Comparing Rhône blends from California’s Central Coast

2011 Pateline de Tablas & 2013 Le Cigare Volant Rhône Blends with cheese pairings

I love Rhône wines.  Wait…let me classify.  I love Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Tannat, Roussanne, Marsanne, Terret Noir, Picpoul Blanc….I love the varieties and the blends of said varieties.  My experience with these wines is mostly from those Rhône Rangers in California.  I am just beginning to explore further into French wines and Rhône Blends.   In France the wine or blend is named by the area in which it is grown, the AOC , which is a completely different way of learning about the wines.

So as I learn about these wines, I start with comparing a couple of Rhône Blends from two of my favorite California wineries for Rhônes, Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon.  We chose the 2011 Patelin de Tablas from Tablas Creek and the 2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon.

The Wines

These two wines differ in where the grapes were grown, the makeup of the blends, the vintage and the wine-making techniques.  So first lets look at the wines themselves.

2011 Patelin de Tablas

 

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

https://tablascreek.com/wines/2011_patelin_de_tablasHere you can find all the geeky details.

This wine comes from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, but this is not an estate wine.  This wine comes from multiple vineyards that they source from.

“Patelin” means neighborhood in French, so these are grapes not from the estate, but from the neighborhood.  The list of vineyards is long (16 different vineyards across 4 different AVA’s in the Paso Robles Region).  The AVA’s range from Adelaida Hills (higher elevation and warmer), to Templeton Gap (cooler with a coastal influence) to El Pomar (which is more moderate in climate) and then Estrella which is warmer.  The soils differ in these AVA’s also, Adelaida Hills, Templeton Gap and El Pomar tend to be limestone, where as Estrella is sandy loam.

Tablas Creek first produced this wine in 2010 after having a very light harvest in 2009.  This was second vintage of the Patelin de Tablas in 2011.

The blend is 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre and 1% Counoise, and sits at 13.7% Alcohol.

As to the winemaking techniques:  the grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in a mix of Open-top and closed stainless steel fermenters as well at 1500-gallon upright oak casks. As usual for Tablas Creek it was only native yeasts that were used.  After blending they were aged in stainless steel and 1200 gallon oak foudres.  So, kind of a variety (I think some of that may be due to available space).  They made 8460 cases of this wine.  That’s alot compared to the Côtes de Tablas of which they made 1560 cases.

2013 Le Cigare Volant Réserve “en bonbonne”

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

Randall Grahm has been making this homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1984.  The name comes from a weird wine law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The story goes that a railway worker in northern France claimed he saw two Martians on his property who had landed in a cigar-like machine.  Soon the reports spread and the French were all worried about these “flying cigars” or Cigare Volant.  The Mayor of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region put a law into place banning these “Cigare Volants” from landing or even flying over the area or vineyards.  And…it worked, there have been no alien sitings in the region since then.  Randall came across this law and in his own inimitable fashion, names his homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Le Cigare Volante”.

This wine is from the Central Coast.  This wine comes from multiple vineyards that are not necessarily close to each other.  It is a bit more diverse in soils and climates that they Tablas, which at least sources from the same region.

When you talk about wine-making techniques…well in Randall’s own words

“The idea of “raising” the wine in glass demijohns was also a bit of a fever dream, occasioned in part by the many hours I spent in deep contemplation of the mysteries of redox chemistry; there was something dream-like (à la Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan) about the many hours driving around southern France with Patrick Ducournau, deep thinker about oxygen and wine (and inventor of microbullage, or micro-oxygenation). I’ve already written quite a bit about the nature of the esoteric élevage en bonbonne—bâtonage magnetique, etc., the opportunity for the wine to digest a substantial volume of yeast lees, and the extraordinary texture and savoriness this protocol engenders.”  From his Production Notes

When you visit the tasting room you can see one of the demijohns (or carboys)

Carboy or Demijohn at Bonny Doon

A “Carboy” or demijohn on the counter at Bonny Doon Vineyards. This is used for élevage (the progression of a wine between fermentation and bottling)

This wine is 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, $16% Mourvedre and 4% Cinsault and it sits a little bigger than the Tablas with Alcohol at 14.3%.

This wine’s production was only 554 cases.

What to Pair with these Rhône Blends?

I took inspiration from Randall’s suggestions.

“All manner of cute creatures: rabbit, tiny birds, etc. Rabbit in Mustard Sauce (We suggest our Cigare Blanc mustard for this dish). Beef Kidneys. Stilton. Braised Oxtail.”

Well I have a thing about eating cute creatures, so we settled on the Stilton as well as a Cambozola (a triple creme chees with the flavor of a bleu cheese).

Tablas Creek suggested Grilled Steaks, rich beef stews and spicy sausages with the Patelin.

We set off and got some sweet italian sausage, a shepard’s pie and steak and stout pie.

So here is the spread:  Sweet Italian Sausage with a brown mustard, Shepherds pie, a steak and stout pie, some zuchinni noodles sautéd with spices, black olives, a fig jam, the Stilton, Cambonzola, some manchego and aged gouda.

Eccelctic pairings for 2011 Patelin de Tablas and 2013 Le Cigare Volant Rhône Blends

Eccelctic pairings for 2011 Patelin de Tablas and 2013 Le Cigare Volant

Tasting the Rhône Blends

In general, the Patelin was more fruit forward, with a bit of wet hay on the nose (I love that funkiness), and you get a little mineral. The fruit is red and bright, but then there is spice and a bit of anise.  The tannins here are light, but the wine still has great structure.  It has developed, but still will be great for further cellaring.

The Le Cigare Volant was mellower on the nose,  But when it hit your mouth, it was richer than you expected from the nose.  My first impression was Thyme in cooked strawberries with hints of smoked spices (like a sweet smoked paprika that is very mellow)

Pairing the Rhône Blends with Food

Both of the wines were fantastic with the sausage, but each brought out something different in the wine.  The Steak and stout pie was also good with both, when paired with the Patelin, brought the fruit forward, with the Cigare Volant it highlighted the more savory notes.  Michael liked the aged gouda best with both wines (mostly because he’s not so into the Bleu cheeses).  The Bleu cheese with fig jam and the Patelin de Tablas was a big hit for me.  We got less scientific as we tasted on savoring every bite and pondering on it.  We pondered quite a bit and I forgot to write down all the notes, job hazard.  Regardless, we enjoyed both wines thoroughly and I am inspired to dive further into Rhône blends, from California as well as digging in deeper to the history of the AOC’s of the Rhône Valley in France.

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Tablas Creek Vineyard – The Rhones, the new Adelaida AVA, natural fermentation and the use of foudres.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties.

In our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines.  Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details

 

The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel.  These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock.  These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc.  Soon after they also added Picpoul.  They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50!  In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes.  Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade.  Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014.  Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time.  3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter.  Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year.  Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes

The Adelaida AVA

Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South.  This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees.  In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).  Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District.  This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location.  How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen.  For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.

Native Yeast Fermentation

I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation.  Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation.  Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making.  He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”.  During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away.  If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options.  They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well.  They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t.  So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder.  Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.

Use of Foudres

There are few places in California that you will see foudres used.  Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons).  When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room.  As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want.  As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak.  As a result, large wood it the way to go.  With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel.  This gives you more volume to surface area.  The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower.  This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky.  The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.

 

While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines.  So watch for more videos and blog posts.

 

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Municipal Winemakers and the “Funk Zone” wineries

Life is Better with Wine

I have wanted to visit Municipal Winemakers for a while.  We stopped in on our last trip through Santa Barbara a year and a half ago only to find that they were sold out and had no wines to taste!  Well, if you are going to have a problem in the wine industry, I think that is the one to have.  As we planned another trip through the area I did more research on the winery.

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara

They are kitschy, located in The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail’s “Funk Zone”.  Their winemaker Dave Potter wants to get the wine to the people.  He loves making wine and meeting people who want to drink his wine.  Distributors and sales…that creates the distance between the grape and the glass and takes some of the heart out of the process.  So…Dave makes his wines and sells them in his tasting room.  Small lots, high quality and it’s working if he is selling out before he can release another vintage!

This is not your average wine tasting room.  Outside you have to see the sign on the sidewalk to realize that it is a tasting room, otherwise it looks like an old dive shop near the beach in Santa Barbara.  There are picnic tables set up in an area out front.  When you walk in you first notice the wall of stacked filing cabinets.

Municipal WineMakers, File Cabinet Wall

Municipal WineMakers, File Cabinet Wall

As we walked up for our tasting the person pouring pulled one drawer open and pulled out two glasses and oversized index card with a typed list of the tastings!

We tasted through the list, which included a dry, Riesling (Bright White), a Rose (Pale Pink), a Red Blend (Bright Red), a Pinot (Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir), a Cab and a sweeter Riesling (Sweetness).  The bottles have great labels and each bottle has a bottle number listed.  The rose was Grenache, Cinsault and Counoise and the “Bright Red” which I really enjoyed was the same blend with Syrah.  The Bright Red was light on the palate but with big flavor.  They do also have a “Wine Fountain” where they serve wine by the glass or in 1 liter refillable bottles.

We walked the neighborhood enjoying some more of the “Funk Zone” before heading up State Street.  Next door there is an old red phone box labeled “Book Exchange” and filled with books.  I had seen these on Facebook, but this was the first I had seen close up!  Need a book, take a book, done with a book, leave it!  It is a great concept!  Lots of other wineries have tasting rooms in the area.  Anacapa Vineyards is not even listed yet, they are so new!  They have a beautiful tasting room with big windows and chalkboards on the walls filled with all kinds of interesting information on their grapes and wines.  It is a regular wine education classroom!

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery up the street has old trucks painted with their logo out front and a juke box in the garage that is part of their barrel room.  Pali, which is next to Anacapa, has lots of windows and a patio on the side.  Santa Barbara Winery sits in a white washed building covered in vines.  In addition to the wineries listed on the Urban Wine Trail site, there are more popping up all the time.  We saw a side door on a building that said “Drake”.  This new little tasting room evidently recently opened.  When we were later at Sculpterra in Paso, the person pouring for us said his friend had just opened that tasting room (the wine world is a small world).

While we only had time to taste at Municipal, we will happily return to spend a day or two tasting in the area and enjoying the beach.  There are around 11 tasting rooms in “The Funk Zone” and another 9 or 10 within the downtown area, including Conway’s Deep Sea Tasting room out on Stearns Wharf.

For now…we were off to take a stroll up State Street and find Au Bon Climat (or ABC as it seems to be known here).

Europa Village, at Temecula CA

Europa Village corks

Europa Village winery endeavors to take you on a quick trip to Europe to enjoy the wines of France, Italy and Spain.  The gardens here are lovely and they have added a covered patio for large groups. They have a tasting room set up in a French café style plus a room set up like a cave for events.  The wines are under 3 separate labels C’est la Vie Chateau for the French wines including Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Savignon Blanc as well as En Vie which is a Rhone Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault and Mourvedre. Bolero Cellars has the Spanish wines including a Muscat Canelli and Albarino and the Libido which is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Tempranillo.  Lastly Vienza brings you the Italian varieties which include Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, a Grenache Rose, Barbera, Primitivo and the Tuscan style blend Primazia which is Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Europa Village Patio

Europa Village Patio

Cave Music Event

Cave Music Event

There are no shortage of events here at the winery with Music on Friday nights, dinner plays, art events where you can learn to paint while sipping away, culinary classes with the chef from The Inn at Europa Village and wine pairing dinners.  We stopped in to see “Lady Truth” play the last time we were in Temecula.  Due to the cold weather everything was set up in the cave and they had wine by the glass or bottle plus there was a tent outside with a Panini vendor that you could order from.  When it is warmer I am sure that the patio makes for a stunning venue!

Europa Village Inn

Europa Village Inn

The Inn boasts 10 stunning rooms named after their wines, with most rooms enjoying a view of the winery below as well as a two-course gourmet breakfast each morning.  The Inn’s patio includes a fire pit and an eight person Jacuzzi.  You can wake up in the morning to watch the balloon tours float overhead, or get up a little extra early and take one of the Balloon rides yourself as they depart from the winery each morning.

This is a great place for a romantic getaway. Watch for Video Blog Entry coming Soon!

Monte de Oro – “Vines, Wine, People”

Monte De Oro depcicted in oil

This Temecula Valley winery is impressive as you drive up toward the end of Rancho California Road. The building sits on a rise and is expansive and inviting. In the early mornings there are typically balloons taking off from here making for picture perfect morning shots with their vineyards out front.

Monte De Oro Tasting Room Window View

Tasting Room Window View

The Monte de Oro winery is owned by OGB (One Great Blend) Partners, which is a collection of 68 family owners from across America, South Africa and the UK.

The Vineyards are located around the valley. The first, Vista Del Monte was planted in 2002 with 18 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. They added 18 acres at the DePortola vineyard and 23 acres at the Galway vineyard in 2003 planted with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Canelli.

In 2007 they broke ground on the winery and in 2008 planted their 4th vineyard at the winery growing Cinsault, Mourvedre, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo.

Monte de Oro Underground Cave

Monte de Oro Underground Cave

Committed to sustainability the winery created a basement wine cave under the winery rather than building a barrel room above ground that would need to have a system for climate control. One of the most impressive sites in the building is walking across the glass floor that allows you to see down into the barrel room. They are also planning to build a gravity flow winery which reduces the energy needed to pump the wine as well as being gentler on the grapes, and they are looking to add solar panels to supply energy in the future.

The tasting room here is huge with beautiful views of the patio and beyond that the valley. They offer a variety of tours and private tastings that you can schedule in advance in addition to the Standard and Black Label Tastings available daily in the tasting room. Also open on the weekends is the MDO Bistro offering a Bistro menu Friday thru Sunday from 11-4.

Monte de Oro patio

Monte de Oro patio

When we visited the winery was busy and it was towards the end of the day. We tasted through a wide variety of their wines, most of which they produce about 250 cases each. All of the wines are very affordable running from $18 to $33 per bottle. watched a group head out for a tour while we were there and I would like to return to do a tour and learn a little more about their wines.