Though we didn't know it at the time, 2012 was a pivot year for us. Following two cold, wet vintages, 2012 was notably warm, and began what would turn out to be a five-year drought cycle and the first of eight dry years in ten. It also marked a significantly warmer vintage than we'd seen in the past, which turned out to be a preview of conditions we would see regularly over the next decade. Because 2011 was a frost-reduced crop, the vines went into 2012 with plenty of stored up vigor, even though rainfall was just 70% of normal. Budbreak proceeded smoothly at a normal time frame, and the growing season was routine until a major August heat spike gave us eight consecutive days over 100. Most of the vineyard shrugged this off, except for Mourvedre, where we saw significant sunburn. Although we were expecting normal to slightly above normal yields, they turned out to be plentiful in all grapes except Mourvedre, as we saw an average of 3.5 tons per acre. Harvest took place at a normal time frame, beginning the first week of September and finishing the last week of October.
When we got to blending it was a relief to have more options than in our tiny 2011 harvest, when the frost dictated largely what we could and couldn't make. But the higher-than-expected yields had some negatives too, particularly in Grenache, and there were lots that were less intense than we were looking for. Some got declassified into Patelin, which turned out to be terrific that year. Other wines required a higher percentage of Syrah than normal in order to get the color and structure that we wanted. (The vintage was something of a wakeup call for us, and we changed what we had been doing to be more hands-on in both the cellar and the vineyard starting in 2013, in order to keep from being surprised again.) And I was happy after our blending trials; our top wines were outstanding. But the vintage overall always came across to me as more friendly than impressive, sunny and juicy and open-knit, wines to drink and enjoy while other, more structured vintages evolved in the cellar.
So it was with interest that I approached the opportunity to taste through the entire lineup of wines that we made in 2012 last week. This horizontal retrospective tasting is something we do each year, looking at the complete array of wines that we made a decade earlier. We do this for a few reasons. First, it's a chance to take stock on how the wines are evolving, share those notes with our fans who may have them in their cellars, and keep our vintage chart up to date. There are wines (like the Esprits, and Panoplie) that we open fairly regularly, but others that we may not have tasted in six or seven years. Second, it's a chance to evaluate the decisions we made that year, see if they look better (or worse) in hindsight, and use that lens to see if there are any lessons to apply to what we're doing now. And third, it's a chance to put the vintage in perspective. Often, in the immediate aftermath of a harvest and even at blending, we're so close to this most recently completed year that it can be difficult to assess its character impartially. Plus, the full character of a vintage doesn't show itself until the wines have a chance to age a bit. In evaluating these 2012s, I was particularly interested to see the extent to which a decade had deepened that sunny friendliness that I remember from its youth. As you will see, in some cases it did, while in others, not so much. The lineup:
My notes on the wines are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) and, for the blends, their varietal breakdown. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see winemaking details or the tasting notes at bottling. I was joined for the tasting by three-fifths of our cellar team (Neil Collins, Amanda Weaver, and Austin Collins) as well as by Neil's older son Jordan and Tasting Room Manager John Morris.
- 2012 Vermentino (SC): Initially upon pouring, showed a screwcap-inflected nose of flint, which blew off to show a pithy, kaffir lime leaf note. On the palate, fresh and bright, green apple, citrus oil, salty and briny. Like a gin & tonic with extra lime. A plush mid-palate and then lots of great acid on the finish. In outstanding shape, still youthful, and a good reminder to let older screwcapped whites breathe a bit before judging them.
- 2012 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A nose of oyster shells, pineapple skin, and blanched almond. The palate came off as rich compared to the Vermentino that preceded it, almost buttery, with flavors of limestone and white tea. The acids come back out at the end, with a finish of melon rind and wet rocks. Not that anyone would intentionally let a Picpoul age this long, but they'd have to be happy if they opened it and this was what they found.
- 2012 Grenache Blanc (SC): A classic minerally nose that Amanda said "smells like rain". Underneath that mineral petrichor note I got some sweet anise and spicy bay. The palate showed lemon curd, rounder than we were expecting, but then firming up into a classic bite of Grenache Blanc tannins and white grapefruit pith. Finished clean and long, electric and still very much alive. A terrific showing for this grape that's known to oxidize young.
- 2012 Viognier (SC): The nose was rich but spicy, pink peppercorn and dried apricot. The palate is fresher than the nose, like fresh apricot juice and mineral, orange blossom and Meyer lemon. Excellent acidity for a Viognier, with a finish like rose water and Middle Eastern spices. Exotic without straying into heavy or blowsy territory.
- 2012 Roussanne (C): The first wine we tasted finished under cork, and clearly marked as such: deeper flavors of honey, peach liqueur, and spiced nuts. The palate showed lanolin, butterscotch, and preserved lemon, rich texture leavened by good acids, and then exotically spiced on the finish: ginger and graham cracker, but dry, with a little tannic bite. Delicious.
- 2012 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 52% Grenache Blanc, 27% Viognier, 16% Roussanne, 5% Marsanne): A pale color that looked like it could have just been bottled. A nose of sea shells, peppermint, and something meaty that Neil identified as prosciutto. The palate is clean, with kaffir lime and lemongrass flavors. The finish shows notes of chamomile and wet rocks. Fresh and youthful. Like the Picpoul, we're guessing there's very little of this out there still. But if it's been stored well, it's still lovely.
- 2012 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 34% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 6% Roussanne): Initially the nose was closed and a little reduced, like a struck match. Then it opened to flavors of kiwi and plantain. The palate was lovely, with rich texture and flavors of brioche and peach pit, then brightening under Grenache Blanc's influence to show citrus pith and fresh peach juice. Saline and long. A treat.
- 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): So, so fresh on the nose, showing less age than the varietal Roussanne. Aromas of honeysuckle, pineapple, golden delicious apple and a little sweet oak. The palate showed honey, sweet herbs, and honeydew melon. A rich texture, but very clean. Candied orange peel and vanilla custard came out on the finish. Just beautiful, and right at peak, but with plenty of life left. John asked, "is 'wow' a flavor"?
- 2012 Patelin de Tablas Rosé (SC; 75% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise): Our first-ever Patelin Rosé still had a pretty pale color, with a nose of watermelon rind, rose hips, and cherry skin. The palate was pretty, cherry and spicy bay leaf, then drier on the finish with cherry skin, sandalwood, and sweet spices. Maybe not a sipping wine on its own at this point, but seemed to be calling out for a charcuterie plate. No one would have intentionally kept this wine this long, but it's still sound.
- 2012 Dianthus (SC; 60% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 15% Counoise): A little rustiness in the color. The nose showed rhubarb and menthol, also showing some age. The palate is nicer, with flavors of plum and sweet tobacco, and a little Aperol-like bitterness. The finish shows strawberry fruit leather and mineral notes. Surprisingly less vibrant than the Patelin Rosé. Interesting at this stage, more than pleasurable.
- 2012 Full Circle (C): Our third Full Circle Pinot Noir from my dad's property in the Templeton Gap, and not our favorite showing. The nose had notes of cola and Fernet and baking chocolate and prunes. The palate was chewy, with some bittersweet chocolate, cedar, and root beer notes. Luxardo cherry came out on the finish, which was still fairly tannic. Felt like this might have been impacted by the warmth of the vintage, and that maybe we worked a little too hard on extracting flavors from it in the cellar. This was better when it was younger and had fresher fruit flavors to cloak the tannins.
- 2012 Grenache (C): Warm and inviting on the nose, with flavors of strawberry compote, cola, and fig. The palate was soft and ripe, with flavors of milk chocolate and cherry, cedar and sweet spice. Pretty but we thought would have been better a few years ago. Drink up if you've got any.
- 2012 Mourvedre (C): After the first two reds, both of which we thought were a little over the hill, the wine's cool vibrancy was dramatic. A nose of pine forest and loam, dark chocolate and redcurrant. The palate showed red cherry and plum, cocoa powder and juniper. The freshness just jumped out, with lively acids and still substantial tannins. The finish continued in the same vein, with leather and plum skin and Nordic spice.
- 2012 Tannat (C): A nose that Neil described as "opaque", meaning that we kept describing it as dark rather than finding individual flavors. Eventually blackberry thicket and baker's chocolate, with both sweet (vanilla bean) and cool (menthol) spice. The palate is mouth-filling, with tobacco and chocolate flavors, a rich texture with plenty of tannin, and an undercurrent of sweet fruit like Medjool dates. Not a sipping wine but would be amazing with a spice-rubbed brisket. Probably right at peak.
- 2012 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 53% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre, 2% Counoise): When we first poured this, showed a little matchstick-like screwcap character, but this blew off to show a lovely Grenache character of olallieberry, cinnamon, and cherry cola. The palate is bright, with raspberry and sarsaparilla notes, and tannins like powdered sugar and a texture like milk chocolate. The finish showed notes of graphite, cedar, and dried cranberry. Fun, in beautiful shape, and a screaming bargain for the $20 we sold it for at the time.
- 2012 Cotes de Tablas (C; 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5%Mourvedre): While we usually love the Cotes de Tablas at age 10, we found this a little tired on the nose, with notes of coffee grounds, molasses, and figs. The palate is similar but a little fresher, with black cherry and orange oil notes, loamy and chocolatey. The finish shows its Grenache base with notes of anise and Chinese five spice. Probably a year or two past its peak.
- 2012 En Gobelet (C; 63% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 11% Syrah, 8% Counoise, 6% Tannat): Lively on the nose with notes of redwood forest, bittersweet chocolate, marzipan, and potpourri. The palate is lovely with sweet blackberry fruit and wood smoke, substantial tannins, and a long finish of chocolate-covered cherry and star anise. The first Grenache-led wine of the tasting that we really loved, and right at peak.
- 2012 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 21% Grenache, 9% Counoise): A nose of new leather and forest floor, currant and anise. On the palate, fresh and red fruit-dominated, redcurrant, cigar box, and sweet spice. The tannins are largely resolved. The finish shows flavors of licorice and cassis and sweet tobacco, deepened by a little savory Worcestershire note. This might not be one of our longest-lived Esprits, but it's drinking absolutely beautifully right now.
- 2012 Panoplie (C; 70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A vibrant nose of mint chocolate, garrigue, and pancetta that then echoes between red and black fruit. The palate is concentrated without any sense of heaviness, flavors of blackcurrant, licorice, sweet earth and black tea. The tannins are substantial but largely resolved, leaving an impression of lusciousness and refinement. At peak, but no hurry.
- 2012 Petit Manseng (C): Our third bottling of this classic southwest French grape known for maintaining great acids as it reaches high (and occasionally extremely high) sugar levels, which we make each year in an off-dry style. We tried a sweeter style in 2012, and it wasn't our favorite, with flavors of toasted marshmallow, lychee, and vanilla. The acids come out toward the finish, but it's still sweeter than what we've made in more recent years, and we all missed the bracing acids of those more modern vintages.
- 2012 Vin de Paille (C; 100% Roussanne): A treat to end the day. 2012's sunny, reliable harvest weather and plentiful Roussanne vintage allowed us to make our first Vin de Paille since 2006. The nose showed notes of flan and orange marmalade. The palate was very sweet but also showed lovely acids, with flavors of candied orange and chamomile, a luscious texture, and a finish of vanilla bean and orange blossom. Like many of the wines, also right at peak.
A few concluding thoughts
This tasting confirmed my opinion that 2012 was not, by our standards, an aging vintage. Some wines that are usually peaking at around a decade (like Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas) felt already a few years past their primes. Others that tend to still be youthful a decade out (like Tannat, or En Gobelet) felt right at their peaks. It also was not our favorite vintage for Grenache, and as we got toward wines that showed higher percentages of Syrah and Mourvedre, the wines felt firmer and more structured. I think we made a good call with the Esprit that year to displace some Grenache for more Syrah, even though it meant we didn't have any Syrah left to form a varietal bottling.
That said, the whites were across the board excellent. We weren't expecting much from the first three wines, and ended up having to argue over which of them was most deserving to make its place into the public tasting we'll be holding of the highlights in March. And it wasn't just the wines under screwcap; the Roussanne and Esprit de Tablas Blanc were both wonderful. It's worth noting that nearly all of the screwcapped wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and for any wine that has been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that most older screwcapped wines have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant speeds the process.
The tasting also drove home the value of our blending process. The top wines (Esprit, Esprit Blanc, and Panoplie) were all outstanding, and showed the best of the vintage without also carrying its weaknesses. To have the flexibility to reconfigure these wines when the vintage dictates is invaluable, and seeing the results a decade later was affirming. This is why we don't blend to a formula. The raw materials are different each year. I was proud of the process that produced those wines.
We have high hopes that we'll be able to hold an in-person horizontal tasting of the highlights from this tasting. We'd originally scheduled it for Sunday, February 6th, but we pushed it back a month to Sunday, March 6th in the hopes that this will let the surge in Covid Omicron cases subside. If you'd like to join us, we'll be tasting the following 10 wines: Vermentino, Roussanne, Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Mourvedre, Patelin de Tablas, En Gobelet, Esprit de Tablas, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille. I can't wait. For more information, or to join us, click here.