A Wonderful Article on Robert Haas's Remarkable Career and Legacy

My dad generally avoids the spotlight. So it was particularly nice to read a wonderful article on his career that was published this week by Warren Johnston in the Valley News, a daily newspaper serving the portion of the Connecticut River Valley where he and my mom spend their summers. 

Most readers of the Tablas Creek blog likely know him from his impact on the world of Rhone grape varieties, both from his long history representing Beaucastel and the other wines made by the Perrin Family, and from his work with the Perrins in bringing Tablas Creek Vineyard into existence. That work -- and particularly the decision to make available the high quality Rhone clones that we imported into the United States -- was influential enough to earn him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 from the Rhone Rangers

This article focused equally on other aspects of his career, particularly his time with Vineyard Brands when he ran one of America's most influential wine import companies out of a converted barn in a Vermont town of 2700 residents.  We still have this poster hanging in our tasting room:

Robert Haas Selections poster

His career in wine has spanned nearly seven decades, and has included stints in nearly every aspect of the industry.  A few highlights:

  • As a retailer, he worked with his father at M. Lehmann in Manhattan to offer the first-ever futures offering on Bordeaux.
  • As a broker, he represented some of the top estates in Burgundy and Bordeaux, like Domaine Gouges, Mongeard-Mugneret, Domaine Ponsot, Chateau Lafite and Chateau Petrus.
  • As an importer, he built a company in Vineyard Brands that added dynamic brands like La Vieille Ferme and Marques de Caceres to his venerable list of estate producers. This balance of estate wines and larger brands (unique at its time) gave the company the diversified range of products that allowed it to thrive across different economic cycles.
  • When he was ready to retire and invest in Tablas Creek, rather than sell the company, he was one of the first American small businessmen to use an employee stock ownership plan to turn the company over to its employees. Today the company continues to thrive, with much of the senior leadership hired two and even three decades ago by him.
  • An early advocate of California, he represented wineries like Kistler, Joseph Phelps, Chappellet, Spring Mountain, and Clos du Val in the 1970s, and helped launch Sonoma-Cutrer in the 1980s.
  • He co-founded Winebow with Leonardo Locascio and Peter Matt in 1980, to provide Vineyard Brands with a high quality wholesaler in New York. Winebow has grown to be an influential importer as well as a distribution powerhouse.
  • His work in founding the Tablas Creek nursery -- and his decision not to keep the clones we'd imported proprietary -- has allowed California's Rhone movement to blossom in a way otherwise impossible.  More than 600 vineyards and wineries around the United States use Tablas Creek cuttings.
  • He's even growing grapevines at his house in Templeton to make our Full Circle Pinot Noir.

In writing that list, I was struck by the extent to which the things he creates (or helps create) outlive his involvement with them. That's a testament to his determination in putting companies on a firm foundation, as well as his judgment in choosing people to work with and, when necessary, to succeed him.

One of my great pleasures in working here at Tablas Creek has been to get to see my dad through the eyes of the many people he has influenced.  Yesterday's article was a good reminder for me that as he gets ready to enter his tenth decade, his influence is as enduring as ever.


Just how hot has the summer of 2016 been? More (and less) than you probably think.

I woke to a chilly morning in Paso Robles today, under an overcast sky that seemed equally composed of smoke and fog. The low this morning dropped into the upper 40s, and when I got to the vineyard it was still in the low 60s.  This is a change from the last two weeks, which have been very warm, with an average high of 98.2°, an average low of 57.2°, and six days that topped out over 100°F.

I was interested to research just how warm July was, compared to normal, and I was a little surprised that while it was on the warm side of average, it wasn't as warm, comparatively, as June.  Looking at growing degree days (a commonly used heat summation measure that accounts for both how much time is spent above a baseline temperature (typically 50°) and how much the temperature exceeds that baseline) we saw 689 degree days in June, about 10% above our 20-year average of 626.  The data is probably easier to make sense of in chart form:

Degree Days 2016 vs normal

As you can see, in a typical year, the heat peaks in July and August, with June and September still quite warm.  This year, July was indeed hot, and June nearly as much so: 34% more heat accumulation than normal, above our average July total. Looking at the difference vs. normal shows that dramatically:

Degree Days 2016 pct difference

What pushed June's degree days to such high levels? Two stretches of sustained heat, at the beginning and end of the month, were wrapped around a more moderate middle of the month. The beginning of June saw an eight day period from 6/1 to 6/8 with high temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s and lows around 50°, which isn't unprecedented but is still unusual that early in the year. And then starting 6/19 we saw twelve hot days in a row, with the lowest daytime high measuring 97.1°, nine days in triple digits, and three that topped out above 105°. That's hot, at any time of year.

Late July's very warm weather was balanced out by the first half of the month, which was just about textbook average for the season: two weeks with highs each day between the mid-80s and mid-90s, and lows between the mid-40s and mid-50s.  

And about those cold nights: one thing that bodes well for the vintage is that despite the warm days, we have still had more cool nights than the past couple of years -- 25 days in June and July that dropped into the 40s, vs. just 16 last year and 22 in 2014.

The net impact of the warm close to July has been an acceleration to the veraison that we saw start in mid-July. I took advantage of the cool morning to hike through the vineyard and get a sense of where the different grapes are sitting in their path to harvest. Overall, I think we're almost exactly at veraison's midpoint, with just as many berries now pink to red as there are still green.  Of course, that varies quite a bit by variety, and even within a variety, with cooler spots at the bottoms of hills typically quite a bit behind those same grapes at the tops of the hills.  I'll take them in the order in which we saw veraison start, beginning with Syrah, which I would estimate is at 90% versaison:

Veraison_2016_syrah

Next to go into veraison was Grenache, which I would estimate is about 50% through the process. Note that it was hard for me to get out of the grenache blocks to take photos elsewhere; it's such a beautiful grape, particularly at this time of year when a single cluster can look like a rainbow:

Veraison_2016_grenache

Mourvedre isn't far behind the Grenache, though I found it a lot less even, with many vines that still had small, bright green berries on every cluster even as there were some clusters that looked like they were almost all the way through.  Overall, I'd estimate Mourvedre is at 40% veraison, and the cluster below only slightly more advanced than the average:

Veraison_2016_mourvedre

Finally, Counoise, which is only going through veraison at the tops of the hills, and even there there are more fully green clusters than there are those that look like the one below. Overall, I'd estimate it's only at 10% veraison:

Veraison_2016_counoise

Of course, red grapes aren't the only ones that go through veraison, but it's hard to photograph the subtle changes that white grapes undergo. Two photos might give a bit of a sense. First, Roussanne, which is our last white to ripen, and in which I couldn't find any signs of the softening or turn from green to gold that would indicate that the process has started:

Veraison_2016_roussanne

Compare that to this shot of Viognier, which will likely be our first white to come in off our estate about three weeks from now:

Veraison_2016_viognier

Whether because of the cool nights, the (somewhat) better rainfall we got last winter, or the work we've been doing with biodynamics to make sure our vineyards are as healthy as possible, it seems like the vines are showing fewer symptoms of extreme stress than they were at this time either of the last two years.  And we're hopeful that we'll avoid another hot stretch at least in the near future; today's forecast is suggesting near- to below-normal temperatures over the next ten days.  If we can replicate the cool August weather we got in 2014, we'll be happy indeed.


Tasting the wines in the fall 2016 VINsider Wine Club shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club.  In others, the club gets a first look at wines that may see a later national release. Before each shipment, we reintroduce ourselves to these wines (which, in some cases, we may not have tasted since before bottling) by opening the full lineup and writing the notes that will be included with the club shipments. Yesterday afternoon, Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi and I dove into this fall's collection, and I thought that readers of the blog would be interested in what we found.

We base the fall shipments around the newest releases of the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and this fall's shipment is no exception. In addition, this year we reached back into our library to include not just the newest 2014 Esprit de Tablas, but also a bottle of the 2012 Esprit de Tablas that has been showing so well recently.  I'm excited to hear the feedback that we get.  

When we'd finished the tasting, Chelsea and I looked at each other and had the same thought: this fall is going to be fun, and the shipment pickup party, where we get to introduce the wines to several hundred club members, is going to be a blast.  2014 and 2015 are, each in their own way, remarkable: both the products of low yields, with the 2015 powerful and savory, with a noteworthy saltiness in all the whites underpinning their power. 2014 is luscious and expressive, with ripe tannins cloaked by plenty of fruit. It's going to be exciting!

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Classic_crop

2015 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Making the Cotes de Tablas Blanc in 2015 proved to be a challenge, as the two grapes (Viognier and Marsanne) on which it is usually based were both in very short supply. On the plus side, both showed remarkable intensity, no doubt in part because of the very low yields. We ended up using all our Viognier and Marsanne in this blend, and adding nearly as much Grenache Blanc (for freshness) and Roussanne (for structure), resulting in a wine with nearly equal proportions of the four grapes (26% Viognier, 25% Marsanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 24% Roussanne). Even choosing more open-knit lots of the richer grapes, the wine has as much in common with our Esprit Blanc as with a normal Cotes Blanc. The selected lots were was blended in April 2016, and the wine was bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in June.
  • Tasting Notes: An immediately Rhone-like nose, with aromas of peach pit, lemon verbena, beeswax, key lime, and sweet spice. On the palate, the wine is rich and mouth-filling, with the Roussanne persistence evident. Flavors of apricot and salted nuts are balanced by creamy minerality, and the finish is exceptionally long.  Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1550 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2014 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: All our whites in 2014 showed a balance of lush power and good acids from the unusually high diurnal temperature variation. This combination was kind to the powerful but sometimes austere Roussanne grape, bringing lushness and openness to complement its characteristic structured profile. We fermented the Roussanne lots that were selected for our varietal bottling roughly 55% in foudre, 35% in neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques. The selected lots were blended in April 2015 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling that December.
  • Tasting Notes: A luscious nose of peach syrup, jasmine, and lanolin is undercut by cool, spicy notes of lemon thyme and citrus leaf. On the palate, flavors of salted caramel, nutmeg, marzipan and orange zest are backed by rich texture and saline notes come out on the long, dry finish. Already appealing (moreso than many vintages of our Roussanne are in their youth) but should also develop over at least the next decade.
  • Production: 885 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2014 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Thank to the dramatic conditions in 2014, all our white components showed both power and freshness, which made blending the Esprit Blanc a pleasure. We used a relatively high proportion of Roussanne (72%, fermented primarily in foudre) for weight and structure, and added Grenache Blanc (23%, from foudre and stainless steel) for sweet spice and openness, and Picpoul Blanc (5%, from stainless steel) for floral aromatics and saline freshness. As we have done since 2012, we let the blend age in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in January 2016 and aging it an additional 8 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: An immensely appealing nose of fresh pears, wildflower honey and candied pecan, lifted by a spicy notes of anise and orange blossom. The mouth shows flavors of salted honeydew, honeycrisp apple, and more pear, with floral notes of jasmine and citrus blossom reemerging on the long, clean, spicy finish.  Already delicious, it should also go out 15 years or more and gain additional nuttiness and complexity with time.
  • Production: 2200 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2014 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our seventh En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill, planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. We have found that in our drought, our head-trained blocks suffer less than our closer-spaced irrigated blocks, but the wine still showed the signature of the lush intensity and freshness characteristic of 2014. We chose a blend of 34% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 15% Counoise and 5% Tannat, even after holding back several head-trained Mourvedre lots for Panoplie. As usual, the small addition of head-trained Tannat proved valuable for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The wine was blended in June of 2015, aged in foudre and bottled in April 2016.
  • Tasting Notes: A rich dark-red-fruited nose of currant, leather, chocolate, licorice, and crushed rock that Chelsea said "you almost need to chew". The palate is similar, but a touch darker: salty cocoa, black raspberry, plum skin and chalky minerality. Despite the wine's serious tannins, the overall impression is one of gracefulness, and it should provide a great deal of pleasure in both the near and longer term. Drink now and for the next two decades.
  • Production: 700 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

2012 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Like all the 2012 reds, the Esprit de Tablas shows the results of the vintage's classic combination of healthy yields, warm temperatures, high diurnal variation, and beautiful weather at harvest. The generous fruit character of the Mourvedre and Grenache resulted in us using our highest-ever percentage of the dark, smoky, savory Syrah grape, to bring structure and seriousness to the resulting blend. Still, Esprit was as usual led by the red fruit, earth and mocha of 40% Mourvèdre, with additions of 30% Syrah, 21% Grenache and 9% Counoise. It was aged in foudre. In the two-plus years since its bottling in July 2014, the wine has grown richer, with Mourvedre's saddle leather component coming more to the fore. It still has many years ahead of it.
  • Tasting Notes: Fun to revisit after spending so much of my recent time with the 2013 Esprit. The 2012 has a nose of purple fruit, leather, dried cranberry, pepper, and juniper spice. The mouth is medium weight, beautifully balanced, with flavors of milk chocolate, zesty red plum, and black cherry. The finish is savory and meaty, like the the drippings from a charcoal grilled ribeye. It's still quite a youthful wine, which should make for very good drinking for the next year or two, then likely shut down for a few years before reopening in 2019 or 2020 and drinking well for another fifteen plus years.
  • Production: 4400 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

2014 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: In our blending trials in 2014, we decided to highlight the year's natural lushness with the fruit and freshness of Grenache rather than try to rein it in with the structure of Syrah or the restraint of Counoise. So, to our typical contribution of Mourvedre (40%) we added our most-ever Grenache (35%) and relatively small portions of Syrah (20%) and Counoise (5%). The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended in June 2015 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in June 2016.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose is powerfully expressive, with deep aromas of licorice and cherry liqueur given lift by spicy notes of pink peppercorn and mint. The mouth is luscious but still very young, with flavors of chocolate-covered cherries, a briny sea spray note, and serious tannins. The finish shows more baker's chocolate and cherry cola notes, as well as a smoky berry element. The wine is still unwinding after its recent bottling; we recommend that you hold the 2014 Esprit for a few months, then drink either between 2017 and 2019 or again starting in 2022 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 3800 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

There was one additional wine (joining the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Roussanne, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc) in the white-only shipment:

WhiteOnly_crop

2015 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: Like all our white grapes except Roussanne, 2015 saw dramatically reduced yields for Grenache Blanc, down 31% due to drought and cold, unsettled weather during its May flowering. The reduced yields also brought remarkable fruit intensity to go along with Grenache Blanc's typical notes of minerality and sweet spice. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), then blended and bottled in the summer of 2016.
  • Tasting Notes: An immensely appealing nose of baked apples, fresh pineapple, anise, mint and pie spices. The mouth is quite luscious, with flavors of baked apples, ripe pink grapefruit, pie crust, and strawberry granita. The grape's characteristically beautiful acids come out on the long, rich finish, which ends with a saline note. Stunning. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 600 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

Two additional reds joined the En Gobelet and the two Esprit de Tablas vintages in the red-only shipment:

RedOnly_crop

2014 COUNOISE

  • Production Notes: Our first varietal Counoise since 2010! In 2014, the vintage's weight provided enough substance to balance Counoise's open-knit personality, and we picked one small lot that seemed to us particularly characteristic of the grape to bottle on its own. It was fermented in stainless steel, aged in neutral barrels, and bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in April of 2016. Counoise is renowned for its bright acids and flavors of brambly fruit, and this wine shows that in spades. 
  • Tasting Notes: A spicy, minty nose of sage, wild strawberries and violets. On the palate, a wonderful tension between the fruit and the bright acids, with crunchy cranberry and barely-ripe blueberry notes, brambly spice, and light-to-medium body. The finish is fresh and spicy, with a beautiful saline note. You might serve this slightly chilled, as you would a Cru Beaujolais, and enjoy it any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 340 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2014 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: 2014 is the fifth vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside Robert Haas's family home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects his career: from a start introducing America to the greatness of Burgundy, through decades focusing on grapes from the Rhone, he's now growing Pinot at home. The grapes were fermented in one-ton microfermenters, half de-stemmed and half with stems for a more savory profile, punched down twice daily by hand. After pressing, the wine was moved into year-old Marcel Cadet 60-gallon barrels, for a hint of oak.  The wine stayed on its lees, stirred occasionally, for a year and a half before being blended and bottled in April 2016.
  • Tasting Notes: A dense dried cherry nose with aromas of figs, cloves, graham cracker, and mint. In the mouth the wine is opulent, with flavors of chocolate, cola, olallieberry and lots of nutmeg spice. The finish is warm and comforting, a wine to break out in front of a fire during the holidays. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 460 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try.  This fall's party will be on Sunday, October 2nd.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join us while there's still a chance to get this fall shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


A Fabulous Dinner in the Woods of Vermont

By Barbara Haas

[Editor's Note: I am very excited to share my mom's first contribution to the Tablas Creek blog. She has been an active partner in this project from the beginning, and the source of many of our best ideas (such as in making our first rosé back in 1999). While this is her first blog, she had a hand in much of the written material we produced in the early days of Tablas Creek. I look forward to many more entries. Thank you to the Windham Hill Inn, which took and shared the photos that appear with this piece.]

Being in the wine business means being in the business of giving pleasure.  We want our wines to taste good and to improve the moments in which they are served.  In order for us to do this, we frequently depend on the shared experience of good food.  The way that wine and food speak to each other is critically important to the appreciation of both.  Think of musical instruments either in tune or not. 

As someone who has been privileged to share a large number of “winemaker” dinners (dinners designed to highlight wine and food), I am reflecting on a recent experience which was one of the best I have had, and I have thought a lot about why this was true.

WinesThe lineup of wines for the dinner

The beautiful, historic Windham Hill Inn and Restaurant in Townshend, VT, has been a steadfast supporter of Tablas Creek wines and owns several vintages in their cellar.  To get there, you really have to know where it is!  A 30-minute drive from our house in Chester, the inn is tucked into a beautiful property at the end of a dirt road, and is totally peaceful and quiet.  The flagstone pathway is bordered by an array of lilies and hydrangeas, and the double entrance doorway (to keep out gusts of snow in the winter) leads you into a warm reception area, which could easily be in a French auberge.  Lots of polished wood, warm fabrics and comfortable furniture surround a small bar area and awaken your sense of anticipation for the aperitif and dinner to follow.

EntranceThe Windham Hill Inn's beautiful setting and entrance

Windham Hill Inn has created dinners to highlight our wines at least eight years in a row, and in my opinion, each year better than the last.  This year’s was a triumph:  focused, generous, and original.

RZH speakingRobert Haas, speaking at the dinner. Barbara Haas sits behind him.

The food was not heavy.  I was still as eager for the fourth course as I was for the first.  With each course, I was delighted by discovery: on my plate and in my glass.  The wines and their paired dishes sang in harmonious duets. 

MenuThe dinner menu

The harmony gave each element more than either had alone.  It was a remarkable experience.  For example:  a perfectly cooked piece of swordfish was accompanied by charred green onion, grilled pineapple, sesame and ginger.  Each element found a responding taste in the Tablas Esprit Blanc 2012.  I marvel at the talent which first recognizes the elements of taste in a wine, and then goes and finds a food which highlights that taste.

Another example was herb-rubbed Vermont lamb loin, with baby bok choy, and fermented black bean and garlic sauce.  The sauces throughout the meal had clean, clear flavors but no heaviness.  In the case of the lamb, the sauce was a simple, clear “jus”.  The rare lamb and its deep-flavored sauce gave the Mourvèdre 2011 ample room and encouragement to express itself.

The chef showed both intelligence and generosity by keeping his dishes focused and simple; in other words, not so tarted up with heavy sauces and irrelevant flavors that they dominated the wine.  This is not an easy job.  Home cooks and professionals alike tend to make food too complicated and “loud” when they are trying to impress, what I like to call “high-decibel food.”  The same tendency happens in wine making. 

LobsterThe second plated course: Maine lobster with a watermelon and heirloom tomato salad

Achieving balance and harmony is challenging but eminently more satisfying, and makes a diner want to come back for more.  A professional taster may recognize each achievement of the chef and winemaker.  A non-professional will simply have a wonderful, satisfying dining experience, without needing to analyze why. 

Thank you and congratulations to Chef David Crone and Wine Director Dan Pisarczyk of Windham Hill Inn for discovering the hidden secrets in our Tablas Creek wines and bringing them to light and value.

SunsetSunset over the rolling Vermont hills


An update from smoky Paso Robles

Many of you will be aware that there's a big fire burning in the Santa Lucia Mountains north of Big Sur and south-east of Carmel. The Soberanes Fire, which started last week, has grown to over 19,000 acres, and its plume of smoke is easily visible from space:

As you can see from the image above, most of the smoke is being pushed inland by the prevailing winds, but some is collecting in the Salinas River Valley, and was drawn up toward Paso Robles yesterday evening.  We ended up sleeping with our windows closed and the air conditioning on last night rather than have the house smell like old campfire.  This morning, I arrived at work to see a landscape with blurred edges and a grayish tint, instead of the normal crystal clear, deep blue sky (click on the image for a larger panoramic view):

Smoky panorama 2016

This isn't the first time we've seen smoky weather here at the vineyard, although we've been lucky to avoid any big nearby fires.  Back in 2008, two large fires put a high layer of smoke overhead, giving us the unusual perception of overcast summer days. This year's smoke isn't as thick, although it is closer to the surface.

If grapes are exposed to concentrated smoke over time, they can pick up an oily, smoky taste. This character (typically called "smoke taint") was an issue for many Mendocino and Sonoma wineries in 2008, and seems likely to be an issue for Monterey County wineries this year. That said, we don't think that the amount of smoke we're seeing now will have any impact on our harvest. It's only lightly smoky here, and the forecast is for the weather pattern to shift by the weekend to a more dramatic on-shore flow, which should draw fresh air off the Pacific Ocean, just ten miles west over the coast range.

Meanwhile, we're watching the vineyard go through veraison, variety by variety. Syrah was first. We've seen a few examples of Mourvedre around the vineyard in the past couple of days. And I got a photo of Grenache this morning, still more green than red, but on its way. Even in that photo, you can see some of the smoky haze against the horizon:

Veraison 2016 Grenache 3

Looking again at how advanced we are, I'm reassessing my prediction that we might challenge our earliest-ever harvest. What I'm seeing is more like 2013 or 2015 (roughly a week ahead of average) than it is like 2014 (roughly 2 weeks early). But there's still a long way to go, and a consistently hot August might push things up again. In any case, we know we're likely to see some fruit coming in the last week or ten days of August.

Look for more updates in coming weeks.


Eat Global, Drink Local

By Evelyne Fodor

[Editor's Note: With this blog, we welcome Evelyne Fodor to the blog. She is a woman of many accomplishments, including a PhD in French (she is a French instructor for the UCLA Extension), a tremendous chef, and a lover of food and wine. Evelyne has become one of Tablas Creek's best-loved wine consultants and made many fans in our tasting room. This is her first blog piece.]

One of the most frequently asked questions at the tasting room is also one of my favorites. “Which food do I pair with this wine?”  At Tablas Creek we take food pairing very seriously. For each of our wines we offer recipes and food pairing suggestions.  Each spring and fall, we invite our members to taste dishes created by local chefs to match our new releases.  We also have a monthly column on our Tablas blog dedicated to this topic.

When one has an eclectic, adventurous palate however, food pairing becomes a very elusive topic. The other day, long-time club members Tom and Karen from Atascadero showed me a picture of an Ethiopian dish they enjoyed and asked me for suggestions on which of our wines to pair with it. If, like Tom and Karen, you love experimenting with regional cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Moroccan - cuisines with high flavors but notably not associated with wines - the topic is worth exploring.

Spices

I am by no means a specialist but in our wine and food-centric community we have an in-depth understanding of both spices and wines.  I asked three local experts, Lori Di Ciaccio-Foster the owner of Spice of Life in Paso, Brigit Binns owner of cooking school and B&B Refugio and Neeta Mittal, owner of the boutique winery LXV to explain the complicated relationship between spices and wines.

Fascinated by what she refers to as the “mystery of spices,” Lori brings spices from all over the world and blends them in the back kitchen of her small shop. For her, the fusion between spices and wine is striking:  “Blending and harmonizing spices to create vibrant flavors satisfies the mind as well as the palate.” She explained that “each spice captures unique flavors, aromas, and emotions which can pinpoint a specific region or culture.” Like wines, spices thrive best in very specific regions where natural conditions create a unique terroir.  

Spice of Life

Next door to Spice of Life is Neeta Mittal’s LXV Wine Lounge.  With its deep blue walls, day beds full of vibrant colors and plush pillows, the place is a “sensory experience.” Neeta was born and raised in Kerala, "God's own country," a southern state of India also known as the "Land of Spices."  Besides its famous backwaters, elegant houseboats, ayurveda treatments and wild elephants, Kerala is also famous for delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling cuisine. When Neeta is not involved with her winery, she explores the principles of Ayurveda, vegetarianism and veganism: “As we become more demanding of flavors and more intuitive about our health, spices once thought to be exotic are making an exciting splash in the culinary world.”

Neeta

My last expert is my friend Brigit Binns, the acclaimed author of multiple cookbooks, including The New Wine Country Cookbook: Recipes from California’s Central Coast, in which every recipe is paired with a Central Coast wine.  Recently I met with several of Tablas Creek's wine club members at her Refugio for a class called “The Rosé Less Travelled," with chef Clark Staub, featuring both our Dianthus and Patelin de Tablas Rosé wines. It's also at Refugio that last May Neeta led a three-part cooking series to explore the flavors of Indian cooking and how they partner with Rhône varieties (beautifully!).  Brigit is currently working on a new book project called “Wine First: A Cookbook for Wine Lovers;” her concept is simple: “First, you choose the wine."

So we did! One evening at home, John Morris, Tablas Creek tasting room manager, Neeta and myself lined up a few Tablas wines and started a discussion on the ideal wine pairing.  We selected five whites:  Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2014, Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2012, Petit Manseng 2014, Vermentino 2015 and Picpoul Blanc 2014.  For the reds, we picked most of our Spring shipment including  Esprit de Tablas 2011, 2012 and 2013.  And at the last minute I added our newest release Terret Noir 2014.  I did not include our two rosés, because they simply are too easy to pair with almost anything.  Our challenge was to find affinities in both Tablas wines and regional dishes to create a perfect flavor pairing. We knew the style of cuisines would differ greatly based on climate and available local ingredients but certain spices such as coriander, cumin, cardamom, star anise and turmeric are common to all them.

Meal

John has a deep knowledge of our wines and he has also become an expert in Thai food, as his wife Christina was born and raised in Thailand. He quickly singled out Vermentino 2015. Vermentino is a white medium-bodied wine that grows mostly on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia as well as in Provence where it is known as Rolle. With its somewhat exotic character, citrusy aromas, minerality and crisp acidity, Vermentino is very much appreciated by our guests.  It also pairs very well with Asian dishes that play with the Star Anise spice such as Asian Style Shrimp.  

If for John the choice was simple and straightforward, it took Neeta more time and a few more tastings to figure out which of our wines would be ideal for her Southern Indian dish. She finally chose Esprit de Tablas 2012 which she described as “having a long and complex palate, with flavors of black raspberry, plum compote and leather.”  The moderate alcohol content and gentle tannins with nice fruit and spicy flavors was, according to Neeta, an ideal marriage with her delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling Tharavu (Duck Dry Curry).

When it was my turn, my first impulse was to pick Petit Manseng 2012 for its rich sweetness, stonefruit characters and sweet spice, which I thought would pair beautifully with my mom’s Moroccan chicken tagine. The word tagine refers to both the conical-shaped dish and the food that's cooked inside it, which in this case is braised chicken flavored with saffron, turmeric, preserved lemon and olives.  Moroccan cuisine has long been integrated into the French culinary tradition due to its colonial history. There is a natural continuity in choosing a Rhône style wine with a Moroccan dish since they both hail from Mediterranean climates. My mom’s tagine is a dish especially well suited here as Morocco shares the same latitude as Paso Robles.

Instead, I choose the Terret Noir 2014, our newest wine. We know very little about the Terret Noir grape, except that it’s a blending partner used in the southern Rhône Valley for red Châteauneuf du Pape wines. It is praised for its "qualities of lightness, freshness, and bouquet" which reminds me of Beaujolais’ Gamay grape. Like Gamay, Terret Noir is pale in color, low in alcohol with bright fruity flavors and a wonderful distinctive herbal aroma reminiscent of garrigue, the low, scrubby vegetation that grows around the Mediterranean coast. The wine’s relatively high acidity made the natural bitterness of preserved lemons and green olives a bit too aggressive, so I simply added (oh mon dieu!) a bit of crème fraîche.

With that in mind, turn up the heat and drink some of our suggestions with all the wonderful African, Asian, Caribbean and fusion dishes that you like!  This is the great way to learn and make your own decision about which Tablas Creek wine pairs best with your tastes.

Tharavu / Duck Dry Curry
A dish from the South of India

Neeta Mittal, LXV Wine Lounge

Duck leg

A few notes before we begin:

  • Always try to grind spices fresh. Spices sitting on your shelf have probably lost their essence.
  • Use a whole duck, if possible, but you can always substitute duck breasts
  • Curry Leaves can be found in an Indian store. You could use a couple of bay leaves with some lime zest, but it won't be the same as curry leaves. I have cooked this dish WITHOUT curry leaves and still tastes great.
  • Use small Green chilies like Thai chilies.
  • You can always email me for ordering just enough spices for this dish, including the curry leaves (neeta@lxvwine.com)
  • Guideline for pairing with Indian food: low alcohol, low tannin, low oak, high acidity, young fruit

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 full duck (skinned and cut into medium pieces and fat removed)
  • For Marinade:
    • Turmeric Powder : 1/2 tsp
    • Red Chili Powder : 3 tsp or to your spice level
    • Coriander Powder : 4 tsp
    • Whole Spices:
    • Cloves: 4 – 5
    • Cardamom: 1
    • Cinnamon stick: 1 inch
    • Bay leaves: 1-2
    • Slightly crushed whole pepper corns: 1/2 tsp
  • For Gravy:
    • Onion: 2 large (finely sliced)
    • Tomatoes:  2 (finely chopped)
    • Dried Whole Red Chilies: 4-5, each broken into two pieces
    • Mustard Seeds: 2 tsp
    • Curry Leaves: few
    • Green Chilies: 8-10 or to your spice level (slit, lengthwise)
    • Coconut Oil: 4 tbsp
    • Ghee: 2 tsp
    • Tamarind: 1 tbsp OR Vinegar: 1 tsp
    • Ginger: 2 tbsp (chopped)
    • Garlic:  2 tbsp (chopped)
    • Coconut milk: 1 cup

DIRECTIONS

  • Marinate the cleaned duck pieces with the marinade for at least 2 hours.
  • Heat coconut oil and ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan.
  • Add mustard seeds and when it starts to splutter, dried red chili, and whole spices. Sauté for a few minutes.
  • Add chopped ginger, garlic, curry leaves, green chilies and chopped onion; sauté till onions turn light brown.
  • Add tomatoes and sauté for a few more minutes, until the oil separates from the tomatoes
  • Add 1/2 cup of water, tamarind (or vinegar), the marinated duck pieces, and salt to taste. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the duck is half-done, stirring once or twice in between. Open and cook for 5 minutes at high heat until the gravy almost dries up, stirring in between so that it won’t stick to the bottom.
  • Pour in the coconut milk into half cooked duck and adjust the salt. Lower heat and simmer gently until the curry changes to a brown color and oil starts floating on top. (The coconut milk should get cooked and release coconut oil).
  • Serve Tharavu curry with hot Basmati Rice
  • Pair with a glass of slightly chilled 2012 Esprit de Tablas 

My Mom’s Tagine

Evelyne Fodor, Tablas Creek Wine Consultant

Chicken tagine in pot

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons of oil
  • 5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1½ cup chicken stock
  • 6 quarters preserved lemons
  • ½ cup pitted green olives
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoons chopped leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
  • Generously salt the chicken pieces on all sides. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

DIRECTIONS

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the fat in the bottom of your Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until they are well browned. Remove browned pieces from the pan and add the next batch, continuing until all the pieces are browned. Remove all chicken pieces to a plate.
  • Add oil and onions and sauté on medium high heat, stirring often and adjusting the heat as necessary, for 15 minutes, or until they are a rich golden brown.
  • Preheat the oven to 350F.  Add the spices and a pinch of salt to the onions and stir constantly for about 2 minutes to lightly toast the spices.  Return the chicken to the pan, pour in the chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
  • Cover the tagine, transfer to the oven, and cook for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and is beginning to pull away from the ends.  Remove the chicken from the pan.
  • Return the tagine to a burner and simmer for about 3 minutes to reduce the sauce. Add the lemons and olives. When they are hot, whisk in the butter, parsley, and cilantro.

Mid-July veraison suggests 2016 threatens to be our earliest-ever harvest

When you spend two weeks away in late June and early July, as I did, the vineyard can look quite different when you return than when you left. When I left, most berries were still pea sized, bright green, and hard. When I got out into the vineyard yesterday, things had changed. The grape berries and clusters looked more mature.  The vines' deep green canopies contrasted dramatically with the midsummer blue sky. Quantities look respectable: perhaps somewhat smaller than average but better than 2015.  The vines look remarkably healthy, with really no significant visible effects of the week-plus of 100-degree weather we saw in late June.

And, when I got to the top of the Syrah block, as I thought I might, I found veraison.

Veraison marks the point where a grape stops accumulating mass and starts accumulating sugar. At the same time, red grapes start their color change from green, while white grapes take on more of a yellow tint. Both red and white grapes start to soften. [For more about what's happening chemically, check out this veraison post from the archives.] This landmark comes roughly six weeks before the onset of harvest, and gives us our best estimate for when harvest will begin. A few of the most advanced Syrah clusters:

Veraison 2016

So far, of our red grapes, only Syrah has shown any color change. And only on the tops of the hills, which are typically most advanced, and even there there are many more all-green clusters than there are those like the ones above.  A good example is the photo below, where a more advanced cluster on the left is visible next to another cluster on the same vine that is still entirely green:

Veraison 2016_2

The transformation between hard, sour green berries and sweet, soft, red berries takes some time, and when it starts depends both on how early the vine begins its spring growth and on how fast the ripening progresses, determined by the amount of heat and sun after budbreak. Looking at the chart below, from the Western Weather Group's Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance forecast, suggests that we shouldn't be surprised to be seeing an early veraison, given that 2016 is among the warmest years since 1997:

Veraison 2016 - Degree Days - Resized

While six weeks is a good basic guide for the duration between veraison and harvest, it's not totally constant, and can be influenced by the weather that we get in the interim, as well as by the amount of fruit the vines are carrying.  For example, in 2014 our earliest-ever veraison (noted on July 9th) was mitigated by a very cool August, and we started harvest 45 days later, on August 23rd. By contrast, last year's first veraison was noted on July 18th, but a warm August and a light crop load meant that we began harvest just 39 days later, on August 26th. The last ten years are compiled in the chart below:

Year First Veraison Noted Harvest Begins # of Days
2007 July 20 August 28 39
2008 July 23 September 3 42
2009 July 20 September 1 43
2010 July 30 September 16 49
2011 August 5 September 20 47
2012 July 25 September 5 42
2013 July 17 August 26 40
2014 July 9 August 23 45
2015 July 18 August 26 39
2016 July 13 ? ?

It's clear that we're looking at another early harvest this year. Even if things cool off dramatically -- and there's nothing in the long-term forecast that suggests they will -- we're almost certainly starting harvest in August.  Our longest-ever veraison-harvest interim, from the very cool (and plentiful) 2010 vintage, was 49 days. 49 days from July 13th is August 31st. If, instead, we see an interim like 2015 or 2007, both of which saw small crops and warm weather, we could start as early as August 21st. If we did, that would be our earliest beginning ever. I'm guessing we end up toward the early end of that range, but probably not right at the minimum, given that our crop levels look somewhat better than they did in 2015. But we'll see. 

What's next for the vineyard? We'll watch the different grapes go through veraison. While Syrah is almost always first, Grenache and Mourvedre won't be far behind. Counoise is almost always last. It's an exciting time, with the view changing practically daily. Meanwhile, expect our winemaking team to take some vacation and rest up for the coming frenzy, and while they're here to be getting the last of the year's bottling done so there's space in barrels and tanks for the coming crush.

But while none of this is a surprise, it's still a significant milestone. We now know how much sand is in the hourglass. And that it's been flipped over.


A Nostalgic Ligurian Pairing: Clams in White Wine and Strozzapreti al Pesto With Vermentino

By Suphada Rom

One of my most profound food and wine memories takes me back to Italy, specifically the Ligurian coast. The allure of the crooked seaside streets with squeaking restaurant signs, beckoning you with wafts of dinners yet-to-come. Ducking my head (literally, I had to duck since the arched doorway was about five feet high, at best) into a small restaurant revealed half a dozen tables nestled into every nook and cranny. After quickly scanning the menu, I greedily ordered an appetizer of vongole al vino bianco (clams in white wine) and an entrée of trofie al pesto (a hand-made rolled pasta with a rich pesto sauce). I decided to complete the local trifecta with a cheap half bottle of a local white wine.

These were my pre-wine-geek days, where I was more focused on the food than the wine. And yeah, my wine vocabulary may have been no more than white or acidic, but I knew that what I'd ordered was delicious, and a perfect accompaniment to the dishes I ordered. Fast-forward six years later, and here I am working with all the gorgeous wines at Tablas Creek, including the Italian variety I had ordered that night, Vermentino. I may not have known what the grape was, or what its characteristics were, or anything about it, but I loved it then, as I do now.  

Vermentino and Pasta
Strozzapreti al pesto paired with our Vermentino

So, to pair with our recently released 2015 Vermentino, I chose two courses of nostalgia. The recipes I used were fairly simple and straight-forward, as I think some of the best are. I chose to use the recipe from Food52 for pesto alla Genovese. The clams recipe comes from Saveur for their Garlic-Steamed Manila Clams. I had to make a minor modification, as trofie is not a pasta you find at your local supermarket or even your artisanal Italian food shop. The origin of trofie isn’t entirely known, although it could be traced back to the the verb "strofinare", which essentially means to rub, which in turn could refer to the fact that this pasta is made by hand. Wherever its name is derived from, it finds its roots in Liguria and is commonly seen generously coated by fresh basil pesto. I found that using strozzapreti was a good substitute because its elongated structure and and curled crevices would store just enough pesto for every bite. The curled strips resemble a priest's collar (strozzapreti literally means "priest strangler", although there are alternate origin stories). Here are the results from the dual pairing:

Clams Mep
Steamed clams mis en place

Clams up close
The clams resting in their bath of white wine and herbs. Grab some crusty baguette and sop up the sauce. It's well worth it!

Pesto
Fresh pesto alla Genovese 

Strozzapreti on counter
Hand-formed strozzapreti pasta

Vermentino and Clams
Vermentino with the Garlic Steamed Clams (this plate lasted all of 60 seconds but hey, clams are tiny!)

My first bite consisted of a shell-full of clam, followed by a hunk of bread that had been soaking in the herbed broth. The clams were cooked wonderfully, but the broth is what truly made the dish. Before you even cook the clams, you saute shallots and garlic, whose deep, sweet flavor resonates through the broth. Using the white wine, you deglaze the pan, releasing all the little flavorful bits. Adding in fresh herbs at the end gives the broth not only fresh and vibrant flavor, but color too! I could seriously eat a vat of this broth with baguette. I did manage to disengage from the appetizer long enough to dig into the entree. The pesto was mild in flavor and complex in texture. When you're tossing in the pesto in with the warm pasta, the cheese can adhere to each individual pasta, leaving behind the pesto. I added a splash of pasta water to thin out the pesto slightly, garnering a more even coating. 

In between bites of clam and pasta, I managed to take a sip or two of our 2015 Vermentino. I know what you might be thinking- why is Tablas Creek, who is so focused on French (specifically Rhone) varieties producing Vermentino? The answer is at the very heart of Tablas Creek's existence- our importation of vine material from France. When we starting the vineyard, we wanted to import specific clones from France that would produce quality grapes in the limestone rich soils of Paso Robles. Based on the recommendation of the Perrins' French nurseryman, we began with a handful of varieties from the Rhone and a couple outliers, including Vermentino. Vermentino, also known as Rolle, is easy to grow in the vineyard and even easier on the palate. It exudes aromas of lemon and lime- I happened to find a little piece of my childhood in a whiff of cream soda. There is this expression of fresh citrus, with a rich mouthfeel that coats your palate long enough for the acidity to kick in, lending a generous "pick me up" on the finish. In terms of pairing, I like seafood with this wine a whole lot, especially when there's white wine involved in the sauce. There's a certain briny character in Vermentino that suggests the ocean, and the finish of pithy grapefruit provides a foil for the rich flavors of roasted garlic and shallot. And matching up pesto with this wine is a slam dunk. It's a regional pairing that, for so many reasons, is perfect in itself and needs little explanation except for Try It.

Looking back, I see that, even though I didn't realize it then, I was destined for the path I've been paving for myself. This road entangled with food and wine was one I was sure to not only continue down, but make a career out of. 

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:

  • Recipe for Steamed Manilla Clams can be found here, via Saveur.
  • Recipe for Pesto alla Genovese can be found here, via Food52.
  • You can purchase the 2015 Vermentino by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room
  • Although this wine was included in the Spring "Whites Only" Shipment, wine club members can re-order this wine at their 20% discount! Not a member yet? Learn more about the VINsider club here.

Introducing the Wines for the 2016 VINsider Wine Club "Collector's Edition" Shipment

Each June, I have the pleasure of tasting through library vintages of our Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolove. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

This year, our selections will be the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. Each wine provides a clear signature of the vintage that produced it: 2009, with its power and density from the combination of spring frost (low yields) and warm weather, and 2010, with noteworthy elegance from an unusually cool summer that produced our longest hangtime ever. And yet time had, in each case, made the wine more complete, softening the tannins and opening the structure of the 2009 Esprit, and deepening the flavors and bringing more weight to the 2010 Esprit Blanc. And this isn't the end; both wines will go out another decade. It will be fun to get these in people's hands in a few months. The wines:

CE Wines 2016 Square

Tasting notes, from a tasting yesterday that Chelsea and I conducted:

  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  A nose balanced, I thought, between youthful and mature notes: white flowers, mint and pear skin on the youthful side, with beeswax, straw and nutmeg showing signs of maturity. The mouth is rich, with flavors of golden delicious apple and cinnamon (just bake the pie, already), creme brulee, and sweet straw. There's a welcome little bite of tannin -- likely from the 35% Grenache Blanc, our highest Grenache Blanc percentage ever for this wine -- that reminded us of mandarin pith to keep things clean on the long finish. Just beautiful. Drink now or for the next several years.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel: A darkly powerful, expressive nose of mint, black plums, petrichor, figs, baker's chocolate, and a savory note that Chelsea and I debated between balsamic and Worcestershire. The mouth shows both dark fruit notes and something higher toned -- think fresh black figs -- and is nicely focused with flavors of chocolate-covered black cherries, menthol, and new leather. There are some chewy tannins that suggest substantial food as a partner (as well as the capacity for more aging). The finish is beautiful, with cocoa powder, blackcurrant and sarsaparilla root. Drink now and over the next 15 years.

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is, I think, the best collection we've ever offered, with 3 different vintages of our flagship red, 2 of our flagship white, our newest En Gobelet (maybe my personal favorite wine we're making right now), and two gorgeous whites: the luscious 2014 Roussanne and the floral, mineral 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc:

  • 2 bottles of 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel
  • 1 bottle of 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2014 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2012 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2014 En Gobelet
  • 2 bottles of 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2014 Roussanne
  • 1 bottle of 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next week. If you're on the waiting list, you should look for an email with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can indicate that you would like to join the Collector's Edition when you join the VINsider wine club.


A Provençal Pairing: Rosé and Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese

By Suphada Rom

In the heat of summer, there is nothing quite as palate pleasing and thirst quenching as rosé. It's appealing to wine drinkers across the board, given that it is produced (most of the time!) from red grapes but served at a refreshing chilled temperature. It may be hard to remember, given rosé's current popularity, that less than a decade ago, if you were looking for rosé, your average bartender would have likely poured you a white Zinfandel, scratching his head, and thinking, "seriously?". Thankfully, more and more people are not only learning about what real rosé is, but seeking it out at every wine shop or winery they go to. And it's about time! 

Patelin Rose and Fennel plated

Caramelized fennel with its various accoutrements of goat's cheese, fresh lemon zest, dill, and fennel fronds

One of the best attributes of rosé is its flexibility. It's incredibly versatile, whether you're pouring glasses of it as a party starter with an assortment of appetizers, enjoying it alongside a sushi dinner, or drinking it at a barbeque. So, what to pick as a "signature" pairing? You might remember that some time ago we suggested gazpacho, and that works great. But I decided to pair our Patelin de Tablas Rosé with something a little more French: a delicious caramelized fennel recipe taken from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. This dish is so simple, yet so good! It takes about 10-15 minutes to create from start to finish, which isn't even enough time to break a sweat in the kitchen (but if it does get hot, just grab another stove side glass of chilled rosé and you'll be more than fine). The only suggestion I have to making this in less time is to have a couple of pans going (another set of hands wouldn't be a bad thing, either) with the fennel spread out evenly. It's also important to give the fennel enough space where they can have the opportunity to caramelize (they steam if they're in too-close proximity). That's about as high maintenance as this dish gets, but enough with my critique, here are the results from this afternoon's pairing:

Fennel in Pan
The fennel getting cozy (but not too cozy) in a frothy bath of butter and oil; the only action shot I took due to how quickly the dish came together!

Patelin Rose and Fennel
The finished product with our 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé

I had made this recipe only once before but because of its clean flavors and ease in terms of preparation, I couldn't wait to make it again. Fennel is such a amazing base to work with. Raw and as is, it's bright, crunchy, and full of life. I love a good shaved fennel and apple slaw. When fennel is cooked, whether you caramelize it on the stovetop or purée it into a soup, its bright tangy character is replaced with a more sumptuous and mellow flavors of anise and licorice. Caramelizing the fennel creates this gorgeous toasty layer that leads to the creamy and decadent interior. I ended up leaving the fennel in the pan for a few minutes longer than the recipe because honestly, I was prepping the seeds and ingredients for the next step and wasn't really multitasking successfully. Which is a little funny given that I tout the importance of an organized mise en place! One piece of advice I have is when you're caramelizing the seeds, that you do this with unwavering eye. Seriously, just give those caramelizing fennel seeds 30 seconds of your undivided attention and they will coated to perfection. When I finally plated everything, the fennel still held a little residual heat, allowing the goat's cheese to melt ever so slightly into its many crevices.

Pairing the fennel with our 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé was a no brainer. I've spent a fair amount of time.. erm... getting to know our rosé, and feel incredibly comfortable throwing all sorts of dishes at it. This wine can be deceptive; it is very pale and light in color, but truly expressive in its aromatics. Right off the bat is this intoxicating smell of perfectly ripe nectarine and apricots, as well as the classic Grenache rosé signature of wild strawberries. But there are non-fruit aromas, too, like jasmine and rose petals. On the palate, there is a confirmation of the stone fruit and berries, with additional notes of ruby red grapefruit and spice. This wine's acidity keeps you wanting another sip, which is good since the dish's flavors will keep you wanting another bite! Have a bite, then a sip, then another bite and sip, and before you know it, you've got a clean plate and empty glass. The tangy quality of the goat's cheese teams up well with the body and acidity of the wine, where the fennel marries the elements on the plate with what's in your glass. The subtle spice from the fennel is accentuated by the spice of the wine. This was a pairing that was simple to make, easy to consume, but hard to forget!

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 small fennel bulbs
  • 3½ tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • coarse sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • ¾ cup roughly chopped dill (leaves and stalks)
  • 5 oz goat's curd or other young and creamy goat cheese
  • grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions

  • Start by preparing the fennel bulbs. First take off the leafy fronds and keep them for the garnish. Then slice off some of the root part and remove any tough or brown outer layers, making sure the base still holds everything together. Cut each bulb lengthwise into ½-inch-thick slices.
  • Melt half the butter with half the oil in a large frying pan placed over high heat. When the butter starts to foam add a layer of sliced fennel. Do not overcrowd the pan and don’t turn the fennel over or stir it around in the pan until one side has become light golden, which will take about 2 minutes. Then turn the slices over using tongs and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the pan. Continue with the rest of the fennel, using up the remaining butter and oil.
  • Once all the fennel has been seared, add the sugar, fennel seeds and plenty of salt and pepper to the pan. Fry for 30 seconds, then return all the fennel slices to the pan and caramelize them gently for 1 to 2 minutes (they need to remain firm inside so just allow them to be coated in the melting sugar and seeds). Remove the fennel from the pan and leave to cool down on a plate.
  • To serve, toss the fennel in a bowl with the garlic and dill. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Arrange on a serving plate and dot with spoonfuls of goat cheese. Finish with a drizzle of oil and a scattering of lemon zest. Garnish with the fennel fronds. Serve at room temperature.

Reprinted with permission from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books 2011).

A few other resources:

  • Goat's curd, a light cheese made from goat’s milk, is known for its soft and creamy, yet not terribly unctuous, texture and for its wonderful freshness. It’s hard to get, though. You'll want to ask around at your local farmers' market or a good cheese shop. Still, there is no need to despair if you can’t find it. There is an abundance of young and fresh goat cheeses that will do the trick equally well. My favorite is Caprini freschi, from Piedmont in Italy.
  • A little about the 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé:
    • Its blend is 68% Grenache Noir, 13% Counoise, 11% Mourvédre, and 8% Syrah
    • It is mostly produced by the direct press method, where the fruit is pressed as soon as it arrives in the cellar, to minimize the skin contact and keep the wine as fresh and bright as possible.
    • You can find Patelin de Tablas Rosé in the market, hopefully poured by the glass at your favorite restaurant. You may even see it on tap -- we kegged up 440 5-gallon kegs this year. Talk about instant summer! 
  • You can purchase the 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé by clicking here, visiting us in the tasting room, or by way of distribution throughout the country.
  • This wine is part of our current VINsider shipment! Members can reorder this wine here. Not a member yet? Become a VINsider today by clicking here.