The Texas wine revolution

Texas wineTexas wine has changed so much in the past 25 years – and yes, usually for the better – that it’s sometimes difficult to believe how far we’ve come.

This story, The Vine Frontier, ran in the July/August issue of Texas Journey magazine, and it neatly sums my 25 years tasting and writing about Texas wine. As I wrote:

“What is a new, especially in the past 10 years, is the acceptance that Texas wine is not California wine or French wine or Italian wine. It is, as Greg Bruni, Llano’s long-time winemaker, says, ‘Texas wine. And Texas makes the best Texas wine in the world.’ … This has been a surprisingly difficult concept for many in Texas to understand.”

The first generation of Texas producers thought we had to be the next Napa Valley, and didn’t realize it was enough to be the next Texas and produce distinctively Texas wine. The current generation of winemakers has a better grasp of this, and we’re seeing better quality wine made with grapes better suited to the Texas terroir – grapes from Europe’s warmest regions, like the southern Rhone in France, Rioja and Rias Baixas in Spain, and central and southern Italy. That means tempranillo, a red grape famous in Spain; viognier, a white from the southern Rhone; sangiovese, the red used to make Chianti; and vermentino, a white best known along Italy’s Mediterranean coast.

All is still not perfect, of course. Quality can improve and prices are too high, as producers struggle with economies of scale and limited distribution. And we’re still fighting the battle over Texas grapes; that is, that the industry can only flourish if we make Texas wine with Texas grapes, and not wine in Texas with grapes from California.

Finally, I got a number of emails from wine drinkers saying the story was welcome news, given how much they didn’t like the Texas labels they had tried. Several of the emails came from Californians who had moved to Texas, and didn’t understand why the wine here didn’t taste like it did there. Now, they wrote, they did.

More about Texas wine:
Kerrville 2015: We don’t need no stinkin’ brose
Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

8 things I learned during my Colorado wine adventure

Colorado wine

That’s Warren Winiarski of Judgment of Paris fame on the far left, Doug Caskey of the Colorado wine board, Colorado wine writer Dave Buchanan, California wine writer Mike Dunne, and the WC. I don’t know why Doug and I are the only ones with hats.

The eight things I learned during my Colorado wine adventure.

1. The wine quality at the Colorado Governor’s Cup was the best I’ve seen since I judged the first one seven years ago. In fact, the improvement in Colorado wine was hard to believe – there were almost no wines that were so awful that drinking them made you fear for the future of regional wine. The best wines, mostly red blends, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc, were elegant, structured, and well made. The improvement in quality is something my friends in Texas should pay close attention to.

2. Warren Winiarski, who made the winning cabernet sauvignon at the Judgment of Paris, spent two days after the competition visiting Colorado vineyards. Watching him with the winemakers and growers taught me that canopy management isn’t as boring as I thought it was, and I learned a lot to bring back to my students. Also, not everyone is happy when someone with more experience and more knowledge and more skill tells you things you don’t want to hear about how you’re growing grapes and making wine.

3. Colorado’s new grocery store wine law – if it survives the upcoming legal challenges – may be the model used to bring grocery store wine law to the rest of the country. It tries to strike a balance between small retailers, the state’s biggest and powerful independents, and the grocery store chains that will eventually dominate the market.

4. Spotting the wine writers in the hotel lobby is easy. We’re the old white guys reading the newspaper while we eat breakfast.

5. Flying on the state plane (that’s the aircraft in the background in the picture above) made me wish I never had to fly commercially again. Ever.

6. So the less said about American Airlines the better.

7. The acceptance of regional wine by those who don’t taste it regularly is wonderful to see. Mike Dunne of Sacramento, one of the most respected wine writers in the country, and Alder Yarrow of Vinography judged the competition and approached the wines with an openness that too many of my colleagues still don’t have.

8. There’s something about being in a vineyard at 6,500 feet that makes you forget about all the aggravation associated with doing this. Or with life, for that matter.

Photos courtesy of Kyle Schlachter.

Wine of the week: Ferraton Cotes du Rhone Blanc Samorens 2015

Ferraton SamorensThe Ferraton Samorens is a white blend from the Rhone region of France with two odd grapes, which is one reason why the Wine Curmudgeon liked it. The other? How about terroir and value?

The Ferraton Samorens ($13, sample, 13%) is the kind of wine I wished we saw more often in the U.S. But since we’ve been told we have to drink varietal wine, you have to look harder for something like the Ferraton Samorens.

What will you find if you see it on a shelf? A white blend with grenache blanc and clairette, about as far removed from Big Wine chardonnay and pinot grigio as possible. That means a certain floral aroma, with soft pear and apple fruit and what one review called liveliness – despite not having a lot of the acidity usually found in white wines at this price.

In this, the price is the only disappointment. A couple of years ago, the Ferraton Samorens would have been closer to $10, and the weak euro should have kept it that way. But we’re seeing producers, importers, and distributors keep prices up, and that’s the cost of enjoying this wine.

Winebits 448: Bloggers, wine retailers, bootleg liquor

bloggersThis week’s wine news: The feds go after unscrupulous bloggers, wine retailer speak, and bootleg liquor.

Transparency is all: The Federal Trade Commission has decided that “consumers have the right to know when they’re looking at paid advertising” when they’re on-line; hence, crackdowns on marketers who don’t tell us when they’re paying for content. Two cases in the past year, in which the Lord & Taylor department store and film studio Warner Bros. settled with the commission over unscrupulous practices, apparently mean the feds are serious. The Warner case was particularly egregious, reports clickz.com: “Warner Bros. gave the influencers advance copies of [a] game and paid them anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars each to promote the game to their followers with specific instructions, including ‘not to disclose any bugs or glitches they found.’ ” At least we’re not that bad in the wine business. I think.

Retailer-speak: One of the difficulties with buying wine is that many of the the people who sell it have a completely different view of wine than consumers do. We worry about price and quality, and they care about almost everything but that. This interview, with an official at Florida’s ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, is a good example. It’s almost technical in its complexity, and the average consumer probably won’t be able to make much sense of it. But that’s how retailers think, and it’s not about what we want to buy.

Deadly booze: Almost three dozen people have died in India over the past couple of weeks from drinking toxic liquor they bought from a local retailer. The retailer, who was arrested, was selling the booze at one-sixth the price of a name brand; some two billion liters of bootleg alcohol are sold in India every year, compared to less than three billion liters of legal liquor. In addition, 11 officials, including seven policemen, were suspended for for allowing the booze to be sold.

Expensive wine 88: Bonny Doon Old Telegram 2014

Boony Doon Old TelegramI rarely discuss wine with the person who made it; what’s the point with most of the grocery store plonk I taste? But talking about the Bonny Doon Old Telegram with Randall Grahm was a treat.

The wine, of course, was even better. The Old Telegram ($45, sample, 13.9%) is a classic Bonny Doon effort – top-notch, if unusual, California fruit (mourvedre, in this case), exquisite technical winemaking, and the sense that there is something going on that you won’t find in too many other places.

Grahm, during our visit this spring, insisted that I taste the Old Telegram, saying it was one of the best he had ever made. I’m glad I didn’t argue with him. Somehow, the mourvedre – a Spanish grape also grown in the south of France – produces a Bordeaux-like, earthy, forest floor sensibility that you only get anymore in traditional and very expensive red Bordeaux. There is also some baking spice and Grahm’s trademark funky fruit (blackberry?).

Highly recommended, and the wine to give as a gift to someone who appreciates Old World sensibility or wants to try something that isn’t full of sweet fruit. Pair this with anything you’d eat with high-end red Bordeaux, including roast lamb and almost any combination of beef. It’s also young, and will only get more interesting as it ages over the next decade.

Mini-reviews 87: Lindemans, Toad Hollow, Dancing Coyote, Mont Gravet

stockwine2Mini-reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, two whites you’ll enjoy and two reds you probably won’t.

Lindemans Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($6, sample, 13.5%): It’s not so much that this Australian red tastes like a $6 cabernet, with overly sweet black fruit and lots of fake chocolate oak. It’s that so many wines that cost two and three times as much taste the same way (albeit with better grapes).

Toad Hollow Merlot 2014 ($14, sample, 14.3%): Red from a once great California producer that tastes more like cabernet than merlot, complete with manly tannins. One fix? I put ice cubes in my glass, which toned down the wine enough so that it tasted like merlot.

Dancing Coyote Gruner Veltliner 2015 ($15, sample, 13%): California white is a well-made, varietally correct version of the Austrian sommelier favorite – which is saying something given the Wine Curmudgeon’s lack of enthusiasm for gruner. Look for citrus and peach and a crisp finish.

Mont Gravet Cotes de Gascogne 2015 ($10, purchased, 11.5%): This is yet another well made and value-drive French white from the region of Gascony, with lots of citrus and a clean finish. It’s not quite white grapey enough for me, but well worth buying and drinking.

Winecast 28: Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News

Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn

Restaurant wine prices are so high because restaurant costs keep going up. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be so expensive, says one of the country’s top restaurant experts.

Bret Thorn, the senior food and beverage editor at Nation’s Restaurant News, knows more about the restaurant business than almost anyone in the country. So who better to ask why restaurant wine prices keep going up despite woeful sales?

We talked about that, as well as changes in the restaurant business that may alter the way we eat out — if we eat out at all in the coming decades — and are changes that the restaurant business still doesn’t completely understand.

To high wine prices, says Thorn, some restaurant operators see wine as a way to recoup increased costs, which include a higher minimum wage in some states and rising food prices. Those of us who buy wine in a restaurant may be shouldering more than our fair share of those rising costs.

But Thorn is an optimist, and says there are a lot of smart people in the restaurant business who might recognize an opportunity to sell more wine — especially if we let them know we think a four to one markup for a glass of $10 wine is too much. His suggestion? Politely and reasonably let the restaurant know you’d buy more wine if prices were more reasonable. And no, he said, a Twitter rant probably isn’t the best way to complain.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 16 1/2 minutes long and takes up 11.6 megabytes. The sound quality is mostly good, though I wasn’t able to get it to play on my Linux box. Windows is OK, though.