Our Most Memorable Wines of 2018

One of the things I appreciate most about the team that I work with at Tablas Creek is the wide range of their interests and experiences. If you don't work at a winery, you might expect that those of us who do spend most of their time drinking their own wines, but in my experience, that's far from the case. Most people who find a career in wine do so because they find it fascinating, and that interest doesn't go away just because they've landed at a particular winery, even a winery that they love. And most people who work at wineries look at exploring other wines as an enjoyable form of continuing education.

This year, I thought it would be fun to ask some of our key people about one wine that stuck with them from all the ones they'd tried in 2018. I loved the responses I received, and thought that readers of the blog might too. Here's everyone's submission, in their own words, in alphabetical order (except mine, which is at the end):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What We're Drinking with Thanksgiving 2018

I have always loved Thanksgiving. It's a holiday that's mostly about eating, drinking, and family. It's still relatively uncommercialized. And it's about giving thanks, which I feel like puts a celebration into the right perspective.

The idea that there is a "right" wine for Thanksgiving seems to be on its way out, and that's just fine. The meal, after all, is diverse, with a panoply of flavors (and participants) that encourages a diverse collection of wines. I do think that there are wines that it's probably good to steer clear of: wines that are powerfully tannic tend to come off even more so when they're paired with some of the sweeter Thanksgiving dishes, and wines that are high in alcohol tend to be fatiguing by the end of what is often a marathon of eating and drinking. But that still leaves you 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, so if you want to stay in the Tablas Creek family, you could try anything from Roussanne and Esprit Blanc to Dianthus Rosé to Counoise, Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas.  Richer red meat preparations open up a world of Mourvedre-based reds, from Esprit de Tablas to Mourvedre to our Panoplie.  But there's a wide world of wines out there, and I know that while our table will likely include a Tablas wine or two, there will be plenty of diversity represented. 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, in their own words, in alphabetical order.

Thanksgiving Pairings

Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant
This year my family is especially grateful considering all the turmoil California has been through in the last month.  It will be just our little family of 5 celebrating together this year, so our wine list in small.  While I cook and listen to my children play (or argue, more commonly) I will be sipping on some lovely Delamotte Champagne… bubbles make everything better. For dinner I have saved a bottle of 2012 Coudoulet de Beaucastel to share with my husband. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
Once again it is time to carefully select those wines that will accompany turkey on the table. As is always the case these days the first bottle on my list will be a Magnum of Esprit De Tablas Blanc, the new and luxuriant 2016 perhaps? or the 2012?. The cellar crew and I shared a magnum of Beaujolais Nouveau from Domaine Dupeuble, I bought an extra for thanksgiving! The Lone Madrone Demi Sec Chenin Blanc will certainly be present. I have been saving a Brick House Pinot also. I tend to like some bubbles around also perhaps from The Loire Valley. We have a lot of guests coming this year, guests with varying levels of wine geekiness so the post Thanksgiving list will surely make more interesting reading than my pre list. Is there any better moment than friends and family around a table laden with wine food and chatter? Not for me there isn't! Neil..

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
Darren editedI’m going all central coast this year on wine, as my family is celebrating with close friends in Ventura who own an awesome wine-focused restaurant called Paradise Pantry. We’ll be starting off with the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, which is at an incredible stage of its life and mind blowing in large Bordeaux glassware. For my contribution of reds, I pulled a 2008-2010 vertical of Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir; a powerful iconic SLH estate for the varietal. The fruit and tannin intensity coming from this own-rooted slope rewards some short term cellaring and should be at their pleasurable peak, along with the flavors and richness of what Paradise Pantry's chef-owner Kelly Briglio is making for the feast. Happy holidays! 

Brad Ely, Cellar Master
This year, as every year for Thanksgiving, my family and I will be starting with sparkling. There is nothing like bubbles to ease some family tensions and put everyone in the festive spirit. I usually go domestic for this and buy a few bottles of something very drinkable that everyone can enjoy like Mumm, Roederer, or Schramsberg. Then for the meal we will definitely have a food oriented rosé, like our Tablas Creek Dianthus. I find rosé to be a very versatile pairing with the multitude of flavors on the Thanksgiving dinner table. For red, we will be drinking a Cru Beaujolais from Fleurie and a Red Burgundy from Marsannay. Reds on the fresh side that complement the different foods without overpowering anything are my go to wines and these two should fit the bill just right. Cheers!

Evelyne bottlesEvelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Lead
I am looking for something autumnal, unexpected, and “very French.”  My first pick is the 2015 Le Peu de la Moriette Vouvray of Domaine Pichot. The grape is Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.  To me, Vouvray stands for Fall; the way rosé makes me think of Summer.  This one has a yellow leaf color, herbal flavors and a Pink Lady apple fruitiness that will fit perfectly with my butternut squash soup.  

Another pick from the Loire Valley will also land on my table.  I found this 2012 Chinon, Les Petites Roches from Charles Joguet at Kelly Lynch in Menlo Park for $23 (the grape is Cabernet Franc). It is lean, floral and has the right amount of acidity to cut the fat of the meal. I loved its faint earthy undertones on my palate. I will put it in the fridge for 30 minutes before opening because I like my reds on the cooler side.  Both Vouvray and Chinon will flow with the food instead of being the centerpiece of the meal. 

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker
Aside from helping with chopping and dishes, my only Thanksgiving responsibility is to bring some wines that (hopefully) everyone will enjoy and make sure glasses stay full.  My wine packing plan involves the assumption that everyone likes what I like, which is a tactic that I’ve discovered works far better with wine than it does with politics. 

If there were a Day-Drinking Handbook, I’m sure it would require that sparkling wines must be consumed at some point during the festivities.  There’s not (that I know of), but it doesn’t mean we can’t heed that imaginary book’s wisdom.  We’ll start with something that provides everything I love about sparkling wine (dry, bright yet creamy with a fine mousse) and leaves out the thing that’s harder for me to swallow when buying Champagne: the price-tag.  My first sparkling bottle of the 2018 holiday season will be Domaine Huet’s Vouvray Petillant Brut.  It lands solid on the palate but weighs in at less than $30.  For the more serious portion of the dinner, we’ll pull out a 2012 Foxen Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Block 8.  I’m anxious to revisit this wine as I loved the explosive nose and precise palate when we last had a bottle a few years ago.  If it’s anything like I remember, this bright, spicy and supple wine should be a great accompaniment to the various dishes being passed around the table.  With these two beauties being enjoyed (plus others, I’m sure), we’re bound to be too busy extolling the virtues of what’s in our glass to even think about discussing politics!

Linnea Frazier, Marketing Assistant
Thanksgiving tends to toe the line of mayhem and yet not quite dissolving into anarchy every year in my household. Naturally, the wines on the table help in this regard (sometimes admittedly adding to the anarchy aspect). Being a bubbles oriented family in general, we will probably be honoring American tradition and starting out with something produced Stateside like the 2012 Soter Mineral Springs Blanc de Blancs from one of my favorite Oregon producers. After that our 2016 Counoise and 2015 Roussanne will be no doubt represented and massively appreciated, with some Gamay always tending to sneak in there as well. Cheers!

Eileen Harms, Accounting
We will begin and end our Thanksgiving with a toast to the blessings we have had this year and what the future holds. I think a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut and a bottle of Domaine Carneros Brut Rose should do the trick. Not quite sure which will start and which will finish but dinner will include a 2013 Carlson Creek Chenin Blanc.

Misty Lies, Tasting Room Team Lead
You might be surprised but my family can be a bit untraditional when it comes to Thanksgiving meals. We are just not big on turkey but love all the fixings. This year we will be having some family in from Southern California and are going to celebrate the day before by heading down to Ember Restaurant for dinner. For starters I might bring Esprit Blanc to go with the first half of dinner, it will go nicely with their salads and the amazing scallop appetizer they have. I also see they have Six Hour Braised Oxtails on the menu so I will be taking along some bottles of the 2009 Massolino Barolo Parussi.  

Our family wishes you all a great Thanksgiving!

Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist
In the spirit of giving thanks, I’ll be paying homage with an ‘09 Tablas Creek Tannat because it is hands down one of the toughest, most resilient varietals I’ve yet to encounter. 

Also, Lone Madrone’s “Old Hat” (Neil Collins’ side project). The fruit from this wine is grown by my neighbor David Osgood, a local dry farming legend, and hands down one of the largest inspirations in my life and a huge catalyst as to why I do what I do today! 

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
My wife announced yesterday that we're having a Cajun turkey for Thanksgiving.  While I haven't taken the time to research precisely what that entails, I know one thing:  it's going to be spicy.  In my mind I go immediately to whites and roses.  Sure, light-bodied, low-tannin reds will work, and I may pull out a bottle of our Counoise just to test my theory, but I suspect my initial instinct will prove correct.  I'm going to lean heavily on Tablas Creek this year, so opening a bottle of both the Patelin de Tablas Rosé and Dianthus seem elementary.  For whites, the options are much greater.  An Esprit de Tablas Blanc of any vintage would be sublime, but I'm a little concerned it's elegance would be overshadowed by the heat.  After some tinkering in my minds eye, I'm going with the 2016 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (more saline and mineral than the effusive 2017) and the 2017 Picpoul Blanc, which has this great spice component that offsets the juicy fruit and welcome acidity.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  

Gustavo Prieto, Tasting Room, Cellar, and Vineyard
I have in mind it's to start with some bubbles, a Vouvray, Domaine Pichot 2011, I like Chenin and it's always a fun way to start the festivities. After, continue with Tablas Dianthus Rosé 2016 and for the dinner table an older vintage of the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (04?, 05?). I love Esprit Blanc's and I always find them very complex ready to take on such a mix of flavors like thanksgiving dinner. And for the red drinkers the Qupe 2011 Pinot from the Sawyer Lindquist vineyard in Edna Valley farmed Biodynamically, only 1.5 acres planted. I never tried this Pinot before but I'm curious to taste this wine from a cooler area. 

Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing
Thanksgiving is the ultimate family meal and bottle share. I’ll bring a few different options, like the Gamay/Pinot Noir blend from Guillot-Broux, a perfect accompaniment to my tangy cranberry sauce (and for my post-Thanksgiving sandwich!) I’ll keep the Pinot Noir trend going through dinner with a bottle of Frederic Savart Champagne. His Blanc de Noirs (l’Ouverture) is my favorite because its got a freshness I love when it comes to champagne, and a richness I am always pleasantly surprised by. My fiancé Cameron and my parents love rosé and we saved some 2017 Patelin- I’m sure a bottle will make it onto very crowded but cozy dinner table.

Randy Thurman, Facilities & IT
I usually drink some Papa’s Pilar rum or a nice bottle of Esprit that we have been saving for special occasions. The rum reminds me of camping trips with my dad and sitting by the camp fires listening to old stories and smelling the smoke from cigars. The wine reminds me of visiting my mother and father in law when we have had huge spreads with a large group of family. Usually 20-30 people and we sometimes drink large magnums of wine. Has been some J Lohr, Tucker Cellars, Paraiso Vineyards by the smith Family and of course several bottles of Tablas Creek. Usually a bottle of Dianthus and something white like a Viognier or Picardan is opened along with a bottle of Esprit. I usually rotisserie over a Weber charcoal grill an apple juice-brined turkey coated in butter and herbs and stuffed with apples, oranges, lemons, and onions for about 4 hours on low heat. Always juicy and comes out like a smoked rotisserie chicken. I have also used a similar method to smoke large prime rib roasts as well.

Calera SelleckAnd as for me...
Typically, my choice is to open the largest bottle I have to hand at Thanksgiving gatherings. There's usually a story behind a big bottle, and the randomness of "just open it" adds a certain amount of pleasurable discovery to the gathering, as well as the festivity that large bottles bring per force.

Of consideration for us, this will be our first Thanksgiving without my dad, and I'm sure we will spend a good chunk of the day thinking and talking about him. So it's with pleasure that I think I've found the perfect bottle to both celebrate his memory and pair with the meal. It's a magnum of 1987 Calera Selleck Pinot Noir, brought by Calera's founder and winemaker (and longtime friend of my dad's) Josh Jensen to the celebration of my dad's life this spring. It checks all the wish list elements for me: Pinot Noir, particularly with some age, is a great pairing for turkey (check), Calera is an iconic producer (check), it was brought by a friend and is a wine to which we have a personal connection (check), and it's a magnum, so there's going to be enough to go around the table (check). I'm sure that it will be preceded by some Dianthus, and we'll likely break out some whites for those who'd prefer that with their turkey, maybe our 2017 Marsanne, which is my favorite white we've got right now. And none of these wines will demand to be the center of attention: they will be dining companions with which you can have a conversation, to tell (and help you tell) stories around the table. After all, that's what it's all about.

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


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 http://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?