Wines of Barking Rocks Winery: Hard Scrabble Country, Full-Bodied Wine

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 ( 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 (, 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 ( 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.

1919 Allen Court, Granbury, TX 76048
(817) 579-0007
Web site:
Sissy Andrews, Tiberia, Owners
Tours, Tastings, Events

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.

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  1. What a true honor to have my wines in the same flight as the 2001 Montecillo Gran Reserva. One might wonder what I was thinking when offering this extended barrel aging to these Texas wines. The answer in a word….distinction! 2005 was a good growing year yeilding ripe fruit and big wines. This is actually a pretty normal thing here. After the projected 24 month soak in oak the impact had lessened leaving only the “angels take” and microbial protection to deal with in the barrel room. As the months passed and our tastings indicated continued improvement we hung with the program until it leveled off. “It’s not a business for a man without patience.” Could this be a quote of sorts? I am also very excited about the undertones that will be exposed with bottle aging. Time will tell. Thanks Russ! tiberia

  2. Tiberia,

    Your wines were definitely distinctive yet not over the top with respect to their tannic nature despite the 30 months in oak. Definitely food wines particularly made for big flavorful dishes (big things go well in the big State of Texas).

    I just hope that you have a THP AVA Tempranillo in your future as this combined with your 30 month barrel treatment would meld well. I can imagine the incredible possibilities that could result.


  3. Russ:
    Excellent article. I have been drinking Barking Rocks wines for years they are sublime. I have enjoyed wines from all over the planet and tiberia’s skill and patience as a wine maker is evident in his product….keep giving us great reviews of Texas wines

  4. Hi Russ

    Fun to read about Barking Rocks. I am a great fan of Tiberia and his wines and make it a must to visit him every time I am in Texas (unfortunately not often enough these days since I now live in CA :-)). As you I am impressed by the quality turned out from such a small winery and by the passion Tiberia puts in his wine making. I now have a reason to return once more before moving back to Sweden to get my hands on some of the 2005 releases. I hope the 2005 Sangiovese will be for sales as well – I barrel tasted it a long time ago and it showed great promise.

    As for food pairing, the optimal evening the area is to bring some of Tiberias wines to Lets Eat in Bluff Dale around the corner and let chef Curran Dodds match them with what he is cooking for the evening.


    • It is close to the ultimate compliment when a wine lover from Sweden uses words like “optimal” when describing the experience of comsuming local products in north central Texas. Thanks so much for taking the time to find us Henric, and stay connected. Its people like you that make it worth our time and efforts. Look forward to your next visit. tiberia

  5. Russ, I enjoyed reading your article re: Barking Rocks. Your acumen and passion shine thru in every sentence. Thank you for putting into such articulate words, what my taste buds have experienced. I’m excited about the ’05 Casena and Cabernet Sauvignon release.


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