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. An important pre-shipment event for us is the in-house tasting that we conduct, about 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, to help us write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments. This tasting is often our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming weeks and months. This time around, because these shipments include four wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be next week), I found this get-to-know-you process particularly informative. My main take home message: that the 2013 and 2014 vintages are the best back-to-back vintages we've seen in our history.
This spring's classic shipment is as usual anchored by the Panoplie, our elite wine, dominated by Mourvedre and made from the most compelling, ageworthy lots in the cellar. To that, we've added three varietal wines: two white (2014 Vermentino and 2013 Grenache Blanc) and one red (2012 Tannat), as well as the newest vintage of our rich, vibrant Mourvedre-based Dianthus rosé, and perhaps the most surprising wine of the tasting for me: our 2013 Cotes de Tablas, led by Grenache.
I was joined for the tasting by my dad, and by our winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi. First, our notes from the classic (mixed) shipment:
- Production Notes: Our thirteenth 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 chalky citrus leaf Vermentino nose, but then surprisingly mouth-filling, long and creamy, but with lots of great savory flavors of citrus pith, saline and wet stone. Great acids on the finish. Really nice, and classic for the Vermentino grape. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 1000 cases.
2013 GRENACHE BLANC
- Production Notes: 2013 was a great year for Grenache Blanc, with solid quantity and remarkable quality concentrated by a second year of drought. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), then blended and bottled in the summer of 2014.
- Tasting Notes: Solid and rich on the nose, with quince, baking spices, crystallized ginger and orange marmalade, elevated by a nice citrus blossom character. The mouth is broad and rich, with a touch of Grenache Blanc's signature tannin providing structure on the finish. The flavors were rich and broad, then clean: mimosa, lemon peel and anise. My dad called it "bracing" and "bold" which both seemed right on to me. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 700 cases.
- Production Notes: Our estate rosé is now in the third year under its Dianthus name, chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers. A style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre) this year's blend is heavy on Grenache, for us, at 46% Mourvèdre, 41% Grenache and 13% Counoise. The core of the Dianthus comes from a co-fermented lot from our nursery block, planted in 1994, supplemented by saignées (bleedings) from other Mourvèdre and Grenache lots. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé that shows the richness of the classic 2014 vintage. After roughly 24 hours on the skins, the fermentation was completed in stainless steel, and bottled in February 2015.
- Tasting Notes: A gorgeous color, like fresh-pressed strawberry juice. The nose shows strawberries too (maybe that's why I thought of the color), watermelon, plum and rose petal. The mouth is rich, with great acids and a powerful floral jasmine element. The finish is long and clean. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious. Drink before the end of 2016.
- Production: 1600 cases
2013 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. 2013's drought-reduced yields and moderate growing season produced standout Grenache: juicy and powerful, but not sappy or candied. We blended 55% Grenache with 30% Syrah (for firm tannins, minerality and spice), 10% Counoise (for freshness and brambly wildness) and 5% Mourvedre (for earth and ageability). The wine was blended in June 2014 and aged in foudre until its bottling in February 2015.
- Tasting Notes: We heard murmurs of "oh, boy" when people stuck their noses in this. An explosive minty nose of blueberry, licorice, black plum and pepper. There's powerful fruit on the front palate, then firming up with great tannins on the back. There's a luxurious texture, with nice granular tannins and a minty garrigue cooling and lingering on the finish. Just, wow. Neil declared it "as good a Cotes as we've ever made". I think he's understating things; I think it's the best. It's wonderful now, and I know much of it will be drunk in coming months, but I think it's got a decade of development.
- Production: 1580 cases
- Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always heaviest on Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2013. The wine was bottled in August 2014 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then. The blend is 70% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache and 10% Syrah.
- Tasting Notes: Rich, deep and meaty on the nose, cassis and new leather, with a wonderful note of violets that I found captivating. The mouth is textured, Mourvedre's signature rare steak character on the front-palate, then elegant and minerally in the mid-palate, showing cocoa powder and loam, with more currants and plums on the finish. A poised and approachable Panoplie, much more so than usual at this stage, more about elegance than sheer power, but that balance and the high percentage of Mourvedre should combine to give it two decades of life.
- Production: 650 cases
- Production Notes: our ninth 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, and it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (in this vintage, 9%) to bring a hint of minty lift.
- Tasting Notes: Easily the darkest wine on the table, a luminescent black-red. The aromas are nearly all savory: iron, tobacco, squid ink and wild herbs. Neil called it "the crusty end of a rib roast". On the palate, more bramble and underbrush, iron and dry-aged steak, black fig and baker's chocolate. The finish shows Tannat's signature tannins, smoke and mineral. A wine to watch evolve over decades.
- Production: 1000 cases
There were three additional wines (joining the Vermentino and Grenache Blanc) in the white-only shipment:
- Production Notes: The 2013 Tablas Creek Vineyard Marsanne is just our third varietal bottling of Marsanne, the noble white grape of France's Hermitage appellation. We use most of our Marsanne in our Cotes de Tablas Blanc each year. However, in 2013 we felt that the Marsanne was so complete and compelling, and so representative of the Marsanne grape, that we selected out one small lot, fermented in foudre for the first time, for a single-varietal bottling.
- Tasting Notes: We worried that the often-subtle Marsanne would suffer after tasting the Tannat, but needn't have. The nose showed vibrant aromas of quince paste, clover honey and newly-laid straw. On the palate, an absolutely classic Marsanne, with preserved lemon, wheat, mineral and honeydew melon, great texture and a hint of tannin on the finish. Quite gorgeous, we all thought. Should drink well for the next five years, maybe longer.
- Production: 235 cases
2013 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas Blanc is our showcase for the floral, lush fruit of Viognier, given texture, acidity and restraint by the good acids and citrus of Grenache Blanc, and by the gentle minerality of Marsanne. The resulting blend is 39% Viognier, 29% Grenache Blanc, 20% Marsanne and 12% Roussanne, all aged in stainless steel.
- Tasting Notes: Open-knit, compared to the Marsanne, with pear and nectarine and minty savory note that we variously identified as tarragon and key lime. The mouth was initially rich: peaches and cream from the Viognier, but bright and with nice minerality on the finish. Clean and compelling. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 1250 cases
- Production Notes: 2013’s combination of intensity and juiciness was kind to the powerful and sometimes austere Roussanne grape, bringing lushness and openness to complement its characteristic structured profile. We fermented the Roussanne lots that were selected for our varietal bottling roughly 50% in foudre, 35% in small, older neutral oak barrels, and 15% in new demi-muids. The selected lots were blended in April 2014 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling in February 2015.
- Tasting Notes: Not yet bottled, the 2013 Roussanne was the second vintage of our 100% Roussanne that we aged in foudre through the subsequent harvest, and we agreed that like the 2012, this wine showed the benefits of that longer elevage. Aromas of beeswax, lacquered wood, white flowers and yellow pear, with rich, broad flavors of honey and pear, some nicely integrated sweet oak, and a long, rich, slightly spicy finish. Appealing in its youth (moreso than many vintages of our Roussanne) but should also develop over the next decade.
- Production: 700 cases
Two additional reds joined the Cotes de Tablas, Panoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:
2013 PATELIN DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our wine sourced from our many great neighborhood Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah, with Grenache providing juiciness and freshness, Mourvedre structure, and just a dash of Counoise. Fermented in a mix of upright oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks and aged in foudre and stainless steel, it was bottled in July 2014 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
- Tasting Notes: An appealing nose of chocolate, cherry, cranberry, mint and graphite, balanced between Syrah's savoriness and Grenache's juiciness. It's fresh, juicy and friendly on the palate, with Grenache's signature purple fruit and Syrah's minerality and spice. Some nice chalky tannins on the finish frame the wine and suggest that for all its approachability, it will develop additional complexity over the next 5+ years.
- Production: 5900 cases
2012 FULL CIRCLE
- Production Notes: 2012 is the third 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) newly-approved 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 2014.
- Tasting Notes: The nose is smoky red cherry, with leather, milk chocolate, and chaparral. The mouth is dark and compelling (Chelsea called it "sultry" and "jazz lounge") with nice grippy tannins that clean up the richness and suggest a good life ahead. Sun and forest and fresh berries: a great warm climate expression of Pinot Noir. Drink over the coming decade.
- Production: 350 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 9th. 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