Introducing a new wine club: the Esprit Club

We've had pretty much the same collection of wine clubs for most of the last decade. They are (with links to the club pages on our Web site):

  • The VINsider Wine Club. This is our main club begun and kept in more or less the same format since 2002, and probably the most familiar to most people. We pick six bottles we love in the spring and fall, and send them out to members at our standard wine club discount of 20% below list price, plus shipping and tax. Members have the opportunity to choose classic (mixed), red-only, or white-only shipments. 
  • The VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition. We augment the fall VINsider club shipment with six extra bottles of Esprit, including a few additional bottles of the newest Esprit and Esprit Blanc and a small collection of older Esprit and Esprit Blanc that we've been aging in our cellars. Because that shipment is a case, we bump up the discount to 25% (our case discount for VINsider members), and because it contains six or more bottles of Esprit wines, we include no-charge shipping. We've had a waiting list for this since its second year, and because we only have so much wine in our library, I suspect we always will have to cap membership.
  • The VINdependent Wine Club. For people who don't want preconfigured shipments or want a lesser commitment, all we require is that members purchase a minimum of six bottles per year. Because the commitment is less, the discounts are a bit less too: 10% from bottle one, and 20% on orders of a case of more. If members get to the end of the year and haven't met the 6-bottle commitment, we offer them a choice of three shipments: mixed (the default), red-only, and white only, or the opportunity to configure their own order. We let them know that if we don't hear back from them, they'll get the default shipment.

While I think we have something for almost everyone, there are a couple of sorts of fans for whom none of the above clubs are a perfect fit. One is the cohort of VINdependent Club members who really just want our flagship wines. They typically put together an order of Esprit (and sometimes Panoplie) once a year, to take advantage of the 20% case discount. But they reasonably point out that their order is more valuable to us than most VINsider orders, and wonder why they aren't getting the 25% case discount. The second is our super-fans, who are in the Collector's Edition club and often reach out to us to add additional wines (mostly Esprits) to their spring shipment to get to the point where their shipping is included. They reasonably wonder why they can't get the case discount on their spring club shipment (our software doesn't process club shipments that way).

At the same time, I've felt for a while that we don't do quite enough to elevate the Esprit de Tablas. When you think of Ridge, for all the wonderful wines they make, if you're asked to name a collectible wine, you likely choose Monte Bello. If you think of Justin, you likely think of Isosceles. If you think of Joseph Phelps, you likely recognize Insignia. From my conversations with our fans and our supporters among restaurant and retail buyers, the general consensus is that if it says Tablas Creek, they're going to like it, but that they don't distinguish all that much between the different blends we make. I can't tell you how many times I've had someone tell me they had one of our wines at a restaurant, I ask them which one, and they can't remember. (Or they say Panoplie when they mean Patelin, but that's another story).

Overall, I think this is a good thing. I'm very happy that whether it's Patelin, Cotes, or Esprit, people feel confident that a Tablas Creek blend will be great. But I also think this is a missed opportunity. We really don't think that all three of our main blends are equal. We blend first for the Esprit, and that wine is made up of the best 15%-20% of what we taste in our blending trials. And, the focus grapes of the blend are meaningful, as both Esprits are based on the signature grapes of Beaucastel. We feel that the Esprit is the most tangible connection in our work to the pioneering tradition personified by Jacques Perrin's pursuit of Mourvedre and Roussanne (and the quest to find and regenerate all the traditional varieties of Chateauneuf du Pape) in the 1950s. As my dad says in this video from 2017, it's the wine we came to California to make:

If you combine the fact that we want a club for our superfans, want to give collectors of the Esprit de Tablas wines a home, are looking to give the Esprit wines a higher profile in our marketing, and have noted that we're getting to the point where we're having to choose where to allocate out the limited amount of Esprit that we've got, it seems like an Esprit Club could do all of those things. So, here goes.

We have decided to keep the new Esprit Club simple. Members will get a case of the newest vintage of Esprit de Tablas (red) each spring, at a 25% member savings off of the list price and with no-charge shipping included. That's it. Easy. If our Esprit club members are also members of our VINsider Club they'll get that spring shipment at the additional discount and also with shipping included. Joint Esprit-Collector's Edition Club members (read: those superfans) will get the 25% savings and included shipping on both shipments, which only feels appropriate. 

Esprit Vertical

If you're interested in being a part of the inaugural year of the Esprit club and getting your case of the 2017 Esprit de Tablas, you can read the details of the club and sign up here. If you have feedback on the idea, or other things you'd like us to implement, please leave the suggestions in the comments.


Tasting the wines in the Spring 2020 VINsider Wine Club shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club.  In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release.  About 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments.  In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming months and years. In some cases (like this time) where the shipments contain wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be the last week of February) it's a chance to get to know wines that are newly finished.  I always think it's fun to give followers of the blog a first look at these notes.

These shipments include wines from the 2017, 2018, and 2019 vintages.  Tasting three vintages together is a great way to get a handle on their relative personalities, and typically my first chance to do a personality assessment on the newest vintage, which we haven't even started blending trials on yet. My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are that 2017 is a blockbuster, where every wine shows density and lushness, with powerful fruit but the structure to age. I feel like I can taste the health of the vineyard from the 43 inches of rain we received. 2018 is noteworthy for its vibrancy. It's a vintage whose whites have some of the highest acids we've seen in recent years, yet the balance between fruit, acid, and mineral gives the wines a purity and varietal expressiveness that reminds me of 2015 (but with a bit more concentration). Finally, the 2019s, as much as one can tell from tasting two wines, seem to strike a midpoint, with plenty of concentration, good acids, and lovely texture.  I'll start with the classic mixed shipment, and then move on to the red-only and white-only shipments, noting which wines will be included in each. I was joined for the tasting by Winemaker Neil Collins, Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, and Tasting Room Manager John Morris.

Spring 2020 VINsider Shipment Group

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

2019 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our eighteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottle it early, under screwcap.
  • Tasting Notes: An absolutely classic Vermentino nose of citrus leaf, marzipan, sea spray, green herbs, and maraschino cherry. The palate shows vibrant acids with flavors of lime juice, wet rocks, and a floral gardenia note. A quinine-like pithy note lingers on the long, zippy finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1510 cases.

2019 DIANTHUS

  • Production Notes: For our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, we aim for a style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre). This year's blend is 52% Mourvèdre, 33% Grenache and 15% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after 24-36 hours on the skins. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and will be bottled later in February. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé, ideal with complex, powerful foods.
  • Tasting Notes: An electric fuchsia. The nose shows powerful strawberry and guava fruit, deepened by sweet tarragon and rose petal notes. The mouth is vivid, with plum skin acids and a line of passion fruit tropicality. Tons of texture leads into a long finish with flavors of strawberry and lemon drop. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious.  Drink before the end of 2021.
  • Production: 900 cases

2018 COTES DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our chance to let Grenache shine, as it does in most southern Rhone blends. Grenache had remarkable vibrancy in 2018 with mostly high toned fruit, so we used a relatively high percentage of Syrah for depth and balance as well as small additions of Mourvedre and Counoise for earth and spice. The final blend (45% Grenache, 33% Syrah, 12% Counoise, and 10% Mourvedre) was assembled in June 2019 and has been aging in foudre in anticipation of its upcoming bottling later in February.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep nose, powerfully reminiscent of Syrah and the Rhone, with notes of soy marinade, black pepper, chocolate, and fig. On the palate, equally balanced between Grenache's red fruit and acid and Syrah's dark fruit and power, with flavors of kirsch, bittersweet chocolate, black cherry, and chalky tannins. A serious, powerful Cotes de Tablas that is already delicious but with the stuffing to age. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 2140 cases

2017 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our sixteenth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging.  As we do many years, we blended in our small harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, making the wine is 96% Tannat and 4% Cabernet. We aged it in one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2019, and then aged it another 10 months in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, spicy licorice and black pepper, with a savory spruce forest note over black plum and elderberry fruit. The mouth is dense and richly tannic, packed with flavors of fruitcake and sugarplum and Tannat's characteristic (and welcome) floral undertone that always reminds me of violets. The finish is approachable for a Tannat at this stage, with tannins cloaked in sweet fruit. A wine to drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 1110 cases

2017 LE COMPLICE

  • Production Notes: Just the second vintage of our first new blend in a decade, celebrating the kinship (Le Complice means, roughly, "partners in crime") between Syrah (67%) and our newest red grape, Terret Noir (12%). Although Syrah is dark and Terret light, both share wild herby black spice, and Terret's high acids bolster Syrah's tendency toward stolidity. We added some Grenache (21%) for mid-palate fleshiness. The wine was blended in June of 2018, aged in foudre, bottled in April 2019, and has been aging in our cellars since.
  • Tasting Notes: Syrah-driven darkness on the nose: iron, pencil lead, and black fruit, with a pickling spice note of bay, green peppercorn, and star anise that I think came from Terret. The mouth is meaty, like Korean ribs, with dark fruit of dates and figs. The rich texture continues on to the finish, with savory notes of soy, balsamic, and fig. We don't know for sure, but suspect it will drink well for two decades.
  • Production: 880 cases

2017 PANOPLIE

  • Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always giving pride of place to Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2018.  Mourvedre was typically outstanding in 2016, and our blend reflects that (69%), with roughly equal portions of Grenache (17%) for lushness, sweet spice, and vibrancy and Syrah (14%) for black fruit, density, and tannic richness. The wine was bottled in July 2019 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep, lovely Rhonish nose of dark red currant fruit, sandalwood, new leather, and a licorice note that echoed between red and black. The mouth is luscious and generous with flavors of red plum, loamy earth, clove spice, and baker's chocolate. Rich texture, full, long, and complex, with a finish that lasted for a full minute. A delicious wine with a long life ahead; we predict two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 850 cases

Spring 2020 VINsider Shipment Wines

There are three additional wines (2018 Viognier, 2018 Marsanne, and two bottles of 2019 Roussanne as well as a second bottle of the 2019 Vermentino) in the white-only shipment:

2018 VIOGNIER

  • Production Notes: The vibrancy of the 2018 vintage allowed us to produce a varietal Viognier that we loved. Viognier, known more from the northern Rhone than the area around Chateauneuf du Pape, sprouts first of all our grapes, making it the most prone to frost, but was spared in 2018. The chilly nights maintained its acids and kept it on the vine into September. It was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then blended and bottled in May 2019 in screwcap, to preserve its brightness. 
  • Tasting Notes: An incredibly appealing nose, classic Viognier with fresh apricot, meyer lemon, and citrus flowers. The mouth is luscious without being at all heavy: white peach and sweet spice with a tangy pineapple note that becomes more pronounced on the long, lively finish. This should hold for a few years at least, but really, I can't imagine it being any better than it is right now.
  • Production: 430 cases

2018 MARSANNE

  • Production Notes: Like Viognier, Marsanne is best known from the northern Rhone and many summers here are too warm for us to be happy bottling it on its own. Not 2018. As in Hermitage, where it is renowned for making some of the world's most ageworthy white wines, we picked our Marsanne in mid-September, fermented it after a whole-cluster press, and selected the varietal bottling from a single lot with unusually good acids. Just our sixth-ever varietal bottling of Marsanne, bottled in June 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Marsanne nose of honeydew, quince, crushed rock, and a sweet note like freshly harvested wheat. Soft and delicious on the palate, with flavors of vanilla custard, chamomile tea, candied lemon peel, and chalky minerality. Medium-bodied, refined, and pretty. It's so appealing now that I'm guessing a lot of it will get drunk young, but it should evolve in an interesting way for a decade at least.
  • Production: 395 cases

2018 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: Roussanne yields were low in 2018, and the 630 cases we made as a varietal wine is our smallest production in a decade. But the Roussanne we got was powerfully characteristic of the grape, and we chose lots for our varietal bottling that came roughly 55% from foudre, 35% from neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques. The selected lots were blended in April 2019 then aged in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: A powerful nose of lacquered wood, new honey, dried orange peel, cardamom, and aromatic bitters. The palate is classic, with flavors of caramel and ripe pear, a little sweet oak, and a little bit of tannic bite that cleans the wine up on the long finish. The wine has only been in bottle for a few months, but it's already drinking well. Drink in the next 3 or 4 years for a more luscious, fruit-driven experience, or hold it for 8-15 years for a flavor profile of caramel, wet rocks, and hazelnut.
  • Production: 630 cases

Two additional reds join the Panoplie, Tannat, Cotes de Tablas, and Le Complice in the red-only shipment:

2017 GRENACHE

  • Production Notes: Grenache yields recovered in the healthy 2017 vintage, although for whatever reason the paler color we came to expect during the five-year drought persisted. But don't fear; this is a wine whose intensity of flavor belies its color. For our varietal bottling we as usual chose lots that emphasized Grenache's freshness and avoided riper lots that tend toward higher alcohols. The lots were blended in June 2018 and aged in neutral 1200-gallon oak foudres until bottling in April 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A wild, brambly nose showing raspberry fruit and an herby, rocky undertone. The palate is generous, with vivid wild strawberry fruit, flavors of cola and sweet spice, great acids, and a savory sarsaparilla note vying for primacy with foresty wildness on the finish. This has been deepening nicely over recent months. If you prefer your reds crunchy and vibrant, don't feel bad about opening it now. If you prefer to wait for more subtle flavors, drink any time in the next six-to-ten years.
  • Production: 530 cases

2017 SYRAH

  • Production Notes: The productive, high-quality 2017 vintage gave us the opportunity to make our first varietal Syrah since 2014. For the varietal bottling, we chose Syrah lots that led with a dark, meaty, savory note, but carried plenty of dark fruit underneath. These lots were blended in June 2018, aged in a new foudre until bottling in April 2019, and then have been aging in our cellar ever since. 
  • Tasting notes: A meaty nose reminiscent of pancetta, with graphite and iron mineral notes, black spice, and tobacco leaf. The mouth is savory, with Syrah's classic meat drippings and green herbs, like a roasted porchetta, a little juniper mintiness, and dark boysenberry fruit. A serious wine, on which patience will be rewarded. Give it a good decant if you plan on drinking it soon, or cellar it up to two decades.
  • Production: 420 cases

If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try. This spring's party will be on Sunday, April 5th.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


Tasting the Wines in the Fall 2019 VINsider Club Shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club.  In others, the club gets a first look at wines that may see a later national release. Before each shipment, we reintroduce ourselves to these wines (which, in some cases, we may not have tasted since before bottling) by opening the full lineup and writing the notes that will be included with the club shipments. Today, I sat down with our winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection. For what we found, read on.

Neil and Chelsea with Fall 2019 VINsider wines

We base the fall shipments around the newest releases of the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and this fall's shipment is no exception. But there's a lot more to this fall's shipment than these two wines. We have a couple of (we think, really terrific) varietal whites, and two other smaller-production blends, one each red and white. We think it's one of the most compelling shipments we've ever put together. I'm excited to get them in our members' hands soon.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Classic Fall 2019 Shipment

2018 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: The relatively cool 2018 growing season produced Grenache Blanc with exceptional brightness and pronounced minerality. Yields were down slightly from 2017, but still slightly above average, a sign that our Grenache Blanc blocks were healthy. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), blended them in April 2019 and bottled the finished wine under screwcap to preserve its brightness in June 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Grenache Blanc nose of lemon pith, green apple peel, anise, and briny minerality. On the palate, very bright at first, with a burst of lemon on the attack, then sweeter flavors of sarsaparilla and tarragon, while the grape's richness comes out on the finish, leaving on a long sweet/tart lemon drop note. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1470 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2018 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Viognier is always the lead grape in our Cotes Blanc, and we balance Viognier's lushness with the elegance of Marsanne and the brightness of Grenache Blanc. In 2018, the Viognier (39%) already had nice elegance, so we chose to use more Grenache Blanc (36%) top bring vibrancy, and a relatively low percentage of Marsanne (19%), leaving more Marsanne for a varietal bottling. 6% Roussanne rounds out the blend and provides structure. The selected lots were blended in April 2019, and the wine was bottled in June 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: An elegant nose of apricots cut with lemon, Asian spices, and crushed rock. The mouth is balanced right between Viognier and Grenache Blanc character, with flavors of nectarine and lemon verbena. A clean, fresh, and elegant finish rounds out the wine, leaving a lingering impression of sea spray minerality. Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1840 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2017 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: We celebrated the classic 2017 vintage by incorporating two of our newest white grapes into the Esprit Blanc blend for the first time. Of course, Roussanne (68%, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages) still takes pride of place, but the different higher-acid, more mineral varieties (17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Clairette Blanche, and 4% Picardan) all add citrusy acidity and saline freshness. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in April 2018 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2018 and letting it rest an additional 9 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: A spicy, deep Roussanne nose of wildflower honey, cedar spice, jasmine, and Asian pear. The mouth shows flavors of baked pear, cinnamon stick, and brioche, all deepened by a little sweet oak. The wine's rich texture is balanced by nice acids and a saline mineral note on the finish. A powerful Esprit Blanc that we expect to go out two decades, gaining additional nuttiness and complexity over the years.
  • Production: 2250 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2017 MOURVEDRE

  • Production Notes: Mourvedre is the one red grape that we try to bottle on its own each year, because we think it is a wonderful grape that too few people know, and one we feel worthy of some proselytizing.  Mourvedre, more than any other red, suffered during our drought, and the 43+ inches of rainfall we received in 2017 resulted in Mourvedre with deeper color, richer texture, and more intense dark red fruit than we've seen in years. All our Mourvedre lots were fermented in large wooden tanks and moved it to neutral barrels to await blending. The chosen lots were blended in the spring of 2018, then aged in foudre until bottling in April of 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A dense red fruit nose of boysenberry, blackcurrant, new leather, and licorice. The mouth is lush without being heavy, with flavors of plum, Chinese five spice, and Mourvedre's signature roasted meat drippings. The finish shows sweet spices and youthful tannins that suggest some time in the cellar will be well rewarded. Drink any time over the next 15 years.
  • Production: 950 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2017 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our tenth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill, planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. These lots tend to show more elegance and minerality than our closer-spaced irrigated blocks, although in 2017 the wine shows plenty of power and density. We chose a blend of 38% Mourvedre, 34% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 11% Tannat, and 6% Counoise. In this luscious vintage, we chose a higher-than-usual Tannat percentage for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The wine was blended in June of 2018, aged in foudre and bottled in April 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep and appealing nose of black raspberry, aged ribeye, black pepper, and soy. The mouth is dense with powerful fruit, with cracked peppercorn and licorice giving relief. A granite mineral note comes out on the finish, along with a touch of Tannat's signature tannins that promise decades ahead. Wait six months if you can, and then drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 820 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

2017 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Although the Esprit is based as always on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (40%), in this vintage where every variety did well, it was a surprise to us when our blending trials ended with Grenache (35%) tied for its highest percentage ever. Syrah (20%) adds dark fruit, powerful structure, and chalky minerality, while Counoise (5%) brings brambly spice. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2018 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A cool wintergreen minty note sets off deeper smoked meat, redcurrant, mocha, and juniper aromas. The mouth shows Grenache's sweet fruit and licorice on that attack, then deepens into notes of black cherry, chocolate, and a chorizo-like meatiness, all with tremendous mouth-coating texture. The long finish, with lingering flavors of wood smoke, roasted meat, plum skin and crushed rock, hints at more rewards to come with cellar aging. Hard to believe this wine had been in bottle only a week when we tasted it; we recommend that you drink either between now and 2022 or again starting in 2025 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 4090 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

One additional wine joined the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment (we doubled up the Esprit Blanc and Grenache Blanc):

Whites Fall 2019 Shipment

2018 PICPOUL BLANC

  • Production Notes: The 2018 Picpoul Blanc is our eleventh bottling of this traditional Southern Rhône white grape, used in Châteauneuf du Pape as a blending component, and best known from the crisp light green wines of the Pinet region in the Languedoc. On its own, it shows the vibrant acids for which it is valued, along with a tropical lushness from the generous Paso Robles climate that gives it complexity you'd never see in its homeland.  We ferment it in a mix of stainless steel and neutral barrels, and use the majority of our production for our Esprit de Tablas Blanc, while reserving a small quantity for this varietal bottling.  The Picpoul lots were selected in March 2019, and bottled in June 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: An electric nose of pineapple and lemon, sea spray, and sweet green herbs. The mouth is like biting into a fresh, barely ripe pineapple, with additional lemongrass and mineral notes. The finish is clean, vibrant, and delineated, with a lingering impression of waves breaking over rocks. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 440 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

Two additional reds joined the Mourvedre, En Gobelet and Esprit de Tablas in the red-only shipment:

Reds Fall 2019 Shipment

2017 COUNOISE

  • Production Notes: After no varietal Counoise between 2011 and 2013, this is the fourth consecutive year we've been able to make one, and we feel our most impressive ever, thanks to the vines' remarkable vigor in 2017. Valued as a blending grape in France because of its spiciness, its fresh acidity, and its low alcohol, it's rarely seen on its own. But we love being able to share one, and deploy it much like a Cru Beaujolais: slightly chilled, with charcuterie or as an aperitif. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak, aged in foudre, and bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in April of 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A darker garnet color than recent years. On the nose, brambly tangy purple fruit that reminded me of elderberries, with additional aromas of meatiness and sweet spice. On the palate, very juicy with intense red cherry flavors and brambly spice, over a medium-bodied frame, with cherry skin and dusting of cocoa powder emerging on the finish. A crowd pleaser, and endlessly flexible with food. Enjoy it any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 530 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2017 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: 2017 is the eighth vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside the Haas family's home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects Robert Haas's career: from a start introducing America to the greatness of Burgundy, through decades focusing on grapes from the Rhone, he's now growing Pinot at home. The grapes were fermented in one-ton microfermenters, half de-stemmed and half with stems for a more savory profile, punched down twice daily by hand. After pressing, the wine was moved into year-old Marcel Cadet 60-gallon barrels, for a hint of oak.  The wine stayed on its lees, stirred occasionally, for 10 months, before being blended and bottled in August 2018.  We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty nose of cherry cola, black tea, dried lavender, and a little sweet oak. The mouth is medium-bodied but fresh, with flavors of wild strawberry and sweet herbs. The lightly tannic finish shows cedar spice and a lingering cherry skin note. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 490 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

The tasting was a great way to hone in on the character of our two most recent vintages.  2017 is luscious and powerful, with the health of the vineyard coming through clearly in the rich texture of the wines. 2018 is vibrantly expressive, producing wines with electric acids and outgoing personalities. I can't wait to get these wines in our club members' hands and find out what they think.

If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try. This fall's party will be on Sunday, October 6th.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join us while there's still a chance to get this fall shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


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

Each summer, I taste through library vintages of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolve. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

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

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

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

2019 Collectors Edition Wines

My tasting notes, from today:

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

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

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

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next few weeks. If you're on the waiting list, you should be receiving an email soon with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online or by giving us our wine club office a call. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can sign up for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition, with all the benefits of VINsider Wine Club membership while you're on the waiting list.

Those of you who are members, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  And thank you, as always, for your patronage. We are grateful, and don't take it for granted.


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

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

Panoplie Vertical Jun 2019

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

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

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

A few concluding thoughts:

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

Thirsty for a bit of history: The Wine of the Popes

[Editor's Note: With this blog, we're launching a the new blog series "Stories from the Tasting Room", written by the talented Evelyne Fodor. Evelyne was born and raised in Lyon, France, holds a PhD in French and Francophone Studies from UCLA, and still teaches for UCLA online. She has been one the leaders in the Tablas Creek tasting room since 2014.]

By Evelyne Fodor

The other day a young couple stopped at the winery for a tasting.  Timothy and Cassandra, as they introduced themselves, were from Silver Lake, a hidden Los Angeles neighborhood that attracts creative people and foodies. My guests fell in both categories. “Timothy is a TV writer and I am a private chef” Cassandra told me.  Timothy had an unusual request. “I am reading this book about a troubled gentleman, confined in a hotel, who found solace in drinking the “Wine of the Pope.” The allusion to the New York Times bestseller, A Gentleman in Moscow, did not escape me. The main character, Count Roskov, a wine connoisseur, was a big fan of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.  “How is Tablas Creek related to Châteauneuf-du-Pape?” he asked.   Of all the things that makes our story so compelling, our connection with an ancient village in Southern Rhône is the one that excites me.  The name transports you not only to another time and place, it also evokes a turbulent time in the Catholic Church history, the birth a wine dynasty family, an iconic bottle, and the inspiration for our flagship wine Esprit de Tablas.

CNP blog PIC ClementChâteauneuf-du-Pape means “Pope’s new castle,” I told Timothy. In the 14th century, I continued, just before the Great Schism the newly elected Pope was a Frenchman from Bordeaux by the name of Clément V (pictured left).  As historians told us, Pope Clément chose to not move to Rome for security reasons. Instead he brought the Papal court to the walled city of Avignon, at the time a property of the Roman Church.  Clément V, it is also said, was an avid wine drinker who preferred to stay close to his estate which he personally managed.  The estate was a few kilometers north of Avignon in an ancient village known for its soil, Châteauneuf-Calcernier, named after a nearby limestone quarry.

I started the tasting with our 2016 Grenache Blanc, a perfect wine for a day like today, when Timothy interrupted me. “It’s a lovely wine, great acidity! Tell me more about the Castle.” Clearly Timothy was enjoying the unexpected history tasting so I continued. The next Pope, by the name of Jean XXII, also French, also a wine lover, built a home among the vineyards of Châteauneuf-Calcernier, as a summer residence to escape the heat of Avignon.  Then six successive French Popes kept their residence in Avignon, spending time in the vineyards of Pope Clément, expanding the home started by Jean XXII.  The Papacy remained in Avignon until the last French Pope, Gregory XI, decided to return to Rome. It came to a bad end for the last Pope, but the legend of the “Vin du Pape”, as it became known, had begun.

CNP blog PIC villageI was now pouring the 2016 Cotes de Tablas, boasting the characteristics of my favorite grape, Grenache, when Timothy signaled again, he was ready for a bit more of history. “So how did the Beaucastel family became involved with the Wine Pope?” It came later I answered. The Popes had already returned to Rome when Pierre de Beaucastel, a Huguenot living in a village nearby, bought a barn with a plot of land. In those days, if a Protestant agreed to convert to Catholicism, in return King Louis XIV would give him the right to collect taxes from the local people.  It is with this money that Pierre built his house.  In recognition of his status and conversion to Catholicism after the revocation of the Edict de Nantes, he was appointed “Captain of the town” by the King and became known as Noble Pierre de Beaucastel.  The Beaucastel family went on to become one of the most prestigious families in Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, and their estate has now been owned and run by the Perrin family for five generations.  

CNP blog PIC bottle“There is a scene in A Gentleman in Moscow, where Count Rosko is in the cellar of the Metropol Hotel where thousands of bottles of wines had their labels removed” Timothy said, “but Count Rosko was able to single out a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. How was that possible?” Clearly, Timothy had never seen a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. "If you remember the scene," I told him, "Count Rosko was lingering his fingers on the bottles." In our seating room we have a picture of a vintage bottle of Château de Beaucastel. "Here it is," I told Timothy. You can see and feel the inscription "Châteauneuf-du-Pape contrôlé" embossed in Gothic letters. The Coat of Arms symbolizes a Papal tiara placed above the keys of St. Peter, or as Francois Perrin, our French partner from Beaucastel once told me “the keys to Paradise”.

I could tell Timothy’s excitement when I finally introduced him to our flagship blend 2016 Esprit de Tablas. “So, this is the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine?” he asked, starring at our own embossed logo, a nod to Châteauneuf-du-Pape Coat of Arms.  "It’s as close as you can get in this part of the world," I told him.  "But as Jason Haas made it clear in his blog, Esprit de Tablas is 'an inspiration, not a copy.' Esprit means 'Spirit' after the Châteauneuf-du-Pape of Beaucastel.”

When the tasting was completed, Timothy joined our VINsider Collector’s Edition, “to get as many older Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Tablas vintages I can put my hands on.” And with that, Cassandra had one final question: “What should I pair the wine with?” Timothy winked at me. We both knew the answer. “A bouillabaisse, bien sûr”, as per Count Roskov’s recommendation. 


Tasting the wines in the Spring 2019 VINsider Wine Club shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club.  In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release.  About 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments.  In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming months and years. In some cases (like this time) where the shipments contain wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be the last week of February) it's a chance to get to know wines that are newly finished.  I always think it's fun to give followers of the blog a first look at these notes.

Spring 2019 VINsider Shipment Wines

These shipments include wines from the 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages.  It was fascinating to taste these three vintages, all of which we think were very strong, together, and to get a sense of how they compare.  My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are that 2016 is a deep and serious vintage, not austere, but with classic old-world savory character and the structure that should allow them to age beautifully. 2017 is a blockbuster, where every wine shows the health of the vineyard from the 43 inches of rain we received after five years of drought. The wines are exuberant and intensely juicy, but not heavy, with acids that highlight the fruit. Finally, 2018 (we only tasted two wines) seems to hit a mid-point between the two previous vintages, with lush textures yet somehow -- if one can tell that from normally cheerful wines like Vermentino and Dianthus -- an additional dose of seriousness compared to the sunny, open-natured 2017s.  I'll start with the classic mixed shipment, and then move on to the red-only and white-only shipments, noting which wines will be included in each. 

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

2019 Spring Mixed Shipment V2

2018 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our seventeenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and will be bottling it under screwcap at the end of February.
  • Tasting Notes: A clean, spicy Vermentino nose of grapefruit peel, citrus leaf, green herbs and sea spray. Briny. The palate starts notably creamy, then Vermentino's characteristic vibrant acids come out, highlighting flavors of white grapefruit and lemongrass, with an ocean spray note that lingers on the long, zippy finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1140 cases.

2017 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: Roussanne was the one grape whose yields did not recover in 2017, but the rainfall (and the healthier vines that resulted) produced serious wines with density and yet brighter acids than we see in Roussanne lots from most years. We fermented the Roussanne lots that were selected for our varietal bottling roughly 55% in foudre, 35% in neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques. The selected lots were blended in April 2018 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: Precise on the nose, with aromas of lacquered wood, pear skin, ginger, and sweet spices. The mouth is clean and light on its feet for Roussanne, reminiscent of Marsanne in many ways with flavors of cantaloupe and lemongrass, medium body, and a bright finish with just a hint of sweet oak. The wine has only been in bottle for a few months and we expect it to continue to flesh out and its flavors to deepen over the next year. Hold for a few months at least, then drink over the next decade or more.
  • Production: 1050 cases

2018 DIANTHUS

  • Production Notes: For our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, we aim for a style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre). This year's blend is 51% Mourvèdre, 39% Grenache and 10% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after 24-36 hours on the skins. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and will be bottled later in February. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé, ideal with complex, powerful foods.
  • Tasting Notes: An electric pink. The nose shows powerful watermelon and cherry fruit, mint, and baking spices. The mouth is vivid, with strawberry juiciness followed by vibrant acids and a tangy plum skin impression bringing both refreshing acidity and a touch of tannin to the long finish. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious.  Drink before the end of 2020.
  • Production: 1500 cases

2017 COTES DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our chance to let Grenache shine, as it does in most Chateauneuf du Pape blends. Grenache had lovely weight and expressiveness in 2017, so we used a relatively high percentage (53%) to lead the wine. Syrah (25%) adds dark fruit and minerality, and keeps Grenache's fruitiness grounded.  Additions of Counoise (12%) and Mourvedre (10%) add a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2018 and aged in foudre until its upcoming bottling later in February.
  • Tasting Notes: Powerfully Grenache on the nose: red cherry, wild strawberry, and star anise, with the Syrah providing a little tobacco-like herby savoriness that keeps the nose from coming off confected. The mouth is deep and flavorful, with flavors of black cherry, pepper spice, and milk chocolate. Nice powdery Grenache tannins come out on the finish, leaving an impression of pithy cherry skin and wild herbs. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 2135 cases

2016 LE COMPLICE

  • Production Notes: This new blend, our first in a decade, celebrates the kinship (Le Complice means, roughly, "partners in crime") between Syrah (59%) and our newest red grape, Terret Noir (19%). Although Syrah is dark and Terret light, both share wild herby black spice, and Terret's high acids bolster Syrah's tendency toward stolidity. We added some Grenache (20%) for mid-palate fleshiness, and a touch of Roussanne (2%; co-fermented with a Syrah lot we chose) came along for the ride. The wine was blended in June of 2017, aged in foudre, bottled in April 2018, and has been aging in our cellars since.
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, like Syrah but with a dash of translucency: minty dark chocolate, spruce forest, juniper berry, and angostura bitters. The mouth is both deep and lifted, with black plum, baker's chocolate, Seville orange peel, and savory herbs. Dusty tannins come out on the finish. We don't know how this will age, but suspect it will drink well for two decades. We are excited to find out!
  • Production: 750 cases

2016 PANOPLIE

  • Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always giving pride of place to Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2017.  Although the Mourvedre was outstanding in 2016, and our blend reflects that (66%), the real star of the vintage was Syrah,  and the 25% Syrah we added is Panoplie's highest percentage ever. 9% Grenache adds lushness, sweet spice, and vibrancy. The wine was bottled in July 2018 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep, inviting nose of dark red currant fruit, sweet nutmeg spice, new leather, and a little animal wildness: think drippings from a leg of lamb.  The mouth is dense with black currant, loamy earth, clove spice, and powerful tannins cloaked with lush luxardo cherry fruit. A lifted rose petal floral note comes out with some air, and sweet milk chocolate notes play with red fruit on the long finish. A delicious wine with a long life ahead; we predict two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 760 cases

There are two additional wines (as well as second bottles of the Roussanne and Vermentino) in the white-only shipment:

2019 Spring White Shipment

2017 VIOGNIER

  • Production Notes: The productive, consistently high quality 2017 vintage allowed us to produce a varietal Viognier, which has only been the case about half the time. Viognier, known more from the northern Rhone than the area around Chateauneuf du Pape, sprouts first of all our grapes, making it the most prone to frost, but was spared in 2017 and thrived throughout the growing season. It was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then blended and bottled in May 2018 in screwcap, to preserve its brightness. 
  • Tasting Notes: An incredibly appealing nose, classic Viognier with a little extra lift: jasmine flowers and pineapple, meringue, and mint. The mouth is flavorful but restrained, more pineapple than peaches in syrup, with a tropical lychee note, fresh nectarine, a little pithy bite that comes out on the finish and leaves a lingering impression of white flowers and chalky minerality. This should hold for a few years at least, but really, I can't imagine it being any better than it is right now.
  • Production: 300 cases

2016 PETIT MANSENG

  • Production Notes: Our seventh bottling of this traditional grape from southwest France, Petit Manseng is best known from the appellation of Jurancon, where it has made admired but not widely disseminated sweet wines for centuries. Petit Manseng achieves sufficient concentration and sugar content -- and maintains its acids sufficiently -- to make naturally sweet, balanced wines without botrytis. Harvested at 26.8° Brix and a pH of 2.99, we fermented it in barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 57.8 grams/liter of sugar left and sat at an alcohol of 13.6%. The high acidity makes it taste much drier than the sugar reading would suggest. The wine was aged on its lees in barrel and bottled in July, 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: An exotic nose of crystallized pineapple, briny mineral, coconut, and lemongrass. The mouth is sweet but not overly: ripe pineapple, exotic lychee tropicality, then the acids reassert control, leaving a finish of mineral and cinnamon. Drink now or age for up to another decade for a nuttier character.
  • Production: 125 cases

Three additional reds join the Panoplie, Cotes de Tablas, and Le Complice in the red-only shipment:

2019 Spring Red Shipment

2016 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our fifteenth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging.  As we do many years, we blended in our small harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, making the wine is 97% Tannat and 3% Cabernet.  We aged it in one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2018, and then aged it another 6 months in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, expressive: boysenberry, brambly spice, black mission figs, with a menthol herbiness and Tannat's characteristic (and welcome) floral undertone that always reminds me of violets. The mouth is beautifully balanced, and more approachable than often is the case with young Tannat, chewy with flavors of black cherry, meat drippings, rosemary, baker's chocolate, a little spicy oak, and a graphite-like minerality. Tannat's tannins are quite refined, cleaning up the wine on the finish and leaving impressions of black plum skin, pepper spice, and mineral. A wine to drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 770 cases

2016 MOURVEDRE

  • Production Notes: Mourvedre is the one red grape that we try to bottle on its own each year, because we think it is a wonderful grape that too few people know, and one we feel worthy of some proselytizing.  Mourvedre, like all our reds, saw recovered yields compared to 2015, but still only tallied a below-average 2.1 tons/acre. All our lots were fermented in large wooden tanks and moved it to neutral barrels to await blending.  For our varietal Mourvedre, we choose the friendlier, more open lots, which were blended in the spring of 2017, then aged in foudre until bottling in August of 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A lifted, comparatively high-toned nose for Mourvedre, with aromas of leather, blood orange, garrigue, and allspice. The mouth is more classic, with Mourvedre's signature redcurrant, leather, loam, and sweet spices, medium body, and excellent balance. The finish is refreshing, with gentle, chewy tannins. Just 12% alcohol. Drink now for a brighter impression, or age for 10-15 years for deeper tones.
  • Production: 810 cases

2017 PATELIN DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from seven great neighboring Rhone vineyards (plus our own). We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (48%), with Grenache (32%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (16%) and Counoise (4%) earth and structure. Fermented in a mix of upright oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks and aged in wooden uprights, it was bottled in July 2018 and has been aging in bottle since.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely nose, very Syrah, of pine forest, pancetta, blackberry, and dried herbs. The mouth is juicier than the nose suggests, with smoky blackberry, licorice root, crushed rock, and saddle leather, with chalky tannins and flavors of black cherry and freshly turned earth that come out on the finish. Delicious now, but still fleshing out, and with the substance and balance to age for up to a decade.
  • Production: 3580 cases

If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try. This spring's party will be on Sunday, March 31st.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


Buy More Wine (and Fewer Wines)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

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

Tasting the Wines in the Fall 2018 VINsider Club Shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club.  In others, the club gets a first look at wines that may see a later national release. Before each shipment, we reintroduce ourselves to these wines (which, in some cases, we may not have tasted since before bottling) by opening the full lineup and writing the notes that will be included with the club shipments. Today, I sat down with our winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection. For what we found, read on.

Neil and Chelsea with Fall 2018 VINsider wines

We base the fall shipments around the newest releases of the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and this fall's shipment is no exception. In addition, this year we reached back into our library to include not just the newest 2016 Esprit de Tablas, but also a bottle of the 2014 Esprit de Tablas that has been showing so well recently.  I'm excited to hear the feedback that we get.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Fall 2018 Classic (Mixed)

2017 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: Like all our white grapes, 2017 saw above-average yields for Grenache Blanc. But that doesn't mean the fruit lacked for intensity, with long hang times and a high leaf-area-to-fruit-weight ratio thanks to the exceptional vigor produced by our near-record rainfall in the winter of 2016-17. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), blended them in April 2018 and bottled the finished wine in July 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Grenache Blanc nose of mineral, grapefruit pith, sarsaparilla, and sweet herbs. On the palate, flavors of preserved lemon, yuzu, and tarragon provide a balance of weight and brightness, while the grape's rich texture is counterbalanced by its characteristic acids and a little pithy bite that builds on the finish, leaving a final impression of fresh citrus. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1325 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2017 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Viognier, always the lead grape in our Cotes Blanc, was a poster child for the vineyard's health in 2017, with canes twice as long as usual and yields above 3 tons per acre for the first time since 2012. In character, the Viognier (44%) was powerful and pithy, and we balanced its weight with quite a bit of both Marsanne (24%) for elegance and Grenache Blanc (20%) for acids. 12% Roussanne rounds out the blend and provides structure. The selected lots were blended in April 2018, and the wine was bottled in June 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A rich, spicy nose of peach pit, Asian spices, vanilla bean, and baked earth. The mouth is very Viognier: peaches and melon and lots of richness, although the bright Grenache Blanc acids highlight an appealing citrus pith element on the finish and the lingering impression is of mineral and freshness. Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1800 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2016 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: The classic 2016 vintage was a tremendous one for Roussanne, and we ended our blending trials tied for the most Roussanne we'd ever used in the Esprit Blanc (75%, fermented and aged in a mix of small newer barrels and neutral foudres). 18% Grenache Blanc and 7% Picpoul Blanc provide citrusy acidity and saline freshness. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in April 2017 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2017 and letting it rest an additional 9 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: Powerfully Roussanne on the nose, with notes of beeswax, lychee, white pepper, Asian pear, white flowers, and a little cedary spice. The mouth is rich and powerful, with flavor descriptors that make it sound sweet although it is absolutely dry: lemon pound cake, pear skin, honeysuckle, and sweet oak. The wine's rich texture is in full evidence on the long finish, while the citrus character from Grenache Blanc and a little saline minerality from Picpoul keep things feeling fresh. A powerful Esprit Blanc that is still unwinding after 9 months in bottle.  We expect this to go out two decades, gaining additional nuttiness and complexity over the years.
  • Production: 2070 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2016 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our ninth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill, planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. These lots tend to show more elegance and minerality than our closer-spaced irrigated blocks, although in 2016 the wine shows noteworthy power and density as well. We chose a blend of 39% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 8% Counoise and 3% Tannat. As usual, the small addition of head-trained Tannat proved valuable for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The wine was blended in June of 2017, aged in foudre and bottled in April 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: An opulent nose, but with a cool undertone: currants and baking spices undercut by pine forest and mint. On the palate, black raspberry, plum skin, baker's chocolate, and rare steak are all emphasized by a salty mineral note. Vibrant and expressive on the finish, with notes of red licorice and chewy tannins that promise decades ahead. A wine that is by turns dark, and rich, and cool. Drink now or any time over the next two decades or longer.
  • Production: 925 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

2016 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Among strong competition in 2016, Syrah was the standout red variety, and although the Esprit is based as always on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (46%), we ended up using our most-ever Syrah (31%) for dark fruit, powerful structure, and chalky minerality, and relatively low percentages of Grenache (18%) for juiciness and acidity, and Counoise (5%) for briary spice. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2017 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep nose, marked equally in my opinion by Mourvedre and Syrah: mocha and currant reduction, chalky minerality and spicy eucalyptus. The mouth is dense yet not heavy, with flavors of sugarplum and rare steak, a reverberating red/black licorice note, and tremendous texture. The long finish, with lingering flavors of wood smoke, roasted meat, plum skin and crushed rock, hints at more rewards to come with cellar aging. Really an amazing showing for this wine given its recent bottling; we recommend that you drink either between now and 2021 or again starting in 2024 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 3225 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

2014 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: In our blending trials in 2014, we made the decision to highlight the year's natural lushness with the fruit and freshness of Grenache rather than try to rein it in with the structure of Syrah or the restraint of Counoise. So, to our typical contribution of Mourvedre (40%) we added our most-ever Grenache (35%) and relatively small portions of Syrah (20%) and Counoise (5%). The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended in June 2015 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in June 2016. In the two-plus years since its bottling, the wine has blossomed, with tremendous richness yet plenty of mineral and structure to maintain balance. It still has many years ahead of it.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose has elements that are fruity, spicy, and meaty: plums, crushed rock, and rosemary-rubbed leg of lamb. The mouth is tangy, showing both Mourvedre's red fruit and the characteristic Grenache acids that keep Rhone blends vibrant: red plum, roasted meat, semi-sweet chocolate, and plenty of ripe tannins. There's nice salty minerality that comes out on the finish, along with a sweet cola note and meat drippings. Lovely. It's should make for good drinking for the next year or two, then likely shut down for a few years before reopening in 2021 or 2022 and drinking well for another two decades or longer.
  • Production: 3800 cases
  • List Price: $65 VINsider Price: $52

Two additional wines joined the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and 2 bottles of Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment:

Fall 2018 White Only

2017 PICPOUL BLANC

  • Production Notes: The 2017 Picpoul Blanc is our tenth bottling of this traditional Southern Rhône white grape, used in Châteauneuf du Pape as a blending component, and best known from the crisp light green wines of the Pinet region in the Languedoc. On its own, it shows the vibrant acids for which it is valued, balanced by a tropical lushness from the generous Paso Robles climate.  We ferment it in a mix of stainless steel and neutral barrels, and use the majority of our production for our Esprit de Tablas Blanc, while reserving a small quantity for this varietal bottling.  The Picpoul lots were selected in March 2018, and bottled in June 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A vibrant nose of grilled pineapple, sea spray, and cream soda. The mouth is really quite luscious, which will be surprising for people who only know Picpoul from France, with flavors of candied lemon, sweet spices, and a chalky limestone mineral character. The finish then turns brighter again, with more fresh pineapple, tangy acidity, and a little pithy bite. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 510 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2017 MARSANNE

  • Production Notes: The productive, consistently high quality 2017 vintage allowed us to produce our first Marsanne since 2014. Known more from the northern Rhone than the area around Chateauneuf du Pape, Marsanne reaches its peak in Hermitage, where it is renowned for making some of the world's most ageworthy white wines. Just our fifth varietal bottling of Marsanne, selected from two particularly compelling lots, blended in April 2018 and bottled in July 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: An inviting nose of chamomile tea, almond blossom, honeydew melon, and jasmine. The palate is soft and round, yet not heavy, with flavors of melon and fresh honey and sea spray, with a little pithy bite. The finish brings out notes of clementine orange and briny minerality. It's so appealing now that I'm guessing a lot of it will get drunk young, but it should evolve in an interesting way for a decade at least.
  • Production: 460 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

Three additional reds joined the En Gobelet and the two Esprit de Tablas vintages in the red-only shipment:

Fall 2018 Red Only

2016 COUNOISE

  • Production Notes: After no varietal Counoise between 2011 and 2013, this is the third consecutive year we've been able to make one. It was fermented in stainless steel, aged in neutral barrels, and bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in February of 2018. Valued as a blending grape in France because of its spiciness, its fresh acidity, and its low alcohol, it's rarely seen on its own. But we love being able to share one, and deploy it much like a Cru Beaujolais: slightly chilled, with charcuterie or as an aperitif.  
  • Tasting Notes: A crystal garnet color that belies its depths of flavor. On the nose, brambly tangy purple fruit predominates, with complicating aromas of meatiness and pepper  spice. A similar balance between sweet and savory is found on the palate: salted strawberry, mineral, elderberry and mint, over a light- to medium-bodied frame with bright cranberry flavors and a garrigue-like spice emerging on the finish. A pretty and intriguing wine, and endlessly flexible with food. Enjoy it any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 500 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2016 GRENACHE

  • Production Notes: Grenache yields recovered to more normal levels after a punishingly scarce 2015 vintage, and the relatively high percentage of Syrah we chose for the 2016 Esprit left us enough top-notch Grenache to produce our first varietal bottling since 2013. We ferment Grenache in a mix of stainless steel and 1500-gallon wooden upright casks, and chose lots for this varietal bottling that emphasized Grenache's freshness and avoided riper lots that tend to show the high alcohol Grenache can be known for. The lots were blended in June 2017, and aged in neutral 1200-gallon oak foudres until bottling in February of 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: A friendly, appealing nose of wild strawberry, cumin, and cherry liqueur. The mouth is medium-bodied, and shows bright cherry fruit deepened by a Chinese five  spice element and kept fresh by chalky minerality and refreshing acidity. That character carries through the finish, with a little dusting of tannins playing with the red fruit and spice notes. This does not seem like a long-aging wine to me, but it's so tasty now that I'm guessing much of it will be drunk soon. If you prefer to wait, I'm sure the wine will age nicely for at least the next six-to-eight years, and likely longer.
  • Production: 925 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2016 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: 2016 is the seventh vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside the Haas family's home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects Robert Haas's career: from a start introducing America to the greatness of Burgundy, through decades focusing on grapes from the Rhone, he's now growing Pinot at home. The grapes were fermented in one-ton microfermenters, half de-stemmed and half with stems for a more savory profile, punched down twice daily by hand. After pressing, the wine was moved into year-old Marcel Cadet 60-gallon barrels, for a hint of oak.  The wine stayed on its lees, stirred occasionally, for 10 months, before being blended and bottled in July 2017.  We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose of cherry cola, black tea, cocoa butter and sweet spice. The mouth is medium-weight, with red cherry and baking chocolate, a little thyme-like herbiness from the stem inclusion, and a lightly tannic finish with sarsaparilla spice and a lingering cherry skin note. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 440 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

The tasting was a great way to hone in on the character of our two most recent vintages.  2017 is luscious and powerful, with the health of the vineyard coming through clearly in the expressiveness of the wines. 2016 is somewhat more old world in character, with depth and complexity to all the flavors and a persistent spiciness. I can't wait to get these wines in our club members' hands and find out what they think.

If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try. This fall's party will be on Sunday, October 7th.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join us while there's still a chance to get this fall shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


The Voice on the Other End of the Phone: Q&A with Monica O'Connor, Direct Sales Manager

By Linnea Frazier

Here at Tablas Creek there are faces you see often, out in the market or when you visit our tasting room. But there are other faces, equally important, who operate behind the scenes. And these people play a huge role in making this vineyard what it has come to be. One of the goals of our interview series with members of our Tablas Creek team is to help you get to know some of the key people who you might not see out in front of the house. And of these, none is more important than ten-year veteran Monica O'Connor, our stunning and creative Direct Sales Manager. You may know her as the primary voice on the other end of the phone when you call our order desk. But in addition to that role, she's a key piece of our great Wine Club team, an accomplished home cook, and still designing and making clothes: a continuation of her earlier career in fashion. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Los Angeles and grew up on the “Miracle Mile”, not far from LACMA. We spent lots of time at the La Brea Tar Pits and the art museum, walking distance from home and school. It was a great time to grow up in LA!

Being originally from Southern California, what drew you up to the Central Coast?

I came from a large family - I have three brothers and two sisters, and our parents would take us on driving vacations during the summer. I remember loving the central coast area as a child when we would come through, and sometimes stay. There was something enchanting about it to me as a child, and that always drew me here.

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How did you transition from a degree in Fashion and Merchandising to the wine industry?

I earned my fashion design degree in 1988 and worked for a time in the industry. I was raising my son at the time and found myself without the time I wanted to spend with him, so when I was offered a position in my family’s printing business, I took it and enjoyed several years working with my father and sister there. I continue to enjoy designing and making clothes though - I have a couple of things in the works now!

When and how did you get into wine?

I became interested in wine through my older brother who has a small collection and has traveled a bit. I would come up to this area to visit, and attended the Paso Robles Wine University in 2004 and 2005, a weekend of learning about wine growing and appreciation. It was fun, but I mostly become interested in the art and science of wine. It was then that I discovered Tablas Creek, as Jason was a speaker in a few of the seminars. I ventured out here and took the tour, and subsequently joined the wine club! Not long after, I took a UC Davis course with Carole Meredith, and ultimately decided to leave LA to make the move here.

What is your role at here at the winery?

I am the Direct Sales Manager, and my role is to broaden, and add value to the relationships with members established in the tasting room and nurtured through the Wine Club.

What’s your biggest challenge as Direct Sales Manager?

My biggest challenge is probably in making it all move like a waltz! We have many members and I want to know them, what they like and expect. Fine-tuning this and communicating within are goals I’m always striving for.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?

I have not traveled extensively but I will say that some of my favorite wines are Champagnes. I also love and am fascinated by Burgundy wines. One of my favorite varietals is Sangiovese. Local wineries I like to visit are Bella Luna in Templeton, and down in Arroyo Grande, Laetitia, for their sparkling wines.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?

If I had to pick just one red and white to drink for the next month? No question, the white would be the 2015 Esprit Blanc. It reminds me a little of the 2007, which I adored. Its depth and high notes are totally balanced and it’s perfectly beautiful. For the red, well the recent heat is really influencing me here - I have to say the Tablas 2016 Counoise. Chilled, friendly with any summer food you can think of - it’s a natural!

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

I love coming up with new food and wine pairings, but I have a special love for Mourvedre. And paired with a simple filet steak rare, with a perfect crust . . . something delicious and unfussy to savor!

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How do you like to spend your days off?

On the weekends I love to run on the beach or hike, design and make clothes and create new recipes. I recently made preserved lemons - so easy, I don’t know why I never made them before! They make everything that calls for lemons better - try it!

What would people be surprised to know about you?

One thing people might be surprised to know about me is that I’m a yoga teacher. I have helped people with yoga therapy, and though I haven’t taught a group class in many years, I love yoga and believe it has far-reaching benefits.

What is one of your favorite memories here?

One of my favorite memories here at Tablas Creek is hearing Bob’s stories. He had many and I heard only a few first-hand, but the way he distilled his experiences, and communicated them was really special. I know I am very fortunate to have had these impromptu interactions with Robert Haas.

How do you define success?

Success to me is living a life that is always creative. Not only working on creative projects, but making every decision and being able to act from my creative center. Those I admire most live this way at every age, and I hope I will too.

 

This is but a scratch at the surface of how incredible this woman is, so we hope you're as in love with her as we are!