En Primeur Tour 2017: “I Love the Taste of Aglianico in the Morning”

En Primeur Tour 2017: “I Love the Taste of Aglianico in the Morning!”

Come to think of it… I love the taste of Chardonnay at lunch, and for a mid-afternoon break, Roussanne or a nice red blend works for me, too.

This is pretty much what Matt McGinnis of Pen and Tell Us set-up for us a little over a week ago in his Texas hill country “En Primeur Tour” with stops at Perissos Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards and Wedding Oak Winery.

What is “En Primeur”?

The concept of En Primeur is a method of tasting wines early while the wine from the most recent vintage is still in tank or barrel. It is often the basis used to purchased “wine futures”. The taster is forced to reflect on the critical aspects of immediate past vintage (e.g. rain, drought, temperature, freeze events, etc.) while also looking at what the young wine “says” about its future potential in bottle and even further down the road.

Seth Martin – Perissos Vineyards & Winery

1st Stop – Perissos Vineyards & Winery

The schedule was tight. So, in this 16-acre estate vineyard just west of Burnet, Perissos owner & winemaker Seth Martin started us early with a sunny vineyard palate waker-upper with two of his handcrafted Perissos Vineyards Roussannes – one estate and one Texas high plains. From there, he literally moved us on (via hay wagon) to his Aglianico block. There, we received a retrospective of five of his Aglianico wines from vintages 2012 through 2016. The last of these wines, just extracted from barrel, was our En Primeur taste.

This tasting provided an interesting comparison of the vintages:

  • 2012 likely the best taste of the vintages was hitting on all cylinders (fruit, color, tannin and acidity; aging well with secondary and tertiary aromas of game and leather fully developed)
  • 2011 (500-year drought year) was dense, dark and extracted
  • 2013 (a light harvest year with spring freezes) offered excellent balance and medium body
  • 2015 (a big harvest year) – a new release that rivaled 2012 for a full-bodied balanced red wine, but still awaiting the full characteristics shown in the 2012 wine
  • 2016 (a rain year for his estate vineyard) – the wine offered a lighter style but still having crisp acidity and characteristics of red berries and white pepper.

Tasting at Fall Creek Vineyards

2nd Stop – Fall Creek Vineyards

We rounded the south rim of Lake Buchanan Dam and headed north to Tow. There, we entered the historic country French Allé of Ed and Susan Auler’s Fall Creek Vineyards. A little over 40 years ago, it was here that the Auler’s proved that European wine grapes could be grown in the Texas hill country.

We started with an enjoyable mid-day splash of wine with Ed and Susan Auler, winemaker’s Sergio Cuadra and Phil Price, and Sommelier Ame Brewster consisting of three of Fall Creek’s current releases. The Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Cab-Merlot blend Meritus covered both the color and taste spectrum of fine wine, all very refreshing and pleasing.

Sergio Cuadra – Director of Winemaking at Fall Creek Vineyards

Then, we retired to the cool of the barrel room to taste several of the Fall Creek’s 2016 Hill Country En Primeur treats. Recently extracted from barrel, they were:

  • 2016 Grenache – Light bodied, fresh and highly floral; attributes that make it a great blending partner with Syrah and Mourvedre in GSM
  • 2016 Mourvèdre – Shockingly dark and full bodied needing no support from other grapes (chewy on the palate and fruity and meaty on the nose) – Fast forward 10-15 years, and I think and Mourvèdre and GSM wines will be past of our state’s wine reputation.
  • 2016 Syrah – Rich, dark red (as a Syrah should be) with a racy finish.
  • 2016 Tempranillo – Hearty, heady and smoky with classic red berry characteristics and firm tannic structure.

The En Primeure takeaway was that for the Texas hill country, despite the generally rainy weather, 2016 yielded some wines with intensity and distinction and destined to please and age well in coming years.

Penny Adams at Wedding Oak Winery

3rd Stop – Wedding Oak Winery

Continuing northward to San Saba, our entourage’s last stop was at Mike McHenry’s Wedding Oak Winery with their pre-release wines presented by winemaker Penny Adams. I have found that Penny is a master of making blended wines – both red and white, but on this day she showed some masterfully-made single varietal wines, too.

Sitting at tables and surrounded by barrels, Penny led our En Primeur tasting by saying that in her part of the Texas hill country (THC – upper and westward) and in the Texas high plains (THP), the 2015 and 2016 vintages were “more similar than different”. The wines presented were:

2016 Roussanne (THP – Narra Vineyard) – Medium/light body with loads of lemon citrus and peach with hints of aromatic herbs.

2015 Regency Bridge (THC blend of Graciano, Grenache, Tempranillo & Tannat) – by composition approaching a red Rioja blend yielding red fruit, cherries and the soothing essence of fine Cavendish tobacco.

2016 Terre Rouge (THC – High Valley Vineyard) – a GSM was light to medium body but nicely aromatic. It’s a wine that drinks effortlessly.

2016 Touriga Nacional (THP – Phillips Vineyard) – Deep and dark in color, red-black and opaque. Black cherry characteristics overlaid with aromatic minty notes of spearmint and marigold leaves.

2016 Montepulciano (THP – Diamante Doble Vineyard) – Medium plus bodied with black fruit characteristics, nicely structured with a pleasant tannic grip, and also offering floral notes.

The En Primeur takeaway at Wedding Oak was that good wines can be made in less than optimum years like 2016.  Tannat and Touriga Nacional offered color and intensity in wines/blends that help bolster Texas red wines.

The “Big Picture” En Primeur Takeaway

According to Matt McGinnis, he would like to make this an annual event and expand it around the hill country wine trail. He said, “In fact, I’d like to do more promotion of many Texas wineries, whether its through my agency, or other talented people in the state. Please spread the word to other wineries that this kind of event is effective!” I definitely agree with Matt.

In Texas, a fact of life is that we have highly variable vintages, and not all are good. En Primeur lends itself to story telling – stories of the trials and tribulations of “wine growing” in Texas, just like the Europeans tell. They have made this type of storytelling “a la En Primeur” a major part of their discussion and approach to sales with consumers.

The bottom line is that Texas is very much like another region that has learned to get comfortable with its vintage variability – Champagne. The center of the Champagne business model is: (1) multi-varietal blends (more options depending on which grapes do best in a given year), (2) multi-vintage wines (even more options by “borrowing” wine from good years and blend it with lesser vintages), and (c) lots of tank space to hold as much wine as possible from good years.

If Texas can get comfortable with its vintage situation and actually embrace it (not hide it), En Primeur is a great way to start the discussion with the media and also with the good wine consumers of Texas.

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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.