California Re-Opening: How COVID Changed our Tasting Room Model Going Forward
A Summer Solstice Vineyard Tour

Tasting two decades of Tablas Creek Roussanne, 2001-2020

There are two ways that we try to work systematically through the collection of wines in our library. At the beginning of each year, we taste every wine we made ten years earlier. These horizontal retrospectives give us an in-depth look at a particular year, and a check-in with how our full range of wines is doing with a decade in bottle. I wrote up the results from our 2011 retrospective tasting back in January. We supplement this detailed look at a single vintage each summer with a comprehensive vertical tasting of a single wine, where we open every vintage we've ever made and use that to assess how the wine ages and if we want to adjust our approach in any way.

I was inspired to choose Roussanne for this year's vertical tasting by having opened the 2001 Roussanne as research for a blog from February about the origins of our varietal wine program. The wine was a revelation, a reminder of just how compelling this often-difficult grape can be. So it was with anticipation that our cellar team and I joined together and opened every vintage of Roussanne, from that first-ever 2001 to the 2020 that we blended recently. It made for quite a morning:

Roussanne Vertical Tasting

If you find it odd to think about aging Roussanne, remember that it's the rare white grape with the structure and richness (and just enough acidity) to evolve in an interesting way for decades. Beaucastel's white wines, and particularly their Roussanne Vieilles Vignes, are renowned for lasting generations. Joining me for this tasting were Winemaker Neil Collins, Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm, and Cellar Assistant Austin Collins. My notes on the wines are below. I've linked each wine to its page on our website if you want detailed technical information, professional reviews, or our tasting notes from when the wines were first released.

  • 2001 Roussanne: If a touch less pristine than the bottle that we opened in February (a good reminder of the old adage that there are no great wines, only great bottles) it was still really impressive. Medium gold. A nose of marzipan, lacquer, ginger, lemongrass, and sweet green herbs. On the palate, lovely, with rich creme caramel flavors, sweet spices, and a little minty lift cleaning things up before a long finish of candied orange peel and hazelnut. Rich and decadent without being heavy. Showing just a touch more age than the bottle we opened in February, but still in a very nice place.
  • 2002 Roussanne: Lovely vibrant gold with a hint of green. Quite different on the nose, with a little flinty, spicy, pungent note on the nose that we all thought was reduction, as amazing as that sounds in a cork-finished 20-year-old white wine. That pungency blew off to reveal notes of crystallized ginger, lemongrass, grilled pineapple, and crushed rock. On the palate, absolutely lovely. Youthful honeydew melon, white pepper, and dried mango, vibrant acids, and a long, spicy finish with notes of cedar and honey. Chelsea commented that this wine was a great demonstration of the potential value of decanting old white wines.
  • 2003 Roussanne: A darker gold. Burnt sugar on the nose, also a piney, resiny lift, over aromas of white tea and straw. The mouth is rich and decadent, creme caramel, buttered popcorn, and a savory flavor Neil identified as saffron. Mouth-coating and rich, apparently low in acid but becoming more savory on the finish, with lingering flavors of mint and preserved lemon. Seems like it's at the end of a long, lovely peak.
  • 2004 Roussanne: Medium gold. A spicy nose of bay leaf and lanolin over butterscotch pudding and quince paste. The mouth is lively and bright, with juicy flavors of baked green apple and lemon pound cake. The vibrant acids and a little tannic bite balance richer notes of caramel and baking spices on the long finish. Seemingly still at peak.
  • 2005 Roussanne: Medium gold. A higher-toned nose than any of the previous vintages, featuring notes of red apple, pine forest, and baking spices. The palate was also vibrant, leading with new-pressed cider, then deeper caramel notes, then brighter again to white grapefruit and pithy lemon zest. Clean and long on the finish, with a hint of nutty sherry character the only sign of its sixteen years of age. 
  • 2006 Roussanne: Medium gold. A vibrant nose of beeswax, pine sap, preserved lemon, and white tea. The mouth is lovely: sweet fruit, like dried pineapple and fresh green fig, plus an appealing floral elderflower note. And as sweet as that sounds, it's dry, with a pithy orange peel note coming out on the finish. I left this in my glass for a few wines, and when I revisited it, it had also developed an exotic almost Gewurztraminer-like combination of lychee and tropical flowers. One of my favorites in the whole lineup.
  • 2007 Roussanne: Light gold. On the nose, a minty citrus leaf character over gingersnap, pine forest, and white miso. The palate is bright, like lemon custard and fresh nectarines. It's clean and pure, with a pretty white flower note, but the finish was a little short and the wine less dramatic than I was expecting from this blockbuster vintage. It's possible that it's going through a phase and may still be on its way up.
  • 2008 Roussanne: Medium gold. A little more age on the nose than the last few wines, toasty oak and pear syrup, anise liqueur and baked earth. The mouth is lovely, creme brulee, lemon marmalade, and roasted hazelnuts. Just enough acid to keep it together, with a little pithiness helping on the finish. Decadent and fully mature.
  • 2009 Roussanne: Deep gold. An elevated nose of quince, hoppy spice and white flowers and pine resin. There's also a little medicinal note I didn't love. The mouth was quite different than any previous wine, cumquat and lemongrass, a little yeasty in a way reminiscent of sour beers. Unusual and very savory, with less richness than the wines around it. Not sure if it's a phase or just vintage character. 
  • 2010 Roussanne: Vibrant light gold. A youthful nose of sweet green herbs, new honey, and citrus blossom. The palate shows a clean, sweet attack of spun sugar, fresh vanilla, and white tea. Medium-bodied (lighter than most previous vintages) and fresh, with flavors of lemon shortbread, fresh pastry, and chalky minerality. This hit a sweet spot for me, and showed great character of the cool year. My conclusion: I'd happily trade some power for this level of elegance.
  • 2011 Roussanne: A slightly hazy medium gold. A savory nose of mint, lemongrass, coriander seed and straw. Like the 2009 in many ways, also reminiscent of a sour beer, with flavors of preserved lemon and tandoori spices. Very rich but very dry too, with briny minerality and citra hops cutting the textural weight. I liked this better than I liked it when we had it in the 2011 retrospective in January, but it's still an atypical wine and I'd imagine it would be a bit of a puzzle to most Roussanne lovers.
  • 2012 Roussanne: Pale gold. A pretty nose of white honey and citrus leaf, with a sweet/spicy wintergreen note floating over top. The initial impression in the mouth is of sweetness: spun sugar and white tea, then deepened by a little bite of gentle tannin, then opening into a long, soft finish of sarsaparilla, vanilla custard, and crystallized ginger. Softly pretty, and a crowd pleaser for sure.
  • 2013 Roussanne: Medium gold. A more intense nose than the vintages around it, with a little more nutty aged character: marzipan, menthol, and clove-studded orange. Almost quintessentially Roussanne. On the palate, richly textured and absolutely classic. Creme brulee, orange peel, and vanilla bean. Nice acids. Feels like a throwback to the style we made in the mid-2000s.
  • 2014 Roussanne: Pale gold. A lovely exotic nose of elderflower, lychee, and rose water. The mouth is clean and fresh, with flavors of sweet green pear, spun sugar, preserved lemon, and wet stone. Medium bodied and refreshing. The first wine that didn't show any signs of age, and a lovely hybrid between the classic Roussanne richness and the exotic florality we saw in a few years. A consensus favorite.
  • 2015 Roussanne: Vibrant green-gold. A pungent nose of white flowers, lemongrass, watermelon rind, and chalky mineral. The mouth is classically Roussanne, but savory: pear skin and mandarin peel. Nice acids. A little short on the finish and I would have liked to have seen a little more textural richness. This was from the depths of our 5-year drought, and the Roussanne was really struggling to ripen, which I felt like I could feel (if not taste).
  • 2016 Roussanne: Pale gold. A quieter nose, showing a little lacquered wood, lemongrass, and ginger. The mouth showed a nice sweet/tart attack, like just-ripe pear, then softened into a feel that reminded me of rice pudding, then turned more savory with flavors of beeswax and lemon curd on the medium-length finish. Classic but still needs time to unwind, I thought.
  • 2017 Roussanne. Pale gold. A lovely nose, again on the exotic lychee/rose water spectrum that reminded us of Gewurztraminer, crossed with preserved lemon. The mouth started out vibrant, with lemon bar brightness, then deepened to a butter pastry texture, then finished soft and generous with baking spices and golden delicious apple. Still filling out; it too should deepen with more time. 
  • 2018 Roussanne: Pale gold. A very youthful nose of white flowers, lanolin, and sweet wintergreen. The mouth is fresh but mouth-filling, with flavors of white tea, vanilla custard, cream soda, and Haribo peach. Pretty, pure, and fresh... something close to quintessential young Roussanne.
  • 2019 Roussanne: Pale gold. Sort of hits the midpoint on the nose between 2017 and 2018, some exotic tropical aromas over fresh peach and vanilla bean. The mouth shows nice richness: pineapple upside-down cake, with a little mandarin peel pithy bite, and excellent length. Really pretty already and should be even better if people want to lay it down. And a treat to show people who think that a wine with lower alcohol (this is just 12.5%) can't have noteworthy richness.
  • 2020 Roussanne: Just blended and sitting in foudre. A slightly hazy green-gold. So young on the nose, with tart candy aromas of lemon drop and green apple Jolly Rancher. The mouth is pretty and fresh, with flavors of nectarine juice and a little hoppy herbiness. Lively and so young. It will be fun to watch where this goes.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The overall quality of the wines was exceptionally high. I asked everyone around the table to pick four favorites, and the wines that got multiple votes were 2001 (2), 2002 (2), 2010 (2), 2014 (4), 2017 (2), and 2019 (3). Five other vintages (2004, 2006, 2008, 2013, and 2018) got one vote. That's eleven of the twenty vintages that got a "favorite" vote, and there were several others that we loved. That is a great testament to the Perrins' dedication to this quixotic grape, and a great reminder of why we live with its late and uneven ripening, its susceptibility to drought and virus, and its low yields. Through it all, it makes delicious wines.
  • There is not a linear relationship between richness and alcohol. The alcohol levels on our Roussanne have dropped steadily from the mid-14s in our early years to the mid-13s in period around 2010 to the mid-12s in recent vintages. And yet there were notably richly textured wines from every period. So you should resist the temptation to equate higher alcohol with texture. There's more to it than that. 
  • Roussanne really does age beautifully. There wasn't a wine in the lineup that we thought was over the hill. That doesn't mean that everyone would necessarily prefer the wines in their older marzipan-and-creme brulee phase than in their more youthful honey-and-pear phase. But if you're looking for a white wine that will consistently, year-in and year-out, continue to evolve and show new facets, Roussanne is the grape for you. I dove more deeply into the phases of how Roussanne ages in a blog from 2019, if you're interested in a rough timeline of what to expect.
  • Don't forget the vintage chart. We update this chart several times a year based on the results of tastings like these, wines we open in the normal course of life, and feedback we get from customers and fans. It's there whenever you want it.