Discovering Texas Vineyards
About 10 years ago, one of the people I was working with was living in Texas, and I remember he mentioned in one of the conversations – Texas makes world-class wines. I said – really? He insisted that he knew some people visiting from France who were literally raving about the Texas wines. This stuck in my head – but I had no way of verifying that claim – no Texas wines can be found in the stores in Connecticut.
About two years ago, during one of the business trips to Austin, it suddenly downed on me – I will be in a close proximity to the Texas wines – I just need to make an effort to find them (you know how those business trips work – airport/hotel/meeting/airport – to step outside of the routine actually requires determination). I found some addresses on Internet, for what I thought were the wineries and drove there only to find myself in a middle of a small business park, with no wineries in sight.
Luckily, at that time I already had my blog, through which I met Alissa, a wine blogger at SAHMmelier, who lives in Austin. You know, if you ask me – what is the best part of the blogging – it would be an easy question. The best part of blogging is meeting passionate, interesting people and making new friends – this was my case with Alissa. So Alissa helped me to literally plunge into the Texas wines head first, by bringing me into the wine tasting event called Texas versus the World – we tasted whole bunch of Viognier wines both from around the world and from Texas (you can read about that tasting here). So yes, I tasted Texas wines, but still didn’t make to the wineries yet.
This time around, as I knew I will be coming to Austin, I reached out to Alissa and asked if she can help me to visit some of the wineries, in a short few hours which I had free after my meeting was over. Alissa came back with the long list of options, for which my answer was simple – surprise me, please.
Finally, I was done with my meeting and met up with Alissa. Short 30 minutes ride, and here we are – Duchman Family Winery. Clean, non-presumptuous building, reminiscent of an Italian villa. Not surprisingly so, as absolute majority of the grapes grown at Duchman are Italian varietals. Turns out that when the Texas wine industry was starting, the first desire for many was to grow the mainstream French varietals – only to understand later that Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay don’t work all that well in the Texas climate. But what does is Sangiovese. And Trebbiano. And the number of other grapes, some perhaps even more surprising, which you will see in the tasting notes below.
By luck or by knowledge (Alissa – it is your call, but thank you!), but Duchman Winery happened to be a great place to get acquainted with the Texas wineries. They were the first winery to bring in the Aglianico, the staple of Campania and Basilicata in the … south of Italy, of course, pretty much at the bottom of the boot. An interesting side note – while working on this post, I read that some call Aglianico a Barolo of the South – not a bad designation, right?! Going back to Duchman Winery – not only they were the first to bring the grape into the US, but they also have single biggest planting of Aglianico grapes outside of Italy!
We had the great time at the Duchman Winery. Jeff, the winery manager, took us on a tour. We saw the cellar, full of wines in the making. We even saw something sad – a full 2013 harvest of all white grapes (Trebbiano, Vermentino, Viognier), aging in one (single) medium-sized stainless steel tank. Yep, that is what happen when mother nature doesn’t cooperate. But then we tasted 2014 Sangiovese Rosé right from the tank, and it was stunningly delicious. We saw the lab and the bottling line – Duchman makes about 20,000 cases of the wine a year, so it makes sense to own the bottling line. All in all, we had a great time at the winery and learned a lot. But yes, of course – we got to taste the wines, and below are the notes for all the wines we had an opportunity to taste:
2012 Duchman Trebbiano Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (13% ABV, $14) – nice nose, white fruit, lemon peel. On the palate, crisp acidity, very refreshing. Drinkability: 7
2012 Duchman Vermentino Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (14.4% ABV, $18) – muted white fruit on the nose, touch of minerality. Lemon notes on the palate, clean acidity, nice balance. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Duchman Viognier Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (14.8% ABV, $18) – intense nose of caramel and baked apples. On the palate, lemon zest, nice bite, touch of minerality. Drinkability: 7
2012 Duchman Dolcetto Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (15% ABV, $25) – On the nose, tobacco, earthiness and dark fruit. Light and elegant on the palate, with touch of tobacco and roasted notes. Drinkability: 8-
2011 Duchman Montepulciano Texas High Plains (13.9% ABV, $30) – red fruit on the nose. Palate is somewhat unexpected, more of a Northern Rhone style with dark roasted fruit, good acidity. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Duchman Tempranillo Bayer Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (13.5% ABV, $34) – on the nose, classic open Tempranillo, cedar box, touch of plums. On the palate – excellent fruit, but the finish is a bit astringent, needs time. Drinkability: 7
2011 Duchman Aglianico Texas High Plains (14.2%, $30) – nose of the roasted meat and fresh, dense, dark fruit.On the palate, outstanding! Delicious, touch of sweet fruit, tobacco, clean acidity, perfect balance, very complex. Drinkability: 8
2012 Duchman Nero d’Avola Texas High Plains (winery only) – On the nose – amazing complexity, raspberries, tar, roasted notes. On the palate, bright and balanced fruit, excellent acidity. Drinkability: 8-
NV Duchman Texas Rosso Texas High Plains (Dolcetto/Montepulciano) – traditionally produced as Dolcetto/Sangiovese blend, but new edition is produced with Dolcetto and Montepulciano grapes. Pinot Noir – like nose with a touch of smoke and mushrooms, very expressive, nice balanced fruit on the palate. Drinkability: 7
2014 Duchman Sangiovese Rosé (barrel tasting) – outstanding. Beautiful sweet nose, delicious full body. Might be a bit too sweet on the palate, but excellent overall. Drinkability: 7+
We also tasted one more Texas wine which Alissa very kindly brought with her:
2012 Kuhlman Cellars Roussanne Texas High Plains – Touch of almond on the nose, lychee. On the palate, nice plumpness (typical of Roussanne), some salinity, good balance. Drinkability: 7+
We spent close to an hour and a half at Duchman family winery (you know how it works when you have fun), so we really didn’t have much time left to drive too far – but luckily, we didn’t have to. Our second stop was at the Salt Lick Cellars tasting room, about 15 minutes drive from Duchman. Salt Lick Cellars produces a number of wines from their own vineyards, but also in their tasting room they offer a number of wines from the other Texas wineries, which makes it a great “one stop shop”. A side note – adjacent to the Salt Lick Cellars there is a Salt Lick BBQ – very simple and very traditional Texas BBQ restaurant, where you can have all the barbeque favorites – ribs, brisket, sausages and more, made right there in the huge barbeque pit. And you can chose the wine you want to drink at the dinner right at the Salt Lick Cellars tasting room – a complete experience.
Here is what we tasted at the Salt Lick Cellars:
2013 McPherson Les Copains Brother’s Blend White (13.1% ABV, $24, Grenahce Blanc/Roussane/Viognier) – what a great start of the tasting. Bright and oily nose, elegant, white stone fruit on the palate, perfect balance. Drinkability: 8
NV Salt Lick Cellars BBQ White ($20, Trebbiano, Pinot Grigio, Orange Muscat) – Gunfling on the nose, very much reminiscent of Chablis. A bit too sweet on the palate. Should be fine as a summer BBQ wine. Drinkability: 7
NV Salt Lick Cellars BBQ Red ($20) – excellent – simple, soft, warm, or rather even heart warming, with perfect balance. Drinkability: 7+
2014 McPherson Tre Colore ($24, Cinsault/Carignan/Viognier) – Great acidity, soft and approachable, nice fruit, excellent overall. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Wedding Oak Winery Tioja Texas High Plains ($35, 80% Tempranillo, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Fire pit on the nose, smokey, plums, vibrant acidity, perfect balance. Drinkability: 8-
2012 Salt Lick Cellars Hill County Blend ($29) – very unusual nose of freshly fermented apples, a touch of root beer, lots of tannins, a bit off on the palate. Drinkability: 7-
2011 Brady Vineyard Petite Sirah Paso Robles ($36) – Outstanding. nice power on the nose, soft fruit and good structure. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Fall Creck GSM ($48) – great nose, but slightly overdone on the palate. Needs time. Drinkability: 7
2011 Fall Creek Tempranillo ($42) – nose of fermented apples, palate is off. Dense, astringent, tannic and overdone. Drinkability: 7-
2012 Dotson Cervantes Gotas de Oro ($29) – a dessert wine. Nice sweetness on the nose, but flat on the palate, needs a bit more sugar and more acidity. Drinkability: 7-
Here you go, my friends – a wonderful deep dive into the Texas wines. While Texas wine industry is still young, the passion for the land and for the vine really works as a great matchmaker for the grapes and terroir. I think the Mediterranean varieties are really showing the best results, and this is only he beginning of the journey. If you are into wines, I highly recommend you will make an effort to find and to taste Texas wines (can someone finally fix all the demented, archaic, draconian alcohol shipping laws in US, please?) – Texas makes lots of wines worth of any oenophile’s attention.
Before we part, I want to again thank Alissa for arranging this great Texas wine experience. Cheers!