Guest Blog: Time for a Few Good Texas Wineries to Stand Tall, Chicago Calls…I’m Messin’ With Texas!

Guest Blog: Time for a Few Good Texas Wineries to Stand Tall, Chicago Calls…I’m Messin’ With Texas!

VintageTexas Guest Blog: By Steve McDonagh

Author Info: Steve McDonagh is one-half of the Hearty Boys, and when you dine at Hearty, be sure to drink one of his cocktails! Set in a storefront in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, “Hearty” boasts a menu and design evocative of the warmth and comfort of mid century America. The vision for “Hearty’’ is to honor the foods that have become a part of our American culture while contemporizing them for the modern palate. The Hearty Boys are looking for a few good wines from all around the USA that complement their foods to be on their wine list. Dan asks the question: “Why can’t Texas be part of it all?”

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I’m Messin’ With Texas!

I still want to find a Texas wine.  Being that our menu at HEARTY is American comfort food, you may have seen that I selected an all US wine list.  This was really fun and challenging (the tasting part wasn’t challenging, that part was delightful) and I still don’t feel finished.  Although this is my first wine list, I assume every wine director feels that way; the wine list should always be evolving.

But I feel very proud to be able to offer guests wines that they might not get otherwise.  I researched for months to bring a selection that represents as many of the European varietals as I could from as many states as possible.  Some are better than others of course, but it all goes back to what we’re trying to offer here.   I want my guests to walk away having had an experience that you might not have had elsewhere.  There are plenty of all US wine lists, but they’re so California heavy….it certainly doesn’t represent the face of American vintners.

I’m not a sommelier…I hope that this works in my favor with my wine list. I am a lover of wine, I understand what our food tastes like and I choose wines that I like.  The response has been very positive and I’m proud of it, but I want to be clear about where I come from.  If a sommelier wants to take me to task, they will win the argument.  But this is the same way we approach our food. Dan isn’t a trained chef; he’s a guy who knows food and knows how to put it together in a way that people connect to.

I cast a wide net to find my wines, friends from all over the country call to recommend a wine that is known in their area.  That’s how I came across Persimmon Creek. My friend, Hans Rueffert, Georgia chef and TV personality, put me in contact with Mary Ann Hardman and her husband, Sonny.  The Hardmans have a boutique winery and B&B in northeast Georgia’s Persimmon Creek Valley.

But here’s how it works (for those of you who don’t know).  Laws state that a restaurant must buy their wine through a licensed distributor.  If no one in Chicago carries any wine from Georgia then you’re out of luck.  I didn’t accept that though, and had to set about finding a distributor to purchase the wine, have it freighted in and then sell it to me.

I tried a couple of distributors and found one who would carry it for me.  I think it’s worth it. The Persimmon Creek Ice Wine is like a glass of apricots and honey.  The grapes freeze on the vine (in Georgia!) and Maryann hand picks her grapes and hand labels and bottles the wine herself.

But back to Texas…let me tell you that Texans are PASSIONATE about their wines.  Well, you know Texans, they’re generally pretty proud of themselves (being the biggest state and all) but I have talked to Texas vintners and wine enthusiasts and they feel ready to be judged as a world class wine producer.  I was surprised to learn that Texas is behind only California, Florida and New York in American wine consumption.

Ultimately, I’m sorry to say that the Texas wines I’ve sampled haven’t knocked my socks off.   I’ve had a few that I’ve enjoyed but my distributors are afraid that the demand in Chicago would prevent them from selling to anyone but me.  And I have given a lot of thought as to why Texans love these wines so much that we might not care for up north.  I wonder how much has to do with a regional palate…meaning that the argument I made about knowing my food and trusting that that same palate would opt for wines that complement them holds true there as well.  They say the biggest rule of wine is “if it grows together, it goes together” so wouldn’t that imply that if you grow up on Frijoles, Barbecue and Southwestern Chili that your palate would long for wines from that region.

But I’m determined y’all. With [over 150 wineries!] and a landscape that boasts ten different ecological regions, I’m sure I can make this happen in chilly Chicago.  We’ll share a glass together along with some of Dan’s great Barbecue.

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I like this website: (Terry Thompson-Anderson, CCP; Author of Texas on the Plate)

And I find Russ Kane (@VintageTexas) very interesting on Twitter (also a very nice guy).

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VintageTexas Disclaimer: I didn’t pay him (or even ask him) to say good things about me and VintageTexas. Honest!

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  1. I’m from Texas, and I find alot of Texas wines are too sweet for me. My favorite Texas winery so far is San Martino in Rockwall, TX. Their red wines are very good, and they have a new one out – Concept II that is awesome.

  2. Hello, Steve, and thanks for the nice comment on my website, The Texas Food and Wine

    While I do subscribe to the “what grows together goes together” theory, I must point out that our cuisine here in Texas has evolved into something much more than beans, barbecue, and chili. And our wine industry has responded by developing wines that reflect the way we eat in Texas today. What I’m saying is that we DO produce some wines in Texas that would not only blow your socks off, but your boots too!

    The complaint is often heard that Texas wines are sweet. And yes, most of our wineries do produce a sweet red or two for those Texas wine drinkers who still eat mainly beans, barbecue and chili. But there’s much more to offer.

    The Texas wine industry is fairly new when considered in the grand scope of winemaking. We now have right around 200 bonded wineries in Texas, as compared to a mere 42 when I wrote Texas on the Plate in 2002. Our winemakers have spent many costly years experimenting with myriad varietals, seeking those that produce the best wines in our Texas terroir. Most Texas wine lovers feel that they’re definitely zeroing in on the varietals which thrive in our minerally soils and tolerate our ever-fluctuating weather patterns. Those varietals seem to be Mediterranean and southern Rhone in origin.

    Your menu is a nice, tight collection of American classic dishes, with some sassy improvisations. And there are a great many Texas wines which would complement your offerings quite nicely. These would consist of varietals which your distributor would surely be able to sell to his other customers with a simple tasting. My recommendations would include: Dessert wines – Dotson-Cervantes Gatas de Ora, a stunnning Chardonnay/Muscat Canelli blend that is garnering rave reviews all over the state; Flat Creek Estates Muscato D’Arancia, an award-winning orange muscat; Haak Winery 2009 Reerve Blanc du Bois, a a dessert wine crafted from hybrid native grapes that literally burts with flavor. Whites: Texas Hills Vineyard Pinot Grigio; Alamosa Wine Cellars Scissortail, a delightful blend of Roussane, Marsanne, and Viognier; and either Brennan Vineyards or McPherson Cellars Viognier, both great, dry whites that are extremely food friendly. Reds: Becker Vineyards 2008 Barbera, or 2008 Prairie Roti, a red Rhone-style blend; Alamosa Wine Cellars El Guapo Tempranillo, or Syrah; Texas Hills Vineyards “Kick Butt” Cab, a two-fisted Cabernet Sauvignon, either the Hill Country or Newsome Vineyards bottlings; Sandstone Cellars Winery VII, an outstanding wie crafted from 100% Touriga Nacional grapes. Now, talk about diversity in wines! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but I don’t want to take up any more of Russ’s blog space here, so if you’d like more suggestions, just send me an e-mail. Nothing I like more than spreading the gospel of Texas wines!

  3. I am originally from Texas, now live in Chicago, and I LOVE Texas wines. I recently had a Becker Syrah that was outstanding and Llano Estacado does some lovely Merlot with grapes from Newsom Vineyards in West Texas. Great wines can be made anywhere!

  4. So, this is how it starts, Texas wines making it to “the Show,” the big time dinning scene in Chicago. I am going to tell you about a couple of wines that I think will be good for you and NOT tell about a couple that I don’t want leaving our state and ending up in the glass of someone who will not appreciate it in Illinois, harrumph!

    The above replys are excellent advice, I second their motions as additions to your list. My experience of selling and serving Texas wine in restaurants is that they are very food friendly! I love pouring Texas Viognier; it is as good as or better than their California and French counterparts. I have great success pairing Viognier with dishes that have corn and/or masa in them, the sweet corn flavors meld nicely with the apricot and peach notes in the wine. Those fruit flavors can be mirrored nicely in the food components also with a fruit relish, think pineapple, mango, peach, apricot and possibly a little kick from jalapeños! Served with seafood and poultry it is amazing.

    For red wines we are still developing our consensus on the best grape and terrior pairing. An emerging leader is Tempranillo, there are growing examples of it at many wineries, my favorite is Inwood Estates. Another red leader is Sangiovese with Flat Creek and Viviano being two excellent “Super Tuscan” style blends. And, keep your eye on Malbec; Becker Vineyards is making excellent bottlings form the Tallent Vineyard. The Alamosa wines are a must have also, they really show the terrior taste of San Saba county and could not come from any place else. Most of our reds are going to stand up to full flavored meats and highly seasoned dishes. We like bold flavors in our food and we like bold wines that will stand up to the spices, mirror them, and not let the intensity wane. Our winemakers and Mother Nature do not disappoint.

    For dishes that might call for light reds look to our rosé wines. Becker Vineyards has just released a Mourvedre Rosé, Dry, called “Provençal” this wonderful wine displays all the layers of complexity and flavors we love in red wine only in a more subtle nuanced expression. It looks so pretty and delicate yet it smells like a big red wine; smoky, earthy, and charcoal upfront with the strawberry and lemon aromas in the background. Then, on the palette, the rolls reverse; the fruits come first with a flash of lemon zest and broad strawberry and raspberry flavors. Then the flavor layers of earth, smoke and cherry sauce pass over you taste buds into a medium body finish where the Texas’ dusty minrality emerges.

    In my opinion Texas does not make world class examples of Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir (haven forbid if anyone out there is still trying.) Please look for grape varieties that flourish in HOT climates.

    Wineries already working with distributors may be easier for you to get, then again maybe not, it looks like our two major distributors here in Texas are not in Illinois. Glazer’s Distribution represents; Flat Creek, Brennan Vineyards, Texas Hills, and Bell Mountain. Republic National Beverage has; Becker Vineyards, Llano Estacado, Mc Pherson Wine Cellars, Fall Creek, Messina-Hof, Haak and some others. Many great Texas wineries represent themselves and do not have a distributor. Examples are Alamosa, Inwood and many, many more.

    Please take a look at some of my work with Texas wines recorded here:

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