This is a first in a two-part series because, well, I just have that many (amazing) Tablas Creek wines to try.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Tablas Creek story, here’s a brief synopsis (Jason, feel free to step in and edit me if I got any of this wrong)…
Tablas Creek is a partnership between two families dedicated to producing Rhône varieties in California. It’s equally owned and operated by the U.S.-based Haas family and the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The late Robert Haas, before helping found Tablas Creek, started his wine business adventure in the 50s and 60s importing wine from Bordeaux and Burgundy and founded his own (still existing) importing company, Vineyard Brands. In the 1960s Haas decided it was high time California be introduced to something new, different. So he went to France’s Rhône valley looking for a producer and ended up in Jacques Perrin’s cellar. This was a time when only a few Rhône producers were estate bottling their wines in the CDP, so this was quite a fortuitous encounter. The two formed both a professional and personal relationship. Haas became the exclusive importer of Château de Beaucastel, but also commandeered Perrin’s two sons to help him spread the word of Rhône wines around the U.S.
At this same time, Haas was also helping build—what have become—big name brands in the Napa Valley and would host the Perrins at these vineyards and wineries whenever he was in California on sales calls. The Perrins recognized that California was, indeed, a place that could create premium wines (big compliment coming from a French producer, especially during this time). But he also noted that in California’s overall Mediterranean climate, no one was producing wines from, well, the Mediterranean.
So as early as the mid-70s the Perrin and Haas families began discussing a project that would bring Rhône grapes to the California grape-growing scene. It took a decade or so to get the resources together, but in 1985, they formed the fifty-fifty family partnership and began the epic search for the right piece of California terroir that could produce quality Rhône varieties.
Anyone even remotely familiar with Tablas Creek knows the end of this story—they end up in Paso Robles, where today the certified organic and Biodynamic estate vineyards is home to the complete Châteauneuf-du-Pape grape variety collection.
Today, I’m sharing three of those varieties: the 2018 Counoise, Grenache, and Mourvédre. Part two will explore three whites.
About the Wine:
100% Counoise from Paso Robles’ Adelaida District
85 Cases Produced
Appearance: pale garnet
Aroma: Medium (+) intensity with aromas of wild strawberries, rhubarb, a floral perfume, dried cranberry, tart cherry, sour red plum, tarragon, and sassafras.
Palate: This is a dry wine with a moderate level of alcohol, high level of acidity, medium (-) tannins, leading to an overall medium body. Flavors are reminiscent of those notes found in the aroma with the addition of black tea, fruit leather, black pepper, and just the slightest hint of charred wood and a flavor of cranberry juice that kind of lingers in the background.
A note here about the tannins: they’re quite subtle, not palate sticking, instead adding to that overall medium body and a good mouthfeel for such an, overall, lighter style of wine.
The finish was just shy of long, ending at a medium (+) length.
Conclusion: Based on WSET criteria, I determined the Tablas Creek 2018 Counoise to be a very good wine. I loved the balance between the high level of acidity that brought forward all those fresher fruit flavors, contrasted against those secondary and even tertiary notes I got on the palate (fruit leather, smoke/toasty wood, black pepper and tea). With those lighter tannins, the wine had great structure as well as textural intrigue, but kept the overall body of the wine moderate—and, thus, was quite an easy drinker. I think this wine could age, but, for me, the joy in this wine is in those fresh fruit aromatics that are so prominent on the nose from start to finish. So, I say, drink now—no need to cellar.
Food Pairing: Paired perfectly with my grilled salmon salad.
About the Wine:
100% Grenache from Paso Robles’ Adelaida District
1100 Cases Produced
Appearance: pale to medium garnet, with just a slightly stronger orange-tint to the perimeter than the Counoise (above)
Aroma: Medium (+) intensity with aromas of strawberry, chocolate, plump red cherry, raspberry, smoke/toast—akin to a tobacco-like sweetness, paprika, a hint of black pepper, and a dry, dusty earthiness.
Palate: This is a dry wine with a high (in terms of WSET) level of alcohol, high acidity, and high tannins, leading to an overall medium (+) body. The flavors are pronounced and include tart cherry, strawberry, red plum, a bit of kirsch, and elevated tobacco-like note, with that black pepper lingering in the back of the throat. The whole palate slowly fades through ending with a lingering finish comprising of those fresher fruit notes. If you can’t tell from that last note, the finish is long.
Conclusion: Based on WSET criteria, I determined the Tablas Creek 2018 Grenache to be of outstanding quality. Yes, the tannins are quite elevated, but that strong dose of acidity cuts right through it, keeps those fresher fruits in the game. And, a note about those tannins, they are quite plush, especially if you let the wine open up a bit or, do as I did, and drink this wine through the course of many days—something I like to do with wines with clear aging potential to…get a hint of things to come…if you will. Though WSET calls wine above 14% ABV “high alcohol,” I also want to note that this wine is by no means “hot” or overly alcoholic. Indeed, this level of alcohol adds just enough of that glycerin-like smoothness to lend to that medium (+) body and the overall smooth mouthfeel (again once those tannins smooth out).
Lastly, the finish—it’s amazing. Just how subtly all those firmer, heartier flavors and even textures slowly disintegrate and you’re left with a bouquet of fresh fruit flavors lingering in the back of the palate as well as around the tongue.
Given the structure of the wine as well as the flavor profile (and given my little “aging experiment”), I say you can (obviously) enjoy this wine now, but invest in a couple of bottles and see how it develops over the next 3, 5, 7 years.
Food Pairing: Paired perfectly with my seared duck breast and rice pilaf.
About the Wine:
100% Mourvédre from Paso Robles’ Adelaida District
640 Cases Produced
Appearance: Medium purple
Aroma: Pronounced intensity with aromas of chocolate, forest floor, prune, black cherry, mushroom, black plum, blueberry, blackberry compote.
Palate: This is a dry wine with moderate alcohol, high acidity, medium tannins, and and overall medium (+) body. The flavors are, like the nose, pronounced and mimic many of the notes mentioned in the aromas. The chocolate note, which was immediate on the nose, actually hangs out in the back of the palate, adding a sense of luxuriousness throughout the tasting. There’s an added note of smoke and toast. And while the fruit aromas on the nose speak of darker, dried, and even cooked fruits, here in the mouth, those fruits are actually fresher/less ripe in nature.
The finish is long, decadent with chocolate, smoke, forest floor, and lastly that mushroom (good) funk just lingering on.
Conclusion: Based on WSET criteria, I determined the Tablas Creek 2018 Mourvédre to be of outstanding quality. Again, it’s that prominent acidity that keeps this wine fresh on the palate in perfect complementary contrast (yes oxymoron) with those darker, earthier notes. The moderate level of alcohol along with the moderate level of tannins adds body, structure, and textural intrigue. There’s balance between primary, secondary, and tertiary flavors—and those tertiary flavors, now lingering in the background and toward the finish all hint at the obvious ageability of this wine.
Again, I enjoyed this bottle over the course of a week and was able to see how it can develop over time. So, like the Grenache, one can enjoy this wine now for sure, but this, too, is a wine to invest in an extra bottle (or two or three) to cellar and enjoy later.
Food Pairing: I like pairing Mourvédre with funky things, so this guy went with a homemade pizza chocked full of all kinds of mushrooms.
More Info: I received these wines as samples. (Cheers Jason and the whole Tablas crew!) For more information about Tablas Creek, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Tablas Creek Vineyard website.
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