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Sip and Savor: Tablas Creek Vineyard offers 2016 en primeur 

Jason Haas and Neil Collins
Photos by Mira Honeycutt

2016 vintage makes its debut for wine club members

-The annual ritual of Tablas Creek Vineyard’s annual barrel tasting and en primeur offering took place Dec. 2 in the west side winery’s packed barrel room. In its 15th year, the two sessions of this sold-out event drew Tablas Creek wine club members eager to purchase the 2016 vintages of Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie well before the wines’ release.

Tablas Creek is among a handful of California wineries offering en primeur, a time-honored French tradition often associated with Bordeaux’s first-growth estates. Valued customers are given the opportunity to secure a limited quantity of sought-after wines at a special price in advance of bottling and subsequent release.

Jason Haas, Tablas Creek general manager, was joined by winemaker Neil Collins to walk us through 2016 barrel samples of the flagship Esprit de Tablas and the special, limited production of Panoplie.

So how was the 2016 vintage?

“It had a really nice combination of power and freshness,” Haas replied. ‘It presented its own set of opportunities. It felt like a cool vintage than rather than warm.”

2016 vintages of Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie

The year was particularly good for syrah, he added, as that grape had dark and dense yet approachable tannins. “There was so much texture, and it came to the fore in blending and tasting.” To that extent, the 2016 vintages of both Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie contain a larger percentage of syrah than in previous years.

Tablas Creek’s has focused on crafting Chateauneuf-du-Pape style of wine ever since co-founder Robert Haas established a Franco-American joint-venture in 1989 when he partnered with the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s southern region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

However, Jason Haas commented that while a typical Chateauneuf blend is grenache noir driven, the Tablas Creek style for both Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie is to create a mourvedre-driven blend. “What mourvedre brings is the dark leathery character to the more juicy lush grenache,” said Haas, while noting that the 2016 mourvedre showed flavors of red fruits with drier, woodsy, brambly character reflecting the Paso garrigue.

The 2016 Esprit de Tablas contains 46 percent mourvedre, 31 percent syrah, 18 percent grenache noir and a mere 5 percent of counoise. The wine has the aromatics of grenache noir on the front palate, the chewiness of mourvedre in mid palate with a dramatic finish of syrah’s juniper notes in the back.

The cellar-worthy Panoplie with 66 percent mourvedre is a dense leathery wine blended with 25 percent syrah and a mere 9 percent of grenache noir. 
“You have to imagine where it’s going to be,” Haas commented on this deliciously dark moody wine that felt like a beast had been unleashed and required taming. It will evolve over time, Haas assured, into a different personality than now.

Panoplie wine resting in the foudre at the winery

The blending process that brings together a group of eight to ten co-workers, takes about a week, explained Collins. “We put together four different blends for each wine and hopefully everyone chooses the same,” Collins said, adding that the blends are finally narrowed down to two top blends.

“We are striving for consistency for these wines,” Collins said of the blending technique where small changes can create more complex wines.

The Esprit de Tabla and Panoplie wines were blended in May 2017 and are now resting and evolving in the large wooden foudres (capacity 1200 gallons) till they get bottled in the fall of 2018. The foudres, explained Haas, allow the wines to breathe and get softer without the heavy overlay of oak.

“There will be smoothening of the edges, color will deepen, and it will be silkier than at this stage,” Haas said. “But you’re getting a pretty good sense of what these wines are now.”

Panoplie, Haas suggested, should be aged anywhere from six to 12 — or even 30 years. While Panoplie is a cellar-worthy wine, the flagship Esprit de Tablas is a popular restaurant wine and so is often consumed early.

The barrel tasting was accompanied by a delightful lunch crafted by chef Jeff Scott. “This is a rustic peasant style dish that compliments the wines,” the chef said of his Provencal Daube, a stew that is typically cooked with beef. But Scott gave it a different spin using short ribs that were slow cooked for seven hours and served atop polenta, garnished with olives, chervil and truffle oil. I chose the vegetarian option of mushrooms and brussel sprouts that was highlighted by both the 2016 barrel samples as well as the 2013 Esprit de Tablas.

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About the author: Columnist Mira Honeycutt

Honeycutt has more than 20 years of experience as a wine consultant and wine journalist. Currently, she is the California contributor to Sommelier India Wine Magazine. Her wine and food coverage has been published in the Harper’s Bazar India, the Asian Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong Tatler, The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times and www.zesterdaily.com. She was a contributing wine blogger on the highly popular Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s Good Food blog. Honeycutt is also the author of “California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles,” as well as the curator of the soon to be published book, The Winemakers of Paso Robles.

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