Why was I not surprised when Bending Branch Winery owner Dr. Robert Young, known by many as simply Dr. Bob, invited me to stop by for a tasting of wine he said, ”was made from a new grape in Texas”? Well, Dr. Bob has always been a wine pioneer of sorts, always looking to bring something new and innovative to the Texas wine scene.
Dr. Bob Young brought many of us Texans our first taste of wines made from Tannat, the bold, tenacious, and thick-skinned red grape from the Madiran winegrowing region of southwestern France. He was also the first to initiate Texans to modern winemaking techniques called flash détente and cryomaceration in efforts to improve extraction of aromas, flavors and tannins from Texas grapes. OK, what was it this time? It is two new Texas wines Petit Manseng and Texas Ice Wine.
The First Two Texas Petit Manseng Wines – Dry and Sweet
Bob had been looking for another white grape adaptable to winegrowing in Texas. His knowledge of the home turf of Tannat brought him into contact with Petit Manseng (also known as Manseng Petit Blanc). It is a variety of white wine grape that has, like Tannat, been historically grown in far southwestern of France (Languedoc). It is known to produce high quality wine derived from its small, thick-skinned berries that hold its acidity better than most white grape varieties in warm late season weather. Its presence in the French region is attributed to Basque settlers who brought Manseng and Tannat vines with them to their new home in southern France and northern Spain.
We tasted two wines made at Bending Branch Winery from Petit Manseng grown on the Texas High Plains at Friesen Vineyard. The first was a dry wine, a barrel sample from the 2022 vintage. It was minerally with crisp acidity from the start with a light scent of white flowers and citrus combined with tropical notes of papaya, banana and pear on the palate. The second wine was a dessert-style wine from the 2021 vintage with the sweetness balanced nicely with good acidity. This wine had even more prominent aromatic and flavor notes than the first with a little more body and layered with honey on the palate. This is definitely a good start for this new white wine grape grown in Texas.
Dr. Bob also mentioned another significant attribute of this grape. He said, ”A significant extra fact about Petit Manseng is that it is now authorized as a white Bordeaux grape variety. It was recently added because of the impact of Climate Change and the need in the region for more heat tolerant grapes.” This is a good reason why it would work in Texas, as well.
The First Texas Official Ice Wine
Dr. Bob said, “After harvesting our Cabernet Sauvignon on the Texas High Plain and on-set of a winter freeze, I received a call from my grower saying that they forgot to harvest some of our Cabernet. The grower sent me a photo of a frozen cluster of grapes all encrusted in ice. Then, the question came: ’Bob, do you still want them?’.”
After thinking a moment, Bob reacting to the situation telling the grower, ”Sure, I take them, but I want you to harvest them while still frozen and keep them frozen during shipment here to Bending Branch.” So, they came up with a plan to pick the grapes and disperse dry ice in the bins for shipment to the winery in Comfort. Being quick to sense an opportunity, Dr. Bob had production of ice wine in mind… another Texas first!
Ice wine, also known in German as Eiswine, is a style of sweet dessert wine made from grapes have been frozen while on still on the vine. What makes them so special is that during freezing the sugar, acids, and other dissolved components in the grapes do not freeze but are pushed ahead of the freezing water. This process concentrates the grape’s sweetness and acidity, but only if pressed while the ice in the grapes is still frozen. Therefore, his intension was to produce the first Texas official ice wine by pressing these grapes before fermentation while the water in the grapes was still frozen.
If you know Cabernet Sauvignon as a dry, bold, and dark wine, this one could slip right past you undetected. In our tasting of Bending Branch’s vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine from Y Knot Vineyard, now certified organic vineyard, it showed as a white wine with a medium straw color. Typical of classic Ice Wines in other regions, it was mild on the alcohol (11.3%) but large on the sweetness scale (11.3 Brix and roughly equivalent to 22% residual sugar). Side Note: Believe it or not… The owners of the vineyard where these frozen Ice Wine grapes were grown are Henry & Marie Froese (I believe pronounced like the word “Froze”).
This might sound overly sweet, but when combined with the super-acidity, it presented as a pleasantly sweet dessert wine just like those I’ve tasted in Canada (sweet yet a bit tangy). Its characteristics were of citrus, pear and peach with an almost hidden note of bing cherry (like the morsels of cherries in fruit cocktail). This is another Bending Branch WOW wine both for its great Ice Wine qualities, but also because it is the first officially produced Ice Wine in Texas.
Dr. Bob gave me the balance of the opened 375 ml bottle of his Bending Branch Ice Wine that we used on our tasting to take back with me to our Tiny House B&B – The Resort at Fredericksburg – where my wife and I were staying in Fredericksburg. After my wife tasted this Ice Wine, she liked it so much that she asked me if I bought any. Shyly, I responded… ”No.” But, quickly I responded by promising to drive back down to Comfort to purchase three bottles on the following day.
It is always good to have the opportunity to taste wines on the cutting edge no matter what region they may be from. In this case, tasting Texas’s first official Ice Wine and Petite Manseng wines, made for quiet a noteworthy and enjoyable outing.
Now, it’s your turn to get out there and enjoy!
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