Monday, December 19, 2005

Texas Tasting

The Hill Country's fairest season is June, but even December has charm to a Texas girl. The peach orchards are bare and their stands boarded up, the fields of lavender and wildflowers fallow, but the evergreen cedars are striped through with the brilliant red of autumn oaks and mule deer graze brazenly close to the highway. People raise all manner of beasties out here, and as you zip down 290 East on the way to the German settlement town of Fredericksburg, you'll spy herds of red and white goats, llamas, emu, plump sheep, and...was that a zebra? Yes, Timmy, it was, indeed. Texans are an odd lot.

Well, so are their wines. Sometimes well balanced but lacking in power, sometimes powerful but a bit too sweet, Texas wines always seem to be just a leeeetle bit off-kilter to me. In my recent quest to understand the state of Texas wine, I hied me off to the hub of Hill Country wine tasting.

Fredericksburg is a booming tourist attraction these days. The main street is brimming with enough antique houses, clothing boutiques, Texas paraphenalia, and German restaurants to make Grandma and Grandpa feel very willkommen. The interest in the culture of Texas wine is also booming; in the past five years, Fredericksburg has seen the addition of one wine bar and two tasting rooms, the latter two of which are dedicated almost completely to Texas wine.

My destination was Texas Vineyards and Beyond, a wee little tasting room at the start of the Main Street shopping where one can try an impressively vast array of Lone Star juice. You can also buy little Peruvian knitted finger puppets that fit on the top of a bottle. Just thought I'd throw that in for fun.

One of the things I learned from writing workshops is that it's easy enough to critique a well-written story. It takes more knowledge and experience to critique a flawed one. It's the same, for me, with Texas wine, and so I suppose I consider it professional practice to try and understand both what's working and what's lacking in them.

The Whites

2004 Haak Blanc du Bois

This wine won the 2005 Texas' Best Wines Award for the 'Best Hybrid' group, and while it was a bit sweet for my taste, it was one of the best balanced wines I tried, white or red. It's a light gold with herbal/citrus notes reminiscent of Sauv Blanc. There's a sweet citrus attack on the palate, with good acid and a crisp grapefruity finish.

2003 McPherson Viognier

This label is made by the Kim McPherson, son of Dr. Clinton "Doc" McPherson, who is called "the founder of the modern Texas wine industry". Dr. McPherson founded Cap*Rock winery, one of Texas best known. I consider McPherson the Younger's label to be on some of the best wine in the state.

The Viognier was a silver medalist in the aforementioned competition, and while it wasn't as aromatic or as a French or California viognier, the wine was supple and well balanced with a clean, crisp finish.

The Reds

2003 Llano Estacado Signature Rhone Blend
A blend of Carignan, Syrah, Mouvedre and Viognier

Whooowie, smell that sulfur! Now this is what I'm talking about, people. This wine smelled like the swimming pool at church camp, way out in Grandbury, Texas. I got very little off the nose except sulfur, and that's a problem. The palate was pleasant enough, tart red berry, but not much else, and the finish was kinda weak. Dull but drinkable. I should note, however, that this wine retails under nine bucks.

2004 Mc Pherson Tre Colore
Carignan, Syrah, Viognier

Ahh, better. Lean and powerful, and actually identifiable as Rhone. But there's that smell again, on the nose. See, there's this smell. I don't know what it is, but it seems to plague Texas wines. Is is sulfur? I'm not sure. It doesn't smell like rotten eggs or burnt matches, but it's faintly off-putting to me, and I'm the only one it bothers. It's a mystery I hope to someday resolve. I call it 'the Texas smell', and I'll let you know when I've figured it out.

2002 'El Guapo', Alamosa Vineyards
82% Tempranillo with Garnacha and Cabernet

This was once one of the most lauded newcomer wineries in the state. Their first couple of vintages were beloved of the press and of local wine critics. But this vintage---how do I put this delicately? Oh, I know---sucked. There. I said it. The color is an awful thin brownish red, the nose is dominated by pickley aromas, and the palate is thin and unpleasant. What happened, Mr. Johnson? Your credentials are flawless. I won't sit here and act like I know it all, but I am truly confused why this wine was released.
To be fair, Alamosa has other tempranillos that are good. Just not this one.

2002 'Meritus', Fall Creek Vineyards
Cab, Merlot, and Malbec

Pretty good. Deep garnet with a spicy/peppery nose. Red and black fruit on the palate, with vanilla oak notes. A relatively powerful palate, although I don't know that it "screams elegance". I'd say it walks up, glad-hands you and suggests you buy a lakeside lot of elegance in a prime location at a great price. While I'd agree that this is a well-made wine, it bears the curse of the Texas wine price tag: up to $40 a bottle. Think about what kinda wine you could come up with for forty clams, and this one won't make the top 100. This is a big problem for me with these wines: the good ones are priced wayyyyy out of the range of like competitors from anywhere else.

This trip's verdict: Given all considerations, the whites showed better for their price tags than the reds, and despite the various competitions, I still find that a Texas wine is best compared only to its peers right now. But I keep the faith. It's only proper, as my daddy would say.



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