Checking in on Chester, Vermont
Photos of each Rhone grape variety as harvest nears

Tablas Creek Grenache retrospective: a vertical tasting of every Cotes de Tablas and every varietal Grenache ever

This weekend, we're delving into Grenache in what should be a fascinating seminar.  We'll taste each vintage of the Tablas Creek varietal Grenache (2006-2009), three different Grenache-dominated vintages of our Cotes de Tablas, and then four Famille Perrin wines that are based on Grenache.  Our goal is to explore the expressions of this, the second-most-planted grape in the world.  From our upcoming Tablas Creek events page:

Sunday, September 4th 12:00p.m.
Grenache Grand Tour

Grenache is the most widely planted grape in the southern Rhône Valley, and the second most widely planted varietal in the world. It works wonderfully in blends, and is also capable of making profound wines on its own. It drinks well young, and is typically more approachable in its youth than Syrah or Mourvèdre, yet makes wines that can age for decades. And at whatever age, in (nearly) every incarnation, Grenache is a wonderful partner with food. This September 4th, we will look at Grenache in all its glory. Join partner Jason Haas and winemaker Neil Collins as we taste every vintage of Tablas Creek Grenache, several of our Grenache-based blends, three different appellations of Grenache-based wines from Perrin & Fils in the southern Rhone, and a Grenache-dominated Beaucastel. We'll finish the day with a Grenche-friendly lunch prepared by chef Jeffrey Scott. This exploration of the vibrant world of Grenache is $55 for VINsiders and $70 for guests. Advance reservations are essential; contact Nicole Getty at 805.237.1231 x39 or [email protected].

So, to get ready (and to decide which vintages of Cotes de Tablas we should open) Winemakers Neil Collins and Ryan Hebert, Wine Club & Hospitality Director Nikki Getty, and National Sales Manager Tommy Oldre joined me in a comprehensive Grenache tasting yesterday.  A look at the assembled wines:


The tasting was fascinating.  We found that the wines fell into two identifiable categories: those from more elegant years, with a classic, vibrant mid-weight Grenache signature (like 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008) and those from more powerfully structured years with more richness, more licorice and dark fruit, and more tannin.  Which sort of vintage a drinker will prefer is likely to be a matter of personal preference rather than qualitative difference.  But knowing which vintage fall into which camps should help you know which you're more likely to enjoy... or which you'll want to lay down. 

More relevantly, we came out of the tasting convinced that Grenache is already doing great here at Tablas Creek, and likely only to get better.  It's a variety that shows well both in more elegant and more powerful vintages.  It shows well young, but has proven to be remarkably ageable.  And these were not expensive wines, not consciously made to cellar.  The Cotes de Tablas retailed between $20 and $25 all through the 2000's.  It was a pleasure to realize that these wines have not just held up this well, but have gained in richness and complexity.  Tommy's comment toward the end of the vertical was "you know, anyone who was buying these wines and laying them down was getting a steal."  Kudos to any of you who did.

Grenache Flight

  • 2006 Grenache (90% Grenache, 10% Syrah): a pretty mid-weight nose and translucent color, spicy, with vanilla bean and lively red fruit.  It's in a nice place in the mouth, with plenty of fruit, slightly candied, and soft tannins.  Good acidity at the end keeps everything fresh.
  • 2007 Grenache (90% Grenache, 10% Syrah): richer and jammier than the 2006, with powerful strawberry and mineral nose.  In the mouth, still very young, rich yet cooled and lifted by mineral, showing a little sweet oak on the finish, and big tannins.  We thought that it was a wine to wait on, or to drink with big food.  Ryan's comment after just two wines: "I didn't realize I liked single varietal Grenache so much!"
  • 2008 Grenache (100% Grenache): An intriguing nose, both lifted and dark, with violets, tar and chocolate.  Intense yet not full-bodied.  Still quite primary, and needs some time for the finish to calm down.  Interesting progression through the mouth, with the initial attack sweet and the finish very dry, with big tannins.  Totally classic for Grenache at this stage in its life; lay it down for a year or two.
  • 2009 Grenache (100% Grenache): A tangy nose of barbeque spices, smoke and pepper.  The mouth is rich but still relatively tannic; Tommy called it "brawny".  Still very, very young.  There's a nice coffee note on the finish that suggests it's going to be gorgeous.  Won't go out for a while (it's scheduled to go out to our wine club in March 2012) and will still probably be a candidate to lay down for a year or two then.

Cotes de Tablas Flight

  • 1999 Petite Cuvee (65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre): This was the precursor to the Cotes de Tablas, and we made just a few hundred cases in 1999 of lots that we thought weren't up to the standards of the 1999 Reserve Cuvee, mostly Grenache that we thought too tannic for its weight.  The wine was sold only in our tasting room, and we never thought it would go this long, but it's showing admirably, with the nose the only part showing any age, lots of soy and balsamic.  There's some sweet fruit on the attack, but then big tannins, still a little drying on the finish.  A nice licorice note lingers.  Neil commented that it would be really nice with a dry-aged ribeye, and it could even stand to age a little longer.
  • 2000 Cotes de Tablas (84% Grenache, 16% Syrah): Our first Cotes de Tablas, from about 600 cases worth of lots we thought pretty but not sufficiently intense to go into the 2000 Esprit, that to our surprise got a 92-point rating from Robert Parker and sold out in less than a month.  There are times when an outside perspective helps you realize the quality of something you've been overlooking each day, and this was one example.  Now showing lots of complexity, with a gamy, meaty, spicy, tobacco-y nose, just beautiful.  In the mouth, lots of sweet Grenache fruit, very lush, still fresh and mouth-filling.  Benefited from time in the glass; so if you have some, decant it for a little while before you drink.
  • 2001 Cotes de Tablas (38% Mourvedre, 34% Syrah, 24% Grenache, 4% Counoise): An anomaly for the tasting, as in 2001 we decided that the spring frost had scrambled up the vintage sufficiently that we weren't going to make an Esprit de Beaucastel, and declassified nearly the entire vintage into the Cotes.  So, Grenache was the #3 variety behind Mourvedre and Syrah.  The nose showed leaner than 2000, nice aromatics of cola & leather, definitely signed by Mourvedre.  In the mouth, nice balance, flavors of rare steak, spice and plum, mid-weight, pretty but less dramatic than the wines around it. Drink now and for the next few years.
  • 2002 Cotes de Tablas (45% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 12% Counoise): Our first "modern" Cotes de Tablas, blended primarily as a wine in its own right rather than as a consequence of lots we didn't want in the Esprit.  A powerful yet savory nose (Tommy called it "really cool") of asian spices, leather, cranberries and soy.  A sweet attack, the first signs of age showing in a mid-palate of roasted meat and dark spices, then a gentler finish than the initial impression would have suggested, with nice richness and soft tannins.  Probably not going to get any better, so drink up.
  • 2003 Cotes de Tablas (60% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise): A clean pretty nose of cherry cola, strawberry and a little pepper spice.  In the mouth, just lovely: fresh red strawberry and raspberry fruit, a dusting of dark chocolate, and a great middle-weight and texture with just enough tannins to clean up the wine's perception of sweetness.  Must be close to its apex, and the wine of the tasting for us.
  • 2004 Cotes de Tablas (64% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 13% Counoise, 7% Mourvedre): A very pretty color, a little darker than the 2003, with a slightly smokier, tangier nose.  Sort of halfway between 2002 and 2003 aromatically.  The mouth showed flavors of rare steak, balsamic and Tommy noted a cool spiciness that he nailed as paprika.  Good acids and relatively firm tannins suggest that this is still a year or two away from peak.

[Between 2005 and 2007 we bottled the Cotes de Tablas in both cork and screwcap versions.  We hadn't checked in on them in a while, so we tasted both.  They weren't tasted blind, which of course influences our perceptions of them, but since some of us are screcap proponents and others tend to favor corks, we were pleased that our impressions of the wines' relative merits were pretty consistent.  I've included notes from both versions below.]

  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 15% Counoise)
    • Cork: Just a hint of bricking on the rim, with a nose rich and licoricey with savory aromas of dark soy.  In the mouth gorgeous and lush, with purple-black fruit.  Still quite a big, young wine, nice chalky tannins.
    • Screwcap: Color younger, more true red, with a nose that we variously described as mineral, flinty and gunpowdery.  The fruit took a few minutes to come out in the glass but was very pure when it did, higher-toned than the cork version.  The mouth hasn't gotten the same breadth as the cork finish, but got richer and richer with time open.  Both versions could probably benefit from a decant at this point, but certainly the screwcap.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise)
    • Cork: Nose is spicy, minty, junipery, with a surprising (and welcome) orange peel note.  The mouth is sweet and slightly piney, with good richness on the mid-palate.  There is a nice, linering finish.
    • Screwcap: Nose is similar, a little less expressive and slightly higher-toned, almost pomegranate.  In the mouth, a perception of a little more acid, brighter tannins and a touch more minerality.  Not as different from the cork version as either 2005 or 2007.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise)
    • Cork: The first bottle was corky, which drove home the risks of cork.  The second bottle showed a powerful, slightly gamy nose, sweet & rich, intensely grenachey with licorice, spice and purple fruit.  In the mouth, sweet fruit and nice tannins, relatively well resolved for such a young wine.
    • Screwcap: Powerful nose, a touch more perceptible alcohol than the screwcap, but with lurking dark red jam that came out more and more with air. The mouth showed similarly to the cork version, a touch younger and more tannic, with the tannins less resolved and integrated.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas (42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 17% Mourvedre): Only bottled in screwcap. A beautiful nose, junipery, minty and citrusy like the 2006, but with an additional sweet spice note (cloves?) that was nice.  The mouth is mid-weight, with nice tannins and a cool, grainy texture with just a hint of oak from a new wooden fermenter than part of the blend spent some time in. Drinking great now, but can age, too.
  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 18% Counoise, 15% Mourvedre): Only bottled in cork.  Smells dense & extracted, with cola and licorice notes and dark spice.  The flavor is intensely cherry, with broad texture, chalky tannins and quite dry on the finish.  Low-ish in acidity, but big tannins keep the wine balanced.  A great Cotes to lay down, if not quite ready now.

A few concluding thoughts.  First, on corks vs. screwcaps.  It seemed clear to us that, at least at the stage at which we were tasting the wines (fairly newly opened, about 5 years old) the cork version was richer, with better-integrated tannins.  But as the wine sat in the glass, and with time open in the bottle, the screwcap version gained breadth and approached the cork version, though always remaining a little higher-toned.  The difference seemed greater in the denser, more concentrated (and more tannic) vintages of 2005 and 2007 than it did in the more elegant 2006, which suggests that our decision to put the wine back under cork for the powerful 2009 vintage, and then going forward as we make a more intense Cotes de Tablas by declassifying less-intense lots into the Patelin de Tablas, was a good one.

Of course, the one disappointing wine was the corked 2007.  A dilemma.

It was clear to all of us that we've been giving Grenache short shrift in our evaluations of its capacity to age.  Cotes de Tablas wines a decade old were showing vibrantly, clearly right in their sweet spot at 6-10 years of age, but with the capacity to go happily several more years.  And lest we be tempted to attribute that to the additions of Syrah and Mourvedre, the varietal Grenaches, even the 2006, showed fresh and youthful.

Our favorite wine of the tasting was the 2003 Cotes de Tablas, which satisfied just about everyone, whether they were looking for more richness or more vibrancy.  Other favorites included 2000, 2004 and 2006.  That the 2003 Cotes should show best in its vertical, just as the 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel showed best at our most recent vertical of Esprit reds, suggests that these wines may age very well indeed... perhaps nearly as well as the Mourvedre-dominated Esprits.