Most of us who drink wine in Texas know about Ste. Genevieve, the state’s largest producer, a company whose bottles are everywhere from convenience stores to high-end wine shops. Some of us know about the most popular wines from some of the most popular wineries, like Messina Hof and Fall Creek. And some of us even know about several excellent smaller wineries, despite the fact that their products aren’t widely distributed.
But not enough of us know enough about the rest of the wine that’s available in the state. That’s because we stick to cabernet, merlot and chardonnay, which are three varietals, frankly, that aren’t especially representative of the best wine in Texas. For whatever reasons – timidity, ignorance, and yes, even snobbery – we won’t venture far from that cabernet-merlot-chardonnay path.
Which is a shame, because there is a lot of interesting, intriguing and fascinating Texas wine to drink that has nothing to do with those three grapes. Quality in Texas has never been better, and that’s because more and more wine makers have learned that they can make terrific wine with Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean varietals, with hybrids, and even with fruit like muscadines.
Does this wine taste like it came from California (which, unfortunately, has apparently been one of the goals of Texas industry for far too long)? Nope. And there is nothing wrong with that, since wine made here should not taste like California wine. If it does, what’s the point of drinking it?
If you know that, then you’re ready for 10 Texas wines that will surprise you:
• Cost: $12
• Why it surprises: Texas should produce tremendous chenin blanc, a French grape that thrives in this climate and soil. But, for whatever reasons, most Texas chenin blanc is quite ordinary – usually sweetish and not in a pleasant way. The Becker, however, is dry, and it’s not just exceptionally made, with an impressive mineral finish, but is also an exceptional value.
• Cost: $8
• Why it surprises: It’s difficult to make quality wine from muscadines, which are considered poor relations to wine grapes. Usually, wine makers have to add lots of sugar to cover up some very disagreeable muscadine qualities. This wine is sweet, but it tastes like wine and not alcoholic grape juice. How good is it? I was on the panel that gave it a gold at this year’s Lone Star International competition, and I’m infamous for not giving out gold medals.
• Cost: $22
• Why it surprises: Kiepersol makes award-winning wines with grapes grown in East Texas, which is about as unlikely as place for growing quality wine grapes as there is in the state. It’s too humid, which allows all sorts of rot and mildew. Nevertheless, Kiepersol manages.
• Cost: $45
• Why it surprises: This is cream sherry, but it’s not your grandmother’s cream sherry. It’s deep and dark and luscious, with nutty flavors that last and last. Yes, it’s sweet, but so well-balanced that the sugar doesn’t overwhelm the wine.
• Cost: $11
• Why it surprises: This wine is made from a hybrid grape called blanc du bois. Most of the time, blanc du bois is used for white zinfandel knockoffs. This is too bad, because in the hands of someone who knows what to do, blanc du bois makes an appealing dry wine that is not unlike sauvignon blanc. This may be the best example of that style in the state.
• Cost: $15.95 (500 ml bottle)
• Why it surprises: This dessert wine, with its orange aroma and orange flavors and its predisposition for chocolate desserts, always seems to get overlooked unless it’s Valentine’s Day. It deserves better than that, and, in fact, is another example of Flat Creek’s commitment to quality and its growing reputation.
• Cost: $30
• Why it surprises: This red wine is a blend of eight Mediterranean grapes, some of which are almost unheard of in Texas. In this, it is part of the trend toward non-French varietals, and it’s also part of the trend toward more quality wine. It resembles Italian wine, but with a more fruity, Texas feel.
• Cost: $40
• Why it surprises: This red blend was one of the big winners at the Lone Star competition, earning a gold medal and a best of class award. We shouldn’t have been taken aback. Texas produces some of the best sangiovese in the U.S. (yes, even better than California) and this wine is more than one-quarter sangiovese.
• Cost: $39.50
• Why it surprises: This is the mystery wine of Texas, a label that wine types have been buzzing about since the beginning of the year. It is made by Dallas-based Inwood; the grapes come from West Texas. It’s an impressive achievement – fruiter than a Spanish tempranillo but with plenty of subtle Old World structure. This will age at least three or four more years.
• Cost: $8.99
• Why it surprises: Most bottled sangria tastes like bottled sangria, sugary and nasty. This tastes like sangria – pop in some lemons, limes and ice, and you’re ready for a paella party. It’s made by Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars for his wife Sylvia’s winery/wine bar in Lubbock.