Stop Thief! Barrel Tasting at Ron Yates Wines
Unfortunately, I missed the 2019 Ron Yates Barrel Experience where participants sampled Ron Yates 2018 Merlot made from grapes harvested in John Freisen’s Vineyard in Loop, Texas. The aim was to taste wine made from the same grapes aged in a variety of oak barrels to experience the different nuances yielded from each barrel.
The good news was that following this event, I had the good fortune to meet-up at the winery with Ron and his trusty tasting room manager Dan Cook early on a warm Saturday morning. We started with wine aged in Nadalié French oak barrels with fine, tight-grained wood. A tighter grain not only means a less porous wood, but it also releases oak flavor more slowly into the wine. The experience on this taste was driven by the mouthfeel: rich, silky, moderately-restrained fruit, soft tannins augmented with mocha and spice.
This was my first chance to taste wine made from grapes from Friesen Vineyards (Oh yes, Loop is near Lamesa just southwest of Brownfield on the Texas high plains). The thing that I remember most vividly from my first taste from this vineyard is the clean, crisp and bright expression and its dark berry notes.
Ron said, “This vineyard was probably the cleanest I’ve seen. We went up there looking for some Cabernet for our Cab Claret. We were so impressed with the vineyard and the fruit that we ended up taking contracting for all their available Cabernet, Merlot and Tempranillo… all of it. We continue to be really pleased the way the Friesen fruit from multiple vintages has worked out in our wines.”
Our second taste of the Friesen Merlot came from a Quintessence French oak barrel. It was more openly fruity than the first taste, surrounded with toasty, smoky notes and yielding firmer tannins. Ron was a bit reserve on discussing barrel selection for aging. He admitted that barrel selection (with all its geeky details) was not his forte. Rather, it was something that he left to his much more knowledgable and barrel-savvy winemaker Todd Crowell.
From here, we diverted from the “Barrel Experience” event’s line up, opting to Ron flip-flopping around the stacks of barrels and calling out the grape varieties and barrel types. We continued our impromptu barrel tasting for the better part of an hour and straying into other grape varieties with a focus on Ron’s apparent favorite variety, Tempranillo.
We continued on with the Yates’s 2018 Newsom Tempranillo and Friesen Cabernet from Quintessence barrels. But, as we tasted, Ron roamed the barrels and called out a literal whos-who of Texas vineyards: Lost Draw Tempranillo, Tio Pancho Petit Sirah to name a couple.
While still admiring the aroma of the Newsom Tempranillo, on an aside Ron said, “Neal Newsom finally sold some his great fruit to this long-haired hippy guy”, obviously referring to himself.
About the duration of oak aging, Ron said, “For our lighter-style wines like Grenache and our GSMs, we typically stick to 11-12 months as longer aging trials didn’t really add anything. For our higher-end wines, we may go 18 months. At Spicewood, we used 24 months in barrel for our really big wines: Good Guy blend and our hill country Tempranillo.”
Afterward, I had a chance to taste what Ron considers one of his special wines: 2016 Ron Yates Tempranillo appellated Texas Davis Mountains (near Fort Davis) with the grapes originating from Blue Mountain Trail Vineyard owned by Jack Wright. If you haven’t been to this area, the two things you need to know is that is remote and it is high (like a mile high).
In Tempranillo’s Spanish home region of Rioja. The locals offer a special designation for grapes coming from the region’s highest elevation, Rioja Alta. Located on the western side of Rioja and its soils are a mix of iron-rich clay and limestone.
Whereas Rioja grapes come from 1800 to 2,400 ft elevation, The vineyards in Texas around Fort Davis are literally a mile high (around 5,000 feet). This area has the potential for perhaps some of the best cool-climate grape growing possible in Texas. It definitely works for this Tempranillo and many are now looking to it for fine Cabernet Sauvignon, as well.
The Ron Yates Tempranillo I tasted rocked it with all the descriptors commonly used for some of the best Tempranillo wines from Rioja – medium-plus body, bright red cherry flavors, firm but pleasant structure, and high acidity leading to a crisp and refreshing finish.