Messing With Texas
There was a time when we felt an obligation to find good wine from our adopted state. In our search we’ve had an awful lot of awful, found a few close but no cigars, and even had a douchebag who should be ashamed to call himself a wine maker threaten us for, well not mentioning him or reviewing his terrible wine.
Frankly, I at least, had given up. Apparently Amy had not. A couple months back she attended a tasting in Salado, a small town just north of Austin with a group of her friends.
I was invited to go along, but declined. Her friends are great, and I love going to Austin and small towns too. However, I had to give my regrets to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and um…whatever the hell the other one was called. Besides thinking that I would be sort of in the way for this soiree, Amy had let it slip that Texas wine would be involved. Oh yeah, I remembered a previous engagement about then. Like the punchline to an old Richard Pryor routine, uh uh no way, not the kid!
You see, I have gotten to the point where I look at someone who says that they like Texas wine the same way most of them look at me when I tell them that I usually vote Democrat or breathe with my mouth shut. It’s not that I have not had some decent wines produced here, but they have been few and far between. Not only that, they have been dessert wines or are tasty enough but don’t seem to have any relationship to wines made elsewhere from the same grape. In fact, I have had exactly three good Texas wines prior to this, and all fit in those categories.
Until now. My fourth good Texas wine breaks out of that mold. It is very good, tastes like it is supposed to, and I was not particularly happy to discover that the bottle was as empty as my glass. What greater praise is there for a wine when you get right down to it? I’ll get to the wine that managed to shatter my bias in a moment, but first let me explain how I arrived at my bias against Texas wine. Actually, I should call it a prejudice, because that is what it truly is.
When I see or hear that the wine I am about to drink is produced in Texas, I definitely pre-judge it. No matter how much I want to have an open mind, no matter how fair-minded I want to be, there are just too many memories of shitty wine passing over my tastebuds for me not to expect something bitter, or sweet, or chemical tasting, or even just so weak that the other flaws knock it down and take its lunch money while saying rude things about its mother. Perhaps that’s why Amy poured it without telling me what it was. She’s sneaky like that.
Another thing that contributes to my general antipathy towards Texas wine is that it is rarely written about seriously. I don’t claim to be an expert on wine writers who scribble about Texas wine, I can’t even claim to read much of what any of them write anymore. However, I have read some over the years and for the most part they are derived from the three basic archetypes described below. This isn’t limited to Texas either, a lot of local rah-rah writers and bloggers from all over fall into these categories at least some of the time.
The Three Types of Writers to Avoid
These folks tend to be young and have a bit of the second archetype in them as well, but it is only a contributing factor. The real cause of their enthusiasm for Texas wine is that they don’t yet have the required experience to objectively determine the quality of what is in their glass. This person is often a little dogmatic and defensive, but is usually easily cured. Like us all at some point in life, we are naive about something but a little living, a little experience takes care of that. The Naive are mostly harmless.
Many years ago, so long ago that it almost feels like it was another lifetime, I made my living, if it could be called that, as a musician and a stagehand. Okay, I wasn’t really a musician, I was (am?) a drummer, but I really was a card-carrying member of I.A.T.S.E Local #24. A very good friend of mine had been doing it longer than I had, and in fact is the person that got me the job, so he was higher in seniority and was also more skilled in the lighting aspects of the job. So, one time when Stevie Ray Vaughan was coming to town he got the call to be the head electrician for the show. This concert was being held at the incredible Toledo Zoo Amphitheater. This venue was designed for symphonic concerts before there even was such a thing as Rock and Roll, which meant it did not have the type of electrical service required to power a show like SRV, so as was standard for Rock shows held there a generator was rented.
Trouble started to brew as the road crew’s counterpart to my friend looked at it and decided that it was way too small to provide the requisite power for this particular show. My friend explained that the very same generator had worked for many other acts, but to no avail. Tempers started to get close to boiling over. Luckily for all concerned, the MAN himself was there and stepped in and asked for a tour of the Toledo Zoo. Now my friend was a guitar player that worshipped Stevie Ray Vaughan, so he was easily distracted by the opportunity to show his hero one of the finest zoos in the country. They commandeered a golf cart and were just pulling away when the guy who was so concerned about the provided generator came running up to stop them. He had sort of a sheepish grin on his face and exclaimed, “Shee-it boy, why didn’t you tell me that generator was made in Texas? It’ll work just fine!”
Welcome to Texas, my friend. Some of the people here have read too many of their State’s own press clippings. Everything is bigger and better here. Except it really isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, some things definitely are, like beer, BBQ and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But this is the mentality that often goes into some reviews of Texas wine. Where folks outside the state might see a wine bottle with a cowboy, blue bonnet, star or Texas flag on it and quickly move on to something else, the Patriot wipes a tear from his eye and proudly drinks one to the Alamo.
Some of these writers are trustworthy on other subjects, but truly can’t tell the difference between an apple and an orange if Texas is involved. This brings us to the most nefarious of the three:
As there are now 50-out-of-50 states that produce wine, and as it is so easy to become a writer on any given subject these days, I would have to assume that nearly all wine regions have their own version of this guy. But I live here in Texas, and with the propensity of its inhabitants for thinking that it is the center of the Universe, the Shill might be considered an indigenous species. It certainly has everything it needs to survive here. The Shill might be as simple as someone who writes positive reviews because he wants to get free tastings at local wineries, or wants to impress his friends with all of the free samples he gets. This is harmful because the reader is misled, and the reputation of other writers, particularly the blogging variety who often already seem suspect to some, is dragged through the mud. Many fellow writers have encouraged me to go a little easier on Shills, but that will never happen. Any bad reputation I have must be unimpeachable. I want to earn it myself and not be tarred with anyone else’s dirty brush. As Groucho Marx once said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well I have others.”
Then there is the truly despicable type of Shill, and the Texas Wine Industry has at least one of these. This guy has actually been on their payroll while writing about their wine as if he was just a guy who loves Texas Wine. He will accept invitations to taste with top wine makers from all around the world and use social media to negatively compare their wine to Texas wine. He even gets all bowed up when someone disputes his claims and tries to intimidate them into silence. Guys like that tend to be rather milquetoast in person, and this state’s worst Shill is no exception. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t harmful, because he truly is. Not that they don’t provide value of some sort, but comic relief doesn’t make up for the damage done. Although this little chestnut from our local shilling hack once came close. Seems that the reason Amy and I can’t see just how great Texas wine is because we have destroyed our palate by drinking way too much of that awful stuff they produce out there in California. I may have “Palate Destroyed by California” engraved on my tombstone…or at least tattooed on my ass.
But What About the Wine???
Oh yeah, I was going to tell you about this really delicious wine produced in Texas, wasn’t I? Then I got on a rant about Texas wine in general when what I really wanted to do was to admit that I don’t always give them a fair shake and explain why. You see, this is a big state and does have some regions that could produce some great wines. The problem is that the grapes that produce the most popular and best selling wines don’t do well here. It’s really freaking hot down this way, plus we have had drought or near drought conditions for a very long time. Making great, or even good wine, under those circumstances is not for the faint-hearted, and a lot of people don’t even try. They plant stuff that doesn’t grow well here, but will sell better in-state because people recognize the name of the grape. All of the bad wine produced here is a testament to all of those things.
Inwood Estates has seemingly discovered the secret to producing great wine here. It is a secret that wine makers in all non-traditional wine regions should learn. Instead of planting a grape that will sell, or planting your favorite varietals, plant what the soil and climate want you to plant. In this case what Inwood Estates did so well was to make a 100% Tempranillo called The “Cornelious.”
This Texas wine is rich, silky and smoothly delicious. It is bold without being overwhelming, and has a nice spicy characteristic that balances all that silky smoothness. Incredibly, in a state where some producers import their grapes from elsewhere, or use any method at their disposal to try and make something palatable, Inwood has chosen to do even more than just take what nature gives them. Or perhaps I should say that they do less.
The “Cornelious” is made in a very traditional manner. It is aged in French oak barrels and it is never micro-oxigenated, a process that is nearly standard some places. It is unfiltered and even fined with egg whites. Inwood Estates claims that their Tempranillo tastes more like what Spanish wines used to taste like many years ago than what is made in Spain today. I can’t speak with any authority on that matter, but if true someone should send a few cases of this over there to show them that can do even better if a few could ignore the bottom line and return to the old ways now and then.
Another of my pet peeves when it comes to Texas wine is the price. Oftentimes they are priced way higher than far superior wines. Sounds crazy, but it seems to work for them, so who am I to say? In the case of Inwood Estates The “Cornelious” 100% Tempranillo the price, while not particularly low at around $40, is more than justified. If you can find this in your area, pick some up and see if it doesn’t open your eyes too. I’m looking forward to trying the rest of their wines, and hope to find some other producers in Texas that care as much about producing world-class wines as Inwood apparently does.