Tag Archives: Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country Revisited

25 May

Texas hill Country

True to Texan tradition, the Texas Hill Country AVA (American Viticulture Area) is the second largest certified Viticultural Area in America.  It has been named one of the top 10 wine destinations by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and is replete with beautiful limestone hills, pristine creeks and hillside vineyards.

There are currently over 60 wineries in the region, which earlier this year collectively earned an impressive 204 medals, including 18 Double Golds, in the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition.  As I observed last year, it was just 6 years ago that wine from the Hill Country earned their first Gold medal at this competition.  I am fortunate to spend a couple of weeks in the Hill Country each year to personally experience the continual increase in both quantity and quality of the area’s wineries.  Below are summarized a few of my favorite wineries and wines from this visit.

Perissos Vineyard and Winery

Perissos

Perissos is a Greek word found in the Bible (Ephesians 3:20) meaning “exceeding abundantly, beyond what is expected, imagined, or hoped for.”   A boutique winery set in a beautiful valley near Longhorn Caverns, Perissos creates handcrafted wines from 100% Texas sources, the vast majority from their own estate vineyards.  The venue boasts beautiful views, a lovely spacious tasting room, and knowledgeable servers. (Tasting Room Manager Amy was great!)  They have won multiple medals in the San Francisco Chronical International Wine Competition.

  1. 2016 Viognier. A medium body, estate grown Viognier with a beautiful nose of Lavender and Honeysuckle.  On the palate, BIG peach notes tempered by zesty lemon peel and with a long finish of melon.  Benefitting from warm, sunny days, this is the best Viognier I have tasted in the Hill Country.
  2. 2015 Malbec. Red fruit and sweet tobacco backed by very soft tannins and a surprising (for this varietal) acidity.  A bit lighter in body than a typical Argentinian Malbec and a bit fruitier than those from Cahors France.
  3. 2015 Rackers Blend. A brilliant cherry color, this complex red is a blend of Aglianico, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Malbec.  Strong tannic foundation with medium acidity and full body.  On the nose ripe cherries, pepper and, on the second swirl, a touch of leather.  A delicious red-fruit palate with a touch of spice and long finish.

Becker Vineyards

Located on the Hwy 290 wine trail halfway between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, Becker Vineyards began with an 1890’s era  log cabin and 46 acres of raw land about 1500 feet above sea level.  Now producing over 100,000 cases per year, their first harvest was in 1995, making Becker one of the original Hill Country wine pioneers.  This year the team at Becker won an impressive four Double Gold medals in the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition.

Becker

  1. 2015 White Wing. A traditional Bordeaux white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  This is a tasty white with old-world restraint.  Medium acidity and complex layers of stone fruit and citrus softened by light toasty oak.
  2. 2015 Tempranillo. This varietal thrives in the Hill Country, and Becker’s is delicious.  Over 14% alcohol, but the depth of dark fruit and sweet tobacco flavors camouflages the heat.  A refreshing acidity balances all of that and makes this a very food-friendly wine.

Zero 815

Of the many new wineries dotting the Texas Hill Country landscape, this is one to watch!  Founded by the late Karl Hogsett and his wife Laura, Zero 815 Winery is the culmination of their lifelong passions. The name “Zero 815” was inspired by Karl and Laura’s wedding anniversary, August 8, 2015.

Laura’s love for wine and her biochemistry background synergistically inform her ability to create truly exceptional craft wines.  The tasting room is cozy, set in the middle of a beautiful plot of land just off Highway 290 near the town of Hye.  Warm, friendly hospitality and fresh-grilled food is offered, and it’s fun to learn about Texas terroir and wines from Laura.  I tasted 6 wines here – all excellent.  My favorites:

  1. 2016 Hyeland White Blend holds its own against the big names in Napa: combining French, Italian and Spanish varietals (all grown in Texas of course) into a beautifully refreshing white with strawberry and peach notes and a tart citric acidity.
  2. 2014 Mourvedre is also wonderful: very light but with full red fruit on the palate and a long finish. A delightful winery to which I look forward to returning!
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Torr Na Lochs – From Rocks to Wine

22 Mar

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A Gaelic Name, A Purely Texan Winery

Torr Na Lochs (www.torrnalochs.com), roughly translated from Gaelic as “hill over lakes” embodies a clear passion for Texas terroir and wine purity, and is arguably the Hill Country winery with the most spectacular view.  The scenery looking out from the tasting room at Tor Na Lochs offers not just the best winery view I have seen in Texas, it is right up there with the most gorgeous settings in Napa or the Sonoma Coast.  Simply stunning.

Relatively new to the wine business, owners Blake and Karen DeBerry produce wine with all-Texas fruit on their 180 acre ranch on a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River valley, Inks Lake and Lake Buchanan.   Wandering the ranch are a couple of very Texas-looking steers (Longhorns of course) and two friendly donkeys.  The soil of the Torr Na Lochs vineyard here is rocky (VERY rocky, much of it solid granite) and is steep enough to provide good drainage.  Through a several year-long labor of love, the DeBerry’s have brought to life their mantra of “From Rocks to Wine”, and vinted their first wines in 2015.   At the same altitude as the Tempranillo vineyards of Rioja Spain and with similar soil characteristics as southern Italy, Torr Na Loch’s Mediterranean varietals and blends are superb.   And, like many of the leading west coast wineries, Torr Na Loch pursues environmentally friendly principles such as using air conditioning condensate for irrigation.

I tasted two whites and 4 reds, all were excellent:

2015 Orange Muscat.  This is a white grape varietal with probable origins in Italy and France.  Torr Na Lochs uses fruit from the Texas High Plains which due to cool nights provides better acidity than Hill Country vineyards.  Aroma of orange blossoms with delicate flavors of orange marmalade and apricot, at 14.9% alcohol provides a medium to heavy body which is balanced with refreshing acidity. 89/100

2014 Fion Gael.  A blend of six different white varieties which together provide a light and delicious wine.   Aromas of peach or nectarine, and tart lemon on the palate.  88

2015 The Mutt. An easy-drinking red blend with smooth tannins, nice red fruit and balanced acidity.  Aged in Hungarian oak.  The best part: for each bottle purchased $5 is donated to the local animal shelter! 90

2015 MADS.   This new release is a startlingly good blend of Montepulciano, Aglianico, Docletto and Sangiovese, all Italian varietals that do well in the Texas climate.  The nose is intoxicating and expressive with dark berries and currants.  I loved this wine and should have bought more bottles to take home! 92

2013 Sangiovese.  With characteristic cherry flavors and a medium light body, this is one of the better Texas Sangioveses I have tried.  Soft tannins, good acidity and a finish of smoky vanilla thanks to 14 months aging in French oak.  90

2015 Estate Syrah.   Their first wine produced with estate grapes is a winner.   A satisfying deep-purple in color, the bouquet includes ripe blackberry and violet .  Dark fruit upfront, soft tannins and a hint of cedar with a long finish.  91

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Old World Grapes, Texas Terroir and a Chilean Master Winemaker

26 Feb

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Fall Creek Vineyards (www.fcv.com) is not an easy place to find – it lies near the far northern end of the popular Texas Wine trail, overlooking the Colorado River in a bucolic Texas-ranch setting.  And for those who are looking for the best Texas wines, it is a not-to-be-missed stop on a tour of Hill Country wineries.

It is not an overstatement to say that Fall Creek Vineyards’ history is synonymous with Texas Hill Country Wine history.  In fact, owners Ed and Susan Auler were instrumental in establishing the Texas Hill Country American Viticulture Area.  The Texas Hill Country AVA, established in 1991, is the second largest of the over 200 AVA’s in the country and arguably the AVA with the most improved wines.  Many wine producers in the hill country do blend the local grapes with those from other areas of Texas (most notably the High Plains Region) or even from other states in order to obtain the complexity, balance and flavor profile they desire.   But one of the most impressive things about Fall Creek Vineyards is that the majority of their wines come exclusively from Hill Country grapes, with the bottles bearing the “Texas Hill Country” appellation.  In recent years many of these wines have competed in national and international competitions and won scores of awards, from Best-in-Class to Double Gold, Gold and Silver medals.

In years past, most wine experts dismissed Texas as a premium wine producer because of the heat.  Certainly the heat profile here is far higher than any areas of California, with summer highs over 100 (for weeks in a row) and nighttime lows not much below 85.  So how do Fall Creek and a few other hill country wineries manage to make world-class wines?  Well, look at where some of the earliest wines were made.  From biblical and other historical accounts, the Middle East made and consumed wine several thousand years ago.  There is significant evidence of winemaking in Shiraz (quite a recognizable name in the wine world!) Iran.  And when the annual heat profile of Shiraz Iran is compared to Llano County in the Texas Hill Country it is seen to be not just similar, but identical.  Same number and magnitude of heat degree days, same diurnal (day to night) variation.  So, historically, many Vitis Vinifera varieties can be and have been grown in this kind of weather.  Also the soil of the best Texas Hill Country AVA vineyards is similar to that in southern France and parts of Spain and Italy: limestone-based with excellent drainage.  And the altitude here, 1300 to 1350 feet, is identical to that of the great Tempranillo vineyards of Rioja Spain.

Without getting much into Biology, suffice it to say that the Vinifera vines have a “heat –protection gene” which is triggered in regions that have not heat spikes (which damage the canopy and negatively impact the fruit), but consistent heat throughout the growing season.  The better viticulturists in Texas know how to manage vine canopies, placement and irrigation to grow many varietals that typically thrive in cooler climates, and make world-class wine with that fruit.  Fall Creek Vineyard’s chief winemaker, Sergio Cuadra, can talk with passion on this subject for hours!  Formerly the principal winemaker at several Conche Y Toro facilities, Sergio is the first internationally-renowned winemaker in the employ of a Texas winery.

At a recent tour and tasting in Fall Creek Vineyard’s barrel-aginimg_2833g facility, Sergio shared four award-winning Texas Hill Country wines and four barrel samples.  Frankly, the top two wines we tasted here represented the only Bordeaux and Burgundy style wines from Texas that I have tasted which are on a par with those from their respective French appellations.

Here is a synopsis:

FCV Vintners Select Sauvignon Blanc, Texas 2016.   Vivid acidity (thanks to a July harvest, 2-3 months before Loire Valley harvests), lime and green apple on the nose and a full-bodied tropical fruit palate.  Very expressive, with expanding complexity as the glass was aerated.  90

FCV Terroir Reflection Chardonnay “Certenberg Vineyards” 2015.   Wow.  This one fooled the blind tasters in Houston, who were convinced it was from Burgundy!  16 months in French Oak, smooth and creamy but not an oaky butter-bomb like many Napa Chard’s.  Aroma and palate of pear and stone fruits, with tropical notes.  A touch of vanilla.  Great balance! 92

FCV Meritus, Texas Hill Country, 2013.  This Right-Bank Bordeaux blend (53% Merlot, 47% Cab Sauv) is a deep, dark ruby in color.  Beautiful aromas of dark berries, currant and vanilla.  Elegant round tannins and a medium-long finish.  This one earned a Gold medal in San Francisco last month against international competition.  92.

FCV Salt Lick Vineyard Tempranillo (2016, still in barrel).  Grown across the street from the famous Salt Lick Barbecue in Driftwood Texas, with a little more time in the barrel this is going to be a great Tempranillo.  Red fruit, tobacco and structured tannins – much like Tempranillo from Rioja.  89

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