Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club. In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club. In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release. About 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments. In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming weeks and months. In some cases (like this time) where the shipments contain wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be the last week of February) it's a chance to get to know wines that are newly finished. Over recent years, I've given followers of the blog a first look at these notes.
These shipments include wines from the 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages. It was fascinating to taste these three vintages, all of which we think were very strong, together, and to get a sense of how they compare. My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are that 2014 is a blockbuster vintage, with wines that are luscious and forward, yet not lacking in tannin and structure. The reds incorporate tannic power with luscious fruit... a pretty irresistible combination. The 2015s are, I'm coming to see, similar in many ways to the 2014's, but with a somewhat more notable savory note, perhaps from the alternating cool and warm periods that typified that growing season. For those familiar with the classic, Old World-styled 2013's, 2015 seems to be a midpoint between them and the 2014's. Finally, 2016 (we only tasted two wines) seems to be electric and vibrant, with very bright acids showcasing and contrasting with pretty, intense fruit.
I'll start with the classic mixed shipment, and then move on to the red-only and white-only shipments, noting which wines will be included in each. I was joined for the tasting by Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi. The wines:
- Production Notes: Our fifteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottle it in screwcap.
- Tasting Notes: A classic Vermentino nose of grapefruit pith, citrus leaf, fresh herbs and sea spray, but with an extra level of creaminess beyond what we usually see, like key lime pie. The palate is zingy with flavors of lemon, nectarine, and a briny mineral note that comes out on the long, clean, bright finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 1275 cases.
- Production Notes: Roussanne suffered less than our other white varietals from low production in 2015, but yields were still down, and this brought an extra level of structure to the lushness Roussanne typically exhibits. We fermented the Roussanne lots that were selected for our varietal bottling roughly 55% in foudre, 35% in neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques. The selected lots were blended in April 2016 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
- Tasting Notes: A rich nose of pineapple, honeycomb, butterscotch, jasmine, and a little cedary oak. The mouth is broad and rich, inviting, with ripe pear, beeswax, custard, baking spices and a nice savory firmness that reminded me of apple skin cleaning things up on the long finish. A wine to enjoy now or to hold for a decade or more.
- Production: 1200 cases
- Production Notes: Our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, is back at reasonable levels after a drastically lower production in 2015. As usual, we aim for a style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre). This year's blend is 49% Mourvèdre, 37% Grenache and 14% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after roughly 24 hours on the skins. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and will be bottled later in February. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé that shows the combination of rich fruit and bright acid characteristic of the 2016 vintage.
- Tasting Notes: An electric pink. The nose shows watermelon candy, mint, yellow raspberry and a strawberry tart richness that hints at the flaky crust as well as the berries. The mouth is floral: rose petals, lemongrass, raspberry and plum, with a little tannic bite to maintain order on the back palate. Great acids come out on the finish, with flavors of cranberry and spice. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious. Drink before the end of 2018.
- Production: 900 cases
- Production Notes: Many years, in our climate, Syrah makes for a wonderful blending component but a varietal wine that can be more about power than balance. Not 2014. In this blockbuster vintage, Syrah showed a combination of luscious fruit, powerful tannins, and herbal lift that we thought worthy of showcasing. So, during blending in the summer of 2015, we kept aside one foudre and a few puncheons and demi-muids (a mix of newer and older oak) of our most expressive Syrah. It was re-blended and bottled in May of 2016.
- Tasting notes: The nose is luscious: blackberries, prime rib drippings, tobacco leaf, Chinese five spice and a little cedary oak. The mouth is richly tannic: new leather, black raspberry, plum skin, sweet oak, and baking spices. A syrah that is more refined than our usual: more Cote Rotie than Cornas, for those with a northern Rhone background. Decant in advance if drinking soon, or wait up to two decades.
- Production: 845 cases
- Production Notes: Our thirteenth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging. While we often blend ours with Cabernet Sauvignon, in this vintage we bottled the Cabernet separately and the wine is 100% Tannat. We aged it in one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2016, and then aged it another year in bottle before release.
- Tasting Notes: On the nose, smoky, savory and meaty: stew in a garlicky marinade, Worcestershire sauce, and mint, yet with Tannat's characteristic (and welcome) floral undertone that reminded me of violets. The mouth is classic: red plum, tobacco leaf, pepper spice, and a little sweet oak. Plum skin tannins soften into a spicy, salty finish with a lingering note of black tea. A wine to watch evolve over decades.
- Production: 985 cases
- Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always giving pride of place to Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2015. The wine was bottled in June 2016 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then. The blend is 65% Mourvèdre, 28% Grenache and 7% Syrah.
- Tasting Notes: A nose that was immediately reminiscent of Beaucastel, to me: currant, sugarplum, cola, orange peel, crushed rock, and wild herbs. The mouth is luscious, with red currant, milk chocolate, licorice, plum, and cigar box flavors. The finish is long, with big tannins enlivened by a minty lift. An unusually approachable Panoplie at this stage, but one that should have two decades of life, easily.
- Production: 800 cases
There were two additional wines (joining the Roussanne and Vermentino) in the white-only shipment:
2015 PATELIN DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas Blanc is our white Rhone-style blend sourced from nine great neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (56%), with Viognier (23%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, and Roussanne (12%) and Marsanne (9%) adding minerality and texture. All the varieties, but particularly the Viognier, saw dramatically reduced yields in 2015, sacrificing quantity but providing extraordinary concentration. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled in screwcap in June 2016 to preserve its freshness.
- Tasting Notes: An explosive nose of lychee, white peach, tarragon, lemon pith, and mineral. The mouth is clean, fresh, and vibrant: blood orange, anise, pear, lemon curd, and sweet spice. The finish is clean and long. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 2920 cases
2012 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: 2012 provided a warm contrast to the cold vintages of 2010-2011, giving Roussanne generous fruit to go with its spice, structure and flavors of honey and pear skin. This unusual friendliness allowed us to use more Roussanne than usual in our Esprit Blanc, adding just enough Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc to lift the aromatics and the acidity slightly, and bring in a hint of sweet spice. We blended 75% Roussanne (fermented primarily in foudre) with 20% Grenache Blanc and 5% Picpoul, then for the first time let the blend age in foudre through the 2013 harvest before bottling it in December. Knowing how well this wine ages, we held back a good chunk of our production, and are releasing it to club members now, after three years of bottle age have brought out the deeper, nuttier tones white Rhones gain with age.
- Tasting Notes: The three years in bottle have brought remarkable depth to the aromas of caramelized pineapple, honeycomb, citrus blossom, creme brulee, and a nice herby lift Chelsea nailed as "lemon thyme". In the mouth, like the essence of an apple pie: custard, baked apples and pears, sweet spice, and a rich element that Chelsea described as bran and I identified (keeping with the theme) as pie crust. The finish is long, rich, and deep, yet never heavy. Drink now or continue aging for another decade.
- Production: 2465 cases
Two additional reds joined the Syrah, Panoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:
2015 PATELIN DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from our many great neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (51%), with Grenache (31%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (14%) and Counoise (4%) earth and structure. Fermented in a mix of upright oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks and aged in wooden uprights, it was bottled in July 2016 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
- Tasting Notes: A savory, dark, Syrah-driven nose of blackberries, crushed rock, menthol and saddle leather, with a little sweet lift lurking that reminded me of honey graham crackers. The mouth shows black cherry, loam, and pepper spice, with chalky tannins and flavors of cranberry and freshly turned earth that come out on the finish. Delicious now, but with the substance and balance to age for up to a decade.
- Production: 4845 cases
2015 COTES DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our chance to let Grenache shine, as it does in most Chateauneuf du Pape blends. The juiciness of Grenache in the 2015 vintage encouraged us to use a closer percentage of Grenache (39%) and Syrah (35%) than normal, to keep Grenache's fruitiness grounded. Additions of Counoise (16%) and Mourvedre (10%) added a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2016 and aged in foudre until its upcoming bottling later in February.
- Tasting Notes: A spicy Grenache-led nose, despite the relatively equal percentages: wild strawberry, mint, fresh figs, and an undertone of meatiness that reminded Chelsea of chorizo. In the mouth, we found lifted fruit balanced with richness, like strawberry shortcake, with complicating flavors of Mexican hot chocolate, cola, and fresh dates. Drink now and over the next decade.
- Production: 1475 cases
If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try. This spring's party will be on Sunday, April 2nd. If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club