By Terry Thompson-Anderson
This year, when shopping for the perfect wines to serve at holiday get-togethers or give as hostess gifts at parties, think TEXAS. There’s a stunning array of fine wines being produced here, from sparkling wines to big reds, new styles of white varietals to dessert wines and everything in between. In the past few years, as Texas winemakers have focused on those grapes best suited to the Texas terroir, they’ve produced wines from a myriad of varietals that have never been grown in the state before.
Now more than ever, Texas has a portfolio of varietals that spans the globe. And Texas winemakers are using more native grapes and native hybrids to make wines of a quality that no one—especially the wine snobs—would’ve believed possible five years ago.
Since many Texas wineries have small production, beverage distributors don’t carry their wines. Ask your independent wine store to assist in getting wines from those smaller wineries. If all else fails, Texas wineries will be delighted to ship their wines to you. Call the individual winery for further information.
Viognier is one of the fabulous French Rhône varietals that seems to love Texas dirt. Several Texas wineries are now producing very good wines from the viognier grape, or are using it in blends. Becker Vineyards first produced this excellent dessert wine, made from late-harvested viognier grapes, a few years back. It proved to be popular with wine drinkers, and now has a solid niche in the Becker portfolio. The wine was produced from grapes grown at Cliff Bingham’s Bingham Family Vineyards in the Texas High Plains, near Lubbock. It has aromatics reminiscent of a fresh fruit salad, with flavors of lime and grapefruit on the palate. There’s a delightful finish with a hint of vanilla, a drop of honey and a nuance of date. Pair the wine with fresh fruit or crème brûlée. It also makes a great aperitif. A unique serving method is to place shooter glasses in the freezer until well chilled and frosty. Fill with Clementine and serve from a silver tray—impressive! 830-644-2681
BENDING BRANCH WINERY
2009 TANNAT, EM 1840
Established in 2007, Bending Branch is one of Texas’s newer wineries. Owner Bob Young and his son-in-law John Rivenburgh, a Texas Tech viticulture management program student, carefully investigated European varietals that would thrive in their vineyard in Comfort. They ended up planting twelve varietals that are fairly new to Texas—among them tannat, a slow-ripening grape from the Pyrenees foothills south of Bordeaux that’s quickly establishing itself as a New World classic. Bending Branch’s 2009 Tannat was given extended maceration, which soothes the sometimes harsh tannins of this grape. It’s inky purple in color with a nose of intense fruit. On the palate, lush notes of black cherry, dark chocolate and cola precede the unfolding layers of anisette, mint leaves, cedar and violets. This very full-bodied wine is for the serious red wine drinker on your holiday gift list. Awarded a gold medal and best of show at the 2010 Lonestar International Wine Competition, this powerhouse will complement the boldest cuisines, the wildest game meats, a nice Texas rib eye or just good company. It’s also a wine that should age well and gracefully. Although the current prototype for this wine was using fruit from a small Paso Robles, California vineyard which Bob personally selected during on-site visits, the winery will begin producing the wine using their estate-grown grapes or those sourced from other Texas vineyards in 2012. The entire Bending Branch team is dedicated to producing Texas terroir wines. 830-995-2948
BRUSHY CREEK VINEYARDS
SPARKLING BLANC DU BOIS 2009
If pressed to name the official grape of Texas, those in the know would probably say it was the native hybrid blanc du bois. It’s a varietal that grows anywhere in Texas and is not subject to the vagaries of Vitis vinifera grapes. Many Texas wineries have extensive plantings of blanc du bois grapes and are turning out fabulous wines—from sweet dessert, to off-dry, to Madeira-style wines. In fact, Texas has more acreage devoted to blanc du bois grapes than any other region on the planet! So it’s not surprising that Les Constable at Brushy Creek Vineyards in Alvord, just north of Fort Worth, released a sparkling wine made from the grape. Texas winemakers are learning how to treat this hardy grape to make a large variety of wine styles. Constable’s sparkling wine is semisweet and fruity, with a nice head of effervescence. It’s the perfect wine for a party and would be a great match for those spicy finger foods we love so much in Texas! 940-427-4747.
DUCHMAN FAMILY WINERY
2009 DOLCETTO (MANDOLA LABEL)
The dolcetto varietal is a grape that hails from the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. A few Texas grape growers decided the growing conditions were similar in the Texas High Plains and put in some dolcetto acreage. The resulting wines have proven to be excellent, and the grape seems to be destined for a permanent place in Texas. Dolcetto is ideally meant to be enjoyed one to two years after its release. Duchman’s 2009 Dolcetto began its life in the bottle as a medium-bodied wine exhibiting crisp red-fruit character with high tannins and low acidity. Russ Kane, wine authority and publisher of the popular wine blog Vintage Texas, believes this is a wine to be reckoned with, and one that’s becoming better with bottle aging—integrating its fruit and tannic qualities. In 2010, the wine won a Double Gold Medal at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition—certainly a coup for the Duchmans, and another nod to the emerging quality of Texas wines. Dolcetto is a food-friendly wine, best with the robust dishes of its origin: pasta with red sauces and hearty pizzas. 512-858-1470
PERISSOS VINEYARD AND WINERY
2009 TEMPRANILLO BLEND
Six-year-old Perissos is another of Texas’s newer wineries, but they’ve come out of the chute galloping—producing a large portfolio of varietals, all of which are good to very good to excellent. Their 2009 Tempranillo falls into the latter class. Tempranillo is a thick-skinned black grape that’s widely grown in Spain’s Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions and used to make full-bodied wines, and Texas winemakers have jumped on this varietal as it’s proven capable of thriving in the Texas terroir and heat. Perissos owner and winemaker Seth Martin coaxes the very best qualities from this noble grape, then blends it with touriga to add a bright, acidic backbone and some well-balanced tannins to make a stellar full-bodied wine with characteristic earthy nuances. In this wine, you’ll find the classic notes of sweet tobacco, smoke and herbs and a rich cranberry finish. And though tempranillo is one of the most food-friendly wines on the planet, think of the grape’s origin of Spain for the perfect food pairings. Try it with tapas, pork and other grilled or roasted red meats and game. 512-820-2950
SANDSTONE CELLARS WINERY
2006 IV VINTAGE PORT STYLE DESSERT WINE
Sandstone Cellars is a small winery in Mason, but being small hasn’t kept the dynamic trio of owners Scott Haupert, Manny Silerio and winemaker Don Pullum from producing some of the most noteworthy wines in Texas. With its iron-infused quartzite sand mixed with a little granite, the soil in Mason County drains well and has a pH that is neutral or just slightly acidic, which makes for great grape growing. Pullum believes the soil results in the grapes having bigger bouquets, and one swirl of their 2006 IV Port Style wine made a believer out of me. When the Sandstone team produced this wine, they made it BIG, with alcohol at 19.5 percent, 12 percent residual sugar, strong tannins and heavy fruit extraction. They were hoping for aging potential, and now, five years later, the wine has proven that potential. Its profile has changed—showing great port maturity. It’s taken on a very traditional mulberry character on both the nose and the palate, but it still retains its sassy spiciness, along with notes of chocolate, licorice, orange peel, crème brûlée and wintergreen. The wine has received critical acclaim—winning top honors in the Red Wine-Sweet Division at a 2009 DrinkLocalWine.com competition at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Dallas, and won Texas Class Champion at the 2009 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition as well as a bronze at the 2011 San Francisco International Wine Competition. Port is a celebratory wine, and certainly one that’s perfect for the winter holiday season. Pullum agrees. “Port is a wonderful tradition during the fall and winter holidays, and the Sandstone Cellars 2006 IV has become a tradition for Scott, Manny and me. It warms the heart, encourages conversation and, along with a slice of chocolate cake, pecan pie or port-poached pear, the IV completes a festive meal.” 325-347-9463
SISTER CREEK VINEYARDS
2010 MUSCAT CANELLI
Sister Creek Vineyards, east of Luckenbach in the sleepy town of Sisterdale, is no newcomer to the Texas wine industry. Winemaker Danny Hernandez has been making some outstanding wines there for 22 years, but the muscat canelli is probably one of their best known. The grape yields a hugely floral wine that’s been produced in various forms all over Europe. In Italy, it’s the grape that is used to produce Asti spumante and moscato d’Asti. In Texas, the grape is grown by a plethora of wineries and has proven to thrive in the Texas terroir. What makes Hernandez’s a favorite is the slight carbonation, added to the wine in the Italian style, which adds crispness along with a little spritz. Sister Creek Muscat Canelli is fermented and aged in stainless-steel tanks, chilled and filtered to retain about 7 percent residual sugar, giving it an elegant but not overpoweringly sweet profile. The sweetness is balanced with intense fruity (mainly peach), floral and honey aromas, and pleasing on the palate where the combination of sweet, fruit and spritz make for a delightful experience. It has a crisp, lingering finish and is perfect with a dessert course or served in icy shooter glasses as dessert—perhaps alongside a lemony shortbread cookie. 830-324-6704
TORRE DI PIETRA
2010 PETITE SYRAH (ESTATE)
The petite syrah grape was developed in the Rhône region of France in 1870. The fruit is small with a high skin-to-juice-ratio, meaning it produces wines with high acidity and high tannin levels—two musts in order for a wine to age well. Wine lovers in Texas are fortunate that the grape seems to be doing quite well in our Texas terroir, as are most of the Rhône varietals. One of the best is produced by Ken Maxwell at his Torre di Pietra winery in Fredericksburg. The 2010 Torre di Pietra Petite Syrah was produced from the first petite syrah vines planted in Texas in 2001. The wine is brilliant purple in color with a delightful note of oak on the nose and nice notes of black cherry and red plum that follow through on the palate. There’s also a nice little note of black pepper, making it a red-meat-friendly wine. The finish is smooth with a lingering cherry creaminess wrapped around mature, gripping tannins. It is a good candidate for aging. This is a big wine that will be the perfect pairing to a succulent rare-roasted prime rib. 830-644-2829