Tasting the Wines in the Fall 2015 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.  And with each shipment, we reintroduce ourselves to these wines (which, in some cases, we may not have tasted since before bottling) with a tasting that we use to write the notes that will be included in the club shipments.  I opened the wines this afternoon with Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, and thought that readers of the blog would be interested in what we found.

We base the fall shipments around the newest releases of the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and this fall's shipment is no exception. One difference, though, is that this year we reached back into our library to include not just the newest 2013 Esprit de Tablas, but also a bottle of the 2011 Esprit de Tablas that has been showing so well recently.  I'm excited to hear the feedback that we get.  

Finally, one quick note, before the notes on the wines.  This tasting convinced me even more strongly that the 2013 and 2014 vintages are the best back-to-back vintages we've ever made: both showing remarkable intensity, but with different personalities. The 2013's are savory and darkly spiced, with great tension, while the lusher 2014's still retain a core of acidity that keeps them in balance.

The classic shipment included six different wines:

Classic

2014 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: 2014 was a great year for Grenache Blanc, with intensity from our third year of drought but with the characteristic bright acids of the vintage. 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 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: An immensely inviting nose of green apple and nuts, sea spray, caramel and crushed rocks. The mouth is rich but buoyed with vibrant acids, showing more fresh apple, lychee, preserved lemon, and a lovely briny note.  The finish is long, smooth, and refreshing, showing lime zest, nectarine, and more minerality.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 950 cases.
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60

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). As we had done in 2012, we let the blend age in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in February 2015 and aging it an additional 8 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep-toned nose of lacquered wood, peach pit, and butterscotch: absolutely Roussanne, richly layered, with an intriguing tarragon-like high note that emerged with air.  The mouth is more tightly wound than the nose initially suggests, with a rich texture, flavors of grilled peach, clove and allspice.  The finish opens back up, with nectarine, citrus blossom and a little sweet oak.  Impressive now, it should also go out 15 years or more and gain additional nuttiness and complexity with time.
  • Production: 2200 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2013 GRENACHE

  • Production Notes: 2013's lower crop levels produced Grenache with deeper, lusher flavors than usual, but the unusually large diurnal temperature shifts also provided good freshness.  Harvested mostly in September, Grenache lots were fermented in upright wooden and closed stainless steel fermenters, then moved to neutral barrels. The lots were selected and blended in May 2014, aged a year in a mix of foudre and neutral barrels, and bottled in April 2015.
  • Tasting notes: A pretty garnet color, with an appealing nose of surprisingly dark fruit for the usually red-fruited Grenache: black raspberry, plum, black pepper, sweet spice and milk chocolate.  The mouth shows redder than the nose and is nicely balanced between sweeter and more savory flavors, with wild strawberry, new leather, and a little welcome mintiness.  Good acids and youthful Grenache tannins hold everything together, and it all smooths out and shows more red fruit and chocolate on the finish.  Drink now or for the next fifteen years.
  • Production: 670 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2013 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our sixth 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.  In this warm, dry year, our head-trained vineyards thrived, and in fact showed less decline in yields than our irrigated blocks.  After several years of co-fermenting the components from Scruffy Hill, in 2013 we kept most separate to preserve our options in blending, and then included them in trials with our two blocks of head-trained Tannat, valuable for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The final blend was 34% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, 19% Syrah, 11% Counoise and 5% Tannat.  It was aged in foudre and bottled in April 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: A deeply spiced, minty, polished nose of black cherry, crushed rock and plum, with a tangy marinade-like element bringing lift.  The mouth is rich and deeply savory, with chalky tannins cloaking blackberry and black cherry fruit, a spicy sage note, and a long finish showing mouth-coating, brambly fruit.  Should be fascinating to watch age. Drink now and for the next two decades.
  • Production: 580 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

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 again 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.
  • Tasting Notes: For me, this wine was immediately evocative of Beaucastel on the nose: deep and meaty, with wild blackberries, currants, mint, and a spicy note that Chelsea nailed as cumin.  On the palate, the wine shows wonderfully lifted red fruit (plum, and more currant) with a leathery, mocha richness behind it that is characteristic of Mourvedre in a great year. The long, savory finish shows a cedary, smoky spice over the fruit, like wild berries harvested on campout while the meat is grilling.  We recommend that you hold the 2013 Esprit for a few months, then drink either between 2016 and 2018 or 2022-2040.
  • Production: 3700 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

2011 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Like all the 2011 reds, the components that went into the Esprit de Tablas were concentrated by the vintage's spring frosts and then given acidity by one of the coolest years in our history. Upon release, the wine was medium-weight and dominated by an iron-like core, but in the intervening two years that core has opened and is now showing a creamy generosity while still preserving its dark, savory character.  2011 Esprit was as usual based on Mourvèdre (40%), while a relatively high percentage of Grenache (30%) brought rich mouthfeel, glycerin and a refreshing acidity, Syrah (20%) provided black fruit and mineral and Counoise (10%) added vibrancy and brambly fruit. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended and aged a year in foudre before being bottled in June 2013.  The bottles have aged in our cellars ever since.
  • Tasting Notes: Fun to taste after the youthful 2013, the nose shows as deep and plush, with a soy and squid ink darkness over a minty, black raspberry base.  The mouth has developed an appealing integration over the last two years in bottle, with a noteworthy creamy texture, a saline iron-like firmness, and generous but very dark-toned fruit, like blackberry preserves.  The finish shows savory and meaty, like the drippings from a steak that has been prepared with a salty dry rub.  Drink over the next year or so, or hold until 2018 and drink over the next two decades.
  • Production: 4000 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

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

Whites

2014 MARSANNE

  • Production Notes: The 2014 Tablas Creek Vineyard Marsanne is just our fourth 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 2014 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 a single-varietal bottling.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty pale gold color, with a surprisingly tropical nose of fresh pineapple and lychee, baked apples, lemongrass and wet rocks.  The mouth is pretty and composed, notably saline, with apple skin and candied lemon peel flavors that soften and broaden into a long, gentle finish with echoes of soft minerality.  We thought it quite gorgeous, and that it should drink well for at least the next five years, likely longer.
  • Production: 300 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2014 PICPOUL BLANC

  • Production Notes: The 2014 Picpoul Blanc is our eighth bottling of this traditional Southern Rhône varietal, 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 was blended in April 2015, and bottled in June 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: A mostly savory nose of watermelon rind, dried pineapple, green herbs, white flowers and lemon peel.  The mouth is exuberant by comparison, richly tangy with pineapple juice and sweet baking spices, bright acids, and saline minerality, with a long finish of fresh mango and crushed rocks.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 350 cases
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60

One additional red joined the GrenacheEn Gobelet, and the two Esprit de Tablas vintages in the red-only shipment:

Reds

2013 MOURVEDRE

  • Production Notes: Mourvedre is the one red varietal that we try to bottle on its own each year, partly because it is our most planted grape (and plays the lead role in our Esprit de Tablas) but equally because we think it is a wonderful grape that has an undeserved reputation as "just a blending variety".  The 2013 vintage and our second year of drought emphasized Mourvedre's savory darkness.  We ferment it in large wooden fermenters, then move it to neutral barrels to await blending.  The Mourvedre was blended from selected lots in the spring of 2014, then aged in foudre until bottling in April of 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: Absolutely characteristic of Mourvedre's tension between deeper and more high-toned elements, with aromas of black currant, leather, meat drippings, bittersweet chocolate, and rose petals.  On the mouth, tangy and nicely balanced between sweet and savory, with plum skin, cocoa powder, leather, baking spices, and an appealing burst of acidity on the finish to clean everything up.  Still a baby.  Open a bottle now, if you'd like, but expect it to really shine between 2020 and 2030.
  • Production: 690 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

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 4th.  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 fall shipment?  Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


Introducing the wines for the 2015 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.  [for the origin story of the Collector's Edition, from 2009, click here.]  This club gives us a chance show off the ageability of our flagship wines, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

This year, Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi and I tasted the 2007 and 2008 reds, and the 2009 and 2010 whites.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about why we didn't choose the 2007 Esprit, and because the 2008 was showing so well, it made the choice easy.  As for the whites, the choice was made for different reasons, but equally clear-cut.  I have always loved the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel.  I bought two cases of it myself when it was released, thinking I'd drink one and let the other one develop.  I ended up having to buy a third case because I couldn't keep my hands out of the one that I was supposed to be laying down.  But in tasting it again this year, we felt like it was nearly unchanged: still high-toned and juicy, fresh and clean.  Delicious, but not showing enough signs of evolution to be really interesting as a library offering.  The 2009, on the other hand, was fascinating.

One quick note, before the tasting notes.  If you find the idea of an aged white wine surprising, consider that Roussanne acts in many ways -- in the vineyard, cellar, and bottle -- like a red wine.  It has big structure that takes time to come into balance, it is resistant to oxidation, and the secondary flavors that it gets with time in bottle, including hazelnut and caramel, fit well with Roussanne's more youthful flavors of pear, honey and mineral. The wines:

CE Wines 2015

My tasting notes:

  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Rich and broad on the nose, with flavors of marzipan, creme caramel and hazelnuts, lifted by a little tarragon.  Chelsea commented that it "tastes like a gala event". The mouth is more youthful, with a rich texture, flavors of yellow pear and grilled peach, good acids, and a little tannin, like toasted walnuts, on a long finish lifted by a minty, citrus zest note.  The wine got more and more interesting as it sat in the glass, so a decant wouldn't be a bad idea.  And definitely serve it at cellar temperature, not too cold.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel: An immensely appealing nose of red fruit, pine forest, sea spray, boysenberry and mint.  The mouth is bright with crunchy red fruit (Chelsea nailed cranberry) and deeper flavors of semi-sweet chocolate and baking spices.  The finish is darker, with macerated cherries and a spicy, brambly note.  The 2008 is a graceful and elegant wine that is at the beginning of what should be a long peak lasting another decade or more.

A few bits of housekeeping: we will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next week.  Members of the waiting list should look for an email with news, one way or the other, of whether they've made it on.  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 you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online.  If you are not currently a member, you can indicate that you would like to join the Collector's Edition when you join the VINsider wine club.


Checking in on the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel

The 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel is our highest-rated Esprit to date.  It got mid-90s ratings from Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer, and the Rhone Report, and capped off its year by being named the Wine Spectator's #33 wine of 2010.  And we sold most of what we had, fast.  We typically keep two year's supply of our Esprit red for our tasting room, so we can show two different vintages to people.  Because of its ratings, and because it was so showy, we sold our two years' worth in one year.  And I understand why: it was luscious and powerful, with big tannins cloaked by generous fruit and an underlying meaty wildness that kept the wine from coming across as either simple or sweet.  I'm sure much of it was drunk within a few months of when it was purchased, and enjoyed.

Our Esprit wines have two drinking windows in which we think they are best enjoyed: a window around 3-5 years after the vintage date, when some of the youthful rambunctiousness has had a chance to calm down a touch, but when the wine is still big, juicy, and primary.  Then there is a second window, typically in the 8-12 year range, where the wine's tannins have softened, the texture has opened up, secondary characteristics of meat and earth have developed, and the fruit tone has deepened.

You will have noticed that there is a gap in between these two drinking windows, when the wine's tannins are still strong, but the cloaking fruit has receded a bit, and the wine can come across as closed. I've written about this closed phase on the blog, comparing it to being in its teenage years.  Not all wines, and not even all of our red wines, go through this phase, but the Esprit red nearly always does. How long it spends in this phase depends on several factors, but tends to be longest for the wines that were the most powerful to start with.  This variability is why we recommend that customers bookmark our vintage chart (updated every few months) and why we don't put much stock in predetermining specific drinking windows upon release.

It's been a few years now that we've been waiting for the 2007 Esprit to come out of its closed phase. Yesterday, I opened it, along with some other nearby vintages, as a part of the tasting we do each summer to determine which wines we'll send out to members of the VINsider Wine Club "Collector's Edition".  I had been hoping that this 2007 would be ready to go, but it wasn't to be.  It had smoothed out greatly since the same tasting last year, but still had a shortness and blockiness on the finish that suggested to us that it will greatly benefit from another year of patience.

I thought I'd share my notes, both to give a sense of where it's at now, and to explain why we think that patience is recommended.  The wine:

Esprit07

Tasting Notes (5/28/15): A classic 2007 Esprit nose of hung meat, baking spices, dark red fruit, menthol and leather.  The mouth is still massive and thick with fruit, with big tannins.  Currant and plum (dark red fruits) predominate over a creamy texture that masks some of the complexity it will have. The tannins build in the wine, and clip the finish.  The wine opened significantly with time in the glass (a decant is highly recommended if you're drinking it now) but never lost that clipped character, or the thickness of texture.  Check back in another six months, but expect to enjoy for two more decades.

My notes, I hope, explain what someone who opens it now is likely to get: not a bad wine, but a wine that is less than it will be.

What will the wines be that we chose for the 2015 Collector's Edition shipment? Stay tuned!

 


Tasting the wines in the spring 2015 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.  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:

Spring 2015 Classic

2014 VERMENTINO

  • 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.

2014 DIANTHUS

  • 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

2012 PANOPLIE

  • 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

2012 TANNAT

  • 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:

Spring 2015 White

2013 MARSANNE

  • 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

2013 ROUSSANNE

  • 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:

Spring 2015 Red

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


Tasting the wines in the fall 2014 VINsider Club shipment

Every six months, we send out a six-bottle shipment of wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  The fall shipment is the showcase for our signature wines, and is highlighted by the newest vintages of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc.  That's no different this year.  But this is the first shipment we've sent out entirely made up of wines from the classic, generous 2012 and 2013 vintages.  And if my pre-tasting of these wines is any indication, everyone is in for a treat.

The 2012 Esprit de Tablas and 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc are joined in this shipment by two varietal wines: the 2013 Vermentino, particularly bright and crisp this year, and the 2012 Grenache, with its classic freshness and high-toned, spicy fruit.  Finally, we included the remarkable 2012 En Gobelet made entirely from head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard blocks of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise and Tannat. Note that there are only five different wines because club members get two bottles of the 2012 Esprit de Tablas.

I opened the shipment's wines today to draft the tasting and production notes that will be included in the shipment, which will leave the winery the week of September 22nd. Readers of the blog, as usual, get a preview.

Fall 2014 classic shipment

2013 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our twelfth 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 zesty, citrusy nose that also includes the fresh green herbs and pronounced minerality characteristic of Vermentino. In the mouth, an initial impression of richness quickly turns crisp, with great acids, just a hint of tropical fruit, and a long, bright, meyer lemon/key lime finish. Classic Vermentino. Drink now and for the next 2-3 years.
  • Production: 900 cases
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60

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 next harvest before bottling it in December and aging it an additional 10 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: An inviting nose of preserved lemon, panna cotta, green pear, buttered toast, anise and wet rocks. The mouth is rich but dry, with flavors of butterscotch, apple pie, marmalade, candied pineapple and ginger, and gentle acids keeping things clean. The long finish is luscious and spicy with lingering flavors of peach pit, gingersnap and mineral. Absolutely delicious now, so don't feel bad about opening one soon. But it you want to age it, we expect it to go out 15 years or more and to gain nuttiness and complexity with time.
  • Production: 2465 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2012 GRENACHE

  • Production Notes: 2012's generous crop levels and warm temperatures combined to produce Grenache that tends toward red fruit and sweet spices, but the unusually large diurnal temperature shifts also provided long hangtime, gradual ripening and good acidity.  Harvested between late September and late October, Grenache lots were fermented in upright wooden and closed stainless steel fermenters, then moved to neutral barrels. The lots were selected and blended in May 2013, aged a year in a mix of foudre and stainless steel, and bottled in May 2014.
  • Tasting notes: A clear garnet color, with a clean, minty, lifted nose of mineral and wild strawberries. In the mouth it shows both richness and freshness, with flavors of cherry and red licorice, crushed rock, and sweet spice. Vibrant acids and Grenache's classic front-palate tannins keep the long finish fresh, with lingering flavors of cherry pit and cocoa powder. Drink now or for the next fifteen years.
  • Production: 1050 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2012 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our fifth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill and planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend.  In this warm, dry year, our head-trained Grenache thrived, and in fact produced more fruit than the rest of the acreage combined, producing a blend of 63% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 11% Syrah, 8% Counoise and 6% Tannat.  We co-fermented the components from Scruffy Hill, then blended in head-trained Tannat from near our tractor barn for its dark color, smoky, spicy flavors and firm tannins. It was aged in foudre and bottled in July 2014.
  • Tasting Notes: An exuberantly appealing nose: minty, meaty and spicy, with strawberry and red currant, tobacco and sweet spice. In the mouth it is rich, tangy and mouth-filling, darker than the nose suggests, with chewy tannins, chocolate and grape flavors, and good grip. The finish is exceptionally long, with chalky minerality and dark red fruit. Delicious now, but with the stuffing and balance to age. Drink now and for the next two decades.
  • Production: 950 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2012 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Like all the 2012 reds, the Esprit de Tablas shows the results of the vintage's classic combination of healthy yields, warm temperatures, high diurnal variation, and beautiful weather at harvest.  The generous fruit character of the Mourvedre and Grenache resulted in us using more of the dark, smoky, savory Syrah grape than we have in years, to bring structure and seriousness to the resulting blend. Still, Esprit is as usual led by the red fruit, earth and mocha of 40% Mourvèdre, with additions of 30% Syrah, 21% Grenache and 9% Counoise. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended and aged a year in foudre before being bottled in July 2014.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose is winey and serious, with aromas of blackberry, mint chocolate, aged balsamic, Worcestershire and red licorice. The palate is long and complex, with flavors of black raspberry, plum compote and leather, and Mourvedre's signature flavors of cassis, black tea and roasted meat. The wine's tannins come out on the long finish. We recommend that you hold the 2012 Esprit for a few months, then drink either between 2015 and 2017 or 2020-2040.
  • Production: 4600 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

Introducing the wines for the 2014 Collector's Edition shipment

Each June, I have the pleasure of tasting through our library vintages of Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, with the goal of choosing the wines for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment in September.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Collector's Edition, we created it in 2009 to give members a chance to acquire our flagship wines with some age on them, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.  We will be adding people on our waiting list to the Collector's Edition next week, subject to available space.  This is done based in the order in which people joined the waiting list; our current wait time is just over a year.  If you are currently a VINsider member you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online.  If you are not currently a member, you can indicate that you would like to join the Collector's Edition when you join the VINsider wine club.

In last year's Collector's Edition shipment, we chose to feature both Esprits from 2006.  This year, we'll use the 2005 Esprit red, and move to the 2008 Esprit Blanc.  Why the move back in vintage for the red, and up in vintage for the white?  The 2007 red didn't taste to me like it was quite ready.  It's still tight, laced with iron, with big tannins that seem to me like they need another year to resolve.  That's often the case for our most substantial vintages; they spend longer in each stage: youth, where they're exuberant and juicy, with big tannins cloaked by lush fruit; in middle-age, where some of the baby fat has faded and the tannins stand out more; and in maturity, where the tannins have softened and come back into balance with the fruit, and the wine has developed secondary flavors of leather and roasted meat.  These flavors are in full evidence in the 2005, as you'll see in the tasting notes below.  The 2007 white, on the other hand, was so luscious that we included it in our Collector's Edition shipment back in 2011, and we don't have enough left to include again.  So, the 2008 was next in line, and it will be a treat.
 
One quick note, before the tasting notes.  If you find the idea of an aged white wine surprising, consider that Roussanne acts in many ways -- in the vineyard, cellar, and bottle -- like a red wine.  It has big structure that takes time to come into balance, it is resistant to oxidation, and the secondary flavors that it gets with time in bottle, including hazelnut and caramel, fit well with Roussanne's more youthful flavors of pear, honey and mineral.  The wines:

Collectors Edition Bottles 2014

My tasting notes:

2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc: Shows a deep, rich nose of grilled bread, marzipan, menthol, butterscotch, sage and terragon.  The mouth shows powerful flavors of creme brulee, apricot, clove and marmalade.  The finish is long and creamy, with peach pit and saline mineral.  The wine's flavors broadened steadily as it sat in the glass, and I recommend a decant if you're enjoying it now.  If you're considering stashing this in your cellar, my feeling is that it's got a decade ahead of it still.

2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: A richly savory nose of leather, grilled meat, dark red fruit, mint and iron. In the mouth the wine is firm and spicy, with juiciness building through the mid-palate and flavors of blackberry, garrigue, and crushed rock.  The wine is meaty, rich, and very dry, with tannins that have softened but are still substantial, though I felt them more on the attack right now than on the very long finish, which showed an appealing chalkiness and notable refinement.  This wine, like the white, would also benefit from a decant if you're drinking it now, and should be at the front end of a peak drinking window that will last 15 years or more.


Why we haven't offered red-only and white-only options for wine club members... and why we're doing it now

We're not big on change.  OK, maybe that's me.  I'm not big on change.  So the fact that we're making what amounts to our first major change to our VINsider Wine Club since we introduced it in 2002 is significant.  After several years of internal debate, we've decided to offer VINsider members not only our classic mixed shipment of wines, but also red-only and white-only options starting this fall.

I know; it shouldn't be this big a deal.  Most wineries have offered these options for years.  But I've always been reluctant, for a couple of reasons. 

  • A "show of confidence" in our whites. I think that we, more than most wineries, focus equally on our reds and whites, and that offering only a mixed-color shipments is in effect a vote of confidence in the breadth of our options, particularly the whites.
  • A reluctance to give up control.  Growing grapes in an environment like Paso Robles, with its regular cycles of drought and its frequent spring frosts, means that our own production can vary widely from vintage to vintage, and it's been great knowing that we're able to -- using a real-world example -- offer an extra red from 2010 in our fall 2012 and spring 2013 shipments shipment because our whites from 2011 were short. 
  • We already have our VINdependent Wine Club, which should fill this need. Our VINdependent Wine Club allows members total flexibility to buy whatever they want, with a minimum 6-bottle annual commitment (albeit at a somewhat lower discount). And it's been very successful.  Last year, we signed up nearly 1000 members to this club, and have roughly 2000 active members.
  • I was worried about breadth. I'm always concerned that we have a compelling selection of wines for our club members, and it's already a challenge making 11 different wines a year in 500-case quantities (11 rather than 12 because we include 2 bottles of the newest vintage of Esprit red each fall).  For red-only and white-only clubs, doubling the quantity of a shipment with 3 reds is an option (as you see below) but what do you do for a white-only shipment when your standard shipment has 4 reds and 2 whites, as we will this fall?  Including 3 bottles of each of just 2 wines didn't seem to me like a particularly exciting thing to do.

So why are we doing it now?  A couple of reasons. 

  • Listening to our customers.  Every few years we survey the VINsiders who have canceled their membership, trying to probe on how we can do better.  In general, the survey responses are gratifying; nearly all cancel because of external circumstances: they moved to a non-shipping state, or they had a personal or professional setback that required them to cut back on their discretionary purchases, or they had health issues that required a change in lifestyle.  Most of these say they look forward to rejoining when they are able, and our data supports that: of the roughly 1600 new registrations we received last year for our VINsider Wine Club, nearly 10% (137) were previous members.  But there is a consistent minority in these surveys who say that they just don't drink either whites or reds, and it was a burden for them to have to pay for the color of wines they don't enjoy.  And I get that.  I happen to love both reds and whites, and probably drink both colors more or less equally, depending on what I'm eating at the time, but I know not everyone is the same.
  • We have more variety to offer now.  We made a conscious choice in the last vintage to make a little less of our core blends, particularly the Cotes de Tablas, and a little more of our estate varietal and small-production wines, so as to have more -- and more interesting -- selections to send to our club members and to show to the visitors who come out to our tasting room.  This change gives us options we didn't have before.
  • We realized that the VINdependent Wine Club was (compared to the VINsider Club) a lot of work.  This club, which we created about 5 years ago to satisfy customers who were excited about Tablas Creek but who didn't fit, for whatever reason, into the VINsider Club, is to my knowledge the only one of its kind in California.  As long as VINdependent members buy 6 bottles at any point in the calendar year, they satisfy their annual commitment and don't receive a prepackaged shipment.  They can choose those 6 bottles however they want... some (probably the largest segment, around one-third) only buy reds, or whites.  Others just buy our flagship wines.  Others want a smaller commitment, or live in a non-shipping state but visit Paso Robles once a year, or just don't want anyone else to choose their selection.  But, as the end of the year approaches, because we don't make automatic shipments, there is always a portion (typically around 30%) of our roughly 2000 VINdependents who haven't made their annual purchase yet, and in some cases may not have purchased since early the previous year.  A lot can happen in 18 months, and we spend much of December emailing and calling them to ascertain what they'd like.  Some we're never able to get ahold of, which has made the annual cancellation rate among our VINdependents about 50% higher than that of our VINsider Club.  If we can take that red-only and white-only customers -- most of whom only signed up for the VINdependent club because we didn't have another red-only or white-only club when they visited -- and bring them into our VINsider Club, that seems compelling.  Everyone wins: members get a better discount and more convenience, while we sell a little more wine, more predictably, and retain our members at a higher rate.

Without further ado, I'm pleased to present to you our inaugural red-only and white-only shipments.  The red-only includes 2 bottles each of 2012 Esprit de Tablas, 2012 En Gobelet, and 2012 Grenache:

Fall_2014_RedOnly_edit

For the white-only, we have 2 bottles of the 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, 2 bottles of the 2013 Viognier, 1 bottle of the 2013 Vermentino and 1 bottle of the 2013 Picpoul Blanc:

Fall_2014_WhiteOnly_edit

And, of course, our classic mix, with 2 bottles of the 2012 Esprit de Tablas, and 1 bottle each of the 2012 En Gobelet, 2012 Grenache, 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and 2013 Vermentino:

Fall_2014_Classic_edit

We announced this change to our VINsiders via email about two weeks ago, and it has been interesting -- and gratifying, because it suggest that most of our VINsiders are happy with the mix we're offering -- to see that the number who have switched to one of the new options has been relatively low.  In this initial period (granted, only two weeks, but we typically see most of the response to an email within that period) we've seen 83 VINsiders switch, or roughly 1.5% of our membership.  In the tasting room, however, we've seen a higher percentage take advantage of these new options: 50 of the 355 new VINsiders (14%) have elected for red-only or white-only over the initial eight-week period we've offered these options.  This discrepancy is probably not surprising; while some of the new red-only and white-only signups would probably have signed up anyway, most would likely have either opted for our VINdependent Club or not have signed up at all.

As for proportion of red-only and white-only, it's been maybe even a little more lopsided than we would have predicted, with 115 (86%) opting for red-only and 18 (14%) opting for white-only.  I'll be interested to see whether these numbers will balance out at all; my suspicion is that they will, at least slightly, given that so far 18% of the new registrants have opted for white-only, while just 11% of those who switched from our existing members did so.

Finally, a little housekeeping, for anyone reading who wants to make a change. Current VINsider Club members can select red-only or white-only options on the VINsider Update Form, and prospective new members can choose their preferred color mix when they register on the VINsider Sign-Up Form.


Spring 2014 VINsider shipment food pairing dinner

By Lauren Cross

What better way to celebrate the recent release of our Spring 2014 VINsider shipment than to taste and enjoy each new wine with expertly paired dishes prepared by two of the best caterers on the Central Coast? Yes, there are benefits to working at Tablas Creek.

A little background, first. We asked two chefs (Chef Jacob Lovejoy and Chef Jeffry Wiesinger), with whom we often work for dinners and events here at Tablas, to put together six dishes, one for each new wine, so that our tasting room and wine club staff to get first hand experience with the different affinities of each wine and thereby more easily discuss food pairings with our guests.  I thought that a recap might inspire our fans to create new food and wine pairings in your own homes.

Personally, I was excited to taste the new shipment wines with dishes expressly created to pair with them and use this experience to draw conclusions about other potential pairings.  I didn’t grow up with wine being served at the dinner table and, as parent of two young children, my memorable food pairings are often unexpected: think Esprit Blanc and corndogs (which pair beautifully, by the way).  I’ve also been fortunate enough to stumble upon exquisite Tablas Creek wine pairings by accident.  I once paired our 2010 Counoise with barbeque chicken and almost fell off my chair it was so good. 

The tasting drove home to me that pairings can work because dish and wine share similar traits, and together they show harmony. But perhaps less intuitive was that certain pairings worked because of their differences, where contrasting flavors or textures highlighted each member's distinctiveness.

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Pairing 1: Shrimp ‘n’ Grits with 2012 Côtes de Tablas Blanc

The foundation of this dish was mini polenta cakes which provided a rich and savory texture that paired splendidly with the viognier-rich Côtes de Tablas Blanc. The fresh shrimp was topped with a creamy white butter sauce brightened by lemon and blood orange. The bright acid that lifts the 2012 Côtes de Tablas Blanc through a long finish loved the citric notes in the cream sauce.

This pairing was one of similarities: a delicate balance of richness and brightness in the dish mirrored the related complexities of the Côtes de Tablas Blanc.

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Pairing 2: Dungeness Crab Avocado Salad with 2012 Grenache Blanc

A beautifully quartered avocado, piled high with dungeness crab salad and topped with a ginger-infused asian pear brulee and a drizzle of yuzu vinaigrette, made for a sublime pairing for the 2012 Grenache Blanc.  The sweet and earthy crab brought out the mineral notes of the wine, and the avocado coated the palate while the acid of the wine cleaned it: a pairing of contrasts, each of which made the other taste more vibrant, capped off by the luscious ginger-infused pear garnish that accentuated the green apple crispness of the Grenache Blanc.

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Pairing 3: Duck Confit Bread Pudding with 2012 Roussanne                      

This pairing would make a convert of anyone who doubts that Roussanne is substantial enough to pair with traditional red wine partners. The fluffy and buttery bread pudding, served by Chef Jeffry, reminded me of Thanksgiving stuffing packed with egg, herbs and dried apricots.  The slightly gamy duck flavors deepened the whole and brought out the apricot notes in the 2012 Roussanne, while the rich texture of the wine proved a match for the weighty dish.

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Pairing 4: Smoked Pork Mac ‘n’ Cheese with 2012 Patelin de Tablas

We often recommend the 2012 Patelin de Tablas, with its smoky and peppery nose, with barbeque because of its moderate alcohol and its fresh acidity.  So I was not surprised by the elegance it brought to the gooey smoked pork mac ‘n’ cheese.  Another example of contrasts making each partner taste more clearly of itself: the elegance and freshness of this syrah-based blend paired was accentuated by the smoky richness of the pork, refreshing the palate where a more assertive wine could have made a fatiguing partner.

A side note: this truly was the people's wine paired with the people's food.

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Pairing 5: Kalbi Style Beef Short Ribs with the 2012 Côtes de Tablas

The Grenache-based 2012 Côtes de Tablas leads with bright chewy fruit accentuated by a good amount of spice and pepper. The combination of sweet and spicy flavors in the Kalbi style beef short ribs made for a spot on pairing, with the fruitiness of the wine standing up to the ribs' slightly sweet glaze and the combination's tingling spice echoing after each bite.  This pairing showed me why the Perrins talk about southern Rhone wines (most of which are based on Grenache) as natural partners for asian-inspired dishes.

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Pairing 6: Wet-Aged Prime Rib Roast with 2011 Panoplie

It probably won't surprise any of you that an aged prime rib paired well with our new 2011 Panoplie. As prepared by Chef Jacob, the prime rib was deliciously rich and tender, made even more luscious by a pat of blue cheese butter layered on top and the mouthwatering truffle mashed potatoes below.  The Panoplie is built on a base of our most powerful Mourvedre lots, whose combination of mid-palate richness, chewy tannins, loamy earth notes and silky-smooth texture matched the dish sip for taste, and whose higher tones of rose petals and raspberry fruit lingered perhaps because they were not directly mirrored in the dish.  All in all a fitting, and completely satisfying, way to end a wonderful night.

As always, we are thankful to and impressed by our chefs Jacob and Jeffry for working together so seamlessly and with so much intention and passion, and for creating dishes with such distinct personalities that still partnered beautifully with the wines. I hope that this inspires you in your pairings; if you have particularly memorable ones -- good or bad --  please share them in the comments.


Tasting the wines in the spring 2014 VINsider Club shipment

Every six months, we send out a six-bottle shipment of wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  While the fall shipment showcases our signature wines, and includes our Esprit and our Esprit Blanc, the spring shipment is more eclectic, highlighted by the Panoplie, our elite wine made in the image of Beaucastel's iconic Hommage à Jacques Perrin.  Beyond that we include wines we're particularly excited about.  This year, we chose five wines from the luscious 2012 vintage: the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, highlighting our best-ever Viognier vintage, the mineral-laced Grenache Blanc and powerful Roussanne, and two red blends: the Patelin de Tablas that shows off Syrah and the Cotes de Tablas that is based on Grenache.

Yesterday I opened the wines to taste with my dad and Winemaker Neil Collins to write the tasting notes that will be included in the package, and thought that readers of the blog might like an advance peek.  The lineup:

14 Spring Shipment for Blog

2012 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: 2012 was a banner year for Grenache Blanc, both in quantity and quality, with the year's strengths (generous fruit and good acidity) playing to the grape's natural strengths. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), then blended and bottled in the summer of 2013.
  • Tasting notes: A classic Grenache Blanc nose of preserved lemon and wet rocks, with a sweeter (mandarin orange?) citrus coming out with air.  The mouth follows through with the citrus promised on the nose, with marmalade and citrus leaf, chalky minerality and a little sweet anise spice at the end.  Fully dry on the long, rich finish.  Drink now and for the next three years.
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60

2012 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas Blanc is our showcase for the floral, lush fruit of Viognier, and the 2012 vintage was our best ever for this tricky grape. The result was Viognier with an appealing creamy lushness but great balance, and the additions of the mineral, high-acid Grenache Blanc and the gentle elegance of Marsanne served to polish the Viognier rather than change its character. The resulting blend is 34% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 30% Marsanne and 6% Roussanne, all aged in stainless steel.
  • Tasting notes: An immediately appealing nose of honey, pear, tarragon, jasmine and peach.  In the mouth it is luscious with flavors of peaches and cream, a hint of gingery spice, and then finishing clean and fresh, with those classic Grenache Blanc acids coming out at the end. Drink now and for the next five years.
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60

2012 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: 2012’s generosity 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 2013 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling in February 2014.
  • Tasting notes: A wonderful nose of honey, nuts, dried, spiced pineapple and lemon zest: think baklava. In the mouth, it's characteristically Roussanne, with honey, pears and a kiss of sweet oak, but friendler than normal at this stage, with an appealing saline note coming out on the finish. Drink over the next 3-4 years, or wait until 2020 and drink over the next decade.
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2012 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 August 2013 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting notes: An exuberantly pretty nose of tangy berries, like raspberries marinated in balsamic vinegar, with an appealing foresty note, pepper spice and a gentle floral character. The mouth is complex, medium bodied, spicy, with juniper and sage notes, marinade and dark fruit.  The finish is clean and mineral-laced. Drink now and for the next five to seven years.
  • List Price: $20 VINsider Price: $16
2012 COTES DE TABLAS
  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our take on a more traditional Chateauneuf du Pape blend, heavier on Grenache and Syrah and lighter on Mourvedre than our Esprit de Beaucastel. 2012's long hangtime and gradual ripening were excellent for both Grenache and Syrah, whose complementary flavors balance juiciness and freshness with structure and spice. The components were harvested separately, then blended in June 2013 and aged in foudre until its bottling in February 2014.
  • Tasting notes: A deeper and more assertive nose than the Patelin, lush, with dark red plum and currant fruit, cola and licorice, very Grenache.  The mouth shows an initial sweet Grenache attack, with strawberry confiture and sweet spice, then the Syrah asserts control, with steely tannins.  Notes of leather and aged saucisson come out on the long, rich finish. Drink now or for the next fifteen years.
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2011 PANOPLIE

  • 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 2012.  The wine was bottled in August 2013 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.  The blend is 60% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache and 10% Syrah.
  • Tasting notes: On the nose, deep and complex, rich and spicy, with black raspberry, sandalwood, leather and grilled meat dripping notes. The mouth shows brooding dark fruit and plush tannins: absolutely luscious without being sweet or simple in any way. The finish is long and complex, with beautiful balance. We expect it to drink well for another year or two, then tighten up for a few years before reopening around 2019 and drinking well for two to three decades.
  • List Price: $95 VINsider Price: $76

More details on the shipment, including shipping dates, press on the wines, and information about the spring shipment tasting party on Sunday, April 13th, is available on our VINsider News Page.


Tasting the wines in the Fall 2013 VINsider Club shipment

Every six months, we send out a six-bottle shipment of wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  The fall shipment is the showcase for our signature wines, and is highlighted by the newest vintages of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc.  That's no different this year.  What is different is that the Esprits aren't Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, but Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc.  If you missed the explanation of why we changed the names of our flagship wines, you can read that blog post here.

Joining the 2011 Esprit de Tablas and the 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc in this shipment we chose two varietal whites from the classic 2012 vintage, one (Vermentino) that we make every year and another (Viognier) than we haven't made since 2006.  Finally, we included the remarkable 2011 En Gobelet made entirely from head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard blocks of Mourvedre, Grenache, Tannat and Syrah. Note that there are only five different wines because club members get two bottles of the 2011 Esprit de Tablas.

Winemaker Neil Collins and I opened the shipment's wines on Friday to draft the tasting and production notes that will be included in the shipment, which will leave the winery the week of September 16th. I thought that readers of the blog might enjoy a preview.

VINsider Fall 2013 Shipment

2012 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our eleventh 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: Incredibly pale color, with powerfully mineral aromas of broken rocks, citrus leaf, and peppered citrus peel.  In the mouth, the wine shows vibrant citrus fruit, not at all sweet, suggesting kumquat or yuzu, then turns richer on the finish, peaches and cream and lingering minerality, with great acids. Just 12.5% alcohol: classic Vermentino. Drink now and for the next 2-3 years.
  • Production: 1300 cases
  • Press: 90 points Galloni ("rich, layered and exceptionally beautiful")
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60

2012 VIOGNIER

  • Production Notes: The productive, consistently high quality 2012 vintage allowed us to produce our first Viognier since 2006. 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 2012 and thrived in the warm days and cool nights. It was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then blended and bottled in August 2013 in screwcap, to preserve its brightness. 
  • Tasting Notes: For a Viognier, its nose is more savory than fruit or floral driven at this stage, with peppered mango and preserved lemon, grilled bread and exotic herbs.  In the mouth it's rich, long and broad, with flavors of citrus peel, lemongrass and Chinese five spice.  The richness is held in check by good acidity, and the texture is marvelous. Let this age for a few months if you can, then drink between 2014 and 2018. It's possible it will go longer, too, but with Viognier, you never know.
  • Production: 550 cases
  • Press: 88-90 points Galloni ("hugely promising")
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24
2011 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC
  • Production Notes: Although 2011’s spring frosts largely spared the notoriously late-sprouting Roussanne, yields were still low and these low yields combined with the unusually cool growing season to produce structured Roussanne with good acidity, suitable for aging. We blended 64% Roussanne (fermented primarily in foudre) with 26% Grenache Blanc and 10% Picpoul Blanc to provide floral aromatics and lift on the palate, then finished aging the blend for a year in foudre before bottling in August 2012 and aging it an additional year in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Esprit Blanc, with aromatics dominated by non-fruit descriptors: mineral, sea spray, grilled bread and a hint of non-toasted oak. The mouth is dramatically rich and broad, with the vintage's acidity showing in the front palate, rich Roussanne in the mid-palate, and a hint of tannin from the Grenache Blanc on the long, nutty finish. A fascinating combination of rich and very dry.  Still a baby, this is a serious white to age for up to 15 years or more.
  • Production: 2480 cases
  • Press: 92-95 points Rhone Report ("full-bodied, perfectly balanced"); 92 points, Tanzer's I.W.C
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2011 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: 29% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 26% Tannat and 18% Syrah. Our fourth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill and planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. We co-fermented the components from Scruffy Hill, then blended in Tannat from our head-trained section near the middle of the vineyard for its dark color, smoky, spicy flavors and firm tannins. It was then aged in foudre, and bottled in May 2013.
  • Tasting Notes: A dramatic, dark nose showing a meaty, iron-like aroma that reminded me of newly-carved, rare grilled steak. This mingles with fruit aromatics that shift between black and red (blackcurrant and black cherry) and a minty, chocolatey note. In the mouth it's rich and robust with meaty flavors darkened by notes of espresso and cocoa bean, and powerful but refined tannins coming out at the end. The finish shows more grilled meat and a hint of saline minerality. Spectacular, and Neil and I thought it our best En Gobelet ever. Drink over the next two decades.
  • Production: 750 cases
  • Press: 92 points Galloni ("fabulous depth and richness"), 91-94 points Rhone Report
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2011 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Like all the 2011 reds, the components that went into the Esprit de Tablas were concentrated by the vintage's spring frosts and then given acidity by one of the coolest years in our history. This results in a medium-weight wine of great intensity of flavor and excellent freshness. Esprit is as usual based on the red fruit, earth and mocha of Mourvèdre (40%), while Grenache (30%) brings rich mouthfeel, glycerin and a refreshing acidity, Syrah (20%) provides black fruit and mineral and Counoise (10%) adds vibrancy and brambly fruit. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended and aged a year in foudre before being bottled in June 2013.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose shows exuberant freshness, with Mourvedre's signature currant, black tea and roasted meat aromas, given lift by a tangy, winey note showing rosemary and mineral. The mouth is long, fine and balanced, lusher than the nose suggests, with flavors of licorice, spice, meat drippings and clove, mid-weight now (relatively soon after bottling) but with every expectation of deepening over coming months.  We recommend that you hold the 2011 Esprit for a few months, then drink either between 2014 and 2016 or 2020-2040.
  • Production: 4000 cases
  • Press: 93-95 points Rhone Report ("beautifully full-bodied and elegant")
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44