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A Retrospective Tasting of Tablas Creek Mourvedre 2003-2012

At Tablas Creek we keep a library of every wine we've ever made.  Part of this is because we do get requests for specific older wines, either for educational seminars or dinners, or for the occasional special order for a restaurant interested in something pretty far off the beaten track (think the older Counoise for The Girl & The Fig detailed in Darren Delmore's last blog).  But just as much, we use this library to check in on how our wines are aging and where in their evolution they've reached.  We take this information and incorporate it into our vintage chart, which we hope helps our fans open wines when they're shining, and not when they're awkward.

Some wines have a simple development, from big, tannic and fruity when young, to soft, earthy and complex when old, in a fairly linear way.  Grenache usually follows this predictable pattern.  Mourvedre, however, does not.  It does start out young and juicy, and it does (eventually) end up mellow, meaty and complex, but it's not a linear path to get there.  Wines based on Mourvedre often shut down in middle age, and even once they reopen they can have unexpected personality changes from year to year.

So, it was with interest that earlier this week I opened up every vintage of Mourvedre we've made, to see how our newest wine fits into the continuum, and to see which of the older vintages are shining particularly now. The lineup:

Mourvedre vertical

The tasting notes (note that I've linked each wine to its detail page on our Web site, if you want production notes or more background on the vintage):

  • 2003 Mourvedre: Red fruit, menthol and dusty plum on the nose.  On the palate, very warm and appealing, with milk chocolate and cherry, baking spices and mellow tannins.  Long finish.  Really lovely, and still quite young tasting... hard to believe this was 11 years old.
  • 2004 Mourvedre: Much older smelling, less fruity, with leather and animal, mint, and a little briary red fruit.  In the mouth, saddle leather and cherry skin, loam and truffles.  Still some good tannins.  I'm not sure at this point if it would benefit from some more time or if it's nearing the end of its life, but I found it interesting more than pleasurable right now.
  • 2005 Mourvedre: Dark chocolate and blackberry in the deep, inviting nose.  The mouth is rich with sweet fruit, and like many of our 2005's still has some pretty big tannins, though they have the powdered sugar character that we associate with the really top vintages.  Feels impacted by the 10% Syrah we added in this and the next two vintages, and in tasting it now I think it may have made for a better, bigger wine but that the impact on the expressiveness of the Mourvedre fruit might be a larger cost than we're willing to pay.  I'd decant this if drinking it now, or wait another few years.
  • 2006 Mourvedre: Very winey on the nose, like balsamic-drizzled red fruit and some menthol.  The mouth is really pretty, mid-weight, with mint chocolate and brambles, and a clean, somewhat short finish.  Can't taste (or feel) the Syrah at all.  I'd drink this one sooner than later.
  • 2007 Mourvedre: Rich and powerful on the nose, like '05 with an extra level of plushness: roasted meat with aromatic herbs and crushed berries. The mouth has loads of sweet black cherry fruit, cocoa, and a mineral chalkiness on the finish.  It's lovely... probably the most impressive vintage of the lineup, and drinking great now but will go out another decade.
  • 2008 Mourvedre: It's hard for any vintage to follow the 2007, but my sense from the shy nose and the clipped finish is that this is in a closed period that it will come out of.  The aromatics of raspberry and black pepper are classic, and the good acids and modest tannin are in balance with the medium-intensity red fruit.  Wait another year or so, then drink in the next 2-3.
  • (We didn't make a varietal Mourvedre in the drought- and frost-reduced 2009 vintage)
  • 2010 Mourvedre: Showing crystal purity in the Mourvedre aromatics of roasted meat, wild strawberry, orange peel, pepper and mint.  The mouth is beautiful: mid-weight with pure plum and currant, nice clean tannins and good length.  Like a kir made with a great Chablis, if such a thing weren't sacrilege. If I were going to pick one wine to show off the appeal of the Mourvedre grape in its youth, this would be the one.
  • 2011 Mourvedre: A nose dominated by non-fruit elements, like many 2011's, with cedar, wintergreen, coffee and (eventually) some dark plum.  The mouth is dark chocolate, black licorice and aromatic herbs, with fairly big tannins coming out on the clean finish.  If you wait on this, you'll be rewarded, and if you're drinking it now, a decant is strongly recommended.
  • 2012 Mourvedre: Quite a vibrant high-toned nose, notably different from any of the previous wines.  Showing spruce, new leather, tangerine and red cherry on the nose.  The mouth is gorgeous, with vibrant red/orange fruit (think cherry jolly rancher, but more natural), great acids, and a long, mouth-watering finish.  I'm really interested to see where this wine goes, and it makes excellent if unexpected drinking now.

A few concluding thoughts. 

First, the characteristic flavors of Mourvedre (red fruit, leather, chocolate) wove through most of the vintages, though the characteristics of the vintage determined whether it was, for example, red cherry and milk chocolate, or black cherry and dark chocolate. 

Second, my favorite vintages (2003, 2007 and 2010) were different in weight, with the 2007 the biggest, the 2010 more mid-weight and the 2003 somewhere in the middle, but all showed great balance between the fruit and non-fruit (think savory, herbs and mineral) elements.  That's just one more bit of evidence, if it were needed, that balance is the key to pleasure in wine, at whatever volume suits your palate. 

And finally third, the oldest wine tasted quite young, which is consistent with our experience that Mourvedre is exceptionally resistant to oxidation.  This happy character is why it's often blended with Grenache (to give what's typically described as "backbone") and on its own it's great to see that a wine that's not terribly tannic when young can still evolve gracefully over a long time.