Dec 252008
 

Sparkling Wine: A Well Deserved Texas Treat! – Part 1

Choosing a sparkling wine is a very personal thing, particularly for a holiday or New Year’s Eve celebration. For a wedding event, it can be fittingly compared to selecting a soul mate. What may appeal to one person may not please and even cause an uprising in another. Luckily, sparkling wines can cover a broad range from dry to sweet, nearly colorless to hearty purple, and come from just about any wine producing region in the world. The selections appear endless for your New Year’s dinner.

Texans have a longstanding love for the bubbly stuff.  Note the receipt below for a purchase of Champagne by Lorenzo de Zavala (Texas Empresario, Statesman and Revolutionary) from 1831:

A French sales receipt for champagne – May 18, 1831
Place : France – Île-de-France – Paris
Description: A French sales receipt for champagne and other items to Lorenzo de Zavala (Empresario, Statesman and Texas Revolutionary)
Receipt location: The Portal to Texas History
http://texashistory.unt.edu/permalink/meta-pth-5902:1

Texans toast new years, babies and even promotions. They launch ships and celebrate our Texas wildcatting successes with it.  Some may even drink it at home while watching football. In their day, noted Texans have reportedly been seen drinking Champagne from their lady fairs’ shoes in some of the finest restaurants in the State. But, with over 160 wineries now operating in Texas, the mystery is….Why is finding a down-home sparkler so vexing?

Why So Few Texas Sparklers?

I asked Mark Hyman of Llano Estacado Winery (Lubbock, Texas) why this was the case, “From a technical standpoint, there are a lot of things that go into making a sparkling wine. There is special equipment, additional inventory of materials and supplies, and up to two years spent on secondary fermentation in the bottle.  From a marketing standpoint, a Texas sparkling wine or champagne is likely going to cost more than most consumers may be willing to spend.” This was nearly repeated verbatim by Paul Bonarrigo co-owner of Messina Hof Winery and Resort (www.messinahof.com – Bryan, Texas) who has offered sparkling wines from time to time. He said, “A lot of additional time and expense is needed and the profit margin can be hard to justify”. However, there has been an assortment of Texas sparklers.

According to Camille McBee formerly of La Buena Vida Winery (Grapevine, Texas), “In the 1980’s, Kenneth Moyer of Moyer Winery (Round Rock, Texas) was the first to make a Texas Champagne and it was a darn good one, at that.  It was later sold by Hill Country Cellars (Cedar Park, Texas). However, both are no longer in business thus closing the book on that chapter on Texas Sparklers.”

Camille knows about Texas sparkling wine first hand. La Buena Vida Winery previously offered a Texas “Champagne” in the early 1980’s when they were known as Smith Estate. She said, “Dr. Bobby Smith studied in France, learning the fundamentals of “Méthode Champenoise”.  He is now owner of La Buena Vida Vineyards (Springtown, Texas) and he is the winemaker for La Buena Vida Vineyards (Grapevine, Texas).

There have been other Texas wineries that have had sparkling wines in the past. In the 1990s, CapRock Winery (www.caprockwinery.com – Lubbock, Texas) made a Blanc de Noir. This style of sparkling white wine gets its name (White of Black) by being composed of the white juices from both Chardonnay (a white grape) and Pinot Noir (a black grape).  Even Piney Woods Country Winery (www.pineywoodswines.com – Orange, Texas), known for their wines made from fruit and Muscadine (a native Texas grape), have also made Texas sparkling wines. According to owner and wine maker Alfred Flies, “These wines were from white Muscadine, pears (when the crop was good) and even from oranges. That’s right, O-R-A-N-G-E-S, oranges! The orange wine actually improved with bottle aging.”

Texas Wineries – Destinations for Sparkling Wines

A new day is coming to Texas wineries with a new impetus for Texas sparkling wines. The force driving this movement is that many wineries have become destinations for weddings and a variety of personal and corporate gatherings that require congratulatory or commemorative toasts that would just not be the same without a sparkling wine.

Delaney Vineyards (www.delaneyvineyards.com – Lamesa, Texas) offers a sparkling wine. It is also made by the classic method and is called Texas “Champagne” Brut. It is bottle fermented and uses the same blend of grapes as grown in the Champagne region of France. I have not tasted this wine, but was able to find tasting notes for this wine on www.cellartracker.com (a very interesting online site, if you have not already tried it). A taster in May 2008 commented “Surprisingly good – nice acidity, and freshness – The best sparkling wine I have had from Texas. Good complexity and a pleasant, fairly rich finish.”

Currently, Messina Hof Winery and Resort (Bryan, Texas) offers a Private Reserve Brut.  It is crisp, refreshing, and includes pear and pineapple aromas and a lively flavor of apple. Zin Valle Vineyards (www.zinvalle.com – Canutillo, TX – near El Paso) presents a Brut sparkling wine. They describe it as a fragrant and full flavored cuvee with a toasty finish. 

Messina Hof and Flat Creek Estate (www.flatcreekestate.com – Marble Falls, Texas) both offer sparklers that have an infusion of raspberry and almond flavors. These wines offer a bubbly tribute to toasts of all kinds – and just happen to be a scrumptious compliment to wedding cake. 

According Gina Puente-Brancato, the present owner of La Buena Vida – Grapevine (www.labuenavida.com) and La Bodega, a winery with two location in the Dallas Ft. Worth airport (Terminal A – Gate A15, Terminal D – Gate D14), “Unfortunately, we no longer produce a sparkling wine. But, it is a personal favorite of mine and I definitely have a long term goal to be a champagne producer.  Recently, we featured Adam Artho, Manager – La Buena Vida Vineyards, who did a fabulous presentation entitled “Holiday Cheers” in which he highlighted seven limited production sparkling wines/champagnes from around the world including those from Gruet Winery (www.gruetwinery.com – Albuquerque, New Mexico). Mrs. Gruet and her family are customers of La Bodega Winery and we proudly feature her sparkling wines at both La Bodega Winery and at La Buena Vida Vineyards – Grapevine.

Sparkling Wines in Many Styles

Texas wineries are also using carbonation in other ways. Rather than making a fully sparkling wine, adding just a little “spark” with a minor addition of carbon dioxide can do wonders for a wine’s mouth feel. It provides added lightness, acidity and can even produce a slight but often pleasant “prickle” on the palate. This winemaking technique of adding just a small amount of carbonation during bottling is called “frizzante” in Italy or “pétillant” in France.

Messina Hof indicated that they have used the frizzante method when bottling several sweet white wines.  These wines are bottled cold to retain the carbonation. The added carbonation yields a certain tactile excitement on the palate. This technique is used by Danny Hernandez, winemaker at Sister Creek Vineyards (www.sistercreekvineyards.com – Sisterdale, TX), in his Muscat Canelli. The carbonation, while not making this wine a full blown sparker, gives a noticeable “spritz” that is a hint of Asti Spumante, which is the fully sparkling wine made from this same grape variety in Italy.

Food Pairings for Sparkling Wines

Everyone has their favorite pairings for sparkling wines. Even folks that do not drink any other style of wine usually have an opinion. Their high acidity and effervescence makes them very accommodating partners with nearly all foods and occasions. Camille McBee mentioned caviar and paté as her first choice pairing and wedding cake as her second. There are not many styles of wine that have this flexibility.

Merrill Bonarrigo from Messina Hof declared Eggs Flambé and Champagne as her favorite morning pairing. She also has a recipe for Stuffed Lobster that makes a festive dinner pairing for sparkling wine. Other food pairing suggestions include fresh fruit, a wide range of mild to strong cheeses, smoked salmon, and oysters.

A Toast to Sparkling Wines

I want to leave you with a Christmas and New Years toast to honor the sparkling wines of the world and especially those of Texas past, present and future.  Please remember the words of Winston Churchill commenting on his love for Champagne:

“In victory, I deserve it; in defeat I need it.”

Cheers!

P.S. Please check tomorrow’s VintageTexas blog posting for a Lexicon of the sometimes confusing terminology associated with the world of Champagnes and sparkling wines, and for Merrill Bonarrigo’s stuffed lobster recipe.

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