Many Texas wineries exhibit the hubris Texas has become known for all over the world — with a swagger and a determination, they attempt to bend Mother Nature over and whip her into submission. If it works for oil, then why shouldn’t it work for wine?
Those wineries making mediocre wines claim any ‘perceived’ flaws can be attributed to the terroir (a French word that refers to the set of special characteristics of geography, geology and climate of a certain place) or the consumers. If that Viognier tastes like Toni Home Perm, it is because that is what the earth makes it taste like! If that bottle labeled Texas Gulf Coast Purple Teeth Merlot tastes like a Kool-aid version of Beaujolais Nouveau — well that is just because grapes get sweeter here in the 24-hour heat. And besides, “Texans prefer sweet wines.” Or they’ll point to medal from a minor wine competition as proof their latest blasphemy toward Bacchus is divinely inspired.
If Texas terroir has a theme song, Lindsey Buckingham penned the lyrics.
Isn’t the right thing to do
How can I ever change things
That I feel
If I could
Maybe I’d give you my world
How can I
When you won’t take it from me
You can go your own way
Go your own way
You an call it
Another lonely day
You can go your own way
Go your own way…
— “Go Your Own Way” – Fleetwood Mac
What some of those Texas wineries do not understand is that while Mother Nature can be fickle at times, she is a lot kinder to those who plant what grows best in the conditions that she gives them.
Recently we tasted some really good Texas wines from wineries that understand their terroir — and are producing wines from grapes best-suited to grow there. All three wineries are part of the Texas Fine Wine group, a privately-funded marketing initiative whose members are “dedicated to producing world-class wines sourced from Texas appellation vineyards.”
Duchman Family Winery
Just outside of Austin, Texas, in the town of Driftwood, Drs. Lisa and Stan Duchman co-founded the winery in 2004 (originally with well-known restaurateur, who sold out his interest in 2010) focusing on Italian winemaking and hospitality in the Central Texas Hill Country. We visited the winery, tasting and event center back in the days of its infancy — when it was under the former business partner’s name.
2012 Bingham Family Vineyard Vermentino
Duchman Family Winery’s Italian-style wines taste much like their Italian counterparts, and that is no small feat. Vermentino is widely planted in Sardinia, Liguria, Piedmont and in Corsica, Bolgheri, Languedoc and Provence to a smaller extent.
We first tasted Duchman Family Winery’s Vermentino, when recommended by Italian wine specialist Jeremy Parzen who was helping the good doctors with a little media outreach in late 2011. We were surprised by just how good it was because of our previous experiences with Texas wines. Committed to the philosophy of 100% Texas Grapes, 100% Texas Wines, Duchman Family Winery works with the top growers in the state, and selects the varieties best-suited for Texas’s climate, soil and growing conditions. Their consistently-produced Vermentino never disappoints, and the 2012 Bingham Family Vineyard Vermentino is a wonderful an expression of the grape grown in the Texas High Plains AVA. Crisp with citrus and white floral aromas, with flavors of pear, grapefruit and lime zest; it is the perfect accompaniment to fresh seafood, particularly shellfish and oysters. SRP $18.00
General Manager Jeff Ogle had four wines for tasting, and I enjoyed Duchman Family Winery’s aromatic Viognier and 2011 Reddy Vineyard Sangiovese as well. The closest expression of a Sangiovese outside of Italy we’ve found to date, the Duchman Family Winery Sangiovese makes a great companion to tomato-based pasta sauces and other Tuscan-inspired dishes.
Then there is the 2010 Aglianico (pronounced ah-L’YEE’AH-nee-koh). Do not let the name scare you away from asking for this wine at your local wine retailer. Primarily planted in Basilicata and Campania, Italy, Aglianico originated in Greece, where it seems all of the original plantings have since disappeared. Imagine slow-cooked berries on your Nonna’s stove at Christmas, with dried florals, cinnamon and cedar on the nose. Firm tannins and balanced acidity help make it a great pairing with wild game meats, and aged Manchego. SRP $28.00
Bending Brand Winery
This Hill Country boutique winery is located near the town of Comfort, Texas. A bit of the history at the winery’s website tells us that the area was settled in 1854 by folks that today might turn a few heads in Texas. The German immigrants that started the town were considered Freethinkers. It goes on to say,
Freethought as a philosophical viewpoint holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas. The Freethinkers were indeed progressive, espousing ideals such as racial, social, and sexual equality, and the abolition of slavery.
I’ll drink to that!
Bending Branch produces a number of wines. Their signature grape is Tannat. High in tannins, it is often used as a blending grape. Originally grown in the Basque-influenced regions of France near the Pyrénées, it made its way to Uraguay where it is also known as Harriague, named after the man who brought plantings there in the 19th century. It made its way from Southwest France to the University of California at Berkley in the 19th century, and in the 1990s several plantings appeared in California’s Paso Robles and Santa Cruz Mountains AVAs. Added to the list of grapes that could be produced as a single varietal in 2002 in the United States, Tannat cuttings then made their way from California to Texas.
Bending Branch christened its 56-acre estate in 2009 with the planting of 7 acres of experimental vines. They now have 14 varietals planted, with Tannat excelling as a new standard for the Texas Hill Country.
Bending Branch Winery 2011 Tannat
You know how your hand feels when a kitten licks you — you know, a bit like wet sandpaper rubbing against your skin? In some iterations a Tannat will make your tongue feel like that. But not Bending Branch. Here’s what they say about tannin:
Tannins are not something that we can taste in wine but can identify through the visceral effect that they have on the palate. Tannins can have a drying, or cleansing effect on the palate that is ideal with the rich and fatty cuisine in which we so love to indulge. While tannins help wine age by absorbing unwanted Oxygen in the bottle, they soften over time as a result of this function.
The tannins in the Bending Branch 2011 Tannat provide an elegant structure. The black cherry and raspberry aromas turn to silky flavor once in your mouth. I enjoyed it in the glass all by itself, and would venture a guess that with some nice juicy game, it would cause my eyes to simply roll back into my head, and I would begin to purr just like the kitten. SRP $30
Bending Branch earned medals at the 2013 and 2014 Dallas Morning News TexSom competition, as well as the San Francisco International Competition. The Bending Branch Winery Estate Tannat, Texas Hill Country, 2011, was named Top Texas Wine at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition.
With a name like Pedernales Cellars, you know it’s got to be from Texas. According to Louis Brister’s “Adelsverein” in Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online, German immigrants settled the Gillespie County town that was part of the Adelsverein colonization of Texas. Located 7 miles (11 km) southwest of Fredericksburg near what is now Texas State Highway 16, there is no trace of the settlement today.
When Fredrik Österberg introduced himself, and began telling me about Pedernales Cellars, my first comment was, “that’s not a Texas accent I hear.” Charming and proud of his brand, the tall, red-headed Swede walked me through the wines he had brought to Houston for tasting two whites, a 2012 Viognier and a 2012 Texas Muscat, and six reds include four Tempranillo and 2 blends. Favorites among his selections were the 2012 Pedernales Cellars GSM and the 2012 Texas Muscat. I also enjoyed the George Bush 25th Anniversary Reserve 2012 Texas Tempranillo, and laughingly said, “I’m surprised I like that one!” to which Österberg replied, “remember it’s for Bush SENIOR!”
Pedernales Cellars Texas GSM 2012
Texas delivers a unique Rhone-style medium-body blend with a waft of pepper on the finish. 14% Grenache, 32% Mourvedre and 54% Syrah from Pedernales Cellars’ Estate Hill Country and partner vineyards. Showcased this year at the Texas Food & Wine Foundation’s TexSom competition in Irving, it won a Gold medal in Vineyard & Winery Management’s 2014 East Meets West Wine Challenge. ABV 31.4% SRP $29.99.
Pedernales Cellars Texas Muscat 2012
Muscat is the quintessential grape for Texas white wine and Texas Hill Country provides an excellent environment for it to flourish. I saved this wine for last, after all the reds, to make sure I could fully appreciate its sweetness. A blend of Hill Country and High Plains fruit with nearly 3% in residual sugar on the finish, there was a melange of citrus, honeysuckle and apricot blossoms. Sold out at the winery, I’m told you may find a bit left at Whole Foods’ Katy and Montrose locations.
Visitors to the winery report that its hilltop location provides a beautiful venue for tasting.
Pedernales Cellars has earned both national and international awards for its wines, including a Grand Gold (comparable to Double Gold at American wine competitions) at the 2013 Concours International des Vins à Lyon (Lyon International Wine Competition) for its 2012 Viognier. The only American winery to win the Grand Gold last year, Perdernales Cellars was among a select group of 201 Grand Gold winners from a record pool of more than 3200 entrants. Its also won multiple awards for its Tempranillos, including the Dallas Morning News TEXSOM International Wine Competition in 2013 and 2014 for its 2010 Texas High Plains Tempranillo; the 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition for its 2011 Reserve and 2011 Texas High Plains Tempranillo; and a Double Gold for its 2012 Tempranillo Reserve in the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Pedernales Cellars wines are available for retail purchase at Specs locations statewide. Although it is limited is some of the smaller stores, you can pick up plenty of Pedernales Cellars 2012 Tempranillo at most locations just in time for International Tempranillo Day on Thursday, November 13, 2014.
Celebrate International Tempranillo Day November 13th!
The fourth annual celebration of all things Tempranillo, International Tempranillo Day was created by TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society) and encourages everyone to open a bottle of Spain’s indigenous grape planted in 500,000 acres of the world’s vineyards. Twitter users can celebrate and share their experiences online with the hashtags #TempranilloDay or #Tempranillo. Texas twitterati can pick up a bottle of Tempranillo by Duchman Family Vineyards, Bending Branch Winery or Pedernales Cellars and join a #TXWine Twitter chat about Tempranillo that evening from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. CT.
See more posts about Texas wines we love:
And more posts about Tempranillo:
And in case you’re too young, want to reminisce about Fleetwood Mac, or simply see one of the witches from American Horror Story: Coven sing with her original band, albeit 20 years and about 50 pounds after the song was first released: