Texas Reflections: The Best Texas Wines I Tasted in 2023

With all the guff people have given “Best of” lists of Texas wines, I’d like to preface this blog by saying something pretty darn obvious. “Please realize that I have not tasted all possible Texas wines.” Now, with that out there front and center, here is my list of best Texas wines of 2023. It’s a “Top Ten List” consisting of five reds and five whites and rosés with at least one wine not a current vintage (but darn good). Actually, with the ten slots, I honestly did get a bit creative. Here goes!

Top Texas White Wines

Bending Branch Winery, 2022 Sparkling Picpoul Blanc

I recently had the opportunity to taste the Bending Branch Winery 2022 Sparkling Picpoul Blanc. This wine expressed refreshing aromas of citrus and hints of white flower blossoms. Then, this was followed by exciting flavors of lemon, lime, white peach, subtle mineral notes, and a light effervescence, all carried by great palate pleasing and mood elevating acidity.

Young says, “High natural acidity has been important to Champagne for centuries. Because of its high acidity and complex, beautiful, and subtle flavor profile, I have thought for some time that Picpoul would make a great sparkling wine. However, only recently, after we purchased a Charmat tank, did we have the possibility of doing it on site at our winery.”

Heath Sparkling Wines 2020 Adoration (Sparkling Rosé)

This is a luxurious rosé sparkler. The 2020 Adoration is an eye-catching pale coral color bright with its in-situ carbonation and effervescence. It carries cranberry, cherry, strawberry, and rose petal aromas. The wine stands proud in its classic rosé style. From my tasting, what I like best about this wine is the interplay of smooth palate-covering effervescence and lively acidity that brings on a bright clean finish that leaves you ready for another sip. It also makes this wine incredibly holiday food friendly.

Slate Theory Winery, 2022 Nebbiolo Rosé, Texas High Plains

The label and the winery website gives nary a clue about this wine other than the grapes are from Texas High Plains appellation. I later found out from a response to my Facebook posting that this Nebbiolo came from the Lahey Vineyard.

With a delightful, pale pink-and-orange-tinged color, the nose shows an intriguing mix of sweet floral scent, mineral and green herb. On the palate it’s delicious, cherry-inflected and savory, crisp with pleasant acidity and fine skin tannins to add texture and weight. In this form. Nebbiolo makes for a very versatile food wine, ready to accompany and refresh your Fourth of July delights like pork ribs, sausages and even steaks.

McPherson Cellars 2022 Reserve Roussanne, Texas High Plains

This wine was spot on! Lemon citrus, green tea and minerals on the nose followed by crisp acidity combined with a medium-bodied creamy texture of Meyer lemon cream pie on the palate. If you’ve read this blog (click here), you know that this wine will drink wonderfully now, bottle age and holdup very well for at least 10 years. I’m betting on this wine to pair with one of my favorite recipes: Provençal Poulet Farci en Crapaudine (baked stuffed spatchcock chicken with a stuffing of goat cheese, panko bread crumbs and spinach applied under the skin of the chicken).

English Newsom Cellars 2021 Picaradan

This unusual grape name momentarily stump me until I thought about it a bit. I figured that, grown on the High Plains, it was most likely Vitis vinfiera, the winemaking grapes of Europe. However, the name was coming to me until I recalled that there are 13 approved winemaking grapes grown in the Rhone Valley in and around Chateauneuf du Pape. Many of these varieties, however, are not often made into single varietal wines, but serve as role players in the region’s mostly blended wines.

The English Newsom Cellars Picardan had notes of pear and apple, crisp acidity, mineral, but finishing soft yet bright – very palate friendly. The crisp acidity is likely the result of having another white Rhone grape, Picpoule Blanc, in its lineage.

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Top Texas Red Wines

2020 Hilmy Cellars Petit Verdot Reserve, Oswald Vineyard (Texas High Plains)

This wine is a limited bottling that exudes black cherry, dark chocolate and spicy notes on the nose followed by rich ripe black plum on the palate that also brings grippy tannins balanced by pleasant acidity. It’s drinking well now, but should 2020 become a bit more complex with bottle age. Wine judges have recognized this Hilmy Petit Verdot with awards of a gold medal at the prestigious 2022 TEXSOM Wine Awards, and Texas Class Champion and double gold medal at the 2022 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

Per Hilmy Winemaker Michael Barton, “Petit Verdot has been a special grape for me for some time. I believe it to be one of the most underrated and overshadowed of the Bordeaux grape varietals. In our hotter Texas climate it has a very unique expression and I find it has good structure but still has some finesse and elegance. I rarely saw it bottled on its own before I released this one and I am glad to see others in Texas are appreciating the varietal.”

Fall Creek Vineyards 2018 Meritus 

Firstly, I can attest that the Fall Creek Meritus had a near-opaque, ruby-black color looking thick and rich, and full-bodied. The aromas and flavors were bold with generous dark-berry fruit and blackberry notes arising over cassis and ripe plum. Closer exploration while it settled in the glass found mint and cedar, and a finish of soft silky tannins. This wine is an ode to the recently departed Fall Creek owner Ed Auler and his partner in wine, Alphonse Dotson winegrower extraordinaire.

Bending Branch Winery 2018 (and 2012) Newsom Vineyard Tempranillo

During a blind tasting, one Tempranillo was notably bigger and bolder than the others with intense black cherry and the aromatics were also kicked up a notch. I later checked and found that it was the one from Bending Branch Winery – their 2018 Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo. It was not just a little bit different. It was notably different!

I know that winery owner Dr. Bob Young loves grape varieties and winery processing methods that provide red wine with more body, color and aromatic components. As a matter of fact, I asked Dr. Bob what was up with this wine. In reference to his approach to his 2018 Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo, Dr. Young said, “I like to extract as much phenolics (anthocyanins and tannins) as I can. In order to do this in this wine it was 50% Flash Détente co-fermented with 50% whole berries. Also, this is 100% Newsom Tempranillo.”

I also raided by wine cooler to take an earlier vintage of this wine to a viticulture and enology symposium at Texas A&M University. I didn’t blog on this but went live on Instagram on the 2012 vintage that I opened 11 years after the vintage date. When opened, simply put… “IT ROCKED!”, and all that got a taste of it at the after-symposium event, agreed. It was the first bottle emptied. That night. The 2012 had plenty of black cherry, minerals, cigar box and wet earth notes. I think (hope) that I have one more hiding in my cooler. Who says Texas wines don’t age?

Alta Marfa Tempranillos 2021 – Limestone, Sandstone, Volcanic 

The three wines from Alta Marfa made for an insightful tasting experience illustrating the role of soil and “place” on similarly produced Tempranillo wines. All three wines had similar unmanipulated varietal character with a combination of red and dark berry notes.

I perceived the Limestone Tempranillo from High Cross Vineyard to be most reserved of the three wines with noticeable minerally/earthy notes lingering from start to finish and yielding more red than dark berry nuances. Whereas to me, both the Sandstone from Robert Clay Vineyards Tempranillo and the Volcanic from Blue Mountain Trail Vineyard Tempranillo were more fruit dominant with darker berry aromas and flavors despite all three wines having the same percent alcohol. If I had to decide between the latter two wines, I’d say that the Volcanic showed the most body and darkest berry character, but just by a tad.

C.L. Butaud 2021 Cease & Desist, Texas High Plains AVA

This wine is a high-end Tempranillo blend: 73% Tempranillo, 20% Mourvèdre, 7% Grenache, in the winery handled with care and precision. It’s kind of like a GTM version of an old school GSM that leans hard into two of Texas best red wine grapes: Tempranillo and Mourvèdre.

The 2021 Cease & Desist made by Randy Hester at C.L. Butaud is a big wine yet graceful and sophisticated that unloads plenty of ripe dark cherry and blueberry notes that also brings a spicy-flinty-earthy edge.

As winemaker Randy Hester says, “This 2021 Cease & Desist is easy to like and hard to put down. It drinks with the multifaceted finesse of a Napa Cab and holds your attention through to the finish with a surprising velvety finish.”

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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.

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