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A Horizontal Retrospective Tasting of the 2014 Vintage at Age 10

One of the first things we do each year is take a comprehensive look at the wines we made ten years ago. One of the second things we do is share those highlights with our fans at a public tasting (which will this year be February 4th). Why a decade? It's enough time that all the wines have become something that they weren't upon release, without it being such a long horizon that we're worried many will be over the hill. It's also a reasonable enough amount of time that Tablas Creek fans are likely to still have some of this vintage of wines in their cellars. (A fun check on publicly available data is CellarTracker. According to a quick query there, 38% of the 2014 Tablas Creek wines ever entered into the platform are still in people's inventories.) Hopefully, our notes from this tasting will help people decide which wines they want to open, which they want to keep watching, and how they might want to think differently about what they lay down for aging in the first place. It also is an opportunity to revisit our vintage chart

So, it's always exciting for us to do this annual check-in. It was particularly exciting because 2014 was a vintage we all loved when it was young. In my Vintage Doppelgangers blog, here's how I described it:

Our third consecutive drought year plus a warm summer produced wines in the classic, juicy Californian style, with a bit less alcohol than those same wines we were making in the 2000s. We got good concentration with yields similar to 2013, though we needed to drop less fruit to get there. The wines are juicy and luscious, with enough structure to keep them balanced and pretty, high-toned red fruit flavors. Similar vintages: 2003, 2017.

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 website, if you'd like to see winemaking details, professional reviews, or our tasting notes at bottling. Because of its small production we never made a webpage for the Clairette Blanche, so if you have questions about that wine, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, Amanda Weaver, Kaitlyn Glynn, and Austin Collins) as well as by Tasting Room Manager John Morris. The lineup:

2014 Retrospective Wines

  • 2014 Vermentino (SC): We're often surprised with how well Vermentino -- a grape that most people drink young, and is all about freshness and vibrancy -- ages. This vintage was no exception. A nose of oyster shell, lemongrass, flint, and pineapple core. The palate was surprisingly luscious with flavors of lemon curd and key lime pie, a creamy texture playing off bright acids and a long finish with more pineapple and mineral notes.
  • 2014 Clairette Blanche (SC): Our first-ever Clairette Blanche release (we made Clairette in 2013 but decided it wasn't exciting enough to be the grape's first-ever American example) and it was still in a nice place. Aromas of grilled pineapple with a little plasticky note (perhaps from the screwcap?) that blew off with time. The mouth was savory with flavors of melon rind and citrus leaf and a waxy texture. The finish was my favorite part of the wine, with lively acids and lingering orange creamsicle and beeswax notes.
  • 2014 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A classic Picpoul nose of pink peppercorn and juniper over white grapefruit. The mouth was both herby and bright, with flavors of verbena, papaya, and a refreshing note that Amanda described as "fresh mountain air". The finish was richer, with a lingering piña colada character I get from Picpoul in riper vintages. I don't think anyone would intentionally have kept this wine this long, but if you discover one, you're not going to be disappointed.
  • 2014 Grenache Blanc (SC): A classic Grenache Blanc nose showing both richness and brightness: kiwi, brioche, and lemon tart, down to the richness of the crust. The mouth is lovely, like preserved lemon and shortbread, baked golden delicious apple and a lovely little herby rosemary note. A little salty minerality comes out on the finish. Fresh, vibrant, and lovely. A treat.
  • 2014 Marsanne (C): Our first cork-finished wine of the tasting, and it was interesting trying to pull out what difference that made. The nose was explosive and appealing with notes of honey, dried apricot, and caramel apple. The mouth was quieter than the nose, like white tea, vanilla custard, and a little saline mineral note. There was a sweet spice character that combined with the wine's essential creaminess to remind us of eggnog, but dry. The finish showed notes of cinnamon, honey, poached pear, and lemongrass. It's easy to be duped by Marsanne's subtlety into thinking that it doesn't have the stuffing to age, but every time we open one after 10 years we love it, and this was no exception.
  • 2014 Roussanne (C): A dramatic nose of lemongrass, honey, and new lumber that Chelsea described as "honeysuckle on a fresh fence". The mouth showed oak-influenced sweet spice notes of cardamom and crushed vanilla bean with rich texture and Roussanne's classic lanolin note. The finish moves back into the honey realm, kept in check by a sweet green herbal element like fresh-cut grass. 
  • 2014 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 49% Grenache Blanc, 31% Viognier, 12% Roussanne, 8% Marsanne): Quiet on the nose, perhaps in part because of the screwcap, with subtle notes of lychee, pea shoot, and white flowers. The mouth is similar, with flavors of pineapple core, guava, and orange blossom, plenty of acid, and a peppered citrus peel finish with a little almond-like nuttiness.
  • 2014 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 42% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 23% Marsanne, 5% Roussanne): A nose with notable plushness and power in its notes of honeydew, sea spray, and creamy minerality. The palate shows peach pit, melon, and sweet straw notes, with rich texture and a briny mineral note keeping order on the finish. The wine didn't particularly speak of Viognier, having become more textural than fruity, but it made for a fascinating experience.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 72% Roussanne, 23% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A nose of apple pie -- both baked apple and the buttery crust -- and honey. The mouth is lively with flavors of clove, candied orange peel, baked apple, and sweet green herbs. And yet it was dry, with a more open texture and less oak than the varietal Roussanne. John called it "stately" which spoke to its essential elegance. The finish showed notes of walnut and new honey. A very pretty wine in the middle of what seemed to us like likely to be a long peak.
  • 2014 Patelin de Tablas Rosé (SC; 80% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 3% Counoise): Our third-ever Patelin Rosé, with the most Grenache we ever used, was still a beautiful fresh color. It was initially quiet on the nose -- that screwcap, again -- then showed notes of watermelon and wild strawberry, complete with the green leafiness of the foliage. The mouth was remarkably good with flavors of pink grapefruit and tarragon, nice richness, and great acids. If you lost one in your cellar, go ahead and open it. We think you'll be pleasantly surprised. 
  • 2014 Dianthus (SC; 46% Mourvedre, 41% Grenache, 13% Counoise): Despite that Mourvedre-based rosés are supposed to have longer lifespans than those based on Grenache, we haven't particularly loved decade-old Dianthus in past tastings. But this year's was outstanding. The nose showed a cherry, slightly medicinal note that we variously described as Campari, spicy pink peppercorn, and red Life Savers candy. The mouth is holding up remarkably well, with flavors of cherry, wild herbs, and lemon zest. The vibrant acids create an appealing tension with the rich texture, and the finish of strawberry coulis was lovely. Unexpected and fun. 
  • 2014 Full Circle (C): Our fifth Full Circle Pinot Noir, from the warmest vintage we'd had to date. That showed in a nose that leaned toward cherry cola, dried fig, and cocoa powder. The mouth showed a little welcome mintiness to the chocolate notes with additional flavors of potpourri and black cherry. The finish was still fairly tannic, with cherry and chocolate notes. It was less evocative of Pinot Noir than we would prefer (perhaps unsurprising from such a warm vintage) but still in a nice place.
  • 2014 Counoise (SC): The first bottle we opened was badly sherried, which is unusual under screwcap, and made us worried for the whole batch. But the second bottle was outstanding, with a nose of crunchy cranberry, raspberry tea, loam, and redwood forest. The mouth showed dusty, brambly raspberry fruit with a refreshing wintergreen note. A salty minerality played with the wild, spicy berry character on the finish. 
  • 2014 Terret Noir (C): Only our second-ever Terret Noir. An interesting nose of strawberry fruit leather, oregano, Maraschino cherry, and rose petals. The palate is vibrant: cherry Jolly Rancher, black tea, leafy herbs, dried flowers, and chaparral. The grape's signature tannins are still very much in evidence, making for a fascinating textural experience. Would be fun to show to someone who likes cocktails with aromatic bitters. 
  • 2014 Mourvedre (C): A nose of black licorice, cocoa powder, black currant, and new leather. The mouth showed black plum and chocolate powder notes and a lovely saline minerality. Gorgeous and still youthful. One of my favorite showings of our varietal Mourvedre, which is one of our most reliable bellwethers of our greatest vintages. 
  • 2014 Syrah (C): A classic savory Syrah nose of iron, blood, and pine forest. When I asked the table if they could pull out any fruit on the nose, Chelsea replied "olives are a fruit". On the palate, more generous, with flavors of black raspberry, chalky mineral, and a lovely mouth-coating texture. The finish was nicely salty, with more black olive and dark fruit. Impressive, still young, and quintessentially Syrah.
  • 2014 Tannat (C): A nose that we spent too much time discussing whether it was more reminiscent of pancetta, guanciale, or pig trotters (so, yes, pork fat) along with dark cherry and mint chocolate. The palate showed Tannat's characteristic lively acids, which turn the fruit tone more to red cherry, with plenty of tannin and a spicy finish of brown butter, Mexican hot chocolate, and more of that meaty richness.
  • 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (C): From the two rows of Cabernet vines we have in our nursery, which most years gets tossed into our Tannat. An immediately recognizable Cabernet nose of graphite, juniper, and a sweet earthy note. The mouth showed blackcurrant and sweet tobacco flavors along with suede leather and a little kiss of sweet oak like toasted coconut. Unlike most California Cabernet, the limestone soils here give a translucency to the texture with nice acids that I really love, though it's a bit out of the mainstream. That said, if more California Cabernet had this approach, I'd probably drink it a lot more often.
  • 2014 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 55% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 6% Counoise): A nose of pork fat and blackberrry, with a little minty lift. The mouth was much juicier, with plum and dusty bramble notes. The finish was a little short, and this was likely at its peak a few years ago. Still, what a value for anyone who bought some of this at the $20/bottle this was on release. 
  • 2014 Cotes de Tablas (C; 44% Grenache, 36% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 8%Mourvedre): A nose of Worcerstershire sauce, plum compote, and spun sugar. In the mouth, like chocolate-dipped strawberries with nice chalky tannins and back to that Grenache-driven powdered sugar note on the finish. Seemingly right at its peak. 
  • 2014 En Gobelet (C; 34% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 15% Counoise, 5% Tannat): The nose is pretty, with dried cranberry and hibiscus notes over undertones of meaty richness and a clean earthiness Austin compared to walking through the forest when you're mushroom hunting. The mouth showed flavors of açai, chocolate truffle, and fresh coffee bean, with vibrant acids and a little appealing tannic grip. My favorite showing of En Gobelet at this stage that I can remember.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 35% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% Counoise): An absolutely classic Esprit nose of redcurrant and blueberry, new leather, meat drippings, and forest floor. Neil said "this smells like home". The mouth showed chocolate-covered cherry, more of that roasted meat drippings we found on the nose, sweet nutmeg spice, and a licorice note that seemed to bounce back and forth between red and black. Lovely, with a long life seemingly ahead of it.
  • 2014 Panoplie (C; 65% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 7% Syrah): A nose that to me evoked a plate set out with prosciutto, fresh figs, and a little drizzle of balsamic glaze, with a little sweet sarsaparilla note over the top. The mouth shows red currant and brown butter shortbread, chocolate-covered açai berry and a meaty appeal like herb-rubbed prime rib fresh out of the oven. Lovely.
  • 2014 Petit Manseng (C): A little nostalgic to taste as we've made the decision to discontinue our bottling of this classic southwest French grape known for maintaining great acids as it reaches high sugar levels. It showed a classic nose of pineapple, membrillo, graham cracker and lemongrass, along with something a little yeasty like buttermilk. The mouth showed flavors of sweet apricot and lychee, with great acids and a lovely crushed rock minerality. A nutty sunflower seed note played with the tropical fruit and mineral on the finish. Fun. 

A few concluding thoughts

In terms of vintage character, Chelsea's description of "plush but pure" seemed to sum it up pretty well. After a stretch between 2010 and 2013 where a combination of cool weather and our desire to move away from a style that we felt in the late 2000's had become too ripe and weighty had led to wines that leaned into a more open-knit, savory approach, 2014 was a bit of a course correction looking for both those savory elements and more fruit intensity. Looking at the progression from 2012 to 2013 to 2014, I can feel us coming to the approach we use today. That's exciting. 

At the time, we thought it was an outstanding red vintage and a good (maybe not great) white vintage. But I thought the whites really shined in the tasting, and the combination of increased intensity and vibrant acids made for a great balance. On the red side, both the fresher, generally early-drinking varieties (think Counoise, or Terret Noir) and the more traditionally ageworthy grapes (think Mourvedre or Syrah) were in appealing stages at age ten. That's a sign of an outstanding vintage overall.

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 for more than a few years. 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.

When I asked everyone around the table to pick five favorites, 14 different wines received at least one vote, with the Counoise and the Mourvedre leading the way with six votes each. We ended up picking nine wines to share at our public retrospective tasting on February 4th. If you'd like to join us, we'll be tasting Grenache Blanc, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Dianthus, Counoise, Mourvedre, Syrah, En Gobelet, Esprit de Tablas, and Panoplie. There are still a few spots left at the tasting, and we'd love you to join us.