack bone-side-down) in a 425° oven until a meat thermometer reads 130°, about 20 minutes.  The tomatoes took about the same amount of time: 25 minutes at 500°, with everything shaken around bit once mid-way through the cooking. While these dishes cooked, I made the avocado salad. I used local Bacon avocados, a large-pitted, thin-skinned avocado that makes its appearance every summer at our local farmer's market at such cheap prices it seems a shame not to use them at every opportunity. I cut up two of these avocados and added a small red onion, chopped, from our garden. Onto this I poured a simple vinaigrette made with champagne vinegar and good dijon mustard.  The result is one of the simplest, most delicious salads imaginable:

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When the tomatoes came out of the oven, they were smoky and sweet, their natural flavors intensified by the roasting. I'm sure they were particularly good because it's been a great tomato season here in California (hot and sunny) but honestly, I think you could cook grocery store hothouse tomatoes this way and they would be delicious. The garlic softened and sweetened to the point that our boys were fighting over the cloves. The photo below was taken just before I added some strips of fresh basil onto the top, the coup de grace:

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When the lamb had cooked, I took it out and let it rest for about 10 minutes, then sliced the chops:

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To pair with the meal, I chose a bottle of 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel. Lamb, with its stronger flavors, likes more strongly flavored red wines, and is a great match for Mourvedre. I chose a younger Esprit because I thought that its more robust flavors would do better with the sweetness and tanginess of the tomatoes. Though I think just about any vintage would have been a success, the 2008 showed beautifully, and complemented the meal just the way great pairings should: the chewy tannins of the wine were softened by the fattiness and richness of the lamb, each bite of tomato added a burst of sweet-tart-smoky flavor that brought out the wine's generous fruit, and each component somehow made the others taste more intensely like themselves. The scene, mid-dinner:

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Our boys are pretty good eaters, but it's still rewarding to make a fully grown-up meal and have them fighting over the last servings. Even the dog got in on the fun. A success, all around. Two of the happy customers:

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Happy summer, everyone. May your celebrations be equally successful.


Selecting the library wines for the 2012 Collector's Edition

One of the treats we get each summer is to choose which older vintage of the Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel 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 announcing to our VINsiders next week that registration for the Collector's Edition will be open for a short period.  We are able to add slightly to the membership in advance of this fall's shipment. [A little housekeeping: 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 the 2005 and 2006 red and the 2005, 2006 and 2008 white to see which we could use this year.  I had not planned it this way, but it was clear that of the wines that I tasted, the 2005's were both clearly the best choices.  The 2006, in both red and white, felt closed down to me, perfectly nice but not nearly as deep or giving as the 2005's, and less expressive than they were a few years ago.  The 2008 Esprit Blanc was very pretty, but wasn't yet showing any significant signs of time in the bottle.  (If you're wondering why I tasted only those vintages, we used the 2007 Esprit Blanc last year for the Collector's Edition, and I didn't want to repeat with the same wine the following year, and the 2003 and 2004 Esprit red went out to Collector's Edition members the last two years and are now too scarce to permit another release.)

My tasting notes:

CE 2012

2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: A rich nose of creme caramel, lanolin, cotton candy, menthol and beeswax.  The mouth is rich but higher-toned than the nose suggests, with flavors of pear, butterscotch, preserved lemon and mineral, and a floral note that reminded me of honeysuckle.  Surprising and welcome acidity comes to the fore on the long finish, emphasizing the mineral notes and playing off the dominant honeycomb profile.  This has come out of a closed phase and is likely at the beginning of a 5-year peak.

2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose is rich, deep and wild, with dark red fruit, game meat, black olive, Provencal herbs and mint.  The mouth, conversely to the white, shows sweeter than the nose suggests, with rich flavors of currant, plum, grilled meat and orange peel, with chewy tannins that frame the tangy and complex finish.  With air, this added an iron-like mineral note that I found fascinating.  I strongly recommend a decant 30 minutes or so before drinking.  While this is beautiful now, I have the sense it can age for easily another decade in the cellar.