As I have done the last few years, I asked our team to share a wine or two that stuck with them from all the ones they'd tried in 2023, and why. This is always one of my favorite blogs to put together. I love seeing the breadth of wine interests of the Tablas Creek team. More than that, I love seeing what inspired them. If you don't work at a winery, you might expect that those of us who do spend most of our time drinking our own wines, but in my experience, that's far from the case. Most people who find a career in wine do so because they find it fascinating, and that interest doesn't go away just because they've landed at a particular winery, even a winery that they love. And most people who work at wineries look at exploring other wines as an enjoyable form of continuing education.
This year, I tried to be more conscious of fostering that continuing education by opening some of the treasures left from my dad's cellar with our team. It was gratifying to see that some of those made people's year-end lists. But what stood out, as usual, was the degree to which the memorableness of a wine was tied to the occasion for which and the company with whom it was opened. As Neil said so well in his submission last year, it is "with food, company and occasion that great bottles become truly memorable ones."
Here's everyone's submission, in their own words and only very lightly edited, in alphabetical order (except mine, which is at the end, with some concluding thoughts):
Charlie Chester, Senior Assistant Tasting Room Manager
Mine is not about just one wine; it was an experience.
Every year, an email from Jason marks a special occasion at Tablas—Francois and Cesar Perrin are in town to participate in the blending of the Esprit. I'm always excited when that Monday morning email arrives: "Gather the tasting room team; Cesar and Francois brought some wine they want to share." This time, it led to a midweek tasting featuring six vintages each of Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc and Chateau de Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes Roussanne. (The 2009 vintage of this was my favorite of the tasting.) So, on an ordinary Wednesday at 8:00 am, our tasting room team gathered for a session that was something to remember.
No formalities, just pouring and sipping. The Perrins, a dynamic father-son duo, brought in the good stuff, and we delved into twelve wines with zero fuss. These are the moments that remind me I work at a special place. It's not about unraveling complex tasting notes; it's about enjoying the laid-back journey through the evolution of these wines. More than just wine, it's team time that turns a regular Wednesday into a spontaneous celebration. Here's to those unexpected moments that become the most memorable sips of the year!
Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
I am going to go with winery of the year as I believe it is a property that deserves some recognition. Marci and I were lucky enough to take a short backpack trip up the Loire valley. I made it a point to go and visit Domaine Grosbois outside of Chinon. The entire visit was a treat: farming in the best possible way and producing wines that I loved across the board. An absolute treat!!! If I was pushed to pick one it would be the Gabare. But I’ll take any of the lineup!!
Ian Consoli, Director of Marketing
2023 was full of incredible wine experiences. Thanks to Jason opening up his father's cellar, I had some of the oldest wine I have ever tried. While those wines land on my list of best wines of 2023, I thought I would focus on the wines I will remember the year for: Barbaresco and Barolo. I was fortunate to spend a couple of weeks in the Piedmont region, where I received an education from vintners and wine shop owners. Two of those bottles were some of the most sought-after in Barolo. Vigna Rionda has established itself as one of the top sites of Barolo's new Grand Crus system. I tried a Vigna Rionda from the site's largest producer, Massolino, and the smallest producer, Guido Porro. Both of these wines were exceptional, serious drinking wines. The Guido was opened the day prior and the way it opened up was more floral than one might expect from a young Barolo. I left the region wholly sold on Nebbiolo, and I am already looking forward to my next glass.
Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
My most memorable wines of the year were served side by side with a good friend and a surreal appetizer, just before Christmas. 2018 Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Theo Riesling and 2017 Vincent Dauvissat Chablis paired with “Deep Fried Baby Crabs” at Goshi’s SLO. Dauvissat was in green apple, lemon oil and crushed oyster shell mode, righteously mid-weighted on the palate, whereas the Weinbach was as gingery as the slices themselves, with passion fruit, honey and lime, balanced acidity and a hint of sweetness: simply built for sushi. The crabs were, well, something that would’ve floored Salvador Dali and just what the menu said they were.
Dusty Hannah, Tasting Room
I would not be surprised if my first two wines are not on anybody else's list because they were shared to the tasting room team at Tablas Creek, by Jason Haas, during one of our meetings. Perks of the job. Thanks Jason!
- Louis Roederer, Champagne Brut Rose 2015
Ray King, Tasting Room
My most memorable wines of the year have been the gifts at various events over the past few weeks. Aged and beautiful.
Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist
My most memorable bottle of 2023 was a Desire Lines Shake Ridge Syrah. What made this bottle so memorable was the fact that the great Ann Kraemer, Owner and Vineyard Manager of Shake Ridge Vineyard, opened that bottle for both Neil Collins and myself as we overlooked her property, ate a beautiful dinner, and talked shop about the past, present, and future of grape farming. It was an unforgettable evening with a couple legends.
Erin Mason, Regenerative Specialist
It was an occasion that brought me to my most memorable bottles of 2023. Just before the start of harvest, I celebrated the fourth anniversary of the Tribute to Grace tasting room opening with the winemaker and team. I’m lucky to be part of two amazing wine families in California—both Tablas Creek and Grace. Angela Osborne, the winemaker and Grenache devotee, has made it a tradition at major celebrations to do a semi-blind tasting of two wines. Only partially blind because we know it’s going to be Grenache… we know one is going to be a Tribute to Grace… and, typically, one Chateauneuf-de-Pape from Chateau Rayas—always the same vintage. This year, we were lucky enough to taste the 2011 Santa Barbara Highlands Grace alongside Rayas. I’ve never described a wine as “transformative,” but this was my second time tasting Rayas and there is truly nothing like it. Also exciting because of the comparisons made between 2011 to 2023 growing seasons in CA. If the Santa Barbara Highlands was any indication, we all have something amazing to look forward to from 2023. Bonne année!
This wine was so perfectly balanced, I just savored each sip. The mouth was full of preserved lemon, with soft mineral, subtle hazelnut and a whisper of anise and bright chervil. What made it extra special too is that I visited Beaune over the summer and cycled through Meursault!
We enjoyed the wine on Christmas Eve with a creamy polenta and mushroom dish. It was exquisite!
...And As for Me
I was lucky enough to have my wine of the year -- the stunning 1990 Chave Hermitage -- twice in 2023. The first time was for my birthday in June, at home, with just Meghan and Sebastian as Eli was away spending a month working with the Perrins. I then opened it a second time as part of a collection I brought to supply my table at the amazing Paso Purpose event that raised nearly $2,000,000 to support must! charities in August. It takes a special wine to shine at both an intimate dinner and a bustling outdoor function with hundreds of people. And this was the sort of event where everywhere you looked there was something extraordinary being opened. But Paso Robles, you have to remember, is a relatively young wine region. The wineries who started must! charities were all founded this century, and they're all of my generation. So while there were amazing wines on every table, the 1990 Chave still stood out. It was fully mature, quintessentially Syrah with its chocolate and pancetta flavors, but with all the rough edges smoothed away by time. Instead there were lingering flavors of cedar, dried flowers, and loamy earth. Just a treat, and an amazing opportunity to think about how cool it is that we can drink a wine made from the same place by the same family for 16 generations.
A few concluding thoughts:
I did my best to link each wine to a page with information about it, should you want to research details. But I don't think replicating a specific wine is necessarily the right goal. If there's one thing that I've learned from writing these end-of-year appreciations for a decade now, it's that it really is the confluence of wine and occasion that makes for the most memorable experiences. Wine, after all, is the ultimate social beverage. The size of a bottle means it's something that you share with others. The fact that wine is ephemeral, that each bottle is a reflection of particular grapes grown in a particular place in a particular vintage, means that each one is different and also a unique reflection of time and place. Add in the human element, where the winemaker or winemakers are taking (or not taking) actions based on what they see, smell, and taste, and you have what is in essence a time capsule that comes with the added benefit of helping you enjoy a meal and bring insight into the flavors it contains. What a perfect starting point for a meaningful evening.
I also noticed the extent to which many of people's most memorable wines were older. It is for sure a challenge to cellar wines. It requires resources: space, patience, and the ability to buy wine in enough quantity that you can enjoy some in its youth while still having enough to open later. And there's always the risk that by the time you open your bottle it might be corked, or you might have missed its peak. But reading these memories highlights that the rewards can be marvelous. One hack: it's often surprisingly affordable to buy older wines online. Sites like Wine Searcher put older vintages at your fingertips in a way that would otherwise require major investment. For example, a few minutes' search found me this 30-year old bottle of Beaucastel for $109.
I wish you all memorable food and wine experiences in 2024, and even more than that, the opportunity to share them with people you love.