Tasting the wines in the Fall 2019 VINsider "Collector's Edition" Shipment

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.

This year, our selections will be the 2011 Esprit de Tablas and the 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Although the vintages were quite different (2011 was one of our coolest, followed a wet winter, and saw crop levels reduced by 40% from an April frost, while 2013 was on the warm side, two years into our drought but with still-solid yields) both produced wines that we thought at the time would reward cellaring. And indeed, both the wines were still youthful when I tasted them today.

So, how have the wines changed? The 2013 Esprit Blanc has picked up a nutty note that plays nicely off the honey and green herbs it had when it was first released. And the 2011 Esprit, which was always dark and dense from its combination of chilly vintage and low yields, has opened up to show a lovely chocolaty character and tannins that have softened and come into balance with the wine's fruit, spice, and mineral notes.

And because of the stuffing that these wines began with, they will both go out another decade, at least. The pair:

2019 Collectors Edition Wines

My tasting notes, from today:

  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: Lovely medium gold. A nutty nose of marzipan, creme brûlée, fennel spearmint, and candied orange peel. The mouth shows a sweet butterscotch note on the attack, then nice acids and a little bit of Grenache Blanc's characteristic pithy bite, and finally mandarin, sweet spice, and chalky minerality on the long finish. 71% Roussanne, 21% Grenache Blanc, 8% Picpoul Blanc.  Delicious now, but will certainly be good for another 5-10 years, or more.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas: A dark nose of juniper forest, bramble, bakers chocolate, peppermint, tamari, and black plum. The mouth is similarly savory, with flavors of rosemary, chocolate-covered black cherry, a clean loamy Mourvedre-driven earthiness, and a leathery, meaty note that is just starting to emerge. The finish is back to the flavors promised on the nose, especially juniper, plum skin, and black tea. 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise. It's only getting better, and if you have the patience to wait it could go out another decade or more, continuing to soften and open for most of that time. 

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is awfully exciting, at least to me, between the combination of the library vintages and all the wines from 2017, which I think will go down as one of our greatest ever:

  • 2 bottles of 2011 Esprit de Tablas
  • 2 bottle of 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2017 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2017 En Gobelet
  • 1 bottle of 2017 Mourvedre
  • 1 bottles of 2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2018 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2018 Grenache Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next few weeks. If you're on the waiting list, you should be receiving an email soon 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 us 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.


We open every vintage of Panoplie, from our first-ever 2000 to the newly-blended 2018

This year, we've been looking for various ways to celebrate our 30th Anniversary. Just a couple of months ago, we opened every vintage of our flagship red, from 1997 Rouge to 2017 Esprit de Tablas. It was fascinating. But for our summer vertical tasting (in which we pick a different wine each year and open a range of vintages to show how it's evolving) we thought it would be appropriate to turn our attention for the first time to Panoplie. For those who don't know it, Panoplie is our elite red wine modeled after the Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin, with a very high percentage of Mourvedre and an extremely limited production.  Because it's not a wine that we put into distribution -- it goes exclusively to our wine club members each spring -- it's our chance to make as spectacular a wine as we can, without worrying about having to make it in quantity. Members have the opportunity to purchase 2 or 3 more bottles maximum after each shipment. Even so, it rarely lasts long. Because of the wine's scarcity and the fact we don't distribute it, I don't open Panoplie very often. That made Friday's lineup of 18 wines all that much more special:

Panoplie Vertical Jun 2019

I invited some of our other key people (Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker; Austin Collins, Cellar Assistant; John Morris, Tasting Room Manager; Monica O'Connor, Direct Sales Manager; and Ian Consoli, Marketing Coordinator) to join me. While the principal goal was to choose eight representative (and spectacular) wines to share with the guests who are coming for the July 21st Vertical Tasting, I thought it would be fun to share my notes from all the wines, as well as some thoughts about the wine, how it evolves, and how our thinking about it has changed over the years. The wines didn't disappoint, but I'll save the rest of my conclusions until the end.

A few notes on the wines, and the names. Note that we didn't produce a Panoplie in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage. And we've moved the wine's name around a couple of times. In 2004, the Perrins pointed out to us that it was a little awkward that there was a wine in our hierarchy above the "Esprit de Beaucastel", so we renamed the Panoplie "Esprit de Beaucastel 'Panoplie'" starting that year. It wasn't ideal, and I can't tell you how many times we had people complain that they opened a Panoplie when they didn't mean to, or that they couldn't tell them apart in their wine racks. So, when we rebranded our flagship wine to Esprit de Tablas with the 2011 vintage, we reverted back to the simpler "Panoplie" again. Finally, if you want detailed technical information or to see the tasting notes we wrote shortly after bottling, each wine is linked to its profile page on our Web site:

  • 2000 Panoplie (55% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 15% Grenache): A nose of menthol, pine forest floor, juniper, meat, and plum. John called it "very wild boar-ish". On the palate, showing some signs of age in its leathery notes, but still quite rich with dark cherry fruit, chewy tannins, and full body. I'm not sure this was as good as it was the last time we tried it in 2016, but still an admirable performance for our first and oldest Panoplie, made from vines no more than 8 years old.
  • 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): Dark, savory, and meaty on the nose, like a leg of lamb marinating in soy and rosemary. On the palate, more youthful than the 2000, with red cranberry and currant fruit, a sweet Chinese five spice note, and some muscular tannins. The finish turned savory again.  In a nice place, and while there's no hurry, it seems wise to drink this if you've been saving it.
  • 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise): Mint chocolate, meat drippings, and sweet tobacco on the appealing nose. On the palate, lovely red currant fruit and a sweet chocolate truffle note. Lovely acids and just enough tannic bite to keep it fresh. The long finish offers luxardo cherries and a rose petal floral note we loved. Our favorite of the older vintages, and just in a beautiful place.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel "Panoplie" (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is complex but also a touch older than the previous wines, with mature notes of cocoa powder, menthol, teriyaki, and prune.  The mouth shows sweet figgy flavors and is quite tannic, with a little raisiny note alongside the chocolate on the finish that I didn't love. This was an era where we were trying to build more perception of sweet fruit into this wine, and looking back with 15 years of perspective, I think we pushed a little too far on ripeness, at the expense of freshness.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel "Panoplie" (70% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 5% Syrah): Sweet fruit on the nose, but in a fresher, more integrated way than the 2004. The mouth is lovely, rich and luscious: chocolate-covered strawberries, big tannins that feel in keeping with the wine's other attributes, and notes of baker's chocolate and violets on the finish. An unapologetically dense, lush wine, but unlike the 2004, I thought it worked. Should be great for quite a while longer, too.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel "Panoplie" (68% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 5% Syrah): The nose was all savory, and may have suffered a bit compared to the 2005: marinating meat, bone marrow, juniper, bay leaf, and soy. With air, a little maraschino cherry and dark chocolate appeared. On the palate, by contrast, the sweet fruit takes center stage, with sugar plum, cassis, and chocolate-covered cherries the dominant notes before the wine's tannins reassert control on the finish. But still, my lasting impression was one of opulence. 
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel "Panoplie" (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A savory Old World nose with chaparral, meat, and spice. Monica commented that it "smells like a food, not a drink". And we agreed; we spent a while deciding which holiday is smelled most like before coming down on Christmas dinner. The mouth is very complex, with dark leather, substantial dusty tannins, a sweet Chinese five spice note, and more herby thyme/bay notes coming out on the finish. More than any other wine in the lineup, this kept evolving as it sat in the glass, and we feel like it's going to go through a number of different stages in what's going to be a long future life.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel "Panoplie" (54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): There was a noteworthy break between 2007 and 2008, with the 2007 and older wines all feeling bigger, riper, and fully mature, while the 2008 felt much closer to what we're doing now, more fresh and delineated. The nose showed spearmint, red plum, bay leaf and new leather. The palate had milk chocolate, chamomile, cherry, and redcurrant fruit. The finish showed sweet clove and candied orange peel, red licorice, anise, and fresh black fig. A real pleasure, and my favorite of the "middle aged" wines.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel "Panoplie" (65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): A very aromatic nose of anise, leather, mint, figs, and an orange liqueur note we eventually named as triple sec. On the palate, more composed, and in fact we felt it was still unwinding: plums and cedar, a little black licorice, an some substantial tannins. A tangy note comes out on the finish, with flavors of roasted meats flinty minerality. This may still be emerging from its closed phase and seems likely only to get better over the next decade.
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel "Panoplie" (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): Different and notably quieter on the nose than the previous wines, though still appealing: loamy earth, cardamom, braised meat and ginger. On the palate, more generous, with flavors of blackberry, black raspberry, teriyaki, bay, and a meaty little caramel smokiness on the finish that Austin called as jamon.
  • 2011 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): On the nose similar to but more giving than the 2010, with a slightly redder tint to the cola, red licorice, crushed rock, and fresh prosciutto-wrapped figs. In the mouth, plum and sarsaparilla, loam and roasted root vegetables in which we identified roasted beets and parsnips. It's possible that we were getting hungry by this point in the tasting.
  • 2012 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah): High-toned spicy fruit on the nose, with cherry cola, juniper, bergamot, and a complex note that reminded me of angostura bitters. In the mouth, more spicy red fruit flavors of wild strawberries, green peppercorn, and yellow raspberry. Cool, minty, and tangy on the finish. Chelsea described the wine's Nordic character well: "like a high altitude meadow". A bit uncharacteristic for the Panoplie, without some of the bass notes we tend to look for, but complex and refreshing.
  • 2013 Panoplie (75% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A lovely expressive dark fruited nose, with teriyaki, black licorice, bay, and a meaty roast pork character. The mouth is lush and silky and delicious, powerful and complex without any sense of overripeness: wild mushrooms, black plum, chalky mineral, and licorice. Still very much on its way up, and a consensus favorite among its cohort.
  • 2014 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 7% Syrah): A spicy red fruit nose more like the 2012 than the 2013, seemingly marked by the higher Grenache percentage: red plum, pine forest, new leather and clove. On the palate Grenache's characteristic tangy red fruit character, surprisingly complex and mature for only being five years old. Salted plums and baking spices give way to a lingering smoky note.
  • 2015 Panoplie (71% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 5% Syrah; from foudre): A very evocative youthful Mourvedre nose: thyme and oregano on top of mineral-laced red fruit. On the palate, concentrated salted watermelon, yellow raspberry, with firm tannins that promise a long future, and a finish of mint and blueberries. Like many of our 2015 reds, it feels powerful without any sense of extra weight. Still deepening and opening up, and should be great in another year or two.
  • 2016 Panoplie (66% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah, 9% Grenache): More powerful and plush (and darker) on the nose than the 2014 or 2015, perhaps driven by the higher Syrah content, with rich brambly plum skin, minty dark chocolate and crushed rock aromas. The mouth is textured and complex, perfectly balanced between sweet and savory notes, with a meaty, spicy jerky note. Significant, lingering tannins frame a finish with black licorice and an iron-like minerality. Our favorite of the youngest vintages, recently sent out to VINsider Wine Club members this spring.
  • 2017 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 17% Grenache, 14% Syrah; pulled from foudre, where it has been aging for the last year): Mostly dark on the nose for me, with black currant, black licorice, and black pepper slowly softening to show an appealing cocoa butter and crushed rock note. On the palate, very fruity, with sweet plum and blackberry fruit on the attack, then substantial tannins to restore order, then tangy teriyaki and iron mineral notes come out on the finish. This will be bottled in about a month, then held in bottle before it's sent to VINsiders next spring. 
  • 2018 Panoplie (64% Mourvedre, 24% Syrah, 12% Grenache; newly blended just last week): Smells so young and primary, like grape essence, but undercut by a little dark chaparral spiciness. The mouth is thick with young fruit, still more grape than anything else, and still because of its recent blending cloudy and settling out. It's about to go into foudre, where it will rest for the next year-plus. A baby, but with tons of fascinating potential.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • It seems like we're settling in on ideal drinking windows for Panoplie. With nearly 20 vintages under our belts, and some of our oldest wines starting to feel like they've peaked, I feel more confident than I ever have in suggesting that wine lovers drink Panoplie either in the 3-6 year window (before the wine shuts down) or in the 9-15 year window (once it reopens). It's not that the wines will fall apart after age 15; I think that many of them will provide fascinating drinking for a decade more, but it's hard for me to imagine those older wines being any better than they are now.
  • All the wines were excellent.  I asked the six people around the table for their votes on some favorites, and fourteen of the eighteen wines received at least one vote.  The highest vote-getters were 2016 and 2013, which both got votes from all 6 of us. 2007 and 2003 received 4 votes each, while 2008 and 2012 received 3 votes each. But I'm confident that even the wines which didn't receive any favorite votes in this tasting (2000, 2004, 2010, and 2015) would make for exceptional drinking if you open one.
  • Flavors evolve, but favorites stay favorite. Looking back at our last Panoplie vertical from 2016 some favorites that we noted were 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2013. All five of those received multiple favorite votes this time too.
  • Nothing seemed like it was in a "closed" phase. Unlike in our last tasting, there weren't any vintages that I was confident were in their closed phase. It seemed like 2009 was still unspooling, but it was far from closed. 2010 might have been a little quiet, but it too was still delicious. And neither 2011 nor 2012, which we'd think would be next in line, seemed diminished at all. But if you're worried, check our vintage chart periodically.
  • Don't be afraid of young Panoplie.  I know that when we let people know that these wines can age for decades it often scares them away from opening one young.  But the young wines in this flight were almost all drinking beautifully, and anyone who opens a vintage like 2013 or 2016 in coming months is in for a real treat.
  • Those of you coming for our July 21st Panoplie tasting are in for a treat. We've decided to show eight vintages: 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2017.

Tasting Every Vintage of our Flagship Red, 1997 Rouge to 2017 Esprit de Tablas

As regular readers of the blog have probably gathered, we're spending much of this year looking back as we celebrate our 30th anniversary. As a part of this celebration, in advance of the 30th Anniversary Party we hosted here a few weeks back, we decided to open every vintage of our flagship red wines, from our very first Tablas Creek Rouge in 1997 to the 2017 Esprit de Tablas that is still sitting in foudre waiting to be bottled later this summer. While we're opening older vintages of Esprit fairly regularly, we only go through a systematic tasting every couple of years1. So, it would have been a special occasion for us anyway. But because we had Jean-Pierre Perrin in town, we thought it would be great to invite some other local regional Rhone Rangers winemakers to join us. In the end, about 18 of us, evenly split between Tablas folks and those we'd invited to join, sat down on a Friday afternoon to taste 21 different wines. The tasting mat tells the story:

Rretrospective Tasting Mat

I thought it would be fun to share my notes on each wine. I was spending a lot of time coordinating the discussion, so some of my notes are a bit telegraphic, but I hope that you will still get a sense of the differences. I have also linked each vintage to that wine's page on our Web site, if you'd like to see production details or what the tasting notes were at bottling.

  • 1997 Rouge: A nose that is minty and spicy, still quite fresh. On the palate, bright acids, earth, and still some solid tannins. I'd never have guessed that this wine was 20 years old, or made from grapevines that were just three to five years old. 
  • 1998 Rouge: Older and quieter on the nose than the 1997. The mouth has a cool elegance and nice leathery earth. A little simple perhaps, but still totally viable. From one of our coolest-ever vintages, where we didn't start harvesting until October.
  • 1999 Reserve Cuvee: Dramatic on the nose, dark mocha and meat drippings. On the palate, still quite intense, with coffee, red berry fruit, and big tannins. A long finish. Still vibrant and youthful. I remember selling this wine when it was young, and it was a bit of a tannic monster. Those tannins have served it well in the intervening two decades.
  • 2000 Esprit de Beaucastel: A lovely meaty nose with eucalyptus, licorice, red currant and chocolate. Similar flavors on the palate, with a velvety texture and a long finish. Right at its peak, we thought. We've consistently underestimated this wine's aging potential, and each time we open a bottle we like it more.
  • 2001 Founders Reserve: From lots we'd set aside for Esprit and Panoplie that we blended for the wine club after deciding not to make either wine in the frost-depleted 2001 vintage. On the nose, more savory than fruity, dark eucalyptus and black pepper. A touch of alcohol showed. The mouth is vibrant, with great acids, mid-weight texture, and a long finish. A little rustic compared to the wines around it, but intense and fun to taste.
  • 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel: Dark and chocolaty on the nose, with black fruit and balsamic notes. The mouth is similar, with cocoa powder, black cherry, luscious texture, and a long finish. My favorite of the older vintages.
  • 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel: Round on the nose and lightly meaty, with a sweet cola character that I've always loved in this wine. On the palate, lively, with milk chocolate and tangy currant fruit. Really nice but I thought a touch less outstanding than we thought in our last tasting in 2017. Drink up.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: A spicy balsamic nose nicely balanced between fruity and savory elements. On the palate too I found it right on point, with no element sticking out, but less dramatic than the vintages before and after. Still fresh. 
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: Leaps out of the glass with a meaty, smoky nose, deep and inviting. On the palate, spruce forest and meat drippings, black licorice and dark red fruit. Dramatic and long on the finish. A consensus favorite, and right in the middle of what looks likely to be a long peak.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel: A lovely wine that paled a little after the 2005, with a nose that is lightly meaty, with both black and red currant notes. On the palate, it feels fully mature and resolved, with a nice sweet clove/cumin spice notes, and nice freshness on the finish.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: A dense, inky animal nose, with iodine and cherry skin coming out with time. On the palate, luscious and densely tannic, with a creamy texture and a dark cherry cola note vying with the tannins on the finish. Still young and on its way up, and definitely helped by time in the glass. Decant if you're drinking now, or hold.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very different from the previous vintage, much more marked by Grenache's openness and red fruit. A high toned red berry nose, with a palate that is open and lifted and medium-bodied. This had a lovely translucency and freshness that made it a favorite for many of us of the 10-15 year old range.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel: Sort of split the difference between the two previous vintages, with a dense eucalyptus and cola nose, with pepper spice notes. Plush but still tannic on the palate, with red raspberry fruit and some dusty tannins that are a reminder of its youth. Lots there, and still fleshing out.
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: A pretty nose, with leather and spicy boysenberry. On the palate, nicely mid-weight on entry, but good tangy purple fruit and these nice tannins with the texture of powdered sugar. In a good place, and reminiscent of the 1998, from a similarly cool vintage.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas: Like the 2010, with the volume turned up slightly. A creamy cherry candy nose, with Syrah's dark foresty character a bit toward the forefront. Savory and textured on the palate, with black cherry coming out on the finish. More open than my last tasting of this wine, which suggests it's on its way out of its closed phase.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas: A high toned nose, almost all red fruit at this stage. Candied strawberry on the nose, then red plum on the palate, with a tangy marinade note that I've always found in the 2012. Medium weight. Still fleshing out and deepening; I'm very interested to see where this goes during and after its closed phase.
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas: A darker nose than 2012, with a spicy Mexican chocolate character. The mouth is savory with black raspberry and black cherry fruit, new leather, soy marinade, and some youthful tannins. Seems more on a black fruit 2010/2011 trajectory than a red fruit 2008/2009/2012 one.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas: I wrote pure multiple times on this one: a nose like "pure wild strawberry" and the "mouth too, with crystalline purity". Nice texture, generously red fruited. We've been thinking of the 2014 vintage as something like 2007, but tasting this wine it was instead more like 2009.
  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas: A nose of spiced red fruit, like pomegranate molasses. The mouth is pure and deep, purple fruit and spicy herbs, a little leathery soy note provides savory counterpoint. Long and expressive. My favorite of our recent vintages.
  • 2016 Esprit de Tablas: A dense, savory nose, bigger and denser than the 2015, yet still expressive. Blackberry or black plum, pepper spice, chewy tannins, and a long finish. A hint of meatiness like a rosemary-rubbed leg of lamb. Should be incredible to watch evolve. A consensus favorite of our younger wines. 
  • 2017 Esprit de Tablas: A nose like black cherry and smoke, with a concentrated juiciness that despite its power doesn't come across as sweet. Elderberry and new leather. Long. I am excited to show off this wine, which seems to me too be the closest thing we've blended to the 2005 in the years since.

I asked people around the table to offer a few of their favorites, and 14 of the 21 wines got at least one vote. Those with four or more included the 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014, and 2016, with the 2005 and the 2016 sharing the top total. 

A few concluding thoughts:

  • What a pleasure to taste with the combined hundreds of vintages of experience in that room. A few (including Jean-Pierre Perrin, and Jordan Fiorentini of Epoch Estate Wines) had to leave before we thought of taking the photograph, but what a room of winemaking talent to share the experience with:
Rretrospective Tasting Guests
From left: John Alban, Alban Vineyards; John Munch, Le Cuvier Winery; Jason Haas; Kirk Gafill, Nepenthe; Aengus Wagner, Nepenthe; Steve Edmunds, Edmunds St. John; Steve Beckmen, Beckmen Vineyards; Neil Collins
  • I was really pleased that the favorite wines stretched from the beginning of the sequence to the end, and included warm years and cool, low-production years and plentiful ones, and blends that included unusually high percentages of Mourvedre (2005, 2015), of Grenache (2008, 2014), and of Syrah (2009, 2016). I thought that the older wines showed great staying power, while the younger wines were open and felt already well mannered. John Munch from Le Cuvier commented, in his typically pithy style, "the older wines didn't taste old, and the younger wines didn't taste young".
  • The longevity of the wines from even our very early vintages gives me a ton of optimism about how our current wines will age. Look at a wine like the 2000: for a decade, we've been commenting at every tasting that it's the best showing we've seen yet. Our oldest vines then were 8 years old, with the majority of the vineyard between 3 and 5. This long aging curve wouldn't be a surprise for Mourvedre-heavy Chateauneuf, but I think we've consistently underestimated how well our own wines age. Hopefully, events like this help recast our expectations.
  • It is always fascinating the extent to which the wines are alive, and do move around over time. Last time we held a tasting like this, in 2017, our favorites included 2000, 2003, 2006, 2010, and 2015. All of those showed well at this tasting, but only the 2000 was among our top-5 vote-getters this time. 
  • At the same time, the tasting supported by contention that the run we're on now is the best we've ever seen. If you tally the votes in 3-year increments, the top range was 2014-2016 (15 votes), followed closely by 2008-2010 (13 votes) and 2003-2005 (11 votes). If I had to make a gross generalization, in our early years (say, up until 2007), we were making wines that had robust power but were a little rustic and needed age to come into balance. And they mostly have. In our middle years (say, 2008-2013) we were working to build elegance into the wines, trusting that they would deepen with time in bottle. And they mostly have. What we're getting now, with its combination of power and purity, is what we've been aiming at all along, and I think that watching them age will be fascinating.

Flagship red vertical

Footnote

  1. We update a vintage chart at least quarterly with the results of these tastings.

You may not be aging your Rhone whites. But if you do, here's what to expect.

As regular readers of the blog know, we keep a library of all the wines we've made.  We use this for the tastings we conduct in-house and for the public, like our 10-year retrospective every spring and our mid-summer vertical tastings. We use it to supply our Collector's Edition wine club and the Collector's Vertical Tasting we offer by reservation. And it gives us the opportunity to feature aged wines at the occasional special dinner or event out in the market.

You may not know that one of the things for which we use our library is to help restaurants who want to build a collection of back vintages of Esprit de Tablas (or Esprit de Beaucastel). We do this by offering mixed-vintage vertical packs, that include three bottles each of four different vintages. The red vertical pack is our more popular, and for the last couple of years has included the 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2010 vintages. But we also do a white vertical pack, which for the right restaurant can be even more fun, since so few customers have experience aging white wines.

Our current white vertical pack includes three bottles each of the 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2011 vintages.  I decided to open one of each of them today to check in and see how they're showing, and thought that readers of the blog might appreciate the inside look. The lineup:

Four older Esprit Blancs

My notes from the tasting are below. I have linked each wine to its page on our Web site, if you'd like to see tasting notes from when it was bottled, or any of the details of its production:

  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): Powerfully Roussanne on the nose with creme brulee, mint, beeswax, and a slightly dusty candied character that reminded me of Necco wafers. The mouth was fresh and lovely, rich but with a little pithy Seville orange marmalade bite, with flavors of cream sherry and marzipan, and a lovely preserved lemon acidity that came out on the finish and left a clean, lively impression. 
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): A little more age evident than the 2005, with cedar, hay, and dried herbs on top of the dried pineapple and beeswax that the wine has had since its youth. More generous on the palate, with flavors of burnt sugar, fennel, and candied orange peel. There was a little resiny spice and a licorice/menthol lift on the finish. Weighty and serious, this is a wine crying out for rich food like lobster.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): Similar on the nose to the 2007, with spicy bitter oranges, lemongrass, and spun sugar. The mouth is beautifully mid-weight, with flavors of marzipan and candied lemon peel, lovely briny minerality, and a long, clean finish. That said, it showed quite a bit differently than the last time we tasted it in 2017 (when we all commented on how fruity it was). I'm not 100% sure what conclusion to draw from this, except that these wines are all alive and can change dramatically even after several years in bottle.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): Very different than the first three wines on the nose, with aromas of juniper and hops and rising dough and lemongrass, in many ways more like a sour beer than a wine. The mouth is clean and mineral-driven, with flavors of green apple and lemon and honeysuckle. The finish was my favorite part, with lingering impressions of cream soda and wet rocks, and a saline minerality. From our coolest-ever vintage, and shows it.

One conclusion: from this tasting, as well as previous vertical tastings, I think that the windows of time that we've been attributing to aging Roussanne's life stages have been too short.  I also think that the normal description of the phases we've been using ("youthful", "mature", "closed", etc) don't really do these wines justice. They change and move around, showing different characters at different stages.  If I had to identify these stages and the time frames in which you can expect them, they would be:

  • Youth (roughly 2-6 years after vintage, or right now, our 2013-2016 Esprit Blanc): Roussanne-based whites in this stage are rich, unctuous, primary, floral, and honeyed. Citrus blossom, pear, new honey, and a little salty minerality on the finish. This is an immensely appealing stage, and I understand why so many get drunk young.
  • Early maturity (roughly 7-10 years after vintage, or right now, our 2010-2012): In this phase, the wines are starting to lose some of their baby fat and picking up more savory, herby, mineral-driven character. The acids appear more prominent, and the brininess that in younger wines only shows on the finish becomes more prominent.
  • Middle age (roughly 11-14 years after vintage, or right now, our 2006-2009): Wines in this phase tend to deepen and see their tones darken, with honey character caramelizing, more butterscotch or burnt sugar notes, and the citrus blossom deepening to a candied orange peel. The wines show some oxidative notes, which can for some consumers be off-putting. But they're not oxidized (see next phase).
  • Maturity (roughly 15-20+ years after vintage, or right now, our 2001-2005): The oxidative character that these wines showed earlier drops away, and the wine becomes more medium-bodied and paler in color. The floral character re-emerges, combining with caramel and nutty notes and the wines' persistent minerality to make something magical.

If this feels daunting, I don't blame you. You can't go wrong drinking these wines young. But late last year, I shared that one of my recent wine resolutions was to buy fewer wines, but more of the ones I loved, so I could follow their evolution. And I don't think there's a better choice for a resolution like that than a Roussanne-based white like the Esprit Blanc. Of course, you have to be up for a bit of a roller-coaster ride, but following these wines is always fascinating, and you'll learn a lot. 

And finally, one take-home message. If you get one that's tasting heavy and feels on the verge of being too old, I would suggest that the right response isn't to quickly open and drink all the other bottles you've saved because their time might be nearly over. Instead, I would think that the thing to do is to write yourself a reminder to check back in another few years, and see if instead the wine is just about to take another turn on its road to whatever destination it has chosen.


A "Horizontal" Tasting: Looking Back at the 2009 Vintage at Age 10

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing nine of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 10th.  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. In fact, each year that we've done this we've been surprised by at least one white that we expected to be in decline showing up as a highlight.  The lineup:

IMG_2271

A while back, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2009 vintage:

The 2009 vintage was our third consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by serious April frosts. Berries and clusters were small, with excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and our harvest largely complete except for about half our Mourvedre at the time of a major rainstorm on October 13th. Crop sizes were 15% smaller than 2008 and 30% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with an appealing combination of richness and depth, and red wines with an great lushness, rich texture and relatively low acid but wonderful chalky tannins.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the same powerful structure that they did upon release? Would the whites have had enough freshness to be compelling a decade later?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?

In 2009, we made 15 different wines: 7 whites, 1 rosé, and 7 reds. This is a smaller number than most other vintages of that decade, reduced by the fact that so many grapes were scarce that year. Of the white Rhone varieties, our only varietal wines were Grenache Blanc and Roussanne (plus a second Roussanne bottling, under our Bergeron label). On the red side, our only Rhone varietal red was Grenache, making 2009 the only vintage since 2003 where we weren't able to bottle a 100% Mourvedre.

Although we made 15 wines, there were only 14 available in our library to taste today. Unfortunately (and none of us can remember how) there is none of our rosé left in our library. I can't remember another time where we didn't have even one bottle left to taste at the 10-year mark. And it's not like this disappeared recently; the last bottle was pulled out of the library early in 2011. Perhaps with the vintage's scarcity we reached into the library to fill a last few orders?  I wish I remembered. In any case, if any of you have any of our 2009 Rosé at home and want to share one with us, you'd have our undying gratitude and a spot in this or any future retrospective tasting of your choice.

My notes on the fourteen wines we did taste are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) as well. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling (well, except for the Pinot Noir, which we only made one barrel of and never made a Web page for; if you have questions about that, 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, and Austin Collins) as well as by our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore.

  • 2009 Vermentino (SC): At first sniff the petrol/rubber cement character I tend to get in older screwcapped whites, but this blew off pretty quickly and rocky, briny, youthful notes emerged. With even a little more time in the glass, they were joined by aromas of orange blossom, lemon custard, and grapefruit pith. On the palate, key lime juice, passion fruit, white grapefruit, and more salty brininess. Surprisingly luscious, with a pretty sweet/salty lime note lingering on the finish. Really impressive, once it got past that initial note, and a good reminder to decant old screwcapped whites.
  • 2009 Grenache Blanc (SC): A lovely golden color. The nose showed marzipan, butterscotch, and a rising bread yeastiness. In the mouth, gentle on attack, with flavors of preserved lemon, wet rocks, and a little sweet spice, with acids building over time and finishing with a pithy tannic note we often find in Grenache Blanc. Not as youthful or dramatic as the Vermentino, though perfectly sound still. Drink up if you've got any.
  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 45% Viognier, 28% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, 7% Grenache Blanc): A nose like beer, with a green hoppy note that reminded Chelsea of lemongrass. With time, some honeysuckle and dried apricot emerged. The mouth had nice texture, very Rhone-like, with impressions of peaches and cream, ginger and straw, and a little burst of sour apple on the finish that we thought might come from the Grenache Blanc. Like the Grenache Blanc, it's on the elderly side, but still sound.
  • 2009 Bergeron (SC): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A lovely nose of minty spruce and cedar, with caramel and baked apple behind. The mouth was similarly appealing, with caramel apple, chalky minerality, and a nice pithy marmalade note on the finish. It was a pleasure to taste, but also seemed like it would be a great dinner wine.
  • 2009 Roussanne (C): A deeper gold color.  Smells a little like a sour beer, with the yeasty character vying with a little sarsaparilla that I think came from some new oak. The mouth too has that same sour crabapple character, more to us like cider than wine, with flavors of Granny Smith apple, sour cherry, and pork fat, on top of Roussanne's signature rich texture. A strange showing for this wine. Not sure if it's in a stage, or if it's on its way downhill.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 62% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 12% Picpoul Blanc): An appealing nose like an entire apple pie, complete with baked apples, nutmeg spice, and rich yeasty crust. Also aromas of honeycomb and sea spray. The mouth showed great texture: very rich, but with nice building acids that balanced the weight, flavors of baked pear, beeswax, spiced nuts, and a nice briny character that came out on the finish. Fully mature and beautiful.
  • 2009 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): One of our last Chardonnay bottlings, from a vintage where production was devastated by the frosts. The nose showed tarragon, buttered popcorn, lemongrass and green tomato, while the mouth was plush yet with a nice lemony note, like a beurre blanc, with a coconut creaminess and a little creamsicle-like orange character on the finish. It tasted to me like it was picked a touch on the early side, and a good reminder that when you're growing a grape that's not an ideal fit for your climate there are times when you don't have a great choice: wait until ripeness and live with extra alcohol and too much weight, or pick early and end up with some green character. In cooler years, I loved our Antithesis, but warmer years like 2009 are more common in Paso Robles, and a big part of why we decided to end the experiment a few years later.
  • 2009 Pinot Noir (C): Our third-ever Pinot, from a few rows of vines in our nursery we were using to produce budwood to plant at my dad's property for our Full Circle Pinot. Our most successful, I think, of the four vintages we made of this wine: a nice minty, cherry and tobacco nose. The mouth shows an appealing lean power: cherry skin and baker's chocolate, menthol and green herbs, Chinese five spice and cloves. A little luxardo cherry character on the finish. Admirable and fun.
  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas (C; 43% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 18% Counoise, 15% Mourvedre): Our only Cotes de Tablas to make the Wine Spectator's "Top 100". A really nice showing for this wine, dark and spicy on the nose, more black in tone than I expect from our Cotes, with blackberry, juniper, pepper, leather, and iron. The mouth is really impressive, with classic but concentrated Grenache flavors of milk chocolate, raspberry, currant and cigar box, nice balance, and a powdered sugar character we loved to the tannins. The finish showed roasted meats and plenty of tannin. Still at peak, and likely to go a while longer. 
  • 2009 Grenache (C): A powerful nose, tangy with cherry liqueur, pine sap, garrigue, and licorice. A touch of alcohol shows too. The mouth is quite tannic, yet with nice fruit intensity: redcurrant, wild strawberry, leather, black pepper, and autumn leaves. A little one-dimensional right now, and not as appealing as the Cotes de Tablas, with its Syrah-added black notes and Counoise's brambliness.
  • 2009 En Gobelet (C; 56% Mourvedre, 23% Tannat, 21% Grenache): Quite a contrast to the Grenache, with a nose more savory than fruity: lacquered wood, teriyaki, black licorice, cedar, and a little plum skin. The mouth is friendlier than the nose suggests, with blackberry and juniper flavors, smoked meat, pepper, bittersweet chocolate, and blackcurrant all giving relief to the still-substantial tannins. Just our second En Gobelet, and all still from the low-lying areas we planted initially as our first head-trained, dry-farmed blocks.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 40% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 5% Counoise): The complete package on the nose, evenly balanced between red and black fruit, with added appeal from notes of meat drippings, chocolate, and junipery spice. The mouth is gorgeous: powerful plum and currant fruit, tons of texture, and little hints of sweet spices, dark chocolate, and candied orange peel. A great combination of savory and sweet, at peak drinking but with plenty left in the tank. Neil commented that it was "just what an Esprit should be".
  • 2009 Panoplie (C; 65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): Less generous on the nose than the Esprit, with red licorice, teriyaki, bay, and Chinese five spice. The mouth is powerful, with tangy red fruit, cherry skin, and then a wall of tannins locks things down and clips the finish a bit. The texture and the mid-palate were highlights, but I think this is still emerging from a closed phase and will be a lot better in a year or two.
  • 2009 Tannat (C): Tannat's classic blue-black color. A cool nose of black licorice, sarsaparilla, elderberry, and a little violet potpourri lift. The mouth is lovely, with tangy chocolate and plum, still big tannins, and a little welcome sweet oak. Classic and reliable, without being as hard as Tannat can be when young. A pleasure, just entering peak drinking.

A few concluding thoughts

As I suspected at the time, this was a very strong red vintage, and a somewhat weaker white vintage, although there were still treasures to be found among the whites. The Bergeron, I thought, was particularly good, and a fun surprise. On the red side, it's clear that time has been kind to the powerful tannins that characterize the 2009 vintage, with the bigger reds still showing plenty of structure and yet the flavors having emerged. I confessed in a blog from last summer that 2009 was never a favorite vintage of mine, but that what I didn't love in its youth -- a certain muscle-bound tannic weight -- has made wines with remarkable staying power.

Unlike the other vintages around it, I don't have a comparable recent vintage for 2009. The similarly low-yielding 2015 vintage has a lot more in character with more elegant years like 2006 and 2010 than with 2009, and we're picking less ripe, overall, now. That doesn't break my heart; I love the openness of the texture of the wines that we're making now. But when we do get another similarly concentrated vintage as 2009, I know I'm going to try to have the patience to do the same thing, and bury the wines in the back of my wine fridge for a decade. 

It's worth noting that nearly all of the 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 particularly so with wines that have been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that most older screwcapped whites have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant would have been welcome.

Finally, we chose nine pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 10th Horizontal Tasting: Vermentino, Bergeron, Esprit Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cotes de Tablas, En Gobelet, Esprit, Panoplie, and Tannat. There are still some seats available; I hope many of you will join us!


Checking in on Mourvedre, young and old

For the last three winters, Meghan and I have brought our boys to Vermont, to spend a week in the house in which I grew up playing with my sister's family, and to experience some real winter. This has meant lots of time sledding (or, in this relatively snow-free year, chilly forest walks), lots of time around a board game or a jigsaw puzzle, and of course lots of time around the dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) table. Our family is notorious for not wanting to get up from one meal without knowing with confidence what the next one will be, and when.

One of the pleasures of this house (and, for that matter, this family) is getting to explore the wine cellar that my dad stocked over the course of his six-decade career. Often that means older Burgundies, Bordeaux, or Rhones, but one of the most fun explorations we did this year was of two vintages of Mourvedre, which we opened with a simple but delicious dinner of pasta with homemade Bolognese, simmered for several hours the day before by my sister Rebecca.

IMG_9304

Mourvedre is known for its ageworthiness. But one thing that I've always appreciated about it is that even in its youth it's not usually forbidding or difficult. Its tannins tend to be more chewy than hard, it's got plenty of red fruit, and it has a lovely loamy earthiness, like new leather and pine needles, even when it's young, that just gets more pronounced as the wine ages.

The two vintages that I chose are similar in some ways. Both were overshadowed by blockbuster vintages that followed, and we have underestimated how good the red wines from both 2006 and 2013 really were, with later vertical tastings (like the one we did of Cotes de Tablas just last month) showcasing how well each was showing now. But each vintage is also representative of the era in which we produced it, with 2006 in the middle of a run of vintages where we were pushing for a bit more ripeness than we have in recent years, and 2013 in the shadow of the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages where we were more comfortable picking earlier, and lower sugar levels. And the alcohol on the labels of both wines reflect this, with the 2006 at 14.5%, while the 2013 came in at 13.5%.

Both wines were lovely. My notes on each (brief, since I was taking them in the middle of dinner conversation):

  • 2006 Mourvedre: Chocolatey and generous, with candied raspberry and plum, a little mushroomy earthiness vying with sugarplum and roasted meats on the palate, and a finish of milk chocolate and forest undergrowth. A touch of heat on the finish.
  • 2013 Mourvedre: Savory in contrast to the 2006, showing more darkness on the nose: pepper spice, soy, and roasted meats, with flavors of blackberry, pine forest, and meat drippings, and a lingering graphite-like minerality on the finish.

The opinions around the family table were interesting: most people preferred the 2006 at first taste, for its lusciousness and generosity. That chocolatey character was pretty irresistible, the tannins soft, and the fruit red and unmistakable. But as the meal wound on, I (and most of the rest of the table) kept coming back to the 2013, which seemed to evolve and open up more over the course of the meal, and whose savoriness offered a nice contrasting tone and whose umami-like minerality seemed to play more confidently with the Bolognese.

Of course, the point of pouring two vintages isn't particularly to declare a winner. Both wines were delicious, and I can't imagine anyone opening either of them being disappointed. But the meal was a good affirmation for me of the direction our wines have taken in recent years, still showing plenty of fruit and Paso Robles' characteristic generous sunshine, but preserving more savoriness and minerality to provide balance, contrast, and lift.

I hope that you opened something wonderful over the holidays, and that your new year is full of great food, interesting wines, and outstanding company to enjoy with both.


Our Most Memorable Wines of 2018

One of the things I appreciate most about the team that I work with at Tablas Creek is the wide range of their interests and experiences. If you don't work at a winery, you might expect that those of us who do spend most of their time drinking their 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 thought it would be fun to ask some of our key people about one wine that stuck with them from all the ones they'd tried in 2018. I loved the responses I received, and thought that readers of the blog might too. Here's everyone's submission, in their own words, in alphabetical order (except mine, which is at the end):

Leslie Castillo, Tasting Room Team Lead: Casa Gran del Siurana La Fredat 2014 Garnatxa
DSC08261This last November my husband and I traveled to Barcelona, Spain. A longtime friend from Baja, Mexico happened to be there at the same time, so we met up and drove to the Priorat for a day and had lunch at Mastrucafort in Bellmunt del Priorat, it was there where we had my most memorable wine La Fredat 2014 Garnatxa from Casa Gran del Siurana, objectively the wine was elegant yet wild simply beautiful but what made it even more memorable was the amazing Catalan food, rice prepared with rabbit, escargots and wild mushrooms; pasture raised lamb and the best braised “bacalao” I’ve had. The wine on its own was beautiful but what made it most memorable for me was everything that surrounded it our friends, the place the amazing dishes, whenever I drink La Fredat in the future I will remember that snapshot of our trip.

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker: 2013 Domaine Tempier La Tourtine
IMG_9163I have always maintained that a really great wine can only achieve its full potential when it’s company and surroundings are all in perfect tune. Just such a moment happened last week. I took the glorious drive over the Nacimiento-Ferguson road to Big Sur with my boys and a friend. We lunched at my favorite lunch spot anywhere on the planet, Nepenthe. A glorious winter day, we were treated like kings! Classic steak & frites, the wine a 2013 Domaine Tempier La Tourtine. Stunning is an under statement! Food family friends great weather great view GREAT Wine, perfect.

Ian Consoli, Tasting Room: AmByth Estate 2013 Mourvedre
My favorite bottle of 2018, AmByth Estate 2013 Mourvedre, had two special moments. Number one was in its tasting room. As a man stood across from me and poured me 14 memorable natural wines one stood above them all. I took that bottle and held it for the right occasion until it found me only 2 months later at a dinner made exclusively of biodynamic ingredients. I brought it out to pair with the lamb and was immediately sent into a world where everyone else at the table disappears and only the dish, the wine and myself remain in the phenomenon known as “the vortex”. It was magical.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager: 2005 Franck Balthazar Cornas 
IMG_1005This 2005 Franck Balthazar Cornas quietly resides on one of my favorite wine lists in the US, at Sacramento’s Tapa the World. Half wine bar and half hookah lounge, owner Paul bought heavy amounts of old world juice before the financial downturn of 2008, and a lot of it is still there at original prices for us industry types to drool over. Black and viscous in color, raw meat and kalamata olive aromatics, with just enough of the Cornas funk bumping in the glass; it's in a beautiful pop-and-pour state at 13 years of age with time-tamed tannins.

Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Team Lead: Fino Sherry
Tapas and wineAt a tapas joint in Córdoba, Andalusia this summer.  We spotted this little place hidden in the backstreets near the grandiose Mezquita-Cathedral that we had just visited that morning.  In this picture taken by my husband, you’ll notice our glasses of chilled Fino Sherry, the local wine, ubiquitous in the region.  I still feel the deliciously crisp refreshing taste of it, with its distinctive aromas of almond that remind me of our Roussanne.  It did not need any more than a simple plate of chorizo and Manzanilla olives to make the experience delicious and unforgettable.

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker: 2017 Ridge Montebello (from Barrel)
20180803_143440 (1)Thinking about my favorite or most memorable bottle of wine from a given year is like going through a highlight reel from the past 12 months.  Travel experiences, epic dinners with friends and family, celebrations both large and small… for me, every one of those events is marked with a special bottle of wine.  Going through my favorite memories of the year and trying to narrow it down to a single bottle is a difficult task, indeed! 

However, there was one singular wine experience that absolutely blew me away this year.  Before harvest, our cellar team took a trip to Santa Cruz under the auspice of teambuilding, but the real reason for the trip was that our winemaker, Neil Collins, got an invitation from Eric Baugher, winemaker at Ridge Vineyards, to visit the Ridge Monte Bello Estate.  We jumped.  FAST.  Eric gave us a full cellar tour and led us through a stellar barrel tasting experience before showing us the separate Monte Bello cellar.  It was here that I had my very first taste of Ridge’s Monte Bello wine.  My dad had always been a fan of Ridge and the striking green and black labels were a staple in our wine rack – but never the Monte Bello.  This, to me, was tasting from barrel a lifetime of curiosity, longing and wonder.  And while it may have been my first taste of this venerable wine, it was not to be my last that day.  We sat down to lunch and after enjoying flights from their Lytton Springs and Geyserville properties, as well as a flight from their ATP wines, we were treated to a flight of the 1992, 2002 and 2012 Monte Bello.  These wines and this experience was the closest to perfection I’ve ever had the good fortune to be part of.

Working in this industry, we get access to all kinds of really extraordinary experiences, events and wines.  But hanging out with the Ridge vineyard and cellar team and talking frankly about their winemaking practices over glasses of exceptional wines I’d been waiting my entire life to try – this was one of those days where I sat thunderstruck, asking myself “Is this really my life?  How did I get so lucky?”  If a glass of wine causes you to ask questions like that, well, that’s certainly a highlight of the highlight reel.

Linnea Frazier, Media & Marketing: 1984 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
My most memorable bottle actually all came into play because of a chipped tooth. Yes, a chipped tooth. I was at my orthodontist and we were chatting about my work in the wine industry and his past wine collections, so being curious about the more obscure Rhone whites he proposed we do a bottle exchange next appointment. I readily agreed, not thinking too much of it and when the time came presented him with a bottle of our 2017 Picpoul Blanc. Casually, he places a bottle of 1984 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cab Sauvignon on the table between us. Needless to say I laughed. And despite my protestations, he was adamant about us exchanging. Much to the delight of my conscience, I do believe he ended up buying a couple cases of Picpoul a few weeks after.

That bottle was opened during the holidays with the people I love most and given the ceremony it well deserved. Of course it was outstandingly rich and rustic, with immediate sinister earthiness and gained more dark fruit after a couple hours. Cheers!

Misty Lies, Tasting Room Team Lead: 2013 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche
IMG_0048Earlier this year we had a free afternoon to open a nice bottle of wine. We decided on a bottle from Domaine Ponsot and decanted it. As the afternoon progressed we tasted it about every 20 minutes to see how it would open up over time. Even as a youthful wine, it was simply amazing and it gave me a whole new appreciation of wine.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager: 1996 Tablas Hills Cuvee Rouge
This was a year where I drank plenty of wine, but mostly good, solid, everyday stuff.  The exception, at the risk of being a homer, was the discovery of a handful of cases of 1996 Tablas Hills Cuvee Rouge.  This predated the first Tablas Creek Vineyard labeling by one year, but is in essence an Esprit de Tablas/Beaucastel.  A caveat: there’s none left.  We sold it bottle by bottle in the tasting room over the course of a couple of months, and I had the opportunity to taste it a handful of times.  It’s held up remarkably well, and still has some years left.  It is of course an old wine, so is ethereal in body, delicately perfumed, graceful on the palate, with just enough vibrancy to make it fresh.  It’s not quite a perfect wine, as it shows a touch of green, maybe stemmy tannins that are mostly calmed with age, but for a 22-year-old wine made from three-year-old vines, it’s a revelation.  And as much I as enjoyed it, I‘m even more excited about what the wines we’re making now will be like in 20 years, with fully mature vines and a vineyard and winemaking team with two decades of experience on this site.

Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing: Vouette & Sorbée’s Fidèle
Suphada ChampagneI might be the worst minimalist ever! I carried around this bottle of champagne around with me through the better part of the summer. I had a sneaking suspicion that Cameron (my now fiancé) was going to propose at some point and me, being my hyper organized and planned self, I wanted to be prepared. Thankfully, I only had to tote it around for a month or two! Our engagement wine was Vouette & Sorbée’s Fidèle, a beautiful expression of Pinot Noir from the Aube. If I can give any unsolicited advice, I would say to always have a bottle of champagne ready- you never know (or sometimes you do!) when you may need to celebrate.

Randy Thurman, IT and Facilities Manager: 2012 Esprit de Tablas
We celebrated a new niece arriving this year with a bottle of Esprit Red 2012. I also gained a brother in law almost 3 months to the day that my niece was born, which we also drank to at their wedding with 24 bottles of Tablas Dianthus, Picardan, and Patelin current releases. We did not have any immediate family pass but we usually toast them at every family get together with any drink available and reminisce about how they would have enjoyed being there with us and how much we miss them. To King Po Po as my family would say.

Me: Domaine Marquis d'Angerville, Clos des Ducs, Vintage Unknown
IMG_7056As readers of the blog or followers of Tablas Creek will know, my dad Robert (founder of Tablas Creek) passed away this March one month from his 91st birthday. I wrote at some length on the blog on his life, and also in another piece shared the eulogy I gave for him at the celebration of his life we held at the vineyard in April. That celebration was a mix of sadness and appreciation for the many things he built and left for all of us. In that spirit, at a family gathering two nights before the memorial, my brother Danny and I decided to open a bottle of made by the Burgundy proprietor with whom he had been friends longest: Jacques d'Angerville, born like him in 1927.

I've always loved the wines from Domaine Marquis d'Angerville in Volnay, which for me exemplify Burgundy's magical ability to have depth and intensity of flavor without any sense of heaviness. The bottle itself had spent some years in my dad's Vermont cellar, where the high humidity is ideal for the wine inside the bottles but enough to cause labels to disintegrate. I'm sure that the vintage was printed on the cork, but I don't remember what that was, and the part of the label that would have shown it is gone. Almost certainly some vintage between 1976 and 1985, but I can't be more specific than that.

I remember the wine, though: translucent and ethereal, high-toned, fully mature and yet still very much alive. It's a wine I would have loved in any circumstances, but it was everything else that the wine signified that night that made it my most memorable wine of the year: a backdrop for our telling stories of our dad's life; tangible proof of the impact of his career; and a symbol of endurance (Jacques passed away in 2003, but his brilliance shines through in the wines he made).

A few concluding thoughts:
As you might expect, this was an eclectic list. Some wines are Tablas Creek, but most are not. Many were older, which says that for all the challenges of storing and being patient with wines, the rewards can be marvelous. But the thing that stood out most for me was the extent to which wines can mark the significant occasions in our lives, and give those moments additional depth and meaning. May your food and wine experiences be memorable in 2019.


Buy More Wine (and Fewer Wines)

Last weekend, we hosted our annual en primeur tasting for our wine club members. This is part of a program with roots back to 1954, when my dad offered the customers of his father's Manhattan wine shop M. Lehmann the opportunity to purchase futures on the great Bordeaux vintage of 1952. His father never thought consumers would pay for wine before they could get it, but my dad sold out the entire 3000 case allocation in three weeks and transformed the way that Bordeaux wines were sold in America. I recently uncovered the old pamphlet, with gorgeous hand-colored lithographs printed in Paris and sent to my dad's best customers in Manhattan. It's a remarkable time capsule, from an era where a case of first-growth Bordeaux would only set you back some $37. For larger images, click on the pictures below:

599346_10151226624807415_2041072593_n 552608_10151226624877415_1363314442_n
578701_10151226624997415_1472916573_n 557025_10151226624952415_1933886642_n 

406210_10151226624672415_993931054_n 426848_10151226624752415_1149308819_n

At Tablas Creek, we offer futures on our two top red wines from each vintage, Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie.  We do this in largely the same way, year after year, as is fitting for a program that looks back nearly seven decades. We send out an invitation to purchase at a futures-only savings to our club members, as well as the opportunity to come to one of two sessions where we debut these new wines. Guests try the wines on their own and with a hearty dish that can stand up to the wines' youth, while Neil and I spend the sessions doing our best to put the newest vintage into context with other recent vintages, and share our best guesses as to how the wines will evolve over time. That was our day this past Saturday.

Here's where things get interesting. Because, while we can and do try to draw parallels with other years, no two vintages are the same. For example, my closest comparison for the 2017 wines is 2005: a year, like 2017, where we saw a multi-year drought cycle end with a bang, and where the resulting vintage was both high quality and plentiful, the vines' expression of their health in a warm, generous year. But, of course, the vineyard is older now than it was in 2005, with the oldest vines pushing 25 years and a much higher percentage of head-trained, dry-farmed acreage. The raw materials are not the same. And the young 2017 reds manage to be both densely packed and approachable, thick with primary fruit and yet savory, with hints of the complexity that they'll develop over the decades. They clearly have a long and fascinating life ahead of them.1

IMG_7100

I was asked at both sessions what I thought the drinking windows would be on the wines that we were tasting, and I did my best. I think that both of these wines have two windows, one 3-6 years after vintage where the wine has lost its youthful blockiness but remains young, juicy, and exuberant, and another (after a 1-3 year closed period that I liken to a wine's teenage years) 8-20 or more years after vintage where it has softened, developed more secondary and tertiary flavors of meat, leather, and truffle, when the wines' tannins have softened, when it's mature, graceful, and elegant.

But really, the most fun for me is getting to know a wine at different stages of its life. And this led me to share with the guests one of my revelations I've tried to act on over recent years. I realized I needed to buy more wine, but fewer wines. Most of us don't have unlimited resources and unlimited space. We have to prioritize. And with wine -- or at least my favorite wines, which I think will age well -- this means buying enough to be able to open at different phases of its life, and hopefully still to have some left to enjoy when I think it just can't get any better. I don't think this is feasible with fewer than six bottles, and it's a lot easier with a case.

So, that's my practical wine advice for the year. Buy more wine, but fewer wines. And then get ready to enjoy the journey that the wines you love will take you on. I don't remember seeing any 1952's left in my dad's Vermont cellar. But he definitely went heavy on the vintages he loved: 1964 and 1970 for Bordeaux, 1978 and 1985 for Burgundy, 1981 and 1989 for Chateauneuf du Pape. When we're back there over the New Year's holiday, we'll all be thanking my dad for his foresight.

Footnotes:

  1. If you missed this Monday's order deadline for futures on the 2017's, we'll be accepting orders through this weekend. You can find ordering information here.

A Vertical Tasting of Every Vintage of Cotes de Tablas, 1999-2017

We've been enjoying one of our periodic visits from Cesar Perrin this week.  Monday, we looked at our present by tasting through the cellar to get a first look at the 2018 vintage, and tasting a selection of the wines we've bottled this year to evaluate how the 2016s and 2017s are shaping up. Tuesday, we looked at our future, spending the day with our managers talking about what we want Tablas Creek to be working towards over the next five-plus years, and setting ourselves goals. This morning, we looked at our past by opening up every vintage of our Cotes de Tablas, from the first vintage (then called Petite Cuvee) in 1999 to the 2017 that's sitting in foudre and will be bottled in February.

IMG_8909

The tasting was fascinating.  We hadn't looked at all our Cotes de Tablas wines since 2011, and a lot has changed since then.  We've integrated the Patelin de Tablas into our mix. Our varietals have assumed more of a focus, as our sales continue their gradual move away from a focus on the wholesale market and toward our tasting room and wine club.  And we've seen the end of a wet, cool cycle and the full arc of our five-year drought that began in 2012. 

I'll dive into the take-home lessons we feel we learned today at the end of the tasting notes, but one thing was clear from the very first wine: we've consistently underestimated (and perhaps, undersold) the sophistication and ageworthiness of these wines. Although it shows well young, even our first examples were still fresh and vibrant as they reach voting age. And these were not wines made consciously to cellar.  Toss in that in the early years the Cotes de Tablas retailed between $20 and $25 (it's still only $35) and I think that the quality that they offer at their price is pretty hard to beat. Kudos to any of you who saved any of these older vintages in your cellars.

I've linked each wine to its page on our Web site, if you want to look at production notes or tasting notes from when the wine was newly bottled. The notes:

  • 1999 Petite Cuvee (65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre): This was the precursor to the Cotes de Tablas, and we made just a few hundred cases in 1999 of lots that we thought weren't up to the standards of the 1999 Reserve Cuvee (itself the predecessor to the Esprit de Beaucastel), mostly Grenache that we thought too tannic for its weight.  The wine was sold only in our tasting room, and we never thought it would go this long, but it's showing admirably, with the nose pungent and fresh, with a piney, licoricey note. The palate shows strawberry and dried cherry fruit, lots of peppercorn, and a chocolaty note, with still those Grenache tannins that we worried about in the wine's youth now offering lovely counterpoint. A little heat on the finish (the wine is 15.2% alcohol) is the only sign of age to me.
  • 2000 Cotes de Tablas (84% Grenache, 16% Syrah): Our first Cotes de Tablas, from about 600 cases worth of lots we thought pretty but not sufficiently intense to go into the 2000 Esprit, that to our surprise got a 92-point rating from Robert Parker and sold out in less than a month.  There are times when an outside perspective helps you realize the quality of something you've been overlooking each day, and this was one example.  This is gorgeous now, with a meaty, gamy baking spice nose sitting over dark red fruit, and red licorice, plummy and a little pruney with age. The mouth is still richly fruity, meaty, with chocolate and cinnamon warmth, and still some good tannins. It's mature and lovely, and you really can't tell it's 15.6% alcohol. I can't imagine this getting any better from here, but drink up.
  • 2001 Cotes de Tablas (38% Mourvedre, 34% Syrah, 24% Grenache, 4% Counoise): An anomaly for the tasting, as in 2001 we decided that the spring frost had scrambled up the vintage sufficiently that we weren't going to make an Esprit de Beaucastel, and declassified nearly the entire vintage into the Cotes.  So, the only vintage where Grenache was not the #1 grape in the Cotes de Tablas.  The nose was spicy, not as opulent as the 2000, but with some nice savory umami meatiness. It was fresh and still reasonably tannic on the palate, less fruit-driven and showing more of the savory tobacco note I get from aged Syrah. There are still some drying tannins on the finish. It was less of a statement than the wines around it, but felt familiar to us since it's a profile we make wines in nowadays.
  • 2002 Cotes de Tablas (45% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 12% Counoise): Our first Cotes de Tablas blended primarily as a wine in its own right rather than as a consequence of lots we didn't want in the Esprit. Whether because of the blend or the vintage (which was a low-acid year that made brooding wines) it tasted older to me than the preceding wines, the first that I would put in "late maturity" on our vintage chart.  A deep nose of leather, dark chocolate, and soy marinade. The mouth shows sweet fruit, still fairly tannic, then a dried teriyaki beef jerky character that showed (to me at least) it was likely on the downslope. I preferred the renditions with a bit more acidity and lift.
  • 2003 Cotes de Tablas (60% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise): The first wine that to me smelled like a "modern" Cotes de Tablas, with that translucent cranberry Grenache character that I associate with the Cotes now. The palate showed nice openness, freshness, and medium weight, although there were some drying cherry skin tannins that came out on the finish. Good acids. Chelsea called it "affable". I'm not sure there's the stuffing here to age much longer, so drink up while it's at its peak.
  • 2004 Cotes de Tablas (64% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 13% Counoise, 7% Mourvedre): Neil said "here is the Cotes of today". The wine showed a lovely cool nose of minty eucalyptus, pie cherry, fresh tobacco, green peppercorn and baking spices. The mouth showed sweet fruit, but had a nice tanginess that kept it from ever being sappy. The finish showed a bright berry compote character with great tannins with the texture of powdered sugar.  The wine of the tasting for many of us.

[Between 2005 and 2007 we bottled the Cotes de Tablas in both cork and screwcap versions.  We hadn't checked in on them in a while, so we tasted both.  They weren't tasted blind, which of course influences our perceptions of them, but since some of us are screwcap proponents and others tend to favor corks, we were pleased that our impressions of the wines' relative merits were pretty consistent.  I've included notes from both versions.]

  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 15% Counoise)
    • Cork: a nose deep with soy, baker's chocolate, and meat drippings. The mouth showed some of the depth and weight of the 2002, more sweet earth and dark chocolate and tobacco, and a slightly medicinal cherry cough syrup note that felt to some of us like it was a touch overripe (or a touch past its prime).
    • Screwcap: the nose was a little more closed, but broadly similar, more savory than fruity. The mouth was higher toned, with more freshness but less complexity and richness. It still felt a little disjointed, and we would like to have decanted it an hour or so before we tasted it. The group split pretty much 50/50 as to which closure we preferred.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise)
    • Cork: a really nice nose, spicy and lifted cranberry, baking spice, and eucalyptus. Smells cool and fresh. The palate showed flavors of mint chocolate, red cherry, and nicely resolved tannins. Really pretty and delicious.
    • Screwcap: the nose is a little less open and expressive, perhaps a touch medicinal. The palate is very nice, but with a touch of reduction that seemed to make it express as less fruity and maybe because of that a bit more evolved. That also made the tannins a little more evident. Almost all of us preferred the cork on this one. Of course, the first bottle we opened was corked, which drove home the risk of cork finish. That one definitely wasn't better.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise)
    • Cork: a deep, meaty, gamy nose, with sweet baking spices. Quite massive on the palate, still powerfully tannic, and a little on the heavy side right now.  More power than nuance, we thought.
    • Screwcap: the nose is cleaner and more straightforward: spice and roasted meat and dark red jam. The mouth was really pretty: powerful, but fresher than the cork version. Like the 2000 in some ways: opulent but not overweight. All of us preferred the screwcap version.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas (42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 17% Mourvedre): Only bottled in screwcap. A beautiful nose, clean and lifted, with spicy notes of dried strawberry, juniper, cherry skin, new leather, and pepper.  The mouth is generous but with the tanginess that we loved in the 2004, making the wine both fresh and refreshing. Nice sweetness on the finish, with an underlying chalkiness that keeps it pure.  In a very pretty place, and another wine of the tasting for us.
  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 18% Counoise, 15% Mourvedre): Only bottled in cork (as were all subsequent vintages).  The first bottle we opened was oxidized and dead (perhaps a cork flaw?) but the second was pristine: powerful on the nose, with an iron-like minerality that was more dominant than the fruit or meat that lurked underneath. The mouth was nice, but big, with a grapey Grenache character, powerful tannins, and a little alcohol coming out on the finish. From a very powerful, extracted vintage that saw yields reduced by both spring frosts and the third year of drought. More about complexity and power than charm, for me, this was the only Cotes de Tablas to ever appear in the Wine Spectator's "Top 100" list. Definitely enough stuffing to lay down for a while longer.
  • 2010 Cotes de Tablas (46% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise): Smells like Syrah to me: iron and blackberry and loam. The mouth shows more open than the nose suggests, really nice, with black cherry, some tanginess, and good integrated tannins, with lots of black licorice on the finish. A serious wine from a very cool, slow-ripening vintage, still probably not quite at peak. Cesar commented "you feel a lot of potential".
  • 2011 Cotes de Tablas (49% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): More open on the nose than the 2010: blackberry and spice and rich dark earth, though the coolness of the vintage (the back-to-back vintages of 2010 and 2011 were the coolest in our history) still means that the fruit tones are more black than red. The mouth is velvety, with nice acids and elegant tannins. Not quite the fruit density of the 2010, but that may be a stage. This feels to me like it's emerging from a closed period, will be better in another six months, and drink well for another decade.
  • 2012 Cotes de Tablas (60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5% Mourvedre): Charmingly Grenache on the nose: red cherry and red licorice, loam, and sweet spices. The mouth shows cherry-chocolate, more red licorice, and a nice tanginess on the finish. It's a little light on the mid-palate compared to a great vintage, but it's easy and charming. Chelsea called it "joyous".
  • 2013 Cotes de Tablas (55% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5% Mourvedre): Darker and more powerful on the nose than the 2012, almost 2011-like, with iron, soy marinade, baking spices, and figs. Inviting. The mouth is really nice: licorice, raspberry and blackberry, with appealing earthiness and a nice tannic bite coming out on the finish. My favorite of the relatively young vintages.
  • 2014 Cotes de Tablas (44% Grenache, 36% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 8% Mourvedre): Seems older on the nose than the 2013, jammier and less vibrant. Still, nice strawberry jam, sweet earth, and baking spice character. The mouth shows great tanginess, sweet fruit, good tannins, a bit primary right now with some grapiness and a little baked fruit. Maybe on a track similar to a wine like 2002 or 2005, and that's not surprising: we thought that 2014 was in many ways a throwback vintage that reminded us of the mid-2000s.
  • 2015 Cotes de Tablas (39% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 16% Counoise, 10% Mourvedre): So focused and precise on the nose, like (to me) all our 2015 reds: spicy cranberry, young, fresh, and playful. The mouth to me is on point, with both precision and intensity, and vibrant acids. A little less rich on the mid-palate than the 2014 -- not surprising given the cooler vintage -- but for me more than made up for that with the focus.
  • 2016 Cotes de Tablas (55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 13% Mourvedre, 7% Counoise): Still young and less focused on the nose than the 2015, pungent and spicy with a cherry cola character and (I thought) a little touch of sweet oak. On the palate, like strawberry puree with tangy acids but a nice creamy, chalky mineral backbone to play off. Strawberries and cream on the finish, fun and expressive.
  • 2017 Cotes de Tablas (53% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 10% Mourvedre): Out of foudre; will be bottled in February and go out to wine club members in the spring. A rich but lifted nose of spicy strawberry, iron, and vibrant freshness on the nose. In the mouth, red fruit and licorice, complicated by a garrigue-like herbiness and with youthful tannins that come out with black cherry and fresh fig flavors on the finish. A baby, but should be outstanding.  

A few concluding thoughts. First, on corks vs. screwcaps. This was the least conclusive tasting that we've done on these three vintages; with one vintage seeming better in cork, another in screw cap, and the third a split decision. But I left feeling like the decision to put the wine in cork starting in 2009 was a good one, as most people who are drinking the wines are doing it in the wine's first decade, and there's plenty of freshness to carry the wines to that age, while the added depth from the aging under cork seemed a benefit. If you are opening wines like this under screwcap, a decant is highly recommended.

Of course, the one disappointing wine was the corked 2006. If you'd waited a decade and opened that, what a bummer. It's a dilemma.

Second, while the Cotes de Tablas wines are a less important piece of our production now than they were a decade ago -- when they represented about 40% of our production instead of the less than 15% they do now -- we all agreed that they're still a lovely, flexible wine that can be a pleasure to open young yet still offer an incredible drinking experience if you choose to let them age out a decade or so. And what a  bargain. We choose to price this less than our other wines because we want to be able to offer wines at different prices, and we usually aren't including our most intense lots in this blend. But it's still 100% estate fruit off the organic (and now biodynamic) vineyard, fermented and aged in the same way as our Esprit, and it has consistently exceeded our expectations for ageworthiness. I'm going to start tossing a case of each vintage in the back of my cellar, and try to keep my hands off.

Third, although (or perhaps because) the style changed over the years and from vintage to vintage, there was something for everyone in the lineup. I asked everyone to vote for their favorites at the end, and fourteen of the nineteen vintages got at least one vote. The Cotes de Tablas that got the most votes (five of the eight of us) was the 2008. Tied for second with four votes were the 2001 and 2004. Two wines (the 1999 and 2010) got three votes.  And the 2006, 2011, 2013, and 2017 all got two votes. So there were favorites young and old, from bigger vintages and from more elegant vintages, with mostly Grenache and with Grenache levels around 40%.

Finally, it was great to have Cesar's perspective around the table. One of the things I'm most grateful for in our collaboration with the Perrins is that they manage to bring the best qualities of being both insiders and outsiders at the same time. Insiders, because they've worked with these grapes for generations, all over the south of France, and they've been cutting edge in experimenting with new ways to grow and vinify Rhone varieties since the time of Jacques Perrin in the 1950s. Plus, they've been deeply involved with Tablas Creek since the beginning and are regular visitors several times a year. Cesar spent the 2011 harvest working at Tablas Creek, and has been back most years since. So it's not like we have to bring them up to speed on the vision or the decisions that were made previously. But at the same time, this is not the world that they're immersed in on a day to day basis, and their mindset is in what they do in the Rhone. So, when they come, they come with fresh -- but informed -- eyes. And that's a remarkably valuable perspective, for which I am grateful.

IMG_7643


Checking in on the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel

I have a confession to make.  I know that winemakers and winery proprietors are supposed to love all their creations, but I'm afraid that the 2009 vintage was never a favorite of mine.  Products of the third year of drought, further concentrated by some of the most damaging spring frosts we've ever seen, and then given yet more power by a hot, sunny summer, our wines from 2009 have generally come across to me as more massive than nuanced, with whites that tended to feel heavy and reds that were so bound up by their tannins that they masked the more subtle expressions of soil and varietal.

It's not as though these wines didn't have fans. The 2009 Esprit got a raft of 92-96 point ratings, the 2009 Esprit Blanc's ratings ranged from 91-94, and the 2009 Cotes de Tablas even made it into the Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2011.  But they were never the wines that I reached for when I wanted something to drink with a meal.  However, time has a way of resolving this particular issue -- what you might call muscle-bound-ness -- with red wines, and when I saw a few bottles stashed in my parents' cellar in Vermont on a recent trip, I decided to bring one up and open it with dinner.

IMG_7692

The transformation that I felt had begun two years ago -- when we chose the 2009 to go out to our Collector's Edition Wine Club members -- has continued, and the wine was singing.  My notes:

A rich nose of Worcestershire, marinating meat, bay, cloves, and plum compote. Mouth-filling with flavors of chocolate syrup, licorice, tangy dark spice, meat drippings, and soy. The tannins are still potent on the finish, keeping control over flavors of cola, licorice, and sweet spice. A lingering impression of meatiness focused by salty minerality is lovely. Just coming into its own, with a long life ahead of it.

I really shouldn't be surprised that this wine has blossomed. After all, it had all the elements for a wine that shows best with some age: plenty of tannin and concentration, solid acidity, and rich texture. What it didn't have in its youth was elegance: the translucency of flavor that shows off the soils as well as the fruit, the spices as well as the structure.  It does now, and anyone who's got some in their cellars is in for a treat.