This is one of an occasional series detailing Texas wineries. The complete list is here.
What does one make of Mandola, which is not only Texas' first celebrity winery, but one of its newest and most costly to build? Visit on a Saturday afternoon, and it's a foodie Disney World, packed with people touring the winery and crowding the restaurant.
Complicating the issue is that Mandola, named for Damian Mandola of Carrabba's restaurant fame, has had some problems in its first couple of years in business. First and foremost, illness forced winemaker Mark Penna to take a leave of absence in 2008, and the winery has been making do without him for much of this year.
Fortunately, consulting winemaker Greg Harrington is one of the best in the business, and most of the the wines are doing what they're supposed to be doing.
I tasted the 2007 vintage, which should be released next week). Mandola focuses on Italian varietals, taking advantage of Damian Mandola's heritage and the Texas climate, which is hot and dry enough for them to do well. Better yet, the winery's goal is to use only Texas fruit.
The red wines are about $26, white wines $18. They're available from the winery and select Texas retailers:
• Aglianico. This red grape, grown mostly in Campagna, is rarely seen in the U.S. The Mandola version is a standout -- acidic, with a deep red color and finely hewn tannins, perfect for pairing with eggplant, olives and other regional staples.
• Sangiovese. Not the best Texas version of this that I have tasted, but that's not a complaint given the quality of Texas sangiovese. It's a little thin, but I'd expect the next couple of vintages to be better.
• Montepulciano. This has more fruit than the classic Italian version, but Texas' terroir seems to do that to Italian varietals.
• Verdicchio. This white grape, originally from central Italy, is nicely done: Clean and crisp, with only 13.2 percent alcohol.