Red Wine with Sushi? Yep! Texas Hills Vineyard Barbera

Gary Gilstrap, Owner/Winermaker at Texas Hills Vineyard

Red Wine with Sushi? Yep! Texas Hills Vineyard Barbera

Last weekend, my wife and I had friends Jill and Mark up to our cottage in the Texas Hill Country. They were seeking a respite, relief from the Houston humidity. So, I proposed that we meet-up in Johnson City at Texas Hills Vineyard on their way to Fredericksburg. As we sought the cool of the winery, owner and winemaker, Gary Gilstrap proved to be a grand host.

When we entered the tasting room, it was a rush of excitement with two loads of wine tourists that were being shuttled around the hill country wineries by limo and mini-bus. But, as the rush subsided, Gary gave us tastes of this 2009 wines, white and red. The wines that caught my tasting room palate were the Texas Hills Vineyard Roussanne and Syrah (Rhone-originated white and red wine grapes now grown in Texas) followed by his Barbera (Italian red grape) and Tempranillo (Spanish red grape of Rioja fame, but grown in Neal Newsom’s Texas high plains vineyard). If you get near Johnson City, Texas, I reckon that you should plan to stop by for a taste. If you’re heading toward Fredericksburg on Route 290, just hang a right at the Exxon station and you can’t miss it if you go down the road a bit.

I will get back to the Barbera story shortly… there’s definitely more.

Gary’s backroom winery tour was a delight to experience: both titillating to the palate and education for the brain. Gary showed us his estate vineyard’s 2011 Sangiovese, boiling with carbon dioxide from fermentation in an open plastic bin. He admitted that it wasn’t much of a harvest, dessication from this year’s searing heat had its toll. But, with a little Malbec, it made for a right good start which he will add to five more tons of Sangiovese that he was planning to get from Newsom Vineyard in his next shipment of high plains grapes. In the meantime, his winery workers were starting to crush the Tempranillo that Gary had just received from Newsom Vineyard’s 2011 crop.

Next, Gary tapped into his stainless steel tanks of near finished 2010 Tempranillo and Merlot and gave us a taste of what will be finished wine once he does a little finishing and fining. After tasting these wines, my party said unanimously, “Why wait”, and asked if Gary would just fill a couple of jugs with these wines right now. Unfortunately, while the wine business works like that if parts of rural Europe, it’s not exactly legal in Texas….but we can hope.  However, the next best thing was later that evening, we had dinner in the cool of our cottage on a hill and popped a bottle of the Texas Hills Barbera that I’d purchased during our winery visit. As we tasted Gary’s wines, he enlightened us to the finer points of his use of micro-oxidation and tannin alternatives, processes that oak barrel provide, but which Gary uses like a gourmet chef uses spices to tweak and fine-tune his wines.

After returning to the grind back in Houston, I still had some of the Texas Hills Barbera left in the bottle and I wanted to experiment with it. Gary’s Barbera is a medium-bodied red wine, made in a classic Italian style dominated with ripe black cherry characteristics, barely a perception of oak and crisp acidity on the finish.  My question was….Could a red wine pair with sushi?

I made my way to Whole Food Market in the Montrose area of downtown Houston in the blaze of the afternoon. The thought in my mind was cool red-berry infused Barbera as I looked through the refrigerated case were the fresh-made sushi resided. Most of the offerings were either too light or what I thought might be too “fishy”, as red wines tends to make fish taste even “fishier”, particularly if the red wine has a high tannin load from aging in oak barrels. This is likely one of the reasons why most red wines are not the usual wine pairing partners for fish dishes. However, the Texas Hills Barbera was governed by crisp red fruit and only had a few stealthy tannins to offer.

Then, I saw what I wanted…it was the peppered and seared ahi tuna on a sushi rice roll with crab and asparagus inside. When I got it home, it all went together so well. Seared ahi tuna is the fish equivalent to eating a rare steak. The red meat of the tuna was fresh and medium-bodied, very much in balance with the Barbera. The medium intensity of the red berry qualities of the wine admirably complimented the tuna. The black pepper on the seared outer layer of the tuna, worked with the light tannic quality of the wine. The somewhat salty-tart soya sauce also helped bring the wine and tuna together.

Next time someone tells you that you can’t make red wine work with sushi, you know where to go to find a worthy wine pairing….just go see Gary at Texas Hills Vineyard.

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We will make another Texas Hill Country winery stop at Torre di Pierta, so stay tuned. Here’s a picture of Mark and Jill from Luckenback, Texas (with Waylon, Willie and the boys…)

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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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