Seth Urbanek, the winemaker at Wedding Oak Winery, said “I’ve been making wine for ten years. With three vintages here in Texas under my belt, I feel like I’ve got my sea legs under me.” He has seen a lot in those three years in Texas with weather extremes and vintage variability a large part of it. But, he is feeling more at home and able to handle the situations in Texas with a simple but poignant goal: concentrate on making the best wines he can.

We recently talked about two of Urbanek’s winemaking releases: a red blend (Tioja) and the other a single varietal white (Roussanne).

Seth Urbanek – Winemaker at Wedding Oak Winery

Wedding Oak 2019 Tioja, Red Table Wine, Texas Hill Country – 82% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha, 6% Mazuelo (Carignan), 3% Graciano, 1% Monastrell (Mourvèdre).

My recollection, not having tasted this wine in at least a couple years, was that this 2019 Tioja had more body than when I last tasted it. Seth said, “Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) have always been the two largest components of this wine serve as the backbone of the blend. They come from grapes grown at Mirasol Vineyard in Lampasas County.”

Indicating a potential reason for my comment, Seth continued, “We’ve started incorporating a couple of other Spanish varieties – Carignan (Mazuelo in Spain) and Mourvèdre (Monastrell in Spain) that nicely fill out the blend. These additional two varieties come from Fire Oak Vineyard that’s not too far from Mirasol. This wine has really developed, probably since the last time you tasted it, into a characteristic northern hill country blend for us. Despite the year-to-year variability that we have seen recently, mainly weather-related, it seems to keep getting better. We just add a little oak (20% new American) and it’s now our best-selling red.”

From my tasting notes, the Wedding Oak 2019 Tioja, had medium-plus body with a red-garnet color and was aromatic from the get-go through to the finish with macerated black cherry, ethereal smokiness with dark chocolate, and a note of bright mint.  Seth makes this wine in contrast to Spanish tradition where lots of new American Oak and long aging times are used. He said, “I like the ‘grittiness and tension’ of the American Oak, but I just don’t like it to be the predominant feature in the wine and I use a lighter hand with oak aging.” It’s a great “grilling red” and especially a nice “summertime red” with its moderately low alcohol.

Wedding Oak Tioja with firewood oven pizza

One takeaway I had was that Seth thinks Tempranillo is a great grape for Texas, but sometimes, as a stand-alone variety, it can be wanting. He stands firm that blending components add more character and brightness to the Tempranillo-based wines much like they do in the Rioja region of Spain.  

Wedding Oak, 2019 Roussanne, Texas High Plains, Phillips Vineyard.

Seth started right off with, “I could talk about this wine all day long. It’s one of my favorites. Tony and Madonna Phillips from Phillips Vineyard in Brownfield who grew this Roussanne are two of the best grape growers that I’ve had the opportunity to work within Texas. Roussanne is the linchpin of our white wine program analogous to Tioja for our reds. The Roussanne from Phillips Vineyard is concentrated. It’s ripe, but the finished wine shows considerable restraint. I embrace Roussanne’s natural tannic profile. I don’t encourage skin contact, but don’t discourage it either. I treat it a lot like Chardonnay with about 9 months of barrel age, 10% new French oak and I add a bit of lees stirring. It ends up with a great mouthfeel and remarkable balance.

From my tasting, my takeaway is that the Wedding Oak Roussanne has a lemon citrus dominance that is tempered back a bit with Seth’s light and barely perceptible oak aging. The oak aging plays well with what Seth referred to as Roussanne’s soft but detectable “tannic edge”. It is something like you find in green tea, or as I recently did in my experiment with homegrown Mojito mint tea.

Wedding Oak Roussanne with Maryland Crab Cakes

Seth also admitted that he loves Texas Roussanne particularly in this style, but the only thing wrong with Roussanne in Texas is that it’s called Roussanne. With all that is going on in Texas with other white wine varieties, he thinks that it is getting lost in the shuffle for consumers. I definitely agree with Seth. I’ve even had a call from a grower that was thinking of tearing out his Roussanne grapevines for much the same reason despite the fact that it is one of the best growing white grapes we have in the state.

“I love this grape so much so much that I can even get nerdy with it.”, said Seth. “There are a lot of ways that Texas winemakers can play with Roussanne. I think that it can even handle a Burgundian Barrel treatment like Chardonnay. It hits a consumer profile that is more like that enjoyed by traditional Chardonnay drinkers [and there are a lot of them out there] and that has mass-market potential.” 

I tended to agree with him. Whereas Viognier, probably the most acknowledged of the Texas whites, can get a bit aromatic, floral and heady, definitely outside the space where Chardonnay drinkers like to go. Seth said, “In my mind, Roussanne has a more interesting structure on the palate and is amenable to winemaking techniques that bring value to Chardonnay.” In the end, I think that Seth and I agreed on one thing: Roussanne has a lot to offer white wine drinkers in Texas, and the future should be bright for it.

For more information on Wedding Oak Winery wines and locations in San Saba, Fredericksburg and Burnet, click here.

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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.