Each summer, I taste through library vintages of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolve. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.
Each of our flagship wines goes through different stages of life. I'll start by giving a quick summary of those phases and where each of the two wines that we'll be sending out this year fit in.
For the Esprit de Tablas Blanc, there are really three (sometimes four) phases each vintage goes through. In its youth, within a few years of bottling, you get lush fruit, medium-body and texture, and tropical notes, with underpinnings of mineral and cedary structure. The current release (our 2020 Esprit Blanc) is showing in that phase, as is the 2021 that we're releasing this fall. After a few years, the tropical, fruity notes mellow into something more honeyed, the texture becomes richer, and the mineral and savory structural notes become more pronounced. This is usually the phase the Esprit Blanc is in when we send it out to Collector's Edition members. Then there's a phase (for some, not all vintages) where the honey flavors caramelize and the color deepens, but the texture is still rich and the structure evident. This is a phase that can be intellectually interesting but isn't usually the most pleasurable because it can come across as a touch oxidative, and we note it on our vintage chart as "Hold - Closed Phase". Then finally the wine emerges out the other side, the texture and color lighten, the oxidative notes resolve into something more like roasted nuts, and the minerality comes to the fore. We've never been able to wait long enough to release an Esprit Blanc to Collector's Edition members in this phase... until this year. Please welcome the 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. This wine is just at the beginning of its current stage and should sail on another decade or more, gaining nuttiness and complexity with time.
The Esprit de Tablas has a similar multi-stage evolution. Within a few years of release the wines are robust, with lots of fruit, plenty of structure and tannin, and sweet spice notes. Then there's a stage where the fruit calms down, the tannins start to soften, and you start to notice more of the loamy, earthy Mourvedre-driven savoriness as well as the saline minerality that we get from our calcareous soils. That's the stage that the 2015 Esprit de Tablas is in right now. The wine has greater complexity and elegance than it did when it was young, but the primary impression of the fruit is of freshness, not age. There will likely be two more stages to come. First will likely (though not for certain, given the elegance of the 2015 vintage from the get-go) come a point where the wine's fruit becomes secondary to the structural and mineral elements and the wine might come across as a little hard. If I had to guess when this would happen, it would be sometime in 2026-27, but that's just a guess for now. And it might not happen. But whether or not it does, there's sure to be a further stage after where the meaty, leathery side of these grapes comes to the fore, the fruit goes from fresh to more compote, the sweet spice deepens to something like mocha, and the tannins become supple. That can last for another 10-15 years before the wine finally fades.
While most of our vintages of Esprit go through similar stages, the vintage that creates each wine is unique. The library wines in this year's selection both came from vintages marked by our 2012-2016 drought:
- 2013 was still in the early stages of the drought, and while the vines set a large crop, we expended a lot of effort reducing crop levels to make sure we didn't overextend the vineyard knowing it had limited water to draw on. That was followed by a classic, warm Californian summer that combined with our reduced yields (2.66 tons/acre in the end) for our earliest-ever finish to harvest on October 7th. [You can read my recap of the 2013 vintage here.]
- By 2015, the vines were really struggling, and crop levels started low and were further reduced by a very cold May, which led to a very light fruit set in our earlier grape varieties like Viognier and Syrah. The year continued in a whipsaw between significantly warmer-then-normal and cooler-than-normal months, both of which can slow ripening, and despite the low yields and a very warm October we didn't finish picking until October 29th. Our overall yields were some of the lowest we've ever seen at 2.01 tons/acre. [My recap of the 2015 vintage can be found here.]
Despite their differences, the two vintages manifested in related ways. 2013 was more classic than blockbuster. It produced wines with pure, well-defined flavors, medium density, and lots of spiciness and minerality. 2015 produced some of the most ethereal wines we've made, with noteworthy minerality, high-toned elegance, and intense flavors with no sense of weight. That said, both 2013 Esprit Blanc and 2015 Esprit showed a lovely balance of fruit and mineral, structure and openness, and richness and elegance when we tasted them yesterday. The pair:
My tasting notes:
- 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: Still a youthful pale gold color. A savory nose of nuts, flinty mineral, lanolin and lemongrass, with sweeter notes of baked apple emerging slowly with time. The mouth is creamy and textural, like salted custard with notes of citrus pith and dried pineapple. Very long on the finish with notes of grilled, salted lemon. Still shows lovely lift and brightness around that savory, textural core. 71% Roussanne, 21% Grenache Blanc, and 8% Picpoul Blanc. Would be amazing with a chicken simply roasted with lemon and herbs.
- 2015 Esprit de Tablas: An appealing nose of black cherry, cocoa powder, sweet applewood, black pepper, and meat in a soy marinade. The mouth is clean and pure, with vibrant notes of black raspberry and chalky mineral, meat drippings and a salty umami note. The tannins are present and firm but not aggressive. The finish shows notes of boysenberry and salty dark chocolate. 49% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 5% Counoise. Would shine with anything from a simple roasted rack of lamb to duck to a savory pasta with wild mushrooms.
The complete Collector's Edition shipment is awfully exciting, at least to me, between the combination of the library vintages, all the 2021s -- which I'm convinced will go down among our best vintages ever -- and the debut of a new wine and new program for us, which I'll be sharing information about in a couple of weeks:
- 2 bottles of 2015 Esprit de Tablas
- 1 bottle of 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
- 3 bottles of 2021 Esprit de Tablas
- 2 bottles of 2021 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
- 1 bottle of 2021 En Gobelet
- 1 bottle of 2021 Grenache
- 1 bottle of 2022 Patelin de Tablas Rosé
- 1 bottle of 2022 Lignée de Tablas Windfall Farms Grenache Blanc
We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next month. If you're on the waiting list, you should be receiving an email with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online or by giving our wine club office a call. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can sign up for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition, with all the benefits of VINsider Wine Club membership while you're on the waiting list.
Those of you who are members, I'd love to hear your thoughts. And thank you, as always, for your patronage. We are grateful, and don't take it for granted.