I’ve been spending some time in San Antonio visiting good friends of ours over the last weeks. While seeing the friends and their dogs was the main reason, the sunny weather was definitely also very welcome. Sitting on the porch in a T-shirt definitely beats Michigan at the moment…but today, I am heading back to snowy Michigan so it was time to publish this piece.
As you may know, I have been quite intrigued by the fact that every single state in the US now produces wine (they count fruit wines as wines, that is why!). So I was naturally curious to try some Texan wines. And I did. And I did have some good experiences that I want to share.
According to the Texas Wine And Grape Growers Association, Texas was the site of the first winery in North America. Yes. Franciscan priests established it in 1662. Today, it has 4,400 acres (1,780 hectares) of land under vine. 273 wineries and over 400 growers produce 1.4 million cases of wine, which makes it the fifth largest wine producer in the US. I was quite impressed when I read those numbers: The area under vine is more than half the area that forms the Rheingau region in Germany. Apparently, the climatic conditions are compared to Portugal, with sunny and dry weather. The harvest time is usually at the end of July, two months earlier than in California!
I tasted a couple of wines, but want to talk about three in particular. I naturally opted for reds because white wines grown in hot climates often have a hard stand with me. Plus, let’s face it, I am a Riesling nut…
The first wine I picked up at Trader Joe’s: the 2011 Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Fascination Red. The wine has 13.2% ABV. Weirdly, the wine is not featured on the company’s website. The label just states it is a blend of their red varietals. The wine poured dark red and the initial nose was dominated by oak, and the first taste rather harsh. We dumped the wine in a decanter for a good 45 minutes, and then retried. It had worked. The smokiness was now nicely integrated with dark fruits. The wine had some interesting spice aromas which reminded me of a forest. This herbal spiciness was a distinguishing factor for that wine and helped it a lot. I thought for 10 bucks this was a great value. The winery told me later via Twitter that this is their bestselling “not so bold” red. I told them that the “not so boldness” was what I liked about it.
During my next visit to Trader Joe’s, we picked up another of Becker Vineyards wines, the 2010 Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Merlot. The wine has 13.92% ABV. Again, this wine is not featured on the winery’s website. The wine poured in a lighter red. On the nose, it is quite jammy, with sugar and cherry aromas, maybe some red berries. On the palate, this medium bodied wine proved itself quite aromatic, with intense flavors of wood (quite smoky, but not unpleasant), tobacco, pepper, and some residual sugar which nicely balanced the smokiness. With a healthy acidic touch, it was different from your usual mellow Merlot. The finish was medium long. In a way, this wine reminded me of how I imagine the rougher countryside of Texas: some edges, some smoke, but sturdy and holding its ground. I don’t know whether that is just my imagined Texas, but to me it made sense. Would not be my go to red, but definitely a good experience. My friend, who likes smoky wines, enjoyed this quite a bit.
Becker Vineyards website is here.
The third bottle comes from Llano Estacado Winery, their NV Llano Estacado Winery Vintner’s Selection Signature Red Meritage. The wine has 12.9% ABV and is composed of the classic combination for a Meritage: 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 10.5 Cabernet Franc, and 6.5% Malbec. In the glass, a surprisingly light colored red wine presented itself. In the nose there were sweet cherries, some light smoke and hints of liver sausage (don’t laugh!). Initially, the wine showed rather strong bitter aromas, which were actually not a turn off (even for me, who normally does not appreciate that!). These were filled up with cherries and some acidity. The finish was very short, leaving just aromas of bitterness (in that case unpleasant). All in all it was pretty disappointing. I would not even have guessed that this wine was a blend of Bordeaux grapes. It seemed flat and not very inspired. From a quick glance around the net, other reviewers seem to have mixed feelings about this wine, too.
Llano Estacado Winery’s website is here.
We also had the chance to attend the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo which was most of all fun! Imagine me surrounded by Stetsons, belt buckles and leather boots. It was quite hilarious! One of the cool things was that they also had a wine garden where organizers were showcasing wines that participated in their annual competition. Staff there was very attentive and enthusiastic, but I wish the organizers would take a couple of things into consideration for next year:
First, even if you have to charge money for even a sampling under Texas liquor laws (which seem the insanest that I have yet come across, but the I am certain there are even crazier ones out there) you simply cannot offer a thimble for $2. That’s just not gonna work…and charging $8 for a glass is also pretty steep.
Second, I wish they had a larger selection of Texas wines on offer. When we asked for Texan wines specifically, it turned out that of the 20+ wines on tab there were only two bottles from Texas, both from the same winery Messina Hof (which, frankly, I found quite disappointing). Their reasoning was that they only served gold medal winners in the wine garden, which seems like a good idea until you realize that most of the wines there were standard wines from California and other places a lot of which are easily available in any random supermarket: from Cupcake to Kendall-Jackson…If these won gold, I probably don’t want to try the Texas wines. However, I feel like more regional pride should prevail here (also, isn’t Texas one of the proudest states??). So, even if Texas wines don’t make the “gold medal” cut, why not still have a selection of maybe a third of the wines on offer reserved for Texas wines, even if they are only silver or bronze medal winners. There has to be some local interest into local wineries…
And third, I wish the organizers would stick to their published schedules. It happened to us twice in one day that we showed up for a tasting only to be told that it was going to start an hour later…that is kind of annoying during a fair when you walk around and plan your activities accordingly.
I realize all this is just a tiny glimpse into a big wine producing state. It was definitely exciting, and there were some nice surprises. Is there any more fun in the wine world than trying stuff from regions or areas you have never had wine from and be positively surprised? Well, yeah, for me probably a bottle of German Riesling. But that other thing comes in a very close second…