Grapes of the Rhone Valley: Roussanne
The last (?) winter storm of 2009-2010

All Things Consumed: Taking A Closer Look at Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc

Each spring we release our flagship white wine, the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, to the wholesale market.  In advance of its arrival, and in an effort to further celebrate its release, the wine is typically introduced to individual states via a presale, where it is offered to restaurants and retailers at a slightly discounted price in an effort to encourage them to bring the wines in at the beginning of their releases.  As we always do these presales at the same time each year, they are also a great opportunity to look back as we look forward.  And I think that Roussanne-based wines (such as our Esprit Blanc) are still sufficiently unknown quantities to most restaurateurs and retailers -- let alone consumers -- that we put a lot of effort into creating appealing events to educate and excite potential buyers. 

To that endeavor to come up with an additional measure that was both compelling and, well, fun, I thought it would be a good idea to stage a multi-vintage tasting of our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc.  We have been making the Esprit Blanc since 2001 and, out in the market, I frequently note its subtle nuances, its depth and length, and its Dylan-like evolution and ageability.  However, it is rare that I have the opportunity to put our wine where my mouth is, so to speak.    

Thankfully, and as noted by Eric Asimov in his recent piece, there are brave, bright, and boundary-pushing retailers today who are also willing to champion some of the wine world's less mainstream offerings, such as our Esprit Blanc.  Shortly after conceiving the idea, I called Solano Cellars (a Berkeley outfit I consider to be representative of this growing retail vinguard) and pitched Jason there on the idea.  He promptly responded with a "Let's do it" and the date for the April 15th tasting was booked shortly thereafter.

With the date set, and the idea now an impending reality, I thought it would be a good idea for us here at the vineyard to go through and taste our library of Esprit Blancs for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it would enable me to select the vintages to highlight at the Solano Cellars tasting to illustrate the fascinating ageability of the Esprit Blanc.  Secondly, it would provide an ideal opportunity for our G.M., Jason Haas, to update our vintage chart, which he in fact did shortly after we completed the tasting.  Ultimately, our tasting here at the vineyard proved both enlightening and interesting.  What always strikes me whenever I taste through back vintages of this wine is how, after being open for ten minutes or so, each displays individual character and personality.  There are always common traits such as richness, viscosity, and minerality, but I love to taste each and be inspired by the differences and individuality.  And then I immediately think about what I would want to eat with each.    

Below, I have posted some of my notes from the tasting we had here at the vineyard and have also added some pairing suggestions.  For those of you with some of these bottles in your cellars, I hope the notes and suggestions help.  For those of you that happen to be near Berkeley on April 15th, please come by Solano Cellars to say hello and taste through many of these wines yourself.  (Information about the tasting can be found here, and to reserve seats, please call Solano Cellars at 1.800.WINE.411.) 

I hope to say hello to some of you next week and if anybody has any comments or questions, please let us know. 


2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Honeysuckle blossom, petrol, and anise on the nose with pronounced fennel flavors, clay, and a yeasty, dough-like component in the mouth.  As a pairing for this, I would probably have a dish that would let this wine enjoy its long-awaited spotlight on the table:  scrambled eggs with sauteed mushrooms (mild ones, however) and a sprinkling of some fresh herbs.  

2002 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Sea air, honey, and ginger on the nose with great brightness and roundness in the mouth, as well as pronounced length.  This wine is drinking beautifully right now.  For this wine I would likely try a fairly rich and savory halibut dish.  I think a fillet sauteed and finished with a beurre blanc would be a lovely way to go as would one poached in olive oil with lemon and herbs. 

2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Butterscotch, cooked honey, and generally sweeter on the nose with an herbaceous fennel (fennel frond?) character, not quite in sync with its soft palate and hop-like bitterness on the finish.  Best to leave this wine be for a year or so and check back in. 

2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Honey, dried flowers, and burnt sugar on the nose.  This wine is still very round, with great breadth, but it is showing a little hot and slightly tannic right now.  Best to leave this one be a for a little while as well.

2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Youthful and bright.  Honeysuckle, orange blossom, and rose petals on the nose.   In the mouth it has lovely minerality, great depth, and a sweet-to-salty transition on the finish that is just lovely.  I would keep it simple, yet decadent, with this wine and have boiled Maine lobster with miso butter.  

2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Honey, mint, thyme, and lemon peel on the nose.  The mouth is round and chalky, with lime, apple, pear and a lovely saline minerality.  I don't think one could go wrong with grilled or sauteed scallops that have been finished with citrus and fennel pollen.

2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Primal and rich.  The nose is tropical and resiny with mango, quince, wet herbs and dried flowers.  The mouth is round and bright, tangy and minerally, yet all the while elegant.  Two standout main dishes I have had with this wine have been a honey and clove encrusted ham and a Chinese 5-spice-rubbed pork loin.

2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Electrically bright on the nose, with orange blossom, lemongrass, and honey.  The mouth has both tropical and tangerine notes, as well as spice, minerality and wonderful nerve.  I have yet to have this wine with a meal, but I am looking forward to pairing it with something this weekend.  I don't know exactly what yet, but I'm thinking something that incorporates shellfish, Asian spices, and the Ojai tangerines that we are still getting here in the central coast.  I will keep you posted.