The USA is the full of surprises, and that’s not just reserved for politics, it’s also evident in its wines. If you’re an everyday wine lover living outside the US bubble, you’ll be forgiven for thinking American wine is like its fast food; mass produced and overloaded with too much flavour. You see, that’s basically what’s exported, the uninteresting wines that are produced in massive quantities – they are the only wines that can be sold at ‘normal’ prices once heavy export taxes are added. The good stuff treacles in – but trust me when I tell you it’s very rare and freakin expensive!
Which brings me to my next point – interesting wine does come out of America, and it’s happening in places you wouldn’t even realise – case in point – TEXAS! Yes, that Republican, beer swilling state, actually produces damn fine wine.
And here is why…
ABC – Anything But Chardonnay (or Cabernet)
If you think Texas wine is just Californian wine but from an even hotter climate, think again. Yes the climate is different, and while they have experimented with the classical Chardonnay and Cabernet plantings to varying degrees of success – the future for Texas wines lay in varieties more suited to the warmer Mediterranean climates of Portugal, Spain, Tuscany and the Rhone. Start thinking of varieties like Mourvedre, Rousanne, Viognier, Tempranillo, Grenache, Syrah, Vermentino, Tannat, Albarino – you get the gist – anything but Chardonnay – everything is sexy and alternative!
It’s 300 years old, but only got serious 10 years ago
The Texas wine industry was given birth some 300 years ago, but it wasn’t until the 1970s it took off – but not in a good way. Texas High Plains was replanted from cotton, but because Chardonnay and Cabernet was taking off in California, they naturally thought this was the way to go (big mistake, BIG). And because these varieties couldn’t compete with the might and terroir of the Napa, the industry soon died down. In fact, the real resurgence of quality has only really taken place in the past 10 years, thanks to a small band of wineries that said no to Chardonnay and Cabernet and yes to better suited Mediterranean varieties.
Scandal – not all Texas wine comes from Texas – it’s diluted with cheap Californian wine (but that’s changing – thankfully)
During Texas’ 1970’s boom to the present day focus on quality vineyard practices growning more suitable varieties, to keep the Texas wine industry afloat, the lawmakers of the land actually allowed grapes to be imported from California and be labelled as Texas wine. SCANDAL! And to this day, some rogue wineries who don’t care about provenance prop up their wines with imported grape juice because regulations still permit a label to say it is Texas wine if it only contains 75% Texas grapes. Texas Hill Country or Texas High Plains regions however, or any of the AVA designated regions (they are the better regions), only have to contain 85% grapes from that region. If you ask me, Texas wine should be made up of 100% Texas grapes. How they hell can you promote a wine’s proper ‘terroir’ if it contains fucking grapes from fucking California! [rant over, and breathe!] On social media, checkout #realtexaswine and you’ll be pointed in the right direction!
100% Texas wines are the future – and you can thank these guys
A tight group of quality Texas wineries are now fighting to have these laws changed, believing the state will only be taken seriously once the prominence can be trusted and the flavours are an expression of the land.
By far the best wines I tasted were the wines that were 100% Texas, all made by relatively young winemakers, who have each other’s back. They employ best practice, adhere to minimal intervention and share ideas. The three wineries I rated among the top, also happen to be very good friends with one another, sharing ideas and the passion for Texas wine. They are William Chris winery, Calais Estate winery and Lewis Wines. The passion they have, and the recognition their wines have been receiving, has spawned a flurry of wineries planting vineyards of the right varieties in the right locations, and not diluting the wine with juice imported from California. These new players are 100% Texas and Proud. Look out for these wineries and support them when you do find them. You will not be disappointed.
Wineries to look out for
William Chris Winery – Mourvedre specialist and one of my favourite Texas producers – these wines are so good, 50% of the entire year’s stock sells out in the first week of release!
Calais Winery – Cabernet specialists. One of my top 3 wineries, and their Cabernets are stellar, every bit as good as Napa, but with its own Texas stamp of flavour. It took a Frenchman coming to live in Texas to prove Cabernet grapes can be grown in Texas. He also produces a mean Rousanne
Lewis Wines – my other top three. Doug is only 30 years old but is already turning Texas on its head with his business partner, Duncan McNabb. Check out their Spanish, Portuguese and Rhone variety wines.
Pedernales Cellars – Delicious Spanish varieties of Albarino and Tempranillo
Becker Vineyard – great value Rhone variety wines of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre delivering great flavour.
Spicewood Vineyard – you’ve gotta check out the Good Guy blend – a heady mix of Tempranillo, Graciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. 100% Texas and top shelf stuff.
Duchman Family Winery – Check out their super delicious reds – Aglianico and Montepulciano
Fall Creek – gave birth to the modern Texas winemaking movement in the 1970s. They have a very sexy Grenache Syrah Mourvedre blend. They’re also just down the road from the world famous Salt Lick BBQ. This is arguably the best place in all of Texas to eat BBQ, and it needs to be on your bucket list before you die!!