When we first made En Gobelet in 2007, it was driven by our feeling that the dry-farmed lots we tasted in our annual blind tastings shared a distinctive character, different from our trellised lots. In my blog post from 2009 announcing the first vintage, I talked about these dry-farmed lots:
"they seem to share an elegance and a complexity which is different from what we see in the rest of the vineyard. Perhaps it's the areas where they are planted (generally lower-lying, deeper-soil areas). Perhaps it's the age of the vines and a comparative lack of brute power. But, whatever the reason, we believe that these lots show our terroir in a unique and powerful way."
The wine has always been a blend primarily of Grenache and Mourvedre, with a touch of Tannat to cut the perception of sweetness that both the primary grapes can have. When, starting with the 2010 vintage, we got some head-trained Syrah and Counoise in production, we added those too. Our largest head-trained block, from which most of our recent vintages have come, is called Scruffy Hill, and we've been interested in exploring how this might fare as a block-designate, so between 2010 and 2013 the core of the En Gobelet was a co-fermented lot from Scruffy Hill, with selective additions from elsewhere on the property.
While it started as a wine we made because we thought we tasted something interesting in the lots, with our increasing focus on dry farming and our plans to plant all 55 acres on our new property dry-farmed, we've also come to see our En Gobelet as an indication of our future. In celebration, we decided to look back today at the six vintages of En Gobelet we've bottled so far, and I thought it would be fun to share my notes. The lineup:
- 2007 En Gobelet (48% Mourvedre, 47% Grenache, 5% Tannat): The nose is rich, meaty, and still primary, with lots of ripe red fruit and an appealing touch of mint. A touch of alcohol showed at the (nearly room) temperature at which we tasted it. A slightly caramelized tone to the sweetness of the fruit is the only sign of age. On the palate, it is rich, lush and chocolaty, brought back to earth with firm tannins like coffee grounds at the end of a Turkish coffee. There's a great texture to the finish, with a powdered sugar character to the tannins and lingering flavors of dark plum.
- [Note that we didn't make an En Gobelet in 2008 because we didn't taste enough distinction between the dry-farmed, head-trained lots and the rest of the cellar.]
- 2009 En Gobelet (56% Mourvedre, 23% Tannat, 21% Grenache): A remarkably chalky nose, with some menthol and kirsch. On the palate, an initial impression of balsamic-marinated cherries is quickly overtaken by some massive tannins. The finish is actually gentler than it was in the back-palate, with a creamy minerality and flavors of milk chocolate. Still very, very young,
- 2010 En Gobelet (37% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 13% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 10% Tannat): Chelsea's comment, which I agreed with completely, was that this wine "smelled more like Tablas Creek" than the previous two vintages. There was more fruit in evidence in the nose -- blueberries, we thought -- and a minty, cool, pine forest savoriness characteristic of the 2010 vintage. The mouth is vibrant with flavors of plum skin, juniper, a creamy, chalky texture and a little saltiness coming out on the finish. This is really good, and going to get better. Patience.
- 2011 En Gobelet (29% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 26% Tannat, 18% Syrah): The most appealing nose yet, dark with soy marinade, wild strawberry, and roasted meat. The least rustic of the noses, surprising since we'd attributed that character to the Tannat, and at 26% it is the most Tannat we've ever had in the wine. The mouth is defined by its texture more than its flavors: creamy, chalky, savory and salty. The flavors of loam and new leather linger on the finish. My favorite wine of the tasting, for right now, and it's clearly got a long, interesting life ahead.
- 2012 En Gobelet (63% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 11% Syrah, 8% Counoise, 6% Tannat): Notably lighter in color, unsurprising given the predominance of Grenache in 2012. It smells like Grenache, too, with red cherry, watermelon rind, orange peel and baking spices. There's something deeper lurking on the nose, too, with time: like a clove-studded orange and baker's chocolate. The mouth is full of high-toned fruit, lots of fresh strawberry, then firming up and turning darker on the finish, with a salty marinade character and something leafy. Not quite minty. Maybe shiso? Complex and cohesive, if still young.
- 2013 En Gobelet (34% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, 19% Syrah, 11% Counoise, 5% Tannat): Just bottled a few weeks ago, and the nose still shows some shyness from that, but the aromas of mint, cherry, strawberry and soy come out with time. The mouth is richer than the 2012, but similarly cohesive and complex, with red fruit held in check by something herby. Maybe thyme? Lots of pepper, too, which Chelsea nailed as pink peppercorn. Nice acids and some youthful tannins. Obviously young, but going to a good place. Will go out this fall to wine club members.
A few concluding thoughts:
We preferred the more recent vintages to the first couple of years. There are several reasons why this might be the case. The vines were older, with deeper roots. Starting in 2010 we were sourcing the majority of the wine from the hillside vineyards of Scruffy hill rather than the low-lying areas that had formerly been rootstock fields. The more recent vintages include Syrah and (in most cases) Counoise, which add a coolness and a vibrancy to the wines. But in tasting the wines now, I think it might be ripeness as much as any of the other factors. The first two vintages come across as a little over the top. At 15% and 14.5% alcohol respectively, the 2007 and 2009 were higher in alcohol than the 2011 (13.9%), 2012 (14.2%) and 2013 (14.0%). The relative restraint of the recent vintages seems to play well with the dark savoriness of the wine. Of course, the 2010, which was also 14.5%, tastes more like the later vintages than the earlier ones.
Despite the evolution in style and the often-varied compositions, there were recognizable currents that ran through all the wines. The wines were all more savory than fruity, perhaps because of the Tannat component. They all had a chalky texture and a salty finish, perhaps because of the necessarily deep root systems of all dry-farmed vines. And they all felt like they could go out another decade easily, still fresh and vibrant even at the first vintages.
If this is what our future looks like, I'll take it.