If you liked 2007, try 2021: a quarter-century of vintage doppelgangers at Tablas Creek

It's hard to believe, but 2021 was our 25th harvest here at Tablas Creek. What began as a simple model to make two wines, one red and one white, in the style of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, has blossomed into nearly thirty wines each year, across three colors, nineteen grapes, and a range of inspirations. We've had hot years (like 1997, 2009, 2016, and this year). We've had cold years (like 1998, 2010, and 2011). We've had "goldilocks" vintages where we hit the sweet middle ground. And yes, every vintage is different. But with a quarter century under our belt, and in response to the questions I get regularly trying to put our recent vintages in context, I thought it would be fun to dive in and talk a little about the vintage character of each of our 25 vintages, and try to give some comps for people who might have worked through their favorite and be looking to restock.

Flagship red vertical

So, from the top. Note that I didn't put anything in for 2022, since we don't know what the wines' characters are like yet from this vintage, though as you'll see there is a year that has some eye-opening echoes to how this vintage is shaping up:

  • 1997: A juicy, appealing vintage that showed surprising depth given that it came from vines at most five years old. Also the warmest year of the 1990s, with weather that is more common now, which led to a mid-August start to harvest. These wines are at the end of their lives at this point, but the red is still sound if well stored. Similar vintages: 2003, 2013.
  • 1998: Pretty much the polar opposite to 1997, with persistent on-shore flow, regular cloud cover all summer, and an October start to harvest. A relatively austere vintage in its youth, it has aged surprisingly well, and both red and white have shown well in recent tastings. Similar vintages: 2010, 2011.
  • 1999: Powerful, rambunctious wines that were the product of a warm, dry year. Whites were good from the get-go, while reds were notably tannic in their youth, though with the fruit to carry it. These wines aged well, and the red was still excellent in a recent tasting. Similar vintages: 2005, 2009.
  • 2000: The first vintage that I think we started to approach the model that we use now, including the debut of the Esprit de Beaucastel. The white was a lovely year for Roussanne, soft and appealing. The reds were earthy and meaty. Both red and white were ringers for Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Similar vintages: 2005, 2013, 2018.
  • 2001: A year with great promise and ample winter rainfall was derailed by April frosts that cost us nearly half our production and led to us declassifying most of our red production into Cotes de Tablas. An outstanding year for whites, though. The low yields and warm summer led to a relatively short hang-time, producing reds with modest concentration and a bit of a tannic edge. Similar vintages: no true comps (thankfully!) though 2009 is probably the closest overall.
  • 2002: A collector's vintage, with dense, ageworthy red wines and powerfully textured whites. The product of the first year in a drought cycle, which typically makes outstanding wines with a balance of concentration and freshness thanks to the vines' stored vigor and the intensifying effect of low rainfall. Similar vintages: 2006, 2016, 2019.
  • 2003: A joyous vintage that we underestimated at the time because it was so appealing and friendly that we thought it wouldn't have the stuffing to age. Then for 15 years we kept picking 2003 out as among our very favorites in vertical tastings. The wines are maybe not among our longest-lived, and are starting to tire a bit, but what a ride they've had. Similar vintages: 2008, 2014, 2020.
  • 2004: A vintage that I remember Francois Perrin calling "square": precise, tidy, well-structured, and classic. Very long ripening cycle, with some rain in October that delayed the picking of our latest-ripening grapes. The wines have generally aged well, and I think of them as being precisely on point for what we were going for at the time. Similar vintages: 2013, 2019.
  • 2005: A juicy, luscious, exuberant vintage in which I feel like you could taste the health of the vineyard, which got 40+ inches of rain after three years of drought. We dodged frosts, had a moderate summer and a long, beautiful fall. The grapes spent an extra month on the vines, and the vineyard was healthy throughout. We saw high yields but excellent concentration and quality. These wines have aged in outstanding fashion, gaining meatiness to balance to fruit, spice, and tannin, and the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel is the wine I pick right now when I'm trying to show off. Similar vintages: 2007, 2017.
  • 2006: Similar overall conditions (ample rainfall, no frost) to 2005, but a later spring and a hotter summer led to wines with a bit more structure and a little less vibrancy. That seriousness meant it was a little overshadowed by the blockbuster vintages around it, and so it was a little bit of a surprise when it produced our first wine (the 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel) to be honored in the Wine Spectator's "Top 100". The low acids meant that while it has turned out to be an outstanding red vintage, it was a less strong white vintage. Similar vintages: 2002, 2016.  
  • 2007: A blockbuster year, with ample fruit, structure, spice, and meaty/earthy richness. This was a product of the previous winter, which was the coldest and driest in our history. The resulting small berries and small clusters gave outstanding concentration to everything, and the moderate summer meant that the grapes retained freshness. The reds from this year got some of our highest-ever scores, and many of these are still youthful. The whites were good but at the time we were picking riper than we do now, and I find their elevated alcohols have meant that they aged less well than the reds. Similar vintages: 2005, 2021. 
  • 2008: A challenging growing season, bookended by frosts in both April and October, led to wines that didn't have the obvious early juicy appeal of 2007. But they've turned out to be beautiful over time, with whites showing both texture and lift and reds a lovely chocolate note. This is consistently one of Winemaker Neil Collins' favorite vintages in our vertical look-backs. Similar vintages: 2015 and especially 2018.
  • 2009: The apex of the concentrated power we saw in the 2000s, its low yields a product of our third straight drought year and a damaging frost in April. Then the growing season alternated between warm and cold months until a severe heat spike in September brought many of our grapes tumbling in. We were mostly harvested when an early atmospheric river storm dumped 10 inches of rain here on October 13th, though the three week of warm, dry weather that followed allowed us to bring even those grapes in. The wines were so dense that it took me most of a decade for them to feel approachable, but they're shining now. Similar vintages: none, though these conditions sound a lot like what's happening in 2022.
  • 2010: An outlier vintage for us in many ways, unlike anything we'd seen in the previous decade. Ample winter rainfall and no spring frosts combined to produce a very healthy vineyard and good yields. A very cool summer followed, with harvest less than half complete on October 15th. Warm, sunny weather in late October and early November saved the vintage, and our November 13th last-pick was exceptionally late. The wines showed that coolness in their youth in minty, high-toned flavors, though we were still able to get good ripeness thanks to the friendly late-fall weather. An exceptionally good white vintage. Reds I'm less enchanted by, as they're tasting a little tired right now. I'm hopeful that this is just a stage. Similar vintages: 1998. 
  • 2011: Another outlier, just as cool as 2010 (and much chillier than any vintage since) but with low yields thanks to hard frosts April 8th and 9th. That combination of low yields and cool-vintage character made intensely savory wines, much more reminiscent of the northern Rhone than the south. The wines have aged well, too, while preserving the savory character they had when they were young. Similar vintages: none, though choose 1998, 2010, or 2015 if you want the cool-vintage character, or 2001 or 2009 if you want the concentrated structure.
  • 2012: A friendly, juicy vintage with big yields and modest concentration and structure, as one block after the next came in heavier than we'd estimated, even though rainfall was only about 70% of normal. The accumulated vigor from two previous wet winters and the limited demands on the vines' resources in the frost-reduced 2011 crop meant that it didn't act like a drought year. The wines were friendly and open from day one, and while the ageworthy reds have deepened in tone a bit, they're still medium-bodied and a touch on the simple side, and seem to be on a faster aging curve. Whites are lovely. Similar vintages: 2013 for reds, 2010 and 2014 for whites.
  • 2013: Similar growing season and similar wines as 2012, but we learned from our experience the previous year and proactively reduced our crop levels both to increase concentration and reduce the stress on our vines in this second year of drought. A moderate summer (very few days over the low 90s) maintained lift and translated into a leafy, herby note on top of the fruit. Warm weather during harvest and low yields led to an early start and our earliest-ever finish to harvest, as we made sure that we picked early enough to maintain freshness. Similar vintages: 2012 (but with a bit more concentration), 2018. 
  • 2014: Our third consecutive drought year plus a warm summer produced wines in the classic, juicy Californian style, with a bit less alcohol than those same wines we were making in the 2000s. We got good concentration with yields similar to 2013, though we needed to drop less fruit to get there. The wines are juicy and luscious, with enough structure to keep them balanced and pretty, high-toned red fruit flavors. Similar vintages: 2003, 2017.
  • 2015: A lovely, ethereal vintage that produced wines with intense flavors but no sense of weight. With the drought at its most severe, yields were already low and further reduced by a cold, windy May that particularly impacted our early grapes. The summer alternated between warmer than normal (June, August, October) and cooler-than-normal (May, July, September) months, and resulted in a slow, extended harvest, with many of our late grapes coming in with tremendous expressiveness at low sugar levels. My dad called the vintage "athletic", which I thought was a nice way of getting at its weightless power. Similar vintages: none, really, though 2008 and 2013 have some traits they share.
  • 2016: Even though we were still in the drought, rainfall was a bit better than the previous years, and the vineyard healthier under our new Biodynamic protocols. Yields recovered a bit from 2015 levels. A warm summer produced intense wines, both reds and whites, with dark colors and the structure to age. Similar vintages: 2002, 2006, 2019. 
  • 2017: We felt like we saw a replay of 2005, where 40+ inches of rainfall broke the drought with a bang and the vineyard tried to do three years of growing in one. We dodged frosts, had a moderate summer before a dramatic heat spike in late August, but just as things got critical it cooled in September and finished under perfect conditions in October. Good yields but outstanding concentration and colors, juicy early appeal but the structure to age. Similar vintages: 2003, 2005, 2021.
  • 2018: As played out a decade earlier, a strong vintage that was overshadowed by blockbuster years on either side, producing elegant wines that were easy to underestimate. The growing season was slightly cooler than average except for a scorching midsummer (July through mid-August). Things cooled back down for harvest, and we picked with outstanding acids and solid concentration. This appears to be one of our greatest white vintages, and a strong red vintage though maybe not with the long aging of our best years. Similar vintages: 2008, 2013.
  • 2019: A classic vintage for us, strong for both reds and whites, a product of good rain the previous winter, a cool first two-thirds of the ripening cycle, then consistently warm last third that accelerated the late grapes. The resulting compressed harvest had slightly above average yields, high quality across the board, pronounced varietal character, and good structure on the reds. A classic vintage for cellaring. Similar vintages: 2004, 2016, 2017. 
  • 2020: A year that many of us would like to forget, but which looks like it's produced wines we want to remember. The growing season was challenging, with below-average rain, a cool early summer followed by record-breaking heat in early August and mid-September, wildfires to our north and south, and, oh, a pandemic. The heat produced an early, compressed harvest. Whites turned out to be outstanding, with a lusciousness bolstered by good acids. We're still getting to know our reds, but they appear strong as well, with intense fruitiness and good tannic bite. Similar vintages: 2003 and 2014.
  • 2021: It's our most recent vintage, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think 2021 has produced wines that rival the best we've seen in our history. Yields were reduced by a dry, chilly winter, with 13 of the 16 inches of rain coming in one January storm. The summer was lovely except for a July heat spike, and harvest unfolded in ideal conditions, with each warm stretch followed by a cool-down to give the vines (and us) some time to recover. The resulting wines have concentration and freshness, juicy appeal but structure, and (as we often see in our best years) well defined varietal character. Seemingly equally strong for both whites and reds. Similar vintages: 2017, 2019, and especially 2007. 

One of the most fun things about what I get to do is to come to know wines (and years) almost as people, with personalities and life journeys that add depth to the things we perceive on first impression. Opening an older vintage can be like revisiting an old friend, and sometimes it makes me realize that years have what are in essence sibling relationships with other years. Of course, not every year has a comp. There are some years like 2001, 2009, and 2015 whose unusual combination of factors leads to vintages we just haven't seen before or since. Perhaps that will change when we have a half-century of  years under our belt. I'll report back. Meanwhile, I hope that some of you found this helpful, or at least interesting. If this just raises new questions, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. 


Tasting the wines in the 2022 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 2014 Esprit de Tablas and the 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Although both vintages were during our 2012-2016 five-year drought, the growing seasons proceeded quite differently.

2014 was in the middle of the drought, but that manifested itself mostly in a growing season that shifted early; both budbreak and harvest were among our earliest on record. The vineyard held up well, with crops just slightly below our long-term averages at 2.78 tons/acre and producing wines with a classic Californian style. These wines had lushness at the forefront but plenty of structure and minerality to back that up. [You can read my recap of the 2014 vintage here.]

2016 actually showed some recovery after the punishingly dry 2015 vintage, and the ~20 inches of rain we got was, while still below our long-term average, the most we'd seen since 2011. The growing season saw a very warm beginning, then an extended cool-down in August and the first half of September, and then when it got warm again, it didn't break until after we'd finished harvesting on October 8th, our earliest concluding harvest ever. The result was that the early-ripening grapes came in with good brightness and focus, while later-ripening grapes showed deep, dense flavors. Overall yields were right at our long-term average, at 2.97 tons/acre. [My recap of the 2016 vintage can be found here.]

In the end, despite their different conditions, the two vintages had more similarities than differences in how they manifested their flavors. Both showed good lush profiles, with backbone and acids to provide balance. Within those broad similarities, 2014 produced wines with a little more open, juicy personality, while 2016 showed a bit more density and tension. Both 2014 Esprit and 2016 Esprit Blanc showed beautifully when I tasted them today, with the first signs of maturity but plenty left in the tank for people who'd like to age them further. The pair:

2022 Collectors Edition Wines

My tasting notes:

  • 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: Still a youthful pale gold color. Rich and powerful on the nose, immediately Roussanne in character, with an oyster shell minerality under the vanilla custard, beeswax, and tarragon notes. The palate is both rich and vibrant, with crème brulée and poached pear flavors, a lovely spine of preserved lemon acidity, and a long, broad finish of citrus zest, mandarin, and wet rocks. This vintage tied for our most Roussanne ever in the Esprit Blanc, and it was in full evidence today: 75% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc, and 7% Picpoul Blanc. Lovely now, but should age in classic fashion if you'd prefer to lean into the butterscotch and roasted nuts character of aged Roussanne.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas: A complex nose of fruitcake, chaparral, teriyaki, and warm baking spices. On the palate, evenly balanced between redder and darker notes, with baker's chocolate, ripe plum, minty herbs, and sarsaparilla flavors. The finish lingers with moderate tannic grip, playing off flavors of black licorice, cherry skin, baking spices and a little minty juniper lift. This is just starting to show secondary flavors, and those who want more of the meaty truffly character of aged Mourvedre should feel comfortable holding this for another decade at least. 40% Mourvedre, 35% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 5% Counoise.

So how have the wines changed? The flavors in the Esprit Blanc have shifted slightly in tone, deepening from new honey to something more like vanilla custard, while retaining the minerality and acid balance of the vintage. The flavors in the Esprit have shifted from more red-fruited to something poised between red and black, and the texture has smoothed out. Both are still youthful enough that anyone who loved them when they were young will feel like they're visiting an old friend, but yet a friend who has gone on to do interesting things with their life. And, of course, they've got plenty of evolving still to do; if collectors prefer a fully mature profile they should feel safe letting them sit another decade. 

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. We've been thrilled with how the 2020s have been showing, and I'm convinced the 2021 whites will go down among the best we've ever made:

  • 2 bottles of 2014 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2020 Esprit de Tablas
  • 2 bottles of 2020 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2020 En Gobelet
  • 1 bottle of 2020 Grenache
  • 1 bottle of 2021 Patelin de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2021 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.


Into the black: tasting every Tablas Creek Syrah, 2002-2021

There are two ways that we try to work systematically through the collection of wines in our library. At the beginning of each year, we taste every wine we made ten years earlier. These horizontal retrospectives give us an in-depth look at a particular year, and a check-in with how our full range of wines is doing with a decade in bottle. I wrote up the results from our 2012 retrospective tasting back in January. And then each summer we conduct a comprehensive vertical tasting of a single wine, where we open every vintage we've ever made and use that to assess how the wine ages and if we want to adjust our approach in any way. This also serves as a pre-tasting for a public event in August at which we share the highlights.

In looking at which wines we'd done recent vertical tastings of, I was surprised to learn that we'd never done a deep dive into our varietal Syrah. Some of that can be explained, I think, by the fact that we don't make one every year. A wine you don't have aging in the cellar isn't as top-of-mind as one that you're tasting in its youth and wondering how it might evolve. But it's still an oversight, since Syrah is a famously ageworthy grape and one that we often note in our 10-year retrospective tastings is still youthful at a decade in bottle. So, it was with anticipation that our cellar team and I joined together and opened every vintage of Syrah, from our first-ever 2002 to the 2021 that we blended recently. Note that there are several gaps in the chronology, as Syrah's early sprouting makes it susceptible to low yields in frost vintages (like 2009 and 2011) and its dark color and reliable density means that there are years where it all gets snapped up in our blends to give them more seriousness (like 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2018):

Syrah vertical tasting Jun 2022

Joining me for this tasting were Winemaker Neil Collins, Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm, Cellar Assistant Amanda Weaver, and Director of Marketing Ian Consoli. My notes on the wines are below. I've linked each wine to its page on our website if you want detailed technical information, professional reviews, or our tasting notes from when the wines were first released. I can't remember why we never made a web page for the 2002, but if you have questions about it let me know in the comments and I'll answer as best I can.

  • 2002 Syrah: The nose and the bricking of the color at the edge of the glass both show some signs of age, with aromas of meat drippings, mint, and aged balsamic at the fore. With a little time, the fruit (in the guise of chocolate-covered cherry) comes out. The palate is more youthful, with flavors of black plum, baker's chocolate, and foresty earth, still-substantial tannins, and good acids. There's a dustiness to the tannins that betrays the wine's age, but overall it's still in a position to go out another decade. A great start to the tasting.
  • 2003 Syrah: A softer, more inviting nose, with aromas of nutmeg, black raspberry, leather, flint, and juniper spice. Quite pretty on the palate, with flavors of leather, gingerbread, olive tapenade, and and soy marinade. The finish was brooding, with umami teriyaki flavors and nice acids keeping things fresh, though the tannins were mostly resolved. Felt like it was toward the end of its peak drinking, with the fruit elements perhaps not likely to last much longer.
  • 2004 Syrah: An immediately appealing nose of red and black licorice, cassis, leather, menthol, and a meaty, earthy note. The palate showed lovely sweet blueberry fruit, semi-sweet chocolate, and chalky tannins, plush and long. A nice lightly salty mineral note came out on the finish. One of our consensus favorites from the tasting, and absolutely at its peak.
  • 2005 Syrah: A slightly wilder nose than the 2004, with aromas of aged meat, leather, soy, and minty eucalyptus spice, like a hike in the high Sierra. The mouth is similar, but with a nice dark-red-fruited element too, currant or a raspberry reduction. Lovely texture, with some tannin left and good acids on the finish that left lingering notes of chaparral and chocolate powder. Another favorite, and also seemingly right at peak. 
  • 2006 Syrah: A nose that was more impressive than appealing: iron filings, teriyaki, and crushed mint, with some black raspberry coming out with air. The palate is plush upon entry, with notes of chocolate-covered cherry, marzipan, and mocha, then big tannins come out to take over, highlighted by solid acidity. It felt to us maybe not quite at peak yet, with the acids highlighting the tannins in a slightly unflattering way.
  • 2007 Syrah: More youthful on the nose than the wines that preceded it, but in an immensely appealing way: black fruit and brambles and pepper spice, with a meaty venison note that made Neil comment, "Now that's a glorious nose". The palate is mouth-coating, with blackberry and black licorice notes and chalky tannins. As good as this was, it still had the structure and balance to age, and would be amazing right now with a rosemary-crusted leg of lamb.
  • 2008 Syrah: A quieter nose in comparison to the 2007 (which was admittedly a tough act to follow), with Provencal herbs and wild strawberry notes, and a little cherry compote character in which we thought we detected a touch of oxidation. The palate was pretty but undramatic, with dried red fruits and sarsaparilla notes, nice texture, and a little saline minerality on the finish. We weren't sure if this wine, from a good-not-great vintage, was nearing the end of its life or if it's in a phase it would come out of. I'd lean toward the latter.
  • 2010 Syrah: A strange nose at first that we variously described as horseradish, hops, and sun-dried tomatoes. That blew off to show aromas of soy, aged meat, pepper spice, and grape candy. The palate was a little more traditional but still something of an outlier, with flavors of bruised plum, bittersweet chocolate, cola, and sweet spice. There's still some tannic grip. This wine, from our coolest-ever vintage with very long hang time, was always likely to be different from its neighbors. If I had to guess, I'd think that it is going through a phase and will come out the other side into something fascinating. But I'd hold off on opening one for now.
  • 2013 Syrah: A lovely dark nose of cola and minty black fruit, with additional notes of anise, roasted walnuts, and lavender florality. The palate has medium body, nicely poised between fruity and savory elements. Chalky tannins come out on the end highlighting flavors of plum skin and menthol.
  • 2014 Syrah: Dark but inviting on the nose, with notes of blackberry, eucalyptus, anise, and candied violets. The palate shows lively tangy black raspberry fruit, with lovely texture and chalky tannins. The finish shows notes of chocolate and a graphite-like minerality. This is still young but shows tremendous potential, and was our favorite of the "middle-aged" wines in the lineup.
  • 2017 Syrah. Notably different on the nose with a green peppercorn note jumping out of the glass from the higher percentage of whole-cluster fermentation we did in 2017. Under that, aromas of soy marinade, black olive, and high-toned pomegranate fruit. The palate shows flavors of dried strawberries, new leather, and a little cedary oak. The finish is gentle and composed, with the lower acidity you also get from whole cluster fermentation. I thought this was fascinating more than actively pleasurable, and am happy we dialed back the stem percentages in more recent vintages. 
  • 2019 Syrah: A more classic nose of black cherry, anise, crushed peppermint, and violets. The palate is tangy with flavors of plum skin and baker's chocolate, chalky tannins, and lingering texture. Youthful but impressive and delicious. There's just a hint of the green peppercorn stem character in this wine, and I liked the balance we struck.
  • 2020 Syrah: Just bottled last week, and it felt a little beaten up by the process, with the aromatic and flavor elements appearing one by one rather than integrated and layered. The nose shows notes of sugarplum and vanilla, menthol and sweet tobacco. The palate was plush, with black fruit and spice, and a little sweet oak coming out on the finish, along with substantial chalky tannins. This will be fun to watch come together in coming months; our plan is tentatively to give it five months in bottle and to release it in November.
  • 2021 Syrah: Although we've made the blending decisions and know which lots will be going into our 2021 Syrah, it hasn't been blended yet. That's a project we'll tackle after next week's bottling. So Chelsea pulled a composite sample of this wine. It's worth noting that we always like the actual blend more than the composite. But that said, it was impressive: meaty, with blueberry and chocolate on the nose, and a little briary wildness. The mouth is structured, quite tannic at this stage, but also plush with flavors of black fig, black olive, crushed rock, and a little meatiness like Spanish chorizo. All the pieces of a blockbuster. It will be a pleasure to watch where this goes. 

A few concluding thoughts:

  • Syrah's aging curve is perhaps the longest of any of the wines we make. I am proud of how most of our wines age. That includes our Mourvedre-based reds, our Roussanne-based whites, and varietals like Tannat. But these Syrahs were still eye-opening. There were wines more than fifteen years out (I'm looking at you, 2006) that felt like they could still use another few years. And wines nearly a decade old already (hey there, 2014) that still felt like they could have been new releases. That's not to say you should never open a young Syrah. I don't think anyone opening a 2014, or 2017, or 2019 is going to be disappointed with what they find, between the ample black fruit, the rich texture, and the minerality and spice. Just pair it with something substantial enough to play off, like the rosemary-crusted leg of lamb we were all dreaming about during the tasting. But if you want a wine you can reliably age a couple of decades, I don't know that there's a wine we make I'd recommend more.
  • The overall quality of the wines was exceptionally high. I asked everyone around the table to pick four favorites, and the wines that got votes were 2002 (1), 2004 (4), 2005 (4), 2007 (3), 2013 (1), 2014 (3), 2017 (4), and 2019 (4). That's eight of the fourteen vintages that got a "favorite" vote, across a range of different sorts of growing seasons, different vine ages, and different cellar treatments. It's just a tremendous grape.
  • We need to plant more Syrah. See the previous point. But it was also a bummer not having Syrah from vintages like 2016 and 2018 to taste. If you go back and look at the blogs I posted sharing our experience around the blending table those years (2016 here, and 2018 here) both times I remarked on just how impressive the Syrah lots were. I have vivid memories from 2016 about looking around the table and commenting that we were going to make the best varietal Syrah we'd ever made. It didn't turn out that way; the Syrah lots were so impressive that blends like Esprit and Panoplie snapped up most of the quantity in our blind tasting trials, and we weren't left with enough to bottle varietally. We have an acre or so that we planted last year, and we'll get additional tonnage off some of our oldest blocks thanks to the success we've had with layering canes to fill in holes from missing vines, but I'm now thinking that's not enough and we should plan for a few more acres on Jewel Ridge. 
  • 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.
  • Sound fun? Join us on August 14th! We will be hosting a version of this event that is open to the public, and Neil and I will be leading the discussion and sharing insights into how the wines came to be the way they are. The vintages we chose to share are 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2014, 2017, 2019, and 2020. You can read more about the event, and get your tickets, here.

A Blast from the Past and a Prototype for the Future: A Look at the 2002 Glenrose Vineyard "Las Tablas Estates" at Age 20

2001 was a traumatic vintage for us. After a relatively warm winter produced early budbreak, consecutive nights of hard freezes in late April hit hard. Yields were just 1.4 tons per acre, down by 39% despite additional acreage in production. Worse, the frost hit right as the Mourvedre was sprouting. Typically, Mourvedre, which sprouts late, dodges the spring frosts and provides a hedge against the lost production from other more precocious grapes. Not in 2001. In the end the uneven Mourvedre quality, combined with the low overall yields, dictated that we not even make an Esprit de Beaucastel. We ended up declassifying almost the entire red vintage into Cotes de Tablas, which we were selling for $22/bottle at the time. Ouch.

I moved out here to California in April of 2002, and that experience was fresh. We looked forward and foresaw a few years with both cash flow and profitability challenges thanks to the short 2001 crop. And we had no assurance this would be a one-off event. Several other local wineries told us to should expect frosts like that in our chilly inter-mountain valley every few years. So when my dad and I sat down and brainstormed how we were going to get more wine into production and protect ourselves against potential future frosts, the additional acreage that we'd planted in 1999 and 2000 didn't seem like it would be an adequate solution. 

Enter Glenrose Vineyard and its proprietor Don Rose. He'd been one of the first customers of the Tablas Creek Nursery back in 1996, and planted an array of our cuttings onto his hillside property. This is about five miles east and a little bit south of Tablas Creek, on one of the ridges in the hills that separate us from the town of Paso Robles. Critically, the vineyards sit between 1700 and 2000 feet in elevation, high enough that they are usually above the frost line. And it's a stunning vineyard [see some striking photos here] with soils even more calcareous than what we have under our own vineyard, particularly after Don carved terraces into the steep hillside so it would be farmable. We reached out to Don and worked out an agreement for him to sell us some grapes for 900 cases of a wine, which would become the 2002 Las Tablas Estates "Glenrose Vineyard":   

Glenrose 2002 in 2022
We decided that in order to have something different from our Mourvedre-based Esprit de Beaucastel and our Grenache-based Cotes de Tablas this wine should be based on Syrah. So we contracted for grapes, brought them into the cellar, and crushed, fermented, and blended the wine. It turned out to be delicious, with the darkness of the Syrah, the minerality of the chalky soils, and a distinctive violet florality. We released it in April of 2004 and it was a welcome wine for our tasting room as we worked through the shortages from our estate 2001 wines. We contracted for a second vintage in 2003, and (in smaller quantities) 2004 as well. My vision for this project at the time was to eventually develop a series of 3-5 different vineyards that had our grapevines in the ground, and have us produce a vineyard designate of each under this "Las Tablas Estates" label. But it didn't turn out that way.

So, why didn't this work? There were a few reasons:

  • Production off our own vineyard rebounded. We had a productive vintage in 2002, and another one in 2003, and another in 2004. As it turned out, our next major frost wasn't until 2009. And that production grew fast. After harvesting just 85 tons off our estate in 2001, that total more than doubled to 203 tons in 2002, thanks to the combination of no frost and yet more acreage coming into production. And it went up again to 232 tons in 2003. So we had our hands full finding homes for all this new estate production, and it started to feel like a distraction establishing this side-project, with a different label and a related but different story.   
  • We diversified our own estate offerings. This was also the era where we were starting to offer varietal bottlings of these new-to-most-consumers Rhone grapes. I wrote about that last year after tasting our first such wine, the 2001 Roussanne. But in 2002 we added six new varietal bottlings: Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Syrah, Counoise, and Tannat. In 2003 we added Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, and Mourvedre (as well as our first Vin de Paille). All of a sudden we had lots of other wines to talk about and slot into wine club shipments.
  • We decided it would be a mistake to sell the wine in wholesale. This was an era where we had gone through a series of name and label changes as we found our footing in the market. [See this blog my dad wrote in 2011 for a few of them.] Wholesalers value continuity and familiarity. In a crowded marketplace where a distributor rep might only take out a few bottles of Tablas Creek each year, and a restaurant or retailer might only have one presented occasionally, the bar to launch a new product is high. We were worried that doing so would further confuse the market and compete with either the Cotes de Tablas, the Esprit de Beaucastel, or both. So that meant just selling the Glenrose Vineyard in the tasting room and on our website.
  • The timing and pricing weren't different enough from our estate wines. Because the wine was based on Syrah, which benefits from time in barrel to soften, we couldn't really push the wine's bottling early enough to help cover the holes produced by 2001's short crop. So we ended up releasing it after our 2002 Cotes de Tablas and only slightly ahead of our 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel. If we'd had a frost in 2002, that would have been fine. But of course, we didn't. And then didn't again the next year, or the next. And as for price, we decided to sell it at $32.50, which was only slightly below the $35 price of the Esprit in that era. We realized that we hadn't left ourselves a lot of room in pricing. Cheaper than the Cotes' $22/bottle would have meant we lost money. More expensive than the Esprit would never have made sense.

As we approached the time in early 2005 when we were going to have to bottle the follow-up vintage of 2003 Glenrose Vineyard, we decided that it would be a mistake to do so. So we reached out to some of our neighbors, and ended up selling both the finished 2003 Glenrose, ready to bottle, and the just-fermented 2004 Glenrose, to a local winery. We watched with both pride and a bit of regret as it got high scores and established a brand for them that lasted several years. And the Glenrose Vineyard became a go-to sought out and celebrated by some of the region's top local Rhone producers, including Paix Sur Terre, Adelaida, Thacher, Lone Madrone, and many more.

I found a bottle of that wine (under screwcap!) in our library and opened it over the weekend. It was in beautiful shape. My tasting notes:

Still very much alive. Cherry and currant, leather and pepper, and a sarsaparilla-like sweet spice on the nose. The mouth is similar, with flavors of licorice and plum and sweet baking spices. A Worcestershire-like umami character is the best sense of the wine's two decades of age. The tannins are mostly resolved, ushering in a hint of that violet florality I've always associated with the site 

I still think the basic idea is one that could work, particularly now that our biggest challenge is not enough wine, not too much. But we did take a lot of the lessons from this experience to heart when we next launched ourselves into the world of grape purchases. Five years after we pulled the plug on the Glenrose Vineyard wine, we responded to our next big frost by launching the Patelin de Tablas and Patelin de Tablas Blanc.

Like the Glenrose Vineyard, the Patelin red is based on Syrah, to distinguish it from the other main blends we make. And thanks to the screwcap experiment we did with this wine we felt confident putting even the Patelin red under that closure. But the Patelin wines have a clearer place in our hierarchy than the Las Tablas Estates did. They are our entry-level wines, which we hope restaurants will pour by the glass. We bottle them just before the subsequent harvest, which means they're less expensive to make, require less foudre space, and can be released into the market before the estate wines of the same vintage. That came in very handy in addressing frost years like 2009 and 2011. They include some Tablas Creek fruit, whose percentage can vary from very little in short crops to more significant when we have surplus estate production (as in 2010, or 2020). There are white and (since 2012) rosé versions, better matching our own vineyard's mix and the demands of the market. It shares the Tablas Creek label, allowing it to benefit from our own branding and also when people discover and love it to lead them to what else we do. And it feels appropriate that they be less expensive than our estate wines, which are after all organic, Biodynamic, and Regenerative Organic Certified. 

Still, I love how things come full circle. One of the vineyards that we reached out to source that first 2010 Patelin de Tablas was Glenrose Vineyard. And there will be some Glenrose Vineyard in the 2021 Patelin. That feels right, and appropriate. I only hope that the wines hold up as well as that 2002 I opened on Saturday did.


Looking back with a decade's perspective on the sunny, generous 2012 vintage

Though we didn't know it at the time, 2012 was a pivot year for us. Following two cold, wet vintages, 2012 was notably warm, and began what would turn out to be a five-year drought cycle and the first of eight dry years in ten. It also marked a significantly warmer vintage than we'd seen in the past, which turned out to be a preview of conditions we would see regularly over the next decade. Because 2011 was a frost-reduced crop, the vines went into 2012 with plenty of stored up vigor, even though rainfall was just 70% of normal. Budbreak proceeded smoothly at a normal time frame, and the growing season was routine until a major August heat spike gave us eight consecutive days over 100. Most of the vineyard shrugged this off, except for Mourvedre, where we saw significant sunburn. Although we were expecting normal to slightly above normal yields, they turned out to be plentiful in all grapes except Mourvedre, as we saw an average of 3.5 tons per acre. Harvest took place at a normal time frame, beginning the first week of September and finishing the last week of October.

When we got to blending it was a relief to have more options than in our tiny 2011 harvest, when the frost dictated largely what we could and couldn't make. But the higher-than-expected yields had some negatives too, particularly in Grenache, and there were lots that were less intense than we were looking for. Some got declassified into Patelin, which turned out to be terrific that year. Other wines required a higher percentage of Syrah than normal in order to get the color and structure that we wanted. (The vintage was something of a wakeup call for us, and we changed what we had been doing to be more hands-on in both the cellar and the vineyard starting in 2013, in order to keep from being surprised again.) And I was happy after our blending trials; our top wines were outstanding. But the vintage overall always came across to me as more friendly than impressive, sunny and juicy and open-knit, wines to drink and enjoy while other, more structured vintages evolved in the cellar.

So it was with interest that I approached the opportunity to taste through the entire lineup of wines that we made in 2012 last week. This horizontal retrospective tasting is something we do each year, looking at the complete array of wines that we made a decade earlier. We do this for a few reasons. First, it's a chance to take stock on how the wines are evolving, share those notes with our fans who may have them in their cellars, and keep our vintage chart up to date. There are wines (like the Esprits, and Panoplie) that we open fairly regularly, but others that we may not have tasted in six or seven years. Second, it's a chance to evaluate the decisions we made that year, see if they look better (or worse) in hindsight, and use that lens to see if there are any lessons to apply to what we're doing now. And third, it's a chance to put the vintage in perspective. Often, in the immediate aftermath of a harvest and even at blending, we're so close to this most recently completed year that it can be difficult to assess its character impartially. Plus, the full character of a vintage doesn't show itself until the wines have a chance to age a bit. In evaluating these 2012s, I was particularly interested to see the extent to which a decade had deepened that sunny friendliness that I remember from its youth. As you will see, in some cases it did, while in others, not so much. The lineup:

2012 Horizontal Tasting Wines

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 three-fifths of our cellar team (Neil Collins, Amanda Weaver, and Austin Collins) as well as by Neil's older son Jordan and Tasting Room Manager John Morris.

  • 2012 Vermentino (SC): Initially upon pouring, showed a screwcap-inflected nose of flint, which blew off to show a pithy, kaffir lime leaf note. On the palate, fresh and bright, green apple, citrus oil, salty and briny. Like a gin & tonic with extra lime. A plush mid-palate and then lots of great acid on the finish. In outstanding shape, still youthful, and a good reminder to let older screwcapped whites breathe a bit before judging them.
  • 2012 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A nose of oyster shells, pineapple skin, and blanched almond. The palate came off as rich compared to the Vermentino that preceded it, almost buttery, with flavors of limestone and white tea. The acids come back out at the end, with a finish of melon rind and wet rocks. Not that anyone would intentionally let a Picpoul age this long, but they'd have to be happy if they opened it and this was what they found.
  • 2012 Grenache Blanc (SC): A classic minerally nose that Amanda said "smells like rain". Underneath that mineral petrichor note I got some sweet anise and spicy bay. The palate showed lemon curd, rounder than we were expecting, but then firming up into a classic bite of Grenache Blanc tannins and white grapefruit pith. Finished clean and long, electric and still very much alive. A terrific showing for this grape that's known to oxidize young.
  • 2012 Viognier (SC): The nose was rich but spicy, pink peppercorn and dried apricot. The palate is fresher than the nose, like fresh apricot juice and mineral, orange blossom and Meyer lemon. Excellent acidity for a Viognier, with a finish like rose water and Middle Eastern spices. Exotic without straying into heavy or blowsy territory.
  • 2012 Roussanne (C): The first wine we tasted finished under cork, and clearly marked as such: deeper flavors of honey, peach liqueur, and spiced nuts. The palate showed lanolin, butterscotch, and preserved lemon, rich texture leavened by good acids, and then exotically spiced on the finish: ginger and graham cracker, but dry, with a little tannic bite. Delicious.
  • 2012 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 52% Grenache Blanc, 27% Viognier, 16% Roussanne, 5% Marsanne): A pale color that looked like it could have just been bottled. A nose of sea shells, peppermint, and something meaty that Neil identified as prosciutto. The palate is clean, with kaffir lime and lemongrass flavors. The finish shows notes of chamomile and wet rocks. Fresh and youthful. Like the Picpoul, we're guessing there's very little of this out there still. But if it's been stored well, it's still lovely.
  • 2012 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 34% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 6% Roussanne): Initially the nose was closed and a little reduced, like a struck match. Then it opened to flavors of kiwi and plantain. The palate was lovely, with rich texture and flavors of brioche and peach pit, then brightening under Grenache Blanc's influence to show citrus pith and fresh peach juice. Saline and long. A treat.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): So, so fresh on the nose, showing less age than the varietal Roussanne. Aromas of honeysuckle, pineapple, golden delicious apple and a little sweet oak. The palate showed honey, sweet herbs, and honeydew melon. A rich texture, but very clean. Candied orange peel and vanilla custard came out on the finish. Just beautiful, and right at peak, but with plenty of life left. John asked, "is 'wow' a flavor"?
  • 2012 Patelin de Tablas Rosé (SC; 75% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise): Our first-ever Patelin Rosé still had a pretty pale color, with a nose of watermelon rind, rose hips, and cherry skin. The palate was pretty, cherry and spicy bay leaf, then drier on the finish with cherry skin, sandalwood, and sweet spices. Maybe not a sipping wine on its own at this point, but seemed to be calling out for a charcuterie plate. No one would have intentionally kept this wine this long, but it's still sound. 
  • 2012 Dianthus (SC; 60% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 15% Counoise): A little rustiness in the color. The nose showed rhubarb and menthol, also showing some age. The palate is nicer, with flavors of plum and sweet tobacco, and a little Aperol-like bitterness. The finish shows strawberry fruit leather and mineral notes. Surprisingly less vibrant than the Patelin Rosé. Interesting at this stage, more than pleasurable. 
  • 2012 Full Circle (C): Our third Full Circle Pinot Noir from my dad's property in the Templeton Gap, and not our favorite showing. The nose had notes of cola and Fernet and baking chocolate and prunes. The palate was chewy, with some bittersweet chocolate, cedar, and root beer notes. Luxardo cherry came out on the finish, which was still fairly tannic. Felt like this might have been impacted by the warmth of the vintage, and that maybe we worked a little too hard on extracting flavors from it in the cellar. This was better when it was younger and had fresher fruit flavors to cloak the tannins.
  • 2012 Grenache (C): Warm and inviting on the nose, with flavors of strawberry compote, cola, and fig. The palate was soft and ripe, with flavors of milk chocolate and cherry, cedar and sweet spice. Pretty but we thought would have been better a few years ago. Drink up if you've got any.
  • 2012 Mourvedre (C): After the first two reds, both of which we thought were a little over the hill, the wine's cool vibrancy was dramatic. A nose of pine forest and loam, dark chocolate and redcurrant. The palate showed red cherry and plum, cocoa powder and juniper. The freshness just jumped out, with lively acids and still substantial tannins. The finish continued in the same vein, with leather and plum skin and Nordic spice.
  • 2012 Tannat (C): A nose that Neil described as "opaque", meaning that we kept describing it as dark rather than finding individual flavors. Eventually blackberry thicket and baker's chocolate, with both sweet (vanilla bean) and cool (menthol) spice. The palate is mouth-filling, with tobacco and chocolate flavors, a rich texture with plenty of tannin, and an undercurrent of sweet fruit like Medjool dates. Not a sipping wine but would be amazing with a spice-rubbed brisket. Probably right at peak.
  • 2012 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 53% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre, 2% Counoise): When we first poured this, showed a little matchstick-like screwcap character, but this blew off to show a lovely Grenache character of olallieberry, cinnamon, and cherry cola. The palate is bright, with raspberry and sarsaparilla notes, and tannins like powdered sugar and a texture like milk chocolate. The finish showed notes of graphite, cedar, and dried cranberry. Fun, in beautiful shape, and a screaming bargain for the $20 we sold it for at the time. 
  • 2012 Cotes de Tablas (C; 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5%Mourvedre): While we usually love the Cotes de Tablas at age 10, we found this a little tired on the nose, with notes of coffee grounds, molasses, and figs. The palate is similar but a little fresher, with black cherry and orange oil notes, loamy and chocolatey. The finish shows its Grenache base with notes of anise and Chinese five spice. Probably a year or two past its peak. 
  • 2012 En Gobelet (C; 63% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 11% Syrah, 8% Counoise, 6% Tannat): Lively on the nose with notes of redwood forest, bittersweet chocolate, marzipan, and potpourri. The palate is lovely with sweet blackberry fruit and wood smoke, substantial tannins, and a long finish of chocolate-covered cherry and star anise. The first Grenache-led wine of the tasting that we really loved, and right at peak.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 21% Grenache, 9% Counoise): A nose of new leather and forest floor, currant and anise. On the palate, fresh and red fruit-dominated, redcurrant, cigar box, and sweet spice. The tannins are largely resolved. The finish shows flavors of licorice and cassis and sweet tobacco, deepened by a little savory Worcestershire note. This might not be one of our longest-lived Esprits, but it's drinking absolutely beautifully right now.
  • 2012 Panoplie (C; 70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A vibrant nose of mint chocolate, garrigue, and pancetta that then echoes between red and black fruit. The palate is concentrated without any sense of heaviness, flavors of blackcurrant, licorice, sweet earth and black tea. The tannins are substantial but largely resolved, leaving an impression of lusciousness and refinement. At peak, but no hurry.
  • 2012 Petit Manseng (C): Our third 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. We tried a sweeter style in 2012, and it wasn't our favorite, with flavors of toasted marshmallow, lychee, and vanilla. The acids come out toward the finish, but it's still sweeter than what we've made in more recent years, and we all missed the bracing acids of those more modern vintages. 
  • 2012 Vin de Paille (C; 100% Roussanne): A treat to end the day. 2012's sunny, reliable harvest weather and plentiful Roussanne vintage allowed us to make our first Vin de Paille since 2006. The nose showed notes of flan and orange marmalade. The palate was very sweet but also showed lovely acids, with flavors of candied orange and chamomile, a luscious texture, and a finish of vanilla bean and orange blossom. Like many of the wines, also right at peak.

A few concluding thoughts

This tasting confirmed my opinion that 2012 was not, by our standards, an aging vintage. Some wines that are usually peaking at around a decade (like Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas) felt already a few years past their primes. Others that tend to still be youthful a decade out (like Tannat, or En Gobelet) felt right at their peaks. It also was not our favorite vintage for Grenache, and as we got toward wines that showed higher percentages of Syrah and Mourvedre, the wines felt firmer and more structured. I think we made a good call with the Esprit that year to displace some Grenache for more Syrah, even though it meant we didn't have any Syrah left to form a varietal bottling.

That said, the whites were across the board excellent. We weren't expecting much from the first three wines, and ended up having to argue over which of them was most deserving to make its place into the public tasting we'll be holding of the highlights in March. And it wasn't just the wines under screwcap; the Roussanne and Esprit de Tablas Blanc were both wonderful. It's worth noting that nearly all of the screwcapped wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and for any wine that has been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that most older screwcapped wines have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant speeds the process.

The tasting also drove home the value of our blending process. The top wines (Esprit, Esprit Blanc, and Panoplie) were all outstanding, and showed the best of the vintage without also carrying its weaknesses. To have the flexibility to reconfigure these wines when the vintage dictates is invaluable, and seeing the results a decade later was affirming. This is why we don't blend to a formula. The raw materials are different each year. I was proud of the process that produced those wines.

We have high hopes that we'll be able to hold an in-person horizontal tasting of the highlights from this tasting. We'd originally scheduled it for Sunday, February 6th, but we pushed it back a month to Sunday, March 6th in the hopes that this will let the surge in Covid Omicron cases subside. If you'd like to join us, we'll be tasting the following 10 wines: Vermentino, Roussanne, Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Mourvedre, Patelin de Tablas, En Gobelet, Esprit de Tablas, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille. I can't wait. For more information, or to join us, click here


Tasting the wines in the 2021 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 2013 Esprit de Tablas and the 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Although both vintages were during our recent five-year drought, the growing seasons proceeded quite differently.

2013 was still in the early stages of the drought, and while the vines set a large crop, we expended a lot of effort reducing crop levels to make sure we didn't overextend the vineyard knowing it had limited water to draw on. That was followed by a classic, warm Californian summer that combined with our reduced yields (2.66 tons/acre in the end) for our earliest-ever finish to harvest on October 7th. [You can read my recap of the 2013 vintage here.]

By 2015, the vines were really struggling, and crop levels started low and were further reduced by a very cold May, which led to a very light fruit set in our earlier grape varieties like Viognier and Syrah. The year continued in a whipsaw between significantly warmer-then-normal and cooler-than-normal months, each both of which can slow ripening, and despite the low yields and a very warm October we didn't finish picking until October 29th. Our overall yields were some of the lowest we've ever seen at 2.01 tons/acre. [My recap of the 2015 vintage can be found here.]

So, despite their drought conditions, the two vintages manifested differently. 2013 produced wines with classic flavors, dark colors, good density, and lots of spiciness. 2015 produced some of the most ethereal wines we've made, with noteworthy minerality and high-toned elegance. That said, both 2013 Esprit and 2015 Esprit Blanc showed a lovely balance of fruit and mineral, structure and openness, and richness and elegance when I tasted them today. The pair:

Collectors Edition Wines 2021

My tasting notes:

  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: Still a youthful pale gold. Elegant on the nose, with aromas of white flowers, lemongrass, beeswax, fresh pineapple, and sweet spice. The palate is lovely and translucent, with flavors of creme caramel and mint, intensely flavored but somehow weightless. The finish was clean and minerally with lingering notes of cream soda, lemon zest, and crushed rock. Because of the relatively low acid in our Roussanne lots, we used more Picpoul than we ever have in the Esprit Blanc, and I can feel its presence in the weightless tropicality. 55% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, and 17% Picpoul Blanc. Delicious now, and seems like an Esprit Blanc vintage that will sail on for decades, gradually deepening in tone with time.
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas: A nose of graphite, dark berries, leather, and sweet pipe tobacco, with a little wintergreen spice coming out with time in the glass. On the palate, more red fruited than the nose suggested, with flavors of redcurrant and plum skin, loam, baker's chocolate and Chinese five spice. The finish is long, with notes of mocha, black tea, and chalky mineral. The tannins have softened but are still substantial. The Syrah (which we increased in percentage because it showed so well in our blending trials) was really showing today. 40% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, and 10% Counoise. The still-substantial tannins and (to my mind) impeccable balance between fruitier and more savory elements suggest that you'll be happy whether you open it now or lay it down for additional aging.

So how have the wines changed? The flavors in the Esprit Blanc have shifted slightly in tone, deepening from new honey to something more caramelized, while retaining the high notes and weightlessness of the vintage. 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 lush vibrancy of all the 2019s, and am excited to share some of our first of the outstanding 2020 white wines:

  • 2 bottles of 2013 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2019 Esprit de Tablas
  • 2 bottles of 2019 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2019 En Gobelet
  • 1 bottle of 2019 Syrah
  • 1 bottle of 2020 Viognier
  • 1 bottle of 2020 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 two decades of Tablas Creek Roussanne, 2001-2020

There are two ways that we try to work systematically through the collection of wines in our library. At the beginning of each year, we taste every wine we made ten years earlier. These horizontal retrospectives give us an in-depth look at a particular year, and a check-in with how our full range of wines is doing with a decade in bottle. I wrote up the results from our 2011 retrospective tasting back in January. We supplement this detailed look at a single vintage each summer with a comprehensive vertical tasting of a single wine, where we open every vintage we've ever made and use that to assess how the wine ages and if we want to adjust our approach in any way.

I was inspired to choose Roussanne for this year's vertical tasting by having opened the 2001 Roussanne as research for a blog from February about the origins of our varietal wine program. The wine was a revelation, a reminder of just how compelling this often-difficult grape can be. So it was with anticipation that our cellar team and I joined together and opened every vintage of Roussanne, from that first-ever 2001 to the 2020 that we blended recently. It made for quite a morning:

Roussanne Vertical Tasting

If you find it odd to think about aging Roussanne, remember that it's the rare white grape with 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. Joining me for this tasting were Winemaker Neil Collins, Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm, and Cellar Assistant Austin Collins. My notes on the wines are below. I've linked each wine to its page on our website if you want detailed technical information, professional reviews, or our tasting notes from when the wines were first released.

  • 2001 Roussanne: If a touch less pristine than the bottle that we opened in February (a good reminder of the old adage that there are no great wines, only great bottles) it was still really impressive. Medium gold. A nose of marzipan, lacquer, ginger, lemongrass, and sweet green herbs. On the palate, lovely, with rich creme caramel flavors, sweet spices, and a little minty lift cleaning things up before a long finish of candied orange peel and hazelnut. Rich and decadent without being heavy. Showing just a touch more age than the bottle we opened in February, but still in a very nice place.
  • 2002 Roussanne: Lovely vibrant gold with a hint of green. Quite different on the nose, with a little flinty, spicy, pungent note on the nose that we all thought was reduction, as amazing as that sounds in a cork-finished 20-year-old white wine. That pungency blew off to reveal notes of crystallized ginger, lemongrass, grilled pineapple, and crushed rock. On the palate, absolutely lovely. Youthful honeydew melon, white pepper, and dried mango, vibrant acids, and a long, spicy finish with notes of cedar and honey. Chelsea commented that this wine was a great demonstration of the potential value of decanting old white wines.
  • 2003 Roussanne: A darker gold. Burnt sugar on the nose, also a piney, resiny lift, over aromas of white tea and straw. The mouth is rich and decadent, creme caramel, buttered popcorn, and a savory flavor Neil identified as saffron. Mouth-coating and rich, apparently low in acid but becoming more savory on the finish, with lingering flavors of mint and preserved lemon. Seems like it's at the end of a long, lovely peak.
  • 2004 Roussanne: Medium gold. A spicy nose of bay leaf and lanolin over butterscotch pudding and quince paste. The mouth is lively and bright, with juicy flavors of baked green apple and lemon pound cake. The vibrant acids and a little tannic bite balance richer notes of caramel and baking spices on the long finish. Seemingly still at peak.
  • 2005 Roussanne: Medium gold. A higher-toned nose than any of the previous vintages, featuring notes of red apple, pine forest, and baking spices. The palate was also vibrant, leading with new-pressed cider, then deeper caramel notes, then brighter again to white grapefruit and pithy lemon zest. Clean and long on the finish, with a hint of nutty sherry character the only sign of its sixteen years of age. 
  • 2006 Roussanne: Medium gold. A vibrant nose of beeswax, pine sap, preserved lemon, and white tea. The mouth is lovely: sweet fruit, like dried pineapple and fresh green fig, plus an appealing floral elderflower note. And as sweet as that sounds, it's dry, with a pithy orange peel note coming out on the finish. I left this in my glass for a few wines, and when I revisited it, it had also developed an exotic almost Gewurztraminer-like combination of lychee and tropical flowers. One of my favorites in the whole lineup.
  • 2007 Roussanne: Light gold. On the nose, a minty citrus leaf character over gingersnap, pine forest, and white miso. The palate is bright, like lemon custard and fresh nectarines. It's clean and pure, with a pretty white flower note, but the finish was a little short and the wine less dramatic than I was expecting from this blockbuster vintage. It's possible that it's going through a phase and may still be on its way up.
  • 2008 Roussanne: Medium gold. A little more age on the nose than the last few wines, toasty oak and pear syrup, anise liqueur and baked earth. The mouth is lovely, creme brulee, lemon marmalade, and roasted hazelnuts. Just enough acid to keep it together, with a little pithiness helping on the finish. Decadent and fully mature.
  • 2009 Roussanne: Deep gold. An elevated nose of quince, hoppy spice and white flowers and pine resin. There's also a little medicinal note I didn't love. The mouth was quite different than any previous wine, cumquat and lemongrass, a little yeasty in a way reminiscent of sour beers. Unusual and very savory, with less richness than the wines around it. Not sure if it's a phase or just vintage character. 
  • 2010 Roussanne: Vibrant light gold. A youthful nose of sweet green herbs, new honey, and citrus blossom. The palate shows a clean, sweet attack of spun sugar, fresh vanilla, and white tea. Medium-bodied (lighter than most previous vintages) and fresh, with flavors of lemon shortbread, fresh pastry, and chalky minerality. This hit a sweet spot for me, and showed great character of the cool year. My conclusion: I'd happily trade some power for this level of elegance.
  • 2011 Roussanne: A slightly hazy medium gold. A savory nose of mint, lemongrass, coriander seed and straw. Like the 2009 in many ways, also reminiscent of a sour beer, with flavors of preserved lemon and tandoori spices. Very rich but very dry too, with briny minerality and citra hops cutting the textural weight. I liked this better than I liked it when we had it in the 2011 retrospective in January, but it's still an atypical wine and I'd imagine it would be a bit of a puzzle to most Roussanne lovers.
  • 2012 Roussanne: Pale gold. A pretty nose of white honey and citrus leaf, with a sweet/spicy wintergreen note floating over top. The initial impression in the mouth is of sweetness: spun sugar and white tea, then deepened by a little bite of gentle tannin, then opening into a long, soft finish of sarsaparilla, vanilla custard, and crystallized ginger. Softly pretty, and a crowd pleaser for sure.
  • 2013 Roussanne: Medium gold. A more intense nose than the vintages around it, with a little more nutty aged character: marzipan, menthol, and clove-studded orange. Almost quintessentially Roussanne. On the palate, richly textured and absolutely classic. Creme brulee, orange peel, and vanilla bean. Nice acids. Feels like a throwback to the style we made in the mid-2000s.
  • 2014 Roussanne: Pale gold. A lovely exotic nose of elderflower, lychee, and rose water. The mouth is clean and fresh, with flavors of sweet green pear, spun sugar, preserved lemon, and wet stone. Medium bodied and refreshing. The first wine that didn't show any signs of age, and a lovely hybrid between the classic Roussanne richness and the exotic florality we saw in a few years. A consensus favorite.
  • 2015 Roussanne: Vibrant green-gold. A pungent nose of white flowers, lemongrass, watermelon rind, and chalky mineral. The mouth is classically Roussanne, but savory: pear skin and mandarin peel. Nice acids. A little short on the finish and I would have liked to have seen a little more textural richness. This was from the depths of our 5-year drought, and the Roussanne was really struggling to ripen, which I felt like I could feel (if not taste).
  • 2016 Roussanne: Pale gold. A quieter nose, showing a little lacquered wood, lemongrass, and ginger. The mouth showed a nice sweet/tart attack, like just-ripe pear, then softened into a feel that reminded me of rice pudding, then turned more savory with flavors of beeswax and lemon curd on the medium-length finish. Classic but still needs time to unwind, I thought.
  • 2017 Roussanne. Pale gold. A lovely nose, again on the exotic lychee/rose water spectrum that reminded us of Gewurztraminer, crossed with preserved lemon. The mouth started out vibrant, with lemon bar brightness, then deepened to a butter pastry texture, then finished soft and generous with baking spices and golden delicious apple. Still filling out; it too should deepen with more time. 
  • 2018 Roussanne: Pale gold. A very youthful nose of white flowers, lanolin, and sweet wintergreen. The mouth is fresh but mouth-filling, with flavors of white tea, vanilla custard, cream soda, and Haribo peach. Pretty, pure, and fresh... something close to quintessential young Roussanne.
  • 2019 Roussanne: Pale gold. Sort of hits the midpoint on the nose between 2017 and 2018, some exotic tropical aromas over fresh peach and vanilla bean. The mouth shows nice richness: pineapple upside-down cake, with a little mandarin peel pithy bite, and excellent length. Really pretty already and should be even better if people want to lay it down. And a treat to show people who think that a wine with lower alcohol (this is just 12.5%) can't have noteworthy richness.
  • 2020 Roussanne: Just blended and sitting in foudre. A slightly hazy green-gold. So young on the nose, with tart candy aromas of lemon drop and green apple Jolly Rancher. The mouth is pretty and fresh, with flavors of nectarine juice and a little hoppy herbiness. Lively and so young. It will be fun to watch where this goes.

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 (2), 2002 (2), 2010 (2), 2014 (4), 2017 (2), and 2019 (3). Five other vintages (2004, 2006, 2008, 2013, and 2018) got one vote. That's eleven of the twenty vintages that got a "favorite" vote, and there were several others that we loved. That is a great testament to the Perrins' dedication to this quixotic grape, and a great reminder of why we live with its late and uneven ripening, its susceptibility to drought and virus, and its low yields. Through it all, it makes delicious wines.
  • There is not a linear relationship between richness and alcohol. The alcohol levels on our Roussanne have dropped steadily from the mid-14s in our early years to the mid-13s in period around 2010 to the mid-12s in recent vintages. And yet there were notably richly textured wines from every period. So you should resist the temptation to equate higher alcohol with texture. There's more to it than that. 
  • Roussanne really does age beautifully. There wasn't a wine in the lineup that we thought was over the hill. That doesn't mean that everyone would necessarily prefer the wines in their older marzipan-and-creme brulee phase than in their more youthful honey-and-pear phase. But if you're looking for a white wine that will consistently, year-in and year-out, continue to evolve and show new facets, Roussanne is the grape for you. I dove more deeply into the phases of how Roussanne ages in a blog from 2019, if you're interested in a rough timeline of what to expect.
  • 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.

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.