It pays to keep in touch with long-time fans. We were lucky enough to have two of those fans, long-time club members Steve and Kathleen Vogeding, reach out to us in advance of a visit today, letting us know that they'd found two older Tablas Creek bottles in their wine cellar and asking if we would be interested in tasting these bottles with them.
So, it was with pleasure that we circled around a tasting bar with them to open the 1997 Tablas Rouge and the 1999 Reserve Cuvee. The honored guests:
I wanted to share my notes on the wines, as well as a little of their histories.
1997 Tablas Rouge
- History: 1997 was the first year that we had much of our estate vineyard in production, albeit from very young vines. Still, we felt that the quality was there to launch the Tablas Creek Vineyard label. Working under a very traditional French model, we made just one red (called "Tablas Rouge") and one white (called "Tablas Blanc"). We didn't put the varietal mix on the label, although we did list on the back that the wine was made from Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Counoise, in that order. As this was the only red wine we made in this vintage, it contains 100% of the red grapes harvested from the estate that year. Still, we fermented each varietal separately, and waited until spring to confirm that all had gone well before blending the lots together and aging it in foudres in our cellar. We made about 2000 cases of it, and most of it was sold and was drunk long ago, I'd guess. It did get some nice press, particularly for a first release: it made it into Wine & Spirits Magazine's "Top 100 of 2000". We have just a few bottles left in our own library.
- Tasting Notes: I was surprised with the vibrancy that the wine showed, lots of high-toned red fruit that reminded me of raspberry, with an appropriately brambly, brushy herbiness to it as well. The palate was medium-weight, with vibrant acids highlighting the flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry, cooled by flavors of juniper and mint and then deepened by baking spices and balsamic reduction. There were still some solid tannins, also highlighted by those acids. I'm not sure how much longer it will go, but it didn't feel elderly at all to me. A real pleasure, still pretty and lithe, if not profound.
1999 Reserve Cuvee
- History: By 1999, we had come to the conclusion that in order to make the best wine we could make, we needed a home for lots that offered friendliness but didn't have the concentration we wanted for our top wine. So, we split our production into two wines, Reserve Cuvee (which, the next year, would become Esprit de Beaucastel) and Petite Cuvee (which, the next year, would become Cotes de Tablas). Splitting our production had multiple benefits, one of the most important of which was to allow us to shift our top wine's personality more toward Mourvedre, while putting a higher percentage of Grenache into our second wine, and letting it shine there. The resulting 1999 Reserve Cuvee was more marked by Mourvedre's dark, chewy, leathery meatiness than any wine we'd made before, resulted in our first-ever 90-point rating from Robert Parker, and convinced the Perrins that the winery was ready to add the Beaucastel name to the label the subsequent vintage.
- Tasting Notes: More mature on the nose than the 1997, and also deeper in tone, with aromas of cocoa hulls, leather, and baking spices. On the palate, it was quite rich, more full-bodied than the 1997, and with lower acidity. There's a little appealing smokiness that I thought was from fully-integrated oak, adding a nice edge to the characteristic meatiness of Mourvedre. The tannins are soft at this point, and the finish quite long and textured, with the flavors more of mocha and spice than fruit or acid. The wine was from a half-bottle, which tends to accelerate the aging process, which likely contributed to it being a bit more advanced than the 1997.
The last time we'd tasted these two wines together was nearly five years ago, and while I've had the 1999 Reserve Cuvee a few times in the interim I don't think I've had the 1997 Tablas Rouge since. It's interesting to go back and look at my notes from that last tasting; the wines' personalities are still consistent, but the intervening years have continued the process of evolution.
I think we all underestimated the ageworthiness of our earliest wines. If you find that you have one in your cellar, you're likely in for a treat. Thank you, Steve and Kathleen, for sharing the experience!