These Are a Few of my Favorite Texas Wines I Tasted, 2021 Edition – Part 1

Well, we are at the end of another year. When I look back over the past 12 months, I close my eyes and summon my inner taster with a special request. It’s kind of like asking Seri to answer a question. but without a computer, with only my mind in action. The question to my inner taster was: “Please recall the most special, most memorable Texas wines that I’ve had this year.” The list that came back during this session was longer than usual, likely the result of the year-over-year increase in Texas wine quality. So, I made the list and broke it into two lists, the first list is presented herein.

Texas Heritage Vineyards 2018 Souzao Paka Vineyards

This wine is a bold, fruit-driven, and teeth-staining red wine made with the Portuguese-derived Souzao grape. I thought that it was so true to it’s roots and varietally correct that I said it was like having the Iberian Atlantic coast in a bottle. The wine that I’m talking about here is the Billy and Susan Johnson’s Texas Heritage Vineyard, 2018 Souzao, Paka Vineyard, Texas High Plains, and it comes with some high accolades: Double Gold Medal Winner – 2021 San Francisco Chronicle and Gold Medal Winner – 2021 San Antonio Rodeo Wine Competition. Texas Heritage Vineyard’s 2018 Souzao delivers on all of the great attributes my mind can remember about my wine tasting experience in Portugal from the get-go: Opaque, black-purple color in the glass that offers up macerated blueberry preserves (all juicy and jammy) followed by high-cacao, bitter-sweet chocolate, and a bit of white pepper on the finish, all held together with a fine tannic grip.

Rivenburgh 2016 and Kerrville Hills Winery 2017 Sagrantino

I’m lumping these two wines together because they were both made with John Rivenburgh’s hands and are both so good, I just could not decide which one to feature and which one to exclude. I just couldn’t do it, So, after much internal deliberation, I decided to keep them both on my list – here goes:

Rivenburgh Wine, Texas High Plains, Sagrantino, Narra, Vineyards 2016

The 2016 Rivenburgh Sagrantino offered a pleasant granular tannic feel on the palate with flavors of black cherry punctuated with herbal notes of baking spice and mint. It had a wonderful “drink me now” quality calling out in a food-friendly way to pair it with grilled venison or quail.

Kerrville Hills Winery 2017, Texas High Plains, Sagrantino, Narra Vineyards, 2017

The 2017 Kerrville Hills Sagrantino (the younger) was still packed tight on pouring suggesting the ability to bottle age. As it opened up after about an hour, it showed a Bordeaux-like character with blackberry to black currant fruit flavors combined with wet earthy and truffle notes followed by the warm sensation of vanilla extract. With the more complex experience with this wine, my food pairing ideas move upward to braised meat, or possibly dry-aged steak or rack of lamb.

Wedding Oak Winery Reserve 2019 Sangiovese(s)

These wines, both exceptional examples of top-notch Sangiovese from literally anywhere care to look, highlight the pinnacle in a tasting experience this grape can achieve and how variations in Texas terroir can influence the nuances of the wine. See below:

Wedding Oak Winery, 2019 Reserve Sangiovese, Texas Hill Country (THC), Hye Top Vineyard

The grapes for this wine were grown on sloping limestone soils that make this vineyard an extremely low yield site that produces concentrated fruit. The grapes were hand-harvested, and in the cellar, were processed gently, and allowed to ferment in small batches in picking bins with minimal processing. After fermentation, the fruit was manually pressed, and the wine was then aged in 25% new French oak for 18 months. The finished wine yielded a dark ruby color and characteristics of fresh black cherry on the nose and palate with brambly notes followed by tobacco and baking spice, integrated with granular and firm tannins.

Wedding Oak Winery, 2019 Reserve Sangiovese, Texas High Plains (THP), Buena Suerte Vineyard.

These grapes were grown on THP typical sandy loam soils with porous caliche layer below, soils on which grapevines thrive allowing for higher grape yields. The fruit was machine picked and fermented in a stainless steel tank with the wine aged in 50% new Hungarian oak to add spice and depth. The wine has a shade lighter ruby color with characteristics of refreshing red cherry, cola, and dry earth along with light tannins. www.weddingoakwinery.com

Fall Creek Vineyards, 2017 Exterra Tempranillo – Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country

This second vintage of this wine exudes ripe dark berries highlighting blackberries and black cherries, along with the quintessential Iberian blueberry flavor in a chewy mouthfeel that integrates with mocha, dry earth, aromatic cedar, and leather on the nose. It was made from hand-selected grapes from the Salt Lick Vineyards aged 18 months in 64% American, 27% French, and 9% Hungarian oak, 64% of which were new oak barrels. This wine shouts loud to accompany grilled meats in nearly any form: game (even quail), beef, or lamb. This wine offers a lot but expresses itself with finesse, but it comes with a price that is well worth it, especially for that special occasion. www.fcv.com

Picks for the Houston Chronicle for Texas Wine Month

My first list of fave 2021 wine tastings finishes with five wines that I selected for Texas wine month that was highlighted in October for the Houston Chronicle. These were wines either available locally in retail or that could be purchased from Texas wineries that shipped directly to consumers. This featured list included:

William Chris Vineyards, 2020 Roussanne, La Pradera Vineyards, Texas High Plains

Roussanne was more resilient than most of the state’s white grapes. This post-freeze 2020 wine shows notes of lemon-drop, apricot, and ripe-green melon that accompany structure and depth from aging in French oak and concrete and had secondary fermentation that brings waxy silkiness up to the refreshing finish. It was the Judge’s Selection Medal for Best White in Texas at 2021 TEXSOM International Wine Awards. Serve with savory dishes featuring salmon or domesticated or game fowl. Price: $30 at the winery or online www.williamchriswines.com. I later found out that is was also available at Houston Wine Merchant (www.houstonwines.com)

Messina Hof Winery, 2019 Viognier Private Reserve, Texas High Plains

This wine’s elegant complexity took Best of Class accolades at the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The Viognier was grown at Buena Suerte Vineyards with dollops of Texas Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay and light-touch oak aging yielded a balanced gracefulness with dry notes of white peach, honeysuckle, and vanilla. Incredibly food-friendly, serve with lighter fare like Gulf red snapper or herb-baked chicken. Price $19 at Messina Hof Winery locations or online www.messinahof.com.

Grower Project, 2019 Syrah Extended Maceration, Alta Loma Vineyards, Terry County

Rae Wilson (Wine for the People) and Andrew Sides (Lost Draw Cellars) joined forces and found local Texas terroir. This Texas High Plains single-vineyard Syrah was slowly soaked on skins and aged in neutral French oak. The wine shows ripe black raspberry and minerals over a medium body, balanced acidity and tannins with nuances of white pepper. Serve with cassoulet or hearty stews. Price: $33 at Houston Wine Merchant in-store and online www.houstonwines.com.  

Llano Estacado, 2018 Tempranillo Cellar Reserve, Texas

This 100% Texas wine is easy to find in the Houston area is a West Texas blend: 76% Tempranillo, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Syrah and 1% Merlot. It offers a bouquet featuring red berries, leather, vanilla, spicy toasted oak, and ample yet smooth tannins to a lengthy finish. Serve with grilled pork, beef, or lamb. Price: $16-20 at Total Wine, Specs, and Kroger or online www.llanowine.com.

Haak Vineyards and Winery, 2017 Madeira Blanc Du Bois, Texas.

This classic “Estufagen” (oven) method-made fortified wine made with Austin County Blanc Du Bois grapes brings captivating green-hued, amber-gold color with characteristics of toffee, dried apricots/citrus fruits, and a balanced acidity-driven, honeyed finish. Amazingly versatile wine sipped as an aperitif or served with hard cheeses, duck pâté, vegetable medleys, or crème brûlée for dessert. Price: $49 at the winery or online www.haakwine.com.

Haak Vineyards and Winery, 2017 Madeira Blanc Du Bois, Texas.

This classic “Estufagen” (oven) method-made fortified wine made with Austin County Blanc Du Bois grapes brings captivating green-hued, amber-gold color with characteristics of toffee, dried apricots/citrus fruits, and a balanced acidity-driven, honeyed finish. Amazingly versatile wine sipped as an aperitif or served with hard cheeses, duck pâté, vegetable medleys, or crème brûlée for dessert. Price: $49 at the winery or online www.haakwine.com.

My Picks for the Houston Chronicle – October 2021

Look forward to the next installment of my favorite tastes of 2021, coming soon.

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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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