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 months and years. 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. I always think it's fun to give followers of the blog a first look at these notes.
These shipments include wines from the 2016, 2017, and 2018 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 2016 is a deep and serious vintage, not austere, but with classic old-world savory character and the structure that should allow them to age beautifully. 2017 is a blockbuster, where every wine shows the health of the vineyard from the 43 inches of rain we received after five years of drought. The wines are exuberant and intensely juicy, but not heavy, with acids that highlight the fruit. Finally, 2018 (we only tasted two wines) seems to hit a mid-point between the two previous vintages, with lush textures yet somehow -- if one can tell that from normally cheerful wines like Vermentino and Dianthus -- an additional dose of seriousness compared to the sunny, open-natured 2017s. 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.
The classic shipment includes six different wines:
- Production Notes: Our seventeenth 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 will be bottling it under screwcap at the end of February.
- Tasting Notes: A clean, spicy Vermentino nose of grapefruit peel, citrus leaf, green herbs and sea spray. Briny. The palate starts notably creamy, then Vermentino's characteristic vibrant acids come out, highlighting flavors of white grapefruit, and lemongrass, with an ocean spray note that lingers on the long, zippy finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 1140 cases.
- Production Notes: Roussanne was the one grape whose yields did not recover in 2017, but the rainfall (and the healthier vines that resulted) produced serious wines with density and yet brighter acids than we see in Roussanne lots from most years. 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 2018 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
- Tasting Notes: Precise on the nose, with aromas of lacquered wood, pear skin, ginger, and sweet spices. The mouth is clean and light on its feel for Roussanne, reminiscent of Marsanne in many ways with flavors of cantaloupe and lemongrass, medium body, and a bright finish with just a hint of sweet oak. The wine has only been in bottle for a few months and we expect it to continue to flesh out and its flavors to deepen over the next year. Hold for a few months at least, then drink over the next decade or more.
- Production: 1050 cases
- Production Notes: For our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, 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 51% Mourvèdre, 39% Grenache and 10% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after 24-36 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, ideal with complex, powerful foods.
- Tasting Notes: An electric pink. The nose shows powerful watermelon and cherry fruit, mint, and baking spices. The mouth is vivid, with strawberry juiciness followed by vibrant acids and a tangy plum skin impression bringing both refreshing acidity and a touch of tannin to the long finish. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious. Drink before the end of 2020.
- Production: 1500 cases
2017 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. Grenache had lovely weight and expressiveness in 2017, so we used a relatively high percentage (53%) to lead the wine. Syrah (25%) adds dark fruit and minerality, and keeps Grenache's fruitiness grounded. Additions of Counoise (12%) and Mourvedre (10%) add a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2018 and aged in foudre until its upcoming bottling later in February.
- Tasting Notes: Powerfully Grenache on the nose: red cherry, wild strawberry, and star anise, with the Syrah providing a little tobacco-like herby savoriness that keeps the nose from coming off confected. The mouth is deep and flavorful, with flavors of black cherry, pepper spice, and milk chocolate. Nice powdery Grenache tannins come out on the finish, leaving an impression of pithy cherry skin and wild herbs. Drink now and over the next decade.
- Production: 2135 cases
2016 LE COMPLICE
- Production Notes: This new blend, our first in a decade, celebrates the kinship (Le Complice means, roughly, "partners in crime") between Syrah (59%) and our newest red grape, Terret Noir (19%). Although Syrah is dark and Terret light, both share wild herby black spice, and Terret's high acids bolster Syrah's tendency toward stolidity. We added some Grenache (20%) for mid-palate fleshiness, and a touch of Roussanne (2%; co-fermented with a Syrah lot we chose) came along for the ride. The wine was blended in June of 2017, aged in foudre, bottled in April 2018, and has been aging in our cellars since.
- Tasting Notes: On the nose, like Syrah but with a dash of translucency: minty dark chocolate, spruce forest, juniper berry, and angostura bitters. The mouth is both deep and lifted, with black plum, baker's chocolate, Seville orange peel, and savory herbs. Dusty tannins come out on the finish. We don't know how this will age, but suspect it will drink well for two decades. We are excited to find out!
- Production: 750 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 2017. Although the Mourvedre was outstanding in 2016, and our blend reflects that (66%), the real star of the vintage was Syrah, and the 25% Syrah we added is Panoplie's highest percentage ever. 9% Grenache adds lushness, sweet spice, and vibrancy. The wine was bottled in July 2018 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.
- Tasting Notes: A deep, inviting nose of dark red currant fruit, sweet nutmeg spice, new leather, and a little animal wildness: think drippings from a leg of lamb. The mouth is dense with black currant, loamy earth, clove spice, and powerful tannins cloaked with lush luxardo cherry fruit. A lifted rose petal floral note comes out with some air, and sweet milk chocolate notes play with red fruit on the long finish. A delicious wine with a long life ahead; we predict two decades of life, easily.
- Production: 760 cases
There are two additional wines (as well as second bottles of the Roussanne and Vermentino) in the white-only shipment:
- Production Notes: The productive, consistently high quality 2017 vintage allowed us to produce a varietal Viognier, which has only been the case about half the time. Viognier, known more from the northern Rhone than the area around Chateauneuf du Pape, sprouts first of all our grapes, making it the most prone to frost, but was spared in 2017 and thrived throughout the growing season. It was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then blended and bottled in May 2018 in screwcap, to preserve its brightness.
- Tasting Notes: An incredibly appealing nose, classic Viognier with a little extra lift: jasmine flowers and pineapple, meringue, and mint. The mouth is flavorful but restrained, more pineapple than peaches in syrup, with a tropical lychee note, fresh nectarine, a little pithy bite that comes out on the finish and leaves a lingering impression of white flowers and chalky minerality. This should hold for a few years at least, but really, I can't imagine it being any better than it is right now.
- Production: 300 cases
2016 PETIT MANSENG
- Production Notes: Our seventh bottling of this traditional grape from southwest France, Petit Manseng is best known from the appellation of Jurancon, where it has made admired but not widely disseminated sweet wines for centuries. Petit Manseng achieves sufficient concentration and sugar content -- and maintains its acids sufficiently -- to make naturally sweet, balanced wines without botrytis. Harvested at 26.8° Brix and a pH of 2.99, we fermented it in barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 57.8 grams/liter of sugar left and sat at an alcohol of 13.6%. The high acidity makes it taste much drier than the sugar reading would suggest. The wine was aged on its lees in barrel and bottled in July, 2017.
- Tasting Notes: An exotic nose of crystallized pineapple, briny mineral, coconut, and lemongrass. The mouth is sweet but not overly: ripe pineapple, exotic lychee tropicality, then the acids reassert control, leaving a finish of mineral and cinnamon. Drink now or age for up to another decade for a nuttier character.
- Production: 125 cases
Three additional reds join the Panoplie, Cotes de Tablas, and Le Complice in the red-only shipment:
- Production Notes: Our fifteenth 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. As we do many years, we blended in our small harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, making the wine is 97% Tannat and 3% Cabernet. We aged it in one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2018, and then aged it another 6 months in bottle before release.
- Tasting Notes: On the nose, expressive: boysenberry, brambly spice, black mission figs, with a menthol herbiness and Tannat's characteristic (and welcome) floral undertone that always reminds me of violets. The mouth is beautifully balanced, and more approachable than often is the case with young Tannat: chewy with flavors of black cherry, meat drippings, rosemary, baker's chocolate, a little spicy oak, and a graphite-like minerality. Tannat's tannins are quite refined, cleaning up the wine on the finish and leaving impressions of black plum skin, pepper spice, and mineral. A wine to drink any time over the next two decades.
- Production: 770 cases
- Production Notes: Mourvedre is the one red grape that we try to bottle on its own each year, because we think it is a wonderful grape that too few people know, and one we feel worthy of some proselytizing. Mourvedre, like all our reds, saw recovered yields compared to 2015, but still only tallied a below-average 2.1 tons/acre. All our lots were fermented in large wooden tanks and moved it to neutral barrels to await blending. For our varietal Mourvedre, we choose the friendlier, more open lots, which were blended in the spring of 2017, then aged in foudre until bottling in August of 2018.
- Tasting Notes: A lifted, comparatively high-toned nose for Mourvedre, with aromas of leather, blood orange, garrigue, and allspice. The mouth is more classic, with Mourvedre's signature redcurrant, leather, loam, and sweet spices, medium body, and excellent balance. The finish is refreshing, with gentle, chewy tannins. Just 12% alcohol. Drink now for a brighter impression, or age for 10-15 years for deeper tones.
- Production: 810 cases
2017 PATELIN DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from seven great neighboring Rhone vineyards (plus our own). We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (48%), with Grenache (32%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (16%) 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 2018 and has been aging in bottle since.
- Tasting Notes: A lovely nose, very Syrah, of pine forest, pancetta, blackberry, and dried herbs. The mouth is juicier than the nose suggests, with smoky blackberry, licorice root, crushed rock, and saddle leather, with chalky tannins and flavors of black cherry and freshly turned earth that come out on the finish. Delicious now, but still fleshing out, and with the substance and balance to age for up to a decade.
- Production: 3580 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, March 31st. 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