Exploring Texas Wine at the Austin Wine & Music Festival

Do you remember the TV commercial where the two boys are reluctant to eat a bowl of Life cereal because they are certain it’s going to taste like crap? They pass it on to their little brother who happily eats it and they exclaim, “Hey Mikey! He likes it!” That’s my experience with Texas wine. I was certain I’d hate it because of a bad experience in the past, but when I gave it a try, I found some I like.

Outa state haters can keep your derision in check until you’ve done the same and given Texas wine a try. 

I started my education in Texas wines at the Austin Wine and Music Festival, held annually over the Memorial Day weekend. Not only was I able to taste fine wines from boutique Texas wineries, but I could get Sangria slushies and habanero honey all within earshot of live music. Now that’s a party. With a stemless wine glass in hand; I set out among the sea of tents housing 30 local wineries in search of a few wines that I would be proud to serve to any guests, any time.   

My quest for the goods began with Inwood Estate Vineyards & Winery. Every time I ask a Texas wine aficionado what their favorites are, they list Inwood among the tops. This is a boutique winery producing fewer than 5,000 cases a year. They were pouring three wines under the Segundo label, leaving the higher priced estate wines at home. I really liked all three.

Inwood Segundo Palomino-Chardonnay

This is an interesting white wine made of 75% Palomino and 25% Chardonnay grapes. Have you had a Palomino wine before? It’s the primary grape used to make Sherry in Spain. It’s a bold white wine, aged in French Oak and it stood up well in the near 100 degree heat at the festival.

Look Segundo shows soft yellow with bright clarity. It could pass for a Sauvignon Blanc in appearance.
Smell A burst of honeysuckle, honeycomb and pear announced that this is no meek wine. It’s as big as Texas.
Taste Lush, full bodied white with green apple, pear, vanilla and honey flavors and a clean, crisp finish that has a tiny hint of minerality.
Price $22

 

Next I ambled over to Dry Comal Creek Vineyards because I had met the owner, Bonnie Houser, during a preview of the festival and liked her vivacious style. They make wine with grapes grown in Texas, New Mexico, California and Arizona with an emphasis on fruit forward wines.

Dry Comal Creek Vineyards 2010 “Bone Dry” French Colombard   

This wine is a limited production wine, with less than 500 cases produced. It’s made with grapes grown in California and fermented and aged at the winery outside New Braunfels, Texas. While it’s labeled “Bone Dry” because it has 0% residual sugar, the fruitiness of the wine makes it seem a bit sweet. It would be a good wine to throw in a bucket of ice and drink during a mid-summer picnic.

Look Like a Texas ranch with aged straw in the sun, light and relaxed.
Smell A floral and almost herbaceous nose with citrus and lemon zest.
Taste This wine came straight out of the orchard with pear, green apple and lime. While the mouth feel was full, it had a crisp mineral finish.
Price $18

 

My next stop was at the Spicewood Vineyards tent. Owner, Ron Yates, talked about his passion for wine and how happy he is to be making it, instead of being a lawyer like he was before. Ron and winemaker, Jeff Ivy, produce a little more than 5,000 cases of wine annually at the facilities in the Hill Country near Marble Falls. Much of the wine is made from grapes grown on or near the property. Spicewood Vineyards is known for its award winning Sauvignon Blanc.

Spicewood Vineyards Touriga Nacional 2009  

You might recognize Touriga Nacional as one of the primary grapes used to make Port. Unlike Port, this wine is not fortified and does not have high residual sugar. The vines grow well in the heat of Portugal as well as the Texas Hill Country. Spicewood ages its Touriga in a mix of new and aged Hungarian and American oak for about 8 months; just enough time to round out the wine without giving it woody qualities. This is a big wine that would go well with a huge hunk of meat.

Look Deep amethyst and garnet like a rich Cabernet.
Smell This Touriga had a full nose of vanilla, blackberry and anise. Rich, spicy, fruity and powerful.
Taste The first taste is like the first bite into a rare steak right off the ranch, bloody and fleshy. The saline eased quickly into plumb, currant, black cherry and cola. This is a relatively young wine and had enough tannins to make me pucker a bit.
Price $24

 

I also tried delicious wines from Driftwood Estate Winery and Flat Creek Estate, but after sampling eight wines before getting to them, I didn’t trust the accuracy of my palate (even though I was spitting much of what I sampled). Therefore I chose not to take notes on these wines. In particular, I want to try the Flat Creek Super Texan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah again. I had a great talk with Rick Naber, the owner Flat Creek, and appreciated his enthusiasm for the wine industry in the state. I’ll make a point of visiting his winery. 

I’ve just scratched the surface with Texas wine, but I’m happy to buy them, serve them and recommend them. Give these a try and let me know what you think. I’m going to keep trying Texas wine and really appreciate your recommendations for what to drink next. What should I try?

What are you drinking?

A Great Way to Learn about Texas Wine: Austin Wine & Music Festival

If you are like me, you have at some point cast a doubtful eye on a bottle of wine from Texas. There is no way it can be as good as something for the same price from France, Spain or even California. I’ve tasted a few that I wouldn’t give to an enemy. Even so, I’ve been hearing a lot about the quality improvements in Texas wine and have been encouraged to give it a fresh look. And so I’ve tried a few, and I really liked them.

The Austin Wine and Music Festival, which will be held on May 28-29, is a great way to explore Texas wines. Taste your way through a wide selection of wines from light and fruity whites to big, bold reds. There will be 30 wineries pouring four wines each, representing about 90 varietals. With that many wines, I’m bound to find a bunch that I will like.  

The Festival is known for its gracious crowd that embraces newbies, sangria drinkers and oenophiles alike.   It was created for Hill Country wineries in 2007 and has evolved a bit over the past few years. This year, six wineries – Driftwood Estate Winery, Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, Flat Creek Estate, Becker Vineyards, Spicewood Vineyards and Stone House Vineyards – are hosting the event with an emphasis on all things local; wine, music with 10 bands and artisans. The goal of the event is simple: learn about and enjoy Texas wine for a day or two over Memorial Day weekend in a festive setting with a laid back vibe. Not only can you learn experientially, but the winemakers from each winey will be on hand to share their passion for Texas wines and answer our questions.  

  • When: May 28-29, 2011
  • Where: The backyard of the Domain, 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, Austin, TX 78758
  • How much: 1-Day Pass $35.00 (online) $40.00 (at the gate), 2-Day Pass $65.00
  • If you go: Visit the website for parking information. It will probably get hot, so stay hydrated by drinking water in between glasses of wine. You won’t be able to see it all in one day, so plan your strategy accordingly. Kids are welcome, but there will be no designated kids area or activities.

This event was my excuse to learn a little bit about Texas wine and for me to start drinking more of it. I’m eager to try them and write about them. Lucky for me the excellent Festival organizers and PR people gave me a little primer.

The post-prohibition wine industry in Texas got started in 1972 by pioneering wineries Llano Estacado Winery in the High Plains and Fall Creek Vineyards in the Hill Country.  Texas is now the fifth largest wine producing state after California, Washington, New York and Oregon. A vast majority of the wine made here – around 95% – is drank right here in Texas. Texans love to support the home team and to drink local.

If you’ve driven around the Hill Country, you’ve seen several vineyards and wineries outside of Fredericksburg. This seems like the epicenter of the state’s wine industry. In fact, the Texas Hill Country AVA (American Viticultural Area or growing area) is second largest in the country by area. However half of the grapes grown here are grown in the High Plains near Lubbock at about 3,500 ft. elevation. At that elevation, it’s hot in the day and cool in the evening. Whether it’s in the hot Hill Country or the more temperate High Plains, the big name grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay don’t fare well. In the past few years many growers have increased their acreage under vine and have shifted their focus to Mediterranean style grapes that are more suitable to the climate. Grapes like Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Albariño, Vermentino, Roussanne and Viognier grow better in Texas and make better wine.

OK, I’m in. I’m going to drink more Texas wine and write about it. Help me out. If you have favorite Texas wines, please recommend them. What should I try?

What are you drinking?