Other Wines We Love: 2012 Qupe Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Grenache

The next in an occasional series of our non-Tablas Creek wine discoveries.

Bob Lindquist is one of my favorite people in the wine business.  As the founder of Qupe and one of the pioneers of California's Rhone movement, Bob probably needs little introduction to most fans of Tablas Creek. He has been making wines from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County grapes since 1982, and has been honored with many awards, including the 2015 Rhone Rangers Lifetime Achievement Award. Even more interesting, to me at least, he's still on the Rhone movement's cutting edge. He's planted Rhone varieties in new places, most notably the Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard in the cool (UC Davis Region 1 on the Winkler Scale) Edna Valley. He adopted Biodynamic farming early enough that this year is year 10 of the Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard's Demeter Certification. And he's still a tireless promoter of the category we both inhabit; I've run into him in airports and at out-of-state wine events more times than I can count.

Bob's wines are in style like his manner: thoughtful, understated, and long-lived.  They're rarely flashy when they're young, although they're always pure and correct.  But they have remarkable longevity, and (like Bob) the more time you spend with them, the more insight you realize they have to offer. 

Last night, we opened a bottle of Qupe 2012 Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Grenache. We paired it with a Blue Apron recipe for seared steaks with parsley-caper butter, which we dressed up by grilling the steaks and zucchini and then serving the zucchini over a whipped ricotta concoction we'd loved from a different Blue Apron recipe.  The food was terrific: one of the best meals we've cooked this year.  The steaks turned out juicy and flavorful, with the meaty flavors brought out by the umami of the parsley-caper butter.  The mashed potatoes were tangy and rich, while the sweet smokiness of the slow-grilled zucchini was given texture and cool richness by the ricotta.  But the wine was the star of the show.  Grenache has a tendency toward being candied on its own, but this rendition had none of that: just pure crunchy red fruit, vibrant acids, and a little welcome spice at the end. The wine came across as almost weightless, in the best possible way: flavors distilled down to their essence, as I often find from grapes grown in a region almost too cool for them to ripen.  Just an absolute pleasure to drink.  A snapshot, mid-meal (I didn't stage a shot at the beginning because, well, I wasn't expecting the revelation we got):

Qupe Grenache

The Grenache grape can be something of a chameleon, which is perhaps unsurprising for a grape planted in so many diverse places around the world.  It is a warm climate staple, and most regions where Grenache is widely planted (including the southern Rhone, Spain, and Paso Robles) are warm ones.  And some of the characteristics that I found in this Qupe Grenache are those we see here at Tablas Creek: its red fruit profile, its brilliant garnet color, its good acids, and its spice.  But while many examples of Grenache world-wide are earthier and show more baked red fruit character, this wine felt so fresh, even at age 6, like it was all high tones and electricity. I don't know what age will do to the wine, but given Qupe's track record for aging and the wine's freshness, I'm confident it's going to go somewhere exciting, though it's so good and so pure now, I'm sure lots of it will get consumed in the near term.  And best of all, it's not an expensive wine, still available for $35 on the Qupe Web site.  If you have the chance to snag some, or you have some in your cellar, you're in for a treat.

Bravo, Bob.


Thanksgiving wine pairings from the Tablas Creek team

I am a sucker for Thanksgiving. Between the excuse to get together with friends and family, the delicious food, and the fact that the whole event centers around being thankful for the opportunity to get together with friends and family and eat delicious food, it's pretty much right up my alley.  The fact that it is still our least commercialized holiday only makes it better.

Turkey Day 2017What's more, it's always fun for me to see which of our wines will get recommended for Thanksgiving in the press.  There are plenty of options.  With a traditional turkey dinner, I tend to steer people toward richer whites and rosés, and fruitier reds relatively light in oak and tannin.  There are a lot of the wines that we make that fit this broad criteria, from Roussanne and Esprit Blanc to Dianthus Rosé to Counoise, Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas.  Richer preparations open up a world of Mourvedre-based reds, from Esprit de Tablas to Mourvedre to our Panoplie.  This year, we've seen Cotes de Tablas recommended in Sunset, Esprit de Tablas Blanc recommended on Alcohol Professor, and Patelin de Tablas Rosé recommended on Maker's Table.  And that's normal. I remember one year a while back where we were lucky enough to have the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and Chicago Tribune each recommend Tablas Creek with their Thanksgiving article... and each picked a different wine.

So, this is a long way of saying that if you're planning to stay in the Tablas Creek ecosystem, you've got options.  But of course, there's a world of wines out there, and it seems a shame to limit yourself.  So, I thought it would be fun to see what a broad cross-section of our team were looking forward to drinking this year.  Their responses are below.

Dani Archambeault, Wine Club Assistant
This year my husband and I have decided to have an ‘Old Fashioned’ kind of Thanksgiving!  So High West Double Rye Whiskey it is!  We enjoy this Rye because of its spicy-woody richness with tastes of cinnamon & roasted sugars.  I am sure it will pair perfectly with my mom’s sweet potato casserole & soften the impact of the Fox News blaring in the background ;)

Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant
For Thanksgiving this year we will be enjoying a Domaine Weinbach Riesling, and the 2015 TCV Counoise. The peach and apple that resonate with Riesling along with the bright acidity are perfection with Turkey. The cranberry and clove stand out for me in the Counoise which makes such a harmonious balance with all the yummy baking spices in both the main dishes and desserts.

Leslie Castillo, Tasting Room Team Lead
We are going to enjoy a couple of wines I discovered while I worked harvest in the Southern Rhône Valley a few weeks ago.

I am specially excited about my favorite Tavel, Domaine de la Mordorée's 2016 "La Reine des Bois". This wine has beautiful and complex aromatics, bright acidity, spice, textural minerality and captivating depth. It is wild yet elegant and powerful, I think it will bring a nice contrast to the traditional thanksgiving meal components like; sage, turkey, mashed potatoes, etc. The wine I chose is all that while still respecting the environment as it is organic.

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
Thanksgiving again! as I think about just which beverages to enjoy with this annual feast I realize how many wonderful options there are in the Tablas Creek stable, Terret Noir, Pinot Noir, En Gobelet, Clairette Blanche, Picardan, Roussanne, referencing just a smattering. This is not even thinking of non-Tablas, non-California wines. I will have quite a table of folks this year so there will doubtless be plenty enjoyed. As always as we cook and prepare, as people start to arrive we will have a growler or two of Bristols Cider open for all. When we come to the vino I have chosen three main players, 2016 Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling this seems the perfect match for the day, second La Ronze 2015 this Gamay from Beaujolais was produced in the Regnie appellation, the newest of the crus, and should be fruity and delicate for the food at hand. As that big bird lands upon our table I will break out a Magnum of 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, a big bottle for a laden table and the wine the perfect pairing. Bon Appetit to you all!! 

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
I’ve reserved a hyper local wine duo of 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc - to be drunk out of massive Pinot Noir goblet stems (which I’ve found shows off its wild, evolved pedigree) - as well as a mystery magnum of 2002 Talley Estate Pinot Noir that turned up at my family’s pizzeria fully sealed at some point in the year. At the most, both bottles will please any wine sipping palates at my brother’s table, and at the very least, using the same stems will slightly cut down on dishwashing duties. 

Brad Ely, Cellar Master
This Thanksgiving I will be opening a Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand. It is light on its feet, very textural, and won't over power any of the various flavors on the dinner table. I tend to stick with lighter wines made in a fresh style for Thanksgiving, and this fits the docket quite well. I am sure there will be a few bottles of Gamay making an appearance as well!

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker
For me, bubbles are an absolute must for any celebration – or, if I’m being completely honest – a must for any gathering.  This means that the availability of something sparkling over the holidays is non-negotiable.  My husband and I had the great honor to meet up with the members of the Tablas Creek riverboat cruise this summer, where one of the pre-cruise excursion destinations was the Champagne cellars of Roger Coulon.  We brought a few bottles back home with us and I think this weekend would be the perfect time to examine the difference between tasting Champagne IN Champagne and tasting Champagne in California.  All in the name of science, naturally.

For the dinner portion of the evening, the two bottles I’m most excited to crack into are my Smith-Madrone (dry) Riesling from the Napa Valley and one of the bottles from my Cru Beaujolais stash; probably the Jean-Michel Dupre Vieilles Vignes from Morgon.  Both of these have enough structure, beautiful roundness of body, as well as infinitely enticing aromas, to support the wide array of diverse dishes we’re going to be enjoying.  With these three lovely wines, I’ll have to add three more spaces to my long list of things I’m thankful for!

Robert Haas, Founder
This year my cellar choice will be a 1985 Trapet Chambertin. The Trapet family was the largest single proprietor in Chambertin.  He mostly sold his wines to negociants in barrel. Raymond Beaudouin convinced him to bottle some and I later represented him personally and through Vineyard Brands.  The domaine has subsequently split up in the family.  1985 was a great vintage, and it should be fully mature.  

Craig Hamm, Assistant Winemaker
For my family dinners there is generally a good amount of open bottles on the table. A couple of the wines we will be choosing will be Tablas 2015 Counoise with plenty of cranberry and light fruits tones along with the baking spices that fills in, it should be a winner. Another wine we will be opening will be A 2014 Hilltop Syrah from Stolpman Vineyards. Cheers and happy holidays.

Eileen Harms, Accounting
We will be on the road so when we stop at our hotel for the evening we packed our  “Road Trip Wine” Meiomi Chardonnay and Duckhorn Migration Pinot Noir. We also added a backup plan; Gruet Blanc de Noir where we get a bit of Pinot Noir with a dash of Chardonnay, just in case. Happy Thanksgiving!

Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist
Thanksgiving is without question my favorite holiday of the year. Family, friends, WINE and good food are all that is needed for a successful holiday. It’s a celebration of being thankful for all that we have. That said, my list is long!!! In the spirit of giving thanks, I will be drinking (and sharing) the 2015 Tannat.

As a grower, if I had to choose one varietal to work with for the rest of my career,  it would be Tannat. Hands down it is one of the toughest, most disease resistant, insect pest resistant, (most importantly) virus tolerant plants I have ever encountered. It is one, if not the only, variety I know on the the property that needs little assistance and ripens beautifully year in, year out! So in the spirit of paying homage, I raise my glass to you Tannat! Thank you for being the rock that you are! Also, you know what makes you a tad bit cooler than the rest? You are a palindrome! Happy thanksgiving to all of you! Love your families, love your friends, and think about those who are not as fortunate!!! Happy thanksgiving!!!!

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
This year's pairing should be a cinch as we're serving lamb chops, a natural partner for many Tablas Creek wines.  Still there's some narrowing down to do.  Single-varietal Mourvedre or a blend?  A Côtes de Tablas to bridge some of the lighter food on the table?  Which vintage?  Something young and fresh, or maybe a bottle mellowed and deepened with time?  Hmm, maybe this isn't so easy after all.  We’ll open with some bubbles of course, but after that we’ll get straight to the reds.   After some thought I’ve decided on our 2015 En Gobelet, which is both fresh and vibrant, and deep and complex.  If I only had one bottle, I’d hang onto it for some years to let it develop and open something else, but I happen to know where to get more.  Cheers to you and your family!

Monica O'Connor, Direct Sales Manager
I’m having a sort of opposite-day Thanksgiving this year – half of my guests are off to other gatherings later in the afternoon, so my main dish is lobster ravioli (lobster: that other traditional Thanksgiving viand https://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/how-and-why-you-should-eat-lobster-thanksgiving).

We’ll toast with a Gruet Blanc de Noirs, a pleasant and refreshing sparkling from New Mexico - certainly called for on such a warm autumn day. I have a bottle of 2013 Perrin & Fils Gigondas La Gille which I’ve been saving for the right occasion, and it will go beautifully with our paté, cheese and other savory starters. With our meal, I have finally decided on the 2012 Esprit Blanc, a perfect complement to the lobster and citrus beurre blanc sauce, with its Roussanne richness and gentle acidity to round out the meal.

I am so grateful to be able to share these beautiful wines with my friends and family who will soon be filling my home with warmth and laughter. Happy Thanksgiving!

And as for me...
My general rule is to open the biggest bottle that I have on Thanksgiving.  That automatically makes for a festive gathering.  As for wines, my personal favorite for the traditional turkey and fixings is Beaujolais.  So this year, although I'll be over at my parents' for the meal (and will therefore get to share some of that 85 Chambertin) my contribution will be procuring a magnum of 2016 Domaine Marcel Lapierre Julienas, which my dad tried and reported was terrific this summer.  Julienas is one of the lesser known "cru" appellations in Beaujolais, and typically produces wines that balance between classic Beaujolais juiciness and the more savory, serious aspect that comes from the cru terroirs.  Hopefully, it will hit the spot. If not, we might just have to open a third bottle of that Chambertin.

Wherever you are, we wish you a happy, healthy Thanksgiving, and that you be surrounded by good food and great company.


What We're Drinking at Thanksgiving 2016

Image By TheKohser, Wikimedia CommonsThanksgiving is a holiday that -- even more than most -- centers around family and food.  While that seems like an invitation to open that special bottle you've been saving, the diverse nature of the traditional Thanksgiving fare, much of which is somewhat sweet, challenges certain wines while also opening up a range of possible options.  A common response to this has been to declare that anything goes.  If you want to drink it, go ahead.  And I support that, to an extent.  One of my favorite things I've read around the holiday wine pairing blogosphere this year was Blake Gray's simple 5-question "Is this wine good for Thanksgiving" quiz on his blog the Gray Report. No matter what multiple-choice boxes you check, as far as I can tell, the answer is yes.

Still, I do think that some wines tend to be better than others, and lean myself toward flexible, lower-alcohol, lower-oak reds, and rich whites.  Or rosé! In fact, Rhone-style wines fit alll these bills.  Rhone reds tend to be fruity and open-knit, while the whites tend to be rich but unoaked.  All these characteristics are friendly with a Thanksgiving dinner.  The fact that over the years nearly a dozen different newspapers have suggested Tablas Creek wines for Thanksgiving -- and that the suggestions have been for our reds, for our whites, and for our rosé -- suggests a certain affinity.

To get a sense of some of the different options out there, I thought it would be fun to ask different members of the Tablas Creek team to share what they're pairing with their Thanksgiving feasts this year (whether Tablas Creek or otherwise).  Here is what they shared, in their own words, in alphabetical order:

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
I will be seeking out an older Esprit Blanc, maybe 2002, as those wines are showing so beautifully with age. I also have a 2004 Chinon in magnum which i am looking forward to, the large format bottles are good fun at the big family table. There is a strong possibility that there will be cider present as well!! Happy holidays to all.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
With the joys of parenting little ones both stricken with Hand, Food and Mouth disease, our out-of-town travel plans have been replaced with Ebola-like home confinement in Templeton. Thus, my only defense is to cook and sip something stellar, which will be local rabbit carnitas matched with 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and my last bottle of 2015 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé.

Brad Ely, Cellar Team Member
For my Thanksgiving table this year, I plan to start with a fun California sparkling. Not only does it put everyone in a festive mood, it also pairs well with a variety of foods. Something like the Roederer Estate Brut with its fresh acidity and underlying fruit will do nicely. As a general crowd pleaser with an affordable price tag, I might have to make it a Magnum.

As far as reds go, a fruit driven Grenache based blend like our Cotes de Tablas Rouge is the perfect fit. With heaps of freshness and elegance, it is sure to hold up to the array of flavors on the Thanksgiving table without overpowering anything. A bottle of Beaujolais will probably be making an appearance as well!

Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Team Lead
For my Thanksgiving meal this year, I am choosing Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2014. I knows that it is an unusual choice, and an expensive one considering the good number of my refugee friends with whom I am going to share it. But context is queen here: Thanksgiving is my most cherished holiday. As a first generation immigrant, French native, this is the occasion to participate to the most meaningful and comforting American ritual. Wine has to raise to the occasion.

I love how the freshness, vibrancy and complexity shows through in this Esprit Blanc. And 2014 is an especially powerful vintage. I am going to pair the wine with my classic Watercress Velouté, a silky French soup known for its slight bitterness, peppery flavor and vibrant green color. The honey crisp apple and citrus blossom of the wine will pair beautifully with this creamy dish. Starting with a wine so full of energy works especially well, considering that the meal is likely to go on for hours.

There is also a great probability that my guests will bring mostly reds. My Esprit Blanc will shine even more.

Robert Haas, Founder
2005 Esprit de Beaucastel - it's rich, it's mature, it's graceful.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
I had a frightening dream last night. We had sold out of Counoise at the winery just before Thanksgiving! After singing the praises of this wine to our guests as perfect for Thursday night’s feast, it looked like I was coming home empty handed. While there are plenty of good choices, I had my heart set on our 2014 Counoise, with its light red fruit, low tannin, exuberant nose and spicy finish. Quickly I hatched a plan to quietly fill a barrel sample from the 2015 vintage and take it home as a prize. Surely no would notice a mere 750 ml missing! As in all dreams, the winery looked quite a bit different that does in reality. The barrels were protected by foreboding barbed wire, and there were sentries posted everywhere, not one of whom I recognized. I gathered my strength, and relayed to one of these guards that Neil had authorized a barrel sample for a special customer. His withering glare and raised eyebrows said it all, and more, and I hastily retreated, tripping and getting tangled up in a roll of barbed wire. As I struggled to free myself, I woke up tugging on my sheets, and realized I’d been dreaming. I got up in search of a glass of cold water when I saw it in the moonlight: A six-bottle box of 2014 Counoise I’d brought home that day, patiently waiting for Thanksgiving evening. And while the wine isn’t sold out, it’s getting low and won’t last long. We’ll be at the winery until 5:00 on Wednesday if you want to treat your friends and family.

Lauren Phelps, Marketing Coordinator
Thanksgiving at my parent’s house is like a large family reunion once a year. My mom rents tables and chairs and goes all out decorating and buying food for the more than twenty of us that gather. There are only a handful of special occasions when I venture down to their basement, where I keep my cellared wine to age, to resurrect a couple of special bottles to share with my more discerning wine loving family members. This year, I’m starting out the meal with a 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc with its elegance and earthy notes to pair with roasted vegetables and turkey, then a few 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: a complex and food friendly red to pair with the entirety of delectable goodies overflowing the plate.

Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing
I want something that's on the lighter side with bright acidity. And because Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint, reaching for something that is relatively low in alcohol is a good idea. I really love our Counoise. Warm with high tones of currant, pomegranate, and baking spice, this wine is literally Fall in a glass.

Another choice would be Gamay. I am a huge fan of the different Crus of Beaujolais, Morgon being a favorite of mine. Foillard produces one called “Corcelette” which I think is pretty stunning. Well balanced with “gobs of strawbs”, along with tons of gorgeous floral aromas. And I love the acidity because it sort of sneaks up on, like that post-Thanksgiving nap you’re sure to succumb to.

Amanda Weaver, Tasting Room Team Lead
I’m not in-charge of dinner this thanksgiving, but if I were, I would be roasting a leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic and enjoying a full glass of our 2011 Esprit de Tablas. That’s what I did last year and it was magical! So much earthy goodness between the juicy meat of the lamb and the wet forest/gamey notes of our smoky 2011 Esprit! Perfection!!!

Now I shall be disappointed by any other meal set before me this year…. C’est le vie!!

Me
As for me, I'll be eating with my parents, so it looks like it's the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel for me.  And I'm sure I'll be very happy with that.  But when we host Thanksgiving at our house, my rule is that we open the largest bottle we have, whatever it is.  Nothing says celebration like a 3L bottle, after all.  And maybe, fundamentally, that's my admission that Blake Gray is right.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


A 60 year career in a bottle of Domaine Delaporte Sancerre

By Robert Haas

Last week Barbara and I enjoyed a bottle of 2014 Delaporte Sancerre Chavignol with a shrimp dish and some stir-fried baby bok choy. It reminded me of my first visit to the property in 1954, then directed by Gabriel Delaporte.  As it happens, that same day Gabriel's great-grandson Matthieu Delaporte was presenting the estate's newest vintages to Vineyard Brands at their national sales meetings in Alabama.  One of the slides in his presentation talked about that day:

Delaporte

The Delaporte family has been making wine in Chavignol since the 17th century. Gabriel's son (Vincent, below bottom), grandson (Jean-Yves, below right) and great-grandson (Matthieu, below left) run the estate today:

Delaporte - Family

The vineyards of Chavignol consist of Kimmeridgian marl (à la Chablis), imparting body and power to the wines that bolster sauvignon blanc's signature citrus and minerality. Sancerre's history is interesting, and somewhat distinct from the rest of the Loire Valley.  In fact, until the late 19th century Sancerre was not even planted to sauvignon blanc. In the middle ages, it was part of the Duchy of Burgundy and was planted to gamay and pinot noir (20% still is in pinot). Phylloxera devastated it in the 19th century along with just about all of the French vineyards and sauvignon blanc was introduced as the vineyards were replanted, partly because it grafted better onto American rootstocks. The new wine became a favorite of Paris bistros and was awarded the appellation Sancerre in 1936. In 1954, Domaine Delaporte was the first property I visited in my new job as buyer for my father's wine shop, M. Lehmann, Inc. in New York, just a short detour on the way south from Paris to Burgundy via N7 in the days before the autoroute coasted you down directly to Beaune.

In the 1950s the eastern Loire wines from sauvignon blanc (and pinot noir) grapes were practically unknown in the United States but I loved the wines of the 1952 vintage tasted from the demi-muid barrels and took a chance on 100 cases. I -- and later, Vineyard Brands, the import company I founded -- have been Delaporte's U.S. importer ever since. I never imagined back then that 60 years later I would be in the same profession as a vineyard proprietor in California.

That evening, before dinner, we opened one of our own whites, the Viognier/Grenache Blanc/Marsanne/Roussanne blend 2014 Côtes de Tablas Blanc.

Sancerre Horizontal

The Delaporte had the typical Sancerre cutting edge dryness with expressive aromas of gooseberries and a stony minerality. By contrast, the Tablas Creek was minerally, but in a different way, more creamy texture and saline finish, with fuller body, less acidity, and fruit more like peaches than citrus.  Still, the pleasure of having two terrific dry whites, one of which I have a 60-year history with, and the other of which I've dedicated the last quarter-century to making, made the meal a memorable one.


Community Roundup: Major Awards for Qupe and L'Aventure, Imminent Rain, Snow in the Rhone, and New Direct Shipping Opportunites

Last year, I debuted a weekly feature on the blog called Weekly Roundup, focusing on interesting news from our communities (Rhone and Paso Robles), fun articles that we'd found on the world of wine, and pieces from other social media channels that we thought would interest a wider audience.

Unfortunately, the series never got a lot of traction.  I didn't hear much feedback about it, we didn't get many comments (1, in all the articles) and it didn't get shared or clicked on all that much when we posted it.  And it was a fair amount of work to do each week, some of which frankly didn't have all that much that was exciting going on in our community.  So, I've decided to rechristen this as a roughly monthly endeavor, and make its focus more explicitly on our community.  So, please welcome the Community Roundup: an occasional foray into what else is going on in our world.  These are things that we think are sufficiently noteworthy and of interest to our audience to be worth sharing, but maybe less than a full post each.

And please continue to share your own feedback on this series in the comments section.  Is it something that you've enjoyed and would like to continue to see?  Are there areas that you'd like to see more of?  Thanks in advance!

Two Awards for Two Iconic Figures
This week, we've been pleased to hear that two industry veterans for whom we have enormous respect are receiving major awards. 

Stephan Asseo CroppedThe first is Stephan Asseo, whose desire to combine the strengths of Bordeaux and the Rhone introduced a new kind of fusion into Paso Robles.  Stephan began making wine in 1982, and for the next 15 years developed a formidable reputation in Bordeaux.  Looking to escape the restrictions of France's appellation controlee system, he came to Paso Robles, where he founded  L'Aventure Winery in 1998.  His work in the seventeen years since has played a major role in establishing Paso Robles as the home for some of the most innovative garagiste winemakers in California, and brought to prominence the "Paso Blend", combining grapes from different Old World traditions into something uniquely Paso.  We are excited to learn that Stephan will be presented with the 2015 Wine Industry Person of the Year award from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  Photo (right) is from the L'Aventure Facebook page.

Bob Lindquist CroppedThe second award recipient is Bob Lindquist, whose pioneering work at Qupe Winery was one of our inspirations, showing since 1982 that great Rhone varieties could be made in California's Central Coast.  Bob, throughout his time at Qupe, has been a tireless advocate for the wines of the Rhone, and a generous, patient, and humble figure in the movement.  He doesn't ever call attention to himself, which is one of the joys of his receiving only the third-ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhone Rangers: that he'll get some richly deserved time in the limelight. My dad received this award last year, and the ceremony was great. If you missed it, I wrote a blog after that includes the amazing tribute video presented at his ceremony. If you're interested in joining for the celebration, you can; Bob's award will be presented at the Rhone Rangers San Francisco Winemaker Dinner. Photo (right) is from the Qupe Web site.

Snow in the Rhone
The Famille Perrin Instagram account is chock-full of great images, but one really stuck out this past week.  Snow isn't exactly a rarity in the Rhone Valley; they get a dusting at some point most years, but heavy snow is.  The photo that they shared of Gigondas under a heavy white blanket was stunning:

Snow in Gigondas

Rain in Paso Robles
At the same time, we're eagerly anticipating the arrival of our first real storm of 2015 tonight.  It looks like it will produce at least a few inches of rain for areas out near us, and I've read a report suggesting that the hills out here might see as many as six inches by Monday.  It's much needed; as my blog post from earlier in the week pointed out, we got less than 5% of normal rainfall in January.  A good head start on February (average rainfall: about 5 inches) would be great.

This rain (and the frost which is scheduled to follow) is particularly important because January was so warm that some California regions are reporting exceptionally early bud break. This isn't something we're worried about in the short term (I wrote about why last summer) but we're still at the point where some cold weather can shift the beginning of our growing season a few weeks later, reducing our risk of frost damage significantly.

New Direct Shipping Opportunities
FreethegrapesEarlier in January, I wrote a long piece on the state of wine shipping in the United States.  It wasn't really germane to the article -- which dealt more with the levels of expense and regulation within the three-dozen shipping states -- but it seems like there's been a little flurry of opportunity in opening some of the roughly dozen states that still prohibit all wine shipping.  Not only is Massachusetts set to open any day now, but the South Dakota legislature is debating a viable shipping bill, as is Indiana, and I've been hearing rumors that Pennsylvania is likely to move on wine shipping before the end of the year.  As always, the best place to go is Free the Grapes, where you can learn what's being debated and use their built-in templates to write state legislatures.

Drink for Thought: Wine State or Beer State?

Wp-winecountrybeercountry

I'm a sucker for maps.  There were several interesting ones, including the one above, in the Washington Post's article Do you live in beer country or wine country? These maps will tell you. The take-home message for me was that where there are wineries, there are likely breweries too.  Of course, there are hotspots where one or the other dominates, but fewer than you might think.  This is why I've found the reported worry in some corners of the wine community over the rise of craft beer silly.  In general, the people who love good wine love good beer, and increasingly, vice versa.  And more importantly, the people who love interesting wine look for interesting beer.  Nowhere more so than winery cellars.  The old adage that "it takes lots of good beer to make good wine" is absolutely true, in my experience.  Cheers!


Our most memorable wines of 2014

I asked some key members of the Tablas Creek team what their most memorable wines were of the last year, and loved the responses.  From my dad's:

Rzh wines of the year

Here's everyone's response, in their own words, in alphabetical order:

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker: 1964 Chateau Lafite
There is no question here for me. A few days before Marci's birthday I dropped this bottle off with Ian Adamo, the sommelier at Bistro Laurent, so he might care for and serve it properly. After wondering at the beauty of a 1976 Breton Chinon the wine in question was poured for the table, blind. The general consensus was that it was a French wine, perhaps a Bordeaux, some age but not as old as the Chinon. Revealed, it was a stunning Chateau Lafite 1964! Vibrant rich and far from over. Might put that one down not just for the year but for the decade!

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager: 2012 Le Puy Rolland Vieilles Vignes Chateauneuf-du-Pape 
My WOTY is the 2012 Le Puy Rolland Vieilles Vignes Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The day I attended the inaugural A7 Rhone event here in Paso, the family behind Font du Loup did a presentation and tasting of four of their wines. This 100% Grenache from 65 year old vines in a cooler sector of CdP floored the room with its purity,  savory and sweet aromatics and flavors, and the raspberry and spice speckled finish. Winemakers in attendance were raising their arms, asking for production information (fermented and aged in concrete), and scribbling down these insider secrets. This reminded me that Grenache from the right spots can be every bit as compelling as the Pinot Noir, if not more so.

Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room: 2013 Tablas Creek Dianthus
I had many memorable wines this year but nothing beats the Tablas Creek 2013 Dianthus Rosé I poured for my friends on the first day of summer day at my new home in Paso. The bright pink color, the freshness on my palate and the crisp dry finish brought me back instantly to the hot summer days I spent in Cassis. I paired it with my own homemade olives and a pissaladière.  It was deliciously perfect!

Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker: 2003 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon
Looking back on another exceptional year, it’s exceedingly difficult to nail down my favorite wine amidst the excitement of experience that was 2014.  From a fun little foray to Sonoma wine country at the start of the year, to drinking my way through Portugal with a group of winemakers, to making frequent trips to the Wine Connection wine shop while my husband and I were in Thailand, there were a lot of wines worth remembering.  Even with all those wonderful wines enjoyed in fabulous locations, I think the most special wine of my year was savored on December 26th with my husband and my family.  For dinner, we took a snowcat up to the mid-mountain lodge at Mammoth Mountain and brought along a bottle of 2003 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon that had been purchased when my parents took me to Napa in celebration of my 21st birthday.  It was beautiful and robust and everything I want in a Napa Cabernet.  But more than that, it was a special bottle from a special experience, shared with those I love while creating more wonderful memories.  To me, that’s what wine is all about.

Huet vouvrayLevi Glenn, Viticulturist: 2011 Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Vouvray Sec
This wine is not the best I had this year, it's the most memorable. I've never had a wine from this producer that wasn't anything but exceptional. This proves to me the quality of a great house, even in an unheralded year. While it was drunk at least a decade too young, it showed the potential of an outstanding wine. Made from Chenin Blanc, the wine showed cut, precision, and just a glimmer of the weight it will gain with age. Few producers never seem to swing and miss, and this is one of them.

Robert Haas, Founder: Dominus, Pine Ridge, Tablas Creek, Trapet & Ponsot 
I always have trouble selecting my "favorite" wine, except maybe my favorite wine of the day.  I can usually make that decision.

So I selected several wines that particularly struck me by their individuality over this past year.  Four of them are pictured [at the top of the article] but one, the Clos de la Roche 1976, is gone from my cellar.  Too bad.
 
I loved both the Dominus 1996 and the Pine Ridge 1984 as true to type examples of their generations from Napa.  The Pine Ridge was a great Cabernet, stylish, intense and perfectly at ease, mature and superbly drinkable at its 13% alcohol.  The Dominus, at 14.1%, to me represented a transition toward the higher pH, more extracted wines that we are seeing today.  However, I enjoyed its richness, intensity, and savory character that I am not finding in most of today's Napa cabs.  Perhaps its intriguing rusticity came from its small component of Cabernet Franc?

I have been an advocate the 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc from the very first time I tasted the completed blend after a few months in barrel.  It has terrific intensity, fine acid and a full palate of ripe melon, citrus and minerality.  It has all the elements of a wine that will mature and age beautifully.  I did not have a bottle here to photograph, but I also was intrigued by our En Gobelet 2012 just a few nights ago.  It had all the "garrigue" of Mediterranean vineyards of France in the nose and flavors of dark red fruits and brambles.  Barbara and I ended up drinking the whole bottle over dinner and left feeling that we wanted more.

Two memorable Burgundies of the year were the 1985 Trapet Chambertin and the 1976 Ponsot Clos de la Roche.  Both were beautifully, gracefully aged.  Actually, the Clos de la Roche could still use a few years.  1976 was a very tannic year and those tannins are softening but are still quite evident, along with the wine's strong cassis flavors.  What I particularly love about this wine is its Clos de la Roche-ness.  I think that Clos de la Roche and Clos St. Denis, Morey St. Denis neighbors, are my favorite Grand Crû vineyards in Burgundy.  The Chambertin, consumed with friends, was exquisite.  Just about a perfect Burgundy: deliciously, elegantly mature, still sturdy and rich.  It was all that could be expected of this fabled vineyard of the Côte de Nuits.

Sylvia Montague, Assistant Tasting Room Manager: 1996 Vineyard Drive Marsanne
1996 “Vineyard Drive” Marsanne, opened last week in the tasting room.  I was amazed at the flavors contained in that big, old bottle with the label most of us had not seen until now.  The sweet spice of gumdrops greeted me on the nose and a richness I did not expect filled my mouth before I enjoyed the very satisfying finish.   I am patiently waiting for other surprises from some of my older bottles of Tablas Creek whites... perhaps I should have asked Santa for an extra dose of patience for Christmas this year.  [Editor's Note: this was a very early effort from our young vineyard, in a year where the Viognier didn't come out successfully. We bottled the Marsanne, the only other white grape we had in production at the time, as a mono-varietal wine under the "Vineyard Drive" name that we used for declassified Tablas Creek a few times in the 90's. I was just as surprised as Sylvia at how well the wine had aged and how interesting it had become.]

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager: 2009 Les Vieux Clos Savennières by Nicolas Joly
During my annual visit to Seattle this summer, I was lucky enough to be invited to an old friend’s house to see her new wine cellar.   Her focus, interestingly enough, is whites from the Jura and the Loire Valley.  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in suggesting she may be the only person in the world with such a focus.  We tasted a number of interesting wines, but the one I’ll never forget is a 2009 Les Vieux Clos Savennières by Nicolas Joly.   I’ve had a number of Chenin Blancs from the Loire, including one or two Savennières, but I’d never had the opportunity to sample one by Joly, the most prominent producer in the region.  This wine was breathtaking!  I think its beauty was amplified by the simple, no-fuss setting, tasting in a cellar with nothing but a few good bottles, an unadorned table and chair, and a good friend.

Deanna Ryan, Tasting Room Team Lead: 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
Well, being the enthusiastic Roussanne  fan that I am, I would have to say our 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc hit the spot for me. With 75% beautiful Roussanne in there, who could wish for more. Because of its rich roundness, balanced perfectly with the necessary acidity and minerality, I find it extremely versatile with a myriad of different food items.  Can’t wait to open another one!

Ponsot Clos de la Roche 78Me: 1978 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche
As for myself, my most memorable wine this year I had over the summer on our annual pilgrimage back to Vermont with the kids.  One serious benefit of these trips is the chance to prowl around my dad's cellar (with his help, of course) and dig into some of the treats that have been aging quietly there for, in some cases, longer than I've been alive.  In a trip full of great wines, the one that stood out for me was a bottle of 1978 Ponsot Clos de la Roche.  Perfectly mature, still rich with fruit but with with the mineral-laced earthy gracefulness of aged Burgundy, it was one of the greatest wines I've ever had.  And the setting, with three generations around the table in the house I grew up in, just made the experience that much better.

A few concluding thoughts:
As you might expect, this was an eclectic list. Some wines are Tablas Creek, but most are not. Many were older, one a full 50 years old, which says that for all the challenges of storing and being patient with wines, the rewards can be marvelous. But the thing that stood out most for me was the extent to which our memories of wines are enhanced by the meaningfulness of the situation in which we open them. As it should be!


What We're Drinking with Thanksgiving

TurkeyThanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It has yet to be successfully commercialized, and it centers around family and food.  What could be better!  The celebratory nature of the meal suggests that several bottles of wine will be consumed, but the varied nature of the foods on the table -- and the fact that many of the foods have some sweetness -- makes pairing a single wine challenging.  Yet, whether reds, whites or even rosé, Rhone-style wines are good bets.  The reds tend to be fruity and open-knit, while the whites tend to be rich and unoaked.  All these characteristics are friendly with a Thanksgiving dinner.  In fact, last year, we had four different major newspapers suggest Tablas Creek wines for Thanksgiving... and each of the four suggested a different wine!

To get a sense of some of the different options out there, I asked several members of the Tablas Creek team to share what they're pairing with their Thanksgiving feasts this year (whether Tablas Creek or otherwise).  Here is what they shared:

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
I will be drinking a Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Theo Riesling. It is delicate yet has a lushness and balance that will be perfect for our thanksgiving table. Chances are high that there will also be some hard cider consumed!

Lauren Cross, Marketing Assistant
I'm starting with Vermentino because it is bright and fun and low in alcohol- a perfect socializing wine.  Our Tablas Creek Vermentino is my mother's favorite and since she is the main chef of our Thanksgiving I like to make sure to keep her happy!  With our meal I will serve our 2010 En Gobelet which is my favorite.  I love to share this wine and tell the story of the dry-farmed en gobelet pruned vines this wine comes from.  En Gobelet is such a nice complement to a wide variety of fruit with the bright Grenache flavors, earthy Mourvedre and depth of the Syrah and Tannat.  

Thanksgiving 2014 Wine - DarrenDarren Delmore, National Sales Manager
We're goin' country with a smoked Texan brisket and two magnums with enough fruit and spice to match it: 2013 Miraval Cotes de Provence Rosé and 2004 Two Hands "Deer in Headlights" Barossa Valley Shiraz

Tyler Elwell, Cellar Master
I’m going to be having Whitcraft Winery 2013 Pinot Noir Santa Ynez Valley Pence Ranch Mt. Eden Clone.  It’s young, fresh and acidic. With 12.2 alcohol and it’s light body it’ll complement the variety of fixins on the table.

Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker
If I had any of these bottles left, my choice for Thanksgiving dinner (or any special dinner, for that matter) would be the Ridge 2011 Monte Bello Chardonnay.  With a gorgeous weight and fullness of texture, it is a wine that can certainly be enjoyed on its own before the feast, but drinking it without food seems like a shame.  With the beautiful balance it carries itself with, it can certainly pair with turkey and stuffing - and anything else you may find on your table this Thanksgiving.  After thinking about this wine, I believe I may have to resupply!

Thanksgiving 2014 Wine - LeviLevi Glenn, Viticulturist
Freisa - an indigenous variety to Piedmonte in Northern Italy, which according to Jancis Robinson is related to Nebbiolo. Aromatically it shows lighter red fruits, such as strawberry and raspberry. On the palate it exhibits more tannin than you would expect due to its light color. The acidity is medium to medium plus. A great accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal, the acidity cuts through the richer sides, and its inherent juiciness will keep you coming back. Tip: chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to mellow the tannins and accentuate the fruit. A joyful wine for a joyous day.

Robert Haas, Founder
We're having oysters as hors d'oeuvres and traditional roasted turkey for the meal. I would like a dry minerally, chalky, citrusy white for the oysters, such as the Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2012. I prefer the 2012 for this use because the 2013 is more exuberant.  I would like a dark rich earthy red wine to go with the turkey, so we're going with the 2003 Panoplie.

Sylvia Montague, Assistant Tasting Room Manager
I am breaking tradition this year and heading to the coast for some seafood and a great ocean view. I am sure there must have been some creatures from the sea served at that first Thanksgiving in the new world (and if not, there should have been!).  I will bring along a bottle or two of our fabulous whites, Esprit de Tablas Blanc and/or Viognier, as they are outstanding with everything from crab, lobster, scallops and fish and stand up well to most manner of preparations.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
It the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I have no idea what wine we’re going to serve!  I can tell you that I’ll be stopping on my way home tonight and making some decisions on the fly.  Rather than a traditional Thanksgiving meal, we’ll be serving Thai food, so that changes the game considerably.  If turkey and stuffing were going to be front and center, I’d be looking for lighter-bodied reds (think Pinot Noir and Grenache-based blends), Rosé, or full, savory whites, such as the spectacular 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc.  If I was attending a large gathering, with the attendant danger of Aunt Martha spiking her wine with Fresca (or worse), I’d lean toward something a little easier on the wallet, like the 2013 Patelin de Tablas Blanc, which is really a superb wine at the price point.

As it is, I’ll be looking for off-dry whites for dinner, and maybe open an older Esprit de Beaucastel later in the evening.  I’ll let you know which vintage next time.

Madeline VanLierop-Anderson, Lab Specialist
My 2014 Thanksgiving wine selection comes from Jura, France.  Jura, a wine region located between Burgundy and Switzerland, is known for its distinct and unusual wines- this bottle certainly falls into a category of it’s own; Champ Divin 2013 Pinot Noir.

Like Tablas Creek, Champ Divin farms their vineyards by both organic and Biodynamic applications making this bottle a unique interest of mine.  This Thursday evening I will enjoy this Pinot with a honey cured spiral cut ham with sides of thinly sliced potatoes gratin, fresh green bean casserole, apple cranberry stuffing and my homemade cranberry sauce. 

As for a post meal beverage- I plan on opening a bottle of 2002 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs in undaunted faith that the San Francisco 49ers will “get stuffed” in feast- I mean Beast Mode by the reining NFL world champion Seattle Seahawks in their new critically acclaimed Levi stadium.  Although my wine is often red, my colors are Green and Blue- GO HAWKS!

As for me?
I'm going to be having dinner at my dad's house, so it sounds like I'll be enjoying some Panoplie.  Left to my own devices, I tend toward riesling and Beaujolais, and I try to pick the biggest bottle that I have available.  It's a party, after all... and nothing says party like a 3-liter bottle of wine!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Celebrating "The New California Wine" with an old California wine

By Robert Haas

The New California Wine, by San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor Jon Bonné and subtitled A guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste, is an ode to wineries that are producing wines of place, whether single varieties or blends, often working with organic or biodynamic vineyards; wines that are of moderate alcohol levels and speak to their origin.  It is a reminder that there is a growing wave of journalists, sommeliers and wine lovers pushing back against what Jon terms “big flavor wine.” Big flavor wines are, in Jon’s parlance, generally highly extracted, high alcohol, low acid, often oaky and slightly sweet on the palate.  Many of them have a cult following. 

NewCaliforniaWine

I welcome Jon’s suggestions and enjoyed reading his book.  I will search out several of the producers he introduced me to.  But in reading the book I kept thinking that what Jon terms a revolution is really a move back to a classic norm.

The advent of boutique wineries such as Joseph Heitz, Freemark Abbey, Chappellet, Joseph Phelps, Clos du Val, Stags Leap, Spring Mountain, and even Robert Mondavi, among others, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s brought California, and particularly the Napa Valley, to the international wine community's attention.  Their wines were from specific vineyards, mostly their own, farmed for moderate yields, made in classic style and dimensions.  They took their lead from Beaulieu and Inglenook, estate producers before World War II, and looked toward France for inspiration.  Their wines were mostly in the 12.5% alcohol range. 

From back in the days when my company, Vineyard Brands, represented them, I still have Cabernets from Spring Mountain, Clos du Val and Chappellet from the 1970s, and some Pine Ridge from the 1980s.  They have aged beautifully.   Their tannins have softened and they are elegantly balanced with plenty of red and black fruit.  I recently opened a bottle of Chappellet 1974 Cabernet (12.7% alcohol) and was struck by its mature dark color with no oxidation.  It was powerful and densely structured, even still a little reticent with its blueberry fruit.  I had the feeling that it had reached a plateau of maturity (at 40 years old!) and would be enjoyable for some time to come.

Chappelet74_3

The “big flavor” wines are really a phenomenon of the last 20 years. As such, they are actually the new kids on the block.  Will they continue to dominate the paradigm or are they just a blip on the long-term chart of wine consumption?  I welcome the debate, and look forward to seeing whether a majority of vintners will continue to take advantage of the brilliant California climate to harvest ripe, high brix, low pH grapes and focus on lushness and power, or whether more will farm their vineyards to produce phenologically ripe grapes at lower Brix and make wines that focus more on terroir and elegance. Of course, there will be more than one "answer" to this question.

If I’m in harmony with the old standards, I know that the riper styles have their own passionate advocates as well.  But Jon’s book is a reflection of a conversation that it is important that the California winemaking community have. This discussion includes advocates of elegance -- both the newer producers he highlights and some established ones such as Calera and Ridge -- and those more exuberant producers, many of whose wines I see also preserving tremendous concentration while moving gradually away from excessive ripeness and new oak.  Perhaps this is California’s true strength: that winemakers with well-placed vineyards can, according to their beliefs, make compelling wines across the spectrum of ripeness.  In either case, greater diversity in the styles of California wine and the innovation fostered by the conversation itself will make the community stronger.  What do you think?


Tablas Esprit and Beaucastel Châteauneuf: Takes Two to Tango

By Darren Delmore

As the National Sales Manager for Tablas Creek vineyard, my travels keep leading me to circumstances where I’m asked to compare Esprit de Beaucastel to Chateâu de Beaucastel. “So which wine is better?” I’ve heard many times over, as if there’s a clear right or wrong answer to such an open-ended question. I’ve narrowed down the climate-soil-varietal-diurnal-historical pontification to the simplest response of “It’s all in the timing.” What you want out of the wine you want to drink and, most importantly when, are the real questions here.

A few recent examples follow. In Anacortes, Washington at a Tablas Creek tasting at Compass Wines, their best customer arrived on crutches wielding a bottle of 2006 Chateâu de Beaucastel and plopped it right down on the counter before he even introduced himself.

Compass
Compass Wines' legend and his 2006 Beaucastel offering.

At a Tablas Creek dinner at 32 East in Delray Beach, Florida that I hosted with Vineyard Brands’ south Florida manager Taylor Case, the owner paired off Tablas Creek and Chateâu de Beaucastel in a consumable course-by-course tango - blanc to blanc and rouge to rouge.

Tablasvsbeau
The show in Delray Beach at 32 East.

Some attendees of the collector persuasion snuck in some older vintages of the Beaucastel Chateâuneuf and were passing them around beneath the tabletops. Tablas Creek, as it always does in my experience, held its own very well, thank you very much, though we didn’t have any older Tablas Creek to put up against the surprise Beaucastel library wines. The 2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc was the talk of the tables, accentuated by a great wild mushroom crostini pairing. The contrasts between the estates’ top two red 2010’s, served side-by-side with the braised short rib and polenta main course, was fascinating. Taylor and I were blown away by this flight: the wines smelled nearly identical. Further swirling revealed just a touch more open fruitiness in the Tablas Creek, but not much. Onto the taste and the identities became clear. For me, what differentiated this young vintage of Chateâu de Beaucastel from Esprit de Beaucastel (and to a degree, differentiates Chateâuneuf-du-Pape from American Rhone blends) is a mid-palate gravelly richness that attaches to the sides of your mouth as if a soil-glazed galet was tossed onto your tongue. I could taste why so many collect this wine and normally keep it out of sight for 5 to 10 years before it softens up enough for stellar drinking. It was my first opportunity to taste each, and having read that the vintage brought eerily similar growing conditions to both the southern Rhône and Paso Robles, it was wholly fulfilling. Though both Tablas and Beaucastel benefit from time in the cellar, the brighter fruit and higher acidity of the Esprit gave it an accessibility that led patrons, that night, to attack it like white, touristy ankles by an angry mob of Biscayne bull sharks. And the bottles of the amazing 1994 Beaucastel Rouge that were secretly making the rounds were a convincing testament to the rewards of patience.

Lineupfl
 The lineup in Florida.

One of my favorite comparisons of the two estates occurred last week in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the awesome wine bar and restaurant Arroyo Vino. At the end of a day visiting restaurant accounts in Taos, I brought the remainder of the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel bottle to Arroyo Vino’s owner Brian Bargsten. I’d first met Brian last fall at the Santa Fe Wine and Chile festival when his business was simply a high-end wine store at the foot of a luxury community just outside of town. Brian has since expanded Arroyo Vino with a beautiful, modern dining room and bar and hired chef Mark Connell, whose resume boasts stints at Salt (in Cambridge, MA) and the French Laundry (in Yountville, CA) to oversee the kitchen. After eyeballing the impressive collection of bottles for sale in the retail area, I found a seat at the bar next to a lone diner mid-way through a bottle of Bethel Heights Pinot Noir. The dining room was packed for a Wednesday night. I spoke with Brian for a bit and pulled out the Esprit. He introduced me to Larry – the man beside me – and told him the story of Tablas Creek and the Perrin family.

“They picked Paso Robles?” Larry protested, surprised that one of his favorite southern Rhône producers had set up shop in what he had always assumed to be a hot area known for “high alcohol, jammy Zinfandel.” This fired Brian up to talk about limestone-rich west-side vineyard sites, say “Larry, want to compare the two?” and disappear to fetch a 2010 Chateâu de Beaucastel off the rack. A couple other servers hovered around the bar as Brian returned, cutting off the foil swiftly and talking about Chateâuneuf-du-Pape when I noticed it was in fact the Côtes du Rhône 2010 Coudoulet de Beaucastel that he was driving the corkscrew into. “That’s the Coudoulet, Brian,” I said, seconds too late.

“What, that’s not the one?” Larry asked.

“No but it’s good,” I added. “The Coudoulet is their vineyard just outside of the AOC of Chateâuneuf-du-Pape.”

“Oh,” Brian paused mid-twist. “Well, guess we’ll do a flight of all three.” Sure enough he went over and grabbed the correct bottle and asked one of the servers to line up three glasses for each of us. Brian poured the wines in order: Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel, and Chateâu de Beaucastel.

Perrin Flight
Left to right: 2010 Coudoulet, 2010 Esprit, and 2010 Chateâu Beaucastel.

Larry pointed out that aside from Oregon Pinot Noir, he only drank and collected European wine. He was one of Brian’s biggest customers, a bona fide Burgundy lover and buyer of first-growth Bordeaux allocations, and familiar with only a couple of producers in the Rhône. It was as much a moment for Brian as it was for Larry to see how close California could get to real Chateâuneuf-du-Pape.

The Coudoulet was in amazing shape, with a juicy unison of savory herbs and reddish fruit, and a refreshing, snappy palate and long finish. The Tablas Creek was showing a warmer, more lifted aromatic profile of Mourvédre, with black olives, raspberries, baking spices, and foresty notes and a finish filled with graceful, plush tannins. The Chateâu de Beaucastel was the biggest wine of the flight, with a brooding nose of black licorice, roasted meats and rain soaked city streets, before a powerful sip unfolded into a gravelly, mineral-rich, thick dark wave of density that required a bit of my rabbit agnolotti dish to soak up some of its youth. I was more of a wine fan than a wine salesman at that counter, mesmerized by the diversity of these three related wines from two continents, and it wasn’t until much later when Brian leaned over and asked me, “are you selling this tonight?” that I came back around to reality.

“That Esprit is good, man,” he added. 


When Terroir Was a Dirty Word

By Robert Haas

Take a look at this picture of the half-bottle of 2010 Meursault from Thierry and Pascale Matrot that my wife, Barbara and I opened for lunch on our little back patio yesterday.  We enjoyed lunch outdoors because the temperature at noon was 68 degrees, 20 degrees cooler than Monday!

RZH Meursault 2010

Who, only 49 years ago, in Burgundy, would ever have imagined that fine Burgundy wines would be finished in other than cork?  Not me, for sure.  Nor would have Thierry Matrot’s father Pierre or grandfather Joseph.  Matrot’s importer Vineyard Brands tells me that sales in the U.S. have soared since the wine was introduced in screw cap closure. 

The screw cap reads,“Noblesse du Terroir”. Terroir, the difficult-to-translate RZH Jancis 2French noun, has come to mean the cumulative impact on a finished wine of the soil and climate (and some say human) specifics of where the wine's grapes were grown. Wines with terroir are much sought-after and admired by today's growers, wineries and wine writers and critics, and consumers.  The Oxford Companion to Wine, published in 1994 and edited by Jancis Robinson (excerpted right) introduces the subject in four full columns, starting with the displayed paragraphs.  In Robinson's definition, terroir is noble, the underpinning of appellation controlée system and central to the philosophy of wine in the Old World.

Now take a look at the seven-line entry of Frank Schoonmaker, America’s foremost wine expert and author in 1964, about terroir.  His association, rather than the "somewhereness" the wine exhibits, is more of a taste of dirt, neither elegant nor elevated. Look at his description of gout de terroir: "somewhat unpleasant, common, persistent”:

RZH Schoon 2

Why this sea change?  I believe that it has been driven by the influence of new grape plantings in the New World, and particularly in California.  In the old world and particularly France, with thousands of years’ experience, the legislated Appellations Controllées designated the great “terroirs”. But even in the Old World, greatness was traditionally associated with particular vineyards and came only gradually in the second half of the twentieth century to be associated with the environmental conditions that gave those vineyards their specific character.

In California, modern planting and marketing history only dates back to 1933, the end of prohibition.  Early-on, California wines were field blends named after French appellations such as Claret, Burgundy, Chablis, etc., though the wines in the bottle had little or nothing to do with the wines (or even the grapes) traditional in these regions.  As the industry became more sophisticated, higher quality vintners -- led most influentially by Robert Mondavi -- adopted varietal names such as Cabernet-Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot to differentiate themselves from the mostly ordinary field blends. But while varietal labeling offered clarity, more was needed to identify quality wines.  Did they come from growing areas well suited to the grapes in the wine?  Thus began the American Viticultural Area (AVA) designations, and central to the AVA's raison d'etre is the concept that each appellation shares similarities in their soils and climate that gives the wines that are grown there a shared character. 

Of course, the AVA system is based on the models used in France, Italy, Spain, Germany and elsewhere in the traditional wine-growing regions of Europe.  But unlike Old World appellations, American AVA's are not restricted to specific grapes.  It may not be traditional to grow Tempranillo in Napa or Cabernet in Santa Maria, but you're welcome to do so.  The AVA just specifies where the grapes are grown, and it's up to you to make your case for the quality of the end product.  And central to the growing significance of terroir has been wineries' efforts to support their claims to quality by geographic designation.  After all, while Cabernet-Sauvignon could be grown anywhere, there are places where it's better suited than others.  Good “Terroir” implied not just a good place to grow grapes, but a good place to grow specific grapes, resulting in an appealing character of place in the wines produced there. 

Screwcaps share some of this history.  They were first developed in the late 1960's by a French company, popularized by wineries in the New World (Australia and New Zealand deserve most of the credit here) and now have reached sufficient acceptance that they're even being used for noble French terroirs like Meursault. 

Cheers to good ideas, wherever they originate.