Choosing the Wines for the Fall 2018 VINsider "Collector's Edition" Shipment

Each summer, 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 evolve. 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 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Each wine bears the signature of its vintage: 2010 was one of our coolest, with exceptionally long hang times and wines that show depth almost effortlessly, while 2012 was the first warm year after two cool vintages, producing Roussanne with charm and friendliness.

In both cases, the wines have evolved in fun ways, becoming something more complete than they were when they were young.  The 2010 Esprit, which was always an intellectually satisfying wine, has fleshed out and added heft and substance without muddying the vintage's essential elegance.  The 2012 Esprit Blanc has added depth and savory, nutty notes that layer beautifully over the wine's essential sunny generosity.

It's worth noting that this isn't the end; both these wines will go out another decade, at least, and the 2010 Esprit, particularly seems like it will benefit from even another six months in bottle. The duo:

CE Wines 2018 2

Tasting notes, from tastings today:

  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc:  Medium gold, only slightly deepened with time. An immensely appealing nose of almonds, honey, white flowers, mint, and a rich fruity yeastiness that Chelsea identified as apple fritter.  The mouth is like baklava: nuts and honey, with additional flavors of roasted pear, clove, and candied lemon peel. Still vibrant and youthful, but with delicious additional complexity from the five years in bottle. 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc.  Delicious now, but will certainly be good for another 5-10 years, or more.
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: A deeply meaty, spicy nose of strawberry fruit leather, bittersweet chocolate, and bay leaf. On the palate, beautifully balanced between youthful and more mature expressions, with flavors of plum skin, leather, loam, and meat drippings. Very nice freshness, with savory notes of black pepper and black tea coming out on the finish.  It's still unwinding, and we think that anyone with the patience to wait another 6 months will be rewarded. It will drink well and continue to gain depth and complexity, we think, for another decade or two. 45% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 4% Counoise. 

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is pretty stunning, if I may say so myself:

  • 2 bottles of 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel
  • 1 bottle of 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2016 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2014 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2016 En Gobelet
  • 2 bottles of 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2017 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2017 Grenache Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next few weeks. 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 or by giving us our wine club office a call. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can sign up for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition, with all the benefits of VINsider Wine Club membership while you're on the waiting list.

One final  note. This will be the 10th year of our Collector's Edition club.  I remember back in 2008 when we were brainstorming ideas as to how to get the library wines that we'd been cellaring since the 2003 vintage into the hands of our fans, and struggling with how to do this without cheapening the experience of VINsider Club members. It's interesting for me to go back and read a blog I wrote then, sharing our thoughts and soliciting ideas from readers.  I still think of the Collector's Edition as a "new" addition to our offering, but with a decade under our belts, it's clearly not any more.  Those of you who are members, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  And thank you, as always, for your patronage. We are grateful, and don't take it for granted.


Customer Service Champion: Q&A with Dani Archambeault, Wine Club Assistant

By Linnea Frazier

As many of you know, most small to medium sized wineries' businesses are only as successful as their wine clubs. They form the backbone of the direct to consumer sales that allow vineyards to thrive, and their members, if a club is done well, become advocates for the winery out in the world.  A huge -- but often unseen -- component of a wine club's success is the team of people who oversee their club. They are the point people in customer service and often sales, and familiar faces or voices when members visit, phone, or open their inbox.

With that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to Dani Archambeault, one of our Wine Club Assistants here at Tablas for the last seven years. As a part of the power group of awe-inspiring ladies who make our wine club the great experience it is for its members, Dani is one of the more dynamic people you will ever meet. She knows Tablas Creek wine like nobody's business and whether you meet her at the winery, at an event, or on the parquet lanes of our local bowling alley, she's someone you'll never forget. If you come out for a visit, you will find her fielding calls in the office or dashing back and forth getting your wine orders together. 

Dani-Cube_8fe3a1436060ad430a55b7a65e67327d

Where were you born and raised?  

Porterville, CA… my father owned a Pest Management Company for Orchards & Vineyards.

When and how did you get into wine? 

Not until my late twenties… I started on some Aussie Yellow Tail wines!

How did you come across Tablas Creek? 

In 2010 my husband & I took a leap of faith & left the LA area hustle & bustle & headed for Paso Robles wine country.  We lived in our Airstream trailer in a vineyard while working harvest & tasting room jobs. I had heard so many great things about Tablas Creek and as soon as an opportunity to work here became available I went for it! Everything about Tablas is truly exceptional… from the vineyard, the wines, the staff, and the Haas family’s passion for quality and sustainability.

Airstream-vineyard Dani interview

What is your role here at the winery?

For the last seven years I have worked with our Wine Club Team. Our club continues to grow & we work hard to ensure everyone receives outstanding customer service.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world? 

Casa Dumetz in Los Alamos makes delicious Grenache! And I am a big fan of Chateau de Beaucastel Coudoulet Rouge.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?  

The 2015 En Gobelet is drinking so well right now & I got a sneak sample of the 2017 Dianthus Rosé… both of those wines are awesome!

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

My husband pulls a brisket off the smoker, I open a Tablas Creek Tannat or En Gobelet, our kids are running around the backyard screaming…. Perfect pairing =)

You and your husband Kevin have dabbled in winemaking before, any advice to aspiring winemakers?

We only make a small amount of wine every few years that we use to help raise funds for some charity projects that our close to our hearts.  We love to drink wine, so being a part of the entire process is so much fun and you appreciate what’s in that bottle on a whole new level!

How do you like to spend your days off?

We live very close to downtown Paso, so we love walking downtown and enjoying where we live. Paso Robles is a great small town community where ‘everybody knows your name’ (insert cheesy Cheers song- ha!)

Familpic- Dani interview

What would people be surprised to know about you?

There are five siblings in my family. I am the only one without a tattoo!  Occasionally I get tempted by the cute butterfly or fairy… but at this point I’ve got to stay unique & in the lead as mom’s favorite!

What is one of your favorite memories here?

My favorite times at Tablas are when we share a meal together outside. Wine is such an experience, when you have amazing wine & people, & a beautiful vineyard surrounding you.. can’t beat that, right!?

How do you define success? 

Live your life with faith & purpose. Count your blessings daily, don’t totally freak out in the hard times, & love the people around you dearly…. That’s success!


Tasting the wines in the Spring 2018 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 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 the last week of February) it's a chance to get to know wines that are newly finished.  I always think it's fun to give followers of the blog a first look at these notes.

These shipments include wines from the 2015, 2016, and 2017 vintages.  It was fascinating 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 2015 is a classically styled vintage, more old world than the luscious 2014's, but with tremendous depth and complexity. We have been impressed with the 2016 whites, but as we come to know the reds I think it's if anything an even better red vintage, striking a mid-point between 2014's juicy intensity and 2015's depth and texture.  Finally, 2017 (we only tasted two wines) seems to show lush textures and vibrant acids, a great combination. 

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 our cellar team: Winemaker Neil Collins, Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm, and Cellar Master Brad Ely.  The wines:

Spring 2018 shipment wines 2
2017 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our sixteenth 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.
  • Tasting Notes: A clean, spicy Vermentino nose of grapefruit pith, citrus leaf, white flowers and sea spray. Briny. The palate shows Vermentino's characteristic vibrant acids, with flavors of key lime, nectarine, and an ocean spray note that lingers on the long, clean, bright finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1430 cases.

2016 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: Roussanne yields recovered slightly in 2016, but were still low, and produced wines with both lushness and density. 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 2017 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: Rich and immediately Rhoney on the nose, with aromas of graham cracker, crystallized pineapple, ginger, and honeycomb. The mouth is rich and inviting, with flavors of honeydew and smoky marzipan, tons of texture, and a little pithy bite that helps all the rich flavors resolve into a clean, dry finish. A hint of sweet oak lingers. The wine has only been in bottle for a few months and we expect it to continue to flesh out over the next year. Hold for a few months at least, then drink over the next decade or more.
  • Production: 900 cases

2017 DIANTHUS

  • Production Notes: Our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, is back up to pre-drought levels after significant reductions in production in 2016 and especially 2015. As usual, we aim for a style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre). This year's blend is 49% Mourvèdre, 39% Grenache and 12% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after 24-36 hours on the skins. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and will be bottled later in February. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé, perhaps a touch more concentrated than the 2016, that shows the combination of rich fruit and bright acid characteristic of the 2017 vintage.
  • Tasting Notes: An electric pink. The nose shows watermelon and strawberry fruit, mint, and sweet spice. The mouth is like biting into a ripe plum, complete with the burst of acid from the skin, the sweet fruit that follows, and a little welcome herbiness on the finish like lemon thyme. A little salty minerality comes out on the finish, with flavors of cranberry and spice. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious.  Drink before the end of 2019.
  • Production: 1500 cases

2016 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. Grenache had good structure in 2016, so we used a higher percentage (55%) than we have the past few years. Syrah (25%) adds dark fruit and minerality, and keeps Grenache's fruitiness grounded.  Additions of Mourvedre (13%) and Counoise (7%) add a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2017 and aged in foudre until its upcoming bottling later in February.
  • Tasting Notes: Explosively rich and spicy on the nose, with aromas of black licorice, cherry compote, new leather, plum skin and star anise. We found the mouth fresh and refreshing, with flavors of wild strawberry darkened by clove, leather, and milk chocolate. Nice chewy tannins come out on the finish, suggesting that as good as it is to drink now, it will go out in an interesting way a decade or more.
  • Production: 2050 cases

2015 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our fourteenth 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.  As we do many years, we blended in our small harvest of Cabernet, making the wine is 97% Tannat and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Even so, we made less Tannat than we have since our frost-reduced 2011 vintage. We aged it in one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2017, and then aged it another 10 months in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, expressive: boysenberry and salted caramel and blueberry and blackcurrant, with a pine forest/menthol herbiness and Tannat's characteristic (and welcome) floral undertone that always reminds me of violets. The mouth is more approachable than we normally expect of a young Tannat: blueberry jam, a little cedary oak, and a burst of flavor like chocolates with cherry liqueur inside. The combination of Tannat's tannins and healthy acids restore order on the finish, but it's not structure-bound or impenetrable now. A wine to drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 700 cases

2015 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 2016.  Befitting the tremendous depth and intensity of Mourvedre in 2015, our blend is weighted more toward Mourvedre (71%) than it has been most years. 24% Grenache adds lushness and sweet spice, while 5% Syrah adds darker tones and mineral. The wine was bottled in June 2017 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose balanced beautifully between sweeter and more savory elements, with dark red currant fruit, soy marinade, dark chocolate, orange peel, and meat drippings.  The mouth is dense with raspberry, plum skin, and bittersweet chocolate, but a lifted rose petal floral note comes out with some air, and sweet nutmeg spice notes play with red fruit on the long, focused finish. A delicious wine with a long life ahead; we predict two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 800 cases

There were two additional wines (joining the Roussanne and Vermentino) in the white-only shipment:

2016 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 nine great neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (52%), with Viognier (24%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, Roussanne (12%) and Marsanne (9%) adding minerality and texture, and for the first time, a little Clairette Blanche (3%) for its briny freshness. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled in screwcap in June 2017 to preserve its freshness.
  • Tasting Notes: An explosive nose of fresh lime juice, wet rocks, lychee, honeysuckle, oyster shell, and grapefruit. The mouth is clean, fresh, and vibrant: fresh pineapple, anise, blood orange, citrus, and sweet spice. The finish is clean and long, with lingering notes of citrus blossom and sea spray. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 3000 cases

2013 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: As our drought stretched into its second vintage, we pre-emptively cut back our crop levels, giving all our 2013's an extra level of concentration.  For the Esprit Blanc, this showed most dramatically in a powerful, structured Roussanne component.  To that, we added Grenache Blanc for sweet spice and openness, and Picpoul Blanc for floral aromatics and saline freshness. The final blend was 71% Roussanne (fermented primarily in foudre), 21% Grenache Blanc (from foudre and stainless steel) and 8% Picpoul (from neutral barrels). We let the blend age in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in February 2015. Knowing how well this wine ages, we held back a good chunk of our production, and are releasing it to club members now, after three years of bottle age have brought out the deeper, nuttier tones white Rhones gain with age.
  • Tasting Notes: The three years in bottle have brought remarkable depth to the aromas of candied orange peel, citrus blossom, and honeycomb that is just starting to deepen into butterscotch. In the mouth, broad and richly Roussanne in character, with beeswax and green pear and honeydew melon, plus a hint of pithy Grenache Blanc tannins. The finish is long, rich, and deep, yet never heavy. Drink now or continue aging for another decade.
  • Production: 2170 cases

One additional red joined the Cotes de TablasPanoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:

2016 PATELIN DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from eleven great neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (52%), with Grenache (31%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (11%) 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 2017 and has been aging in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting Notes: Spicy dark fruit on the nose, very Syrah, like a mixed berry crisp complete with flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and buttery pastry. The mouth is savory, with smoky blackberry, licorice root, garrigue, crushed rock, and saddle leather, with chalky tannins and flavors of cranberry and freshly turned earth that come out on the finish. Delicious now, but still fleshing out, and with the substance and balance to age for up to a decade.
  • Production: 3090 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 22nd.  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


So, what makes people join a wine club, anyway?

I had a first for me a couple of weeks ago: I closed the deal on a wine club signup via Twitter:

Twitter thread club signup

This wasn't a Herculean feat; it sounds like Amber LeBeau, who writes the SpitBucket.Net blog, was interested already.  I just connected the last few dots.  But I was fascinated to read the blog that she posted the next day, about why she signed up.  After all, there are thousands of American wineries, most of whom have wine clubs, and thousands more clubs available from retailers, magazines, newspapers, and even NPR.

Now we spend a lot of our time thinking about how to make our wine club (or, more accurately, wine clubs, since we offer three different flavors) as appealing as possible.  We research how other wineries who we respect craft their club offerings.  And we try to listen (and to ask) our own customers about what they want out of a club.  Still, each customer's reason for joining a club is ultimately personal, and what may be appealing to one customer may matter only a little to another. In Amber's piece, she outlines three main factors she uses in deciding whether to sign up for a club or not:

  • How easy can I get your wines at home?
  • How many bottles am I committing myself to?
  • How likely is the style of wine going to change?

Happily, we fared well on all three factors. While some of our core wines are available in Amber's hometown of Seattle, we make more than a dozen wines each year that don't make it into distribution, many of which are exclusively available to wine club members.  We think of our wine club as an introduction to our wines, not a means to move large quantities, and so typically send out twelve different bottles per year, six in the spring and six in the fall.  And we are family-owned, with so much continuity in our philosophy and winemaking team that we've had the same winemaker for more than two decades. So, we passed. (Thank you, Amber!)

Still, because of this conversation and the blog that resulted, I've spent more time than usual recently thinking about what makes for a great wine club.  I thought I'd put my thoughts down here, and encourage you to chime in in the comments if you think there are things I've under- or over-emphasized, or that I've missed entirely.

  • Wines that you love, consistently. This is, I think, the core of it all. If a winery makes wines that you love across the board the chances of you loving what they choose to send you is a lot greater than if you like a few wines a lot and others less.
  • Wines you otherwise can't get. I think it's important that there be wines that are made especially for club members (or, at least, set aside exclusively for club members). When we started, and our wine club was small, this was easy. Now, we have to plan for it, and make wines that we know are going to be dedicated to our members.  This can be lots of fun. [Read, if you haven't, our blog from last spring about making a new wine around Terret Noir for our club members.]
  • Savings. Now, maybe if your wine is otherwise unavailable (i.e. all sold on allocation) this isn't a key.  Getting the wine at all is the important thing.  But for most wineries, you don't have to be a member to get their wine.  Making sure that club members get good prices on what they buy is really important.  There's not much that will make a member into an ex-member faster than seeing your wine sold cheaper than they can get it at a nearby store.
  • Special treatment. I think "club" is the key word here.  You want to know that when you visit a place where you're a member, you'll be treated like an insider.  There's not one specific way in which this has to be done.  But knowing that you'll get more than the basic experience everyone else gets is important.
  • Flexibility & convenience. I've lumped these two things together, because while they're probably not positive decision factors, they can definitely be deal-breakers. A shipment every two months? Probably not a convenience if you have to be home to sign for the packages. A single set configuration which can't be adjusted depending on your likes? Probably ditto (though less so if you really love all the wines). And any particular wine in quantity? Probably less appealing than a variety.
  • Fun other opportunities to connect. Whether this includes member-only days at the winery, excursions (hey, how about a Rhone River cruise?), or just making the point of sending out information and invitations to club members when you're doing an event in their neck of the woods, opportunities to connect outside the tasting room can be lots of fun for everyone.

We are always honored when someone joins one of our wine clubs. It's a meaningful gesture of faith in what we do that a customer will give us their credit card and say, in essence, we trust you to pick some wines we'll love. We want always to make sure that we're worthy of that trust, and are proud that our wine club members stay members for more than three times the industry average. If you have things that you particularly value in a club membership that I haven't mentioned, or another way you look at value, please share it in the comments.

And, once more, to any members out there, thank you.


Tasting the wines in the Fall 2017 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 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. Late last week, I sat down with our winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection. For what we found, read on.

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 2015 Esprit de Tablas, but also a bottle of the 2013 Esprit de Tablas that has been showing so well recently.  I'm excited to hear the feedback that we get.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Fall 2017 Classic NC 2

2016 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Although production levels on Viognier recovered significantly from 2015's record low levels, Marsanne continued to be exceptionally scarce, and all our Marsanne represented only 14% of the wine.  So, while the wine is as always led by Viognier, it is unusually marked by Grenache Blanc: 43% Viognier, 40% Grenache Blanc, 14% Marsanne, and 3% Roussanne. That additional tension and citrus character from Grenache Blanc's acidity is in evidence in the tasting notes.  The selected lots were blended in March 2017, and the wine was bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in June.
  • Tasting Notes: An intense nose of peach pit, wet rocks, white tea and tarragon. The mouth is really nicely balanced, as its initial brightness and flavors of nectarine, preserved lemon, and mineral turn richer on the mid-palate, with sweet spices coming out.  The finish brightens up again with notes of pink grapefruit and lemon verbena.  Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1840 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2016 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: Like all our white grapes except Marsanne, 2016 saw yields recover to near-normal levels for Grenache Blanc. But that doesn't mean the fruit lacked for intensity, and we used high percentages of Grenache Blanc in both our Esprit de Tablas Blanc and Cotes de Tablas Blanc in 2016. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), then blended in March and bottled in June, 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose of peppermint, lemon zest, petrichor, and anise... very Grenache Blanc. On the palate, flavors of candied lemon peel and apple skin provide a nice balance of weight and brightness. The grape's characteristic acids build on the finish, with flavors of sweet spice and mineral balanced by a pithy bite. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 715 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2015 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: The alternating quite warm and quite cool months during the 2015 ripening cycle produced an exceptionally long and varied Roussanne harvest, with many blocks producing lots with power and lushness, but relatively low acids. This made the vibrant acids of the Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc components particularly critical in 2015. In the end, we maxed out our Picpoul Blanc for the first time since 2009, using every drop of Picpoul in the Esprit Blanc. We used a relatively low proportion of Roussanne (55%, fermented primarily in foudre) for weight and structure, and added high percentages of Grenache Blanc (28%, from foudre and stainless steel) and Picpoul Blanc (17%, from stainless steel) for citrusy acidity 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 2017 and aging it an additional 8 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: Powerfully fruity and floral on the nose, with an exoticism reminiscent to me of Gewurztraminer: ripe melon, honeysuckle, vanilla bean, mace, and a little savory cedar spice. The mouth is rich and powerfully Roussanne despite its relatively low percentage, with flavors of baked pear, creme caramel, and baking spices. The acids build on the finish to a mango-like intensity. A fascinating, structured Esprit Blanc that should be a pleasure to watch evolve in bottle.  Already delicious, it should also go out 15 years or more and gain additional nuttiness and complexity with time.
  • Production: 1700 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2015 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our eighth 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, and the wine didn't reflect the vintage's warmer moments, instead showing a darkness and a tension that denote a cooler vintage. We chose a blend of 39% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 11% Counoise and 3% Tannat. 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 2016, aged in foudre and bottled in April 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: Spicy and cool on the nose, to me marked by Syrah (or perhaps the cool vintage): black cherry, crushed rock, and meat: the "butter in a butcher shop" description my wife Meghan had the first time she tasted Syrah out of barrel. The palate is vibrant: more cherry, roasted herbs, rare steak, and both the flavor and texture of baker's chocolate. The long finish shows more mineral and a smoky fire-grilled meat dripping character I found immensely appealing. Give this six months, if you can, and then drink for the next two decades.
  • Production: 880 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

2015 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: The cool, windy weather that impacted flowering in 2015 was largely over by the time Mourvedre bloomed, and it ended up dodging the dramatically reduced yields that impacted most of our other varieties. This gave us comparatively a lot of Mourvedre -- and a lot of really terrific Mourvedre -- when we got to our blending trials in the spring.  In the end, we chose a blend with our highest percentage of Mourvedre (49%) since 2004. To this, we added  25% Grenache for juiciness and acidity, and relatively small portions of Syrah (21%, for structure) and Counoise (5%, for briary spice). The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended in June 2016 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in June 2017. The overall low yields of 2015 made this our smallest-production Esprit since 2009.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose is immensely inviting: warm berry compote, given complexity by sun-drenched bay leaf and newly turned earth.  Mourvedre at its most appealing. The mouth is lush and dense, still quite tannic, with licorice, blackberry, and cedar notes. There is a Mourvedre-driven meatiness, but it's refined too, like a linebacker in a tuxedo. Young and bright on the finish, with lingering flavors of wood smoke, plum skin and spice.  The wine is still unwinding after its recent bottling; we recommend that you hold the 2015 Esprit for a few months, then drink either between 2018 and 2020 or again starting in 2023 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 2850 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

2013 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Like all the 2013 reds, the Esprit de Tablas shows the results of the vintage's combination of intensity from drought-reduced yields and generosity from the classic Californian vintage.  The comparative lushness of the year convinced us to shift the blend toward the dark, smoky, savoriness of Syrah as opposed to the open juiciness of Grenache.  Still, Esprit is as usual led by the red fruit, earth and mocha of 40% Mourvèdre, with additions of 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache and 10% Counoise. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended and aged a year in foudre before bottling in August 2015. In the two-plus years since its bottling, 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: The nose is now unfolding and deepening after two-plus years in bottle, with aromas of meat drippings, mint chocolate, plum, sweet spices, and a potpourri/spruce/rose hips brightness that shows Mourvedre's floral side. Chelsea described it as "like shade on a hot day".  The mouth is nicely balanced, with a spicy cherry skin character, leather, and a little figgy, caramelly warmth that reminded me of bread pudding. 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 2020 or 2021 and drinking well for another fifteen plus years.
  • Production: 3700 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

Two additional wines joined the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment:

White NC

2016 PICPOUL BLANC

  • Production Notes: The 2016 Picpoul Blanc is our ninth bottling of this traditional Southern Rhône white grape, used in Châteauneuf du Pape as a blending component, and best known from the crisp light green wines of the Pinet region in the Languedoc. On its own, it shows the vibrant acids for which it is valued, balanced by a tropical lushness from the generous Paso Robles climate.  We ferment it in a mix of stainless steel and neutral barrels, and use the majority of our production for our Esprit de Tablas Blanc, while reserving a small quantity for this varietal bottling.  The Picpoul lots were selected in March 2017, and bottled in June 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: A bright nose of mangosteen, passion fruit, key lime, citrus leaf, and a briny, wet rock mineral character. The mouth is richer but still bright: candied lime, lychee, and a little pithy tannic bite like a lemon meringue pie. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 250 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2016 VIOGNIER

  • Production Notes: The productive, consistently high quality 2016 vintage allowed us to produce our first Viognier since 2013. Viognier, known more from the northern Rhone than the area around Chateauneuf du Pape, sprouts first of all our grapes, making it the most prone to frost, but was spared in 2016 and thrived throughout the growing season. It was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then blended and bottled in May 2017 in screwcap, to preserve its brightness. 
  • Tasting Notes: An incredibly appealing nose, classic Viognier with a little extra lift: jasmine flowers and peaches and lemon zest, meringue, and mint. The mouth is flavorful but restrained, more peach pit than peaches in syrup, with nice pithy acids and a touch of mintiness to keep things in balance. Just 12.9% alcohol. This should hold for a few years at least, but really, I can't imagine it being any better than it is right now.
  • Production: 175 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

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

Red NC

2015 COUNOISE

  • Production Notes: After no varietal Counoises between 2011 and 2013, this is the second consecutive year we've been able to make one. In 2015, like Mourvedre, Counoise's late flowering largely protected it from the cold May that produced low yields in our earlier varieties, and the vintage's alternating cool and warm months provided enough substance to balance Counoise's open-knit personality. It was fermented in stainless steel, aged in neutral barrels, and bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in April of 2017. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, red currant and curry spice sit on top of rose petals, watermelon rind and green plum. A similar balance between sweet and savory is found on the palate: elderberry, shiso, tangy acids and salty minerality. Bright cranberry flavors and a garrigue-like spice come out on the finish.  A pretty and intriguing wine: something to explore. 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: 200 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2015 MOURVEDRE

  • Production Notes: Mourvedre is the one red grape that we try to bottle on its own each year, because we think it is a wonderful grape that too few people know, and one we feel worthy of some proselytizing.  Thankfully, Mourvedre was largely spared the 2015 vintage's low yields, and the numerous cool stretches and late harvest gave the grape good time to develop complexity. We fermented it in large wooden fermenters, then moved it to neutral barrels to await blending.  The Mourvedre was blended from selected lots in the spring of 2016, then aged in foudre until bottling in April of 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: Absolutely characteristic of Mourvedre's tension between deeper and more high-toned elements, with aromas balanced between plum and currant fruit, dark chocolate, and a little tarry darkness. The mouth is classically balanced, with Mourvedre's signature cool minty plum, loam, licorice and rare steak. The tannins come out on the finish, with a pithy, floral note that reminded me of orange bitters.  Still a baby.  Open a bottle now, if you'd like, but expect it to really shine between 2020 and 2030.
  • Production: 360 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2015 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: 2015 is the sixth 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 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: Notably Pinot on the nose: cherry cola, black tea, and a cool graphite-like minerality. The mouth is medium-weight, with sour cherry and baking spices, a little thyme-like herbiness from the stem inclusion, and a lightly tannic finish with nutmeg spice that felt to us like autumn. A wine to break out in front of a fire during the holidays. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 260 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

The tasting was a great way to hone in on the character of our two most recent vintages.  2015 is powerful and savory, with a noteworthy saltiness in the wines, showing the signature of a cooler, lower-yielding vintage. 2016 is sunnier in character, but I feel like we really nailed the picking dates last year, and the whites show good intensity and a vibrancy that is almost electric in its intensity.  I can't wait to get these wines in our club members' hands and find out what they think.

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 8th.  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


Tasting the Wines for the 2017 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 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. You couldn't pick two more different vintages; 2007 followed our driest winter of the last two decades, which combined with a warm summer to produce blockbuster wines, luscious with plenty of structure and tannin to age. 2011 followed our second consecutive wet winter, and was marked by the effects of a spring frost (reducing yield) and the coldest summer, and latest harvest, in our history. These factors combined to make powerful wines with a persistent coolness to their personality that matched the vintage.

Where the vintages overlap is that each produced wines that benefited from (and in many cases, really needed) a few years in the cellar to show their full potential.  What I found most fun about these wines was that both show the signature of their vintage with crystal clarity. And yet time has, in both cases, made the wines more complete. The 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel spent longer in its closed phase [for more on that, see here] than any other wine we've made: nearly 5 years, opening only gradually over the last year as its tannins softened and the finish lengthened. The 2011 Esprit Blanc was powerful but not very giving in its youth, a wine that impressed more than charmed. Its flavors have opened and deepened, without losing the characteristic spiciness and lift of the vintage.

It's worth noting that this isn't the end; both these wines will go out another decade, at least. The duo:

CE Wines 2017

Tasting notes, from tastings today:

  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc:  Medium gold, only slightly deepened with time. Spicy beeswax Roussanne on the nose, lifted by cool vintage signatures of menthol, tarragon, and crushed rock. The mouth is clean, with a cool dryness taking precedence over flavors that sound -- but aren't at all -- sweet: orange peel, dried pineapple, cream soda, and lots more honey. A cool mintiness and more lemon zest come out on the finish, along with a walnut oil character that is the strongest indication of the wine's time in bottle. Still quite youthful at age six. 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: What a pleasure to see the highest rated Esprit we've ever produced in all its mature glory. A meaty, minty, dense nose: like a leg of lamb roasting with garlic and juniper, with notes of baker's chocolate and crushed rock. On the palate, more dark chocolate, creme de cassis, rich and mouth-coating, with chalky tannins that will help this go out another decade at least. It tastes like a special occasion, and only improved with time open; it will almost certainly be better in another 6 months, and we strongly recommend a decant if you're drinking this in the near term. 44% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 6% Counoise. 

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is pretty stunning, if I may say so myself:

  • 2 bottles of 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel
  • 1 bottle of 2011 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2015 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2013 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2015 En Gobelet
  • 2 bottles of 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2016 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2016 Grenache Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next few weeks. 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.


Move Along... Nothing To See Here... Just our First New Wine in Seven Years

Last week, Francois Perrin joined me, my dad, Neil, Chelsea, Craig, Brad and Jordan around the blending table as we took our first comprehensive look at the reds from 2016. Coming into the blending, we'd only looked in detail at the whites, which were super. But reds often tell a different story.  I'm happy to report that this year, they look as strong as the whites.  And, for the first time in 7 years, we got to make a new wine. See if you can spot it:

2016 red blends

As usual, we started our blending week Monday morning by tasting, component by component, through what we had in the cellar. Thanks to the better crop levels that we saw in 2016, there were enough lots that we began with Counoise and Mourvedre on Monday, and continued with Grenache, Syrah, and the handful of oddballs on Tuesday.  Our goal at this first stage is to identify the quality of the different lots, and get a sense of both the character and diversity present in the vintage to help give us direction in blending.

We grade on a 1-3 scale, with 1's being our top grade (for a deep dive into how we do our blending, check out this blog by Chelsea from a few years back). For context, in a normal year, for every 10 lots we might see 3-4 "1" grades, 5-6 "2" grades and 1 "3" grade.  As you'll see, lots of good grades this year.  My quick thoughts on each variety:

  • Grenache (13 lots): A strong showing for Grenache, with 6 of the lots receiving 1's from me and only one 3.  Quite luscious, some lots still a little sweet (not unusual for Grenache at this time of year).
  • Mourvedre (18 lots): Also strong, though (for me) quite a large number of very good lots but not that many great lots.  I gave seven lots a 1 grade, with another three hovering between 1 and 2.  Lots of texture here, beautiful red fruit, good cola flavors. Not blockbuster wines overall, but classy and balanced.
  • Syrah (13 lots): The best showing we've ever seen for Syrah. I gave eight of the thirteen lots 1 grades, and felt guilty on a few other cases that I was being too tough a grader. Deep, spicy, meaty, with powerful black fruit. Juicier than Syrah often is at this stage, but with plenty of tannin and concentration to back it up.
  • Counoise (7 lots): Plenty of pretty Counoise that will be great for varietal bottlings and the Cotes de Tablas. Not much (in fact, only one lot) that felt like it had the concentration for Esprit for me. Usually there's a mix of the lighter-toned Counoise that reminds me of the Gamay grape and the darker, blueberry and spice Counoise that feels more Rhone-like. This year, almost entirely on the lighter side.
  • Tannat (3 lots): All three lots got 1 grades from me; it's going to be a great Tannat year. Lots of black fruit, good tannic structure, good acids.
  • Cabernet (1 lot): Only one small (60 gallon) lot of Cabernet this year; not really enough to bottle on its own, and anyway it was a nice dark wine but without as much Cabernet distinctiveness as we look for in a varietal bottling. It will find a happy home in the 2016 Tannat.
  • Pinot Noir (1 lot): Just right, for my taste, in its balance between pretty cherry Pinot fruit, herbal elements from the roughly 25% whole clusters we used in the fermentation, and a little kiss of oak. Should make for a delicious 2016 Full Circle Pinot. 
  • Terret Noir (1 lot): Just the 4th vintage of this new grape for us, the Terret was zesty and bright, with watermelon fruit, good acids, and a little less grip than I remember from recent vintages. We've bottled it on its own in recent years, as we try to wrap our heads around it, but it's ultimately going to be a blending grape, and we think we found a great use for it.  Keep reading.

We finished Tuesday with a round-table discussion about what we wanted to try in the blending the next few days, and decided that given the strength of the Syrah (and Grencahe) lots, we wanted to see some blends with higher percentages of Syrah than we've had in most recent years, and some others where we increased both Grenache and Syrah at the expense of Mourvedre.  

Wednesday morning, we reconvened to work out each blend, starting with the Panoplie and continuing on through the lineup.  Panoplie is always overwhelmingly Mourvedre (typically 60% at least) and typically not much Syrah, because Syrah's dominance often proves to be too much for the character of the Mourvedre.  Not this year. We tried three blends and ended up picking as our favorite the one with the most Syrah and least Grenache. I was not surprised to find that we'd preferred the wine with 25% Syrah; the Syrah was outstanding. But I was surprised that we liked the blend with 66% Mourvedre and just 9% Grenache better than one with 60% Mourvedre and 15% Grenache. But it was pretty universal around the table: that by having a high percentage of Syrah and increasing the Grenache as well, we lost something essentially Mourvedre -- and essentially Panoplie -- about the wine.

Panoplie decided, we moved on to the Esprit.  Moreso than the Panoplie, the fundamental question we face each year with the Esprit is whether the character of the Mourvedre benefits more from a greater addition of Syrah or of Grenache, as these two variables are typically how we adjust to warmer and cooler vintages.  In warmer years, where the Mourvedre shows juicier and more open (and tends to be higher alcohol) the darkness, spice, minerality, and structure of Syrah are particularly valuable.  In cooler years, the flesh, sweet fruit, and more open tones of Grenache tend to be indispensable. So perhaps it shouldn't have been surprising that in the warm 2016 vintage, we preferred a blend with a lot of Syrah  -- 31%, our highest-ever -- to options with higher percentages of Grenache.  I was surprised that an option where we increased both Syrah and Grenache, and reduced the Mourvedre to around 38%, didn't show as well. But in this relatively ripe year, we found that as we increased the Grenache, the wines tended to come across as a touch alcoholic, while high-Syrah blends felt deep, pure, and balanced. So, the 2016 Esprit de Tablas will be 46% Mourvedre, 31% Syrah, 18% Grenache, and 5% Counoise.

Next on tap were two small-production blends -- one new, one we've been making for a decade -- that will go to the wine club. For our En Gobelet, in early years, we used nearly all the head-trained, dry-farmed lots for this one wine, and typically didn't have a lot of choices.  But as the acreage that we've planted head trained has increased, we've had the ability to use these lots in Panoplie and Esprit as well as En Gobelet.  But having already chosen the blends of these two wines, there wasn't a lot of choice left.  So it was with some relief that we all loved the wine that resulted: a blend of 39% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 8% Counoise, and 3% Tannat.  It was deeply red fruited, rich and savory, structured, like we'd distilled down cherries into their essence. It was a testament to the quality that those head-trained vines produce, and made a nice contrast to more Syrah-driven dark fruit we ended up preferring in the Panoplie and Esprit.  Club members are in for a treat, in a couple of years.

For our second small-production blend, we wanted to find a way to celebrate the kinship that we felt Syrah has with Terret Noir.  Now these two grapes may seem like opposites in many ways, with Syrah dark and Terret quite pale.  But Terret shares a peppery spiciness with Syrah, particularly the Syrah lots that we fermented with whole clusters.  So, we experimented with a series of blends combining the two, trying to figure out the relative proportion to make a wine with depth and seriousness, yet an openness that Syrah only rarely achieves.  We ended up needing to add a little Grenache to the blend for flesh, and think we have a solution at about 60% Syrah and 20% each of Terret and Grenache.  The result is like Syrah with an overlay of translucency: elements of both light and dark, savory, zesty, and clean.  We may still tweak this a little, but the bones are there for something that should be exciting.

On Thursday morning, we reconvened to tackle the Cotes de Tablas and the varietals.  As often happens, the Cotes fell into place pretty quickly.  We'd used so much Syrah in our other blends that all the rest of what we had in the cellar was only going to make up 25% of the 2100 cases we were trying to target for this wine.  And that amount is about the minimum we feel like a Grenache-dominated blend needs to stay savory and in balance.  We never use much Mourvedre in this blend, as we feel like it gets buried by the Grenache and Syrah, and we would prefer to save this Mourvedre for our varietal bottling.  So, we were really experimenting with only two components: Counoise and Grenache.  We ended up choosing a blend relatively high in Grenache for us (57%), with 25% Syrah, 12% Counoise, and 9% Mourvedre.  The wine was cheerful: strawberry and cherry fruit, nice spice, and enough structure and depth to hold it all together.  It should be a real crowd-pleaser when it's released, and should also get deeper and more serious with time in barrel.

Given what we'd made of the blends, the math dictated what we could make as varietals: Mourvedre, Grenache, and Counoise, but no Syrah.  Quantities of Mourvedre should be solid, the other two somewhat less. No Syrah, as often happens in warmer vintages, since it's so important in the blends.  That makes two years in a row; if you think you'll miss it, consider this your warning to stock up on the (delicious) 2014.

A few concluding thoughts.

First, the 2016 vintage seems to have an appealing balance between lusher, juicier notes and deeper, more savory notes.  Like a somewhat more generous 2014, or a 2015 with a little more power, or 2007 with a little less alcohol.  That these are some of our best recent vintages makes me very excited for 2016's prospects.  See all the 1's and 2's on my tasting sheet:

Tasting Notes 2016

Second, after three years where our quantities were dramatically reduced by our drought (and in 2015, by cold weather during flowering) it was such a relief being able to make the quantities that we wanted of most wines.  This stands in stark contrast to 2015, where even after some pretty drastic action in nearly eliminating the Dianthus and reducing my target quantities of many wines to rock bottom, we still came up short.  There are a few vintages where high quality and solid quantity go hand in hand (I'm thinking 2005, or 2010, here) and I'm always grateful.  Not that 2016 was particularly plentiful; it's still quite a bit below what we saw in 2010 or 2012.  But compared to 2015, it felt like a windfall.

Third, what a pleasure to taste with Francois Perrin.  It's been a few years since we had him here for the blending; we rarely know which Perrin we'll receive when we ask, and he was laid up for a time with some back problems.  And each of the Perrins brings amazing depth of experience and terrific insights.  But Francois, who has been the chief craftsman in the cellars at Beaucastel for four decades, has a unique perspective.  Hearing what he gets excited about is a treat, and knowing that he was enthusiastic about what he found out of the 2016's is a great sign of the vintage's quality.


The woman behind the clipboard: Q&A with Wine Club and Hospitality Director Nicole Getty

By Suphada Rom

Many of you know Nicole as the welcoming face at Tablas Creek's events, or as the signature at the bottom of your wine club member emails. She has been at Tablas Creek since 2004: long enough to see the company evolve in so many ways. Her responsibilities include organizing and conducting our events, managing our wine clubs, and overseeing the hospitality for guests visiting the winery. I caught up with her recently to ask about her journey.

Ocean

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Northern California in Los Gatos. Los Gatos looked a lot different then. It was a sleepy little town, not too different from what Paso Robles used to be say 30 years ago. It's gotten to be a little busier and Bay area-esque, but still beautiful. 

What's your educational background?
I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo right after high school. When I went into school, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I knew I loved plants, so I decided to try out horticulture. It was just the one thing that I I felt drawn to and had an interest in. I could see myself growing and caring for plants, and also landscaping. 

You're one of Tablas Creek's longest tenured employees. How have things changed since you were hired?
So I started here in 2004 and at the time, I was really the only wine club employee. Now, I can't imagine doing it alone, I'm really fortunate that I have my team. We're also a lot bigger now that we were, which is a good thing. We went from having around a dozen employees in 2004 to more than 30 now. Half of these are focused in the tasting room! I've never been to another winery where they have so many people working, but it means that on busy Saturdays and festival weekends we can still take care of people how we want, and still do so much more for both our wine club members and fellow industry professionals. 

IMG_6656

Our great wine club, hospitality and events team: from left, Monica O'Connor, Nicole Getty, Suphada Rom, Janelle Bartholomew, and Dani Archambeault

As Wine Club and Hospitality Director, what are your responsibilities?
The main thing is to make sure we're keeping our members happy with the customer service, the wine, etc. We have around 9,000 members! My team and I try to be creative and keep coming up with ideas on how to keep people excited about Tablas Creek and share all the amazing things we do here everyday. We also do a lot of events here; there's probably about one event per month that happens at the winery. And of course we want to keep the wine club growing, so we're both working on how we can gain new members and how we make sure that our current members want to stick around.

What is your favorite event of the year?
I was leaning towards the horizontal tasting because everyone is super excited to taste all the older vintage wines we have. And it's one of the only times where we get to do something like that. We don't taste the older vintages often, so it's pretty special when we do. I also love our annual pig roast. It's the most casual event that we do here and the food is really good. We'll open a lot of nice wines to pair, as well. I think the thing I enjoy most about all the events is seeing all the familiar faces. I know so many people from the beginning, and it's so nice to be able to reconnect with all of them.

What is one of your fondest memories at Tablas Creek?
I have this great memory from about 9 years ago. After a long day of work, we all decided to go take in the view at the top of the hill in the vineyard. That was back when Neil [Winemaker Neil Collins] had the Winnebago. He brought it up to the top of the hill and cooked dinner for all of us. We sat back, drank some rose, and watched the sun set over the entire vineyard. I remember just sitting up there and really enjoying all of what we had. I felt so fortunate to work at a place where you want to spend time with people you work with outside of work.

Trailer

What makes Tablas Creek special to you?
Tablas Creek's history and story are really incredible. There is so much integrity and progressive thinking here. Being passionate about plants and nature, I think it's important to be as sustainable as possible, which is something we do here, too. And then of course there's Bob [Founder Robert Haas] - I have so much respect for him and his vision for the winery, the environment, and just taking care of the people that work for him. The people that work here are special too, it's just this place- it attracts really great people. 

For food and wine, do you have a favorite pairing?
Ah, I have so many! I like seafood with either Vermentino or Picpoul Blanc. The Patelin de Tablas Blanc has been so good, too. If I'm eating something meat based, I love our Mourvedre.

Besides Tablas Creek, what are some of your favorite wineries?
Locally, I like Lone Madrore and TH. Outside of Paso, I like Chamisal, Ridge, and Kosta Browne. When I'm not drinking Tablas Creek Rhone wines, I love Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne was probably the first I ever had and it was definitely a gateway wine for me. 

What is your hospitality philosophy?
I learned this pretty early on, but it's kind the whole philosophy here at Tablas Creek. We want to make sure that everybody that walks in, calls, or e-mails has a good and positive experience. It's my goal every day to make sure that happens.  I mean, we are a luxury industry. People don't need what we're selling. And there are so many wineries to choose from. So it's really important to keep people happy. 

Besides being here at work, how do you like to spend your free time?
My husband Nathan, our son Noah, and I go to the coast quite a bit. We go to Cambria pretty much every other weekend, and we'll go camping in San Simeon. We've also been trying to go on more hikes as a family. Most recently, Noah, he's four now, is riding his bike, so that's fun to watch! I was so afraid to take the training wheels off and I couldn't believe that when I did, he didn't fall once! I think our next thing is we'll get a cruiser for Nathan. I've got a basket on mine and who knows, maybe we'll even put our dog, Penny, in there. With a little bow or something!

Xmas

Finally, how do you define success?
I think success is not all about money, but it's a little about living comfortably and in a way where you can do the things you want to do. Also, it's so much about where you work. If you're coming to work and spending at least 8 hours a day with people, you want to be surrounded by people that you genuinely care about. That further translates to caring about what you do, as well. If I were selling something like, say, fertilizer with pesticides, I don't think I could stand behind it. Feeling good about what you're doing and with people you care about- that's success. 

 


Tasting the wines for the spring 2017 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 the last week of February) 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 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages.  It was fascinating 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 2014 is a blockbuster vintage, with wines that are luscious and forward, yet not lacking in tannin and structure.  The reds incorporate tannic power with luscious fruit... a pretty irresistible combination. The 2015s are, I'm coming to see, similar in many ways to the 2014's, but with a somewhat more notable savory note, perhaps from the alternating cool and warm periods that typified that growing season. For those familiar with the classic, Old World-styled 2013's, 2015 seems to be a midpoint between them and the 2014's. Finally, 2016 (we only tasted two wines) seems to be electric and vibrant, with very bright acids showcasing and contrasting with pretty, intense fruit. 

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 Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi.  The wines:

Spring 2017 vinsider shipment

2016 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our fifteenth 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.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Vermentino nose of grapefruit pith, citrus leaf, fresh herbs and sea spray, but with an extra level of creaminess beyond what we usually see, like key lime pie. The palate is zingy with flavors of lemon, nectarine, and a briny mineral note that comes out on the long, clean, bright finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1275 cases.

2015 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: Roussanne suffered less than our other white varietals from low production in 2015, but yields were still down, and this brought an extra level of structure to the lushness Roussanne typically exhibits. 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 2016 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: A rich nose of pineapple, honeycomb, butterscotch, jasmine, and a little cedary oak. The mouth is broad and rich, inviting, with ripe pear, beeswax, custard, baking spices and a nice savory firmness that reminded me of apple skin cleaning things up on the long finish. A wine to enjoy now or to hold for a decade or more.
  • Production: 1200 cases

2016 DIANTHUS

  • Production Notes: Our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, is back at reasonable levels after a drastically lower production in 2015. As usual, we aim for a style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre). This year's blend is 49% Mourvèdre, 37% Grenache and 14% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after roughly 24 hours on the skins. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and will be bottled later in February. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé that shows the combination of rich fruit and bright acid characteristic of the 2016 vintage.
  • Tasting Notes: An electric pink. The nose shows watermelon candy, mint, yellow raspberry and a strawberry tart richness that hints at the flaky crust as well as the berries. The mouth is floral: rose petals, lemongrass, raspberry and plum, with a little tannic bite to maintain order on the back palate. Great acids come out on the finish, with flavors of cranberry and spice. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious.  Drink before the end of 2018.
  • Production: 900 cases

2014 SYRAH

  • Production Notes: Many years, in our climate, Syrah makes for a wonderful blending component but a varietal wine that can be more about power than balance. Not 2014. In this blockbuster vintage, Syrah showed a combination of luscious fruit, powerful tannins, and herbal lift that we thought worthy of showcasing. So, during blending in the summer of 2015, we kept aside one foudre and a few puncheons and demi-muids (a mix of newer and older oak) of our most expressive Syrah. It was re-blended and bottled in May of 2016.
  • Tasting notes: The nose is luscious: blackberries, prime rib drippings, tobacco leaf, Chinese five spice and a little cedary oak. The mouth is richly tannic: new leather, black raspberry, plum skin, sweet oak, and baking spices. A syrah that is more refined than our usual: more Cote Rotie than Cornas, for those with a northern Rhone background. Decant in advance if drinking soon, or wait up to two decades.
  • Production: 845 cases

2014 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our thirteenth 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 one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2016, and then aged it another year in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, smoky, savory and meaty: stew in a garlicky marinade, Worcestershire sauce, and mint, yet with Tannat's characteristic (and welcome) floral undertone that reminded me of violets. The mouth is classic: red plum, tobacco leaf, pepper spice, and a little sweet oak. Plum skin tannins soften into a spicy, salty finish with a lingering note of black tea. A wine to watch evolve over decades.
  • Production: 985 cases

2014 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 2015.  The wine was bottled in June 2016 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.  The blend is 65% Mourvèdre, 28% Grenache and 7% Syrah.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose that was immediately reminiscent of Beaucastel, to me: currant, sugarplum, cola, orange peel, crushed rock, and wild herbs.  The mouth is luscious, with red currant, milk chocolate, licorice, plum, and cigar box flavors.  The finish is long, with big tannins enlivened by a minty lift.  An unusually approachable Panoplie at this stage, but one that should have two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 800 cases

There were two additional wines (joining the Roussanne and Vermentino) in the white-only shipment:

2015 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 nine great neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (56%), with Viognier (23%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, and Roussanne (12%) and Marsanne (9%) adding minerality and texture. All the varieties, but particularly the Viognier, saw dramatically reduced yields in 2015, sacrificing quantity but providing extraordinary concentration. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled in screwcap in June 2016 to preserve its freshness.
  • Tasting Notes: An explosive nose of lychee, white peach, tarragon, lemon pith, and mineral. The mouth is clean, fresh, and vibrant: blood orange, anise, pear, lemon curd, and sweet spice. The finish is clean and long. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 2920 cases

2012 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: 2012 provided a warm contrast to the cold vintages of 2010-2011, giving Roussanne generous fruit to go with its spice, structure and flavors of honey and pear skin.  This unusual friendliness allowed us to use more Roussanne than usual in our Esprit Blanc, adding just enough Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc to lift the aromatics and the acidity slightly, and bring in a hint of sweet spice.  We blended 75% Roussanne (fermented primarily in foudre) with 20% Grenache Blanc and 5% Picpoul, then for the first time let the blend age in foudre through the 2013 harvest before bottling it in December. Knowing how well this wine ages, we held back a good chunk of our production, and are releasing it to club members now, after three years of bottle age have brought out the deeper, nuttier tones white Rhones gain with age.
  • Tasting Notes: The three years in bottle have brought remarkable depth to the aromas of caramelized pineapple, honeycomb, citrus blossom, creme brulee, and a nice herby lift Chelsea nailed as "lemon thyme". In the mouth, like the essence of an apple pie: custard, baked apples and pears, sweet spice, and a rich element that Chelsea described as bran and I identified (keeping with the theme) as pie crust. The finish is long, rich, and deep, yet never heavy. Drink now or continue aging for another decade.
  • Production: 2465 cases

Two additional reds joined the Syrah, Panoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:

2015 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 neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (51%), with Grenache (31%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (14%) and Counoise (4%) 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 2016 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting Notes: A savory, dark, Syrah-driven nose of blackberries, crushed rock, menthol and saddle leather, with a little sweet lift lurking that reminded me of honey graham crackers. The mouth shows black cherry, loam, and pepper spice, with chalky tannins and flavors of cranberry and freshly turned earth that come out on the finish. Delicious now, but with the substance and balance to age for up to a decade.
  • Production: 4845 cases

2015 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 juiciness of Grenache in the 2015 vintage encouraged us to use a closer percentage of Grenache (39%) and Syrah (35%) than normal, to keep Grenache's fruitiness grounded.  Additions of Counoise (16%) and Mourvedre (10%) added a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2016 and aged in foudre until its upcoming bottling later in February.
  • Tasting Notes: A spicy Grenache-led nose, despite the relatively equal percentages: wild strawberry, mint, fresh figs, and an undertone of meatiness that reminded Chelsea of chorizo. In the mouth, we found lifted fruit balanced with richness, like strawberry shortcake, with complicating flavors of Mexican hot chocolate, cola, and fresh dates. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 1475 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 2nd.  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


We warm up for the Holidays with a vertical tasting of Panoplie 2000-2015

Panoplie, for those who don't know it, is our elite red wine modeled after the Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin, with a very high percentage of Mourvedre and an extremely limited production.  Because it's not a wine that we put into distribution -- it goes exclusively to our wine club members each spring -- it's our chance to make as spectacular a wine as we can, without worrying about having to make it in quantity. Members have the opportunity to purchase 2 or 3 more bottles maximum after each shipment.  Even so, it rarely lasts more than a month.

Because of the wine's scarcity and its long aging curve, I don't open one very often. So today, in anticipation of the upcoming holidays, I decided to reward myself and our team with a chance to taste every vintage of Panoplie we've made, and share the notes so that anyone who's lucky enough to have a few bottles in their cellar can see what we think.

The lots that we choose for the Panoplie are the richest and most compelling in the cellar, and these wines are made to age.  In the tasting, even the oldest (from 2000) was just at maturity, and had in fact improved since the last Panoplie vertical we did four years ago.  The wines from the mid-2000's were fresh and vibrant, and although they're showing well, will go out another decade easily.

That said, it was interesting to me to see just how well some of the more recent wines did, with vintages like 2013 and 2011 standing up proudly alongside the more mature favorites like 2003, 2005, and 2008.  In fact, there was really only one vintage I'd caution people away from at the moment: 2010, which appeared to us to be in the in-between teenage stage that many Mourvedre-based wines go through 5-7 years after their vintage date.  The other wines all offered immense pleasure, even in their youth, and while they will undoubtedly add complexity with additional time in bottle, no one will be disappointed if they open one up this holiday season. The lineup:

Panoplie Vertical Dec 2016

The scene:

Panoplie tasting panorama

From oldest to youngest (note that we didn't produce a Panoplie in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage, and that each wine is linked to its profile page on our Web site if you want detailed technical information or to see the tasting notes we wrote shortly after bottling):

  • 2000 Panoplie (55% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 15% Grenache): The nose was still quite fresh and vibrant, while still showing some of the trademark aromas of maturity: raspberry and fresh plums with roasted meat and Christmas spices. There's nice sweet dark red fruit on the mouth, deepened with flavors of chocolate-covered cocoa beans and given focus by some still-solid tannins.  After tasting the other wines, the Syrah here seemed quite noteworthy, giving power and tannic structure, but also making the wine a touch more monolithic than some later wines in the lineup.  Still, an outstanding performance for this, our first and oldest Panoplie, made from vines no more than 8 years old.
  • 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): A nose that was both more mature and more open than the 2000; I immediately thought of an old Beaucastel: anise, rosemary, sweet peppermint, and juicy red fruit.  The mouth was generous, fully mature and in a beautiful place, with a nice dash of white pepper on the finish.  We couldn't imagine this getting any better; drink up if you have one.
  • 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise): Rich and a little more vibrant on the nose than the 2002, with a touch more minty lift and the deeper aromas of milk chocolate and meat drippings more pronounced.  In fact, a nice mid-point (as the blend would suggest) between the 2000's meaty, woodsy power and the 2002's open red-fruited generosity. Rich and mouth-filling on the palate, chewy and savory, with little balsamic/soy/umami character giving relief to the fruit on the finish.  Beautiful.
  • 2004 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is complex but also a touch older than the previous wines, dense, with notes of pine brush, cola, bacon and orange peel.  The mouth shows nice tannic structure, quite dense, with dark fruit and a woodsy note that plays off the fruit nicely.  The finish comes off as a touch sweet right now, with flavors of licorice root, cherry syrup, and tree bark framing still-substantial tannins.  A bit disjointed for me right now, with the sweetness, savoriness, and tannins all fighting for dominance.  I'm interested to see where this goes in coming years.
  • 2005 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 5% Syrah): An explosive, dramatic nose, full of wild herbs, flowers, and dark, brambly blackberry fruit. On the palate, it's rich and dense: sweet fruit, plum skin, dark chocolate and a tangy marinade note. Amazing that this was from one of our highest-ever production vintages.  My dad called this "a wow wine" and Chelsea added a great analogy: "like driving a performance vehicle, with that weight, but how it holds the road". Should be great for some time.
  • 2006 Panoplie (68% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 5% Syrah): If less drama, and a touch more mature, than the 2005, no less appealing. A nose that shows both savory -- spicy eucalyptus and herbs -- and sweet -- sugarplums -- notes. On the palate, seemingly very Grenache in character with lots of fruit, a luscious salted-caramel-chocolate note, great mid-palate weight and mature tannins. A real crowd pleaser with nice sweet fruit on the long, fresh finish. We felt that this was aging faster than the 2005 and, like the 2002, was just about as good as we could imagine it getting. 
  • 2007 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A savory Old World nose with leather, root beer, baking spices, and soy. More youthful and Californian on the palate, with fresh plums, cocoa, a round, voluptuous texture, and big but ripe tannins.  After a long stretch in the closed period, this is singing now, though Neil commented "but it'll be even better in 5 years". This wine got smokier and more chocolaty with time in the glass; definitely decant it if you're drinking it now, but be prepared to be richly rewarded.
  • 2008 Panoplie (54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): The nose is spectacular, even after the remarkable 2007, focused and inviting with explosive aromatics of sweet spices, strawberries and cream.  The mouth was generous with sweet fruit, like cherry jam but smoother and richer. Lovely, lively, and pure.  My dad called it "a ballerina", which I thought was a nice way of talking about its graceful power.
  • 2009 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): A very cool, savory, and exciting nose of dark blue/black fruit, seemingly less about Grenache than the 2008. The fruit is fresh but concentrated, cherry and plum, with a powdered sugar character to the tannins that we often see in great vintages.  Some cocoa powder on the finish, which is still youthfully grippy and fairly primary.  It's still quite a young wine, from a powerful vintage, and may also still be emerging from its closed phase.  Should make great drinking over the next decade.
  • 2010 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is quiet compared to the previous wines, though appealingly savory, like baker's chocolate with a citrus pith note.  On the palate, the chocolate character predominates, with fruit, meat drippings, and a little minty lift.  The finish was a little short.  Four years ago, this was one of our absolute highlights of the tasting; this year it didn't get a single vote when I asked everyone around the table to pick three favorites.  That's a great indication it was in its closed phase, and should be hidden away for a few years.
  • 2011 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is all about dark, as are many of the 2011's right now: a slate minerality, with eucalyptus, black licorice, new leather, and charcuterie notes.  A little peppery lift (Chelsea thought pink peppercorn) gave some aromatic high notes. On the palate, highter toned, with strawberry preserves, a nice creamy texture, and beautiful tannins framing a long finish.  This wine was the one we chose to have with the main course of our Tablas Creek holiday party last weekend, and it shined opposite a braised short rib.  A beautiful wine, in a very nice stage, though it's next in line to shut down.  Anyone drinking it in 2017-2018 would be well advised to check our vintage chart, which we update every few months.
  • 2012 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is still primary, with wild strawberries, a nice rosemary note, and some creamy minerality. On the palate, some nice savoriness on the attack, with garrigue framing strawberry fruit, medium bodied, and very well balanced.  If it's a little simple compared to the 2011 or 2013, that seems a reflection of the vintage.  It will be nice to give this some time in the cellar to gain some secondary notes and a darker tone; we thought the same thing about the 2008 at a similar stage, and look where that is now.
  • 2013 Panoplie (75% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is explosive like the 2008 and 2005, dark and not particularly fruit driven, with flavors of marinating stew: bay leaves and herbs and meat, on top of plum skin and dark chocolate. In the mouth, it's luscious and powerful, not at all sweet, with concentrated flavors, chalky tannins, and a great precise, dry finish with tons of promise.  My mom commented that it "feels French" and it did.  It will be exciting to watch over the next two decades.
  • 2014 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 7% Syrah): Rounder edges than the 2013, with a nicely lifted nose of herby wild strawberries, orange pith, a briny mineral note, and grilled game fowl (we had a long discussion about whether the right game was quail, squab, or duck, which probably says more about the fact that lunchtime was approaching and we'd already tasted 13 wines than about any specific flavors). The palate shows the characteristic lush texture of the 2014 vintage: mouthwatering ripe raspberry, deepened by some brambly spice.  Still a baby, and only going to get deeper and better.  Will go out to VINsider Club members in the spring.
  • 2015 Panoplie (71% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 5% Syrah; from foudre): Still in foudre and smells very young: intensely grapey, with some meatiness and floral (gardenia?) lurking behind all that primary fruit.  The mouth is less in its infancy than the nose, with a great combination of spiciness, generosity, meatiness, and tannic power that reminded us of a slightly lusher 2011. It's going to be a treat to watch this evolve. It will go into bottle late this coming summer, and be released to VINsiders in the spring of 2018.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The overall level of quality was exceptionally high.  I asked the nine people around the table for their votes on three favorites, and eleven of the fifteen wines received at least one vote.  The highest vote getters were 2005 (6 votes), 2008 (5 votes), with both 2007 and 2009 receiving 3 votes. Really any of these wines, even the ones that aren't as good as they will be, will make for exceptional drinking if you open it.
  • Things move.  Looking back at our last Panoplie vertical from 2012 our favorites were 2003, 2007, and 2010.  The 2010 has moved into a closed phase, like the Esprit 2010, a process we more or less understand and can predict.  But the older favorites moved too.  The 2003 was still spectacular, but stood out less because of the evolution of wines like 2002, 2005, and 2006, which all showed more mature tannins and better balance than they did four years ago.  And the 2007, which was wildly exciting at age 5, came through its closed phase as a more settled, finished product.  Do I like it better now than I did then?  I'm not sure.  But it's been fun to see it at both stages, and to know that any one bottle you open is only a snapshot.
  • The young wines are drinking very well.  I know that when we let people know that these wines can age two decades it often scares them away from opening one young.  But the young wines in this flight were almost all drinking beautifully, and anyone who opens a vintage like 2011 or 2013 in coming months is in for a real treat.

Now... to decide which one to open with Christmas dinner!