Texas winemakers hold ‘The Sip, Season One’ blind tasting event

First flight of wine for The Sip Season OneDoes Texas wine deserve a place on your table? Does it perform well enough to earn a spot on the world stage? That is exactly what a group of seven family-owned wineries set out to demonstrate a comparative blind tasting event, The Sip, Season One.

Winemakers from Fall Creek Vineyards, Inwood Estates, Perissos Vineyards, Pontotoc Vineyard, Sandstone Cellars, Spicewood Vineyards and Stone House Vineyards poured Texas wines and similar wines from other regions in a blind tasting session held for wine buyers, restaurateurs, sommeliers and journalists. Each guest was asked to keep their own tasting notes and describe the wines during the flights. The wines were not scored, nor were written tasting notes submitted to the winemakers.

Guests evaluated wines in two flights of 8. The winemakers revealed the wines after each flight and discussed the production and shared insights about each wine. Wines poured included:

Flight 1:

  1. Fall Creek Vineyards, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Texas
  2. Fall Creek Comparative –  2012 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc
  3. Inwood Estate, 2012 Palomino
  4. Perissos Vineyards, 2010 Roussanne Blend
  5. Spicewood Vineyards, 2012 Viognier, Texas High Plains
  6. Spicewood Vineyards, 2012 Tempranillo, Texas Hill Country Estate
  7. Perissos Vineyards, 2012 Aglianico
  8. Pontotoc Vineyard 2012 San Fernanado Academy

Flight 2:

  1. 2010 Perrin & Fils Châteauneuf du Pape Les Sinards, France
  2. Fall Creek Vineyards,  2012 GSM Salt Lick Vineyard
  3. Stone House Vineyards, Claros Norton Reserve 2012
  4. Numanthia, 2009 Tinta de Toro, Spain
  5. Inwood Estate, 2012 Cornelious Reserve
  6. Stone House Vineyards, Scheming Beagle Port NV
  7. Sandstone Cellars XIII (a non vintage port)
  8. Kopke 2003 Vintage Port, Portugal

The Sip grew from a shared passion by the winemakers to let people taste their wine in a group setting. The idea originated when these wineries participated in the Texas Fall Fest & Wine Auction.

Each of the seven wineries shares a commitment to making high-quality wines that express the terroir of Texas. The line-up demonstrated that a variety of grapes can be used to make wines expressive of the terroir across the state.

“We are a representative group of family owned Texas wineries, fully engrossed in the evolution of the emerging Texas wine industry’s drive to produce hand-crafted benchmark wines for the world stage,” said Ed Auler, founder of Fall Creek Vineyards. “We are all boutique, family-owned vineyards and wineries who organized this event to allow people to taste the excellence of Texas wines in comparison to wines from around the world.”

There may be a Season Two for The Sip.


More photos are available on Flickr.

Disclosure: I was one of the organizers of this event and participated as the emcee.

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Are Texas wines for real? A recap of the Austin Food & Wine Festival

We have a lot of pride in our state. Everything is not only bigger, but also better in Texas. Is that really true of everything? Sure we like to eat local and drink local, but come on, is Texas wine up to snuff?

A panel of celebrated wine experts convened at the Austin Food & Wine Festival to showcase a flight of Texas wines and answer the question, “Are TX wines for real?” Texas wine writer and author of The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine, Dr. Russell Kane, assembled master sommelier, Devon Broglie, master sommelier, Craig Collins, executive wine editor of Food & Wine, Ray Isle and advanced sommelier, June Rodil to review wines that have won gold medals in recent competitions. Kane selected these globally experienced sommeliers because they have the perspective to critically evaluate Texas wines in an unbiased way.

Kane selected these globally experienced sommeliers because they have the perspective to critically evaluate Texas wines in an unbiased way, and he was quick to point out that the wines selected for the tasting — the wines that do well in Texas – are not the standard West Coast line-up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

“Texas just ain’t Bordeaux and it sure as hell ain’t Burgundy.” We have a terroir that is more akin to Europe than northern France or the West Coast of the U.S. Our variable continental climate is similar to southern European areas like Rioja and Rhone. Our soil is also similar. Texas is has limestone bedrock just as Spain and France do. The grapes that grow well in southern France, Portugal, Spain and Italy also grow well in Texas.

“If you look at what is being planted, Tempranillo is out stripping Cabernet two-to-one,” explains Kane.

The panelists took turns describing the wines made with lesser known grape varieties.

First up was 2010 Duchman Family Winery Vermentino made with grapes grown in the Bingham Vineyards in the Texas High Plains. Broglie started the discussion with an adroit observation: “What stands out is its frickin’ delicious.” It has bright lemon, and honeysuckle scent, and has good balance of acidity and fruit with white peach flavors and slight bitterness of lemon zest on the pleasant finish.

Vermentino grows well in coastal areas of Italy and is not a mainstay of U.S. wine. Kane says, “This is an indication of Texas wine future. We will be the location where interesting grapes will like Vermentino reside.” That’s not without challenges Broglie, acknowledges. “These producers have taken some risks by making wine out of non-standard grape varieties.”

Isle adds, “It’s a financial risk. Trying to get people to try varietals that they don’t know is risky.” This wine retails for about $14.

Next up was 2010 McPherson Cellars Roussanne Reserve, also made with grapes grown in the Bingham Vineyards. “McPherson is one of the founding fathers of Texas wine,” Kane says. “They have been in business for more than 40 years and have started making wines with grape varieties that grow well in the Mediterranean. ” The Roussanne grape, which grows in Southern Rhone, can handle the Texas heat and late spring frost.

“I look for wines to smell and taste like where they came from and that is what you see with this Roussanne,” Collins says. Isle comments: “I’m blown away by this Roussanne. It is a big, full-bodied white with great acidity that elevates the citrus flavors. It is outrageously refreshing on a Sunday morning.” Collins suggests pairing the McPherson with foods that go well with acidity. “I would immediately go with a heavier grilled fish or a lighter fowl dish like quail.”

Rodil adds, “Shellfish like Nantucket scallops, monkfish and lobster has natural sweetness that goes well with this wine.” This wine retails for about $18.

The third wine tasted was 2009 Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo. Isle, a Texas native who now resides in New York, mused about grape selection. “When I wander around Texas it feels like Spain to me, and I wonder why I there isn’t Tempranillo growing here. What I love about the grape is that it has great concentration of flavor, but doesn’t have the massive body of Cabernet. It has finesse and elegance. The Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo has leathery flavors with bright red fruit, great acid and lingering flavor. Serve this wine slightly chilled. While I wouldn’t mistake this for Rioja, I would recognize it as a typical Tempranillo. It has a different balance than a Spanish wine.”

Collins weighs in on balance: “You know how the pills we swallow are round and not triangular? They are round and smooth so they go down easily. We don’t take triangle pills that are jabbing us on the corners saying ‘ooh that’s too much.’ That’s what balance is. It’s having good integration of alcohol, acid and tannin to make it smooth and round. This Tempranillo is really balanced.” This wine retails for about $30.

Next up was the Kiepersol Estates 2010 Stainless Syrah from Tyler, Texas. Kiepersol ages its Syrah in stainless and not oak barrels. “The tannin you get from this is from the seeds and skin, not from oak,” says Kane. This wine is an inky-dark, teeth-staining, fruit forward style similar to Australian Shiraz. Collins described it as “definitely a great food wine. It pairs well with what we do well in Texas: grilling and BBQ. There is a pepper spice to the wine that goes well with grilled meat. I’d serve this a little bit cool.

“I’m a fan of ice cubes in wine. I make ice cubes from rosé wine and drop them in my glass. That kind of ice doesn’t water down the wine.” The Stainless Syrah is a limited production with only 500 cases made and retails for about $32.

The fifth wine was 2009 Sandstone Cellars VII, made with Touriga Nacional grapes grown in Mason County Texas. The grape is grown in Spain and Portugal and is a primary blending grape in Port. “I requested we taste this wine because it’s a great example of doing grape varieties that show the terroir of Texas. It has big complexity,” says Broglie.

“It’s a beefy, animally wine. And there is a lot going on here. It has dark purple color, dark berry flavors and is very tannic. It’s damn good wine.” Don Pullam, Sandstone Cellars winemaker, was in the room to soak up adulation for his wine that retails for about $20.

The last selection was 2008 Haak Vineyards Madeira made with Blanc du Bois grapes from the coastal Galveston area. The grape was genetically started in Florida to take the heat, but has become Texas’ own grape as it is one of the most planted in the state. Rodil encouraged the audience to embrace desert wines saying this one in particular pairs well with the breakfast sweet rolls served at the session. “The Haak Madeira has nutty floral and caramel flavors with a lift of bright acidity and citrus that balances out the sweetness. Once you taste it, you’ll want another drink.”

“It has a distinct character of bourbon barrels with vanilla flavors,” Isle adds. Rodil suggests that “[o]nce you open the wine, store it in a temperature controlled area and it will keep a long time. It has 18.5 percent alcohol, so you only have to drink an ounce of it — or six if you are me.”  Haak Vineyards Madeira retails for about $40.

Wines from a state not known as a premier wine producing state priced in the $30 and $40 range seem pretty steep. The panelists defended the pricing. “Some Texas wines are a steal,” Isle says. “I’d put this McPherson up against any Roussanne for $18 and it will blow them away.”

“Once people start buying more wines from Texas, the prices will balance out,” Rodil suggests.

The panel was a veritable love fest for Texas wines. If they are so good, why don’t they get broader recognition? Kane chalks it up to relative scarcity of Texas wines being exported. “About 97% percent of what we produce is consumed locally. Texas is fifth largest wine producing state, the fourth largest consuming and the seventh largest grape grower. Clearly we don’t have enough wine produced to serve the out of state market, so it is hard to get people in other states and countries to evaluate our wine. That’s why there are not a lot of reviews in national magazines and that will continue until production grows.”

With a vote of confidence from wine experts, will you give Texas wines a try?

This story previously ran on CultureMap.

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Texas wine for Texas cowboys at Rodeo Austin’s Off the Vine

Nothing represents the archetypal spirit of Texas better than a cowboy; rugged, hard-driven, dependable and connected with the land. Rodeo Austin has brought some of the nation’s best cowboys to town to compete for 75 years. Now for the second year they are gathering another group of daring adventurous rebels steadfastly working the land in harsh conditions; Texas winemakers. On Thursday, January 12, 2012, Rodeo Austin hosted the second annual Off the Vine wine and food tasting, mixing the attitude of the Texas cowboy with the harvest of the Texas winemaker.

The event was inspired by the strong tie between the wine industry and agriculture. The wine industry has grown significantly since its humble start in the 1970s and has really come on strong in the past decade. Jennifer Paladino, marketing coordinator for Rodeo Austin, describes the event as “a great way to help promote one of Texas’ finest agricultural assets. Also, we pride ourselves on providing unique events to the diverse community we live in and a wine event seemed like the perfect fit for Austin.”

The wine tasting event, along with other Rodeo Austin events, raises money for its scholarship fund. In 2011, Rodeo Austin awarded 46 students $442,000 in college scholarships, and a total of $1.9 million to the youth of Texas through scholarships and the Youth Auction. This year’s Off the Vine is expected to net several thousand dollars — a fat sack more than last year — through ticket sales and a silent auction.

Event vice chairman, Drew DeBerry, who is also the Texas Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture, says, “Rodeo Austin is one of the top five economic drivers in Austin, contributing north of $68 million annually, drawing more than 300,000 visitors.” DeBerry is thrilled to be a part of generating revenue to provide educational opportunities for kids in Texas. He also sees Off the Vine as one more way that the Rodeo connects people with the agricultural sources of food and drink. Texas wine makers are passionate about taking their crop all the way from the field to the bottle in one of the harsher climates for growing grapes. It was clear that people at the event were really glad they go to the trouble to do it.

Rodeo Austin executive committee member Hap Feuerbacher says, they started Off the Vine “to reach people that the rodeo might not ordinarily reach.” He’s probably right. The event attracted an enthusiastic, eye-catching crowd of people wearing a mix of evening wear and cowboy hats who are really interested in wine.

The eager and engaged crowd enticed many of the participating wineries to come back again this year. The event featured 31 wineries, 24 of which were from Texas. It’s a unique event with iconic California wineries like Silver Oak and Caymus Vineyards standing shoulder-to-shoulder with small up-and-coming Texas wineries like William Chris Vineyards and Torre di Pietra. It was a great way to try new wines from small wineries that don’t have broad distribution, and take home a few bottles of the new discoveries.

Stand-out wines from small Texas wineries included:

Perissos Vineyard 2009 Tempranillo Blend
This wine had luscious flavors of raspberry, and chocolate with a silky texture. It sells for $25 a bottle and can be found at the winery and at Specs. Proprietor, grower and winemaker, Seth Martin, started the winery in 2006 with the first bottling in 2007. They now produce 3,200 cases a year using 100 percent Texas grown grapes and practicing organic methods.

William Chris Vineyards 2011 Blanc du Bois
Crisp, floral with a hint of honeysuckle, this wine would pair well with Texas BBQ on a hot summer day. Jack Gilmore selected it as one of the wines he will serve in the James Beard Award dinner in New York. Bottles sell for $28 online and at select restaurants in the Austin area. Winemaker, grower and owner William (Bill) Blackmon has been making wine for two years, but growing grapes since 1983. The winery makes about 1,800 cases with all Texas grapes and will make about 4,000 cases of the 2011 vintage.

Dotson-Cervantes 2010 Gotas de Oro
A blend of 61% Muscat Canelli and 39% Chardonnay, this wine had a smoky nose and flavors of lychee fruit and tangerine. Its big, smooth and slightly sweet; a perfect wine for desert. It goes for $28 a bottle at Austin Wine Merchant and Specs. Former NFL star, Alphonse Dotson, father of NFL star Santana Dotson, and his wife, Martha Cervantes, made about 1,000 cases of this wine in its second bottling. They made 800 cases of the 2009 vintage.

Sandstone Cellars 2009 VII
This wine is made of 100 percent Touriga, the primary grape in Port. It has bold flavors of blueberries, sassafras tea and black bark. It’s available at Specs on Brodie Lane for $30. Master Sommelier, Drew Hendricks, has selected Sandstone Cellars VII for his wine list at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston. Winemaker, Don Pullum, was the first person to plant grapes in Mason County, TX ten years ago. He now makes about 500 cases of wine with fruit grown in the county.

It wasn’t just wine. Eleven local restaurants served scrumptious nibbles including the award winning Steiner Ranch Steakhouse lobster mac and cheese. Dzintra Dzenis (pronounced like Sentra, but with a Z), owner of Plate by Dzintra and a contestant on Season 6 of Food Network Star, served Kobe beef sausage in blankets. Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen wowed the crowd with his farm to table magic.

Guests at the event were able to vote for their favorite red wines, white wines and restaurants. Fan favorites taking home the coveted trophy are:

Organizers of Off the Vine plan to showcase the talents of local winemakers and chefs in an even bigger event next year. Watch for it.

This article also appeared on CultureMap.

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Participating wineries included:

  • Becker Vineyards, TX
  • Bogle Winery
  • Braman Winery, TX
  • Cap Rock Winery, TX
  • Dancing Bee Winery, TX
  • E&J Gallo
  • Fairhaven Vineyards, TX
  • Fall Creek Vineyards, TX
  • Fiesta Winery, TX
  • Fredericksburg Winery, TX
  • Freixenent USA
  • Georgetown Winery, TX
  • Homestead Winery, TX
  • Landon Winery, TX
  • Mandola’s Italian Market, TX
  • Messina Hof Winery, TX
  • Nice Winery, TX
  • Perissos Vineyards, TX
  • Pillar Bluff Vineyards, TX
  • Pleasant Hill Winery, TX
  • Precept Wine
  • Salado Creek Winery & Vineyard, TX
  • Sandstone Cellars, TX
  • Solaro Estate Winery, TX
  • Spicewood Vineyards, TX
  • Texas Legato Winery, TX
  • The Vineyard at Florence, TX
  • Torre di Pietra Vineyards, TX
  • Westcave Cellars, TX
  • William Chris Vineyards, TX
  • Wines of Dotson – Cervantes, TX

Participating restaurants included:

  • Carmela’s Ristorante Italiano
  • Carmelo’s Ristorants
  • Gumbos
  • III Forks
  • Jack Allen’s Kitchen
  • Mandola’s Italian Market
  • Plate by Dzintra
  • Quality Seafood Market
  • Ranch 616
  • Steiner Ranch Steakhouse
  • Vivo Tex Mex