Monthly Archives: April 2013

Tablas Creek Winery

 

There are many reasons to like the Tablas Creek Winery other than the high quality of the wines they produce. As a patriarch that introduced Rhone varietals to the region, they continue to lead with sustainable farming and viticulture resulting in an acclaimed palate of wines and a commitment to the community.

When east coast wine importer Robert Haas combined a long-time friendship with the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel and a desire to move west to produce Rhone varietals, he eventually discovered a 120-acre site in the hills west of Paso Robles with the same terroir as Chateaunef-du-Pape, in the heart of the Rhone Valley.  A few years prior, the two families

Tablas Creek Winery

Tablas Creek Winery

formed a partnership and began the arduous task of importing traditional Rhone vines of mourvedre, syrah, grenache, quarantined while they passed multi-year testing by the USDA.

Those familiar with this area realize that as growing season days can be hot, the nights can be significantly cooler and, speaking to local winemakers, one understands their commitment to the rugged, limestone-laden vineyards.  This is the terroir of the Rhone.

Easy to say now, but this partnership took on the risk and the challenge to pioneer the finest region for Rhone varietals anywhere outside of France and the second Tablas Creek generation intends to search for the perfect blend through organic, biodynamic farming and the finest stock they can obtain.  Tablas Creek obtained organic certification for their 120-acre estate vineyard in 2003, began farming 20 acres Biodynamically in 2010 and is progressively converting the entire operation that way.

Jason Haas

Jason Haas

Last month I sat down with Jason Haas, son of the founder, whose first summer job was working for Chateau de Beacastel in France.  By comparison, mine was at IHOP.  These early experiences led to an advanced degree from Cornell, a management stint with a tech company and, eventually, back to the vineyards where he is involved in many facets of the Tablas Creek Winery operation.

Looking quite different since my last visit, the winery site now has a new, contemporary tasting room facility with outdoor porch, solar panels, alpacas and sheep surrounded by those rugged, limestone-laden vineyards.

Tablas Creek blends basically fit into three brands, Espirit de Beaucastel, Cotes de Tablas and Patelin de Tablas, each with a red and white, as well as other Rose’, single varietals and some elite, small productions blends.  Among many impressive wines, it was reviews of the Espirit de Beaucastel in various periodicals that peaked my interest, including numerous Top 100 lists.

2010 Tablas Creek "Espirit de Beaucastel"

2010 Tablas Creek “Espirit de Beaucastel”

The mourvedre-based Espirit de Beaucastel 2010 ($55) is Tablas Creek’s, highly praised, flagship wine, consistently reviewed in the mid-90 point range.  In addition to the richness, mourvedre, in this vintage, contributes the meaty, savory flavors while fruit is expressively delivered by Grenache and syrah, comprising half of the blend, along with a touch of counoise to tame the syrah, a traditional Rhone role.

Both mourvedre and counoise grapes are native to Spain and were imported to the Chateaunef-du-Pape region in the 12th Century, when the papacy was in Avignon.  The Espirit de Beaucastel 2010 from Paso Robles will be a pleasant introduction to anyone seeking to discover why Rhone blends have been coveted for centuries.

While flavors of honey are indicative to roussanne-based white blends, I found a nice minerality on the nose through the long finish with the 2010 Espirit de Beaucastel Blanc ($40), directly attributed to the limestone in the vineyard soils.  Once the roussanne/grenache blanc blend opened up in the glass, the tropical and orchard fruits emerged on the nose and palate. The Grilled Scallops with Grilled Apples and Honey Drizzle, a recipe found on the Tablas Creek Winery website, served as a perfect pair with my bottle.

In the shadow of the Espirit de Beaucastel for years, the

Cotes de Tablas 2009 shared the spotlight when named to the Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2011.  As we walked through the 120-acre certified organic vineyard on a cold morning last month, Jason pointed out a slight amount of late season frost damage to the new, delicate leaves. A late-season frost in 2011 ultimately resulted in lower yield and,

2011 Cote de Tablas

2011 Cote de Tablas

according to staff, produced the Grenache dominant Cotes de Tablas 2011 ($30), a wine that rivals the 2009 vintage in richness and the expression of fruit and spice. With over 75% of the blend comprised from Grenache (49%) and syrah (28%), the flavors of deeply ripened fruit and sweet spice were present when my first glass opened up.  This wine reminds me why I prefer Grenache-dominant blends.

Nearly equal parts viognier. Grenache blanc, roussanne and marsanne, Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2011 ($27) benefits from all grapes with a floral nose, rich orchard fruit flavors and a nice minerality throughout, courtesy of the latter two grapes.  Fermentation in stainless steel tanks adds crispness to its complexity.

The winery’s new Patelin de Tablas series surfaced in 2010 with the goal to produce high-quality, value-priced wines based from syrah and Grenache blanc by sourcing some grapes from as many as 15 other local vineyards.  Priced at $20 each, the 2011 Patelin de Tablas ($20) and 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc ($20) are both nicely structured, fruit forward wines that have been recognized through the “bang for your buck” they deliver.

2012 Tablas Creek "Dianthus" Rose'

2012 Tablas Creek “Dianthus” Rose’

Not respected for years, the age of new, complex rose’ is well upon us.  The mourvedre-grenache-counoise blend, 2012 Dianthus Rose’ ($27) has a wonderfully complex nose but the vibrant flavors of wild berries, pomegranate and citrus are extraordinary, awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator.

The remainder of the Tablas Creek palate includes special varietal specific wines and low production blends that are both rare and eminent including 2011 Petit Manseng ($35), 2011 Picpoul Blanc ($27), 2010 Counoise ($35) and a premier blend, the

2010 Tablas Creek Petit Manseng

2010 Tablas Creek Petit Manseng

2010 Panoplie ($95) featuring the best, hand selected mourvedre, Grenache and syrah aged together in one 1,200-gallon oak cask to produce 600 cases.  They are all astounding wines, but rarely available to those outside of their Vinsider Wine Club

members who have committed to in-depth exploration

The single varietal that we recently tasted was the 2010 Tannat, a grape predominate in the Pyrenees Mountains of Basque country that is also used with Bordeaux blenders like cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

2010 Tablas Creek Tannat

2010 Tablas Creek Tannat

A carnivore’s delight, the 2010 Tannat ($36), at first glance looks deep and dark, like it belongs in a large glass next to your favorite steak.  Expect some tannins, anticipate the full berry flavors, but focus on those earthy, smoked nuances that balances and give identity to the wine.  My next bottle will be given a year to evolve.

The Paso Rhone Rangers offer a great story, bringing old World wines from southern France literally to our doorstep.  There in the beginning, leading for the future, Tablas Creek Winery is continuously striving to achieve success by doing it the right way.

Located deep into the Westside foothills on Adelaida Road, the tasting room is open from 10am-5pm daily and should definitely be a scheduled stop on your next journey to the Paso Robles region.

Tablas Creek Tasting Room on Adelaida Road

Tablas Creek Tasting Room on Adelaida Road

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Collecting Wine And Why

 

Establishing a wine collection is far more than selecting some great bottles from an afternoon tasting but certainly does not have need of the time, money and research to acquire rare vintages. It requires some education of both the mind and palate because beyond the labels, specific varietals and ratings, the crescendo of wine is all about taste and the color, aroma and texture that precede it.

Taste is always upfront in my pursuit of wines, searching for the perfect balance in fruit, spice and earthy flavors. However, collecting is usually constrained by budget and many collectors agree, “Once you’ve gone Burgundy, you can’t go back.” As great as Burgundian wines are, collecting the “grand cru” would, inevitably, lead to bankruptcy for most of us. Fortunately, wines from our local California neighborhood have the quality and accessibility to satiate a collector’s appetite.

The main factor surrounding my collection is that I am an occasional wine drinker. My wife, declaring war on sugar some 15 year ago, no longer takes pleasure in wine and I am not going to open a nice bottle for one glass.  The result is a small collection, quality over quantity that can be shared with others, the best way to enjoy the attributes of wine.

2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Sharing is wonderful, but the goals of any cellar reflect the individual tastes and diverse varietals enjoyed by the collector.  Surprises and opportunities aside, the following guides the search for wine within my budget.

#1:  Explore the finest pinot noir from California and

Oregon

With few exceptions, the world’s optimum pinot noir is produced in Burgundy France, Oregon and California.  The core of my pinot noir comes from three California producers, Kosta Browne Winery, Williams Selyem Winery from Sonoma County and Seasmoke Cellars from the Santa Rita Hills in northern Santa Barbara County. There are enough diverse releases from specific vineyards and terroir among the three to provide for an impressive array of pinot noir. Among my Kosta Browne pinot’s, the 2009 Sonoma Coast, 2008 Russian River Valley and the 2007 Sonoma Coast were all among top ten wines on Wine Spectator magazines annual list, the 2009 named “2011 Wine of the Year.”

2009 Seasmoke "Ten" Pinot Noir

2009 Seasmoke “Ten” Pinot Noir

My routine is to “lay down” the new vintages for a year, making the older ones available for consumption.  My 2009 Seasmoke “Ten” Pinot Noir is now a prized bottle in the “drink/hold” status waiting a special occasion while the 2010 and 2011 vintages can rest.  It takes patience to receive an allocation of these great wines, but the rewards to your palate are worth it.

Other pinot noir wines are discovered while tasting in other regions, none better than the Willamette Valley of Oregon. In 2012, I acquired two bottles of 2010
Bergstrom Wines “De Lanciotti Vineyard” Pinot Noir
which are drinkable 2012-2022. While one bottle will rest longer, the other, consistent with my goals, is earmarked to celebrate my son’s completion of his MBA in June. In researching ongoing reviews of Oregon pinot noir, I follow the vintages of wineries such as Argyle, Ponzi, Evening Land, Penner-Ash, Archery Summit and others that are all capable of producing memorable

Bergstrom "De Lancelotti Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2010

Bergstrom “De Lancelotti Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2010

wines.

#2:  White wines with food.

Although there are an abundance of fine white wines to choose from, chardonnay adds to food like no other varietal and, given that I no longer eat meat, it will receive expanded shelf space in my cellar.  Vintage to vintage, my chardonnay assortment includes bottles of Foley Estate “Barrel Select” Chardonnay, Mt. Eden Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains and, most recently, Seasmoke “Grand Cru” Chardonnay, a superb first vintage from the venerated producer of Santa Rita Hills pinot noir.

Violating my own rule of diversity, these wines are very similar in style and share my highest standard in color, bouquet, oak, flavor, texture and finish. I recently shared my only bottle of the new Seasmoke “Grand Cru” with friends and it immediately became the topic of discussion for the next several

Foley Estate "Barrel Select" Chardonnay

Foley Estate “Barrel Select” Chardonnay

minutes, including the question, “How do we obtain some of this?”  Their answer was revealed, days later, when my annual allocation letter granted me permission to purchase four bottles in 2013. As good as the Seasmoke is, the French “Grand Cru” designation is meaningless in the US.

Aside from these wines, I am always looking for a good bargain on an authentic “Grand Cru” from Burgundy where chardonnay is the only white grape permitted to be grown.

2005 Vincent Girardin Clos Vougeot Grand Cru Vielles Vignes

2005 Vincent Girardin Clos Vougeot Grand Cru Vielles Vignes

Burgundian white wines are elegant and fruit-forward, distinguishing themselves with a soft minerality on the finish.  My current prized bottle is a 2005 Vincent Girardin Clos Vougeot Grand Cru Vielles Vignes.  A brief review on reading French labels tells us this wine comes from grapes within a walled-in (clos) vineyard in the village of Vougeot, they are old vines (vielles vignes) and Vincent Girardin produces it.  Actually, the vineyard, at 125 acres, is a very large “clos” vineyard, the only one in the village.

Other “pairing” white wines that consistently have shelf space in my compilation are the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, the Fiddlehead “Goosebury” Sauvignon Blanc and well-reviewed sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, when nice, pungent flavors of lemongrass are needed to enhance a dish like well-prepared, rare hamachi.

#3: Rhone Blends and Value Cabernet Sauvignon

The great blends of France’s Rhone Valley, featuring Grenache, syrah, mourvedre and other varietals are being replicated by California “Rhone Rangers,” free to add their own creative twist to centuries of tradition. New and established wineries, such as Tablas Creek Vineyard, Linne Calodo Cellars and Terry Hoage Vineyards

from the Paso Robles region offer great Rhone blends to choose from. An annual favorite and a consistent reflection of the local terroir is the Adelaida Cellars “Version” Rhone

Adelaida "Version" Red  Rhone Blend

Adelaida “Version” Red
Rhone Blend

Blend, legendary to the area.

 

Not being the main varietal focus of my collection, budgeting for the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is, with few exceptions, not an option. I enjoy exploring value-priced Cabernet from other regions.  The best example of stand-alone great flavor for under $35 is the Eberle Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles’ eastside.  Of course, the pricier Eberle Reserve Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a good collectible to age for a special occasion.  With 10-15 cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals, vintages 2002-2006, in my cellar, acquiring new ones before enjoying current inventory is a low priority.

Eberle Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled

Eberle Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled

#4:  Discoveries

Allowing flexibility in my collection for special wines that I come across at tasting events, classes, winery tours etc. is a must.  Generally, these wines fill in varietals like merlot, petite sirah, syrah, zinfandel, riesling and others that comprise one-third of my collection.

 

Let me end with a story that has bought laughter and tears for two decades.  Several years ago, our family hosted an exchange student from Germany; just about the time my interest in wine in its adolescence.  The next year, he returned as our guest and presented me, from his parents collection, with two bottles of 1990 Chateau Latour and a 1990 Chateau Margaux.  I knew they

1990 Grand Vin de Chateau Latour

1990 Grand Vin de Chateau Latour

were nice French wines, not realizing that these Bordeaux giants are, vintage to vintage, arguably the world’s finest wines.  The 1990 Chateau Latour was Wine Spectator’s “1993 Wine of the Year” with a 100- point rating.  To give some perspective of the value of these wines, the recently released 2009 vintage sells in the range of $1500 per bottle. We managed to drink them all, my only memory is sharing the Chateau Margaux with my wife on our anniversary at the old Downtown Bistro on Lancaster Blvd, not completely understanding its complexity, but agreeing it was “liquid velvet” to our palates. The irony of the tale is that, knowing what I know today, I would be reluctant to ever open them, facing the reality of no longer having two of the world’s great wines.  Ultimately, wine collections are to enjoy with others, not displayed on a shelf.