Tasting the Wines in the Spring 2016 VINsider 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 a wine that may see a later national release.  About 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments.  In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming weeks and months.  In some cases (like this time) where the shipments contain wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be week after next) it's a chance to get to know wines that are newly finished.  Over recent years, I've given followers of the blog a first look at these notes.

These shipments include wines from the 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages.  It was interesting to taste these three vintages, all of which we think were very strong, together, and to get a sense of how they compare.  My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are that 2013 is a classically-styled, old-world vintage, on the brooding side, with substantial tannins, more about balance than exuberance.  It should be exceptionally ageworthy, and I think that most of the reds will benefit from a little time in bottle.  2014 is a blockbuster vintage, with wines that are luscious and forward, yet not lacking in tannin and structure.  Both our 2014 Cotes de Tablas and 2014 Cotes de Tablas Blanc are a part of this shipment, and I think they're the best examples of these wines we've ever made.  I can't wait to get the 2014 Esprits into bottle.  Finally, 2015 (we only tasted two wines) seems to be explosively vibrant, with intense fruit and a sweet-tart character that should be immediately appealing. 

I'll start with the classic mixed shipment, and then move on to the red-only and white-only shipments, noting which wines will be included in each.  I was joined for the tasting by Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi.  The wines:

Spring 2016 Shipment Wines

2014 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas Blanc is our showcase for the floral, lush fruit of Viognier (39%), grounded by the texture, acidity, and citrus of Grenache Blanc (29%), with Marsanne (20%) providing gentle minerality and Roussanne (12%) providing structure. The components were blended in April 2015, aged briefly in stainless steel, and bottled in June.
  • Tasting Notes: Stunning in its intensity for this bottling: honey and nectarine and spicy passion fruit on the nose, with something cooler, like wet stones.  In the mouth, it's rich and tangy, with ripe pineapple fruit lifted by orange blossom and deepened with a briny sea-spray element.  The finish is rich, long, and clean, with a creamy expansiveness that reminded me of lemon meringue.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1250 cases

2011 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Although 2011’s spring frosts largely spared the notoriously late-sprouting Roussanne, yields were still low and these low yields combined with the unusually cool growing season to produce structured Roussanne with good acidity, suitable for aging. Knowing this, we held back a good chunk of this wine, and are releasing it to club members now. 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Picpoul Blanc, aged for a year in foudre and then for 3 more years in bottle.
  • Tasting Notes: The three years in bottle have brought depth and additional substance to the classic Roussanne flavors and aromatics, and like many Roussanne-based wines it has become more aromatic with age. It's showing candied orange peel, ginger, creme brulee and lychee fruit on the nose. The mouth is savory, with green plum, grilled bread, honeydew rind, lots of mineral, and a hint of nutty oak on the long, stony  finish.  When it was released, I called it "a fascinating combination of rich and very dry". That's more true than ever now.  Drink now or continue aging for another decade.
  • Production: 2480 cases

2015 PATELIN DE TABLAS ROSÉ

  • Production Notes: Our fourth vintage of the Provencal-style dry rosé that we base on Grenache and source primarily from other vineyards with our grapevines in the ground. Always heavy on Grenache (68% this year), the wine also includes additions of zesty, vibrant Counoise (13%), rich, floral Mourvedre (11%) and for the first time, a little spicy Syrah (8%). Most of the Grenache and all the Syrah were picked for the rosé program and direct pressed upon arrival at the winery, with the balance bled off after a few hours on the skins.  It is just a shade darker than our 2014, but still pale, fresh, and clean.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty light peach color.  On the nose, explosive aromatics of nectarine, wild strawberries, grapefruit pith, and jasmine.  The mouth is rich but vibrant, with flavors of rubired grapefruit, plum, mineral, spice and rose petals.  The acids are bracing on the finish, and the wine is really long.  I can't wait to get this in front of people.  Drink now and over the next year.
  • Production: 2150 cases

2014 COTES DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our chance to let Grenache shine, as it does in most Chateauneuf du Pape blends. The luscious 2014 vintage led to us using a closer percentage of Grenache (44%) and Syrah (36%) than normal, to keep Grenache's generosity and fruitiness from tilting over into sappiness.  Additions of Counoise (12%) and Mourvedre (8%) added a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2015 and aged in foudre until its bottling in February 2016.
  • Tasting Notes: Shows a deep, spicy nose for a Grenache-based wine (of course, there's a lot of Syrah in here): new leather and blackcurrant and licorice and a sweet spiciness like a clove-studded orange, all held in check by a minerality that Chelsea called "rock quarry".  The mouth is generous with chocolate-covered cherry and a minty, juniper note.  It reminded me of the best grape jelly you could ever imagine.  Beautiful chalky tannins clean things up at the end, and the finish is long, with licorice, mint, and chalky mineral notes.  Drink now and over the next decade or more.
  • Production: 1600 cases

2013 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our twelfth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging.  While we often blend ours with Cabernet Sauvignon, in this vintage we bottled the Cabernet separately and the wine is 100% Tannat.  We aged it in neutral demi-muids for nearly 2 years before bottling it in July 2015. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, dark, savory and winey, with baker's chocolate and an iron-like bloodiness that reminded me of marinating meat with rosemary and soy.  The mouth is lusher than the nose suggests, with dark chocolate flavors, brambly black fruit, and a creamy texture.  The iron-like minerality came back out on the long finish, which also showed Tannat's signature tannins and smoky character.  A wine to watch evolve over decades.
  • Production: 720 cases

2013 PANOPLIE

  • Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always giving pride of place to Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2014.  The wine was bottled in August 2015 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.  The blend is 75% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache and 10% Syrah.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose that manages to be both brooding and inviting, with notes of pine forest and aged balsamic and cassis and meat drippings.  The mouth is luscious, with red plum, black licorice, leather, cocoa powder and cigar box flavors.  The finish is long, with big tannins enlivened by a minty lift.  A wine to wait on if you possibly can, at least in the short term, but one that should have two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 670 cases

There were two additional wines (joining the Cotes de Tablas Blanc and Esprit de Tablas Blanc) in the white-only shipment:

2015 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our fourteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottle it in screwcap. Normally a generous producer, our yields in 2015 were down by nearly 50%.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Vermentino nose of white grapefruit, citrus leaf, and crushed rock, but then surprisingly generous and mouth-filling, like lemon-lime soda, with a briny sea spray minerality and a long, clean, luscious finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 575 cases.

2014 PATELIN DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas Blanc is our white Rhone-style blend sourced from our many great neighborhood Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (49%), with Viognier (31%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, and Roussanne (12%) and Marsanne (8%) adding minerality and texture.  The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled young (in May 2015) to preserve its freshness.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose is very polished, with toasted marshmallow and lemongrass, honeydew, orange zest and preserved lemon.  In the mouth, the wine is luscious, with caramel apple and rose water flavors, and a little Grenache Blanc tannin that maintains order on the long, aromatic finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 3000 cases

Three additional reds joined the Cotes de Tablas, Panoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:

2013 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: 2013 is the fourth 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, 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 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: A classically Pinot nose of sarsaparilla, nutmeg, milk chocolate and black cherry.  In the mouth the wine is beautifully fresh and medium-bodied, with cherry cola flavors and a touch of sweet oak on the finish.  Really pretty, and (for us) a validation that we can make classic-styled Pinot Noir here in Paso Robles.  Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 310 cases

2014 PATELIN DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from our many great neighborhood Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (55%), with Grenache (29%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (10%) and Counoise (6%) earth and structure. Fermented in a mix of upright oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks and aged in wooden uprights, it was bottled in July 2015 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting Notes: A dark, Syrah-driven nose that is creamy, meaty, minerally, and a little bit wild.  A little blue fruit lurks underneath and comes out with air.  The mouth shows both Grenache and Syrah's influence, with black plum, boysenberry, chalky minerality and nice powdered sugar tannins that come out on the finish. Decant if you're drinking now, or age for up to a decade for secondary and tertiary flavors of meat and earth.
  • Production: 3500 cases

2013 SYRAH

  • Production Notes: Our first varietal bottling of Syrah since 2010.  Despite the warm 2013 vintage, the vintage proceeded largely without extreme heat spikes, and cool-loving Syrah showed both power and freshness in our blending trials.  So, we kept aside one foudre (assembled from a mix of newer and older small barrels) of our most expressive Syrah, and aged it there for a year before bottling in May of 2015.
  • Tasting notes: A dark, spicy brambly campfire wildness that is absolutely characteristic of Syrah.  There is also a marinade wineyness that seems to be 2013's signature in our red wines. The palate is vibrant with blackberry and briary spice, big tannins and a little sweet oak.  I don't think this will hit its peak for a decade or more, but it should be pretty amazing once it does. Decant in advance if drinking soon, or wait up to two decades.
  • Production: 550 cases

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 spring's party will be on Sunday, April 10th.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment?  Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


Congratulations to Jason Haas, 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year

By Robert Haas

In 1989 The Perrin family and the Haas family bought a 120 acre pasture in Adelaida that was to become Tablas Creek Vineyard, named for the eponymous creek that flowed through the property.  I took over the management.

In 2002 my son Jason, fresh from a stint in the east coast’s tech world, arrived in Paso Robles and started working at Tablas Creek, focusing initially on our marketing and increasingly on our management.  Although Jason has taken over the day-to-day operations here, I'm still working because I enjoy our working together.  It's fun.  His leadership here and his accomplishments at the vineyard and in the community delight me.

Last Friday, the Paso Robles wine community came together at the Paso Wine Country Alliance's annual Winter Gala to honor Jason for “outstanding contributions toward the success of the Paso Robles wine industry”.  He was named the 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year:

BarrelJason, with Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Executive Director Jennifer Porter 

KatchoJason with State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (left) and State Senator Bill Monning (right) and the decree passed by the Californa legislature

Group
A healthy Tablas Creek contingent gathered to help celebrate

It was fun to hear the wine community recognize his accomplishments in the fourteen years he has been working here. They have been significant!

  • He started this blog back in 2005 and has been its principal author for a decade now. It has been a finalist for “Best Winery Blog” seven of the last eight years and won in 2008 and 2011.   The blog helped establish us as leaders in the wine community and himself as a source for media with thoughts worth seeking out.
  • His writing on the blog has led to invitations to contribute pieces on Paso Robles and Rhone varieties to Wine Business Monthly, Wines & Vines, Wine Industry Network, and Zester Daily, and to regular appearances on radio and television.
  • He established the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers chapter in 2007 and led it for the next several years. In that period, it grew from 15 members to 50 members and helped establish Paso Robles as the epicenter of California’s Rhone movement.
  • He has represented Paso Robles, Rhone grape varieties, and Tablas Creek to industry groups including the American Wine Society, the AIWF, the Unified Symposium, and the Society of Wine Educators, and has been a regular guest lecturer to classes and student groups at Cal Poly and Fresno State, spreading the word about our region and our winery to the next generation of wine consumers and wine professionals.
  • He has helped build Tablas Creek's standing in the community, working with and supporting deserving causes such as must! charities, Festival Mozaic, the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, and the Paderewski Festival, as well as volunteering as a youth basketball and baseball coach in Templeton.
  • He has volunteered diligently as a board member of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, of Rhône Rangers, and of Family Winemakers of California. It is easy to critique the actions of an organization, but much more significant to jump in and help it achieve its goals.
  • He has had, I feel, a particularly significant impact on the Rhone Rangers. When he joined the board in 2004, it was an organization whose sole footprint was one tasting a year in San Francisco.  He pushed the group to expand its Bay Area event to include a greater educational component and a winemaker dinner and auction.  He also led the charge to add additional events, including an annual Los Angeles tasting and “road show” visits to Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC.  The category of California Rhones has made amazing strides in the last decade, in part thanks to the work of Jason and the rest of the Rhone Rangers leadership.
  • Jason’s support of Tablas Creek’s role in the creation of and advocacy for the 11 new Paso Robles AVAs helped distill a complicated story into a comprehensible message of why this is a good thing for the region.

I'm proud of him.   He has made a difference.


A Valentine's Day truffle recipe... and a wine to drink them away

By Suphada Rom

Prior to working at Tablas Creek, I spent three years working at a small French bistro that was adjacent to a chocolate shop, which was also conveniently co-owned by the owners of the restaurant (pommes frites…check! chocolates…check!). I was in heaven learning not only about our menu, but about the chocolates we produced. As I reflect on my time there, I realized wine and chocolate have really similar foundations. Not unlike a vineyard, cacao farms can vary from plot to plot, and more so from one country to the next. I tasted single origin chocolates from all over South America, each bringing their own exciting aromas and nuances. With both quality wine and chocolate, there is an incredible sense of terroir that is truly amazing to taste. A certain minerality you find in a bottle of wine could be considered equivalent to the nutty nuance you find in a bar of chocolate. You can only imagine our excitement when we decided to pair the two together, creating what may be one of the best wine and dessert pairings I’ve ever had.

Bottle & truffle VertChocolate truffles with our 2003 Sacrérouge.

When I first played around with the idea of pairing wine with chocolate, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Chocolate is such a powerful product to work with, given its rich quality and often overly sweet connotation. Some of my favorite chocolate desserts are the most simple, but made with the highest quality ingredients. This truffle recipe by King Arthur Flour (from my home state of Vermont!) requires only chocolate and heavy cream to make the centers, leaving you free to coat them with just about anything you want. The chocolate ganache is smooth and rich, but not cloyingly sweet. Adding nuts or some sort of a crunchy exterior will also break up the overall smooth texture, however there were no complaints about the traditional chocolate dipped ones! Here are some photos from our truffle efforts:

Coatings prep
Toppings in preparation of coating every square (okay, maybe round) inch of each truffle

Dirty hands close
After about 2 truffles, your hands may look like this. I spy some Rebecca Haas jewelry beneath the layer of chocolate.

Dipped truffle
A dipped truffle that we managed to not eat, however due to lack of self control, many truffles were harmed in the making of this blog post.

The wine that we chose to pair the truffles with was our Vin de Paille Sacrérouge. Sacrérouge is a small production dessert wine made from 100% Mourvèdre. It is produced through the meticulous vin de paille process, where the grapes are hand harvested at peak ripeness (but not superripe like a late harvest) and laid out on beds of straw to dehydrate. During this process the grapes concentrate and gather in complexity and character. The results, after a slow oak fermentation, is a sweet wine that brings richness with incredible balance. The 2003 Sacrérouge (which we chose for this pairing) was our first-ever bottling of this dessert wine. We were really thrilled with how this wine was drinking. It had incredibly deep notes of cherry and cassis, with a beautiful mineral quality on the finish. The youthful quality of this wine is what really had everyone talking -- this wine was still vibrant after over a decade in bottle. A bite of truffle and a sip of wine later, we were all relatively speechless. It was a fantastic pairing.

Bottle & truffle HorzThe finished product with our 2003 Sacrérouge, and yes, this picture perfect set up lasted all of 10 seconds before we dove in!

In celebration of Valentine’s Day next weekend, we've released a little of the 2003 Sacrérouge from our library ($75/bottle) so you too can enjoy it with the truffles you'll be whipping up -- it’s sure to be a pairing you’ll never forget. If you recreate this dessert (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:

 


Why the future may look a lot like the crazy 2015 vintage

I was honored to be invited to give the keynote address at today's Vintage Report Conference here in Paso Robles.

JH Keynote Speaker Vintage Report 2015

The topic was to provide an overview of the 2015 vintage, with technical discussions to follow on the vintage's impact on vine physiology, grapevine maturation, and berry/wine composition.  I thought that my keynote address might be interesting to followers of the blog, and have shared it below.  I have added a few concluding thoughts at the end. 

I am honored to have been asked to deliver this keynote address.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you that the 2015 vintage was unusual, or that most of what made it unusual presented challenges to viticulture throughout much of California. Nor am I likely to surprise any of you who experienced it with the roller-coaster of emotions that we saw out at Tablas Creek.  This roller-coaster, in order:

  • Hope from a great beginning to the rain in the early winter of 2014-2015
  • Disillusionment as an exceptionally dry late winter left us at about 50% of normal rainfall (again)
  • Relief to have avoided frost despite an early budbreak
  • Worry about cool, windy weather during May’s flowering (which resulted in widespread shatter)
  • Uncertainty after alternating significantly warmer-than-normal and cooler-than-normal months
  • Shock upon receiving multiple inches of rain in July
  • Disbelief in seeing just how light crops were (much lower than we’d projected)
  • And back to hope at the end with our late-season grapes coming in much closer to normal yields, and overall wine quality looking strong.

You’ll get details of all these pieces from the many speakers here today, but I wanted to illustrate in two ways just how unusual the year was. 

  • First, the rainfall by month that we saw last winter out at Tablas Creek. We finished at about half of normal rainfall, but it was anything but consistent.  It’s hard to have a good rainfall winter in California if it doesn’t rain in January and March:

  Winter Rainfall 2014-2015

  • Second, the ricochets between significantly warmer than average and significantly cooler than average months during the growing season. Only June was within 10% of normal heat accumulation, and some months like May, August, and October were way off the charts.

  Degree Days 2015 Growing Season

Degree Days vs Normal 2015 Growing Season

And yet, with all this uncertainty as a background, it’s looking like 2015 produced some remarkably compelling wines. 

The lessons from 2015 may well prove to be important ones moving forward.  The scientific consensus seems to be settling around the likelihood that droughts and extreme weather in our area are going to be more common in coming years thanks to global warming. The lessons we might learn from 2015, as unusual as it looks in historical context, may well need to be applied with increasing frequency in the future.

I look forward to hearing the conclusions that some of the state’s leading viticulture researchers will present today.  Thank you all for coming.

A few conclusions

It was interesting to me, in the research I did to put together this talk, the degree to which a consensus really seems to be building among the California wine community on the effects of climate change.  Droughts are likely to become more frequent and more severe.  The incidence of very warm stretches will increase, but so too will the threats from springtime frosts, as warmer March weather encourages earlier budbreak.  The climate of the California's Central Coast will increasingly resemble, in rainfall and temperature, that of Southern California.  And the increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms will make unusual summer rain events like the one we received last July more common.

A salient conclusion that Dr. Thibaut Scholasch, the organizer of the conference, made in his introduction was that the viticultural impacts we are likely to face more often given climate change (excessive drought, excessive heat) are more easily addressed by changes in viticulture and winemaking, as opposed to the opposite threats (excessive moisture, excessive cool) that put the success of a vintage largely outside of the control of a grower or winemaker.

Finally, I love that this high profile technical event, which takes place in four places around the world, has chosen Paso Robles as one of its four locations (joining Napa, Bordeaux, and Narbonne).


What's in a (category) name? Maybe a lot.

One of (the literally hundreds of) Shakespeare's phrases that has entered common English parlance is Juliet's question to Romeo, "What's in a name?".  She continues, "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" with its implication that names are labels given meaning by those of us who use them, but that there is an essential quality that is independent of the name it carries.  One of the risks of any enterprise is that once you've assigned a name to something, you assume that the other people who hear or read that name understand its relationship to the essential idea described the same way that you do.  Industry jargon is only the most obvious example of this; in many cases the consequences of naming (or mis-naming) something can be much more subtle.

Those of you who have followed Tablas Creek are likely familiar with the vintage chart that we created back in 2006 and have updated roughly quarterly ever since.  With it, we try to help our fans be as informed as we are as to where in its evolutionary life each of our wines is at the moment.  After all, it's in our interest as much as our fans' that the wines that they open be drinking well, and there's no way even the most dedicated Tablas Creek follower is going to be opening as many of our wines, across as many vintages, as we do.  Sharing our experiences seems to me like the least we can do.    

Vintage chart in use
The vintage chart, in use in our tasting room

For the last several years, we divided up the wines into the following categories:

  • Hold - Too Young
  • Early Maturity: Drink or Hold
  • Peak Maturity: Drink or Hold
  • Late Maturity: Drink
  • Hold - Closed Phase
  • Past its prime

Most of these seem self-explanatory enough, except for perhaps "hold - closed phase", whose depths I dove into in a blog post from 2011.

Vintage chart Jan 2016 #2However, in recent months I've gotten a spike in comments from people who have been waiting and waiting on many of our wines to move from "Early Maturity" into "Peak Maturity". Since I've wanted to see some secondary flavors in a wine before moving it between these categories, this has meant that often several vintages accumulated as they waited -- with some wines, for a decade -- for wines to get to their peak.  Now, we're proud that many of our longer-lived wines should age for two decades.  But I also understand our fans' frustration that gratification delayed so long isn't particularly gratifying.  And my idea was never to encourage everyone to wait for full maturity, missing out on wines' juicy vigor.  That "early maturity" phase makes for wonderful drinking, and I almost certainly open more wines then than I keep until those secondary flavors start to show.  Yet it seemed that what I'd hoped would be helpful was becoming, for some followers at least, a burden.  And I understood why.  Wouldn't you, too, like peak enjoyment out of a purchase?  So, in the today's update to the vintage chart, I renamed the different categories as follows:

  • More Aging Recommended
  • Drinking Well: Youthful
  • Drinking Well: Mature
  • Late Maturity (Drink Up)
  • Hold - Closed Phase
  • Past its prime

I am hopeful that this change, minor as it seems, will continue to protect our fans from wines in stages likely to be disappointing while removing the stigma from opening a wine in its (relative) youth.  This change is in keeping with my suspicions of drinking window recommendations (think: "best between 2025 and 2033"), and the idea that there is a single peak when wines should be drunk. This is not to deny that wines can be too young to be truly enjoyable -- often with red wines, when tannins are so powerful, or the fruit is so thick and primary, that they dominate the other elements.  Or that wines can be too old, when the steady work of oxygen and time in breaking down tannins and other structural elements leave a wine tired and flat.  But between these two extremes lies a wide range of experiences during which the wine is in balance.  A consumer who prefers wines to show brighter fruit would typically drink wines earlier in this window.  Another who prefers her wines earthier and meatier might drink them later in this window.  

Or, if you're like me, and love to watch as wines move into different harmonies between fruit, acid, tannin and earth, you might consciously open wines at different phases.  It wasn't Shakespeare who said "Life is a journey, not a destination." (that was Ralph Waldo Emerson), but if what's in a name can encourage more people to enjoy the journey, I'm all for it.


Braised Short Ribs: a Cold-Weather Pairing Fit for Rain or Snow

By Suphada Rom

When I think of braised meats, I am immediately brought back to my childhood. I’m not sure many people can say that, but it’s true for me. My winters growing up in Vermont were spent waking up at the first sign of light, bundling up in multiple layers, and making my mark on freshly fallen snow. Only when the sun had set, or when my second set of gloves was oversaturated, would I find myself making the trek indoors. Immediately upon entering my house, I’d be greeted by the warmth radiating out of our baseboard heaters and the intoxicating smell of braised meats in the oven. This week in Paso Robles, we may not have experienced extreme winter snow, but we did get torrential rain. Looking outside, the oak trees are slumping slightly with the relentless nature of the storm, and the grass is impossibly green. When it rains here, it pours, and in celebration of the much-needed saturation, I've got the perfect dish to warm you up from the inside out.

12EBFA shot

While scrolling through my library of both digital and written recipes, I remembered how much I love this recipe for Braised Short Ribs (a recipe of Dan Barber, of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, via Food52 website). Although the beef may be the meat of the dish, the sauce is what gets me. I love a sauce that is deeply rich while maintaining some acidity, like in this recipe. Most braised short rib recipes use only red wine, but Dan Barber uses both red wine and Madeira. The combination of both types of wine contributes light fruit character with a rounded nutty flavor. Another ingredient that makes this dish unique is the use of tamarind concentrate. Tamarind paste is the secret ingredient that you’ll learn to love because of its tangy and sour nature. Found in most Asian markets, tamarind paste contains 12% tartaric acid (a little goes a long way!).

Tamarind paste

A couple pieces of advice for making this dish: I beg and plead for you to go above and beyond the braising time of four hours. Given that the meat is cooking at such a low temperature in a completely sealed Dutch oven, there will be little evaporation to be had, just the eventual breakdown of the fat (also known as flavor!) on the meat and increasing tenderness. Whenever I braise anything, there is all the time in the world to clean your home all while being engulfed by the intoxicating aromas being emitted from the kitchen. It would be ideal to make the dish one day and serve it the next; you’ll have more of an opportunity to scale off the layer of fat on top, lending to a cleaner sauce. The other tip I have is that in step one of the dish, you season thoroughly and get a complete sear on the pieces of meat. I recommend seasoning about 10-15 minutes before they meet the hot pan. Enough critique, here are the results from our braising efforts:

Meat and mirepoixThe set up; having everything prepped is key!

  Meat and mirepoix 3
The browned short ribs getting cozy with the mirepoix

13CTFA addition

Adding a splash of our 2013 Cotes de Tablas for good measure

12PNFA Shot

The finished product with one of the wines, our 2012 Panoplie

The wines we chose were collectively based on Mourvedre, the most important grape at both Tablas Creek and at our sister winery, Château de Beaucastel. Mourvedre brings incredible approachability at a young age, with rich mid palate tannins and outstanding dark fruit, meat, and earth character. We had a few options in terms of wine pairings, so naturally, we tried them all (all in the name of research, of course). Our wine choices were our 2012 Esprit de Tablas (40% Mourvedre 30% Syrah 21% Grenache 9% Counoise), 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel (38% Mourvèdre 30% Grenache 26% Syrah 6% Counoise), 2012 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre 20% Grenache 10% Syrah), and 2013 Mourvedre. We were quite pleased with all the wines, as they each brought vintage character and appeal. To be honest, it was a bit of a toss up- we loved the balsamic-y nature of our 2012 Esprit de Tablas, and that was only more focused and evident in the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel. The 2012 Panoplie has this wonderful rare steak character, that brings out the tender meat of the dish while complimenting the depth of flavors found in the sauce. Our 2013 Mourvedre, young but approachable, brought refreshing tangy character. This was a situation where the wine let the dish take the spotlight, whereas the other wines were very much a part of the entire meal.

Make this recipe and do yourself a favor and go ahead and double it- because as good as this recipe is with whipped potatoes, it is a force to reckoned with in shredded short rib taco form the next day (I ate them too quickly to post a photo!). 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:

  • Feeling like you want to taste these wines? Come join us for a Reserve Tasting, where you'll have the opportunity to taste through vintages of our Esprit de Tablas/Beaucastel along with our exclusive Panoplie. Learn more here or e-mail visit@tablascreek.com
  • You can order the 2012 Esprit de Tablas here, or find it in distribution throughout the country.
  • You can order the 2013 Mourvedre here.
  • The 2012 Panoplie and 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel were part of our wine club shipments allotted to VINsiders and Collector's Edition Vinsiders, respectively. Learn more about our VINsider and Collectors Edition wine clubs here.

 


A 60 year career in a bottle of Domaine Delaporte Sancerre

By Robert Haas

Last week Barbara and I enjoyed a bottle of 2014 Delaporte Sancerre Chavignol with a shrimp dish and some stir-fried baby bok choy. It reminded me of my first visit to the property in 1954, then directed by Gabriel Delaporte.  As it happens, that same day Gabriel's great-grandson Matthieu Delaporte was presenting the estate's newest vintages to Vineyard Brands at their national sales meetings in Alabama.  One of the slides in his presentation talked about that day:

Delaporte

The Delaporte family has been making wine in Chavignol since the 17th century. Gabriel's son (Vincent, below bottom), grandson (Jean-Yves, below right) and great-grandson (Matthieu, below left) run the estate today:

Delaporte - Family

The vineyards of Chavignol consist of Kimmeridgian marl (à la Chablis), imparting body and power to the wines that bolster sauvignon blanc's signature citrus and minerality. Sancerre's history is interesting, and somewhat distinct from the rest of the Loire Valley.  In fact, until the late 19th century Sancerre was not even planted to sauvignon blanc. In the middle ages, it was part of the Duchy of Burgundy and was planted to gamay and pinot noir (20% still is in pinot). Phylloxera devastated it in the 19th century along with just about all of the French vineyards and sauvignon blanc was introduced as the vineyards were replanted, partly because it grafted better onto American rootstocks. The new wine became a favorite of Paris bistros and was awarded the appellation Sancerre in 1936. In 1954, Domaine Delaporte was the first property I visited in my new job as buyer for my father's wine shop, M. Lehmann, Inc. in New York, just a short detour on the way south from Paris to Burgundy via N7 in the days before the autoroute coasted you down directly to Beaune.

In the 1950s the eastern Loire wines from sauvignon blanc (and pinot noir) grapes were practically unknown in the United States but I loved the wines of the 1952 vintage tasted from the demi-muid barrels and took a chance on 100 cases. I -- and later, Vineyard Brands, the import company I founded -- have been Delaporte's U.S. importer ever since. I never imagined back then that 60 years later I would be in the same profession as a vineyard proprietor in California.

That evening, before dinner, we opened one of our own whites, the Viognier/Grenache Blanc/Marsanne/Roussanne blend 2014 Côtes de Tablas Blanc.

Sancerre Horizontal

The Delaporte had the typical Sancerre cutting edge dryness with expressive aromas of gooseberries and a stony minerality. By contrast, the Tablas Creek was minerally, but in a different way, more creamy texture and saline finish, with fuller body, less acidity, and fruit more like peaches than citrus.  Still, the pleasure of having two terrific dry whites, one of which I have a 60-year history with, and the other of which I've dedicated the last quarter-century to making, made the meal a memorable one.


Customer service lessons from an overcrowded restaurant

On the Monday between Christmas and New Year's, I called into a favorite local restaurant from my 8-year-old's soccer practice to get takeout. I had volunteered to provide dinner that night for the large group of extended family who were in town for the weekend, who were relaxing and watching football back at my house while I collected Sebastian. The restaurant I chose isn't fancy, but it's the kind of solid neighborhood place that forms the backbone of a lot of communities. Good food, an unfailingly helpful staff and no fuss. We eat there (or order from there) a lot.

FC797B68-F820-4860-9EE3-24DFA6F07B09

This experience was pretty much a nightmare. When I called, I was asked if I could hold. Sure, no problem. But when no one came back to the phone for a minute, then two, then five, it became clear that whoever had answered had put down the phone to take care of whatever else she was working on, and then forgotten about me. I hung up, and called back. Busy. I tried again. Busy. Over the next twenty minutes, I called another half-dozen times, getting a busy signal each time. The phone was evidently still off the hook. I was about to abandon the attempt -- worried at this point I wouldn't have any food for the assembled dozen people, but without a plan B I could think of -- when the phone rang through, and was picked up. I ordered, and she let me know that because they were so busy, I should count on a half-hour for the food to be ready.

I had been planning to pick up the food on my way back home from practice, but at this point, the ordering had taken so long that I figured I should drop Sebastian back home to play with his cousins and then head back out to get the food. And it's a good thing I did. I arrived at the restaurant about a half-hour after ordering, and it was absolutely slammed. Every table was full, there were people waiting at the entrance, and the bar was full of patrons waiting for orders they'd called in. It took another twenty minutes (which felt like an hour, at this point) before I got my food and headed home to a very hungry household.

I'm a regular customer, and knew enough to cut them some slack after dozens of good experiences. But, I thought, what if I had been one of those people in from out of town, and this was my first visit? I wouldn't be writing this blog; I'd be writing a review on Yelp (if I were that sort of person) or at least telling my dozen or so assembled friends and family what a disorganized mess the restaurant was.

I realized later that this experience held two clear lessons for restaurants, winery tasting rooms, or really any other retail business with an ebb and flow of customers.

  1. Keep good records, and use them. Clearly, the restaurant was surprised by the traffic they saw on this Monday night. Should they have been? Probably not. That week is always one of our busiest of the year in the tasting room, with what feels like an entire week of Saturdays. The restaurant has been there for several years, so they should have data from past Christmases. Maybe they had someone call in sick. Or maybe things sequenced badly for them, with several big groups arriving all at once. Things happen. But they're a lot less likely to take you by surprise if you're looking at past history. This year, we saw 931 people at the Tablas Creek tasting room that very week. That was a lot. But since we had 836 the same week last year, we were prepared. Similarly, after being blindsided by exceptionally busy weekends thanks to other wineries hosting wine club events, we started a calendar in conjunction with other wineries out near us that we all share. Now, we know when to expect the overflow from an event at Justin, or Halter Ranch, or Adelaida.
  2. Staff for your peak times.It's easy and logical to look at your staffing costs and decide you can save a little by aiming to be appropriately staffed when you're averagely busy. But I think it's usually a mistake. Customer traffic rarely comes in an even flow. It comes in rushes and pauses, and a rush when you're unprepared can put you behind for some time after. But, more importantly, if you're staffed for your average traffic you're guaranteed to be providing the worst service when you have the most people there. Far better, in my opinion, is staffing for when you're busy, and being creative with your staff so they're not unproductive when customer traffic is light.

These lessons were always important. Research has shown that a bad customer experience gets retold many more times than a good one. But with the increasing popularity of review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and the easy sharing of information over social media, it's more important than ever. Go back to my initial experience. If I had written this up on Yelp, how many customers do you think would have read it and decided not to chance a first visit? How many of those customers might have become regulars? Suddenly, the cost of the extra person to work the floor, or answer the phones, doesn't seem so substantial.


Tasting every wine from 2006, a decade later

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 20th.  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. In fact, each year that we've done this we've been surprised by at least one wine that we expected to be in decline showing up as a highlight.  

A few years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2006 vintage:

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 plenty of 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.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the elegance that we thought we might find? Would this vintage of moderate concentration (sandwiched between two of our most powerful vintages) have retained the stuffing to make them compelling a decade later?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?

In 2006, we made 20 different wines: 8 whites, 1 rosé, 8 reds, and 3 sweet wines.  But we tasted 21 different wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2006 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. The lineup:

2006 Horizontal

My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine (except for the 2006 Bergeron, which for some reason we never made a Web page for) is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling.  If you have a question about the Bergeron, or anything else, leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to respond:

  • 2006 Vermentino (SC): A nice nose of green fruit (maybe quince?), crabapple and petrol, with a stony/minerally note.  In the mouth it was fresh, medium-weight, with nice acids and flavors of apple skin and watermelon rind.  The finish was notably saline, with a yeasty note like aged Champagne.
  • 2006 Grenache Blanc (SC): An effusive nose of candied grapefruit, apple pie, and sea spray.  The palate was rich with glycerine but cut by a salty mineral note that reminded me of saltwater taffy. Flavors of preserved lemon and anise softened into a long and rich finish with a sake-like creaminess and a hint of menthol.  I loved this wine, though the group was less excited, with a few complaints as to the wine's heft (it was 15.3% alcohol) and thoughts that it could have used a touch more acidity.  Still, long after I'd expected this wine's natural life to end, it was a treat to taste.
  • 2006 Viognier (SC): A bright, herby nose of tarragon and sage, with some lemon peel and candied pineapple coming out as the wine opened in the glass.  The mouth was really nice, salty, not particularly fruity, with crunchy nectarine and some citrus pith flavrs.  The finish was clean with good acids.  It didn't play at all in the typical Viognier blowsy profile, instead much more linear and mineral.  My dad said it reminded him of "older Chateau Grillets" (a monopole producer of Viognier in the northern Rhone).
  • 2006 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): A deeper color and aromatic profile than the previous wines, with aromas of cedar, maraschino cherry, and butterscotch.  The mouth was still holding on pretty well, showing some oak, a very rich texture, and some ripe apple.  A little heavy on the finish.  A warm-climate rendition of Chardonnay, at the end of its life but still alive, but almost certainly better when it was younger.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 59% Viognier, 32% Marsanne, 6% Grenache Blanc, 3% Roussanne): The nose shows an herby peppered citrus Marsanne note (more than Viognier, despite its predominance in the blend). On the palate, lots of sweet fruit, like honeydew melon and mint, then a long, soft finish of chalky minerality and marshmallow.  Still showing nicely, though a touch low in acid.  I like what the higher Grenache Blanc percentages we're using now on this blend bring to the table.
  • 2006 Bergeron (SC): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. The nose was initially somewhat neutral, with a little tart green kiwi fruit coming out with time.  The mouth is medium-bodied, somewhat neutral as well, with good acids and nice minerality.  The finish came across as a touch sour, with a watermelon rind note.  A bit unexciting now, though we all remembered liking it quite a lot when it was young.
  • 2006 Roussanne (C): A first bottle was oxidized, but the second bottle was gorgeous: a medium gold color, with a stunning nose of orange peel, lilac, bit-o-honey, and something minty (tarragon, maybe) giving lift.  On the palate, the wine was rich, long, and caramelly but fully dry.  The finish was candied orange, citrus blossoms, and a nice saltiness that provided freshness.  Really impressive, if you like white wines with power and density.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): The nose was higher toned than the Roussanne, with an appealing bit of Grenache Blanc's austerity: pink grapefruit to go with the honey and herbs.  The mouth shows a good balance between sweet fruit and fresh acids, with white flowers, quince, and peach juice.  There are some signs of age but the wine is in a very nice place.
  • 2006 Rosé (SC; 60% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 12% Counoise): A pretty deep amber-pink color. The nose is like a light red, with bing cherry and wild strawberry.  The mouth is rich and luscious, with lots of grapey, plummy fruit.  There are still some good acids, though the wine finishes heavy at this age.  Not really a style of wine any of us drink, but still interesting to taste.
  • 2006 Counoise (SC): Quite dark for a Counoise.  A classic rustic Gamay-reminiscent nose, with peppered raspberry and cured meat.  The mouth is really nice, with spicy red plum fruit, still quite light on its feet.  A clean, youthful finish with still some noteworthy tannins.  Plays much more youthful than its ten years of age, and made us all think we're underestimating Counoise's longevity.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): Under screwcap, a bright, clean nose of raspberry fruit.  The mouth was medium-bodied, with strawberry and plum flavors, nice baker's chocolate tannins, and a bright finish.  Tasted very youthful.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (C; 72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): Under cork, the same wine tasted totally different. A deeper nose, more mocha than chocolate, with the fruit aspect more stewed than fresh. On the palate, deeper, chewier, more full-bodied and older: tasted fully mature, with less life left but more depth. Like a 10-year-old wine.
  • 2006 Grenache (C): A lovely meaty animal and red fruit nose.  The mouth was gorgeously balanced between sweet strawberry fruit, salty mineral, chocolatey depth, and earthy funk. Showed good acids and some tannins yet on the finish. A pleasure. 
  • 2006 Mourvedre (C): A nose of roasted meat drippings, milk chocolate, red cherry and currant.  The mouth is again beautiful, with great balance like the Grenache, a bit more weight, and a little longer and plusher (showing less acidity) on the finish.  Chelsea commented that it had "the right amount of unruliness" which seemed right on to me. A beautiful showing for this wine.
  • 2006 Syrah (C): The nose is meaty, with a little peppered bacon.  The mouth is still quite youthful, with fairly big tannins still, and a savory finish without the generosity of the two previous varietal wines.  We liked the nose more than the palate at this stage, and thought that the wine was really still too young.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 45% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Counoise): Fascinating to taste after the three varietal wines, as it shows aspects of each. A pretty nose of meat drippings, Provencal herbs, and balsamic marinade, with something cool and spicy (juniper?) behind it.  The mouth is rich and tangy, with sweet fruit and nice herbs, a meaty, chocolatey aspect, good tannins, and a clean, long finish.  It was still, we thought, on its way up, and fleshed out with time in the glass.  Decant this if you're opening it now.
  • 2006 Panoplie (C): A deep, dark, brooding nose of marinating meat and roasted root vegetables.  The palate shows sweet black fruit (black fig and black cherry), nicely tangy, plush and luscious.  Tannins are still big, but necessary with all the richness and body.  Chelsea said "if I was going to take a Panoplie home to my parents, this would be the one."  Impressive, from beginning to end.
  • 2006 Tannat (C): The nose was higher toned than we were expecting, with a yeasty chocolate souffle note.  The mouth was really nice, with milk chocolate, salty and tangy aspects. The tannins were pretty resolved for a Tannat, and the flavors as much red as black.  Mature, we thought (in contrast to the 2005, which still felt very young a year ago).
  • 2006 Vin de Paille (C; 40% Grenache Blanc, 23% Viognier, 20% Roussanne, 17% Marsanne): The nose felt a little unsettled, with poached pear, spice, and a slightly volatile potpourri note.  The palate was quite sweet, and still quite primary: peach syrup, candied violets, roasted pecans, and some welcome acids on the finish.
  • 2006 Vin de Paille Quintessence (C; 100% Roussanne): A deeper and more savory nose than the straight Vin de Paille, with intense essence of apricot, golden raisins and molasses.  The mouth was sweeter but also more textured and with more acid than the Vin de Paille blend: really rich and powerful, and long, long, long.  Tyler's comment was "I might not open a wine like this often, but if I wanted to show off to friends, I would".
  • 2006 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C; 100% Mourvedre): Compared to the two white vin de paille wines, the nose is savory, with saddle leather, black olive, and chocolate-covered cherries.  The mouth is younger than the nose, sweet with fig and date flavors, but medium-bodied.  Some tannins show up on the finish.  Still young, we thought.

A few concluding thoughts

I was very happy, overall, with how the wines showed.  This was the most different varietal wines we'd bottled to this point, including our first-ever Grenache, and I was happy with how well -- and how much varietal typicity -- they all showed. However, compared to our tasting of the 2005's, there were more wines that tasted like they were on the downslope (Antithesis, Bergeron, Rosé), and some wines that were fully mature whereas in 2005 they were still youngish at ten years of age.  But the elegance of our principal wines, including both Esprits, and the power of wines like the Panoplie, Roussanne, and Vin de Paille Quintessence, suggests that the best wines from 2006 are among the best we've ever produced.

I thought that tasting the Esprits after their principal components was the most interesting aspect of the tasting.  The Esprit Blanc showed both its Grenache Blanc and Roussanne aspects, in a way that complemented each.  And the Esprit red showed how each of its components combined to make something none of the parts could have achieved individually.

This tasting was yet another data point for me suggesting that Syrah really needs time.  This 2006 was still, I thought, too young, and it was the tannins and structure of the Syrah component that kept the Esprit red feeling younger than either the varietal Grenache or the varietal Mourvedre.  I guess this shouldn't be surprising given that Syrah-based wines from the northern Rhone and Australia are among the longest-lived wines in the world, but I'm concluding that a decade in, ours still want a longer rest.

The cork/screwcap contrast on the Cotes de Tablas was really fascinating, and provoked the most discussion around the table. We split evenly as to which we preferred, with some people opting for the depth and weight of the cork finish and other choosing the clarity and vibrancy of the screwcap finish. I preferred the brightness of the screwcap, but I totally understand why others (including my dad) preferred the cork.  If this sort of thing interests you, you might want to check out my older blog Bottle Variation, Very Old Wines and the Cork/Screwcap Dilemma, spurred by a conversation with Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm in which he posits that most wines, in the long run, probably do benefit from screwcap's protection from oxidation.  Of course, the $100,000 question is whether most wines are drunk before that point or after.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 20th Horizontal Tasting: Viognier, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Cotes de Tablas (cork), Grenache, Mourvedre, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille "Quintessence". I hope many of you will join us!


On the Road: 10 Hedonistic Highlights from 2015

By Darren Delmore

As my travels representing Tablas Creek across the country in 2015 came to a close, I wanted to round up some of my favorite discoveries in the food and wine scene. I didn't hit every pocket of the country, but I did work with our wholesalers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, New York, and even sprinkled in Huntsville and Reno for good measure. Here's a shortlist of ten trendsetters who are working their delicious and clever magic at the moment, and inspiring myself and others to rethink the concept of "going out to eat": 

Industrial Eats, Buellton, California

This industrial park-based, counter service gem features local wines on tap (including our Patelin de Tablas Blanc), is open from 11 am to 9 pm straight, and is stocked with some of the purest, most flavorful ingredients and preparations in Santa Barbara County. Owner Jeff Olsson is really into farms and backstory. One bit of evidence: while I was midway into a wood-fired pizza, I saw a local diver do a delivery of softball-sized, bright purple sea urchins for their famed Uni Avocado Toast. Salivate over their menu at www.industrialeats.com

Shaya, New Orleans, Louisiana

Hyped as America's best new restaurant by Esquire magazine, Shaya calls its cuisine "modern Israeli food in chic". Our Vineyard Brands rep Todd booked us for a lunch tasting appointment at this uptown eatery in October, which is a total gamble in my line of work. We were an hour late after our previous tasting stops ran into overtime, and we had to cram both lunch and a tasting of all of our new releases with Shaya's wine buyer into a 25-minute window. Todd ordered one of everything and we crushed our way through lamb ragu with crispy chickpeas on heavenly hummus, baba ganoush, and shakshouka.

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Shaya's menu is less about massive mains and more about smaller plates, the vibe is nice but casual, and the wine list is short and concise, with 40 well chosen wines on offer. www.shayarestaurant.com

Coya, Miami, Florida

Miami is a humbling place for me to work every year. No other place in America makes me feel like I am more in need of teeth whitening, Armani suits, and some light cosmetic surgery. With significant population blocs originating from Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and beyond, it's no surprise that the city is chock full of models and globally inspired cuisine (with ironically large portions to boot). Coya seems like you're in an entirely different country, with its impressive glass vases full of random fermentations (black corn essence?) stacked floor to ceiling, dark wooden interiors, massive chandeliers, and a mind blowing menu of delicious, high-brow Peruvian fare.

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The ceviche mixto with prawns, squid, mussels, yuzu and tobiko made our mouths rain, as did octopus and olives. I'd brought along a 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc which excelled in such company and came to a crescendo with a truffle oil-splashed Tiradito de Cobia. www.coyarestaurant.com/miami 

Cured, San Antonio, Texas

Although dry aging meats has been a part of the steakhouse business for decades, more and more restaurants are making the effort (and time) to cure their own meats for world class charcuterie. Cured, located in San Antonio in the heart of the Pearl district, serves up house-cured arrangements that look every bit as floral as they are edible, which pair well with their two page wine list full of savory red and rosé offerings. www.curedatpearl.com

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Arroyo Vino, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Owner Brian Bargsten is a few years into this hotspot just outside of Santa Fe proper, where tumbleweeds, cacti and old world wines co-exist. I've seen this concept in a few cities - an excellent wine shop with a chef and full scale kitchen. Pull a bottle of something interesting off the shelf and pay a modest corkage, versus getting hit with a quadruple mark up price tag. New Mexico lamb is every bit as good as its more famous Colorado brethren, and Arroyo Vino serves it as well as anyplace in this culinary utopia. (Brian is seen below in the white t-shirt, hand-sorting Tablas Creek estate fruit in September). www.arroyovino.com

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Okra, Phoenix, Arizona

Cullen and Maureen Campbell from Crudo opened up Okra this year, with biodynamic wines, cool drinks, and Southern fare. "Put a little south in your mouth" is their tagline. Turns out, Tablas Creek Vermentino pairs extremely well with fried chicken, which no doubt inspired me to do a bone luge after the marrow plate. www.okraaz.com

Bone luge 

The Waterboy, Sacramento, California

Chef/Owner Rick Mahan of The Waterboy and OneSpeed in Sac is obsessed with quality lamb. My first time tasting with him three years ago the subject came up when I was describing our biodynamic practices at the vineyard. "Do you ever sell any?" he asked me. There are two farms in the Sacramento Delta that he works with regularly, but Tablas Creek lamb has been on his brain ever since. In November of this year, we finally realized his dream of doing a dinner event at this midtown gem where our meat took center stage, with four of our wines selected to pair with it.

Waterboy

I fear the day Rick asks me about our Alpacas! www.waterboyrestaurant.com

Ember, Arroyo Grande, California | The Spoon Trade, Grover Beach, California

I grew up near Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande, and a fancy dinner out usually occurred at Sizzler. I never thought I'd see the day that two hip, chef-owned eateries would open up on opposite ends of the workingman's strip and be immediately successful. Ember is owned by Brian Collins who cooked at Chez Panisse and ran Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos prior to opening up his wood-fired temple in the former Leisure Mart building. (I bought acrylic paints and goldfish here as a grommet!) Serving a seasonally changing menu featuring flatbreads, local fish, a ribeye with chimichurri, and inventive small plates like the pork belly and Cayucos abalone plate, I'm consistently floored by what Brian and his team have managed to do in a location that many feared wouldn't work. www.emberwoodfire.com

Two miles west near the vehicle beach ramp where Modesto monster trucks often roam, Jacob and Brooke Town opened The Spoon Trade after devoting a chunk of time to road trip and eat through America. They are a powerhouse restaurant couple that worked in some of the main Bay Area hubs (like Nopa) before deciding to move back home and open up their dream spot. The tri-tip tartare with house-baked sourdough is as local as a central coast meat dish can get, the burger is simple and legitimate, and there's an already-famous Fried Chicken and Waffle plate on hand if that's your thing. There's something for everybody here, with four local wines on tap, Oregon wines in cans, and a short geeky bottle list that wouldn't look out of place in Oakland or Portland. www.thespoontrade.com

Spoon trade

Hatchet Hall, Culver City, CA.

And lastly, mainly for your consideration, here's the wildest wine list of the year. In fact, its mere existence made headlines on sites like LA Weekly for infuriating customers and critics alike. Have a look...

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You've gotta admit, it makes you think twice and realize that the times they are a'changing. (I think I ordered the Vielles Vignes '13 and was served a glass of South African Sylvaner or something.) www.hatchethallla.com

I'd love to hear what you think about this list, and any of these other cool spots I've mentioned here. And if there are restaurants and wine bars in your neighborhoods that you love, please share so we can keep them on our radar for 2016. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!