2012 Texas Wine Holiday Gift Guide

By Terry Thompson-Anderson

As the Texas wine industry continues to expand, the wines keep getting better and better. It seems that increased competition within the industry is, indeed, raising the bar of excellence for Texas wines. And Texas winemakers are finally realizing that they must concentrate on growing varietals—like those from the Mediterranean—that thrive best in our Texas terroir. In fact, Dr. Russell Kane, author of the Vintage Texas wine blog and the recently published book, The Wineslinger Chronicles, actually proclaims our state as the “Texas Mediterranean.”


Here’s a selection of some of the best, and certainly the most interesting, wines in Texas. Since many of the best are produced by small boutique wineries,  the wines may be hard to find. You can always order them from the wineries; they are delighted to ship their wines to you within the state. And talk to your favorite wine shop about stocking more of the good Texas wines from smaller wineries.

KIEPERSOL ESTATES WINERY

2009 Barrel No. 33 Texas Wish

Pierre de Wet and his two daughters immigrated to the U.S. from Mpumalanga, South Africa in 1984 and established Kiepersol Estates south of Tyler. De Wet started with 14 acres of grapes planted in 1998, and produced the first vintage in 2000. Additional plantings have brought the total acreage to 68, making it one of the largest vineyards in Texas. The vineyards grow 14 different grape varietals. Each year just prior to harvest, the de Wets scout the vineyards and select those vines that have the perfect balance of fruit, flavor and color to produce the Barrel No. 33 vintage. In 2009, because their syrah was head and shoulders better than any of their other grapes,  that year’s Barrel No. 33 turned out to be 92 percent syrah. They added 8 percent of other varieties to achieve a balance of tannins and acids. Aged for 32 months in 80 percent American oak and 20 percent neutral French oak, the wine is bitter-free, has supple, strong tannins and great up-front fruit. The aroma is of black currants, which could almost be confused with vanilla. The medium body of the wine provides the perfect mouthfeel for a truly enjoyable wine experience. On the palate, the wine is chocolate-covered strawberries with a delightful black cherry-taffy finish. De Wet calls this wine a “keeper,” with aging potential of 10 years. Enjoy it with a braised shoulder of lamb during holiday feasting.  903-894-8995, kiepersol.com


HAAK VINEYARDS AND WINERY

2010 Blanc du Bois Madeira

In 2000, when Raymond and Gladys Haak first announced that they would open Haak Vineyards and Winery in Santa Fe, Texas about 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, wine critics said they were crazy. Skeptics were sure that wine grapes wouldn’t grow in such heat, humidity and proximity to the coast—they’d be susceptible to every disease and pest that could possibly befall wine grapes. Everything changed, though, when wine writer Michael Lonsford went to the winery and tasted their wines made from the blanc du bois grape. Lonsford was so impressed that he wrote a glowing review in his weekly column in the Houston Chronicle—extolling the virtues of the grape and Raymond’s skill in creating wines from it. Over the years Raymond has won national and international acclaim for his winemaking success with this grape—a hybrid varietal that’s resistant to many of the diseases and pests that blight other grapes.

Haak makes seven distinctly different wines using the grape, but one of his greatest achievements was the Madeira. After a trip to Portugal and the island of Madeira, he became interested in, and researched, the traditional estufagem methods for making Madeira. Determined to master it back home,  he built a traditional estufa (a room used to heat-age the wine) at his winery and decided to make his first Madeira from the Jacquez (Lenoir/black Spanish) grape. The wine won immediate acclaim—beating out Madeiras from some of the top Mediterranean producers in competitions. He then made a vintage of Madeira from the blanc du bois grape, which has also won numerous awards and acclaim. Noted wine authority Jancis Robinson scored the 2006 (blanc du bois) vintage at 15.5. The 2010 Blanc du Bois Madeira opens up in the glass with delightful aromas of dried apricots and peaches doused with caramel. On the palate, notes of soft, buttery caramel-coated apricots and peaches follow, with a soft hint of green tea and fresh lemons. The finish is bracing and zesty as the 18-percent alcohol content makes its presence known as a pleasantly warming sensation in the throat. Raymond’s Madeira is the perfect end to a holiday evening relaxing in front of a crackling fire.  409-925-1401, haakwine.com

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BENDING BRANCH WINERY

2010 Picpoul Blanc, 1840

Bending Branch Winery, in Comfort, is a relatively new winery. However, owner and winemaker Bob Young, along with son-in-law and operations manager John Rivenburgh, hit the ground running—planting varietals that had never before been grown in Texas. The wines made from these unique grapes have been racking up critical acclaim and awards all over the country ever since. I was delighted to see that one of their first wines was produced from my favorite white wine grape, picpoul—rarely seen in the U.S. They planted a small acreage of the grapes at their estate vineyard (the 2011 harvest did not produce enough wine to make it available to the public), but the grapes for this 1840-label vintage came from Hall Ranch Vineyards in Paso Robles, California. Bending Branch hand-harvested the grapes and began processing the fruit while there to have complete control over the quality of the winemaking process. The picpoul grape is an ancient French varietal from the Languedoc region where it’s produced as a delightful vin du pays, or table wine. Picpoul—known as “lip stinger” because of its bright acidity—offers flavors of tropical fruits, and is known as one of the gems of the southern Rhône for its ability to boost the bouquet of Rhône-style blends. It’s a white wine that red wine drinkers like, and is a great wine to pair with food as it’s the white equivalent of a full-bodied red. The wine provides great lift and movement across the palate, boasting the varietal-typical tropical fruits and sweet citrus notes. It’s multilayered with hints of clove, honey, vanilla and cream, and is perfect for pairing with one of my favorite holiday foods: oysters, especially on the half shell. The brine and salt components of the oysters are somewhat neutralized by high-acid wines, and picpoul is the mother ship of acidity. It’s also a great wine for sushi—neutralizing even a giant dollop of wasabi—or with rich, oily fish like salmon. The Picpoul Blanc, 1840 won a gold medal at the 2011 Lone Star International Wine Competition.  830-995-2948, bendingbranchwinery.com

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LLANO ESTACADO WINERY

2008 Viviano

Llano Estacado Winery is the second-oldest winery in Texas. Vice President and Executive Winemaker Greg Bruni joined the winery in 1993 after 20 years as a winemaker in California, and has drastically improved the quality of Llano Estacado’s wines. Bruni produced the first vintage of Viviano in 1996—marking a milestone for European-style wine blends in Texas. Viviano is Llano Estacado’s highest quality wine and is only produced in those years when Bruni deems the grapes to be of superior quality. As of 2012, the Viviano has walked away with a prestigious Grand Award as Texas’s Best Red Wine five times at the Lone Star International Wine Competition. In 2012, the 2008 vintage won the double gold medal as well as the Grand Star for red wine. The 2008 Viviano was aged 879 days in both French and American oak and is a blend of 73.2 percent cabernet sauvignon from the vineyards of Rising Star, 19.7 percent sangiovese from Newsom Vineyards and small amounts of syrah, malbec, petite verdot, cabernet franc and others. Because of the extensive barrel aging, the aromatics are complex. The tannins are well balanced and make the wine exceptional for pairing with Texas beef tenderloin, rib-eye or rib roast. Look for layers of mocha, dried cherries and a nuance of cedar. The finish is smooth and lingering.  806-745-2258, llanoestacadowine.com


SANDSTONE CELLARS WINERY

Cider Dessert Wine 2010

Sandstone Cellars Winery is a small boutique winery established in 2004 in Mason. It’s become known for its big, bold, Mediterranean red wine blends, and for an outstanding 100 percent touriga vintage in 2009. For their 2012 release, however, owners Scott Haupert and Manny Silerio, along with winemaker Don Pullum, wanted to try their hands at making a superb dessert wine. They turned to Jonagold apples from the far northern edge of the Texas Panhandle. This marked a radical move for a winery whose great red blends are featured on the wine lists at some of Texas’s most elite restaurants. Pullum fortified the cider with a smooth apple brandy from Oregon. The wine’s bouquet is like cutting into a sweet Golden Delicious apple: light spice and a hint of honey. It’s the full tantalizing experience of apple pie with subtle sweetness, tart apple, nutmeg, allspice and a bit of cardamom. On the finish, there’s a light, hot dinner roll yeastiness. Haupert mentions that one of his favorite ways to enjoy the wine is on the rocks. After trying it, I agree. It’s also nice as an after-dinner quaff served in chilled shooter glasses. In any vessel, the wine should be served quite cold: 40 to 45 degrees. 325-347-9463, sandstonecellarswinery.com


TEXAS HILLS VINEYARD

Toro de Tejas 2010

Texas Hills Vineyard is located in Johnson City. Owners Gary and Kathy Gilstrap brought their careers as pharmacists to the winemaking industry and introduced many innovations inspired by their scientific backgrounds. Over the years, their wines have won many awards and have been embraced by wine drinkers around the state and country. While Gary’s initial focus was on Italian-style wines, he’s branched out into other varietals, including tempranillo. Many in the industry, including Gary, believe that the tempranillo grape will play an important role in the future of the Texas wine industry as it seems ideally suited for the Texas terroir. Grapes for the Toro de Tejas 2010 came from Newsom Vineyards in the Texas High Plains—growers of some of Texas’s highest quality grapes. These are old vines that produce wines with full, lush bodies and rich, complex flavors. The tannins are soft and understated—allowing for the flavors of dark berries and plums to blossom, with a hint of spice towards the finish. This wine is a great pairing for the foods we love in Texas: smoked and well-seasoned red meat and game, as well as grilled, boldly seasoned shrimp and quail. When firing up the pit to smoke a juicy brisket or some venison backstrap for the holidays, look no further for a wine match. 830-868-2321, texashillsvineyard.com