Revisiting the 2001 Roussanne and the Beginning of the Tablas Creek Varietal Program

2001 Roussanne on Patio

The original model for Tablas Creek was that we were going to make one red wine and one white wine, with the thought that when the vineyard had matured, we might make a reserve-level white and red as well. We named our first wines Tablas Creek Blanc and Tablas Creek Rouge.

Within a few years, we'd come to the conclusion that this simple model was a mistake, for two reasons. First, it didn't give the market much help in figuring out what the wines were. Sure, the Rouge was red. And the Blanc was white. But other than providing elementary French lessons, that didn't help a consumer trying to figure out what was in those wines, or what they would taste like. In an era where blends from California didn't yet have a category on most shelves or wine lists, that was two strikes against us at the start. Second, and more importantly, having just one red and one white didn't give us any flexibility in putting the wines together. If using everything threw off the balance between the varietals, or a lot didn't have the character we wanted, our only option was to sell off those lots. That's a painful choice to make, and although we did it from time to time, usually the blends ended up containing something close to the full production of that color from that year.

Things started to change for us in 1999. We made the decision during the blending of that vintage to pull out a couple of Grenache lots that were juicy but also quite alcoholic and tannic from our main blend, blended them with a little Syrah and Mourvedre, and called the wine "Petite Cuvée". That allowed us to shift our main red blend to be heavier on Mourvedre and feature a richer, lusher profile. We called that "Reserve Cuvée".

The next year, we added a third blend from three remarkable barrels, called it Panoplie, and renamed the two blends we'd made the year before. Petite Cuvée became Cotes de Tablas, referencing the usually Grenache-based wines of Cotes du Rhone, while the Reserve Cuvée became Esprit de Beaucastel, connecting its Mourvedre-driven profile with that of Beaucastel and making our connection with our partners more explicit. And with the 2001 vintage, we applied that same model to the whites, making our first vintage of Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. We were able to be selective with the Esprit tier, make better wines than before, and get recognition for that from press and collectors. We were able to sell the Cotes tier at a price that restaurants could pour by the glass, and get exposure to new customers. As I wrote last year in my reflections on our 30th anniversary, these changes were a big part of helping us get ourselves established in the marketplace. But as anyone who has counted the 25+ wines that we now make each year will realize, that's not the end of the story.

It turned out that each year there were some lots that were so evocative of an individual grape that it seemed a shame to blend that character away. The first time we acted on this nagging feeling was 2001, when my dad identified two Roussanne barrels while tasting through the cellar in advance of that year's blending. He made the executive decision that we should bottle them alone and we'd be able to figure out how to sell them. It was, after all, only 50 cases. And it turned out that with the opening of our tasting room in 2002, it was valuable having something that was not available in distribution for the people who made the trek out to see us, and even more valuable having a varietal bottling of this grape that was still new to most of our visitors, so they could start to wrap their heads around it. The label has my dad's typically dense, complete description of the selection process on its back:

TCV_2001_Roussanne_RGB_Full
And the wine itself has always been compelling. I have a vivid memory of a dinner I hosted in 2004 or 2005 where, when this 2001 Roussanne was opened on the other side of the room, the whole gathering stopped what they were doing and looked over because the room had filled with the aroma of honeysuckle. But it had been years since I opened one, and so I pulled a bottle out of our library yesterday to check in, and invited our winemaking team to join me. It was amazing.

2001 Roussanne on Limestone Rock

My tasting notes from yesterday:

A lovely gold color in the glass, still tinged with Roussanne's typical hint of green. The nose shows sugar cookies and lemon curd, warm honeycomb and cinnamon stick. On the palate, dense and lush with flavors of spun sugar and candied ginger. Someone around the table called it "liquid flan". And as sweet as all those descriptors make it sound, it was dry, with just enough acid to keep it fresh without taking away from the wine's lushness. The finish had notes of graham cracker, dried straw, and vanilla custard. Neil called it "an exceptional moment for an exceptional bottle".

With this wine as the starting point, we added new varietals most vintages in the 2000's, each time when we found lots that evoked the grape particularly vividly. Syrah, Counoise, Tannat, Grenache Blanc, and Vermentino debuted in 2002. Mourvedre, Viognier, and Picpoul saw their first vintages in 2003. Grenache came on in 2006, and Marsanne completed the list of our original imports in 2010. Once we started getting the obscure Chateauneuf du Pape grapes out of quarantine and into production in the 2010s, those made their debuts as varietal bottlings: Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir in 2013, Picardan in 2016, and Bourboulenc, Vaccarese, and Cinsaut in 2019. These wines have proven to be fascinating for us, and great tools to share the potential and diversity of the Rhone pantheon with our wine club members and other visitors to the winery.

But it all started here, in 2001, with two barrels of Roussanne. To know that two decades later that first-ever Tablas Creek varietal wine is not just still alive but a shining testament to the potential of this grape in this place is pretty darn cool.


Looking back at the cold, frost-reduced 2011 vintage with a decade's perspective

2011 was a year unlike any that we'd seen before, and it seems unlikely that we'll see another like it any time soon. It was the second consecutive cold vintage, cooler than any we'd seen since 1998, and much colder than anything we've seen since 2012. It began with devastating frosts on consecutive nights that April 8th and 9th, reducing yields of early-sprouting varieties dramatically. Grenache was off 41%. Syrah and Grenache Blanc were both down 51%. Viognier was down a devastating 71%. Our late-ripening grapes were less affected, but even Mourvedre saw crops reduced 24%. Only Roussanne, always the most frost-resistant grape in the vineyard, saw increased yields over 2010, and our total yields off the estate were down 34%.

The year's challenges didn't end after the frost. Persistent onshore flow meant that we had many more foggy mornings than we're used to, cooler temperatures, and delayed ripening. A heat spike in August was one of our most severe to date, and many vineyards around California, who had pulled leaves because of mildew pressures and worries about slow ripening, saw significant sunburn. Early rain the first week of October came while most of the harvest was still on the vine, and many vineyards saw an explosion of rot. And the frost-delayed beginning to the growing season and the unusually cool summer weather combined to produce one of our latest-ever finishes to harvest, on November 8th, which allowed two more rainstorms to pass through before we were done.

Still, in the end we felt fortunate. We harvested fruit with intense flavors (from the low yields and long ripening cycle) and bright acids (from the cool year). As of mid-October, we were less than one-third complete with harvest, but we were able to harvest everything that was out. Unlike most of Northern California, when the rainstorms passed through Paso they were followed by dry, breezy weather, which meant we didn't have significant fungal issues. And because of our relatively high investment in late-sprouting, late-ripening grapes, we saw lower frost losses than many of our neighbors. I was feeling optimistic enough toward the end of harvest that I wrote a blog with the headline Why Paso Robles Will Make California's Best Wines in 2011.

Still, our options when it came to blending were significantly constrained. We ended up not making many of the wines that we were used to. No varietal Grenache, or Syrah, or Counoise, or Viognier. No dessert wines. Unusual blends of the Cotes de Tablas wines given the scarcity of some of the lead grapes. But we felt at the time that the wines we were making from that year would end up being very ageworthy. The red wines all showed a dark, brooding character that suggested they would age slowly, opening up with time to reveal extra layers of fruit, earth, and spice. The white wines all showed remarkable texture and pronounced salinity. And we've loved the expressiveness of the 2011 vintage in the recent vertical tastings we've done. So it was with great anticipation that we opened all our 2011 wines yesterday. The lineup:

Horizontal Tasting of 2011

My notes on the wines are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) and, for the blends, their varietal breakdown. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see winemaking details or the tasting notes at bottling. I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, Amanda Weaver, and Austin Collins) as well as by Marketing Coordinator Ian Consoli.

  • 2011 Vermentino (SC): The nose initially showed all of Vermentino's mineral notes (flint, oyster shell) but with just a little time the citrus leaf and grapefruit pith character emerged. On the palate, very young tasting and bright, with preserved lemon flavors, bright acids, plenty of stony minerality, and briny sea spray notes on the finish. Still youthful and bright, though it's a good reminder to let older screwcapped whites breathe a bit before judging them.
  • 2011 Picpoul Blanc (C): None of us were quite sure why we bottled this under cork, when the other aromatic whites were all screwcapped and Picpoul Blanc had been screwcapped the year before. The wine showed a deeper golden color than any of the other whites we opened. On the nose, sweet aromas of toasted marshmallow, creme caramel, chamomile, and wheat kernels. The mouth was viscous and rich, with flavors of lemon meringue, creamy texture, and a long finish of Asian pear and lemongrass. I think we all wished this had been finished in screwcap too, as it would have shown more of the brightness we love about Picpoul.
  • 2011 Grenache Blanc (SC): A nose of peppered citrus and chalky minerality that reminded me of a Chablis with a decade in bottle. On the mouth, the initial impression was a sweet one of spun sugar, then bright acids took over, then rich texture and a pithy bite on the finish helping keep the sweet lychee flavors fresh. Pretty, youthful, and in an excellent place. A terrific showing for this grape that's known to oxidize young.
  • 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 45% Grenache Blanc, 34% Viognier, 18% Roussanne, 3% Marsanne): Our second-ever Patelin Blanc showed very well, with a nose of pineapple skin, apple, and crunchy nectarine. On the palate, sweet fruit, good acids, and surprisingly rich texture, with lemon curd and flan flavors and a fruity, vibrant finish with apple fruit leather and mandarin orange notes. Seems to strike a great balance between Viognier's fleshiness and Grenache Blanc's tension. Really pretty.
  • 2011 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 27% Viognier, 26% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, 22% Roussanne): An unusual Cotes de Tablas because we had so little Viognier, and therefore decided to leave the Viognier on the skins during fermentation to extract maximum character from the grape. The nose showed sweeter dried peach, white gummy bear and cream soda notes, but also a salty sea spray character. The mouth was spectacular. Rich texture, a pronounced saline note like high quality salted butter, and fruit flavors of dried mango and orange creamsicle. A little skin texture kept things from being too weighty. A highlight for me, and many of us.
  • 2011 Marsanne (SC): Our second-ever varietal Marsanne. A nose like the sea that we all came up with different ways of describing, from kelp forest to sea spray to miso. A little hint of quince... almost sweet but not quite. On the palate, more generous than the nose suggested, with a creamy minerality, egg custard and beeswax notes, and a hint of butterscotch. A little nuttiness (blanched almond) cane out on the long finish. Pretty and elegant.
  • 2011 Roussanne (C): A weird showing for this wine. The color was medium gold, and showed a slight haze. The flavors were a little more reminiscent of a sour beer or cider than typical Roussanne honey and nuts, with coriander, yuzu, and wheaty notes. A hint of retsina-like pine sap and some sweet oak came out on the finish. I'm still hopeful that a little more time in bottle will help this assume a more recognizable form, but for now, it's more interesting than pleasurable.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): Very Roussanne on the nose, with aromas of pear, pineapple, candied ginger and graham cracker. The mouth is lovely and mouth-watering, with fresh pineapple and sarsaparilla flavors and rich texture that brightens up on the finish leaving lingering notes of roasted nuts and clove. At peak maturity but with plenty left in the tank.
  • 2011 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): Our last Chardonnay bottling, from a vintage that seemed like it should have played to the cool-loving grape's strengths. A creamy nose of marshmallow and sweet oak. The palate showed lots of glycerine texture, and flavors of baked apple and caramel. The finish came off to me a bit sweet-tasting, with notes of chamomile and white tea. Not particularly evocative of Chardonnay to me, and felt a little overripe. Drink up if you've got any left.
  • 2011 Rosé (SC; 58% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 12% Counoise): Still a nice deep pink-orange in the glass. The nose isn't recognizably a rosé nose, or even terribly wine-like at this point. Reminded us of a Negroni, with a spicy wintery nose of mulling spices. The mouth shows sweetness on the attack with candied strawberry flavors and a bitter tinge on the finish like Campari. No one would have intentionally kept this wine this long, but it's at least still interesting. 
  • 2011 Full Circle (C): Our second Full Circle Pinot Noir from my dad's property in the Templeton Gap, and not our favorite showing, to the point that we opened a second bottle because we thought the first might have been oxidized. But the second bottle was the same: a nose of coffee grounds and cocoa hulls, a little oxidized and pruney. The mouth is in a nicer place, showing dark chocolate-covered cherries, saddle leather, and a little seed tannin perhaps from whole cluster fermentations. The finish showed a figgy note. This seems like it could have been impacted by the heat spike, or perhaps we just picked it a little too ripe.
  • 2011 Tannat (C): A cool herby eucalyptus note over sweet/bitter aromas that we variously described as dark chocolate, molasses, and black cherry cola. On the palate, still youthful: unsweetened chocolate and juniper forest, still quite tannic, with a nice smoky black raspberry note coming out on the finish. If you have some of this, I'd recommend you stash it at the back of your cellar for another couple of years.
  • 2011 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre, 1% Counoise): This wine has always carried a touch of a reductive character from the cool vintage and the high percentage of Syrah, and it still does, with a gunpowdery minerality over iron, black cherry, and meat drippings. Neil compared it to a Loire Cabernet Franc. The mouth is in a nice place, with a sweet minty chocolate note, savory baking spices, and nicely resolved tannins. I'm sure most of this has long been drunk, but if you find a bottle you're in for a treat. We sold this for $20 at the time. 
  • 2011 Cotes de Tablas (C; 49% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): The nose is beautiful, very red fruited in contrast to the darkness of the previous two wines, with notes of cherry and sweet herbs. The mouth is juicy and lively, with beautiful raspberry and sweet tobacco notes. There are still some tannins that keep the juicy finish from being overly sweet. A consensus favorite and absolutely at peak. 
  • 2011 Mourvedre (C): A lovely mature nose of dried cranberry, leather, sweet cola and potpourri. The mouth is fully resolved too with milk chocolate-covered cherries, soft tannins, and a little soy umami note. A hint of oxidation started to come out with a few minutes in the glass, suggesting that while this is very pretty, the clock is ticking. Might be a year or two past peak. Drink up if you've got any.
  • 2011 En Gobelet (C; 29% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 26% Tannat, 18% Syrah): With so much Tannat, relatively little Grenache, and no Counoise, it was probably unsurprising that the En Gobelet was so dominated by dark notes and still youthfully tight. The nose was brooding and iron-like, with the other grapes seeming subservient to Tannat. With time, a little minty dark chocolate did come out. On the palate, luscious and mouth-coating like a traditional Black Forest cake made with cherry liqueur. The tannins are still massive, and this wine feels a ways still from its peak.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise): Initially reserved on the nose, with savory Worcestershire and roasted meat coming out with time. On the palate, in a very nice place, with semi-sweet chocolate, rose petals, and soy marinade flavors and some powdered-sugar tannins maintaining order. The long finish shows all the components of a flourless chocolate cake, with a meaty, salty lingering note. At peak, or nearly so, with plenty of life left.
  • 2011 Panoplie (C; 60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A powerhouse on the nose, with aromas of sugar plums, Worcestershire sauce, loam, and a little minty lift. On the palate, soft and generous, with sweet Mexican chocolate and fresh blackberry, and meat dripping flavors, and well integrated tannins that glide into a generous finish of baker's chocolate, rose petals, and black tea. At peak, with lots more to come.
  • 2011 Petit Manseng (C): Our second bottling of this classic southwest French grape known for maintaining great acids as it reaches high (and occasionally extremely high) sugar levels, which we make each year in an off-dry style. The nose showed lychee, pineapple, green herbs and petrol, reminiscent of an aged demi-sec Chenin Blanc. The palate was like a lemon bar with powdered sugar, sweet but still bracingly tart, with a long finish of mango and caramel. Fun, unique, and still youthful. 

A few concluding thoughts

2011 is a vintage we're unlikely to ever see the likes of again. In the last decade, the impacts of climate change on California have become much more pronounced, and 2011 was already an unusually cold vintage. I'm not sad about that; this was a tough year for grapegrowers around the state, even though I was pleased with how we handled the year's challenges. In this tasting, the wines were a little more uneven than in a truly great year, with a few reds unexpectedly showing signs of age. I'm not sure whether that is a function of the uneven and sometimes very low yields, the heat spike, or the fact that we still had in the back of our heads the ripeness levels we were used to seeing in the 2005-2009 era, and perhaps left some of the grapes on the vine longer than we would have now. It could be a combination. Still, the best wines were really strong, and the whites overall outstanding.

It was not easy selling the 2011 in the market when they were first released. It was clear that the wines had potential, but the character was darker, denser, and more brooding than the blockbuster, juicy 2009's or the elegant, open-knit 2010's. I feel like I spent a lot of time contextualizing the vintage, explaining why Paso Robles shouldn't be painted with the same brush as Napa/Sonoma in this difficult vintage, and hoping people could look beyond the brooding present to what the wines promised to become. I was only partially successful, and it wasn't until we were ready to release the 2012 reds that the 2011's really started to open up. Oh, well. It meant that we stashed a higher-than-normal quantity of our top wines, and have been able to portion them out to people in recent years. There are worse problems to have.

I asked the team to vote for their favorites, and the wines that received multiple nominations cut across the spectrum that we make: Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Patelin de Tablas, Cotes de Tablas, Mourvedre, and Panoplie. That both Cotes de Tablas wines showed so well is a continuation of what we've seen time and again at these tastings. Although we think of the Cotes wines as ones to drink while we wait for the Esprits to mature, at a decade out both show consistently well. I should remember that and lay more down.

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.

In uneven vintages, the benefits of blending are even more evident. We made less of both Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in 2011 than we did in 2010. Some of that was because there was less wine to work with, and if we'd made an equal amount of Esprit and Esprit Blanc we wouldn't have had many other wines. But more of that was our commitment to only blending the very top lots into the Esprits. And that quality really showed through in the Esprit Blanc, Esprit, and Panoplie. I think we can be proud of the process that produced those wines.

In a normal year, this tasting would be the prelude for a public event at which we would share the highlights of this tasting with wine club members and other guests. Ten years is a great duration to show the rewards of cellaring; it's 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. That's not an option this year, or at least not right now. If things continue to improve, I'm tentatively thinking of hosting our 2011 horizontal tasting this November. Fingers crossed.


Tasting the wines in the 2020 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 2012 Esprit de Tablas and the 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Although both vintages were warm and sunny, and that showed up in the wines we made those years, 2012 was the first dry year after two wet ones, and the vineyard really showed no signs of stress all growing season, by 2014 we were starting to see the effects of our drought in lower yields and a denser, chewier lushness. That said, both wines showed a lovely balance of fruit and mineral, structure and openness, and richness and elegance when I tasted them today. The pair:

CE 2020 Wines

My tasting notes:

  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: Lovely medium gold. Rich on the nose, with aromas of gingersnap, lacquered wood, yellow pear, and sweet green herbs. The palate is similarly exuberant, with rich texture and flavors of baked spiced pear and honey. A little pithy Grenache Blanc tannin kicked in on the finish, ushering in a briny minerality that was a welcome counterpoint to the wine's lushness. 72% Roussanne, 23% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc.  Delicious now, and will certainly be good for another 5-10 years or more.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas: A deep nose of iodine, soy marinade, cassis, and chalky minerality. The mouth shows bittersweet chocolate and black cherry notes, warmed by sweet baking spices. The finish is long, with good tannins, plum skin, and black tea, and the 2012 vintage's signature freshness. 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 9% Counoise. It's already deepened notably since my last tasting of it just over a year ago, and my sense is that it's only getting better. Still, it's lovely now, and anyone who pops one open upon arrival is going to be very, very happy.

So how have the wines changed? Both have deepened since bottling. The flavors in the Esprit Blanc have shifted from fresh pear to poached pear, and from new honey to something more like creme brulee. The flavors in the Esprit have shifted from more red-fruited to something poised between red and black, and the texture has become richer. And yet they're both still youthful enough that anyone who loved them when they were young will feel like they're visiting an old friend. And, of course, they're nowhere near the end of their lives, so collectors who like a fully mature profile can wait another decade easily. 

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is awfully exciting, at least to me, between the combination of the library vintages and the variety of new wines. I'm really loving the vibrancy and freshness of all the 2018s, and am excited to share some of our first of the luscious 2019s:

  • 2 bottles of 2012 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2018 Esprit de Tablas
  • 2 bottles of 2018 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2018 En Gobelet
  • 1 bottle of 2018 Grenache
  • 1 bottle of 2019 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2019 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 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.


Tasting every vintage of Esprit de Tablas Blanc and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, 2001-2019

As it has across America and around the world, the pandemic has disrupted our routines in ways large and small. The large ways I've talked about at some length here on the blog. But bigger questions like if and how we open safely, or what the market impacts of nation-wide closures will be are just a part of the story. Another, less dramatic part is that we don't have the same rhythm of events here at the winery. For example, each summer we look at a specific wine by opening every vintage we've made. We use this tasting to pick eight to ten of these vintages for a public retrospective tasting. These are some of our favorite events each year.

Enter 2020. We aren't able to host large gatherings here at the winery. So, no public summer retrospective tasting. But I realized that it's still important for us to continue to make regular explorations through our wine library, both so that we have the context to make the right winemaking decisions with our most recent vintage, and so that our fans who may be cellaring our bottles have some insight into how they're developing. 

With that in the background, I decided to get our cellar team together and open all the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and Esprit de Tablas Blanc wines we've made, from the debut vintage in 2001 to the 2019 that we blended recently. It made for quite a morning:

Amanda opening Esprit Blanc

I recognize that it may seem strange to some people to talk about the aging curve of white wines. And for many grapes, I wouldn't recommend it. But Rhone whites, and particularly Roussanne, have the structure and richness (and just enough acidity) to evolve in an interesting way for decades. Beaucastel's white wines, and particularly their Roussanne Vieilles Vignes, are renowned for lasting generations. Want a professional opinion? No less an authority than Jeb Dunnuck, who got his start writing the Rhone Report before covering the Rhone for Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and more recently setting out on his own, recently tweeted this:

Joining me for this tasting were Winemaker Neil Collins, Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm, and Cellar Assistant Amanda Weaver. My notes on the wines are below. I've linked each wine to its page on our Web site if you want detailed technical information, professional reviews, or our tasting notes from when the wines were first released.

  • 2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (44% Roussanne, 22% Viognier, 18% Grenache Blanc, 16% Marsanne): I thought this was a little less impressive than it has been the last few times I've opened it, with a nose of hazelnuts over crème caramel, with a little eucalyptus lift. Rich and butterscotchy on the palate, with lemon custard and a little pithy bite on the finish. Nice elegance, but more signs of age than I'm used to seeing in this wine. I'm not sure if it was just this bottle, or if after nearly 20 years it's starting its long decline, but we would never have thought that it would have gone this long.
  • 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Viognier): The deeper golden color and the nose both show more age and ripeness than the 2001, with aromas of almond brittle, marzipan, and burnt sugar. There is a nice minty note that is particularly welcome given the density of the other aromas. On the palate, rich and lovely, with some age, but not over the hill: crème brulée, marmalade, and a lovely, long, clean finish with flavors of candied orange peel. I got a little alcoholic heat on the finish. A great showcase for the density and power of Roussanne.
  • 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (68% Roussanne, 27% Grenache Blanc, 5% Viognier): Similarly golden as the 2002. On the nose, toasted hazelnuts, star anise, clove, graham cracker, and burnt sugar. The mouth showed the same caramel, nut, and baking spice flavors that the nose suggested but also livelier acids than the 2002. A little pithy bite on the finish provided nice lift too. Seemingly at the end of a long, lovely peak.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): The first year that we included Picpoul in the blend, and while the color was similarly golden as the 2002 and 2003, the nose showed more lift: jasmine, lemon custard, and the first wine in the tasting to show the briny sea spray minerality on the nose that we've come to look for. On the palate, long and precise, with flavors of salted caramel, mango, candied ginger, and minty eucalyptus. The minerality carried through to the finish, with a crushed rock note lifting the beeswax impression.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A less golden hue than 2002-2004. The nose is spicier and less rich/caramely too: like grilled rye bread, lemongrass, and aromatic bitters. The mouth was quite a contrast, with very rich texture and the impression of super-ripe almost vin de paille-like apricot and honey flavors, though no residual sugar. On the finish, lingering crème brulée and peach liqueur notes, with a little sweet green herby character for relief. A little disjointed for me: lots of interesting elements but not quite together. 
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): The youthful pale gold color that we see in younger Esprit Blanc. On the nose, also the first one that reminded us all of what we're making now: new honey, baked pear, preserved lemon, and sweet spice that Chelsea nailed as cinnamon stick. The palate was lovely too, with flavors of brown sugar and lemon cake and a little pithy bite leading into a finish of honey, saline minerality, and a little cedary spice. Gorgeous and integrated. A clear favorite among the older vintages.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): A spicy nose with menthol, charcuterie, sweet oak spice, and a little pungent character that I noted as aromatic bitters and Neil described better as charred orange peel. The mouth is rich, with great texture and flavors of Seville oranges. Clean and long, with salty, piney notes providing lift over richer honey and caramel notes on the finish. I haven't always loved this vintage of the Esprit Blanc because of its unrelenting richness, but this showing was outstanding.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Banc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): After three more youthful vintages, this 2008 felt older again, with aromas of spun sugar, baked golden delicious apples, and new leather. The mouth is full, bordering on heavy, with flavors of orange creamsicle, preserved lemon, and charcuterie. It did improve with time in the glass, which suggests that it may be in a closed phase. Decant if you're drinking one now, or wait a year or two.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (62% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 12% Picpoul Blanc): Nice richness on the nose, honey and lacquered wood, nectarine and white flowers, with a sweet green note like newly cut grass. On the palate, both fruity and yeasty: imagine pineapple upside down cake, but dry. Tremendous texture. Lingering flavors of honeycomb and candied orange peel, enlivened by fresh green herbs on the long, focused finish. A great showing for this wine, which like the 2007 I often found in its youth so dense that it was easier to admire than love. 
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (60% Roussanne, 35% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): An immediately appealing nose of brioche, fresh pear, new honey, and sweet spice. The mouth is similarly lovely: fresh pineapple, crushed rock, and poached pear, with a rich, soft texture but lively acids cleaning things up. On the finish, candied grapefruit and beeswax. I've always loved this vintage, from our coolest-ever year, and this showing was no exception.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): From a similarly cool vintage as 2010, but from a frost year that gave more density and a linear firmness to everything we made. Aromas of lemon, lemongrass, and minty juniper. On the palate, rich but notably dry: preserved lemon and savory custard, quince, and a little savory oak. There was also a whey-like character that we didn't find in any other wine in the sequence. Unique and distinctive, if a bit polarizing.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A reticent nose, then like a quieter version of 2010, showing sea spray, honey, and Thai basil. The mouth is more generous and open, with vanilla custard, fresh honey, and caramel apple flavors. The finish showed a little pithy red apple skin bite, against a backdrop of tasted marshmallow and baked pear. This has been a favorite in most past vertical tastings, and it was less impressive this time. It's about the point at which it would enter a closed period, so I'd recommend people be patient and wait.
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (71% Roussanne, 21% Grenache Blanc, 8% Picpoul Blanc): An intensely Roussanne nose of jasmine and sarsaparilla, honeysuckle, key lime, and sweet resin. The mouth is rich but dry, with flavors of pineapple, honeycomb, and vanilla custard. There's plenty of structure, and a very long, savory finish. It seems like it's going to have a long, interesting life.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (72% Roussanne, 23% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): Rich on the nose, with aromas of gingersnap, lacquered wood, yellow pear, and sweet green herbs. The palate is similarly exuberant, with rich texture and flavors of baked spiced pear and honey. A little pithy Grenache Blanc tannin kicked in on the finish, ushering in a briny minerality that was a welcome counterpoint to the wine's lushness.
  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (55% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 17% Picpoul Blanc): The vintage with our highest-ever percentage of Picpoul showed a notably different nose: more tropical, with aromas of papaya, passion fruit, and sweet spice. The mouth shows more delicacy than most of our other vintages, with flavors of nectarine, peppered citrus, lovely freshness, and a finish with lemon drop, beeswax, and salty minerality. I loved this, but it was a bit of an outlier stylistically.
  • 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (75% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc): Rich, dense, concentrated Roussanne character on the nose, a little like the 2013: lacquered wood, grilled lemon, maple syrup, and ripe pear. The palate was rich yet precise: honeydew melon, lemon meringue, and a little cedary oak. Gorgeous key lime acids come out on the finish, leaving a minty, tropical lift.
  • 2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (68% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Clairette Blanche, 4% Picardan). Our first vintage with the two new grapes included. A really pretty nose, somehow both deep and lively: honeysuckle, new leather, and sweet oak. The mouth is vibrant, with flavors of grilled pineapple, mandarin peel, lemon custard, and baked apple. The finish is lively and lovely, with honey and sweet spice. A consensus favorite among our newer vintages.
  • 2018 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (66% Roussanne, 21% Grenache Blanc, 8% Picpoul Blanc, 3% Picardan, 2% Clairette Blanche). Bottled this past December and not yet released. A nose of yellow roses, fresh pear, yellow raspberries, and an orange leaf-like sharpness. On the palate, lovely and high-toned, with fragrant fresh honey and green herb character. Plenty of weight and texture, but the flavors are still deepening to match. Should be great to watch as we get toward its fall release.
  • 2019 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (63% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, 14% Picpoul Blanc, 3% Picardan). Just blended, and currently sitting in large oak. A really bright nose of Meyer lemon, minty spice, and a little yeasty leesiness that seems like a relic from its recently-finished fermentation. A lovely rich texture but also tons of Keffir lime brightness, flavors of pineapple core, passion fruit, and white pepper. Still a baby, with lots of time both in barrel and bottle before its release in the fall of 2021, but there's nothing here that changes my mind that 2019 will go down as one of our greatest-ever vintages.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The overall quality of the wines was exceptionally high. I asked everyone around the table to pick four favorites, and the wines that got multiple votes were 2001 (3), 2006 (3), 2009 (3), 2013 (2), and 2017 (5). But there were wonderful vintages that didn't get "favorite" votes too. The wines do change and evolve, and you should do your best to explore if you prefer your Esprit Blancs older, younger, or somewhere in the middle. But across the board, we thought that they were great showcases for the texture, richness, structure, spice and minerality we think this property imbues in our white wines.
  • We were happy with the direction we've taken in recent vintages. The last three years, which incorporate to varying degrees additions of Picardan and Clairette Blanche, all showed really well, the zesty acids seeming to highlight the Roussanne-driven richness without thinning the wines' texture. I also think we were all happy with the amount of oak that we were putting on these wines. There was a stretch where we felt they weren't showing quite enough of the spice and weight of the large French oak we love, and then it took us a vintage or two to get that dialed in. 
  • The wines do move around. The outstanding showings for vintages like 2007 and 2009, which weren't our favorites in many past tastings, and the fact that some vintages we loved last time out (most notably 2008 and 2012) seemed a little disjointed in this tasting, do point what an evolutionary roller coaster Roussanne can be. I dove more deeply into the phases of how Roussanne ages in a blog last year, if you're interested in a rough timeline of what to expect. Nothing in this tasting changed my conclusions from that blog that we'd been underestimating the duration of all Roussanne's evolutionary stages.
  • Don't forget the vintage chart. We update this chart several times a year based on the results of tastings like these, wines we open in the normal course of life, and feedback we get from customers and fans. It's there whenever you want it.

Looking back with a decade's perspective on the 2010 vintage: a year of firsts

2010 was, in my opinion, the first vintage to show what we consider the "modern" character of Tablas Creek. The cool year meant that we picked with lower sugars and higher acids than we had most years before then. We debuted six wines, including the Patelin de Tablas and Patelin de Tablas Blanc, as well as our Full Circle Pinot Noir. And the range of wines included nearly every varietal we grow, and one (Cabernet) we mostly don't. So it was with great anticipation that we opened all our 2010 wines on Friday.

This is the seventh year that we've kicked off January with a "horizontal" tasting of the vintage from ten years before. (Horizontal refers to the practice of opening a range of wines from a single vintage, as compared to vertical, which would mean opening the same wine from a range of vintages.) Part of this is simple interest in seeing how our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 9th.  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, this year, the white wines were some of the highlights. The lineup:

Lineup of all Tablas Creek wines from 2010

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 2010 vintage:

The 2010 vintage saw healthy rainfall after three years of drought. The ample early-season groundwater and a lack of spring frosts produced a good fruit set. A very cool summer delayed ripening by roughly three weeks, with harvest not beginning until mid-September and still less than half complete in mid-October. Warm, sunny weather between mid-October and mid-November allowed the later-ripening varieties to reach full maturity. The long hangtime and cool temperatures combined to produce fruit with intense flavors at low alcohol levels. White whites display bright acids, good concentration and intense saline minerality.  Red wines show dark colors, spicy aromatics and granular tannins.

2010 saw our largest lineup to date: 26 wines in all, including six wines we were making for the first time, and a couple of others that we hadn't made in a few years. That's all thanks to the plentiful vintage, which allowed us to make some varietal wines that in other years would have been all needed for our blends. In the tasting we had 9 dry whites, 1 rosé, 13 dry reds, and 3 sweet wines. That's a lot more than 2009, when we were only able to make 15.

My notes on the wines are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) and, for the blends, their varietal breakdown. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see winemaking details or the tasting notes at bottling. I was joined for the tasting by most of our cellar team (Neil Collins, Craig Hamm, Amanda Weaver, and Austin Collins) as well as by Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg, Tasting Room Manager John Morris, and Marketing Coordinator Ian Consoli.

  • 2010 Vermentino (SC): At first sniff the a little of the petrol/rubber cement character I tend to get in older screwcapped whites, but this blew off pretty quickly and rocky, briny, preserved lime notes emerged. The palate was gorgeous, fresh, with good acids, a little salty, with Vermentino's classic citrus pith bitterness giving balance to the fruit. Neil said it was "still a great, vibrant wine" and we all agreed.
  • 2010 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A distinctively Picpoul nose of dried pineapple, green herbs, tangerine, and an umami-like minerality that Amanda identified as nori (the seaweed wrapper around sushi rolls). On the palate, rich texture and a little caramel richness hint at its age, but with perfect balance for that weight and good acids it still felt very fresh and lively. Just a beautiful showing for this wine at a decade.
  • 2010 Grenache Blanc (SC): A nose of lemon and straw with a slightly volatile note that reminded me of Pledge. On the palate, a little older and less vibrant than Vermentino or Picpoul, with a little gentle ginger, some nuttiness, clean but a little neutral. A touch of alcohol showed on the finish. Still in solid shape, respectable for this wine that's known to oxidize young.
  • 2010 Marsanne (SC): Our first-ever varietal Marsanne. A spicy nose of mango and mandarin. The mouth is classic and gentle, with Marsanne's mineral, sarsaparilla, and buttered popcorn flavors. The low acidity and medium body give it a quiet character. I'm guessing that anyone who kept a bottle of this would be pleased with how it's evolved, but it's not (and never was) a dramatic wine.
  • 2010 Roussanne (C): After tasting four wines in screw cap, we all noted that we could taste the cork, even though the wine wasn't corky. Higher-toned than many vintages of our Roussanne, more medium- than full-bodied, it was refreshingly light on its feet, with green pear and graham cracker flavors and a little sweet oak. Reminded me in its restrained style quite a bit of our 2017 (more than more exuberant vintages like 2009, 2012, or 2014). Pretty.
  • 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 50% Grenache Blanc, 33% Viognier, 10% Roussanne, 7% Marsanne): Our first-ever Patelin Blanc showed great, with pretty pineapple, preserved lemon, green herbs and wet rock aromas, a zesty yet rich palate with flavors of creme brûlée, kiwi, and lime zest, and a long finish that was at once tropical and bright. Just a great showing for a wine we assumed most people would drink in the first 24 months.
  • 2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 54% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 8% Roussanne, 8% Marsanne): A quieter nose than the Patelin Blanc, rich but reticent, with a little mintiness and some mild honey notes. The palate was more compelling, nicely viscous, with Viognier's rich texture and honeysuckle and guava notes. The finish was long, with good weight and honeydew and citrus pith notes. Still in good shape.
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 60% Roussanne, 35% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A knockout nose, with aromas of vanilla custard, sweet baking spices, lychee, honeycomb, and baked apple. Equally beautiful on the palate, like salted caramel but not sweet, with more apple notes and rich texture. Long, clean, generous and elegant. A great showing for one of our favorite-ever Esprit Blancs, at peak maturity but with plenty left in the tank.
  • 2010 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): Our next-to-last Chardonnay bottling, from a vintage whose cool character played well to the grape's strengths. On the nose, lots of sweet descriptors: cookies and cream ice cream, werther's caramel, cumquat, and anise. On the palate, still in a nice place, with candied orange peel flavors and a chalky texture that was fun to taste in a relatively low-acid wine. Drink up if you've got any left.
  • 2010 Rosé (SC; 59% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 11% Counoise): At this age, its nose showed more meaty than fruity, with a slight medicinal note our only complaint. On the palate, a little welcome bitterness like Campari, with cola and cherry flavors and saline notes coming out on the finish. Not really a rosé at this point, but if you thought of it as a light red wine, it could make for a really interesting pairing wine. 
  • 2010 Pinot Noir (C): Our fourth (and last) Pinot from the 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. The nose was grape with cola and milk chocolate notes, showing just a touch of oxidation. On the palate still quite tannic, a bit too much for our tastes, though the licorice and potpourri flavors were nice. A luxardo cherry character on the finish. Compared to the Full Circle that debuted that same year, less elegant and less fresh, and a good reminder of how different the Adelaida District and Templeton Gap AVAs are for this famously terroir-reflective grape.
  • 2010 Full Circle (C): Our first Full Circle Pinot Noir from my dad's property in the Templeton Gap. A more elegant nose than the estate Pinot, with chutney and dark chocolate, and a little well-integrated oak. On the palate, a good ringer for a middle-aged Burgundy, with cherry and gently meaty flavors, medium body, and a little minty lift. Some nice oak comes back out on the finish. Still in a great place, and probably still improving.
  • 2010 Counoise (C): A wow nose, youthful, spicy, and brambly, with raspberry, black cherry, and charcuterie notes. The mouth is velvety, with plum, chocolate and elderberry flavors and an appealing umami iodine note on the finish. Just a total pleasure, all the more remarkable for a grape that's not known to make wines for aging. 
  • 2010 Grenache (C): A sweet ganache milk chocolate nose, with a little alcohol showing through. The mouth isn't initially powerful, but the flavors of red cherry and cola are followed by some big tannins that felt to me a little out of place with the rest of the wine. Not sure if this is in a stage it will come out of (I suspect so) or if it's past its prime. 
  • 2010 Mourvedre (C): A lovely mature meaty nose of blackcurrant, leather, and soy marinade, with a little minty note lurking behind. The mouth is dark fruit and juniper, dark chocolate and sweet spices. Right at its peak, we thought, with enough chewy tannins to keep aging, but those tannins cloaked in fruit. Gorgeous.  
  • 2010 Syrah (C): The first time my wife Meghan tasted Syrah out of barrel, she described it as "butter in a butcher shop", which described this wine's nose perfectly. Additional aromas of soy, black pepper, and chaparral reinforce the darkness and wildness of the wine. The mouth is absolutely classic for Syrah, with blackberry fruit, chalky minerality, and still-substantial tannins. This is going to be great, but at age 10 is still a baby. Patience. 
  • 2010 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 39% Syrah, 36% Grenache, 22% Mourvedre, 3% Counoise): Perhaps not fair to taste this right after our estate Syrah, but it showed well, with aromas of pepper steak and a little mature earthiness. The mouth is medium-bodied and fully mature, with the Mourvedre showing through in its red fruit character and meat dripping character. Some tannins with Grenache's signature powdered sugar texture round out the wine. 
  • 2010 Cotes de Tablas (C; 46% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise): A nose of charcuterie, with a meaty saucisson sec character with smoked paprika and green peppercorn. Then, under that all, elderberry. The palate is more generous than the nose suggests, with licorice and black raspberry. The finish shows some tannic grip, with Worcestershire sauce and sweet Grenache fruit lingering. At peak, but no hurry. 
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 45% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 4% Counoise): A mature Mourvedre-driven nose of red licorice, baking spices, cassis, and cocoa powder. The mouth was beautiful, salty, meaty, with its ten years of age showing in a nice way, the earthy flavors deepening to a truffly note. Mature and savory, with tannins resolved and perfectly integrated, and a long finish. I'm not sure that this will prove to be one of our longer-lived Esprits (I'd guess not, based on this tasting) but it's drinking great now.
  • 2010 Panoplie (C; 60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): Fresh and spicy on the nose, brambly, with deep red fruit and licorice. Youthful, with a nice minerality showing. On the palate, bright and absolutely on point, with menthol, juniper, and ripe plum flavors, and perfect tannin balance. Neil said, "give it another 10" and while it can clearly go out that long, it's also delicious now.
  • 2010 En Gobelet (C; 37% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 13% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 10% Tannat): Our first En Gobelet to take a majority of its production from our "Scruffy Hill" block, and so the first to include Syrah and Counoise. Spicy and a little dusty on the nose, with baker's chocolate, sweet tobacco, and menthol notes. Quite young still on the palate, with lots of nice dark chocolate and black cherry fruit and some still-substantial tannins that clip its expressiveness a bit. Seems to be still coming out of a closed phase, and likely to be better in another year or two, and to go out another decade or more.
  • 2010 Tannat (C): A notably different nose, clearly not Rhone. More cigar box and eucalyptus, with dark chocolate and Tannat's signature potpourri floral note. On the palate, more of the same, with bittersweet chocolate and tobacco and chalk minerality. Lots of tannin. Similar in many ways to the Syrah, still a baby at age 10.
  • 2010 Cabernet (C): We'd grown Cabernet for a decade at this point, just a few rows which were always thrown into the Tannat at harvest. In 2010 we got a larger crop and made 4 barrels on its own, and when it came to blending time couldn't bear to blend it away. So, we made 100 cases of this, and it's still electrically recognizable as Cabernet: spicy eucalyptus and sweet tobacco and blackcurrant aromas, dark fruit and chalky texture, and a little welcome lift from the limestone on the finish that marks it as not-from-Napa. I think we're going to show this at the tasting, because it's so distinctive and fun.
  • 2010 Petit Manseng (C): Our first bottling of this classic southwest French grape known for maintaining great acids as it reaches high (and occasionally extremely high) sugar levels, which we've made each year since 2010 in an off-dry style. The nose was a little weird, with a plasticky note that we variously identified as "new carpet" and "airplane", on top of pineapple, almond, and a grassy herbal note. On the palate, gorgeous, with fresh pineapple and fruit cup flavors, lots of acidity, and a little tannic bite that cuts the residual sweetness. Fun and unique. 
  • 2010 Vin de Paille "Quintessence" (C): Our 100% Roussanne dessert wine made from grapes dried on straw in our greenhouses. Absolutely luscious from first sniff, with aromas of creme brûlée and candied orange peel. The flavors were like an apple tart with caramel glaze, including the sweet pastry note that implies. Very rich texture, and just enough acidity to keep it from being cloying. The finish with caramel and marmalade notes went on forever.
  • 2010 Vin de Paille "Sacrérouge" (C): Our 100% Mourvedre dessert wine made from grapes dried on straw in our greenhouses. Unlike the Quintessence, the nose isn't particularly sweet, more forest floor, roast meat, eucalyptus, and dried wild strawberry. The palate is sweet but balanced by Mourvedre's chewy tannins, with salty brown sugar and sugarplum flavors and a chocolatey note on the finish. Still fresh and nice.

A few concluding thoughts

2010, with its combination of healthy yields, cool temperatures, and extended growing season, was unique in our previous experience, and tasting these wines was a different experience than the retrospective tastings we’ve done the last several years. Compared to 2007, 2008, and 2009, the freshness that came with this cool year was noteworthy at age ten, in the reds but particularly in the whites. We often think of ageworthiness coming from a wine's sheer volume, but this vintage did a great job of making the case that it's really balance that is the most important factor.

With the perspective of hindsight, the quality of our two main grapes (Mourvedre and Roussanne) really stands out. In that way, it's a lot like 2017, which is surprising given that 2010 was such a cool year and 2017 quite warm. But yields were about the same, and for whatever reason, it seemed like the same grapes (all the way down to varieties like Counoise and Picpoul) really excelled. It will be interesting to see whether we still think the same thing when we have a little more perspective on 2017. I really don't think that we have an older comp to 2010, as we were making bigger, somewhat riper wines in the rest of the 2000s, so where the wines go from here will be fascinating to see.

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're going to have a great February 9th Horizontal Tasting. We'll taste the two Esprits, and the Panoplie, for sure. I'm leaning toward including Picpoul, Roussanne, Full Circle, Counoise, Mourvedre, Cabernet and Vin de Paille "Quintessence" as well, but want to compare my notes with the rest of the team, so that may shift around a little. Whatever the selection, I think it's going to be a treat. If you haven't reserved your seat, you should do so soon.


Can rosé wines age? It depends on the grapes they're made from.

Over the weekend, I saw a really nice review of our 2017 Dianthus Rosé on Kerry Winslow’s Grapelive blog. I found it interesting that Kerry, although he loved it, felt like he needed to address it being a 2017, adding the comment that it "is last years wine, but still vibrant and the maturity hasn’t slowed down this fabulous wine". I don't think you'd find a caveat like this for a white wine, and a 2017 would be considered maybe even too young to drink for most reds. But it gets at a common perception of rosés: that they need to be drunk the year that they’re released.

Is it true? There are definitely some, maybe even many, rosés for which I'd say yes. But, and this is important, like reds and whites, the grape(s) that the wine is made with matters. The dominant model for rosés is that of Provence, which is based on Grenache, always an oxidative grape, and they tend to have very pale colors from minimal time in contact with the skins. In the cellar at Tablas Creek, we are careful to keep even red Grenache away from too much oxygen. We ferment it in stainless steel or large wooden tanks, and avoid 60-gallon barriques (what you probably think of as a “normal” wine barrel) for aging. And you'd expect a rosé made from Grenache to have a shorter aging curve. Tannins act as a preservative in wine. So, if you start with Grenache, already an oxidative grape, and pull it early off the skins, which are the source of a wine’s tannins, you're likely to end up with something that’s even less resistant to oxidation. My experience with most Provence rosés (and the American rosés that are modeled off them) bears that out. The wines are at their best the summer after they’re made. The best ones are still good the next summer, but they’ve already started to fade.

But it’s equally important to remember that Provence is not the world’s (or even France’s) only rosé tradition. Bandol, arguably the source of the world’s greatest rosés, uses Mourvèdre as the lead grape. And Mourvèdre is a very different beast from Grenache. In our cellar, we do everything we can to make sure we get Mourvèdre air. We ferment it in open-top fermenters. We age it in oak, and still have to make sure to rack it fairly often so it doesn’t get reductive. Some of that comes from Mourvèdre’s skins, but not all does. And it's worth mentioning that, depending on how your rosé is made, it's going to get at least some of the tannins (and their powers of preservation) from the skins. In the case of our Dianthus, the juice spends between 24 and 36 hours on the skins, giving it a deep pink color and providing a hint of tannic bite that brings counterpoint to the wine's lush fruit.

Two roses for Nov 2019 feature

I remember learning, to my surprise, that as recently as a decade ago many Bandol estates didn’t even release their rosés until the fall after harvest, because they felt that the wines took that much time to really open up and come into their own. I don't think that happens much any more. Producers in the (dominant) Provence model compete to be first into the market in the springtime to lock up the lucrative summer rosé placements, which has created a market and consumer expectation that you want the newest, freshest rosé you can find. That means that for a tradition like Bandol, even if the wine is better in the fall, a producer is likely to make a market-driven calculation that they should release the wine early.

Although the growth of the rosé market has meant that it's more of a year-round item on wine lists, there is still definitely a rosé high season in the spring and summer, and restaurants and retailers all look to feature the newest vintage. So, there are three significant disincentives against fall releases. First, you're releasing a wine into a market that is saturated with earlier releases (many of whom are likely looking to close out any remaining inventory with deep discounts). Second, you're releasing a wine into a category that is going off season. And third, by the time the season opens back up in the springtime, you look like old inventory compared to the new crop of the next year's rosés.

But those market realities don't change the fact that the fall release tradition gets at something important about rosés made from these oxidation-resistant grapes. They improve in bottle, are likely just reaching their peak in the cooler fall and winter seasons, and can be just as good or even better the next summer. Their deeper flavors also make for better matches with the richer foods of chillier seasons.

Dianthus in the snow

That’s why seeing a review like this for this wine makes me happy. It recognizes that these rosés can improve with time in bottle, and can be great winter wines. In our tasting room, we switch in October from showcasing our Patelin Rosé (which we poured for guests in spring and summer) to our Dianthus, which we'll continue to feature through the fall and into the winter, as long as it lasts. It also helps people learn that rosés are not a uniform category, and different base grapes produce different profiles and different life paths, like with reds and whites. For all the growth of the rosé category, the idea that rosés can be diverse is still something that’s not well enough understood.


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.