Last Monday, Wayward Wine began its tour of Paso Robles with the wild and small Fratelli Perata Winery (read here). Today we review the opposite end of the spectrum, with international implant, Tablas Creek Vineyard.
They are located in the cooler (for Paso), Western hills of the Santa Lucia coastal range (Adelaida District):
By 1990 a second generation of Rhône Rangers had emerged in Paso Robles, this time with deeper pockets. From France, Jean-Pierre and François Perrin (proprietors of Château de Beaucastel in the Rhône valley) with Robert Haas (importer and founder of Vineyard Brands) hunted down an alfalfa farm on top of a Late Cretaceous seabed. Four years of research found 120 acres of soil pH and limestone similar enough to Beaucastel to start their organic vineyard. They then spent huge sums importing French grape clones (Counoise and Grenache blanc) and developing a nursery.
After winding, oak-tunneled roads, the sky opens and Tablas’s perfectly manicured vineyards rise before us. We arrive through a gate and park. Our pickup looks a bit out of place among the Mercedes and taxis.
Vine starts for sale before the door stop me. I imagine if Counoise could ever ripen in Oregon, as my wife drags me into the tasting room. When I say tasting room, I mean barrel cathedral. Massive barrels climb behind glass walls like Gothic buttresses in a zoo.
Varnished woods and stainless steel glow in the cool low lit room. Everything looks and smells spotless, clean, modern. If the Starship Enterprise had a winery…
Tablas Creek’s 2013 Viognier ($30) looks a mild lemon yellow color in their fine, branded glassware. Aromas and flavors recall ripe pineapple, melon, wax, and a light dash of baking spices. It is very fruity but probably dry, with low acidity, lush body, and viscous texture. Their Viognier is full, fine, and tidy, good (3 of 5).
But that unblemished nature carries with all their wines.
Their Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2012 ($45): a flagship match for their French Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, blends 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, and 5% Picpoul into a fine balance of ripe, smooth, white pear, honey, and melon with a squeeze of lemon juice. The length is medium plus. The quality must be very good (4 of 5). But I feel something is lacking here. Like a model, it looks amazing but has little to say.
Finally, we find a rosé! Dianthus Rosé 2014 ($27)
This rosé comes from their oldest block of Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir form nearly equal halves with a 13% dash of Counoise, all co-fermented. A day of skin-contact creates a glistening salmon, nearly ruby color with copper highlights. Thankfully, it is dry, with medium acidity, a twitch of dusty tannin, but a round medium body and slippery silken texture. Flavors include raspberry juice, strawberry pith, melon, and light honey that last a medium length.
The rarity of dry rosé in Paso gives it an over-enthused very good (4 of 5). My only quibble: it feels a bit numb. Our extra bottle in 2016 shows off butter. Methinks malo-lactic fermentation has been allowed to slip in, still good (3 of 5).
On to Tablas Creek’s reds.
Côtes de Tablas 2012 ($35)
In Paso, a land of monster reds, Côtes de Tablas is a mild, mannered, mellow red. 60% Grenache provides a round, soft lump of raspberry. It is dry, with all things medium: acid, tannin, alcohol, and body each hold hands in passive agreement. Aromas and flavors play dark-ish with cherry, licorice, chicory, and a whiff of balsamic touching your attention. Côtes provides an all purpose red. It will never offend. It is a solid good (3 of 5).
Esprit de Tablas 2012 ($55)
OK. They claim this is Cali CdP. But with only three years under its belt, we find a compact mush of Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise. Aromas smell clean and medium plus of blackberry jam, plum, leather, and anise. Dryness, low acids, moderate tannins, and a fleshy body and alcohol make Esprit a biggie. But again, flavors are so clean and scientifically balanced that we move on to their 2011. It is good (3 of 5) but might become interesting in 2022.
Esprit de Tablas 2011
Another $55 will get you 2011’s Esprit de Tablas. T. Creek dropped Syrah 10% for more Grenache in this cooler vintage. The color looks a leaner ruby than 2012. Aromas and flavors tend a bit wilder with currant, black tea, meat, blood orange, and pepper spice. Yet once again, the palate balance borders on big but nondescript perfection. We prefer it, thanks to its complexity and glimmers of oddity: very good (4 of 5).
Hmm… Somehow, the Rhône’s trip to Paso went through the wash. Tablas Creek’s wines tidy up France for stateside palates. The wines taste clean and brilliant and will disappoint few. But for all of Perrin’s planning, they have yet to find themselves. It took Beaucastel centuries to grasp, lose and regain greatness. Espirit 2012 and 2011 both have years before they become truly interesting. Buy a few and find out.
Either way, we buy a two rosé and nearly all the vine starters they sell (kidding).
Check back next Monday for more of Wayward Wine’s touring of Paso Robles, California.