First, let's talk about the two wineries visited:
Located on the west side of Paso Robles, tucked in the hills, this not-so-large property has rolling vineyards many planted 15 to 20 years ago, so the vines are by Paso standards older than others. The winery sports a cute sign pointing to Domaine de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in the Southern Rhone.
We had an extensive, guided tour of the Tablas Creek estate, which produces wines only from estate grown fruit. There are a great deal of varieties planted here, including all 13 varieties allowed in Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as some Northern Rhone varieties, such as Viognier, as well as some Spanish and Italian varieties.
2007 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc
This is a blend of white wine grapes from the Rhone, though Viognier is from the Northern Rhone and the other three are from the Southern Rhone. The Viognier dominates here, with a rich aromatic nose, and a palate that is full-bodied, pleasant, 13.5% alcohol.
2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc
This is a blend of white grapes allowed in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, and this is where I learned that Viognier is not one of them! As for the Picpoul variety, I also didn't know this is from the Southern Rhone; I only know Picpoul de Pinet..... which the tour guide had not heard of (Pinet that is). This is an expressive, interesting white wine, with nuances of poached pear, creamy oak and malolactic fermentation, though not overly oaky.
Rich wine with some neutral oak, savory peach/pear, but not fruity. Great roast chicken wine, in my mind.
2006 Grenache Blanc
100% Grenache Blanc
Lemon/citrus nose, reminiscent of Riesling, bright acidity on the palate, and doesn't taste anything like its 15.3% alcohol.
An Italian white variety. Fresh aroma, floral. Fresh and zippy with good acidity, citrus, orange, and lower alcohol. Refreshing.
Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, Counoise
A deep red colored Rose made from 48 hours on the skins - juicy, full of red berries and watermelon, a touch of pepper. Very ripe fruit flavors. A good wine for cured salmon
2006 Cotes de Tablas
Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise
Fashioned after a Cotes du Rhone, this wine shows more tannin than I'm used to in Cotes du Rhone, more body and fruit and power, but a pleasant red wine nonetheless.
90% Syrah, 10% Grenache Noir
Nice depth, spice, a little tannin, dark berry fruit, and some complexity from aging. A solid Syrah.
90% Grenache, 10% Syrah
Fruity nose; on the palate, tea, berries, and some sweetness. 15.3% alcohol.
2006 Esprit de Beaucastel
Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, Counoise
Their signature wine, their version of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This vintage is sweet, fruity, showing some alcohol, but mostly fresh red berries.
2005 Esprit de Beaucastel
This vintage is rustique, with animal/brettanomeyces/barnyard nose reminiscent of a French wine. Not so much that it is a negative, just an interesting point with this vintage.
2004 Esprit de Beaucastel
This vintage shows nice development in the wine, no barnyard flavors, very nice.
Halter Ranch is a neighboring estate that is much larger than Tablas Creek. The estate is younger, and most vines were planted around 2000. The wines made here are also all estate-grown, and in fact, the estate grows so many grapes, that it sells some to neighbors, such as Justin.
California sales manager Jim Witt gave us a private tour of the property in his truck, and we drove around the vast site which boasts 250 acres under vine, and a total property area of 1000 acres.
At certain points he had to get out of the truck to open and close gates which were part of the fence system that allowed the local deer to migrate through the area without having access to the vineyard.
At one point in the tour, we got out to visit what Jim told us was the largest oak tree in the world. This oak tree on the Halter Ranch property gives its Bordeaux-style blend Ancestor its name.