Spotlight on Unusual California White Wine: Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2010

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photoThe Perrin family are one of the few large French producers who entered California and managed to actually make something distinctly Californian, jump start a lesser known region, push a new way of thinking about certain grape varieties in the state, and actually make excellent wine. Their importance to California white wine lies in their sophisticated understanding of the white Rhone varieties and just how to make them balanced and intriguing rather than over-the-top.

Another Approach to Rhone Varieties in California

Tablas Creek was one of the most important investments in Paso Robles and was instrumental in raising awareness and exploding investment in the region. Tablas Creek’s approach was always to make Rhone-style blends that were balanced and elegant rather than huge powerhouses. These days most Paso Robles wines are known for their ripeness, intense fruit and high alcohol. While there are certainly some great wines being made in Paso, my experience has confirmed this general perception that most wines from the region are massive beasts, many of which are unbalanced and even astringent from the alcohol. Tablas Creek has always had another path.

Tablas Creek also challenged the predominating view that single varieties were the best way to make Rhone-style wines. We’ve all seen the cult Syrahs and Grenaches from California at 14-16% ABV and with enormous amounts of fruit and sweetness. But until the Perrins arrived on the scene (as makers of the famous blended Beaucastel Chateauneuf), Rhone blends that sought finesse and balance rather than richness and power were almost non-existent.

Tablas Creek instead decided both to make a number of well priced single varietal bottlings to allow customers to experience each variety’s character, and to allow for their own experimentation and understanding, and two flagship wines that focus entirely on blending: the Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge and Blanc (Since 2011 renamed “Esprit de Tablas”). The winery also fully committed to organic farming from the outset. For me they remain one of the quiet heroes of the broader potential of California.

Mastery of Blending

The Esprit Blanc is a blend of 60% Roussane, 35% Grenache Blanc, and 5% Picpoul Blanc. The vines are all propagated from budwood taken from the Beaucastel estate (that famous site for one of France’s greatest white wines). The fruit is whole cluster pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts. Each grape is fermented differently. The Roussane was fermented in stainless steel, large oak barrels and a foudre. The Granche Blanc was fermented in stainless steel and an oak foudre. The Picpoul Blanc was fermented in small neutral oak and stainless steel. All go through malo and are then selected after fermentation for blending. This diversity of technique displays the Perrin’s long history of understanding how to work with these grapes. Few wineries in California display such mastery of blending.

This 2010 has aged well. A nose of apple, pear, and caramel. There is not a huge amount of fruit on the palate, but rather the wine provides a lot of savory spice and mineral notes, with a slightly bitter finish. It is a remarkable achievement of texture – the wine is both voluptuous and elegant. The Esprit Blanc is consistently one of the best examples of Rhone white varieties in California and in my opinion is the best wine Tablas Creek makes. This vintage is no exception.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$45 at the Winery

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