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.

Last Import - 10

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:

Last Import - 02

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:

Last Import - 17

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:

Last Import - 18

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

Last Import - 19

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:

Last Import - 23

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:

Last Import - 28  Last Import - 50

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.


A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek

Last weekend Cesar Perrin and I were honored to host the keynote dinner at the Bern's Winefest.  Hosted by Bern's Steak House in Tampa, Florida, the festival included dinners, seminars, and a grand tasting.  So far, nothing unique about this.  The dinner that we hosted was excellent, five courses and eight wines, including side-by-side flights of Tablas Creek and Beaucastel, library vintages from both wineries (1996 Beaucastel and 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel, and the remarkable 2000 Hommage a Jacques Perrin).  Terrific, but still not unique.  It was a wine dinner, masterfully prepared and expertly paired, with a selection of wines going back a decade and a half.  At Bern's, that's routine.

If you're unfamiliar with Bern's, it's Mecca for wine lovers.  Opened in 1956 by Bern Laxer and run today by his son David, the restaurant boasts a wine cellar of nearly a million bottles, much of which was purchased by Bern on his annual trips to France and has never been inventoried.  The working cellar of over 100,000 bottles is staggering in its own right, and the wine list (183 pages in the 62nd Edition) is legendary.  It includes big names from Burgundy and Bordeaux, but it's more than trophies.  It encompasses the deepest collections of old wines from California, Spain, Australia and the Rhone Valley that I've ever seen.  And the sommeliers there keep finding more.  When Bern's shipments of wines would arrive from France, the entire Bern's staff would be called on to grab a hand-truck and help move the new arrivals the two blocks from the end of the rail line to the warehouse across the street from the restaurant.  Thousands of cases would be packed into the warehouse, with the only master plan in Bern's head.  To this day, the sommeliers treat a visit to the warehouse like a treasure hunt, and estimate that there are 200,000 bottles, most from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, not on any inventory list. These discoveries keep the list from getting picked over, as there is a steady supply of treasures to uncover.

Even more remarkable, the restaurant does not mark wines up based on how long they've held the inventory.  So browsing through the list will uncover any number of unbelievable values.  I could choose between a half-dozen California wines from 1973 (my birth year) including names like Parducci, Louis Martini, Souverain, Franciscan, and Trentadue for between $45 and $70.  Had I been born a year earlier, I could have chosen a magnum of 1972 Inglenook Cabernet, an icon from one of the greatest vintages in Napa Valley, for $129.  A year later and I could have had a 1974 Ridge Zinfandel for $72.70.  The list goes on and on.

Knowing that the winemaker dinner would have a set menu, with wines that we knew, Freddy Matson (the Vineyard Brands manager for Florida's Gulf Coast) made a reservation for Cesar and me the night before our wine dinner.  When we arrived, we put ourselves in Sommelier Brad Dixon's hands, and enjoyed an amazing string of wines, beginning with a 1954 Rioja, continuing with great Burgundies from 1978 and 1961, and including not one but two different wines from 1973, both from Souverain of Alexander Valley: one a Zinfandel and one a Pinot Noir.  It was one of the great epicurean experiences of my life.

On the wine list, Cesar and I noted a curiosity: half-bottles of 1966 Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape.  Pierre Perrin was Cesar's great-grandfather, Jacques Perrin's father, but there are other branches of the Perrin family in Chateauneuf and -- until the Hommage a Jacques Perrin debuted in 1989 -- we weren't aware of the Perrin name appearing on a Beaucastel label.  When we asked Brad about the wine, he didn't know anything about its story, but brought us a bottle:

1966_Perrin_CdP

More than the Perrin name, the Leeds Imports strip label identified it as a wine of interest.  My grandfather created Leeds Imports because New York law at the time prohibited retailers (he owned M. Lehmann) from also acting as importer/distributor.  In the late 1960s my dad was the buyer for the wines that Leeds imported, both to sell at M. Lehmann and to offer to distributors in other states.  We decided we needed to find out more. From the restaurant, Cesar texted his father a picture of the bottle. Francois hadn't heard of the wine (of course, he was thirteen during the 1966 vintage).  I emailed my father but didn't hear back.  So Brad gave us each a bottle and asked us to let him know what we discovered.

The next day, I spoke to my dad and got the scoop.  In the late 1960's, my dad had decided that the American market was ready for wines from some regions outside the traditional bastions of Burgundy and Bordeaux.  So he was visiting appellations that he thought were making high quality wine and looking either to find new suppliers or quality wine in bulk that he could then have bottled and out of which he could create a brand.  He visited Beaucastel with a broker in 1967 and found that while Jacques Perrin wouldn't sell him Beaucastel (their American importer at the time wasn't selling much wine, but had an exclusive agreement) he was able to convince Jacques to let him taste through the lots and assemble his own cuvee for bottling.  This is that wine: made by Jacques Perrin, chosen by my dad in Beaucastel's cellars, bottled under a semi-anonymous label in Bordeaux, and imported into the United States.  My dad thinks that there were perhaps 300 cases produced total.  I'm not sure if any is left anywhere other than at Bern's, but I tend to doubt it.

There were no subsequent vintages of Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape.  The American importer got wind of the wine and asked Jacques not to do it again.  But my dad's interest in Beaucastel was sparked; he kept visiting and in 1970 convinced Jacques to give him the American import agency.

So, there it is: the beginning of the Haas-Perrin partnership that would become Tablas Creek.  Just a great discovery, during an amazing night of food and wine, at a restaurant unlike any other in the world.  If you haven't been to Bern's, you owe it to yourself to go.  You never know what you'll find, but you know you'll find something you couldn't have found anywhere else.


A farewell treat: Cesar Perrin presents a Chateau de Beaucastel vertical

We've had the pleasure of hosting Cesar Perrin here at Tablas Creek for the last year.  Cesar is Francois Perrin's youngest son, a few years out of enology school in France, and proceeding through a series of apprenticeships at notable wineries around the world while being groomed to eventually take the reins at Beaucastel.  During his stay he has helped in the cellar during harvest, in the vineyards during our integration of our grazing herd, and at events around the country.

Last week was his last full week here, and he took the opportunity to say thank you by leading the cellar and management teams here through a vertical tasting of eight different vintages of Beaucastel.  The vintages selected were a combination of wines that the winery had available and those that members of the team had managed to accumulate over the years, so there are some notable vintages like 1998 and 2001 that weren't available.  But this is not necessarily a bad thing.  The list focused on the wines in the roughly 20-25 year old range, which is historically a sweet spot for these famously long-lived wines.  There were also two young examples (2005 and 2007) from great recent vintages, still showing the power and polish of youth.  The one wine in what might be termed middle age (the 1999) was from a vintage that was a bit overlooked in the great Chateauneuf-du-Pape run between 1998 and 2001, and showed better than we were expecting, with some of the younger, fruitier characteristics balanced by welcome secondary balsamic and mushroom characters.

Overall, the tasting was a treat, showcasing the remarkable personality and ageworthiness of the estate's wines.  The lineup, lined up and ready to go:

Beaucastel_vertical_0003

My tasting notes, starting with the youngest wine:

  • 2007 Beaucastel: A very rich, minty and herby nose, with aromas of rosemary and roasted meat.  The mouth is rich and dense but not yet very giving, with power more than nuance right now.  I found this less expressive than I did when I tasted it last, where a powerful undercurrent of iron-like minerality framed the lush fruit in a way not evident at this tasting.  Stock this away for a long while yet.
  • 2005 Beaucastel: A nose less dense than the '07, more spicy, though overall on the same continuum, with juniper and chocolate/cherry and a slightly foresty wildness.  The mouth was rich and nicely tannic, with red apple skin, licorice and menthol flavors and a little noticeable oak.  There was a nice coolness and balance on the finish, with granular tannins and cherry skin acidity.  I found this more drinkable now than the '07, with a wonderful future ahead of it.
  • 1999 Beaucastel: From a vintage, according to Cesar, with an unusually high percentage of Mourvedre.  On the nose rare steak and pepper, bright, with a note reminiscent of aged balsamic.  In the mouth clean and long, fruity and spicy with good acids coming out on the finish.  There was an appealing forest floor character that Neil called "mushroomy... in a good way".
  • 1993 Beaucastel: From a cold vintage where much of the later-ripening Mourvedre and Grenache didn't get ripe, so a notably high percentage of Syrah for Beaucastel.  A perceptibly older nose of leather, thyme and juniper.  The nose is so dry that the little burst of sweet fruit on the palate is both surprising and welcome.  Cesar declared that he's a big fan of this "lesser" vintage for drinking now.
  • 1992 Beaucastel: Another cold vintage, with some rain during harvest.  The nose is a little denser and showing younger than the '93, with cedar, cocoa and leather predominant.  The mouth is nicely constructed, with flavors of pencil shavings and cherry skin.  There is a little nice saltiness on the finish.  Not sure if I'd have identified this as Chateauneuf tasting it blind... very Burgundian.
  • 1990 Beaucastel: The nose is rich, with plum and some game meat, juniper, allspice and clove.  Wow.  The flavors are still intense, like marinating meat, with a distinctive Worcestershire Sauce flavor that was unlike any other wine in the tasting.  Spicy red fruit and cocoa powder on the finish.  According to Cesar, this was another vintage with an unusually high percentage of Mourvedre, and it showed in the red fruit/chocolate/meat character.
  • 1989 Beaucastel: Rich, mature and spicy, but smells higher-toned than the 1990, a little fresher and more open.  Aromas are cola and herbs and meat and balsamic, with a nutty almond-like character I kept coming back to.  The mouth was just spectacular, rich, with nice cola and spice high tones, pure, clear and notably mineral in the mid-palate, and then herby with sweet spices on the finish.  A great Grenache vintage, according to Cesar, and my favorite wine of the tasting.  An outstanding vintage of a superb wine, at its peak.  Just a treat.
  • 1988 Beaucastel: A classic year, according to Cesar, overlooked in the excitement for 1989 and 1990, but very good in its own right.  The nose shows a little older, with charcoal, pepper and caramel notes.  The palate is sweeter than the nose suggests, with cola and tart cherry flavors.  Still quite powerful, with tannins that could even use another few years.

Two more photos from the tasting, on the left Cesar pouring for my dad, and on the right the 1990 and 1989, two of the tasting's highlights:

Beaucastel_vertical_0002 Beaucastel_vertical_0001
A few concluding notes.  First, the quality of even the lesser vintages is a testament to the work that Francois Perrin and the rest of the Beaucastel team do.  I think that this is the best measure of the quality of a winemaker: not what he or she does with the great vintages, but his or her results from the vintages that present challenges.  I know how great a winemaker Francois is, and I still came away impressed.

I also came away reconfirming my conviction in the value of blending.  Each vintage can then reflect what was great that year, without having to incorporate elements that were less impressive.  And each vintage also shows more individual personality.  That recognition of personality -- that each wine expressed something unique about its vintage -- was my most lasting impression from what was a truly wonderful tasting.


Recipe and Wine Pairing: Sauteed Diver Scallops and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc

By Robert Haas

I got to do dinner for two last night because my wife, Barbara, had a 6 o’clock meeting to attend.  I had planned on diver scallops from our excellent local fish market, Pier 46 Seafood in Templeton.  As I was walking out of the winery to my car I saw walking in Chris Couture, the vineyard manager at Chequera Vineyard where we get much of our Syrah for Patelin de Tablas.  He was carrying a box of fresh asparagus from his organic farm picked that morning.  He kindly offered me two bunches.  What good timing!  I had been on my way to shop for veggies.  Now I could head straight to Pier 46 for my scallops.  I bought three quarters of a pound (8) of the big diver scallops.

2007_esprit_blancThe menu was to be sautéed scallops and simmered asparagus with a chopped hard-boiled egg vinaigrette dressing.  One of the great things about the menu was very little prep and very short cooking times: 15 minutes to hard-boil and chop the 2 eggs, and shave and trim the asparagus and make the vinaigrette.  Add about three minutes to chop a teaspoon of tarragon while simmering the asparagus and a total of about five minutes sautéing the scallops.

Scallops Recipe:

  • Heat the pan over medium heat and then add about two tablespoons of butter to melt. 
  • Add the scallops and sauté, half at a time, about three or four minutes each lot.  Don’t overcook! 
  • When each lot is done, transfer it to a bowl. 
  • After transferring the second lot to the bowl, add to the pan the chopped tarragon, the juice of one lemon and the scallops.
  • Cook just until everything is hot, turning the scallops to coat them in the glazed pan juices.

Asparagus Recipe:

  • Boil two eggs for 14 minutes until hard boiled, then cool and chop.
  • Make a vinaigrette by dissolving a generous pinch of sea salt into a teaspoon of good white wine vinegar, then stirring in a half-teaspoon of Dijon mustard.  Add 2 tablespoons of good olive oil, then whisk to combine.  Add fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
  • Trim the ends of the asparagus and shave the skin off the bottom portion of any thicker stems.
  • Simmer the asparagus in boiling water until tender but not mushy, 2-3 minutes.  Let cool slightly.
  • Arrange the asparagus on a plate, then top with the chopped egg and the vinaigrette.

We drank a Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2007 with the meal and I was reminded what a muscular vintage it was: rich and flavorful without being alcoholic or heavy.  Our tasting notes from a review tasting last year were:

Rich and powerful, with an explosive nose of ginger and honey, rose petals, and licorice stick.  In the mouth it's thick and broad, lifted nicely at the end by a herby white tea note.  A really long finish, the longest of any of the wines that we tasted [in our review tasting of 10 vintages].” 

And that is exactly the way it tasted last night: almost four years in the bottle and still young and vibrant.  It was terrific with the buttery scallops and even handled itself well with the asparagus with its egg vinaigrette.


How (and Why) to Decant a Wine

One question we get fairly often is whether to decant one of our wines.  My typical answer is that most of our wines will benefit from some air when young, though it's more important for some wines than others.  And a few of our older red wines have started to show some sediment.  Decanting these wines is highly recommended, as even if you stand a bottle up in advance, pouring the wine around the table will re-mix any sediment.  We've started marking on our online vintage chart wines that particularly benefit from decanting.

The examples above illustrate the two different sorts of wines that you might want to decant. The first is what I'm usually asked about: young wines whose powerful structure can be softened, and whose subtler aromatic elements encouraged, by some exposure to air.  It's not actually that important how you decant this sort of wine.  Often, the more the wine splashes around, the better.  But for the second sort of wine -- an older red wine which has accumulated some sediment over time and which you'd like to be able to enjoy without having to strain it through your teeth -- technique is important.

Over the holidays, the Haas clan gathered in Vermont, and we enjoyed many wonderful wines.  Perhaps the highlight was a magnum of the 1989 Hommage a Jacques Perrin that we drank on New Year's Day with a dinner of truffled roast chicken and a gratin of potato and fennel.  The wine was rich and luxurious, powerful with dark red fruit, licorice, and earth.  It was still quite youthful, but had already accumulated significant sediment.  We'd have decanted it even if it were a 750ml bottle, but as magnums are awkward to pour at the table due to their heft, decanting the bottle into two 750ml decanters made the logistics of serving the wine easier.  Robert Haas demonstrates how it was done, step by step.  My sister Rebecca took most of the photos; you can see more of her great photography on her blog Campestral.  The scene, with the bottle having been stood upright two days before:

Decanting2_1

To start the process, remove the capsule completely so you can see through the neck of the bottle, and light a candle (a small flashlight works, too, but is less focused and less romantic) to shine through the neck so you can tell when the wine flow starts to include sediment:

Decanting_1

Then, pull the cork:

Decanting_2

Pour out the bottle carefully and gradually, in one smooth motion, with the goal of creating as little turbulence as possible.  The beginning, with the first decanter partly full and the second decanter at the ready:

Decanting_3

Pouring slower now, part way through the second decanter:

Decanting_4

If you've poured smoothly enough, the sediment should have collected in the shoulder of the bottle, and you can pour out almost all the liquid without getting any grit.  You can actually see the sediment still in the bottle:

Decanting_5

Done:

Decanting_6

We put the bottle on the table so it could enjoy the dinner too, and so we could read the label if we had any questions:

Decanting_7

Cheers!

Decanting2_2


Tablas Creek Grenache retrospective: a vertical tasting of every Cotes de Tablas and every varietal Grenache ever

This weekend, we're delving into Grenache in what should be a fascinating seminar.  We'll taste each vintage of the Tablas Creek varietal Grenache (2006-2009), three different Grenache-dominated vintages of our Cotes de Tablas, and then four Famille Perrin wines that are based on Grenache.  Our goal is to explore the expressions of this, the second-most-planted grape in the world.  From our upcoming Tablas Creek events page:

Sunday, September 4th 12:00p.m.
Grenache Grand Tour

Grenache is the most widely planted grape in the southern Rhône Valley, and the second most widely planted varietal in the world. It works wonderfully in blends, and is also capable of making profound wines on its own. It drinks well young, and is typically more approachable in its youth than Syrah or Mourvèdre, yet makes wines that can age for decades. And at whatever age, in (nearly) every incarnation, Grenache is a wonderful partner with food. This September 4th, we will look at Grenache in all its glory. Join partner Jason Haas and winemaker Neil Collins as we taste every vintage of Tablas Creek Grenache, several of our Grenache-based blends, three different appellations of Grenache-based wines from Perrin & Fils in the southern Rhone, and a Grenache-dominated Beaucastel. We'll finish the day with a Grenche-friendly lunch prepared by chef Jeffrey Scott. This exploration of the vibrant world of Grenache is $55 for VINsiders and $70 for guests. Advance reservations are essential; contact Nicole Getty at 805.237.1231 x39 or events@tablascreek.com.

So, to get ready (and to decide which vintages of Cotes de Tablas we should open) Winemakers Neil Collins and Ryan Hebert, Wine Club & Hospitality Director Nikki Getty, and National Sales Manager Tommy Oldre joined me in a comprehensive Grenache tasting yesterday.  A look at the assembled wines:

Grenache_vertical_0001

The tasting was fascinating.  We found that the wines fell into two identifiable categories: those from more elegant years, with a classic, vibrant mid-weight Grenache signature (like 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008) and those from more powerfully structured years with more richness, more licorice and dark fruit, and more tannin.  Which sort of vintage a drinker will prefer is likely to be a matter of personal preference rather than qualitative difference.  But knowing which vintage fall into which camps should help you know which you're more likely to enjoy... or which you'll want to lay down. 

More relevantly, we came out of the tasting convinced that Grenache is already doing great here at Tablas Creek, and likely only to get better.  It's a variety that shows well both in more elegant and more powerful vintages.  It shows well young, but has proven to be remarkably ageable.  And these were not expensive wines, not consciously made to cellar.  The Cotes de Tablas retailed between $20 and $25 all through the 2000's.  It was a pleasure to realize that these wines have not just held up this well, but have gained in richness and complexity.  Tommy's comment toward the end of the vertical was "you know, anyone who was buying these wines and laying them down was getting a steal."  Kudos to any of you who did.

Grenache Flight

  • 2006 Grenache (90% Grenache, 10% Syrah): a pretty mid-weight nose and translucent color, spicy, with vanilla bean and lively red fruit.  It's in a nice place in the mouth, with plenty of fruit, slightly candied, and soft tannins.  Good acidity at the end keeps everything fresh.
  • 2007 Grenache (90% Grenache, 10% Syrah): richer and jammier than the 2006, with powerful strawberry and mineral nose.  In the mouth, still very young, rich yet cooled and lifted by mineral, showing a little sweet oak on the finish, and big tannins.  We thought that it was a wine to wait on, or to drink with big food.  Ryan's comment after just two wines: "I didn't realize I liked single varietal Grenache so much!"
  • 2008 Grenache (100% Grenache): An intriguing nose, both lifted and dark, with violets, tar and chocolate.  Intense yet not full-bodied.  Still quite primary, and needs some time for the finish to calm down.  Interesting progression through the mouth, with the initial attack sweet and the finish very dry, with big tannins.  Totally classic for Grenache at this stage in its life; lay it down for a year or two.
  • 2009 Grenache (100% Grenache): A tangy nose of barbeque spices, smoke and pepper.  The mouth is rich but still relatively tannic; Tommy called it "brawny".  Still very, very young.  There's a nice coffee note on the finish that suggests it's going to be gorgeous.  Won't go out for a while (it's scheduled to go out to our wine club in March 2012) and will still probably be a candidate to lay down for a year or two then.

Cotes de Tablas Flight

  • 1999 Petite Cuvee (65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre): This was the precursor to the Cotes de Tablas, and we made just a few hundred cases in 1999 of lots that we thought weren't up to the standards of the 1999 Reserve Cuvee, mostly Grenache that we thought too tannic for its weight.  The wine was sold only in our tasting room, and we never thought it would go this long, but it's showing admirably, with the nose the only part showing any age, lots of soy and balsamic.  There's some sweet fruit on the attack, but then big tannins, still a little drying on the finish.  A nice licorice note lingers.  Neil commented that it would be really nice with a dry-aged ribeye, and it could even stand to age a little longer.
  • 2000 Cotes de Tablas (84% Grenache, 16% Syrah): Our first Cotes de Tablas, from about 600 cases worth of lots we thought pretty but not sufficiently intense to go into the 2000 Esprit, that to our surprise got a 92-point rating from Robert Parker and sold out in less than a month.  There are times when an outside perspective helps you realize the quality of something you've been overlooking each day, and this was one example.  Now showing lots of complexity, with a gamy, meaty, spicy, tobacco-y nose, just beautiful.  In the mouth, lots of sweet Grenache fruit, very lush, still fresh and mouth-filling.  Benefited from time in the glass; so if you have some, decant it for a little while before you drink.
  • 2001 Cotes de Tablas (38% Mourvedre, 34% Syrah, 24% Grenache, 4% Counoise): An anomaly for the tasting, as in 2001 we decided that the spring frost had scrambled up the vintage sufficiently that we weren't going to make an Esprit de Beaucastel, and declassified nearly the entire vintage into the Cotes.  So, Grenache was the #3 variety behind Mourvedre and Syrah.  The nose showed leaner than 2000, nice aromatics of cola & leather, definitely signed by Mourvedre.  In the mouth, nice balance, flavors of rare steak, spice and plum, mid-weight, pretty but less dramatic than the wines around it. Drink now and for the next few years.
  • 2002 Cotes de Tablas (45% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 12% Counoise): Our first "modern" Cotes de Tablas, blended primarily as a wine in its own right rather than as a consequence of lots we didn't want in the Esprit.  A powerful yet savory nose (Tommy called it "really cool") of asian spices, leather, cranberries and soy.  A sweet attack, the first signs of age showing in a mid-palate of roasted meat and dark spices, then a gentler finish than the initial impression would have suggested, with nice richness and soft tannins.  Probably not going to get any better, so drink up.
  • 2003 Cotes de Tablas (60% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise): A clean pretty nose of cherry cola, strawberry and a little pepper spice.  In the mouth, just lovely: fresh red strawberry and raspberry fruit, a dusting of dark chocolate, and a great middle-weight and texture with just enough tannins to clean up the wine's perception of sweetness.  Must be close to its apex, and the wine of the tasting for us.
  • 2004 Cotes de Tablas (64% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 13% Counoise, 7% Mourvedre): A very pretty color, a little darker than the 2003, with a slightly smokier, tangier nose.  Sort of halfway between 2002 and 2003 aromatically.  The mouth showed flavors of rare steak, balsamic and Tommy noted a cool spiciness that he nailed as paprika.  Good acids and relatively firm tannins suggest that this is still a year or two away from peak.

[Between 2005 and 2007 we bottled the Cotes de Tablas in both cork and screwcap versions.  We hadn't checked in on them in a while, so we tasted both.  They weren't tasted blind, which of course influences our perceptions of them, but since some of us are screcap proponents and others tend to favor corks, we were pleased that our impressions of the wines' relative merits were pretty consistent.  I've included notes from both versions below.]

  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 15% Counoise)
    • Cork: Just a hint of bricking on the rim, with a nose rich and licoricey with savory aromas of dark soy.  In the mouth gorgeous and lush, with purple-black fruit.  Still quite a big, young wine, nice chalky tannins.
    • Screwcap: Color younger, more true red, with a nose that we variously described as mineral, flinty and gunpowdery.  The fruit took a few minutes to come out in the glass but was very pure when it did, higher-toned than the cork version.  The mouth hasn't gotten the same breadth as the cork finish, but got richer and richer with time open.  Both versions could probably benefit from a decant at this point, but certainly the screwcap.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise)
    • Cork: Nose is spicy, minty, junipery, with a surprising (and welcome) orange peel note.  The mouth is sweet and slightly piney, with good richness on the mid-palate.  There is a nice, linering finish.
    • Screwcap: Nose is similar, a little less expressive and slightly higher-toned, almost pomegranate.  In the mouth, a perception of a little more acid, brighter tannins and a touch more minerality.  Not as different from the cork version as either 2005 or 2007.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise)
    • Cork: The first bottle was corky, which drove home the risks of cork.  The second bottle showed a powerful, slightly gamy nose, sweet & rich, intensely grenachey with licorice, spice and purple fruit.  In the mouth, sweet fruit and nice tannins, relatively well resolved for such a young wine.
    • Screwcap: Powerful nose, a touch more perceptible alcohol than the screwcap, but with lurking dark red jam that came out more and more with air. The mouth showed similarly to the cork version, a touch younger and more tannic, with the tannins less resolved and integrated.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas (42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 17% Mourvedre): Only bottled in screwcap. A beautiful nose, junipery, minty and citrusy like the 2006, but with an additional sweet spice note (cloves?) that was nice.  The mouth is mid-weight, with nice tannins and a cool, grainy texture with just a hint of oak from a new wooden fermenter than part of the blend spent some time in. Drinking great now, but can age, too.
  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 18% Counoise, 15% Mourvedre): Only bottled in cork.  Smells dense & extracted, with cola and licorice notes and dark spice.  The flavor is intensely cherry, with broad texture, chalky tannins and quite dry on the finish.  Low-ish in acidity, but big tannins keep the wine balanced.  A great Cotes to lay down, if not quite ready now.

A few concluding thoughts.  First, on corks vs. screwcaps.  It seemed clear to us that, at least at the stage at which we were tasting the wines (fairly newly opened, about 5 years old) the cork version was richer, with better-integrated tannins.  But as the wine sat in the glass, and with time open in the bottle, the screwcap version gained breadth and approached the cork version, though always remaining a little higher-toned.  The difference seemed greater in the denser, more concentrated (and more tannic) vintages of 2005 and 2007 than it did in the more elegant 2006, which suggests that our decision to put the wine back under cork for the powerful 2009 vintage, and then going forward as we make a more intense Cotes de Tablas by declassifying less-intense lots into the Patelin de Tablas, was a good one.

Of course, the one disappointing wine was the corked 2007.  A dilemma.

It was clear to all of us that we've been giving Grenache short shrift in our evaluations of its capacity to age.  Cotes de Tablas wines a decade old were showing vibrantly, clearly right in their sweet spot at 6-10 years of age, but with the capacity to go happily several more years.  And lest we be tempted to attribute that to the additions of Syrah and Mourvedre, the varietal Grenaches, even the 2006, showed fresh and youthful.

Our favorite wine of the tasting was the 2003 Cotes de Tablas, which satisfied just about everyone, whether they were looking for more richness or more vibrancy.  Other favorites included 2000, 2004 and 2006.  That the 2003 Cotes should show best in its vertical, just as the 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel showed best at our most recent vertical of Esprit reds, suggests that these wines may age very well indeed... perhaps nearly as well as the Mourvedre-dominated Esprits.


Tasting a decade of Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: 2001-2010

I got a question from my brother about a wine dinner we'll be doing together in Washington, DC this fall. (At Brasserie Beck, September 27th; should be amazing; more information here.)  He wanted to include an older vintage of Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc in the menu and had 2004 and 2006 in the cellar.  He wondered which was drinking better.  I realized that I didn't know.

This seemed to be as good an excuse as any to check in on our past vintages of Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc.  The soon-to-be-bottled 2010 will be the tenth vintage of our signature white, which makes for another nice reason.  To top it off, we have decided to include the 2007 Esprit Blanc in our Collector's Edition shipment this September and I wanted to see how it fit into the context of the surrounding vintages.  I was joined for the tasting by Winemaker Neil Collins, Viticulturist Levi Glenn and National Sales Manager Tommy Oldre.  The lineup:

Espritsblanc_0001

The tasting was fascinating.  Roussanne-based wines tend to go through three distinct stages: a youth of richness and breadth, with flavors of white flowers, herbs, honey and tropical fruits.  They then enter a closed period in middle-age, tasting heavy and often woody, before emerging as different wines, nutty and mineral, often spicy and caramel-tinged.  This tasting highlighted the reemergence of the 2004 (one of my favorite wines of the tasting) and the shutting down of the 2005.  But that closed 2005 provided a nice fulcrum: the four older wines, while all distinctive, showed the rewards of aging, while the four younger wines (plus the unbottled 2010) expressed to varying degrees the vibrancy and power of youth.  By vintage:

  • 2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (44% Roussanne, 22% Viognier, 18% Grenache Blanc, 16% Marsanne): A clean nose of honey, mineral, petrol and saline.  The mouth is beautiful, mid-weight, with caramel apple and a little tannic bite that suggests that it still has a few years to go.  The relatively low percentage of Roussanne in this, the first Esprit Blanc, gave it a different character than the succeeding older wines, a little less weighty, a little higher-toned.  I would never have guessed that this was a decade old.
  • 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Viognier): Wood on the nose, a little dusty, with some cantaloupe lurking underneath.  Maybe still a touch closed?  Neil tasted the influence of the cork, though the wine wasn't corked.  The mouth was much more appealing, with buttered toast and caramel, excellent richness and a chewy, almost tannic character on the finish.  The wine blossomed after sitting open for 20 minutes or so.  As amazing as it seems, we thought that the wine was still too young.  If you're drinking it now, be sure to decant.
  • 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (68% Roussanne, 27% Grenache Blanc, 5% Viognier): Aromatics jumped out of the glass compared to the 2002 with honey and a touch of heat.  The mouth is rich and very long, with an appealing touch of jasmine lifting the flavors and some gingery spice deepening them.  The finish was maybe the least resolved piece of the wine, a touch disjointed, and didn't quite live up to the aromas or palate.  I'd tend to give this another 6 months or so, but it's close.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A more focused nose than any of the previous wines shows the signature of the Picpoul.  It's still amazing to me what a difference it made swapping out the 5% Viognier for 5% Picpoul at the time we were blending this wine... still a vivid memory.  It totally brought the wine into focus and brought out a startling saline minerality that wasn't there with the Viognier.  Now, it shows that saline character on the nose, with white flowers, a sense of power more held in check (think BMW rather than Mustang).  Nice acids come out on the finish, with a lingering character of honeydew and preserved lemon.  Easily my favorite of the older wines.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): Levi commented that the wine smelled like oak-aged champagne, and he was right... a toasty, almost yeasty character on the nose with dried pineapple as the primary fruit.  On the palate rich but tasting a touch oxidized, lifted at the end by vibrant but not totally integrated acids and a touch of tannin.  Still a beautiful color.  Just in its awkward middle phase; should be spectacular in a couple of years.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): Lighter in color than any of the previous wines, and the Grenache Blanc's green apple comes through on the nose.  Very pretty, with additional aromatics of fresh pineapple and a gentle herbiness that Tommy identified as white tea.  Gorgeous sweet fruit in the mouth, pretty and vivacious.  A long, clean finish.  Beautiful.  Great drinking now, but don't be surprised if it shuts down sometime around the end of the year... it's next in line.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): Rich and powerful compared to the 2006, with an explosive nose of ginger and honey, rose petals, and licorice stick.  In the mouth it's thick and broad, lifted nicely at the end by that same herby white tea note that we found in the 2006.  A really long finish... the longest of any of the wines that we tasted.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Banc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A bright nose, higher-toned than any before, which Levi nailed as passion fruit.  Neil called it "a little more wispy than the 2007".  Tommy contributed my favorite quote of the tasting: "more San Francisco yoga instructor than Hollywood starlet".  In the mouth a touch less structured than the past few vintages, with flavors of white peach, licorice, and white tea and a texture that Neil said reminded him of powdered sugar.  Deceptive richness because it's so balanced.  Just a beautiful showing for this wine.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (62% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 12% Picpoul Blanc): A familiar smell to me as it's the wine I've been out showing to people.  Rich, youthful, creamy nose for fresh honey, almost toasted marshmallow in its perception of sweetness on the nose.  But on the palate richness gives way to structure with flavors of citrus zest and clove, ginger and lemon drop.  Still a baby.
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (60% Roussanne, 35% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): Out of a very chilly tank; we're bottling this in 3 weeks and it's being cold stabilized.  Similar to the 2009 but a bit higher-toned, showing more yellow sweet/tart fruit like passion fruit, pineapple and mango.  A hint of lychee comes out as the wine warms.  In the mouth it's rich but has great structure, and is very clean and pure.  Should be a stunner.

A few concluding thoughts.  Compared to the Esprit red, which shows greater differences in personality from one vintage to the next, the Esprit Blancs displayed more similarities across vintages.  The blend has also stayed relatively stable through the years; except for 2001 every vintage has between 60% and 70% Roussanne.  But it was interesting to see the extent to which the older wines had moved since our last vertical tasting a year ago.  The 2003 and 2004 Esprit Blancs had come out of a closed phase and the 2005 had moved in; the 2002 was showing less well; and the vintages since 2006 were largely unchanged.

I was also struck by just how good these wines all were.  I know that's an odd thing to say -- of course I'm supposed to think they're good -- but the depth of richness, the minerality, the balance and the ability to age I think put this wine, vintage after vintage, up with the best rich, dry whites anywhere in the world.  Drop them in lineups with the best Alsatian rieslings, the best chardonnays from California and Burgundy, maybe a few top semillons... I think they'll shine.  And this in a region that was supposed only to be good for red wines!