Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Texas Summer Doldrums/Tarantula Part Two

Nothing thwarts travel and the desire for wine like triple digit heat. I hope you'll forgive me for my month-long lag.

Apparently, I'm not the only one having trouble keeping up: the informative Texas Wine Trails website seems to have signed off as well. I'm in the process of finding out what happened.

There were a couple of wineries up on the Tarantula Trail that I neglected to mention, and I want to do that now.

Cross Timbers Winery

Tasting rooms are even more fun if they're housed in an historic building, doncha think? A little extra ambiance makes the wine taste better. Cross Timbers chose a country Victorian homestead built in the 1870's by a family from Mississippi, one of the oldest structures in the area. There was a little girl rocking on the front porch swing as I headed up the stairs and I felt compelled to ask her if her folks were home. Inside the tasting room was small but with high ceilings and the dark brown clapboard looked like the original to me.

I was happy to see that Cross Timbers also uses all Texas fruit, this time coming from either the High Plains AVA or an area around the Bryan/College Station area, home of Texas A&M.

I tried two Chardonnays and a Merlot. The first Chardonnay ($16.99) made from Bryan fruit, had a very sweet green apple front end that didn't work for me, but the second, called 'Evi Mi Amor' was much better ($19.99). High Plains Chardonnay can be hit-and-miss, but this one was nice. Creamier and fuller with a tropical fruit profile, this one was as good as any Texas Chard I've ever had. Nice work.

The 2004 Merlot was, like many I've tried, a little dilute, and a bit high on the vegetal aromatics, but with bright, juicy acid and good tannins. Speaking of that bell pepper aroma...you know, I've had quite a few Merlots from small producers that have this. It's caused by pyrazines, an aromatic compound found also in Cabs and Sauvignon Blanc. Generally, you don't want it around in your reds, but I have to say that there have been a few times I kinda liked it. But I'm weird that way.

La Buena Vida Winery

This winery's tasting room and the area around it are being refurbished, replanted and expanded, but for now it's a bit of a mess. Still a good stop on the trail; the staff are friendly and the tasting room guy had a bit more wine knowledge under his belt than the others, which makes a big difference to me. Many times you might enter a tasting room and be served by someone who hasn't the faintest idea what they're talking about beyond the spiel they've been taught, and I think that's a shame.

Some of their grapes come from a fifty acre vineyard near Springtown, northwest of Weatherford. Chamborcin, Tempranillo, Pinot Blanc and Viognier. But currently none of these were available to taste. The Merlot fruit is from the High Plains, where they also get some Tempranillo and Cabernet.

While there I tried two wines I thought were nicely done. The La Bodega Merlot was smoky, spicy and had a touch of those bell pepper pyrazines on the nose with candied fruit and juicy acid on the palate. The second was a tawny port from Walnut Creek Cellars, an award winning port that did not suck at all: great acid holding up a rich nutty core. Tasty.

Homestead Winery

Here's a little factoid for ya: in 1880, a Texan by the name of T.V. Munson was pivotal in saving the philoxera-ravaged vineyards near Cognac, France. That's right, our rootstocks saved Cognac. The town of Denison in the Red River Valley is sister cities with Cognac to this day.

Homestead is the oldest continually operating winery in North Texas. Once a corn and wheat field, the Parker family planted vineyards near the tee-niny town of Ivanhoe, east of Denison. The tasting room in Grapevine is also housed in an historic Victorian home, and the first thing that hits you when you walk in is the graffitti scribbled in black marker covering every inch of the walls.

Now I love honesty, and the woman running the tasting room flat-out refused to show me the Pinot Noir, and I thanked her for that. People: Pinot Noir does not, I repeat, does not do well in Texas. If the bottle says Pinot Noir, it's either not Texas fruit or it's real bad. Prove me wrong, please. But you know it's true.

Both the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Homestead Red Merlot/Cab blend had what I call a "scattered", or unfocused finish, something I find a lot in Texas reds. But both had the good acid and bright berry fruit I expect. The unoaked High Plains Chardonnay wasn't too shabby--good body and bright tropical aromas. The real star of the whites was the Dry Muscat from the Ivanhoe vineyard. Dry! Yay! Dry Muscat rules. Big grapefruit, crisp acid...thank you Homestead for taking it to the dry side.

But what they really do well is sherry. The La Crema Del Sol Texas Cream Sherry is a knockout. Really. Made from the oldest Solera in the state (36 years) and blended with Cognac, it's just bursting out of it's seams with rich toasted pecan and bright lemony acidity. Gramma would be sooo proud.

Next up: I explore a rumor that Italy is planning to invade The High Plains. Stay tuned.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Tarantula Trail, Part One: Delaney Vineyards

Grapevine, Texas is a small town that's slowly getting assimilated into the Dallas/Fort Worth Megolopolis, but at least it's still intact. A refurbished Victorian engine takes passengers from the famous Fort Worth stockyards to the Grapevine Towne Center where they can shoppe....er, shop, I mean.
There are several wineries and a couple of tasting rooms here, and it's known in Texas wine circles as the Tarantula Trail, after the name of the train in turn named after the spider-like configuration of the original tracks around the area.

The big daddy operation is Delaney Vineyards, a mockup mansion surrounded by lush vineyards...right next to an office park. The Delaney crew is very proud of the juice they make, so much so that spitting your sample is not allowed, as you will be cheerily informed by your tasting associate. And she meant it, too; when I told her that I prefer to spit, as I was driving to several tasting rooms that day, she headed out of the room and told me she would have to call the owner to see if she could make an exception. I mention this incedent because I think it's silly, regardless of what the rationale might be behind it. The whole rest of the wine world knows that spitting is the best way to taste a number of wines without getting smashed, people, and disallowing it makes you guys look like amateurs. The Texas wine industry definitely does not need help with that.

Okay, I'm over it. Now: is Delaney wine really soooo good that spitting it out would be a travesty? Well, yes and no. Lemme 'splain.

Delaney, like many of the operations along the Tarantula Trail, actually make their wine from Texas fruit. This makes it officially Texas wine, and we all know that makes me very happy. The majority of the fruit comes from their own vineyards in the teensy town of Lamesa on the edge of the Texas High Plains AVA. These vineyards grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, while the ten acres surrounding the Grapevine facility are all a hybrid called Cynthiana, or Norton. Cynthiana is a good choice for the area because it's hardy and does well in heat and in red clay. It's generally believed to be a species of wild North American grape called vitis aestivalis, although some believe it's a cross between aestivalis and some kind of vinifera (the European species). So mucho kudos for bringing the real thing to the people.

Often times, however, I find a general lack of body and viscosity in Texas wines, and Delaney is no exception. Across the board the wines are light, juicy and simple in structure. The whites are a little too sweet for me, but that's sort of a given in the Lone Star State. Red selections had very nice tannins and a great "juiciness" to them, a bit of spice, but otherwise I can only describe them as 'lean'. This may just be a reality of agriculture for us, and all said and done, Delaney does a rather nice job.

Two of the red selections at Delaney were pretty damn good, and the Cynthiana was one of them.

2003 Delaney Vineyards Cynthiana
What suprised me about this little number is that the typical 'foxy' aroma/flavor (think Welch's Grape Jelly--candied and cloying) of Norton was less predominant. There was a dusty, Cab Franc kind of quality to it, and the acidity was nicely balanced. Light in body and pleasant, good solid finish. A simple wine, but at $14.99 not overpriced.

2002 Delaney Vineyards 'Three Daughters' (Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon)
Bright juicy fruit with a hint of that Cab Franc dried floral thing, good color, and in comparison of so many other Texas wines, a right solid tannic finish. All things considered, the $20 price tag isn't too bad, although someday I hope to be able to compare a $20 Texas wine to any other with impunity.

There are three other wineries I visited whilst bumming about North of Dallas, stay tuned for more from the Tarantula Trail.