By Joe Colgan and Ben Heskett
PASO ROBLES, Calif. - It’s not often you get to play winemaker with the essential components of a phenomenal Rhone-style California wine. The CORKZILLA team recently had just such an opportunity at Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west hills here, utilizing the blending elements that eventually reach their full expression in the Esprit du Beaucastel.
What are those elements? The 2010 editions of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Counoise from the Tablas vineyards. There were eight tables at the blending session, held within the Tablas production facility at their vineyard. At our table, equal parts of these varietals were poured into glasses and then dropped off in bottle form for us to play with as part of the blending process. A prior element of the session included various lots of Roussanne, but the red varietals were the main event of the day.
After much deliberating, our table finally came up with a tasty wine - Sous La Table 2012, pictured at right. Once everyone's blend was complete, each table had an opportunity to present what their group had created. It was interesting to learn that every table came up with a completely unique blend.
Of course our few hours at Tablas was an extremely basic level representation of the blending process. The experience really showed how blending wine is as much of an art form as it is a science. Some of the varietals used, at their current young state, were tough on both the nose and palette - the 100% Syrah was like concentrated evil. But when added in just the 'right' amount with the other varietals, the end product was magnifique.
A couple of additional observations:
- There was no right amount of Syrah - Some tables used a lot more than others. It was interesting how the strong, meatiness of the Syrah was masked by various blending techniques.
- The Tablas Grenache blending element could be bottled and sold as is - It's that good right now and will only get better.
- Using Mourvedre as the basis for their red Esprit du Beaucastel is an interesting, inspired choice, though I'm sure they don't need me to tell you that. It generally provides 35-50 percent of the the blend for the Esprit each year, according to Tablas Creek, and adds a unique chewiness, with the chocolate and dark fruit you've come to expect from Rhone-style blends.
A few more pictures of the event can be found here.