The Texas Wine Industry is working tirelessly to prove themselves on the global stage. In some respects it seems to be working. The wines are winning more and more international awards as the quality continues to rise. In most cases winemakers in Texas have figured out which grapes grow best in the state and thankfully the high-quality producers are using grapes grown in Texas. With every passing year I feel better about recommending Texas wines to wine lovers.
I recently attended a fun Texas wine event in Dallas called “The Sip.” It was hosted by Matt McGinnis of Pen and Tell Us, and featured four Texas wineries: Fall Creek Vineyards, Inwood Estates Vineyards, Spicewood Vineyards, and Stone House Vineyards. It was my first time tasting Stone House Vineyards, the rest I have had before. The tasting was set up “blind” with the participants tasting six white wines followed by a reveal and conversation; then eight red wines, and finally four bonus wines that were not served blind.
It was an interesting and in many ways educational tasting. Each grape has “typical” characteristics, and when said grape is grown in its most comfortable conditions with little winemaker intervention the grapes profile shines through. However, there is very little typical in the world of wine, grape characteristics may be counted on for a blind tasting for a wine certification exam but not necessarily evident in the “real world” of winemaking. For example, Sangiovese has “typical characteristics.” However, Brunello and Chianti do not taste the same. Add Romagna Sangiovese, or Sangiovese from Lodi, Sonoma, or Texas and sometimes it’s hard to believe it is all the same grape. Get my point? One to the blind tasting of the white wines….
The first wine we tasted was 2015 Spicewood Vineyards Estate Sauvignon Blanc. It was a crisp and refreshing white wine with loads of citrus zest and white stone fruit. We guessed it to be Vermentino and we all liked it. As owner Ron Yates described the winemaking processes and vineyard location it became evident that a Texas Sauv Blanc could be “uncharacteristic” yet still very enjoyable. The next wine was 2016 Fall Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Escondido Valley. This wine was more characteristically a Sauvignon Blanc which was interesting because it is grown in a warm climate. Winemaker Sergio Cuadra explained with the right vineyard techniques the grapes can adapt to higher temperatures. He was right because it was a lovely wine. After the two crisp and lovely Sauvignon Blancs we moved on to Chardonnay, a grape known to appreciate cooler, foggy climates. However, Chardonnay is also one of the (if not the most) versatile wine grapes, fully expressing not only the terroir but also the winemakers practices (for better or for worse). This was evident because the 2014 Fall Creek Vineyard Terroir Reflection Series Chardonnay Certenberg Vineyards Texas Hill Country, and the 2015 Inwood Estates Vineyard City of Dallas Chardonnay had uniquely different profiles, neither of which reflected “typical” Chardonnay characteristics. The Fall Creek Chardonnay offered notes of stone fruit, citrus, white floral notes, and butterscotch. Though it was aged in 100% new French oak, it did not express heavy oak characteristics. It was a well-structured and balanced wine. Grown in the City of Dallas, the Inwood Estates Chardonnay would have experienced some serious heat. However, 2015 was an El Nino summer, the temps were slightly cooler but the rain was much heavier than a normal Dallas summer. I don’t know how this affected the City of Dallas vineyards for Inwood Estates and what winemaking techniques were used in crafting the wine but I will say it was not my style of Chardonnay. It was balanced on the palate but I found the notes of rubber and burnt oak off-putting. The two Chardonnay were blindly compared in our tasting with two White Burgundies from Chassagne-Montrachet. I did not find it a particularly useful comparison since the two regions are vastly different and in my opinion all four wines tasted very different. I preferred to take the Texas Chardonnays on their own merit instead of judging them according to Burgundy. However, it is important to note Fall Creek Vineyards Chardonnay has won numerous blind international wine competitions, including beating Burgundy; therefore, I think the comparison was done for us to understand the international notoriety of these wines.
For the most part, the blind red tasting featured grapes more associated with Texas and it was a good tasting. We began with 2014 Fall Creek Vineyards Terroir Reflection Series GSM, Salt Lick Vineyard, Texas Hill Country. I particularly liked its herbaceous and dusty earth qualities. Tempranillo was up next – a grape that loves Texas! 2014 Fall Creek Vineyards Terroir Reflection Series Tempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyard, Texas Hill Country and 2014 Spicewood Vineyards Estate Tempranillo delivered on every level, both offered dried roses, spice, and herbal notes. The Fall Creek was “old world” in style (myself and others thought it was Sangiovese) and the Spicewood offered pleasing medicinal notes. Stone House Vineyards delivered the show stopper with their multi award-winning 2015 Claros, crafted of 100% Norton. For those of you that are not familiar with it, Norton is an indigenous US grape typically found in Missouri and Virginia. It is not too hard to find bad Norton, but it can be quite a hunt to find good Norton. Folks, you can find it at Stone House Vineyards. Although the eucalyptus/menthol aroma was a bit over-stated it offered dark chocolate, floral notes, and vanilla along with red fruit on the palate. I am not an expert so I was told this was not a “typical” Norton profile, no matter, everyone enjoyed the wine. Next, we tasted 2010 Inwood Estates Vineyards Meriana 100% Cabernet Sauvignon High Plains AVA. A few years ago my husband and I visited Inwood Estates and bought this wine. It currently is resting comfortably in our wine cellar. I was thrilled to taste it to know how it is doing. It is a good wine that proves in the right places Cabernet Sauvignon can be grown in Texas. It is also a big wine that still could use some cellar time but delivers what a new world cab lover wants. As a comparison the 2011 Joseph Phelps Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon was also shared; however the aroma of canned asparagus was so pungent that I could not taste the wine. Joseph Phelps is renowned Napa Valley winery, I cannot help but believe either the wine needed a few hours of decanting or it was faulted in some way. We concluded the tasting with another unique and delicious wine from Stone House: NV Stone House Vineyard Scheming Beagle Port, also crafted of 100% Norton. It was so good I would like to buy this wine. Plus as a former beagle owner I am sold by the adorable beagle on the label. One wine writer thought upon tasting the wine that it was Pedro Ximenez Sherry. Yes, it was that good!
The event was so educational and interactive that it ran long and I had to leave without tasting the four bonus wines. These fourteen wines are a good representation of the overall high quality wines being crafted in Texas. I continue to encourage you to try a few. I realize they are not distributed across the US but you can certainly order them online and ask your local wine retailer to carry Texas wines. Cheers!