Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Visit to Tablas Creek

I spent the weekend in Morro Bay, California and based on multiple online recommendations visited Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles for a tour and tasting. It was a beautiful day, reaching nearly 70 degrees in mid-afternoon and the Paso Robles area was crowded. Tablas Creek Vineyard is on the west side of the Paso Robles AVA and produces acclaimed Rhône blends and single varietal wines. The vineyard is a joint venture between Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands, and the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel. These business partners, and friends, knew that California could provide a great climate to produce their Châteauneuf-du-Pape style wines here in the New World, and chose this limestone filled 120 acre site in 1989.

The tour was educational for me, a newbie to all of this. The guide spoke about how all of the vines were imported from the Château de Beaucastel property, and held in quarantine for 3 years. They then grafted them on to root stock and have planted 100% of their grapes on these imported vines. For several years they even set up a full scale operation selling these vines commercially, but have since outsourced that operation to Novavine, a grape propogation and vine retailer in Sonoma.


The vineyard, even in winter, was very peaceful and beautiful. The work this time of year is primarily pruning and removing the dead vines. We visited the vineyards, grafting greenhouses, crush pad, and barrel rooms where we did our tasting. Tablas Creek has a strong philosophical bent towards their wine production; they set out to grow the grapes and let the grapes speak for themselves. They choose a very rocky, limestoney location to try and emulate the struggle that they believe adds characters to their wines in France. They dry farm as much as possible and are a Certified Organic location. During fermentation they do not innoculate with any outside strains of yeast and let the wine take as long as it takes to come to the desired alcohol levels. They also age the juice from various microclimates within the vineyard separately and are meticulous about their blending process when it comes time. I highly recommend taking the time to go on the tour and learn about their philosophy and winemaking if you visit Tablas Creek. The experience really set the stage for the tasting with some insight and background that made the tasting that much more fun. It did not in anyway come across as a sales pitch. It really felt like a representation of how this is a venture that set out with a single vision and has pursued that vision with a high level of success due directly to their determination and unwavering focus.

After the tour we tasted our way through 8 of their wines. First up was the Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2008. This wine is 42% Viognier, 26% Rousanne, 21% Marsanne, and 11% Grenache Blanc. The wine has 13.5% abv, a nose of peach and shortbread biscuit, and has great white peach and almond flavors. The wine is wonderfully balanced and feels very soft in the mouth. It has a short but crisp finish and would make a great hot day sipper. This wine gets a 4 and at $25 I would certainly buy this as a treat for a summer gathering with friends.

Next, the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2007. This is their signature white, with 68% Rousanne, 22% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Picpoul Blanc. This wine had more of a rose and apple nose to it, was also 13.5% abv, and from the Rousanne had a honey, nutty, more medium body on the palette. The wines weight almost coated the mouth, and while I would say it was not a fruity wine, more floral, it finished nicely and is obviously a quality white wine. I liked the Cotes de Tablas Blanc better however, and I would give this wine a 3.5. At $40 I personally would say this wine is not a great value.

The Rosé 2008 is 58% Mourvèdre, 32% Grenache Noir, and 10% Counoise. The nose is wonderfully full of red raspberry, pink lemonade, and even some darker smells of currant. The wine starts with a very fresh watermelon taste, and has some greener flavors of apple towards the middle. This wine has a longer finish than their whites, and was a pleasure to taste. I would give this wine a 3.5 but at $27 find it to be a mid-value and think there are less expensive Rosés that I personally will spend my money on.

The Côtes de Tablas 2008 is Tablas red table wine blend, at 42% Grenache Noir, 21% Syrah, 25% Counoise, and 17% Mourvèdre. This wine, at 14.5% abv had a big nose of red jam fruit and baking spices, maybe some nutmeg. The taste also had some red fruits, a slight black pepper. The wine was of medium weight, fairly simple but tasty. There was a slight alcohol hit on the finish. I would also give this wine a 3.5 and for $25 I would splurge on this bottle for a nice meal of pork chops or veal.

Next were the flagship wines for Tablas, done in a small vertical, the 2006 and 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel. In 2006 the wine was 45% Mourvèdre, 28% Grenache Noir, 22% Syrah, and 5% Counoise. This wine was recently listed in Wine Spectators Top 100 wines of 2009. It has a very bright red fruity nose, with honey and floral notes to it. The wine has a darker jammy prune taste, with a little stone and while the tannins are pretty drying in this wine it seems supremely balanced with a long finish. This wine will instantly show you what to look for in a wine that can be cellared and will improve over the long term. The 2007 is very similar with
44% Mourvèdre, 29% Grenache Noir, 21% Syrah, and 6% Counoise. This wine has a similar nose and taste but has a little bit more of a musty, earthy, almost barnyard component to it. The 2007 is heavier in the mouth and gives me a bit of red apple skins on the mid-palette. Both of these wines are retailing from the winery at $50. The 2007 got a 95-97 from Robert Parker and I'm sure this is part of the justification for the high price. However, they were lovely wines and I would rate them both at a 4.5. Again the value here is really a personal choice. This is a wine that I would buy and cellar for a very special occassion, and I don't think you are going to find a higher quality wine in Paso Robles (I say with slight reservation as I am nowhere near tasting my way through the region).

Because it was a passport weekend we also tasted the Bergeron 2008 which is a 100% Roussanne wine. This wine had a smaller nose of honeysuckle, and a refreshing honey and cantaloupe flavor. This was a very different white wine for me, and not my favorite. I would personally give it a 3 as it seemed uninspired in contrast to Tablas other wines, and at $24.30 I would not personally even consider buying the bottle. And finally was the Tannat 2007. This is the only non-Rhône varietal grape that Tablas bottles, and at 85% Tannat, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon it is a ripper. It has a wonderful nose of raisins, and a big mouth full of leather, stewed plums, and mouth puckering tannins. The finish is long and full and I think this wine will drink for at least 15 years, but really is suprisingly approachable now. I loved this wine. It may have been my favorite of the day, and I would give it a 4.5 At $31.50 I did buy this wine, again for a special occassion.

Wow, that was a long one but I have to commend Tablas Creek as a very worthwhile visit and example of what I feel a winery and tasting experience should be. They have a great website from where you can purchase these wines (and while there check out their great blog). Thanks also to my guide and pourer Tedde who took all the time in the world with me, and made the experience very relaxed.

4 comments:

  1. nice blog. What a wonderful post, beautifully written. It captures these wines so well. Enjoyed it very much.

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  2. Thanks Hampers. Tablas Creek certainly has cemented respect from me.

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  3. Nice review of the current Tables Creek offerings. My person favorite is the Tables Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge 2006. While the 06 didn't show as well as the 07 (according to Parkers of the world), it's still a winner and surpasses the 07 in my opinion.

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  4. Yes Jonathan, that sums up my current feelings towards the 'big guys' and their 100 point rating systems. It seems to me they are valuable for pointing us towards quality, but the nuance between a 92 and a 97 is completely lost in personal preference. I liked the '07 better because I got a bit more of the musty, earthy flavors but many people around me preferred the '06.

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