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.
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. But there's a lot more to this fall's shipment than these two wines. We have a couple of (we think, really terrific) varietal whites, and two other smaller-production blends, one each red and white. We think it's one of the most compelling shipments we've ever put together. I'm excited to get them in our members' hands soon.
The classic shipment includes six different wines:
2018 GRENACHE BLANC
- Production Notes: The relatively cool 2018 growing season produced Grenache Blanc with exceptional brightness and pronounced minerality. Yields were down slightly from 2017, but still slightly above average, a sign that our Grenache Blanc blocks were healthy. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), blended them in April 2019 and bottled the finished wine under screwcap to preserve its brightness in June 2019.
- Tasting Notes: A classic Grenache Blanc nose of lemon pith, green apple peel, anise, and briny minerality. On the palate, very bright at first, with a burst of lemon on the attack, then sweeter flavors of sarsaparilla and tarragon, while the grape's richness comes out on the finish, leaving on a long sweet/tart lemon drop note. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 1470 cases.
- List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24
2018 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: Viognier is always the lead grape in our Cotes Blanc, and we balance Viognier's lushness with the elegance of Marsanne and the brightness of Grenache Blanc. In 2018, the Viognier (39%) already had nice elegance, so we chose to use more Grenache Blanc (36%) top bring vibrancy, and a relatively low percentage of Marsanne (19%), leaving more Marsanne for a varietal bottling. 6% Roussanne rounds out the blend and provides structure. The selected lots were blended in April 2019, and the wine was bottled in June 2019.
- Tasting Notes: An elegant nose of apricots cut with lemon, Asian spices, and crushed rock. The mouth is balanced right between Viognier and Grenache Blanc character, with flavors of nectarine and lemon verbena. A clean, fresh, and elegant finish rounds out the wine, leaving a lingering impression of sea spray minerality. Drink now and for at least the next five years.
- Production: 1840 cases.
- List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24
2017 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: We celebrated the classic 2017 vintage by incorporating two of our newest white grapes into the Esprit Blanc blend for the first time. Of course, Roussanne (68%, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages) still takes pride of place, but the different higher-acid, more mineral varieties (17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Clairette Blanche, and 4% Picardan) all add citrusy acidity and saline freshness. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in April 2018 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2018 and letting it rest an additional 9 months in bottle before release.
- Tasting Notes: A spicy, deep Roussanne nose of wildflower honey, cedar spice, jasmine, and Asian pear. The mouth shows flavors of baked pear, cinnamon stick, and brioche, all deepened by a little sweet oak. The wine's rich texture is balanced by nice acids and a saline mineral note on the finish. A powerful Esprit Blanc that we expect to go out two decades, gaining additional nuttiness and complexity over the years.
- Production: 2250 cases
- List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36
- 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, more than any other red, suffered during our drought, and the 43+ inches of rainfall we received in 2017 resulted in Mourvedre with deeper color, richer texture, and more intense dark red fruit than we've seen in years. All our Mourvedre lots were fermented in large wooden tanks and moved it to neutral barrels to await blending. The chosen lots were blended in the spring of 2018, then aged in foudre until bottling in April of 2019.
- Tasting Notes: A dense red fruit nose of boysenberry, blackcurrant, new leather, and licorice. The mouth is lush without being heavy, with flavors of plum, Chinese five spice, and Mourvedre's signature roasted meat drippings. The finish shows sweet spices and youthful tannins that suggest some time in the cellar will be well rewarded. Drink any time over the next 15 years.
- Production: 950 cases
- List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32
2017 EN GOBELET
- Production Notes: Our tenth 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 2017 the wine shows plenty of power and density. We chose a blend of 38% Mourvedre, 34% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 11% Tannat, and 6% Counoise. In this luscious vintage, we chose a higher-than-usual Tannat percentage for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The wine was blended in June of 2018, aged in foudre and bottled in April 2019.
- Tasting Notes: A deep and appealing nose of black raspberry, aged ribeye, black pepper, and soy. The mouth is dense with powerful fruit, with cracked peppercorn and licorice giving relief. A granite mineral note comes out on the finish, along with a touch of Tannat's signature tannins that promise decades ahead. Wait six months if you can, and then drink any time over the next two decades.
- Production: 820 cases
- List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44
2017 ESPRIT DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: Although the Esprit is based as always on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (40%), in this vintage where every variety did well, it was a surprise to us when our blending trials ended with Grenache (35%) tied for its highest percentage ever. Syrah (20%) adds dark fruit, powerful structure, and chalky minerality, while Counoise (5%) brings brambly spice. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2018 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2019.
- Tasting Notes: A cool wintergreen minty note sets off deeper smoked meat, redcurrant, mocha, and juniper aromas. The mouth shows Grenache's sweet fruit and licorice on that attack, then deepens into notes of black cherry, chocolate, and a chorizo-like meatiness, all with tremendous mouth-coating 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. Hard to believe this wine had been in bottle only a week when we tasted it; we recommend that you drink either between now and 2022 or again starting in 2025 any time over the subsequent two decades.
- Production: 4090 cases
- List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48
One additional wine joined the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment (we doubled up the Esprit Blanc and Grenache Blanc):
2018 PICPOUL BLANC
- Production Notes: The 2018 Picpoul Blanc is our eleventh 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, along with a tropical lushness from the generous Paso Robles climate that gives it complexity you'd never see in its homeland. 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 2019, and bottled in June 2019.
- Tasting Notes: An electric nose of pineapple and lemon, sea spray, and sweet green herbs. The mouth is like biting into a fresh, barely ripe pineapple, with additional lemongrass and mineral notes. The finish is clean, vibrant, and delineated, with a lingering impression of waves breaking over rocks. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 440 cases
- List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24
Two additional reds joined the Mourvedre, En Gobelet and Esprit de Tablas in the red-only shipment:
- Production Notes: After no varietal Counoise between 2011 and 2013, this is the fourth consecutive year we've been able to make one, and we feel our most impressive ever, thanks to the vines' remarkable vigor in 2017. 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. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak, aged in foudre, and bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in April of 2019.
- Tasting Notes: A darker garnet color than recent years. On the nose, brambly tangy purple fruit that reminded me of elderberries, with additional aromas of meatiness and sweet spice. On the palate, very juicy with intense red cherry flavors and brambly spice, over a medium-bodied frame, with cherry skin and dusting of cocoa powder emerging on the finish. A crowd pleaser, and endlessly flexible with food. Enjoy it any time in the next six to eight years.
- Production: 530 cases
- List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28
2017 FULL CIRCLE
- Production Notes: 2017 is the eighth 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 August 2018. We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
- Tasting Notes: A pretty nose of cherry cola, black tea, dried lavender, and a little sweet oak. The mouth is medium-bodied but fresh, with flavors of wild strawberry and sweet herbs. The lightly tannic finish shows cedar spice and a lingering cherry skin note. Drink now and over the next decade.
- Production: 490 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 rich texture of the wines. 2018 is vibrantly expressive, producing wines with electric acids and outgoing personalities. 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 6th. 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 tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club