I don’t know where your political persuasions lie, but I personally feel we owe a huge debt of gratitude to former governor (and president) George W. Bush for really putting the Texas wine industry on the map. When he signed the original proclamation designating each October as Texas Wine Month back in 1999, there were only 20 working wineries in the state. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time in terms of the number of wineries (250+), and more importantly…quality. I thought this was the perfect time to reach out to some of my favorite Texas wineries, and ask the principals to highlight their favorite wines. These are what I feel are the cutting edge winemakers… those interested in moving beyond the chocolate, vanilla, and strawberries (Cab, Chard, Merlot) of the wine world. This is the group that draws the line on the map from Texas across to Europe, and look for those varietals that do well in that arc that runs thru southern France, into Spain, and across to northern Italy. Who would have ever thought that varietals like Viognier, Tempranillo, Rousanne, Sangiovese, and others would thrive here…typical Texas ingenuity. The answers I received did not disappoint in the least. And to make it a little more interesting, I asked for help from our informal neighborhood tasting panel. Thanks to John and Sheema, Bill and Maggie, Dan and Shirley and especially to my wife Kathy for their valuable feedback and tasting notes. In no particular order, here are my suggestions for the “Best of the Best” in Texas wines, direct from the vineyards and winemakers themselves.
First up is my old friend Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars in Lubbock, Texas. (www.mcphersoncellars.com). Kim was just acknowledged as one of the top 100 winemakers in the U.S. His two recommendations were his 2010 Sangiovese ($24.99) and his 2012 Reserve Rousanne ($39.99). Kim’s dad (Doc) planted the first Sangiovese grapes in Texas over 25 years ago, and Kim has been making this since 1998. Lighter in style than the traditional Italian version, he ages this in French oak. The wine has elements of pepper, spice, and cherry notes. Tasting panel agreed…”Lighter in style, very smooth, great with summer style foods”. The Reserve Rousanne is Kim’s new favorite…”if I’m blessed with good fruit, I’ll make this wine each year”. Reserve is really Reserve for McPherson…he only produced 416 cases of this, and only 1100 cases of the Sangiovese. The classic blending grape from the Rhone region shines with rich texture, and hints of candied lemon drops and citrus aromas. The Tasting panel agreed…this was a top pick for many in the group…”rich, full-bodied, elegant, great zingy finish”. For those that really like Kim’s wines, please reach out for our own local gal Channing (Director of their wine club) and get signed up!
Next up is Brian Heath from Grape Creek Vineyards in Fredericksburg, Texas. (www.grapecreek.com). Brian and his wife Jennifer are the owners and their vision was to bring the richness of Tuscany to Texas. Their recommendations on wines produced by their winemaker Jason Englert were the 2012 Viognier ($27.99) and the 2011 Bellissimo ($54.99). This winery has won over 100 awards in just the last 2 years, and the Bellissimo is a consistent winner in national competitions. This Super Tuscan interpretation of Sangiovese, Cabernet, and Merlot is rich with aromas of cherries and raspberries, with hints of clove and allspice. The Tasting panel offered…”smooth, silky, lighter style blend, wonderful with pasta.” The Viognier is becoming THE white wine of Texas, with a beautiful floral and citrusy nose. All stainless steel aging (no oak). Very clean and crisp, with balanced acidity. The Tasting panel offered…”sharp, beautiful floral nose, almost perfumey, but full-bodied, rich, easy drinking”.
Next is Dr. Robert Young of Bending Branch winery in Comfort, Texas. (www.bendingbranchwinery.com). Dr. Young and his extended family bring you “Comfort in a bottle”. Their offerings were the 2010 Tempranillo ($29.99) and the 2010 Tannat ($32.99) Texas has now matured to the point where certain vineyards in the state are a sure bet for high quality grapes, and Dr. Young sources from two of the best for these wines. The Tempranillo is sourced from the famed Newsom vineyard (Texas High Plains AVA) and aged for 24 months in American oak. Hints of espresso, tobacco, and green herbs combine with a rich cranberry finish. Great tannic structure balances with bright crisp acidity. The Tasting panel offers…”great bouquet, heavy and rich, hints of pepper and spice, smoky aromas”. The Tannat is their signature varietal, and is sourced from the Reddy vineyard (also High Plains AVA).
Next is Dr. Pat Brennan of Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, Texas. (www.brennanvineyards.com). Comanche is a pretty little small town smack dab in the geographic center of Texas. There should be a warning sign for doctors who love wine and decide to retire to small town Texas. What started as a simple weekend getaway quickly progressed to founding a winery in 1997, with the first harvest in 2005. Dr. Brennan and his team submitted their 2011 Tempranillo, their first release ($29.99) and their 2011 Viognier ($19.99). Most of the fruit is from their estate vineyards (Newburg) and from grower’s Bob Ossowski and Adrian Allen in Cross Plains, and it shows.”We’ve tried to match our varietals to our terroir. Viognier and Tempranillo are great grapes for our soil and climate. Our Viognier has done very well in local and national competitions, and offers beautiful perfumey notes of peach, citrus. Our Tempranillo has rich earth flavors and dark fruit aromas…I love this with venison stew”. The Tasting panel really enjoyed both…”their Viognier offered a really unique style, with a very lingering finish…Their Tempranillo offer rich hints of spice, nice and chewy…thick and robust, full bodied, smooth”.
And lastly, William Chris vineyards in Hye, Texas. (www.williamchriswines.com). Miguel Lecuona (brand ambassador) was kind enough to provide their 2012 Blanc du Bois ($42.99) and their 2011 Enchante ($64.99). No house divided here…proof that the best of Texas Tech (William “Bill” Blackmon) and Texas A&M (Chris Brundrett) can not only peacefully co-exist, but partner beautifully to produce these 2 stunning wines. Miguel was nice enough to provide two links to each of these wines that are much more eloquent than I could ever be. Check out https://vimeo.com/32932276 and https://vimeo.com/45370656. The Blanc du Bois is sourced from the John Dale vineyard in Brenham, with 25% Trebbiano from their own Granite Hill vineyard in Willow City blended in for greater complexity and flavor while the Enchante is their Bordeaux style blend (2011 is Merlot, Cabernet, and Malbec) with grapes primarily from the Granite Hill vineyard they planted in the 90s.These were a big hit with the Tasting panel…”Blanc du Bois was perfect for the Fall season, not too dry or sweet, beautiful balance, easy drinking, refreshing…..Enchante is my favorite of the evening, rich, bold flavors, smooth and elegant”. Miguel also promised some exciting things coming from two brand new wineries whose names I can not divulge (Lewis and Hawk’s Shadow Estate). Looks like Texas Wine Trial revisited…Part Tres’?
So in conclusion, what better way to celebrate Texas Wine Month than to pull the cork (or twist the cap) on your favorite Texas wine. I never really appreciated how difficult farming was, until I looked at it thru the eyes of my father-in-law Truman…..its dawn to dusk pretty much seven days a week, rain or shine. I know I’ve had a tendency to glamorize the wine country, especially California, as the Garden of Eden for wine lovers. Now, I’m especially grateful to Truman for showing me literally how hard it is to coax a living from the land, especially in Texas…it makes you appreciate the sweat equity that goes into each bottle of Texas wine. Let’s keep these folks busy and productive and drink as much wine as they can produce. Prices that I quoted were average retails for our area. If you have difficulty finding these, ask your favorite shop to order them for you. For the dining group, ask your favorite restaurant to bring these wines in either by-the-glass or for their wine list…these are all great food wines. The good news is all these wineries are on the 290 Texas Wine Trail. Enjoy a beautiful fall trip to our part of the wine country, meets some nice folks in their tasting rooms, and buy direct and save. These were truly exceptional wines across the board…not a clunker in the group. All were 100% Texas fruit, all relatively small production, many of these offer the potential to age several years if were disciplined and patient enough to wait. The future looks very very bright for the Texas wine industry.
And remember for those thinking that the wine business is a piece of cake…The easiest way to become a millionaire in the wine business…..is to start as a billionaire and buy a winery!