Sunday Fair at the Salt Lick
Entry 5 – Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival Adventure
After midnight, the clouds and rain of the previous days were swept away by an advancing cold front leaving only a fingernail moon and stars suspended in the clear Texas night sky. A magnificent blue spring morning was around when I awoke on the Big Hill. All in all, a wonderful day for a fun fair particularly if it involves offerings of Texas foods and wines.
I arrived shortly after eleven o’clock at the Salt Lick (www.saltlickbbq.com) in Dripping Springs despite the noontime start-up time posted on the ticket. I learned long ago that is was not wise to be late for the grub line. I was fourth in line, but the attendees were coming fast. By the time the chute opened, the line of waiting attendees stretched well back toward the parking lot.
The Sunday Fair was staged field-style in five large white tents next to the newly planted Salt Lick Vineyard. The grounds weren’t worse for the rain. The few remaining wet spots were covered with a fresh spread of hay. This accoutrement gave enjoyable earthy smells to the grounds; a bit of old world aroma.
Visit with Old Friends / First Release for Alfonse
No sooner did I enter the first tent, but I spied Gary Elliott from Driftwood Vineyards just a short throw down the road from the Salt Lick. He provided a quick pour of this Longhorn Red, a blended red wine of Cabernet and Syrah, with a medium body, sporting aromas of plum and black cherry.
Not but a few step further down, I ran into old friend and Texas grape grower, Alfonse Dotson, a Texas-sized man, down from his Certenburg Vineyards spread near Voca, Texas. Voca’s on the northern edge of the Hill Country, a mere intersection at Route 71 and RR 1851. Alfonse’s vineyard has gained a reputation for its quality wine grapes that have been sought by such notables as Dr. Richard Becker (Becker Vineyards – www.beckervineyards.com) and Ed Auler (Fall Creek Vineyards – www.fcv.com). In fact, just a couple days back, I tasted Fall Creek’s premium red blend, their 2005 Meritus, composed of Certenburg Vineyards grapes.
Alfonse gave me a bit of good news to share…..He is about to release his first wine under his own label. From his description, it sounds like it will be something just made for Texas sippin’; light, white and aromatic with moderate alcohol and a tad of sweetness. A bit of Voca “Sweet Tea” made for pairing with spicy TexMex food or Texas BBQ. I will get more information on this and advise in a future post.
Texas Wines Lead the Charge
I was glad to see a cadre of Texas wineries pouring at the fair and even more delighted to watch the long lines of Texas wine drinkers waiting to sample their wines. Two notable value wines that I tasted were from St. Genevieve Winery (http://tourtexas.com/fortstockton/ftstockwines.cfm) and their sister label Peregrine Hill. For those that like a medium bodied value dry red wine, try Peregrine Hill Pinot Noir. An equally satisfying inexpensive white wine was St. Genevieve Muscato; crisp, clean and refreshing bit of sweetness. Both wines have a price under ten dollars.
Those of you that have read my previous blog posts may have noted my experiences with the quality wines of Sandstone Cellars (www.sandstonecellarswinery.com) made from blends of Mediterranean red grapes. Sandstone Cellars was pouring their 2007 Blend V (roman number ‘five’), a dry red blend of Syrah, Primitivo, Mourvedre and Grenache along with their first full-bodied, Port-style wine made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Barbara and Viognier. Definitely check these out at the winery in Mason, Texas, and grab a couple tacos at the next door restaurant, Santos Taqueria (www.santostaqueria.com).
I’ve tried Fall Creek Vineyards premium wines at previous festival events so when I walked up to their booth, I wanted to try one of their best selling new everyday wines called, “Ed’s Red”. It was a snappy red wine with lush berry flavors and a hint of sweetness. This wine sent me out hunting for a bite of sweet rubbed Texas barbecue.
Also present was Pheasant Ridge Vineyards (www.pheasantridgewinery.com), an estate winery in the High Plains region near Lubbock, Texas. This winery has a rightly deserved place in Texas wine history with its award winning intense Cabernet and heavenly Chardonnay from the 1980’s. While this winery has lost some of its punch in recent years, it does still provide lighter bodied, dry Cabernet, Proprietor’s Reserve red blend and a dry Chenin Blanc; the latter is my recommendation for the best of the bunch.
An Alternative Texas Libation
In the midst of the Texas wine tasting, I came upon Chad Auler, son of Ed and Susan, the first family of Texas wines. The meeting was in his Savvy Vodka (www.savvyvodka.com) booth providing tastes of a quality alternative Texas-made libation. Tasted neat, Savvy gave of crisp, crystal clear and refreshing presentation; like the snap of a cowboy’s quirt. With a little sweet tea added over ice, this concoction will be a grand poolside sipper.
My last stops were at old Texas standards Becker Vineyards, Messina Hof Winery (www.messinahof.com) and Caprock Winery (www.caprockwinery.com). All were pouring satisfying examples of what Texas wineries can offer its wine drinkers; examples being Becker Vineyards Merlot, Messina Hof Unoaked Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Caprock was pouring a variety of wines, but most notable was the first Texas wine made entirely from organic grapes grown by the Cliff Bingham and family. It was their newly released Viognier that was loaded with characteristics of ripe stone fruits, especially apricots.
Always Time for a Pose
Before leaving, I just happened upon Chef Damien Mandola, always known for a great pose. He’s also known far and wide for his restaurant and culinary exploits and more recently for Mandola Estate Winery (www.mandolawines.com) in Driftwood, Texas. Damien’s winery produces fine Texas wines and is striving to use traditional Italian varietals. This winery comes highly recommended if you share his love of wines or are just looking for a fun outing. In addition to the quality wines of long time Texas winemaker, Mark Penna, the experience at Mandola winery comes with the grand flair of Italian hospitality, beautiful architecture, and a adjacent restaurant.
With as much wine tasting and culinary fun that one person can handle, I departed the festival’s Sunday Fair heading home for Houston. The festival had something for everybody; a little wet and dry, familiar tastes and new, Texas offerings along with a touch of the outside world, big dog reds and sweet luscious whites. It is truly one of the best food and wine experiences to be had in this great state. Don’t miss next year’s Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival….Stay tuned at www.texaswineandfood.org.
great post, Russ. You are making the world safe for Texas wine, Bravo!
Good to hear from you. Thanks for the kudos. It is actually a much safer place these days. More good wines and more world class wines. I have seen this transition over the past ten years and it is a pleasing experience.
Met you better half recently in Lubbock. Hope all is going well for both of you.
I have taken some heat following this post because I had some good things to say about a Pinot Noir from Texas, and a value wine (<$10) as well from Peregrine Hill (an upscale label for St. Genevieve) and made in Ft. Stockton, to boot. Those that know me understand that I do not always tow the standard wine snob line. I look for pleasant expression, a wine with no major flaws and one the meets it price point. I will be the first to admit that Pinot from Texas is never going to beat that from the French Burgundy countryside. But, for less than $10, this wine gave a good presentation as did the St. Gen Moscato. This Pinot gets my rave for accompanying a burger, BBQ or some fried chicken. Russ