Wines of Barking Rocks Winery: Hard Scrabble Country, Full-Bodied Wine
Safe and secure from this year’s searing summer heat, I was able to relax with my pen and paper in hand and open three bottles of wine. Two were from a particular Texas winery – Barking Rocks (www.barkingrockswine.com). The third bottle was from a distant land that provided both an excellent quaff and a useful calibration.
The use of a calibrator is something that I oft do when tasting and writing about Texas wines to give context and a global perspective to Texas wine. I also make an effort to pick wines that are highly regarded from sensory evaluation. In this particular case, the calibrator was selected to bring in a perspective from a wine region where the winemakers are known for their heavy-handed yet stylistic approach to oak aging. You will see why I included this style of wine if you read further down the page. In this case, I selected Montecillo 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva (www.osborne.es), a Spanish wine made from Tempranillo grapes and given 30 months in oak (Wine Spectator 89 rating).
Taking the Long Way Home
While I truly enjoy wine tasting, driving in Texas is another one of my personal passions. It can be long stretches of interstate pavement that are straight as a crow flies or tightly curving Texas back roads. These roadways yield to me experiences of my adopted state in a patchwork of colors, aromas and textures, a delight similar to the way wine plays on my palate.
On my way back to Houston from the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, I diverted to the southwest, not exactly a direct trajectory for home. The diversion was to call on the man simply known by many as Tiberia. He is the easy going, near-bohemian winemaker at his Texanic, micro-winery in Granbury, Texas. The winery is called Barking Rocks (www.barkingrockswinery.com). If you ask…Why Barking Rocks? Take a long look at the winery logo on the wine bottles that illustrates the initials of Helen Knox as found in a stone fence on the winery property and you will not have to wonder any longer. Tiberia renovated her cattle barn and it is now the Barking Rocks winery and tasting room.
My travel vector also gave me the opportunity to see first-hand a part of Texas that I have “seen” mainly through the literary works of John Graves. Graves, perhaps more than any other Texas author, conveys what “wineophiles” would call terroir. In his case, it is the intimate sense of place that he describes for the rural Texas region of his youth that surrounds Tiberia’s winery near Lake Granbury along the wandering northern remnants of the Brazos River. The land has an austere presence characterized by the name “Hard Scrabble” he gave his personal 400 acre plot. It is land gone wayward with tired old fields and creek bottoms, a haven for multiplying cedars, ready to test those that have the gumption to try to work it and make it work for them.
I returned to Houston with two bottles of wine from Barking Rocks Winery (The 2005 Casena and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon) and was anxious to taste and evaluate them. The Casena, named after a familial matriarch is a blended red wine that was made from fifty percent Cabernet Sauvignon and fifty percent Sangiovese grapes grown in the Newsom and Quail Ridge Vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA near Lubbock, Texas. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was also made from Texas High Plains grapes, but it was made with a mix of Cabernet grapes coming from the Quail Ridge and Diamante Vineyards. The Texas High Plains AVA is one of Texas’ premier growing regions with hot days and cool nights at an upward elevation of over 3500 feet. The daring part of these wines came from the barrel treatment of 26 months in oak. Hence, this was my reason for finding a quality Spanish red wine known for its grand dollop of oak.
Wines Colored with Oak Aging
The color of the wines from Barking Rocks was garnet rather than the deep purple common to new world wines. The color derives from the initial fruit extraction during maceration followed by its lengthy stay in oak following fermentation; this process ameliorates the purple hues leaving garnet-red colored wines. Characteristic of wines made from Sangiovese, Casena showed a brick red-to-pink coloration on the rim (see outer ring on left plate in the photo) suggesting a wine of somewhat lighter character than the Cabernet.
Casena presented aromas of plum, herbs and dry dusty earth that were followed by flavors of red cherry and cola with hints of raspberry. The tannins in both wines were quite predominant in the mouth resulting in a dryness that mimicked the dusty quality in the nose. However, in both cases, the tannins were well integrated and balanced within the overall expression of the wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon provided aromas of black tea leaves, toasted oak and subtle dark fruit incorporating characteristics of vanilla, blackberry and a hint of cigar tobacco.
The Montecillo Gran Reserva presented a similar garnet color resulting from its period in oak, but its color was somewhat deeper than that of the wines from Barking Rocks. This was likely due to the greater potential for ripeness of the Tempranillo grapes in hot climates like Spain and Texas. The Montecillo presented characteristics of red stone fruits (cherry and plum being the most dominant) with earthy or what some describe as old world style, balsamic undertones. This latter element could be the result of its extended bottle age versus that of the wines from Barking Rocks. In summary, the Barking Rocks wines presented well next to the highly rated Monticello Rioja Gran Reserva. They were definitely worthy of tasting in the same flight, which is a grand statement for Texas and Barking Rocks. The wines from Barking Rocks were well made with intensely oaked qualities, while still retaining a refined new world style.
Casena and Cabernet Wine and Food Pairing
I also tasted the wines from Barking Rocks with a selection of foods including roast chicken, venison/pork sausages, and grilled steak, and with a selection of cheeses (Bleu and Brie) and olives. Based on this evaluation, these heavily oaked wines excelled when paired the roasted and grilled meats and particularly fatty meats such as sausage. The tannic qualities in the wine produced by oak aged allowed them to refresh the palate with a pleasing dry, astringent quality. Additionally, the toasty oak flavors in the wines melded well with similar qualities in the grilled and roasted meats. The Sangiovese in the Casena gave it a lighter and brighter quality that made it pair more closely with the cheeses, olives and roasted chicken. The greater intensity of the Montecillo and the Barking Rock Cabernet handled the grilled steak best and would likely be able to handle even more intensely flavored wild game preparations.
On this combined road and culinary adventure, I found the north-central Texas “Hard Scrabble” country of John Graves as austere as he describes in his books. In contrast, the wines from Barking Rocks were definitely on the opposite end of the spectrum….Big, bold, and even a bit daring in their use of oak aging. Enjoy them now or save them for years and see how they improve with bottle age.
More information on Barking Rocks Winery
The Barking Rocks 2005 Casena and Cabernet Sauvignon are set for release at the winery any day now. Give a call and give them a taste.
Small batches of premium wine are handcrafted in an old rock barn located between historic Granbury and Thorp Springs. A native Texan has joined the son of Italian immigrants and they are combining “jeans and genes” to provide Lone Star grapes a path to achieve their highest calling. Stories about the journey can be heard at Barking Rocks. or by appointment or chance.
Visitors Welcome: Open Saturday afternoons or by appointment or chance.