Tablas Creek: A taste experience in the U.S. via the southern Rhone

 

This is a view of the tasting room at Tablas Creek where you can view a roomful of huge French casks for aging red wines. (Courtesy of www.tablascreek.com)

Tablas Creek wines always make me marvel at the passion, expertise and expense that go into each bottle.

Do you know Tablas Creek? It’s the re-creation of the southern Rhone at a Paso Robles, Calif., winery that is co-owned by a notable U.S. wine importer and a family that runs one of the most famous wineries in the southern Rhone Valley of France — a family making wine for five generations.

The importer is Robert Haas, founder of Vineyard Brands; the Perrin family owns the prized French winery Château de Beaucastel.

Together, they established Tablas Creek Winery in 1989 in Paso Robles, an area much like the southern Rhone with a Mediterranean-type climate — where even the shallow limestone soils are reminiscent of the rocky Rhone.

The 120-acre vineyard 12 miles inland from the Pacific is organically farmed and all the vines were imported from Château de Beaucastel in France — undergoing the USDA-mandated three-year quarantine before they could be planted. The grapes consist of all 13 of the allowed grapes in the southern Rhone. The winery is currently expanding its vineyards in the area.

All of the grapes are fermented by native yeasts on the grape skins — a method known as wild yeast fermentation or indigenous yeast fermentation. It can be tricky and takes longer, but the resulting wine is usually more complex.

Just like in the southern Rhone, all the red wines undergo a year’s aging in 1,200-gallon French oak foudres — not the usual 60-gallon oak barrels. These huge casks hold the equivalent of 500 cases of wine; the typical 60-gallon barrel holds 25 cases. Tablas Creek explains their use here.

Here’s help in deciphering the “levels” of Tablas Creek wines starting at the top:

>> The Tablas Creek “Esprit” wines are the Reserves, the so-called flagships — the wines of most renown. They also are the most costly. Beginning with the 2011 vintage, their name changed from Esprit de Beaucastel to Esprit de Tablas Creek. They are blends based on Mourvèdre for the red, Roussanne for the white.

>> The “Côtes” wines include a red blend based on Grenache and a white blend based on Viognier. They are made to be fruity and appealing, and approachable sooner than the Esprit wines.

>> The “Patelin” wines, a red and a white, are Rhone-style blends produced from grapes grown by local growers selected for their quality. They are the only Tablas Creek wines not grown on the winery’s home vineyard. They are less dear in price and enjoy huge popularity.

Here’s a taste of the new releases. All of the wines, except the single varietals, are available in Michigan. Your wine merchant can order them through the local wholesaler, National Wine & Spirits, or Vineyard Brands’ Midwest sales manager Anne Keller-Klumpp.

Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2013, $20

This blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne is an exquisite cocktail of stone fruit and floral tones with a creamy, dry mouthfeel braced with firm acidity and a subtle stream of minerality. It’s produced off fruit from 11 neighboring Paso Robles vineyards. It was fermented on native yeasts in stainless steel. The Grenache Blanc gives it the crisp acids and rich mouthfeel; the Viognier adds that trademark floral and tropical aromatics; the Roussanne and Marsanne add to the structure. It’s clean and refreshing.

Côtes de Tablas Blanc Paso Robles 2013, $27

This dry white is what happens when you start with a base of floral, apricoty Viognier (39 percent) and mix in the crisp acidity and richness of Grenache Blanc (29 percent) and the structure and minerality of Marsanne (20 percent) and Roussanne (12 percent). All the grapes are fermented on native yeasts in stainless steel before the blend is assembled. It sees no oak — giving the stage to the fruit and acidity. It’s a taste experience. Grapes are off the home vineyard.

Esprit de Tablas Blanc Paso Robles 2012, $45

This is the flagship white for Tablas Creek, the Reserve level white — a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc all raised on the home vineyard. The Roussanne provides the sturdy, minerally bedrock for this wine, the Grenache adds green apple and anise, and a lush mouthfeel, and the Picpoul adds minerality and tropical notes.  It’s a treat to experience how the Grenache Blanc and Picpoul add to the character of the Roussanne. Portions of the blend were fermented in small oak barrels and one large foudre, the rest in stainless steel. All went through malolactic fermentation. The winery expects this wine to age for 15 years or more.

Côtes de Tablas Paso Robles 2012, $35

This dry red blend is 60 percent Grenache and 25 percent Syrah, fleshed out with Counoise and Mourvèdre. It has good acidity and those trademark Grenache chalky tannins to frame lush flavors of spice, plum, cherry and licorice. The juice was fermented off natural yeasts in stainless steel and upright wooden fermenters  and then racked and blended, and aged in Tablas Creek’s huge wood foudres. This baby is one of the winery’s signature reds.

Tablas Creek Mourvèdre Paso Robles 2012, $40

You’ll have to join the wine club or visit the tasting room to taste this limited-production wine (just 100 cases), but you will be rewarded. So often, this Rhone varietal is only used in blends (it’s the main red in Esprit de Tablas Creek); seldom is it bottled as a single varietal unless it’s as special as this one. The pretty nose is red currants, figs, plum and brown spices. The palate is rich and round with soft, supple tannins, firm acidity and gently infused oak. It’s made off the winery’s certified organic vineyard and fermented using native yeasts. The wine is aged a year in a 1,200 gallon foudre. Serve it with rich stews, or pork cooked with fruit.

Tablas Creek Roussanne Paso Robles 2012, $35

This gold beauty, another limited-production item, makes up the biggest part of the Esprit Blanc each year, but in outstanding vintages, some gets set aside to bottle as a single varietal. This one is drinking most excellent: rich, dry, with lovely mouthfeel from subtle oak. Aromas are floral, with a touch of pear and grilled bread. In the mouth, it’s minerally, gently herbal, still tightly stitched up. The wine team at Tablas Creek says it can age up for up to 10 years.

You can reach Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@Hotmail.com.