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!


What does it mean when a wine is in a "closed" phase? Think teenager...

Vintage_chart_Jul2011 I recently got a question from a friend who had been looking at the vintage chart that we keep on our Web site (a shot of the most current one is to the right; click on it to get a larger picture or on the link above for the PDF version).  Most wines are pretty straightforward: the start out young and exuberant, gradually lose some of the youthful lushness and often come into better balance for it, and eventually fade into old age.  Yes, this describes a life cycle.  Wines, while not sentient, are alive.

Not all wines improve with age, and in fact eventually all wines decline, though this may be many decades later.  But a wine's life cycle is not as simple as a linear curve, or even a bell curve, would suggest.  Some wines -- think most dry rosés -- are at their best when they're at their youngest, and fade relatively quickly.  Most ageable wines actually have curves with two peaks: a youthful peak a few years after bottling where the focus is on their lush, spicy fruit, and a mature peak some years later where the secondary flavors (nutty, caramel flavors for whites, and earthy, mineral flavors for reds) are more evident, and yet still in balance with fruit and spice that the wines displayed when they are younger. Sometimes wines transition gracefully from their youthful phase to their mature phase.  But mostly not.

Perhaps you've had a red wine which has lost some of its youthful fruit but still provides a mouthful of tannins.  Or one that seems less giving, aromatically, than it was some months before.  It's actually fairly common: many wines have an intermediate stage where they are less enjoyable than they were, and less than they will be.  This intermediate stage is often referred to as "closed" or "shut down". You can equally think of them as teenagers: no longer children, with the charms of youth, but not fully adult either, often gangly and awkward, prone to moodiness and unpredictability.

As it happens, two of our most important grapes are particularly notorious for this closed phase.  One grape is Roussanne, which has a bizarre tendency to turn dark and oxidized at about age 5, stay that way for several years, tasting heavy and tired.  Then, miraculously, it turns lighter again, much of its weight drops away, and you're left with an intensely mineral, nutty wine like very fine, dry sherry that the Perrins feel is the single best reflection of terroir that they make.  The other grape is Mourvedre, whose (underappreciated) youthful red fruit character can fade several years before its substantial tannins have resolved to the point that it is again in balance.  But the rewards of waiting are enormous, as Mourvedre produces wines that balance primary flavors like mineral, fruit and mocha with secondary flavors of leather, truffle and smoked meat.

We note wines that are in this in-between stage with the purple boxes in our vintage chart.  If you have a wine in that phase, try to be patient; it will come out the other side.  If you've opened one by mistake, give decanting a shot.  It often helps.  But the best thing to do, if you can, is wait.

PS For those who are interested, I participated in a remarkable dinner last summer that featured 21 different vintages and wines from Tablas Creek and Beaucastel.  In my writeup, I note some of the wines that are in their closed phases.  If you're the type who likes tasting notes and might want to know what "closed" tastes like, you might find it interesting.


Tablas Creek Vintage Reports 1997-2010

New_website We're working on a new Web site, to debut later this summer.  (A screenshot of the home page of the new Web site is to the right.  Click on it to get a bigger view.  Yes, we're excited.)  One of the things that we're looking forward to being able to do more flexibly with this new site is to allow people to browse through the different wines we've made.  Right now, our Wines page has an overview of the different wines we make, and links to current releases, but beyond that you have to look wine by wine to get information.  On the new site, you'll be able to select, for example, all the wines from 2007... or every Rosé we've made... or all whites currently for sale.

We realized that we could make these categories more useful by adding information about the categories, including summaries of each vintage.  Most of this information is out there in pieces, either on individual wines' pages or in a blog piece I wrote a few years back called Ten Years of Vintage Grades: Paso Robles Report Card 1999-2008.  But that last blog piece was not particularly descriptive of the wines, and not specific to Tablas Creek, focusing instead on evaluating Paso Robles as a whole.  Plus, what was here on the blog and what was on the individual wines' pages was not always in perfect harmony.

So, I cleaned everything up, went back and researched our earliest vintages, and wrote vintage summaries for every vintage we've seen here at Tablas Creek.  It occurred to me that this information would be of interest to our blog followers, so here it is.  I've linked recent vintages to the harvest reports that we kept, if you're interested in digging more deeply into them or in seeing photos of what it was really like.

  • The 2010 vintage saw healthy rainfall after three years of drought. The ample early-season groundwater and a lack of spring frosts produced a good fruit set. A very cool summer delayed ripening by roughly three weeks, with harvest not beginning until mid-September and still less than half complete in mid-October. Warm, sunny weather between mid-October and mid-November allowed the later-ripening varieties to reach full maturity. The long hangtime and cool temperatures combined to produce fruit with intense flavors at low alcohol levels. White whites display bright acids, good concentration and intense saline minerality.  Red wines show dark colors, spicy aromatics and granular tannins.
  • The 2009 vintage was our third consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by serious April frosts. Berries and clusters were small, with excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and our harvest largely complete except for about half our Mourvedre at the time of a major rainstorm on October 13th. Crop sizes were 15% smaller than 2008 and 30% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with an appealing combination of richness and depth, and red wines with an great lushness, rich texture and relatively low acid but wonderful chalky tannins.
  • The 2008 vintage was our second consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by spring frosts. Berries and clusters were small, leading to excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and harvest about a week later than normal. Crop sizes were similar to 2007 and about 20% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with good intensity, lower than normal alcohols and an appealing gentle minerality and red wines that were unusually fresh and approachable despite appealing lushness.
  • The 2007 vintage was a blockbuster vintage in Paso Robles. Yields were very low (down between 15% and 30% from 2006, depending on variety) due to a cold and very dry winter, which produced small berries and small clusters. A moderate summer without any significant heat spikes followed, allowing gradual ripening, and producing white wines with deep color and powerful flavors, and red wines with tremendous intensity, excellent freshness and a lushness to the fruit which cloaks tannins that should allow the wines to age as long as any we've made.
  • The 2006 vintage was a study of contrasts, with a cold, wet start, a very hot early summer, a cool late summer and a warm, beautiful fall. Ample rainfall in late winter gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and produced relatively generous crop sizes. The relatively cool late-season temperatures resulted in a delayed but unhurried harvest, wines with lower than normal alcohols, strong varietal character, and good acids.  White wines show freshness and expressive aromatics, while red wines have impeccable balance between fruit, spice, and tannins, and should age into perhaps the most elegant wines we've made.
  • The 2005 vintage was one of nature's lucky breaks, with excellent quality and higher-than-normal yields. The wet winter of '04-'05 gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and a warm period in March got the vines off to an early May flowering. The summer was uniformly sunny but relatively cool, and harvest began (relatively late for us) in the 3rd week of September, giving the grapes nearly a month longer than normal on the vine. The resulting wines, both red and white were intensely mineral, with good structure and powerful aromatics.  Red wines have big but ripe tannins that reward cellaring.
  • The 2004 vintage was our third consecutive drought year, with a very early spring balanced by a long, warm (but rarely hot) summer. These favorable conditions led to a fairly early harvest: most of our whites and all the reds but Mourvèdre were harvested before an early onset of the fall rains on October 14th stopped harvest for a short time. Two weeks of sunny, cool, and breezy temperatures allowed us to harvest the rest of the Mourvèdre.  The extended ripening cycle gave the grapes intense aromatics, pronounced minerality, and good structure that has allowed reds to age gracefully.
  • The 2003 vintage was a second consecutive drought year, though not as dry as 2002. A relatively early flowering, combined with a warm but not overly hot summer to produce a beginning of harvest about two weeks later than normal.  This long hangtime produced grapes with concentrated flavors and a distinct minerality, and beautiful fall weather allowed us to bring in fruit when it was at peak ripeness, and allow other blocks to continue to mature.  White wines showed good richness and classic varietal character, while red wines showed lush fruit balanced by good acids and firm tannins.  Time has brought an unexpected complexity to 2003's red wines that at first showed mostly rich fruit.
  • The 2002 vintage began with a warm, dry winter with the lowest rainfall in five years. Spring remained dry and cool, while June, July and August were very warm.  Moderate temperatures returned in September and weather stayed ideal well into November.  Cool nights prolonged the hangtime of the grapes and produced wines that were concentrated, rich, and ripe, with just enough acidity to balance the richness.  Roussanne-based whites have proven to age remarkably well, and the powerful tannins on 2002’s reds have mellowed into wines with remarkable complexity and years of development left ahead of them.
  • The 2001 vintage began with moderate vigor from average rainfall and cold temperatures.  A warm March led to early budbreak, which allowed a serious frost in mid-April to inflict major damage and dramatically reduce yields by nearly 50%. The summer was hot and sunny, but cool nights preserved the aromatics of the fruit.  Low yields (1.5 - 2.5 tons per acre) produced intense flavors in both reds and whites.  The erratic ripening from the spring frosts and particular challenges with Mourvedre encouraged us not to make an Esprit de Beaucastel red this year, but  and chewy, chalky tannins have allowed 2001's red wines to age very well.
  • The 2000 vintage saw average rainfall, with warm springtime weather, early budbreak and no significant damage from frosts.  Summer daytime temperatures were about normal while cooler than average summer nights helped extend the growing season.  Harvest began two weeks later than normal, but warm harvest weather led to an earlier-than-normal conclusion to harvest.  Both white and red wines had good intensity despite slightly higher than normal yields, and the reds had big tannins that encouraged mid-term cellaring.
  • The 1999 vintage began with slightly below average winter rainfall that reduced yields. Ripening was further accelerated by a warm, dry spring and summer.  Harvest began in mid-August, the earliest date on record at Tablas Creek.  The wines were intense and the red wines tannic when young, with slightly elevated alcohol levels.  The wines needed some time to come into balance, but many have aged magnificently.
  • The 1998 vintage was the coldest, and one of the wettest, on record at Tablas Creek.  After a late budbreak but no damage from frost, the summer remained cool and the harvest did not begin until early October.  A warm, sunny October and November saved the harvest, and produced wines that were fresh and balanced, with low alcohols and gentle tannins.  The white wines were beautiful from the beginning, and the red wines needed a few years to unwind into classic elegance, and continue to drink well today.
  • The 1997 vintage was hot and dry, with early budbreak, low yields and an early onset to harvest in late August.  This vintage saw the first significant contributions from our French clones, and produced wines that were juicy and lush from the start despite serious tannins.  The wines drank well young and have aged better than we could ever have expected given the youth of the vineyard and the heat of the vintage.

An accidental 1996-1998 Tablas Creek vertical in Chester, Vermont

In consecutive coincidences this week, a few days after chose to open at home in Chester, Vermont a 1996 Tablas Hills Cuveé Rouge, we were served by our long time friend and neighbor Tory Spater a 1997 Tablas Creek Vineyard Tablas Rouge and a 1998 Tablas Creek Vineyard Rouge at a dinner at her house.  Wow!  I had no idea that she was cellaring those first Tablas Creek releases.

Tablas Creek Vertical

We have been making wines from our vineyard in our Las Tablas/Adelaida district of Paso Robles since 1994 -- three years before we built our own winery in 1997.  It was Jean-Pierre Perrin and I who made the 1996 in space rented at Adelaida Cellars with the help of Neil Collins, then Assistant Winemaker there.  We called the wines made at Adelaida Tablas Hills (and before that Adelaida Hills) because we wanted to save the name Tablas Creek Vineyard for wines that were produced in our own winery.  In retrospect, the name changes muddied the waters to the point that there are still people out in the market who think that these first few vintages were from purchased grapes.  But no, they were from our vineyard.

In 1997 Neil was spending the year at Beaucastel, so Ryan Hebert and I made the ’97 by the seats of our pants in our brand new Tablas Creek winery, finished just a few weeks before our earliest-ever beginning of harvest on August 16th.  We were not even sure that the wines would ferment with only native yeasts in the new space, but they did, and nicely.  A problem we had was that the quantities were so small that we had lots of air on top of the juice in all of the stainless fermenters, increasing the chance of oxidation.  But the sturdy grapes resisted. 

In 1998 Neil was back to take charge of the cellar and greeted by the coldest year in our history, when we didn’t begin our harvest until October 6th.  Pierre Perrin was there and had the unusual experience -- unthinkable in Chateauneuf du Pape -- of seeing the last grapes brought in the week before Thanksgiving.  Quel climat!

All three wines are blends of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, and Counoise.  In 1996 we didn’t yet put the varieties on the label, but had roughly equal portions Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah (Counoise was just getting into production and produced only a few barrels).  In 1997, the blend was 34% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 6% Counoise (remarkably similar to our 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel).  In 1998 we began our move toward the more Mourvedre-heavy blend we used for our flagship wines for most of the last decade, with 44% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 21% Syrah and 11% Counoise.  Yet for their differences in composition the Mourvèdre leads the character and style of all three wines, as it does today in our Esprit.  All of the wines were still tasting young and healthy, without a hint of old age, and I thought could be cellared happily for another five to ten years.

Clients often ask us how long our wines will live.  If this week’s experience is an example then the answer is, “A long time.”

Bob Haas


A vertical tasting of Tablas Creek flagship red wines, from 1997 Rouge to 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel

Last week, we had the pleasure of one of Francois Perrin's semi-annual visits to Tabas Creek.  In this immediate post-harvest time, we tasted through the cellar, did our best to evaluate the 2010 components, and took one last look at the 2009 reds before they start to go into bottle.

We also took the opportunity to look back, and pulled a bottle from our library of each vintage of our signature red wines.  Of course, when we were first starting, we only had one red wine, but we pulled that anyway.  We were impressed with the life still left in even the oldest of these wines, and thought it would be fun to share our notes on how they are tasting now.  First, a look at the lineup:

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At this tasting, in addition to Francois, were me, my dad, Neil, and Chelsea.  Note that we didn't taste a wine from 2001, when we declined to make an Esprit de Beaucastel after spring frosts scrambled up the ripening cycle.  We declassified our entire production into the 2001 Cotes de Tablas (which made it one of the greatest bargains we've ever produced; if you have any, drink up; it's at a great stage but probably won't last much longer).

  • 1997 Tablas Rouge: A nose that shows cherry and eucalyptus, with some of the deeper, slightly balsamic character of age.  Still deep in color, though starting to brick a little.  Quite fresh in the mouth for a wine of this age from such young vines, with good acids framing cherry fruit, and a little drying tannin on the finish.  Not the most polished or concentrated wine we've made, but still totally viable.
  • 1998 Rouge: Aromatics are cool and dark, showing more loam and spice than fruit.  The color is a touch light and shows noticeable bricking.  The wine is a little simple, perhaps, but beautifully balanced, and would be a great dining companion.  Neil called it "Nordic".  Some appealing cocoa notes come out on the finish.  Just 13.8% alcohol, from quite a cool year.
  • 1999 Reserve Cuvee: A pretty, dark, youthful color.  Definitely more marked on the nose by Mourvedre's meatiness, Francois immediately said "more animal".  The mouth has a very nice balance between fruit that is round and lush and structure that is cool and mineral.  Must be pretty close to its peak.  The finish shows perhaps a little rustic, but we all thought it would be tremendous right now with osso bucco or cassoulet.  It opened as we were tasting; try decanting if you're drinking one now.
  • 2000 Esprit de Beaucastel: An animal, meaty, almost gamey nose with plums coming out with some air.  It's nicely rich in the mouth, though showing more signs of age than the 1999.  Still not at all tired, with complex notes of olive and tapenade coming out on the long, slightly drying finish.  This too got better with air; we'd recommend a decant.  And with its notable earthiness, it's always been a great ringer for a lineup of old-school Chateauneuf-du-Papes.
  • 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel: A nice mineral, chalky, dark fruit profile on the nose, much more polished than any of the previous wines.  At 57% Mourvedre, our highest ever, it's perhaps unsurprising that it's still so youthful.  In the mouth, rich, full, mature, deep, and ripe.  Notably lush, and much more like our current releases than the ones that preceded it.  Cocoa and chalky tannins at the back end, with lots of length.  Still years ahead of it.
  • 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel: A bright mint chocolate on the nose, very appealing.  The mouth was rich with sweet dark red currant and plum fruit, but enlivened by great acids.  Quite a long, luscious finish.  This wine had been closed for a while, and even this summer showed well but was overshadowed by the 2002 and 2004.  Not right now; this was perhaps the most impressive wine of the tasting.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: A nice, restrained nose.  The mouth is in a good place, with beautiful acids, evident minerality and a long finish of chocolate-covered cherries.  Still very fresh, and pretty.  Not as big a wine as 2003 or 2005, but great balance.  It should continue to age gracefully, and we all expected that it would just be better a year from now.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: A rustic nose of grilled meat, licorice and a bright note that Chelsea identified as mandarin.  Great sweet fruit in the mouth but big tannins, too.  The finish is a little disjointed right now, with the tannins and the acids reverberating off each other a bit.  It's going to be a very nice wine, but we'd recommend you forget it for a few years to let it integrate.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very different from the 2005, pretty, clean, bright purple fruit, nicely mineral.  In the mouth, it's seamless.  Boysenberry and blackberry fruit, medium weight, nicely integrated chewy tannins, and a dark, almost soy-like tone that lends depth.  The acids come out on the long, rich finish.  Very pretty now, and looking forward to a bright future.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: A dense black-red.  Powerful but somehow closed on the nose, with more mineral and rocks (and a little alcohol) coming through than fruit.  The mouth shows lots of sweet fruit, very lush, and big but ripe tannins.  There is a texture to the tannins that Neil commented reminded him of melted licorice.  It's impressive now but we'd recommend that you wait if you possibly can, and check back in in a couple of years for more complexity and better integration.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel: An open nose of red fruit, perhaps even strawberry, a lighter red fruit than is typical of Mourvedre.  The nose is given complexity by a balsamic, mineral note.  In the mouth, sweet fruit, medium body, and very open, forward and pure, almost Pinot Noir-like.  Reminiscent of the 2006 at a comparable age; we expect the 2008 to also darken and put on weight with some time in bottle.  Enjoy now for its purity, but wait for depth.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel (from barrel): All of the 2009 reds showed well, but the 2009 Esprit was the star, outpacing even the Panoplie at this stage.  A dark, mineral, blackberry and cocoa nose, with flavors of crushed rock, licorice, lots of spice, and black raspberry.  The texture is wonderful, with great, granular tannins that reminded Neil of powdered sugar.  Francois thought this was the best Esprit he'd ever tasted at this stage.

It's always valuable having one of the Perrins over at Tablas Creek, and Francois, who has spent the last three decades as the principal architect of Beaucastel's wines, brings a particularly interesting perspective. That he was as impressed as he was with the 2009's bodes very well for their quality.  One more photo, of Francois Perrin and Bob Haas, at the end of the vertical tasting:

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From my own perspective, as much fun as the vertical tasting was, I was most pleased by how well the 2010's showed.  It's typically a difficult time to taste, a few months after harvest while wines are just finishing primary fermentation and just starting malolactic fermentation.  But with the exception of Grenache -- which in my experience is always problematic for at least three months after harvest -- all the red varietals showed richness, balance, and a persistent saline character that seems to be a hallmark of the limestone soils here, and which frame the fruit and structural elements in all the wines.  I have never been as impressed with a vintage at this early stage, and am actively looking forward to getting to know the components we have in the cellar as we start the blending process.


Tasting the Fall 2010 "Collector's Edition" Wines

Last fall, we debuted the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition.  Members of this wine club get three bottles of older vintages of Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc each fall (as well as a few more bottles of the newest Esprit and Esprit Blanc) in addition to their club shipment.  They also have the opportunity to buy a little more.  The club has been a great success from the beginning, and we've maxed our our capacity each of the last two years.  Our membership is now up to about 450 people.

Collector's Edition members will receive the 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc this fall.  These wines were ones that showed beautifully in recent vertical tastings, both at stages where some of the primary flavors of youth had matured into deeper, more complex tones, but which should still provide another decade or more of good drinking.  I thought it would be fun to share the tasting notes from our recent tastings.

06 Esprit Blanc Bottle Shot ESPRIT DE BEAUCASTEL BLANC 2006

  • Production Notes: Above-average winter rains and a cool spring got 2006 off to a wet and late start. A moderate summer followed, and the resulting harvest was delayed but unhurried, with beautiful weather persisting into November. Wines showed notable elegance, pure flavors, medium body and comparatively lower alcohol levels. The 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc featured 65% Roussanne, primarily from neutral barrels, at its core. 30% Grenache Blanc provides roundness and distinctive anise aromatics, and 5% Picpoul Blanc adds bright acids that emphasize the wine's mineral and saline characteristics. The wine was blended in April 2007 and bottled in June 2007.
  • 2010 Tasting Notes: The color at age four is youthful: a clear pale gold with a hint of green. The nose shows more savory than fruity, with notes of mineral, saline, honey and menthol. The mouth is rich and warm, with flavors of lanolin, rose petal, new boards and sweet spices. It feels both seamless and – despite its intensity – weightless. On the lingering finish, the wine has both brighter lemon and darker butterscotch flavors. It would love rich food like crab, lobster, or ginger pork, and should drink well for at least the next three years and likely much longer.
  • Quantity Produced: 1800 cases
  • Library Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

Esprit04_lores ESPRIT DE BEAUCASTEL 2004

  • Production Notes: 2004 was our third consecutive drought year, marked by low yields, a warm spring and very early flowering. A fairly mild summer morphed into a late-August heat wave, with much of the harvest completed by mid-September. The fall weather cooled down, and we waited a long time for Mourvèdre, suspending harvest for two weeks after a mid-October rainstorm. For the 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel, we balanced the relatively high proportion (50%) of Mourvèdre with 27% Syrah for color, black fruit, and mineral, 17% Grenache for freshness, warmth, and sweet spice, and 6% Counoise for openness. The wine was blended in August 2005, aged in foudre and bottled in July 2006.
  • 2010 Tasting Notes: The first impression is decidedly Old World, with a deep, dark nose of laquered wood, rosemary, spiced plum and cloves. As it sits in the glass, more fruit emerges with cherry, black raspberry and gingerbread spice. The palate shows beautiful balance, with flavors of roasted meat, mineral, fig, pomegranate, black cherry and crushed rock. It’s a very pure and self-assured wine; Francoise Perrin called it a “vin carré”: literally a “square wine”. It has a long finish of plum, herbs and mineral. The wine is at the beginning of what should be a wonderful decade-long maturity. Try it with a rack of lamb.
  • Quantity Produced: 3250 cases
  • Library Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

The Collector's Edition is full for 2010, but anyone who is interested can read more on our Web site, and can get onto the waiting list for 2011.  We expect to be able to add another 150 or so members next year, and we'll take them off the waiting list in the order in which we receive their requests.

Finally, anyone who missed the notes on the other wines in the fall 2010 wine club shipment can find them here.


Côtes (de Tablas), Côte (d’Or) and the pleasures of aged wine

By Robert Haas

The age of a wine is a relative thing. Some wines are old young and others are young old. Many great red wines are rushed to the table too young these days. Most restaurants and retailers do not have the financing or space to lay down wines and we, as consumers, have the same problems or simply lack the patience to wait. And many wines, maybe more now than ever, are made to consume young. Sometimes, however, we are presented with opportunities.

I recently tasted our 2001 Côtes de Tablas at the delightful Bistro Henry in Manchester, VT. Chris Kleeman, Henry’s good friend, takes charge of the wines and decides in some cases to cellar some of his choices for later release to the list – certainly a rare luxury these days. The 2001 Côtes is an interesting historical landmark. Since we did not make any Esprit de Beaucastel in 2001, only a little Founders’ Reserve, the Côtes was a blend of virtually the entire vineyard. The 2001 Côtes was still showing quite youthfully, with good color and absolutely no hint of bricky edges. It showed good blackberry, gooseberry and strawberry fruit on the nose and palate, was poised and bright with some dusty tannins at the back end.

What would happen today if we blended our entire vineyard into one wine? We try this each year, for fun, in part because our original intention for Tablas Creek was to make just one red and one white wine each year. Probably the result would be deeper and richer than it was in 2001; the 2001 vintage was marked by April frosts and uneven ripening, with the Grenache component probably the weakest of our three red varieties, and the vines were still young. Yet my feeling was that the 2001 Côtes de Tablas still has a long life ahead of it. At any rate, it was fun and interesting.

Maltroie Recently I had another wonderful and very different tasting experience: drinking a great mature wine from a little known and often much underrated premier crû vineyard in Burgundy. I was preparing wines for a tasting of old Burgundies when I ran across a 1985 Chassagne-Montrachet La Maltroie from Georges Deleger that had no following vintages in my cellar because Georges retired shortly thereafter. Barbara and I had it for dinner with some rare cold beef filet. The wine was brilliant. Still deeply colored and chock full of cherry and raspberry fruit, rich on the palate with beautiful ripe and rounded tannins, and handsomely structured. The sensation brought me back 25 years to the actual tasting in Deleger’s cellar in the spring of 1986. I was blown away. It was the first 1985 red Burgundy that I had tasted in the barrel. Even though I expected 1985 to be a great vintage I was not prepared for that terrific a red wine to come from a Chassagne vineyard (Chassagne-Montrachet is better known for its brilliant whites). That spring trip brought me to many other terrific wines from that lovely and long-lived vintage.

We are still enjoying a number of 1985 Burgundies today, wines that I tasted and bought back then, but this particular experience last week brought me back to a clear sensory remembrance of the scene in Georges Deleger’s cellar in Chassagne that spring day in 1986.

One of the traditional attributes of a great wine is its ability to improve with age. Great wine changes over time and has a life of its own: youth, adolescence, maturity, senility and finally death. In general, the greater the wine, the longer that each period lasts. Tablas Creek is still too young a vineyard for us to predict long-term aging. Give us another fifty years of experience. But tastings like my recent one of our 2001 Côtes de Tablas – a wine from young vines that was never meant for long aging – make me think we show promise. And wines like the 1985 La Maltroie remind me why it matters.


21 Beaucastel and Tablas Creek wines from 1985-2007 at one amazing dinner

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a dinner in Los Angeles with a group of wine collectors who call themselves the "X-Pensive Winos".  They are a group of friends who met largely online and who share a love of wine and a love of challenging themselves and each other.  They organize their monthly events in turns, and each is on a theme.  Themes can be based on varietal, on style, on provenance, or around a winery or winemaker, and each member is expected to contribute wine out of their cellars as appropriate to the theme.  They invite winery principals to participate when the theme is appropriate.

I was the lucky recipient of an invitation from one of the group's members who happens also to be a Tablas Creek wine club member.  After a few months of back-and-forth on ideas, we settled on an exploration of Tablas Creek and Beaucastel, with side-by-site pairings when possible and appropriate.  The dinner was hosted at Bistro LQ, Chef Laurent Quenioux's outpost in an otherwise unremarkable area on Beverly Blvd. south of West Hollywood and east of Beverly Hills.  There were a ridiculous number of wines (21 in all) spanning two colors, two continents and more than two decades.  I found the experience fascinating, and thought it would be interesting to comment a little on the wines that we tasted and also share a few general thoughts on what the wines suggested about Tablas Creek as reflected through Beaucastel.

First, I should mention the food, which was extraordinarily inventive and also excellent.  I had two favorite dishes, from opposite ends of the culinary spectrum.  The first was a geoduck clam, thinly sliced, over sea urchin tapioca pudding with yuzu kosho.  The chewiness and relative simplicity of the geoduck contrasted in an amazing way with the creamy, unctuous, slightly sweet and complex urchin.  It's a dish I could never have even imagined, let alone made, but it played well with the complex flavors of the older Beaucastel whites.  My other favorite was a homemade papardelle with rabbit meatballs, salsify, olives and cipollini onions.  It was very traditional, absolutely classic, and not mucked about with.  As a pairing with the flight of older Beaucastel reds, it couldn't have been better.

Aperitifs (unusual Tablas Creek whites)
  • 2009 Vermentino: Just bottled about 6 weeks before, in its first public appearance.  Scheduled for the fall 2010 VINsider club shipment.  Citrus, spice and mineral, a little riper than the 2008 Vermentino, but not as big as 2007.  Less herby than many of our Vermentinos, more citrus.  Key lime?
  • 2008 Grenache Blanc: I think this is the best Grenache Blanc we've ever made.  Bright, rich and mineral all at once.  Preserved lemon, wet rocks, and broad texture.  Very long finish.
  • 2008 Antithesis Chardonnay: Rich but unoaked, apple and sweet spice, mid-weight, with minerality coming out on the finish.  Nice core of acidity cleans up what is a pretty robust white.  A very good vintage for Antithesis (as is typically the case with our cooler years).
First flight (Beaucastel and Tablas Creek whites)
  • 1987 Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes: A revelation for most of the table, who had never had a truly old Beaucastel white.  It was clean and vibrant, minerally, slightly nutty, saline, and lemony.  A very different texture from young Roussannes: much less of the oiliness that is characteristic of the varietal.
  • 1997 Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes: By contrast to the previous wine, which was looked in the glass like a young wine, this was almost orange, with a notable oxidation on the nose.  Still, it didn't taste dead to me, with flavors of creme caramel (burnt sugar), thick texture, and decent acidity.  I actually think this was too young, and will come back around.
  • 2003 Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes: Rich and tropical, with just the first hint of oxidation.  Very thick texture compared to the first two wines.  Lots of honey and spice, in need of big food.  Worked great with the urchin.
  • 2002 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Fresher than the 2003 Vieilles Vignes which immediately preceded it, a little more acidity and a little less weight.  A little quiet on the nose, beautiful, rich and balanced on the palate with a lingering flavor of fresh honey.
  • 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Notably different that any of the other whites, much more floral with citrus blossom and honeysuckle.  Good intensity but almost delicate on the palate, flitting between white flowers, fresh honey and herbs.
Second flight (Older Beaucastel reds)
  • 1985 Beaucastel: This felt to me like it was right at the end of its drinking peak and just starting to dry out (particularly by comparison to the next wine).  It was still wonderful, with fully mature tannins, a nice combination of plums and leather and Provencal herbs.
  • 1989 Beaucastel: Much brighter fruit and more evident tannin than the 1985.  Has a wonderful vibrancy both to the fruit and the acidity.  Just a joy to drink (as it has been each time I've had it).  My favorite wine of the evening.
  • 1998 Beaucastel: Definitely young and still not really opened up.  A much darker, more monolithic nose of soy and mineral and creme de cassis.  Still quite tannic.  Going to be great but still a few years away, I thought.
  • 1995 Beaucastel "Hommage a Jacques Perrin": Quite youthful but not as polished, to my taste, as the three previous wines.  Noticeably tannic with flavors more of rosemary and underbrush than of fruit.  Didn't quite have the lushness behind this that the 1998 did; not sure if it's a stage (this wine is 70% Mourvedre, far more than any of the others) or if the structure will continue to dominate the fruit.
Third flight (middle-aged Beaucastel and Tablas Creek reds)
  • 2000 Beaucastel: Clean and pretty, almost delicate on the nose, with flavors of cherry skin and a herbs.  Not a blockbuster, but beautifully balanced and quite elegant.
  • 2000 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel: Deep, meaty and minty, with a nose of cassis and fig.  Still quite tannic and thick with youthful fruit.  Sort of like a more rustic version of the 1998 Beaucastel.  Several people at the table commented that if they'd had the two 2000's blind they would have guessed wrong which was Californian and which was the Chateauneuf.
  • 2001 Beaucastel: Not giving much up on the nose right now.  Some mint, some cherry skin, some mineral.  On the palate, hard as nails, though there is a very promising underlying warmth to the fruit that suggests good things to come.  Definitely wait.
  • 2002 Tablas Creek Panoplie: Delicious.  Classic Mourvedre flavors of plums, currants and milk chocolate (the wine is 80% Mourvedre).  Still quite young, but with nice chewy tannins.  Not a lot of meaty secondary flavors yet, but I suspect they're lurking there for the right time to come out.
Fourth flight (young Beaucastel and Tablas Creek reds)
  • 2005 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel: Rich and earthy, with mint, sweet spices, roasted meat and still quite a lot of tannin.  A little wild brambly character on the finish is a surprising and appealing diversion.
  • 2007 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel: Plays back and forth between brighter and deeper flavors, from sweet red fruit (raspberry?) to soy and even darker aromas.  Lots of sweet spices.  A blockbuster wine with a long, exciting life ahead of it.
  • 2007 Beaucastel: A treat for me.  The nose has a seriousness to it, soy and crushed rocks and dark berries.  The mouth is rich and dense with a current of mineral coolness running through it that I can still remember vividly, four days later.  Just gorgeous, and while it showed great, strikes me as totally uncompromising in its ageworthiness.
I didn't really take any notes on the two dessert wines (2006 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille "Quintessence" and 2006 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille "Sacrerouge") but then again I also didn't really eat much dessert.  I was still going back to the cheese course and revisiting the 2007 reds.

For me, the family resemblance between the Tablas Creek and Beaucastel wines was illustrated powerfully, and a lot more salient than the compare-contrast differences that I suspect some of the group was expecting.  I would have liked to try the 2005 Beaucastel alongside the 2005 Esprit, but it was a last-minute scratch from the lineup.  Still, 21 wines, none corked, only one oxidized (and that one might just be going through a stage).  And a really wonderful evening.  I am encouraged about the long-term ageability of the wines we're making, and -- as often happens to me around Beaucastel -- humbled by the quality and personality of the wines we're inevitably compared to.

All Things Consumed: Taking A Closer Look at Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc

Each spring we release our flagship white wine, the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, to the wholesale market.  In advance of its arrival, and in an effort to further celebrate its release, the wine is typically introduced to individual states via a presale, where it is offered to restaurants and retailers at a slightly discounted price in an effort to encourage them to bring the wines in at the beginning of their releases.  As we always do these presales at the same time each year, they are also a great opportunity to look back as we look forward.  And I think that Roussanne-based wines (such as our Esprit Blanc) are still sufficiently unknown quantities to most restaurateurs and retailers -- let alone consumers -- that we put a lot of effort into creating appealing events to educate and excite potential buyers. 

To that endeavor to come up with an additional measure that was both compelling and, well, fun, I thought it would be a good idea to stage a multi-vintage tasting of our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc.  We have been making the Esprit Blanc since 2001 and, out in the market, I frequently note its subtle nuances, its depth and length, and its Dylan-like evolution and ageability.  However, it is rare that I have the opportunity to put our wine where my mouth is, so to speak.    

Thankfully, and as noted by Eric Asimov in his recent piece, there are brave, bright, and boundary-pushing retailers today who are also willing to champion some of the wine world's less mainstream offerings, such as our Esprit Blanc.  Shortly after conceiving the idea, I called Solano Cellars (a Berkeley outfit I consider to be representative of this growing retail vinguard) and pitched Jason there on the idea.  He promptly responded with a "Let's do it" and the date for the April 15th tasting was booked shortly thereafter.

With the date set, and the idea now an impending reality, I thought it would be a good idea for us here at the vineyard to go through and taste our library of Esprit Blancs for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it would enable me to select the vintages to highlight at the Solano Cellars tasting to illustrate the fascinating ageability of the Esprit Blanc.  Secondly, it would provide an ideal opportunity for our G.M., Jason Haas, to update our vintage chart, which he in fact did shortly after we completed the tasting.  Ultimately, our tasting here at the vineyard proved both enlightening and interesting.  What always strikes me whenever I taste through back vintages of this wine is how, after being open for ten minutes or so, each displays individual character and personality.  There are always common traits such as richness, viscosity, and minerality, but I love to taste each and be inspired by the differences and individuality.  And then I immediately think about what I would want to eat with each.    

Below, I have posted some of my notes from the tasting we had here at the vineyard and have also added some pairing suggestions.  For those of you with some of these bottles in your cellars, I hope the notes and suggestions help.  For those of you that happen to be near Berkeley on April 15th, please come by Solano Cellars to say hello and taste through many of these wines yourself.  (Information about the tasting can be found here, and to reserve seats, please call Solano Cellars at 1.800.WINE.411.) 

I hope to say hello to some of you next week and if anybody has any comments or questions, please let us know. 

Cheers,
Tommy.

2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Honeysuckle blossom, petrol, and anise on the nose with pronounced fennel flavors, clay, and a yeasty, dough-like component in the mouth.  As a pairing for this, I would probably have a dish that would let this wine enjoy its long-awaited spotlight on the table:  scrambled eggs with sauteed mushrooms (mild ones, however) and a sprinkling of some fresh herbs.  

2002 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Sea air, honey, and ginger on the nose with great brightness and roundness in the mouth, as well as pronounced length.  This wine is drinking beautifully right now.  For this wine I would likely try a fairly rich and savory halibut dish.  I think a fillet sauteed and finished with a beurre blanc would be a lovely way to go as would one poached in olive oil with lemon and herbs. 

2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Butterscotch, cooked honey, and generally sweeter on the nose with an herbaceous fennel (fennel frond?) character, not quite in sync with its soft palate and hop-like bitterness on the finish.  Best to leave this wine be for a year or so and check back in. 

2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Honey, dried flowers, and burnt sugar on the nose.  This wine is still very round, with great breadth, but it is showing a little hot and slightly tannic right now.  Best to leave this one be a for a little while as well.

2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Youthful and bright.  Honeysuckle, orange blossom, and rose petals on the nose.   In the mouth it has lovely minerality, great depth, and a sweet-to-salty transition on the finish that is just lovely.  I would keep it simple, yet decadent, with this wine and have boiled Maine lobster with miso butter.  

2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Honey, mint, thyme, and lemon peel on the nose.  The mouth is round and chalky, with lime, apple, pear and a lovely saline minerality.  I don't think one could go wrong with grilled or sauteed scallops that have been finished with citrus and fennel pollen.

2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Primal and rich.  The nose is tropical and resiny with mango, quince, wet herbs and dried flowers.  The mouth is round and bright, tangy and minerally, yet all the while elegant.  Two standout main dishes I have had with this wine have been a honey and clove encrusted ham and a Chinese 5-spice-rubbed pork loin.

2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Electrically bright on the nose, with orange blossom, lemongrass, and honey.  The mouth has both tropical and tangerine notes, as well as spice, minerality and wonderful nerve.  I have yet to have this wine with a meal, but I am looking forward to pairing it with something this weekend.  I don't know exactly what yet, but I'm thinking something that incorporates shellfish, Asian spices, and the Ojai tangerines that we are still getting here in the central coast.  I will keep you posted.