2014 Top Texas Wines that Titillated My Taste Buds List (Part 1)
As in previous years, if you recall, the year finishes with lists of “Best Texas Wines” and then the discussion starts about why everyone’s favorite wine was not on the list, and how deficient the “best wine” process is. Well, this year (under the fictitious but well-intentioned “Truth in Blogging Act of 2014”), I’m just going to present a list of MY favorite wines that I had the opportunity to taste in 2014. My tastings were done in a tasting rooms, as a wine competition judge, from an unsolicited sample, at a wine event somewhere in Texas, dinner with friends, or as part of a notable monthly tasting group in Houston.
Arguably, the venues and manner of tasting and the conditions under which these wines were tasted varied. But, none the less, in a bit of intentional understatement, I present the 2014 Top Texas Wines that Titillated My Taste Buds List. As you know, I usually try to limit it to ten wines, then fail miserably and end up with 11, 12 or 13 wines on the list. Here are the first six wines:
Duchman Family Winery 2012 Estate Nero d’Avola
From a timing standpoint, this wine made it to me just in time, but it was worthy…every last drop of it. The wine was part of a food and wine pairing run-thru that Chef Terry Thompson Anderson and I did for an upcoming issue of Edible Austin. Grown on a limited parcel on the Duchman estate vineyard in the Texas hill country, it approaches with luscious black cherry and red beet root characteristics that floats aromatics of florals that end in mineral earthliness. This wine has nearly endless food pairing potential; its flexibility makes it a delight to have handy in your wine cabinet. Our wine pairing will surprise you. But you’ll have to wait until Spring to find out what it was.
Llano Estacado Winery 2010 Viviano Rosso Superiore (Texas)
The Llano Estacado Viviano (Rosso Superiore) has been an acknowledged favorite of mine for nearly a decade now. It’s not an annually produced wine, but when winemaker Chris Hull and his boss Greg Bruni say “This is it!”, they put it in the bottle and ship it out. This was one of my featured wines in the Houston Chronicle during October for Texas Wine Month. The stunning presence and complexity this wine is of dark berries, tart red cherries, smoke, earth and spice and comes from the blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese after 40 months (yes, 40 months) aging in French and American oak. Gotta grill something (but without sweet soppin’ sauces, please), give this wine a try.
Fall Creek Vineyards 2010 Meritus (Texas)
Very much like the previous wine, is not produced every year. In this case, this is owner/winemaker Ed Auler’s baby. He determined the blend and makes the call when it’s ready to go. This wine came to me (and others in a Dale Robertson Houston Chronicle monthly tasting) tasted blind in a group of over 50 wines. Yet, it was a standpoint for every one of the tasters that I polled once the wines were revealed. This is what a Cabernet-dominated blend in Texas should taste like: dark berry nuances, rich in body and spicy notes on the nose with a raciness brought by acidity on the finish. This wine’s got them all covered.
Inwood Estates 2012 Chardonnay (Dallas County)
I’ll admit not being one of the cheerleaders when it comes to Texas Chardonnay. But, it seems that this year, many roads and chance meet-ups have brought me to find some pretty darn good stuff. The year started with an excellent taste in Mason of a previous vintage Pilot Knob Chardonnay (fruit from Dan McLaughlin’s Robert Clay Vineyard). But, I tasted this Inwood Estate wine in Dan Gatlin’s Hill Country tasting room near Fredericksburg (thanks Dan for opening this place which is a lot closer to my hill country cabin than Dallas or even Florence). I liked this wine so much paired with one of his tasting room’s pull-pork sandwiches) that I featured it in a Feast of the Seven Fishes article redux in this month’s Edible DFW magazine and online. The Inwood 2012 Chardonnay from Dallas County is special wine with its green apple fruit, toastiness from light French oak aging, and minerally complexity (yep – that wet rock aroma) that harmonize in the glass to be sipped almost indefinitely or paired in myriad directions from smokey pulled pork to the creamiest Poulet Parisienne.
Becker Vineyards 2013 Provençal (Mourvèdre – Dry Rosé) Tallent Vineyard
This wine is a near annual performer on the Texas wine seen. It’s a work of passion for Dr. Richard Becker in his untiring efforts to bring a “Taste of Provence” (the acknowledged “home base” of dry rosés) to the Texas hill country. I tasted this wine soon after it became available at my local Spec’s Smith Street store, the “Mother Ship of Wine” in Houston. It’s classically colored salmon-pink with tart red-berry and minerally essences that capture memories of my trips to southern France with many balmy Mediterranean nights spent sipping wines made precisely like this one from the Mourvèdre grape. The wine’s single vineyard designation acknowledges longtime Becker Vineyards grower and exalted Texas hill country vigneron Drew Tallent.
Driftwood Estate Winery 2012 Longhorn Red (Cabernet/Syrah Blend)
I was back judging at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s International Wine Competition this year. After blind tasting and evaluating over 100 wines on Saturday, I came back on Sunday to judge the finalists in several categories including best Texas wine, again all done blind. In the Texas flight, one wine stood out for me for it overall balance, structure and quality. It was dark, nearly opaque, a grand display of well extracted black fruit and yet something more. In addition, the wine had a well-crafted tannic grip and high toast notes on the finish. Having previously tasted owner and winemaker Gary Elliot’s gold medal winning 2011 Longhorn Red and several of his Syrahs, I would have bet my bottom dollar that the wine I was tasting in the finals was his, but I really didn’t know (that’s why blind tastings are such great events). The long and short of it, Elliot’s 2012 Longhorn Red is a wine of distinctions and truly deserves the title of Best Texas Wine from the 2015 Houston Rodeo wine competition.
There will be a few more to come in my next VintageTexas post, I assure you…Russ Kane, Doc Russ – Texas Wineslinger”
P.S. Look for my new book set for release on January 19th: Texas Hill Country Wineries (click here for info and discounted pre-release sales).