Monday, December 20, 2010

Tasting Tablas Creek at East Beach Wine

I've been a fan of Tablas Creek since visiting their tasting room almost two years ago. From both a business and stylistic perspective, I love their approach. They've had a long-term model when it comes to building the brand. I've heard their plan was to become profitable in 15 years. Meanwhile, their winery, portfolio and prices seem to have grown incrementally, but modestly over time. This is a refreshing approach when so many producers seem to expect instant gratification despite huge overheads. Tablas Creek has earned its price points over time, not just from a big score in one vintage or another.

The wines seem to display California sunshine and a relatively arid climate, but within a classically structured (i.e. French) style. They are not all fruit, and they are not all earth, either. For me their top wines represent the best of what California producers can do. They are rich, full bodied and flavorful, yet complex, structured and ageworthy. My only criticism is that the Cotes de Tablas wines seem very front-loaded for early consumption without much structure to frame the fruit. Perhaps this is more a demand of the domestic market, but at the $20-$25 price level the depth is not there. There is plenty of exuberance, though, so it may come down to taste.

The Esprit cuvées, both in Blanc and Rouge form, were revelatory. I believe I've tasted 3 or 4 Esprit Rouge bottlings and the remarkable quality is that each vintage shows so very differently. While one might think blending tends to blur difference, the differences in each variety seemingly are summed--think of the vintage difference = (a^2 + b^2 + c^2 + d^2)^(.5) summing in quadrature. Here the 2008 seemed quite feminine and approachable, which Sales Manager Tommy Oldre said was a result of Tablas Creek letting the vintage express itself instead of trying to re-create the rich, powerful 2007 version. The 2006 in contrast seemed a bit more burly and recalcitrant, though no less character-filled. The Esprit Blanc, meanwhile, was simply one of the best full-bodied whites I've tasted. It often seems to me that barrel toast overwhelms many rich, barrel-aged whites, but here aging in foudre (large wood containers) seems to have reduced the negative impact while achieving the positive effects of aging in wood. These are expensive wines, but wines I would not hesitate to buy when shopping in this price range.

  • 2009 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    45% Viognier, 28% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, 7% Grenache Blanc. White stone fruit, toast. Viscous, fat and a hot finish. All up-front flavor and very full bodied, but flabby on the back end.

  • 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    65% Rousanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc. Aged in foudre. Major step up from the Cotes de Tablas Blanc. Savory nose with apple cider and seaweed (yes, as odd as it sounds). Tight structure, refreshing acidity, cleaner flavors than Cotes de Tablas. Long finish. Creamy texture. Has mouthfeel of a red wine with grace of a white wine. Best white I've yet tasted in a full bodied style, though I don't drink many of these to be fair. Worth the price IMO.

  • 2008 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 17% Mourvedre. Good, noticeable acidity, mild tannins, herb, cherry, funk. Not much finish. Seems front loaded like the Blanc to be fruit-forward and early drinking.

  • 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    38% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 6% Counoise. Again, a massive step up from the Cotes de Tablas Rouge. Perfumed aromas with kirsch and mild gaminess. Big bodied, creamy, yet seemingly weightless. Sweet fruit, ripe tannin, medium acidity. Very pleasurable to drink now, almost seems a feminine style, though it is a large scaled, full flavored wine.

  • 2006 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    45% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Counoise. Seaweed, olive, eucalyptus, kirsch and dark fruit. Grippy tannin. Seems a bit rustic, in the best possible sense, compared to the 2008.

  • 2007 Tablas Creek Syrah - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

    With 10% Grenache. Gamy with cherry fruit. Big, full body, tons of ripe tannin. A very backward wine, though with lots of raw material and structure. I wouldn't touch this for some time.

Basically, this tasting confirmed my prior impressions. Tablas Creek is a benchmark producer for Paso Robles. And yet their prices are very fair for what they offer. Usually I'm left unimpressed by wines cracking the $40-$50 range because they seem to be chasing some fashionable style or are simple products of ego. Not so with Tablas. This producer is the real deal and even produces its top cuvées in moderate quantities such that they are not terribly hard to find.


Jeff said...

I had a bottle of the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc a few years ago that was really spectacular...of course, it may have been the fact that I hadn't had anything like a Rousanne based wine before...(color me ignorant, I guess) Nevertheless it was spectacular.

The one point of cognitive dissonance for me with American wineries--even good ones--is that you could just as well be drinking something pretty great from France for the same price, so it's all a question of where your tastes lie.

Cabfrancophile said...

The latter part gets me, too, but with Tablas Creek I'm feeling that there is a new world-old world kind of fusion that makes it unique. In that context the prices are pretty fair. When you consider the price of White CdP and Condrieu, $30-$40 for Esprit Blanc is not bad at all. Same for Esprit Rouge ($40-$55) in comparison to Red CdP. Not exactly apples to apples, but the quality level is great enough to warrant the comparison. I'm a sucker for new world density + texture with old world elegance + complexity, though.

That said, I can buy two top tier Joguet Chinons for the price of one Esprit . . . . so you can guess which one gets the largest piece of he pie. Totally different in flavor and texture, but still low price wins!

Jeff said...

I also like the middle ground and am a sucker for it. Yeah, I feel the same way. I feel like with California though, there is a much higher likelihood that I will not like the wine. Seems like the producers that interest me are few and far between and the quality is much more varied.

Cabfrancophile said...

Yep, I'm with you on this count. The economics of wineries and the domestic market do not favor lower priced, moderate ripeness wines. Most producers need to break even fast, so they aim for over-the-top wines that will make a splash. In part that's what excites me about Tablas--they haven't done this even though they have Beaucastel's capital behind them. It's a multi-decade process as they work out their identity.

Another part of the problem is CA chauvinism that focuses on trying to beat France and other boogeymen by obsessing over the hottest new thing. There really needs to be a domestic Kermit Lynch who digs up the 'real' wines from the hidden corners beyond Napa-noma and even CA, WA & OR.