Yes, July really was hot. But veraison still arrived late. What gives?
Checking in on the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel

Tasting the Wines in the Fall 2018 VINsider Club Shipments

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 wines that may see a later national release. Before each shipment, we reintroduce ourselves to these wines (which, in some cases, we may not have tasted since before bottling) by opening the full lineup and writing the notes that will be included with the club shipments. Today, I sat down with our winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection. For what we found, read on.

Neil and Chelsea with Fall 2018 VINsider wines

We base the fall shipments around the newest releases of the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and this fall's shipment is no exception. In addition, this year we reached back into our library to include not just the newest 2016 Esprit de Tablas, but also a bottle of the 2014 Esprit de Tablas that has been showing so well recently.  I'm excited to hear the feedback that we get.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Fall 2018 Classic (Mixed)


  • Production Notes: Like all our white grapes, 2017 saw above-average yields for Grenache Blanc. But that doesn't mean the fruit lacked for intensity, with long hang times and a high leaf-area-to-fruit-weight ratio thanks to the exceptional vigor produced by our near-record rainfall in the winter of 2016-17. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), blended them in April 2018 and bottled the finished wine in July 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Grenache Blanc nose of mineral, grapefruit pith, sarsaparilla, and sweet herbs. On the palate, flavors of preserved lemon, yuzu, and tarragon provide a balance of weight and brightness, while the grape's rich texture is counterbalanced by its characteristic acids and a little pithy bite that builds on the finish, leaving a final impression of fresh citrus. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1325 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: Viognier, always the lead grape in our Cotes Blanc, was a poster child for the vineyard's health in 2017, with canes twice as long as usual and yields above 3 tons per acre for the first time since 2012. In character, the Viognier (44%) was powerful and pithy, and we balanced its weight with quite a bit of both Marsanne (24%) for elegance and Grenache Blanc (20%) for acids. 12% Roussanne rounds out the blend and provides structure. The selected lots were blended in April 2018, and the wine was bottled in June 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A rich, spicy nose of peach pit, Asian spices, vanilla bean, and baked earth. The mouth is very Viognier: peaches and melon and lots of richness, although the bright Grenache Blanc acids highlight an appealing citrus pith element on the finish and the lingering impression is of mineral and freshness. Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1800 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: The classic 2016 vintage was a tremendous one for Roussanne, and we ended our blending trials tied for the most Roussanne we'd ever used in the Esprit Blanc (75%, fermented and aged in a mix of small newer barrels and neutral foudres). 18% Grenache Blanc and 7% Picpoul Blanc provide citrusy acidity and saline freshness. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in April 2017 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2017 and letting it rest an additional 9 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: Powerfully Roussanne on the nose, with notes of beeswax, lychee, white pepper, Asian pear, white flowers, and a little cedary spice. The mouth is rich and powerful, with flavor descriptors that make it sound sweet although it is absolutely dry: lemon pound cake, pear skin, honeysuckle, and sweet oak. The wine's rich texture is in full evidence on the long finish, while the citrus character from Grenache Blanc and a little saline minerality from Picpoul keep things feeling fresh. A powerful Esprit Blanc that is still unwinding after 9 months in bottle.  We expect this to go out two decades, gaining additional nuttiness and complexity over the years.
  • Production: 2070 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36


  • Production Notes: Our ninth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill, planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. These lots tend to show more elegance and minerality than our closer-spaced irrigated blocks, although in 2016 the wine shows noteworthy power and density as well. We chose a blend of 39% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 8% Counoise and 3% Tannat. As usual, the small addition of head-trained Tannat proved valuable for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The wine was blended in June of 2017, aged in foudre and bottled in April 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: An opulent nose, but with a cool undertone: currants and baking spices undercut by pine forest and mint. On the palate, black raspberry, plum skin, baker's chocolate, and rare steak are all emphasized by a salty mineral note. Vibrant and expressive on the finish, with notes of red licorice and chewy tannins that promise decades ahead. A wine that is by turns dark, and rich, and cool. Drink now or any time over the next two decades or longer.
  • Production: 925 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40


  • Production Notes: Among strong competition in 2016, Syrah was the standout red variety, and although the Esprit is based as always on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (46%), we ended up using our most-ever Syrah (31%) for dark fruit, powerful structure, and chalky minerality, and relatively low percentages of Grenache (18%) for juiciness and acidity, and Counoise (5%) for briary spice. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2017 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep nose, marked equally in my opinion by Mourvedre and Syrah: mocha and currant reduction, chalky minerality and spicy eucalyptus. The mouth is dense yet not heavy, with flavors of sugarplum and rare steak, a reverberating red/black licorice note, and tremendous texture. The long finish, with lingering flavors of wood smoke, roasted meat, plum skin and crushed rock, hints at more rewards to come with cellar aging. Really an amazing showing for this wine given its recent bottling; we recommend that you drink either between now and 2021 or again starting in 2024 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 3225 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48


  • Production Notes: In our blending trials in 2014, we made the decision to highlight the year's natural lushness with the fruit and freshness of Grenache rather than try to rein it in with the structure of Syrah or the restraint of Counoise. So, to our typical contribution of Mourvedre (40%) we added our most-ever Grenache (35%) and relatively small portions of Syrah (20%) and Counoise (5%). The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended in June 2015 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in June 2016. In the two-plus years since its bottling, the wine has blossomed, with tremendous richness yet plenty of mineral and structure to maintain balance. It still has many years ahead of it.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose has elements that are fruity, spicy, and meaty: plums, crushed rock, and rosemary-rubbed leg of lamb. The mouth is tangy, showing both Mourvedre's red fruit and the characteristic Grenache acids that keep Rhone blends vibrant: red plum, roasted meat, semi-sweet chocolate, and plenty of ripe tannins. There's nice salty minerality that comes out on the finish, along with a sweet cola note and meat drippings. Lovely. It's should make for good drinking for the next year or two, then likely shut down for a few years before reopening in 2021 or 2022 and drinking well for another two decades or longer.
  • Production: 3800 cases
  • List Price: $65 VINsider Price: $52

Two additional wines joined the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and 2 bottles of Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment:

Fall 2018 White Only


  • Production Notes: The 2017 Picpoul Blanc is our tenth bottling of this traditional Southern Rhône white grape, used in Châteauneuf du Pape as a blending component, and best known from the crisp light green wines of the Pinet region in the Languedoc. On its own, it shows the vibrant acids for which it is valued, balanced by a tropical lushness from the generous Paso Robles climate.  We ferment it in a mix of stainless steel and neutral barrels, and use the majority of our production for our Esprit de Tablas Blanc, while reserving a small quantity for this varietal bottling.  The Picpoul lots were selected in March 2018, and bottled in June 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A vibrant nose of grilled pineapple, sea spray, and cream soda. The mouth is really quite luscious, which will be surprising for people who only know Picpoul from France, with flavors of candied lemon, sweet spices, and a chalky limestone mineral character. The finish then turns brighter again, with more fresh pineapple, tangy acidity, and a little pithy bite. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 510 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: The productive, consistently high quality 2017 vintage allowed us to produce our first Marsanne since 2014. Known more from the northern Rhone than the area around Chateauneuf du Pape, Marsanne reaches its peak in Hermitage, where it is renowned for making some of the world's most ageworthy white wines. Just our fifth varietal bottling of Marsanne, selected from two particularly compelling lots, blended in April 2018 and bottled in July 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: An inviting nose of chamomile tea, almond blossom, honeydew melon, and jasmine. The palate is soft and round, yet not heavy, with flavors of melon and fresh honey and sea spray, with a little pithy bite. The finish brings out notes of clementine orange and briny minerality. It's so appealing now that I'm guessing a lot of it will get drunk young, but it should evolve in an interesting way for a decade at least.
  • Production: 460 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

Three additional reds joined the En Gobelet and the two Esprit de Tablas vintages in the red-only shipment:

Fall 2018 Red Only


  • Production Notes: After no varietal Counoise between 2011 and 2013, this is the third consecutive year we've been able to make one. It was fermented in stainless steel, aged in neutral barrels, and bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in February of 2018. Valued as a blending grape in France because of its spiciness, its fresh acidity, and its low alcohol, it's rarely seen on its own. But we love being able to share one, and deploy it much like a Cru Beaujolais: slightly chilled, with charcuterie or as an aperitif.  
  • Tasting Notes: A crystal garnet color that belies its depths of flavor. On the nose, brambly tangy purple fruit predominates, with complicating aromas of meatiness and pepper  spice. A similar balance between sweet and savory is found on the palate: salted strawberry, mineral, elderberry and mint, over a light- to medium-bodied frame with bright cranberry flavors and a garrigue-like spice emerging on the finish. A pretty and intriguing wine, and endlessly flexible with food. Enjoy it any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 500 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28


  • Production Notes: Grenache yields recovered to more normal levels after a punishingly scarce 2015 vintage, and the relatively high percentage of Syrah we chose for the 2016 Esprit left us enough top-notch Grenache to produce our first varietal bottling since 2013. We ferment Grenache in a mix of stainless steel and 1500-gallon wooden upright casks, and chose lots for this varietal bottling that emphasized Grenache's freshness and avoided riper lots that tend to show the high alcohol Grenache can be known for. The lots were blended in June 2017, and aged in neutral 1200-gallon oak foudres until bottling in February of 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A friendly, appealing nose of wild strawberry, cumin, and cherry liqueur. The mouth is medium-bodied, and shows bright cherry fruit deepened by a Chinese five  spice element and kept fresh by chalky minerality and refreshing acidity. That character carries through the finish, with a little dusting of tannins playing with the red fruit and spice notes. This does not seem like a long-aging wine to me, but it's so tasty now that I'm guessing much of it will be drunk soon. If you prefer to wait, I'm sure the wine will age nicely for at least the next six-to-eight years, and likely longer.
  • Production: 925 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32


  • Production Notes: 2016 is the seventh vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside the Haas family's home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects Robert Haas's career: from a start introducing America to the greatness of Burgundy, through decades focusing on grapes from the Rhone, he's now growing Pinot at home. The grapes were fermented in one-ton microfermenters, half de-stemmed and half with stems for a more savory profile, punched down twice daily by hand. After pressing, the wine was moved into year-old Marcel Cadet 60-gallon barrels, for a hint of oak.  The wine stayed on its lees, stirred occasionally, for 10 months, before being blended and bottled in July 2017.  We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose of cherry cola, black tea, cocoa butter and sweet spice. The mouth is medium-weight, with red cherry and baking chocolate, a little thyme-like herbiness from the stem inclusion, and a lightly tannic finish with sarsaparilla spice and a lingering cherry skin note. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 440 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

The tasting was a great way to hone in on the character of our two most recent vintages.  2017 is luscious and powerful, with the health of the vineyard coming through clearly in the expressiveness of the wines. 2016 is somewhat more old world in character, with depth and complexity to all the flavors and a persistent spiciness. I can't wait to get these wines in our club members' hands and find out what they think.

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 fall's party will be on Sunday, October 7th.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join us while there's still a chance to get this fall shipment? Details and how to join are at