Tablas Creek: BEST of California Rhone Country

Paso Sunshine

Hand over the mantle of leadership for Rhone style wine-making to the Tablas Creek team. Something has happened in Paso and we need to understand how…somehow. A region that once struggled to overcome vegetal Cabernets and tomato-flavored Pinot Noir is the zenith of New World Rhone style wines. No more fruit bombs. Plenty of spine and grip. And lush fruit.

Who can we blame? There are only two choices for mantle bearer, really: TC or John Alban. One could certainly make a case for either and both. Alban was the first US guy to actually get trained in the Rhone when everyone else was scrambling for an internship in Bordeaux or Burgundy. Alban probably made the first Grenache wine in the USA sometime in the 1990s. He remains a widely recognized leader among Rhone style vintners [ed. along with other founding Rhone Rangers] and his wines reflect that lofty perch in price and quality.

What about Tablas Creek? Can’t beat the pedigree…kind of the Cream [ed. Clapton, Bruce and Baker above…we are so old] of Rhone super groups: Robert Haas legendary ground breaking importer of French Rhone wines and the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel, the foremost house then and today in Chateauneuf du Pape…GSM kings. A few more reasons why TC should wear the mantle. They chose Paso’s Westside for the limestone soil thereby annointing the region as I-D-E-A-L in the best way possible…backing their vision with a financial commitment in the early 1990s.

Jason Haas

They brought cuttings over from the eight most important Rhone varietals [ed. 4 each red and white], going through years of quarantine to protect California agriculture and ensure the fruit TC produced would have all the credentials one could ask for. Finally, they made the decision to not make trophy wines; instead choosing to make wines everyone could enjoy and afford. This is not to say Tablas Creek wines are cheap. Some are pricey. But all are affordable and downright excellent given the quality. TC makes wine – Rhone or otherwise – good as anything being made in Paso or the state. With a top end of $45 on release the most select bottles represent very good value. Now they are buying fruit to maintain the $20 price point with the new Patelin line; a spot formerly held by their Cote de Tablas line.

Which brings up the next point. Why is Cote de Tablas creeping up in price? Because the estate fruit is getting that much better. The vines are hitting that sweet spot of maturity at 20 years age and the fruit is showing a new level of breeding. Up to now Tablas Creek wines have been about the promise of what would eventually arrive.

biodynamic team at work

The vines are mature. The red and white wines are stupendous. In their middle period we actually favored the Grenache and Rousanne blends to the higher tone red blends and the varietal bottlings in general. Now we see these reds just needed time. The whites show such beautiful fruit with citric qualities in the Rousanne. Now we are seeing how nicely the younger fruit can mature in bottle. Think of the emerging combination: 20 year old vines with five to ten years age. A nice investment.

Tablas Creek created the space for a third generation of winemakers to do like TC in Paso. This new generation of winemakers – Amy Butler of Ranchero Cellars, Shannon Gustafson of Rangeland Wines, Bob Tillman of Alta Colina – thinks of Paso as the California Rhone. Just like Napa is the California Bordeaux. It’s Rhone or go home in Paso. And TC (and Alban) made it happen. We tasted quite a few TC wines recently in the tasting room after getting a tour of the 105 acres of vineyard sites with TC owner and manager Jason Haas. We were impressed.

2004 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel $65 Wine Club: This is the wine that put us over the top. Truffles on the nose. Who needs to taste it? These were young vines from the most select vineyard sites when this was bottled 8 years ago. The wine is perfect right now. This tells you all you need to know about the quality and the potential. And how TC wines NEED TO AGE. 14.5%

2006 Tablas Creek Grenache $ sorry Charlie: This is exactly why it would be wise to begin acquiring older vintages of TC wines you particularly covet. The smaller case wines, like this Grenache, may not be available later. This is big and dark red out of the bottle. Not even the aerator could wrestle it down. We let it sit in the bottle with a cork for a few days then returned to it. The reward was an exotic nose and subdued flavors. Not tired at all. Mrs. tBoW drank her first glass then looked at the empty bottle then looked at tBoW like he had rifled through her purse. Color had turned to dark brick red. Wish we had more of this. 15.3%

2010 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas $16 Wine Club: Here is the commitment to staying within reach of everyone’s wallet. Syrah base for the red and Grenache Blanc for the white. Each TC line has a designed blend with a base grape. Cote de Tablas is Grenache based for the red and Viognier for the white. The Esprit line is Mourvedre for the red and Rousanne for the white. The 2010 Patelin is fresh and fruity without being BIG. It is easy to drink and would be welcome at any BBQ. 14.1%

2009 Esprit de Beaucastel $44 Wine Club: Chocolate and cherries, black olive flavors. Exquisite. At 5 fewer years in the bottle – than the 2004 – this is a very young and forthright wine. Could probably give you advice on your resume. Would recommend a buy and hold here. 14.5%

We also tasted the 2009 Rousanne, the 2011 Rose, and the 2010 Vin de Pailles. Each was top notch. The Vin de Pailles is their dessert wine that is dried three weeks on straw. Maple and peaches.

Tablas Creek is no longer a winery to watch. It is a winery to start putting in your cellar. If you see anything five years or older grab it.

Finding a worthy Cream vid on youtube was a much tougher task than describing the arrival of a great winery. The DJ is soooo hiiip and the sound and film so good in this clip we had to go with vintage Cream from a 1968 Brit TV show.

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