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. Yesterday I sat down with Winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection.
We base each year's 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 three (we think, really terrific) varietal wines, one red and two white, and our small-production En Gobelet blend, selected entirely from our head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard blocks. We think it's one of the most compelling classic shipments we've ever put together, and I think the additions to the red wine and white wine selections are exciting. I'm excited to get them in our members' hands soon.
The classic shipment includes six different wines:
2020 GRENACHE BLANC
- Production Notes: Although our overall yields were low in 2020, Grenache and Grenache Blanc were the exception, and we were able to make a bit more of our 100% Grenache Blanc than normal. The warm 2020 growing season gave us a diversity of options between richer, more caramel-tinged lots and brighter citrusy ones. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose to split the stylistic difference, with some lots fermented in stainless steel (for energy) and other from foudre (for roundness). The lots were blended in May 2021 and bottled under screwcap the next month.
- Tasting Notes: A lovely nose of quince, fresh pineapple, wet rocks, and gardenia florality. On the palate, on point between brighter and lusher elements: mouth-filling with flavors of green apple and a hint of butterscotch, with vibrant acids and a Meyer lemon pithy bite keeping the finish precise. Absolutely Grenache Blanc in character and one of our favorite vintages ever. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 1074 cases.
- List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24
- Production Notes: The heat in 2020 didn't really hit until August, and the Viognier lots from that year seemed to reflect the cool June-July more than the very warm harvest season. We noted during blending the unusual vibrancy in Viognier, and love the resulting wine, which balances the grape's classic stone fruit and honey flavors with brighter-than-usual acids. All the Viognier lots were whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then the chosen lots blended in May 2021 and bottled in June.
- Tasting Notes: A nose of peaches and pineapple core, sweet green herbs and lemongrass. The palate is nicely balanced, clean and precise, with flavors of nectarine and mandarin and medium body. The finish is long and bright, delicately herby with lingering stone fruit flavors. Just how we like Viognier, with none of the cloying heaviness it can be prone to. Drink now and over the next five years.
- Production: 693 cases
- List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28
2019 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: The more we come to know 2019 the more convinced we are that it will go down as one of our best-ever vintages. That gave us a range of options for the Esprit Blanc during blending. The vintage's power and density was most evident in Roussanne (63%, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages). To that core, we added a little less Grenache Blanc than normal (just 20%) and increased Picpoul (14%) to give extra vibrancy and tropical notes to both nose and palate. 3% Picardan rounds out the blend and emphasizes the minerality. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in May 2020 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2020 and letting it rest an additional 9 months in bottle before release.
- Tasting Notes: A lovely, creamy nose of wildflower honey, sweet baking spices, citrus pith, and briny minerality. The mouth is textured and dry, with both the richness and essence of egg custard, flavors of quince and pear, and a long finish with echoing honey, fresh vanilla bean, and limestone mineral notes. A powerful, textured Esprit Blanc that is drinking well now but which we expect will really shine with time in the cellar. Drink over the next two decades.
- Production: 2250 cases
- List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40
- Production Notes: After no varietal Syrah in 2018, when it all got snapped up by our blends to give density and power to the more elegant year, the 2019 vintage's more structured character meant that the blends needed less Syrah and we were able to save enough out to bottle it as a varietal wine. All the lots showed the grape's characteristic black olive, black pepper, blackberry, and smoke aromas, and its plush mouthfeel, with the iron fist of Syrah tannins cloaked in dark fruit. For our varietal bottling we selected a mix of lots from newer and older oak, then blended them in June 2020 and aged the wine together in one 1200-gallon oak foudre and some smaller barrels until bottling in April 2021.
- Tasting Notes: A deep, brooding nose of blackberry thicket, graphite, teriyaki marinating meat, and iodine. The palate is intensely concentrated without feeling at all heavy: blackcurrant and iron, with plush tannins that provide significant grip. A long finish with lingering flavors of black raspberry and chalky minerality completes the picture. This should drink well for two decades or more.
- Production: 712 cases
- List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32
2019 EN GOBELET
- Production Notes: Our twelfth 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 2019 the wine shows plenty of power and density. We chose a blend of 37% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah, 8% Counoise, and just 2% Tannat, as the wine had enough structure that it didn't need much of Tannat's tannic power. The wine was blended in June of 2020, aged in foudre, and bottled in April 2021.
- Tasting Notes: A deep red fruit nose with Mourvedre's classic meaty richness deepened by a warm spice reminiscent of Mexican chocolate, all leavened by a juniper savory minty note. On the palate, vibrant with tangy, salty flavors of redcurrant and mocha. The long, red-fruited, richly tannic finish suggests some time in the cellar will be rewarded. Serious and built for the long term; wait six months if you can, and then drink any time over the next two decades.
- Production: 910 cases
- List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44
2019 ESPRIT DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: As always, the Esprit is based on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (39%). In this blockbuster vintage, we found that a relatively high percentage of the higher-acid Grenache (30%) and Counoise (10%) and a bit less Syrah than normal (21%) produced something both deep and elegant, with warm spices and a lovely loamy earthy umami character. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2020 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2021.
- Tasting Notes: A deep nose, with brooding aromas of cassis and bay leaf, with sweeter notes of licorice reverberating between black and red coming out with time. On the palate, fresh and vibrant, with fresh fig and raspberry coulis flavors, a salty prosciutto-like savoriness, and lovely rich tannins cloaked by alternating blue and deep red fruit, ending on a sweeter star anise note. A blockbuster that promises more rewards to come with cellar aging. Give it a few months if you can; then drink either before the end of 2024 or again starting in 2027 any time over the subsequent two decades.
- Production: 3650 cases
- List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48
Two additional wines joined the Viognier, Grenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment (we doubled up the Esprit Blanc):
- Production Notes: Our second-ever bottling of Bourboulenc, from our second-ever harvest of this relatively obscure Rhone white. Bourboulenc is known in France to make wines with fresh fruit aromatics and a distinctive nutty character, with fairly good acids and relatively low alcohol. After an unusually golden color from our debut vintage in 2019, we were more conscious of protecting the clusters from the sun, and were rewarded by a more classic, tropical result. It was good enough that we included 5% in the 2020 Esprit Blanc, but this 165-case varietal bottling still represents more than 60% of our total harvest. It was blended in May 2021 and bottled in June.
- Tasting Notes: Classic light gold. A nose of fresh pineapple and chalky minerality, as well as lusher notes of lychee and poached pear. The mouth shows flavors of fresh mango, orange blossom, and limestone minerality. Lovely acids come out on the finish, emphasizing the pineapple fruit and leaving a lingering note of petrichor. Our experience aging Bourboulenc is limited, but we plan to drink ours over the next few years.
- Production: 165 cases
- List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24
2018 PETIT MANSENG
- Production Notes: Our ninth bottling of this traditional grape from southwest France, Petit Manseng is best known from the appellation of Jurançon, where it has made admired sweet wines for centuries that you rarely hear about in America. Petit Manseng achieves sufficient concentration and sugar content -- and maintains its acids sufficiently -- to make naturally sweet, balanced wines without botrytis. Harvested at 28.4° Brix and a pH of 3.13, we fermented it in barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 85 grams/liter of sugar left and sat at an alcohol of 13.2%. This is a little sweeter than we've finished the Petit Manseng in recent years, but as usual 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 June 2019.
- Tasting Notes: Medium gold. An exotic nose of citrus leaf, grilled pineapple, and chalky minerality. In the mouth, the wine begins lushly sweet, with flavors of pears in syrup, mango juice, and candied orange peel. Then the acids reassert themselves, suggesting lemon drop with a pithy bite. The very long finish splits the difference, with notes of tropical flowers, grilled citrus, sweet spices, and a spicy pink peppercorn note. A little sweeter and more intense than but reminiscent of a demi-sec Vouvray, for anyone with that as a reference point. Drink now or age for up to another decade for a nuttier character.
- Production: 180 cases
- List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40
Two additional reds joined the Syrah, En Gobelet and two bottles of the Esprit de Tablas in the red-only shipment:
2019 FULL CIRCLE
- Production Notes: The tenth 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, one of his last acts was to plant Pinot at his home and oversee our first few vintages. 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 a mix of one-year-old and two-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 2020. We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
- Tasting Notes: A spicy nose of cherry cola, black pepper, juniper, and black tea. The mouth is medium-bodied, with flavors of cherry skin, red licorice, milk chocolate, and a little hint of mulling spices. The finish is long and fresh, with flavors of candied orange peel, mocha, and black cherry. Drink now and over the next decade.
- Production: 482 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. The classic 2019 vintage produced some of our favorite-ever Mourvedre lots, seemingly equally balanced between Old World-style loamy, meaty elements and the lusher red-fruited, milk chocolate mouth-coating density that we associate with Paso Robles. All our Mourvedre lots were fermented in large wooden tanks and moved to neutral barrels to await blending. The chosen lots were blended in the spring of 2020, then aged in foudre and smaller neutral barrels until bottling in April 2021.
- Tasting Notes: An Old World nose, more reminiscent of Bandol than most of our varietal Mourvedres: pine forest and blackberry thicket, juniper, thyme, and wild game. The palate is more generous than the nose suggests, with dark red plum and currant fruit, and deepening elements of loam and cocoa powder. The finish shows plum skin and bittersweet chocolate, mouth-watering and still tasting very young. It seems like six months or so in the cellar will be well rewarded, and then drink any time over the next 15 years.
- Production: 640 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. 2019 is a blockbuster vintage, combining noteworthy fruit intensity with good structure and lift. I think several of the 2019 reds are the best we've ever made. 2020 seems just as strong, though we only have the whites to judge so far. The flavors seem both intense and balanced, and the weights of the wines right on point. 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, we've got a range of options for you to try these wines. We are planning to host a live, outdoor, in-person pickup party on Sunday, October 3rd. Neil and I will be hosting another virtual pickup party the evening of Friday, October 15th. And we'll again be offering club members who visit the opportunity to choose the shipment wines as their tasting flight between mid-September and mid-October. Consider this a "save the date"; we will be putting details on all this on our VINsider News & Updates page and announcing them via email soon.
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