On the Gulf Coast Wine Trail…Blanc Du Bois Vertical/Horizontal Tasting.
Or, Better Tasting Through Chemistry
I hit the road again after receiving an invitation from Jerry Watson of Watson Vineyards in Cat Spring, Texas. Jerry said that some of his fellow Texas Gulf Coast grape growers pooled their chemical orders for pesticides, fungicides and the like, and were going to pick up the chemicals at Saddlehorn Winery in Burton, Texas.
Well, to make a short story shorter, Jerry and his friends felt that this meet-up was as good excuse as any for the winegrowers to taste some wine and I was invited. I figured that the tasting could be called “Better Tasting through Chemistry”.
However, the tasting wasn’t just any wine. This tasting involved Texas wine and to make it even better, the tasting was featured some of the wines from two hybrid grapes varieties that are fast becoming Gulf Coast specialties made by commercial and not-yet-commerical winemakers. The star of the event was Blanc Du Bois, a Muscat-like white wine grape developed in Florida, but with more acres growing in Texas than anywhere else in the world of wine. The supporting yet important role in the tasting went to Black Spanish, a red grape also known as Lenoir that has a long yet mysterious history in Texas of over a hundred and fifty years.
The ride up Route 290 to Saddlehorn Winery was relaxing and pleasant under the sunny Saturday morning sky. However, the day was slowly starting to morph into a more normal winter scene of gray overcast, an omen of the frigid weather approaching from the northern extremities of the continent. As I arrived, the promised chemical stash was nearly gone and the growers were making their way to the nearby house.
I opened the door and was greeted by Jerry and Cozette Watson, hosts Steve and Galin Morgan (Saddlehorn Winery), many familiar locals and some new acquaintances, all critically tasting and discussing the attributes of their Gulf Coast 2010 vintage wines. I was given a glass and told to dig in.
First up, I spied Paradox House Vineyard Blanc Du Bois Sur Lie. Recognized it from the Austin Country Fair wine judging I did a few months ago. It offered a great nose: complexity between sweet fruit and toast followed by a silky soft feel and a crisp, near-dry finish.
Next, I came across another crisp Blanc du Bois from Alta Mira grown near Anderson, Texas, and then veered off into a few more Blancs, but this time they were off-dry to semi-sweet versions that had a great combination of acidity and sweetness.
From there, Steve offered me a taste of his semi-sweet Muscat and a dry and semi-sweet versions of his Sanddlehorn Black Spanish wines as lunch was served. The Saddlehorn Winery Black Spanish Sweet Wine (Washington County, Texas, NV, Non Vitis Vinifera Reds) was a winner at the recent 2011 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition.
Jerry added a dollop of excitement to the occasion with a personal performance: a vertical tasting consisting of five vintages of his Blanc Du Bois [PDF] wines spanning 2005 to 2010. I caught most of it on video, but the upload to YouTube still isn’t going well and I’m still working on it.So much for an old dog confronted with new Internet tricks.
Jerry normally makes his wine just a shade up in residual sugar (RS) from dry with RS values ranging from 0.75 to around about 1 percent, but with the great acidity of early harvested Blanc Du Bois grapes. The RS is not really perceptible except as a smooth soft finish on the wine. To me this level of RS in Blanc Du Bois is like what a pinch of salt does for my homemade soups.
The vertical tasting was an interesting experience.First of all, the 2005 wine was starting to darken, but was still a mighty fine wine with just a gentle hint of sherry on the nose combining with the still dominant pear and citrus qualities of the wine. The 2005 was followed by the 2007 Blanc that Jerry admitted to having “screwed up”. The wine had a secondary fermentation in the bottle that consumed the RS resulting in a dry, mildly sparkling white wine. I would hardly call this a “screwed up wine” as Jerry effectively followed a “kind of” Methode Champenoise process, yielding a wine of east and toast character providing much the same experience brought by an Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava, but made with Texas Gulf Coast Blanc Du Bois.
The 2008 Blanc Du Bois was a bottle contributed by Steve Morgan that was made in a somewhat dried style than Jerry normally uses; it had only 0.5 percent RS. It was crisp and offered a exciting fruit aromas and flavors: again the characteristic pear and citrus. The 2009 Blanc Du Bois was the most interesting of the bunch with a minty note lingering on the nose. We were searching for a descriptor and finally agreed that it was something like a very light eucalyptus. Jerry confessed that he tasted it too, but didn’t have an idea as to its origin. Jerry’s experience with Blanc Du Bois spans about a quarter of a century, but I guess there is still more to learn about this grape. Finally, Jerry presented his 2010 Blanc Du Bois that was clean and crisp with a fruit-driven, peach/pear quality and a comfortably soft finish.
No sooner did we finish the vertical tasting of Blanc Du Bois than Steve set down another three bottles on the table. However, he arranged perpendicular to the row of Jerry’s wines intersecting them at the 2010 vintage. Then, Steve announced to the assembled growers that the vertical tasting had now morphed into a horizontal tasting of Blanc Du Bois wines from 2010. The new wines sported only handwritten labels, but Steve explained that they spanned RS contents from near zero to over 4 percent which nicely bracketed Jerry’s wines made at around 1 percent RS. All had wonderful fruit flavors, varying sweetness and wonderful sugar-acid balance.
As I’m sitting here recalling the wine tasting and blogging, what impresses me is the innate versatility of the Blanc Du Bois grape. It’s a grape that can be grown in nearly any part of the state (unlike European-style vinifera grapes) without fear of the Texas winegrowers scourge – Pierce’s Disease, and it can be made into just about any wine style from dry to sweet, still to sparking, and with or without oak.
Blanc Du Bois may have started out its meager existence in a Florida research vineyard, but as with many of us “Naturalized Texans”, it got here as quick as it could. With more of it growing in Texas than any where else, it’s now proudly wears its Texas brand. In fact, Blanc Du Bois has done so well in the Texas Gulf Coast and Post Oak belt region around Austin and Brazos Counties (around 200 acres planted), that the growers are looking into establishing this region as a new American Viticultural Area (AVA) for Texas.
My recommendation is to pick your style and try a Texas Blanc Du Bois as soon as you can. Blanc’s a trend in Texas wine drinking that I’m sure will spread around the state.