Wednesday, August 18, 2010
It's coming to that time of the year again, when Texas wineries begin to harvest their wines in the hill country and festivals begin. I have made it a point to be around Fredericksburg, every late summer, for the past 6 years to sample the best of what the Hill Country has to offer to the wine world. Unfortunately the good, the bad, and the ugly, of the wine products, are displayed each year at this time, but I try not to dwell on the latter of those. In an era of the biggest growth in Texas wine history, there have been great progress in the quantity and quality of the products in the Hill Country. I take pride in sampling each years harvest of new wines, it gives me sense of where Texas wine has come and where it is going for the future. It can be easily said that the industry has a lot of quirks to still work out, but the pros outweigh the cons, and the future of Texas wine looks quite good. The future of this areas wine industry is bright due to a few winemakers that have taken their craft to the next step and have moved ahead of the pack among the slew of long standing wineries and newcomers. Among the all-star team of winemakers are producers of Texas Hills Vineyards, Becker Vineyards, Alamosa Wine Cellars, Mandola/Duchman Winery, Brennan Vineyards, and Inwood Estates, with honorable mention going to Grape Creek Vineyards. There are several reasons why I list these wineries as the best of the bunch, but the biggest reasons are that they have had the most consistency of producing quality wines in the last 6 years, and have led the pack in producing and introducing exciting new wines that fair well in our Texas climate. There are good wines that are made by other wineries, but I just listed the ones that are doing the most at this place in time in Texas history.
Of all the wineries listed, the greatest progress in quality has been made by Texas Hills Vineyards. I talked a bit with the owner and winemaker Gary Gilstrap, last Spring during a wine trip with my father. We both agreed on a lot of issues on the Texas wine industry, especially on the one varietal that he is concentrating on, and which we both agreed is the future of Texas wine,.....TEMPRANILLO! Texas Hills tempranillo is by no means my favorite of the tempranillo producers in the state (that recognition goes to Inwood Estates), but was more surprised by his lineup of cabernets and syrahs. The 2007 Kick Butt Cab from the Newsom Vineyard in the High Plains near Lubbock may be the best cabernet ever produced in the state. Many Texas wineries try to cover up the earthiness and minerality that the Texas terroir imparts on so many of our wines, and the Newsom Kick Butt cab instead preserved these flavors while still bringing out the fruity deliciousness that only cabernet can bring. Easily, Texas Hills produces the finest syrahs in the state. I haven't really been impressed with any of the numerous syrahs conjured up in the last 6 years, until now. The 2006 Artist Series Hill Country Syrah by Texas Hills may be the greatest bottle of wine ever produced by any vintner in the state, and at $75 per bottle you will definitely pay for the privilege to drink it. Texas Hills Vineyards will always hold a significant place in my heart, because it was here that I drank my first bottle of Texas wine years ago, it was Texas Hill's Pinot Grigio.
The hardest of the all-star wineries to defend is Becker Vineyards. Many people I talk to about Texas wine and I can only come up with one reason why this winery gets put in the "all-star" level: consistency. This winery, year in and year out, pumps out massive quantities of numerous varietals and none hardly are appalling, but hardly are they memorable. I believe this winery suffers from winemaking A.D.D. They can't seem to concentrate on just a few varietals and make those few very well, but are more interested in making okay wine from what seems to be every varietal known to mankind. Becker prides itself on producing French style wines, and it is their traditional French wines that I believe they make the best i.e. Prairie Rotie, Chardonnays, Viognier, Fleur Savage, Rose's, and especially their Chenin Blanc. The Prairie rotie is a play on Cote Rotie from the Northern Rhone region of France that is a mixture of Syrah and Viognier, but Becker makes there's out of Southern Rhone varietals like Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan. The most impressive thing about the winery is their large amounts of grapes under vine, lavender farm, and tasting room that is very large and consumer friendly. Can't really diss on their business model of which I know they are doing quite well.
I won't say much on Alamosa Wine Cellars, but they were one of the first to introduce Texans to tempranillo. They have also been known to produce good viognier from time to time. They are epitome of what I think more wineries should be modeled. This model is to pick maybe 2 to 3 varietals and concentrate on producing the best product from those type of grapes. In this aspect I believe Alamosa was well ahead of their time. Concentrating on mainly tempranillo and viognier they have two iconic wines in their repertoir, El Guapo and High Valley Block Viognier. These two varietals have shown to be the best varietals (other than muscat) to be grown in the state.
The all-stars of the white wine world in the Hill Country have to be Brennan Vineyards and the Duchman/Mandola Winery. Both of these wineries make top notch viognier, of which I think Brennan Vineyards is slightly better. But the Duchman/Mandola estate has introduced a varietal by which I was floored by in recent tastings, vermentino. I never thought or imagined that vermentino would do well in our climate but this winery has made it work. Duchman/Mandola's dolcetto is the best of the red wines they produce from a lineup of mainly traditional Italian wines. If visiting only one vineyard estate in the Hill Country, the Mandola Estate should be that vineyard. Designed after a luxurious Tuscan villa, the site is home to not only the winery run by the Duchman family, but is home to an excellent restaurant, Trattoria Lisina owned by the famous Damian Mandola, cousin to Johnny Carabba. I recommend the vermentino with the calamari fritti and pizza margherita or the Barbera with the Ossobuco.
Last but not least is the newcomer, Inwood Estates. Dan Gatlin, the owner and winemaker, has the best pedigree among the winemakers in Texas because of the fact he came from the wine retailer and distributor market. I believe his expertise in this field gave him a lot of knowledge on the what would be the best type of wine to produce. Gatlin only produces very few wines and his main concentration on tempranillo has garnered rave reviews. His tempranillo-cabernet bottling and the plain tempranillo bottling so-called "Cornelious," can be arguably be the most complex wines made in Texas. Gatlin does not sacrifice on quality as his grapes are sourced from the best vineyards in the High plains area and trucked to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for production. The bottlings don't come cheap though, expect to pay around $30 to experience these wines.
On weekend of the weekend of the 27th, 28th, and 29th of August me and a few friends will be traveling to Fredericksburg to sample wines in the hopes of finding more gems in the rough. I imagine with good conditions for grape growing in the last two years there will be many good wines to savor. If not, then one can always rely on the beers at the biergarten's in town. We might even head to Luckenbach to grab a few of the pulled pork sandwiches to line our stomachs before the wine catches up to us. If you have any memorable Texas wines that you have tasted please feel free to share your thoughts, so that I may also taste them while traveling this month.