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Heather Johnston, demonstrates how easy and delicious grilled clams can be, and pairs them with three satisfying Chardonnays.

Picpoul Blanc | White Wines

June 25th, 2008

Picpoul Blanc White Grape 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.

Picpoul in France

Most scholars believe Picpoul is native to the Languedoc region of Southern France, where it is still found today. Records from the early 17th century indicate that it was blended with Clairette (another white Rhône varietal) to form the popular sweet Picardan wine (not to be confused with the Chateauneuf du Pape varietal of the same name) which was exported by Dutch wine traders from Languedoc throughout Northern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the phylloxera invasion at the end of the 19th century, Picpoul was not widely replanted. Today it is best known from Picpoul de Pinet, the crisp light green wine of the Pinet Region in the Côteaux de Languedoc.

Picpoul at Tablas Creek

We did not import Picpoul with our initial eight varieties. After the original eight were established in the vineyard, we decided that the consistent sun and long growing season at Tablas Creek might allow varietals that in France are lean and high in acidity to show character impossible elsewhere. Picpoul, with its reputation for sharp acidity, was the first of these high-acid whites that we brought into quarantine, and was in fact the first supplemental varietal we brought in of any sort. It was released from quarantine in 1998, and we spent the next two years propagating and grafting it. We planted approximately one acre of Picpoul in 2000, and received our first significant harvest in 2003. It has been such a success that we plan to triple our acreage in the next few years.

In the vineyard, Picpoul is not a difficult varietal to grow. It pushes early, making it somewhat susceptible to frost, but ripens relatively late. In the past two years, Picpoul was the last white varietal to be brought in, just before Mourvèdre (the last red of the season) at the end of October. In the winery, we ferment it in neutral barrels to complement the grape’s brightness with a bit of roundness.

When we first bottled Picpoul, it was necessary to petition the Tax and Trade Bureau to recognize the varietal, a process we had undergone with several other varietals, including Grenache Blanc, Counoise and Tannat. We amassed literature on Picpoul to demonstrate that it was a recognized varietal in other countries, and compiled descriptions of its characteristics to satisfy the TTB’s requirement that it have distinct value as a wine grape in the United States. In February of 2004, our petition was formally approved.

Aromas and Flavors

We have found that, in California, Picpoul maintains its bright acidity, but also develops an appealing tropical lushness. It is quite rich in the mouth, with an exceptionally long finish. When we have enough fruit, we bottle Picpoul Blanc as a single varietal, and the wine shows a rich nose of pear, pineapple and spice. In the mouth, buttery flavors of pineapple and orange are balanced by crisp acids, and the long, rich finish shows flavors of piña colada.

Beginning in 2004, we have included Picpoul Blanc in our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, where it lifts the aromatics of the wine in much the same way Viognier might, and its bright acids and pronounced minerality highlight the richness of the Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.

Whereas in previous vintages Viognier had played the role of lifting the aromatic profile, including Picpoul instead in the Esprit Blanc means that the wine includes only grapes approved for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. (Viognier, while a Rhône varietal, is not permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape). The 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc was included in the Fall 2005 VINsider shipment, and will be released nationwide in early 2006.

Source: http://www.tablascreek.com/picpoul.html

Roussanne | White Wines

June 24th, 2008

Roussane White Grape
Roussanne, with its honeyed richness and excellent longevity, forms the backbone of our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. In addition, it makes a tremendous single varietal wine, as in our varietal Roussanne that debuted in 2002. The varietal takes its name from “roux”, the French word for “russet” – an apt description of the grapes’ reddish gold skins at harvest.

Roussanne in France

Although no one is precisely sure where Roussanne originated, it seems likely the varietal is native to the Rhône Valley and to the Isere Valley in eastern France. The varietal has not ventured far from its origin; most of the world’s Roussanne is grown throughout the Rhône, where it is traditionally used as a blending grape. In the Southern Rhône, Roussanne is one of four white grape varietals permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and it is often blended with Grenache Blanc, whose richness and crisp acids highlight Roussanne’s pear and honey flavors. In the Northern Rhône, Roussanne is frequently blended with Marsanne in the appellations of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and Saint Joseph to provide acidity, minerality and richness. As a single varietal wine, it reaches its pinnacle as the sole component of Château de Beaucastel’s Roussanne Vieille Vignes.

Roussanne is also found the Savoie region of France (where it is known as Bergeron), and in limited quantities in Australia and Italy. In the United States, Roussanne is planted in the Central Coast and Sonoma regions of California, as well as in the Yakima Valley of Washington State.

Roussanne in California

In the 1980s, pioneering American growers attempted to import Roussanne into the United States by taking cuttings from the Rhône Valley. Those cuttings were propagated and planted in vineyards all over California, and many wines from those cuttings garnered critical acclaim. Years later, in 1998, DNA tests identified those vines as Viognier – a discovery which led to significant confusion, relabeling, and several lawsuits. We avoided this confusion by importing all of our vine cuttings directly from Château de Beaucastel; the Roussanne and Viognier propagated in the Tablas Creek Nursery are certified clones, tested by the USDA and declared virus-free. We have have more information on the Roussanne-Viognier Controversy.

Around the same time we brought in the Beaucastel clones, John Alban imported Roussanne to plant in his Central Coast vineyards. Those clones were also true Roussanne, and virtually all of the 177 acres of Roussanne currently planted in California are descendants of the clones brought in by Alban and by Tablas Creek.

Roussanne at Tablas Creek

Roussanne has a reputation as a difficult varietal to grow, and as such is often passed over in favor of the more cooperative Marsanne. In its native France, plantings had almost disappeared until superior clones were developed towards the end of the twentieth century. Roussanne grapes are susceptible to powdery mildew and rot, and the vine is a shy producer even under ideal conditions. Of the four primary white Rhône varietals that we grow at Tablas Creek, Roussanne is generally the latest-ripening.

The vines are particularly responsive to sunlight, and grape bunches on the western side of the vine tend to ripen more quickly than bunches on the eastern side. To combat this tendency, we aggressively thin the leaves to expose more bunches to sunlight and harvest the grapes in multiple passes. Bunches on the western side are picked first, leaving the eastern ones more time to ripen. Sixteen acres of our vineyard are devoted to Roussanne, representing over half of our white Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties and almost ten percent of the Roussanne planted in California.

Flavors and Aromas

Wines made from Roussanne are rich and complex, with distinct honey, floral and apricot flavors. At Tablas Creek, we ferment and age about half of our Roussanne in one- to five-year-old French oak, which provides a structured richness and enhances the flavors of honeyed peach and apricot fruit. Unlike most white wines, Roussanne ages very well due to its unusual combination of richness and crisp acids; Château de Beaucastel’s Roussanne Vieille Vignes wines can be enjoyed up to 15 years or more after bottling.

Roussanne is gaining popularity as a single varietal, especially among producers on the Central Coast. After a wine-club-only bottling of two barrels in 2001, we have begun producing a single-varietal Roussanne made from grapes that we feel are particularly characteristic of the varietal. The single-varietal bottling provides a nice counterpoint to the terroir-characteristic grapes we use in our Roussanne-based Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc.

Source:http://www.tablascreek.com/roussanne.html

Grenache Blanc GrapeGrenache Blanc is a relatively new arrival into the Tablas Creek Vineyard pantheon of grapes. It produces rich, full wines with bright flavors and crisp acidity and is a key element in both our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and Cotes de Tablas Blanc. As the name suggests, Grenache Blanc is related to the more widely known Grenache Noir. Many grape varietals have both red and white variants; the best known is Pinot, which has Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris variations. Grenache Blanc, like Grenache Noir, is drought-resistant, vigorous, easy to graft and ripens fairly early in the cycle. Since we brought Grenache Blanc into our nursery, we have sold budwood and grafted vines to a number of other Rhône-producing vineyards in California. The California climate of hot days and cool nights seems to be perfect for the varietal and encourages its two prime qualities: richness with crisp acids.

Early History

Grenache Blanc originated in Spain, and still plays a role in the wines of Rioja and Navarre. From Spain, it spread to France, and has thrived in the vineyards of the Rhône valley and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is the fourth most commonly planted white grape varietal in France, comprising over 37,000 acres in Roussillon alone. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the crisp acidity of Grenache Blanc is used to balance the honeyed richness of Roussanne, and white Château de Beaucastel is roughly 80% Roussanne and 20% Grenache Blanc.

Grenache Blanc at Tablas Creek

We imported cuttings of Grenache Blanc from Beaucastel in 1992, and the vines spent three years in quarantine at the USDA station in Geneva, New York. In 1995, the cuttings were declared virus free and released to Tablas Creek Vineyard. These vines were received into our nursery and the first grafted vines went into the ground in 1996. The first significant harvest of the varietal was 1999. For the next three years (up to and including the 2001 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc), we could only refer to the varietal as Grenache on our label because Grenache Blanc was not yet recognized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Not surprisingly, many people found this nomenclature confusing and we were regularly asked why we added a red varietal into our white blend; in 2002 we petitioned the BATF to recognize Grenache Blanc as a separate varietal.

Grenache Blanc at the BATF

We went through the varietal approval process with Counoise in 2000, so we knew what we had to do. We compiled literature on Grenache Blanc to show that it was a recognized varietal in other countries, and we compiled descriptions of its characteristics to show that it had positive value as a wine grape in the United States. In February 2003, our petition was provisionally approved (pending an open review process that could take 18 months). You can see Grenache Blanc on the front labels of ourEsprit de Beaucastel Blanc and the Côtes de Tablas Blanc, as well our single-varietal Grenache Blanc, which debuted to national release with the 2004 vintage.

Aromas and Flavors

Grenache Blanc is straw-colored and produces wines that are high in alcohol, with crisp acids. The nose has bright green apple and mandarin orange aromas, with clean flavors of more green apples, mineral and a touch of peach. It has a long, lingering finish. Although it can stand confidently on its own, its crispness and long finish make it a tremendous blending component. The crispness of Grenache Blanc shows well at low temperatures, whereas many white Rhône varietals (particularly Roussanne and Marsanne) shut down when served too cold. In our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, the Grenache Blanc allows the wine to show well, even highly chilled (as many restaurants often serve all white wines). As the wine warms up in the glass, the other varietals unfold, and the full richness of the wine is displayed. If you’re interested in Grenache Blanc, we bottled small lots of 100% Grenache Blanc in both the 2002 and 2003 vintages for our Wine Club members. These wines were distributed as parts of the annual spring shipment. We planned a limited national release of our 2004 Grenache Blanc which has been very successful, debuting it in about a dozen states starting in late 2005.

Source: http://www.tablascreek.com/grenachebl.html

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