When making your gift list this holiday season, think wine for those fruit-of-the-vine loving friends—more specifically, think Texas wine! In the cooler months, wine lovers seek out those big red wines that pair so beautifully with the meat and game dishes associated with winter menus. Texas wineries are currently producing some world-class reds in a dazzling array of styles from a bounty of grape varietals. To make buying easier, we’ve rounded up some outstanding reds to choose from, plus an amazing white and a white dessert wine.
Ask for Texas wines at your favorite wine shop, or call the winery for a list of stores where their wines are available. Keep in mind that many of the best wines in Texas are handcrafted by small wineries in limited case numbers, making them poor candidates for distribution to retail outlets. That means that many of Texas’s best wines are available only at the wineries, but remember that Texas winemakers are happy to ship their wines to you.
Sandstone Cellars WinerySandstone Cellars Winery, in Mason, is a small, unique winery that produces very big red wines—one vintage per year. Owners Scott Haupert and Manny Silerio, along with winemaker Don Pullum, are solid believers in Mediterranean varietal grapes for Texas. Pullum is usually noted for making wines that are a blend of as many as eight varietals, but the 2009 VII is the first single varietal wine bottled by the winery. Pullum explains that the collective instinct that he, Haupert and Silerio share, “is to blend for complexity, balance and structure. However, when a single varietal in a given year makes a perfectly complete wine, why muck it up?” This year’s vintage was produced with 100 percent touriga grapes, which originally hail from Portugal, where they’re used in the production of port. Known for their concentrated flavors of black fruit, and for producing wines that have smooth, soft textures and excellent aging potential, the grapes are often used in red blends in the U.S. to add structure and tannins. The touriga grapes used in the 2009 VII were grown at Paul and Nancy Buist’s Robert Clay Vineyard in the tiny town of Streeter. The Buists hand harvested the fruit over a two-week period, picking only the ripest fruit each day. Then they selected each cluster for perfect ripeness. “Their efforts are evident in the wine,” says Pullum. “By adding each day’s harvest, we were able to extend the primary fermentation for a little over 30 days, creating a highly extracted wine.” The wine exhibits an inky purple color and a complex bouquet of pepper, spice, cola, mulberry and cream. The palate detects notes of pepper, spice, cola, mulberry, blueberry and a creamy blueberry finish, followed by a hit of grippy tannins. This is a wine for holiday feasting—standing beef rib roast, roasted leg of lamb or venison in a berry sauce. Think meat, stew and game. “If you’re an adventurous cook and eater,” says Pullum, “add some Moroccan spices.” 325-347-9463.
Alamosa Wine Cellars
Out in Bend, Alamosa Wine Cellars’s Jim Johnson has always believed that the French Rhône Valley varietals (along with other Mediterranean varietals) hold a key place in the future of Texas wines. With one taste of this outstanding Rhône red blend, made from grapes grown at Cherokee Creek Vineyard’s High Valley Block in San Saba County, you’ll agree. Palette was originally conceived as a blended Rhône-style red wine, but in 2007, it was made into two separate lots because of different ripening times. The first lot featured a blend with syrah (67 percent) and grenache (18 percent), and the later with mourvèdre (13 percent) and cinsault (2 percent). Released in September of 2009, the wine’s aroma is packed with plum, pepper and tobacco notes, with similar flavors following on the palate, and shows black pepper, mint and a slight earthiness in the finish. The wine has good acidity and good length in a medium-weight package with fully ripened and well-integrated tannins. This is a unique blend for Texas, reminiscent of the great wines from the south of France—a region known for hearty meat dishes often cooked over open fires. Palette is the perfect wine to cut through the fat of a well-marbled rib eye or a grilled duck breast with seared fatty skin, glazed with a rich cherry sauce. One of Jim and his wife Karen’s favorite pairings with Palette is a classic winter dish of leg of lamb roasted over an open fire with fresh rosemary and garlic. 325-628-3313.
Kick Butt Cab 2007
Texas Hills Vineyard
Who can resist a wine called Kick Butt Cab? It’s become an iconic wine for Texas Hills Vineyard co-owners and winemakers Gary Gilstrap, his wife, Kathy, and their son, Dale Rassett. The wine is produced from 22-year-old grapevines from Newsom Vineyards in Plains. Once you swirl the glass and invest in the aroma, you’ll know why this wine is so popular. There’s an immediate pronounced spiciness with a hint of cinnamon, followed by a dark berry aroma. The berry continues on the palate as blackberry jam—a rich and agile taste that presents depth. The finish is long and complemented with soft and delicate tannins. “The cabernet sauvignon grapes that come from Neal’s vineyard are always a little smaller than most cabernet sauvignon grapes, therefore [they are] more concentrated,” notes Gary. “Every year, the Kick Butt Cab is our pick of the litter.” This wine pairs very nicely with well-marbled rib eye, standing rib roast or venison. Kick Butt Cab 2007 won a silver medal at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Wine Competition 2010. 830-868-2321.
2006 Scheming Beagle Port
Stone House Vineyard If you’ve visited Stone House Vineyard in Spicewood, you’ve more than likely met the real-life scheming beagle after which owner Angela Moench named this lovely port-style wine. The native Norton grapes were hand harvested by clusters early in the morning hours when the temperatures were cool enough to preserve the intensity of the varietal’s aroma, flavors and color, then allowed to fully ripen to attain the highest degree of sugar. Standard red winemaking techniques ferment the grape sugars out of the wine, leaving a dry red wine. Scheming Beagle Port begins in a similar fashion, but at the desired level of sweetness, aged brandy spirits are added to kill the yeast and stop fermentation, maintaining the sweetness—hence the wine’s high alcohol content of 18 percent. The port is barrel aged in mature oak and can age in the bottle for many years. Its bouquet is reminiscent of dried fruit, wood and spice, with notes of dark plum, blueberry and spice on the palate. The finish is long and satisfyingly complete. Angela views food and port pairing as a personal thing. “If you’re a sweet addict, then you’ll be happy to serve it with something chocolaty and rich,” she notes. “But if you have a more savory bent, as I do, then a simple creamy ripe blue cheese with quince paste might be preferable. Sometimes, it’s just best on its own.” Angela also recommends not serving the wine in a tiny port glass. “Use a glass where the port can be swirled and savored slowly and it will taste stunning,” she says. Stone House Vineyard 2006 Scheming Beagle Port won a silver medal at the 2010 Lone Star Wine Competition. 512-264-3630.
Barbera, a grape known for vibrancy and zip because of its high natural acidity, is the most widely planted varietal in Italy’s Piedmont region and a varietal planted by Italian immigrants in California 100 years ago. Although the barbera grape is a relatively new varietal for Texas, Becker Vineyards, near Fredericksburg, has proven that the grape is well suited to the Texas terroir. Richard Becker began dabbling with Italian varietal wines a few years back, and the resulting barbera has gained a solid following. The 2008 Barbera is an excellent representation of the grape’s propensity for making extraordinary wines. Produced from grapes grown at Peter’s Prairie Vineyard in Mason County, the wine is light-bodied and well-structured, with dark fruit flavors of plum, currant and a light hint of cinnamon on the finish. The wine is aged nine months in white oak barrels, giving it a subtle toastiness on the palate. Nicole Bendele, tasting room manager at Becker Vineyards, loves to pair the wine with favorites like dried sausages, semi-firm cheeses like Ossau-Iraty or Parrano and roasted quail and lamb. The 2008 Barbera won a gold medal at the 2010 Lone Star International Wine Competition. 830-644-2681.
Gotas de Oro
Alphonse and Martha Dotson have created a stunning dessert wine from grapes grown at their Certenberg Vineyards in Voca, Texas. The wine is made from muscat canelli blended with two types of chardonnay, one with a little oak and one with no oak. Gotas de Oro has a very unique—even heady—floral and fruity aroma. The wine opens up with subtle notes of sweet honey and tropical fruits, then follows with a mouthful of flavors like pear, apricot, pineapple, a hint of star fruit and a slight nuance of buttery oak. Alphonse developed this wine in two phases: “The first 30 percent of consideration was to develop a wine for people who don’t like wine, or who don’t like sweet wines,” he says. “The other 70 percent of the development was split between the characteristics that Martha and I wanted to see in the wine.” It was a plan that worked; the wine has been warmly received. So far, Martha and Alphonse’s favorite pairings with Gotas de Oro have included sweets—like Martha’s lemony pound cake—and a spicy, creamy poblano chili sauce. Or if you’re looking for a light dessert to follow a heavy meal, let this wine be dessert. Serve Gotas de Oro chilled to 45 to 50 degrees to experience the myriad flavors as the wine begins to warm. Gotas de Oro won a silver medal at the 2010 Lone Star International Wine Competition. It’s available at Spec’s liquor stores.
Fall Creek Vineyards
Ed and Susan Auler, owners of Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow, are pioneers in the Texas wine industry. Their winery, founded in 1975, was one of the very first in the state. Over the years, Fall Creek Vineyards has produced some legendary wines—one being Meritus, a Meritage blend of only the finest grapes in a given year. “We first planted the Bordeaux varieties 27 years ago at the suggestion of our wine consultant, André Tchelistcheff,” says Ed. “We feel this wine is a bold expression of how well the cabernet sauvignon and merlot varietals perform in our Texas terroir,” adds Susan. The grapes, and their percentages in the blend, vary from vintage to vintage. The 2006 Meritus was released in the summer of 2010. Each vintage of the Meritus is a small production that is readily welcomed because the previous vintage sells out well before the release of the next. The 2006 Meritus is a blend of 74 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot and 1 percent syrah, with an alcohol level of 15.9 percent. The vintage produced only 800 (six bottle) cases. The hot, late summer harvest of the cabernet sauvignon grapes resulted in extremely ripe fruit. Consequently, the 2006 Meritus is full-bodied, rich and voluptuous with dark cherry and chocolate flavors on the palate. Enjoy the wine with a savory grilled steak, other regal cuts of beef or red game meat. 325-379-5631.
Amour de Chocolat
The viognier grape originated in the northern Rhône region of France, but exploded in popularity in California in the 1990s. As with many other Rhône Valley grapes, viognier is a varietal well suited to the Texas terroir, where it has consistently produced excellent, voluptuous white wines. And Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, Texas, produces one of the best viogniers in the state. Its 2008 vintage is a blend of 87 percent viognier, 8 percent sémillon and 5 percent chardonnay harvested from the Newburg Vineyard in Comanche and from Cliff Bingham’s Vineyard in the Texas High Plains. The wine displays a lovely medium straw-yellow color, with aromas of white peach, apricot, honey and orange blossom. Fresh apricot flavors comprise the palate, as does white peach in a creamy, smooth, fruit-rich style. The wine shows lively, crisp acidity, and a long and satisfying finish of balanced fruit and citrus. Because of the grape’s good acidity, it’s a great wine to pair with cream- and butter-laden dishes, as the acidity cuts through the fat. It’s also one of the few wines that pairs well with vinaigrette-dressed salads. Trellise Brennan, winery co-owner with her husband, Pat, is passionate about the many diverse foods that pair well with the viognier—including cheeses. “The best cheese pairing,” Trellise points out, “is a Texas cheese: the Veldhuizen Texas Star. We also love the viognier with seafood pasta dishes with cream, butter or pesto sauce, and any seafood-based soups or bisques. It’s a great wine to accompany Thanksgiving dinner or a holiday brunch with any of our iconic Texas breakfast casseroles.” Think chili-cheese grits! 325-356-9100.