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. Yesterday I sat down with Winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection.
We base each year's 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 the Esprits. In our classic (mixed) shipment we have two varietal wines, one red and one white, both of which I love, and two blends: the newest (and in my opinion, best-ever) vintage of our "neighborhood" white, the Patelin de Tablas Blanc, and our small-production En Gobelet blend, selected entirely from our head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard blocks. We think it's one of the most compelling classic shipments we've ever put together, and the additional wines that will go into the red wine and white wine selections are super cool as well. I'm excited to get them in our members' hands soon.
The classic shipment includes six different wines:
2021 PATELIN DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas Blanc is our white Rhone-style blend sourced from five great neighboring Rhone vineyards: Derby, Fralich, Castoro, Pomar Junction, and Creston Ridge, with a 7% addition of Tablas Creek fruit. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (54%), with Viognier (29%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, Marsanne (9%) and Roussanne (7%) adding minerality and texture, and for the first time, a little Bourboulenc (1%) for its pithy tropicality. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled in screwcap in May 2022 to preserve its freshness.
- Tasting Notes: A lovely Rhone-like nose of peach pit, chalky minerality, and sweet sarsaparilla spice. On the palate, ripe pear and fresh apricot, a pronounced limestone-like minerality, and lovely acids that bring out Grenache Blanc's signature pithy bite on the long, tropical finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 2900 cases
- List Price: $28 VINsider Price: $22.40
2021 GRENACHE BLANC
- Production Notes: The chilly, dry 2020-21 winter produced punishingly low yields for some of our early-sprouting grapes, and Grenache Blanc was no exception, with the harvest down nearly 50%. That meant that we produced our smallest quantity of our 100% Grenache Blanc in more than a decade. But the combination of the low crop levels and the ideal 2021 growing season gave us Grenache Blanc with unusual concentration and rich texture. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose mostly lots fermented in stainless steel (for energy), with a smaller addition from foudre (for roundness). The lots were blended in May 2022 and bottled under screwcap the next month.
- Tasting Notes: An appealing nose of heirloom red apples and sweet spices. On the palate, on point between brighter and lusher elements: mouth-filling with flavors of fresh apple cider and citrus blossom, sea spray minerality and a hint of butterscotch. Vibrant acids keep order, and lead to a long, pithy finish with a pronounced saline mineral note. Drink now and over the next few years.
- Production: 750 cases.
- List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28
2020 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC
- Production Notes: The challenges of the 2020 vintages included drought, heat, and pandemic, although we were spared the brunt of the state's terrible fires, which stayed well to our north. But Roussanne, at least, thrived, though its yields suffered as the hot harvest season dragged on. In the end, it was down 25% even as our overall yields were up 7%. Roussanne's scarcity, along with its relatively low acids, constrained us a bit in our blending, opening the door for us to use our highest percentage of complementary grapes since our initial Esprit Blanc in 2001. The final blend included 46% Roussanne, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages for power and density, 28% Grenache Blanc for texture and pithy bite, and 14% Picpoul for tropical intensity and bright acids. Rounding out the blend were three of our new white Rhone grapes: 5% Bourboulenc (appearing in Esprit Blanc for the first time) for limestoney, citrusy lift, 4% Clairette Blanche for its clean fruitiness and chalky minerality, and 3% Picardan for a little burst of acid, further emphasizing the mineral notes. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in May 2021 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2021. We've been letting it deepen in bottle ever since.
- Tasting Notes: An immediately appealing nose of poached pear and baked quince, vanilla custard and nutmeg spice. On the palate, lovely and long, with Roussanne-driven flavors of beeswax and preserved lemon, rounded out by just a hint of sweet oak. Fresh and lifted, but long and textured. A charming Esprit Blanc that will be hard to resist young but which should also do beautifully with time in the cellar. Drink over the next two decades.
- Production: 1880 cases
- List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40
- Production Notes: Grenache thrived despite the challenges of the 2020 vintage, with yields up 45% and a lovely spine of tannic bite deepening the juicy appeal that we expect every year from this famously fruity grape. 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 2021 and aged in neutral oak until its bottling in February 2022.
- Tasting Notes: A lifted nose of minty, herby wild strawberry over deeper notes of teriyaki and black raspberries. On the palate, redcurrant and red licorice flavors, with tannins like fresh cherry skin providing counterpoint. The long finish shows red fruit, sweet spice, and firm tannic grip. Don't be thrown by the wine's relatively pale color; it packs a ton of flavor. Drink soon to enjoy the crunchy fruit character, or hold for a decade or more for a smoother experience.
- Production: 1122 cases
- List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32
2020 EN GOBELET
- Production Notes: Our thirteenth 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 2020 the wine shows plenty of complexity. We chose a blend of 37% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 22% Syrah, 11% Counoise, and 5% Tannat, with the higher-than-normal percentages of Syrah and Tannat combining to give dark spice and firm tannins in this warm, luscious year. The wine was blended in June of 2021, aged in foudre, and bottled in April 2022.
- Tasting Notes: A lovely deep red color, darker than many previous years. On the nose, spicy and savory, with notes of chaparral and star anise over wild grapes and brambly black fruit. On the palate, flavors of dark chocolate-covered cherries, juniper spice, and ripe fresh figs. A lovely tannic richness emphasizes salty minerality on the long finish. Deep, complex, and built for the long term. Decant this if you're drinking it now, or wait and drink any time over the next two decades.
- Production: 906 cases
- List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44
2020 ESPRIT DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: As always, the Esprit is based on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (40%). 30% Grenache (for sweet spice and bright acids), 21% Syrah (for dark color and savory, tannic richness), and 5% Counoise (for brambly spice and freshness) were in line with most recent years, but in this relatively luscious vintage we found a place for two of our newest grapes for the first time: 3% Vaccarese, for black fruit and minerality, and 1% Cinsaut, for sweet spice and herby wildness. This blend produced something both luscious and weightless, complex and yet pure. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2021 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2022.
- Tasting Notes: A pretty nose that speaks clearly of Mourvedre in its elderberry and blackcurrant fruit and its eucalyptus and soy marinade umami notes. On the palate, black cherry and musky mulberry fruit, new leather, and a loamy richness that suggests a lovely meaty note will develop with time. The firm but ripe tannins maintain order and lead to a long, spicy finish. This is an Esprit that will drink well young, but don't let this trick you into thinking it won't have the stuffing to age. Enjoy any time in the next 20-25 years.
- Production: 3480 cases
- List Price: $65 VINsider Price: $52
Two additional wines joined the Patelin de Tablas Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment (we doubled up the Esprit Blanc):
- Production Notes: Our third-ever bottling of Bourboulenc, from our third-ever harvest of this relatively obscure Rhone white grape. Bourboulenc is known in France to make wines with fresh fruit aromatics and a distinctive nutty character, with fairly good acids and relatively low alcohol. In just a few years, it's become a favorite here, making it into the Esprit Blanc the last two years. Still, this 209-case varietal bottling is its primary showcase, and represents about 75% of our total harvest. It was blended in May 2022 and bottled in June.
- Tasting Notes: A nose of sea spray, mandarin, and citrus blossom. On the palate, rich but bright like lemon curd, with additional notes of vanilla shortbread and chalky minerals. Clean and long on the palate, with a lingering finish of preserved lemon and a verbena-like green herb character. Unique and delicious. Our experience aging Bourboulenc is limited, but we plan to drink ours over the next few years.
- Production: 209 cases
- List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28
2019 PETIT MANSENG
- Production Notes: Our tenth bottling of this traditional grape from southwest France, Petit Manseng is best known from the appellation of Jurançon, where it has made admired sweet wines for centuries that you rarely hear about in America. Petit Manseng achieves sufficient concentration and sugar content -- and maintains its acids sufficiently -- to make naturally sweet, balanced wines without botrytis. Harvested at 29.4° Brix and a pH of 3.36, we fermented it in barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 90 grams/liter of sugar left. This is a little sweeter than most of our recent Petit Manseng vintages, but acids are high enough that it shows lovely lift to balance the sweetness. The wine was aged on its lees in barrel and bottled in June 2020.
- Tasting Notes: Medium gold. An exotic nose of honey, citrus leaf, and grilled pineapple. In the mouth, the wine begins lushly sweet, like candied orange peel, then a notes of green shiso-like herbiness, followed by a pithy bite, and finally the acids come out and restore order. Sweet but light on its feet, with a spicy pink peppercorn note coming out on the finish. A little sweeter and more intense than but reminiscent of a demi-sec Vouvray, for anyone with that as a reference point. Would be amazing, we thought, with a salty cheese or lemon olive oil cake or prosciutto and melon. Drink now or age for up to another decade for a nuttier character.
- Production: 190 cases
- List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40
Two additional reds joined the Grenache, En Gobelet and two bottles of the Esprit de Tablas in the red-only shipment:
2020 FULL CIRCLE
- Production Notes: The eleventh 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, one of his last acts was to plant Pinot at his home and oversee our first few vintages. 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 a mix of one-year-old and two-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 2021. We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
- Tasting Notes: An immediately recognizable Pinot Noir nose of cola, cherry skin, and sweet spice. The palate is juicy, vibrant, and salty, with red fruit deepened by a little smoky oak. The experience brightens back up on the finish, highlighted by bright acids, wild herbs, and sweet mulling spices. Drink now and over the next decade.
- Production: 367 cases
- List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36
2017 PATELIN DE TABLAS
- Production Notes: Most of our Patelin de Tablas, blended from a selection of local vineyards planted to our clones, is sold in restaurants and wine shops and mostly consumed in the first few years. But in recent years, when we have a vintage we love, we've started stashing a modest quantity in our library to show how it can age. And the blockbuster 2017 vintage produced a Patelin de Tablas worthy of that aging, and more. The blend of 48% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 16% Mourvedre, and 4% Counoise tastes like it has one foot in the old world and one in the new, as well as one foot in the northern Rhone and one in the south. It was blended in May of 2018 and bottled in August of that same year. In the intervening four years, it's developed a lovely meatiness to complement the black fruit and spice it has had since the beginning.
- Tasting Notes: A meaty nose of pancetta, baker's chocolate, and brambly blackberry. On the palate, juicy black fruit with a salted brown butter richness and a sweet tobacco herbiness. The long finish, with notes of iron and blackberry, still shows the wine's essential youthfulness, with its age coming out in that recurring pancetta note. We recommend you decant this (and any screwcapped red) and enjoy it any time in the next six-to-eight years.
- Production: 3588 cases
- Library Price: $38 VINsider Price: $30.40
The tasting was a great way to hone in on the character of our two most recent vintages. 2020 is a vintage that is most noteworthy for its lush fruit, though it has the tannic structure and acids to stand up to it. 2021 is a blockbuster, whose low yields produced wines with excellent concentration and great vibrancy. They are both worthy successors to the classic 2019s, and we can't wait to find out what our members think.
If you're a wine club member, we've got a range of options for you to try these wines. We are planning to host a live in-person pickup party on Sunday, October 16th. Neil and I will be hosting another virtual pickup party the evening of Friday, October 7th. And we'll again be offering club members who visit the opportunity to choose the shipment wines as their tasting flight between mid-September and early-October. Consider this a "save the date"; we will be putting details on all this on our VINsider News & Updates page and announcing them via email soon.
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