Rhône Meets Tablas Creek at Artisan

Roses and Whites
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May 3 was a special day at Artisan Wine Depot. First, and most important, it was co-owner and master sommelier Christine’s birthday. Second, she pulled together a unique setting featuring wines of the Rhône: Perrin & Fils vs. Tablas Creek. Yes, it was Rhône meets Tablas Creek at Artisan.

On balance — and somewhat to our surprise — the French prevailed. Not, mind you, that we would turn down any of the wines in this tasting. But — again, surprisingly — the Rhônes were more approachable with better fruit.

There is a profile of Tablas Creek near the end of this article.  But it’s worth pointing out that this Paso Robles winery was founded with the joint efforts of importer Robert Haas and the Perrin family, owners of Chateau de Beaucastel.  There were several Ch. de Beaucastel wines included in the tasting, giving us an idea of the differences new world terroir and technique could induce.

A Personal Note

On our first visit to Paso Robles many years ago, we stopped in at Tablas Creek.  Ever since then we have been fans of what they are doing.  Mr. Haas went through the full USDA agriculture import process to bring beaucastel grapevines to Paso Robles.  On a few occasions there have been vines available for sale there.  If you’re visiting the California central coast area, Tablas Creek is a must-visit destination.

Beginning: Rosés

The Tablas Creek entry was their 2013 “Patelin de Tablas Rosé” ($20). This wine is 2/3 of a GSM with 73% grenache, 22% mourvedre, and 5% counoise. Tablas Creek is not alone in substituting counoise for the traditional syrah. Aromas of strawberries with a pale pink color are followed by more strawberries with a hint of spice.

Perrin & Fils offered a 2012 Côtes du Rhône Blanc Reserve ($10, when did the euro tank against the dollar?). This wine uses viognier blended with three reds (50% grenache, 20% viognier, marsanne and roussanne), a trend that is becoming more pronounced in California wineries, but unusual in French blends. This wine has more body than the Tablas Creek featuring a bit of minerality, peaches, and licorice. But the explosion of honeydew melon and pineapple on the palate is undeniable. An incredible bargain.

Advantage: Tie for sensory evaluation because the two are so different, each excellent in its own way. Perrin & Fils gets the edge for value.

Second Course: Whites

Tablas Creek wins this category by default. There were no white Rhônes.

Picpoul Blanc (also spelled Piquepoul Blanc) is one of the lesser-known Rhône varietals, but one that we think has a tremendous future in California. It is one of the thirteen permitted varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it is used primarily as a blending component to take advantage of its acidity. Like the better known Grenache and Pinot, Picpoul has red, white and pink variants, though Picpoul Noir and Picpoul Gris are very rare. Literally translating to “lip stinger”, Picpoul Blanc produces wines known in France for their bright acidity, minerality, and clean lemony flavor.

Their 2012 “Patelin Blanc” ($20) is very nice with notes of peach and pineapple. A surprising smokiness on the finish round out a very nice experience. This wine emphasizes the grenache blanc with 52% grenache blanc, 27% viognier, 16% roussanne, and 5% marsanne.

By contrast, the 2011 “Esprit de Tablas Blanc” ($35) is 64% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 10% picpoul blanc. Aromas of wet slate with floral notes are followed by a balanced, structured palate.

Just when you think you’ve at least heard of every varietal, along comes a new one. The Tablas Creek website has this description of picpoul blanc →

Picpoul Blanc Grape Cluster

Picpoul Blanc Grape Cluster

Main Course: Reds

There were eight entries from France and four from Tablas Creek. Until now, we had not realized what a numerical advantage the French had in this tasting. Basically, the French wines had twice as many opportunities to appeal to us compared to Tablas Creek.

Reds From France

Leading off was the Perrin & Fils 2010 Côtes du Rhône Villages ($10). This one is another bargain. Aromas and flavors of blackberries with a touch of licorice and the flavor we identify as “desert” (often found in Santa Rita Hills pinot noirs). The blend is 2/3 of a GSM with 60% grenache and 40% syrah.

First Four French Reds

First Four French Reds

The Perrin & Fils 2010 Côtes du Rhône “Vinsobres Les Cornuds” ($17) was less to our liking with licorice, smoke and spice. The blend is 50-50 grenache and syrah.

The Maison Nicolas Potel 2011 Perrin St. Joseph ($29) was acidic with elements of anise, tobacco, and plum. This is 100% syrah and the flavor is appropriately one-note.

Chateau de Beaucastel’s first entry was their 2011 “Coudoulet du Beaucastel” ($25). Plummy with a terrific aroma of cassis and licorice. Very nice structure and highly recommended. This is a traditional Rhône blend with 30% each grenache and mourvedre, 20% syrah and 20% cinsault.

Four More French Reds

Four More French Reds

Perrin & Fils returned with a 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Les Sinards” ($39). Herbal and licorice aromas with oak, tannins and anise on the palate. A GSM blend. Not exceptional, but well made.

Perrin & Fils 2011 Rasteau “L’Andeol” ($20) is a grenache-syrah blend. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate describes this as “full-bodied, rustic” but that seems a little over the top to us. Chocolate and dark berries on the palate make this a big wine, but still quite approachable. At this price, a good value.

The 2010 Vacqueyras “Les Christins,” also from Perrin & Fils, is another grenache-syrah blend ($30). Plum, blackberry, and gooseberry on the palate with a mineral finish. Not to our taste, but YMMV.

Chateau de Beaucastel’s 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($100) needs more time in the bottle. Right now the wine is very tight, but has a nice core of blackberry, cedar, smoke, and slate that should pay off in four or five years. The blend is 30% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, with the other 20% described as simply “other permitted varietals.” Good, but at this price it’s hardly a value. If you have the disposable income and are willing to wait you will be rewarded. But we make no promises about whether the net present value will be positive. Wine Spectator ranks this wine as #8 of their top 100 wines of 2013, so there’s that.

Reds From Tablas Creek

Tablas Creek Reds

Tablas Creek Reds

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The families created a partnership in 1985 and in 1989 purchased a 120-acre property in the hilly Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles for its similarities to Châteauneuf du Pape: limestone soils, a favorable climate, and rugged terrain.

The partners imported the traditional varietals grown on the Perrins’ celebrated estate, including Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Counoise for reds, and Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc for whites. These imported vines passed a rigorous 3-year USDA testing program, were propagated and grafted in our on-site nursery, and used to plant our organic estate vineyard.

First of the four was the 2012 “Patelin de Tablas” ($18). Thin and a little astringent, but with notes of licorice and Pepsi-Cola™, there is a bit of spice on the finish. Not to our taste, but, naturally, competently made. The blend is 53% syrah, 27% grenache, 18% mourvedre and 2% counties.\

Their 2011 “Côtes de Tablas” ($28) includes some slightly rough tannins. Olive, lavender, and Chinese spices on the palate with a terrific raspberry nose. Give this one a few years and it will round out nicely. The blend is 49% grenache, 28% syrah, 15% mourvedre, and 8% counoise.

The 2011 Mourvedre is, of course, 100% mourvedre ($35). In our experience, only pinot noir grapes can make a decent single-varietal wine. This wine is, like most, one-note.

Closing out the afternoon was the 2011 “Esprit de Tablas” ($50). This wine is fairly priced. It is an excellent, dense, mouth-filling experience. On the palate there are notes of chocolate and plums with licorice, with noticeable tannins on the finish. Of all these wines, this is the one we would buy for cellaring, probably three or four years. The blend is 40% mourvedre, 30% grenache, 20% syrah, and 10% counoise.

Dessert Course

Perrin & Fils offered a 2010 Muscat Beaumes de Venise ($27 for 375 ml). And it was dessert, sweet but lacking acid balance. Not our favorite.

Conclusion

Thanks again to Artisan for putting together such a great afternoon comparing France and Paso Robles. Tablas Creek more than held their own against competition from many French labels. We still think the French won, but it was on points — by no means a knockout.

About the author

Tony Lima has been a California wine fan since arriving in California from the east coast in 1974. He's lived the growth and expansion of the West Coast industry first hand. He's seen the fickle California Wine consumer fads pop up and burst... the craze for Zinfandel, then oaky Chardonnay, then Merlot, now Pinot Noir. On behalf of fellow Californian oenophiles, he hunts for great pinot noir and great values in pinot noir all along the West Coast. His day job is Professor of Economics at California State University located in Hayward. His undergrad degree in chemical engineering (MIT) and his MBA (Harvard) and Ph.D. Economics (Stanford) are the root of his interest in the Business of Wine. He is a card-carrying member of the AAWE - American Association of Wine Economists.

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