Tasting Tantalizing Texas Tempranillo and Tannat — and more
by Susan Montgomery
Is there good wine in Texas? Is it worth taking a trip to Texas to taste some of these wines? Will you be impressed? The answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes,” as a group of us discovered recently during a fascinating webinar focused on Texas wines.
We learned so much about Texas wines and some of us were able to taste several of these wines. Texas is the 5th largest wine-producing state in the country (after California, Washington, New York and Oregon). Texas has been growing grapes since the 1600s when Spanish missionaries brought winemaking to the state, but winemaking really emerged as an industry in the 1970s.
There are now more than 400 wineries in the state, with many of them in the rolling land of the lovely Texas Hill Country located in Central and South Texas and forming a portion of the Edwards Plateau. The region extends into the northern area of San Antonio and western portions of Austin. (Fly into either San Antonio or Austin and you will be close to the Hill Country.)
Eighty percent of Texas wine-producing grapes are grown in a high plateau area called the High Plains in the Panhandle region of the state and many of the hill country wineries derive their grapes from this region. The region’s elevation of 3000 to 5000 feet means cool nights and warm days that make the area perfect for nurturing grapes, along with its rich, sandy, calcium-rich soil.
During our webinar we were introduced to five highly respected wineries that are part of a group called Texas Fine Wine, which is devoted to producing and promoting outstanding Texas wines. (See the map above to locate these wineries.)
Three fellow wine lovers and I recently sampled wines from two of these wineries. We had tasted wines from Texas many years ago with mixed reactions and we were pleasantly surprised at how delicious Texas wines are today. Texas wines have undoubtedly improved over the years, due in great part to education. The winegrowers in Texas have obviously learned which grapes grow best in various regions and how to nurture them.
We loved the 2017 Tempranillo from Spicewood Vineyards, one of the largest vineyards in the Texas Hill Country, located about 35 miles northwest of Austin and also an easy drive from San Antonio. You can tour the barrel room (photo to right) at Spicewood Vineyards. We learned that Tempranillo is one of the most popular red wines in Texas. This luscious peppery wine tasted like blackberries, raspberries and stone fruit. We savored it with a creamy blue cheese and crackers.
We also enjoyed a rich Tannat from Bending Branch Winery, located near Comfort in the Texas Hill Country. The Tannat was complex with vanilla, cinnamon and blackberries with subtle tannins. Tannat is another grape that is showcased by Texas terrior. This lovely wine enhanced a spicy Cajun shrimp dish that we had for dinner.
Our webinar participants also particularly enjoyed a Viognier from Duchman Family Winery. They described it as voluptuous — very crisp, floral, fruity and dry. Other outstanding wines from Duchman include Vermentino, Sangiovese and Dolcetto. This Hill Country winery’s picturesque setting makes it perfect for a picnic with a bottle of wine. Duchman also offers wonderful cuisine such as charcuterie, paninis, and pizzas.
Another winery in the Texas Fine Wine group is Brennan Vineyards located only about two miles from Austin between the Texas Hill Country and the High Plains. The winery is located in one of the oldest homesteads in Texas with its tasting room in the historic McCrary House (photo to right). One of the wines that many attending the webinar tasted was Ella’s Pine, named after a large very old pine tree on the property, and made from 100 percent Semillon. The tasters in our webinar raved about this lush, floral, citrusy wine.
Another featured winery was Pedernales Cellars (photo right), which specializes in Spanish and Rhone style wines and has the largest underground barrel cellar in Texas. It also offers gorgeous views of the hill country from its lovely patio. A popular wine is Tempranillo made from High Plains grapes. The winery’s Tempranillos are mostly used in blends. Our webinar tasters relished a 2017 blend of mainly Tempranillo and Mouvedres. They loved its rich but crisp flavors of cherry, blackberry and cedar. I can understand why it makes a great pairing with the area’s popular Tex-Mex dishes.
There are obviously so many other wonderful Texas wines just waiting for us to taste. As our country slowly emerges from pandemic restrictions, we are now convinced that a tour of Texas wineries will be high on our list of eagerly-anticipated travel destinations.