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Best Texas Wines of 2013

A list of the best Texas wines released this year, including the top ten reds and whites you should be tasting right now.

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Matt McGinnis

From earthy Tempranillo to fruity Mourvèdre and bright, lemony Roussanne, Texas wines are hitting some highs. To help you choose which ones are worth drinking, I’ve compiled a list of twenty of the finer Texas Wines of 2013. 

For this year’s evaluation, more than 106 Texas wines were sampled from 34 wineries all over the state. (NOTE: While there are 275 bonded wineries of record, not all of them are operating as full scale wineries. This list was also narrowed down following extensive tasting throughout the state to reflect those wineries that are currently producing competive wines. Wineries were also selected based on their availability to the general public via retail or restaurant. In short, Texas still has a long way to go. See a full list of wineries here.) All wines were required to be Texas Appellation, meaning more than 75 percent of the wine had to be produced with grapes grown in Texas. To date, many Texas wineries produce wines with grapes from other states, which are not representative of Texas terroir.

The entire collection of wine was wrapped in tissue paper to hide each wine’s label and stored at appropriate temperatures for tasting. After each round of wine was poured, I evaluated them based on standard tasting criteria modeled from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Each wine could receive a maximum of 5 points per category of nose, palate, structure, balance, and finish for a potential total score of 25. (Some tasting volunteers helped, but their scores were not considered as part of this list.)

All red wines were evaluated first followed by the white wines. Once all wines had been tasted, scores were tallied and wines were revealed. To solidify the results, the top 25 red and white wines were culled and blind tasted again on the following day to narrow down the top ten red and white wines.

It was an arduous process, but one that was meticulously executed in an effort to objectively evaluate which wines really stood out as some of the best in Texas.

The best part of doing a blind tasting like this is you really never know which wines will rise to the top until it’s all done. I wasn’t surprised that some producers have more than one wine on this list, since they are producers who consistently put out quality wines in Texas and set the stage for other wineries to raise their bar. But I was pleasantly surprised that a few of the smaller, lesser known wineries produced wines showing great strength, including Spicewood Vineyards, Calais Winery, Fly Gap Winery, and La Cruz de Comal.  

And without further delay, here’s the list of the best Texas wines of 2013:

Red Wines

Bending Branch Cabernet Sauvignon 2011  
Already a standout in its own right, this wine has already won Double Gold in the 2013 San Francisco International Wine Competition and is proof that you really can make great Cabernet Sauvignon in Texas—especially if it comes from Newsom Vineyards in Lubbock. Black cherry, blackberry, mocha, and dusty leather saddle dominate the nose and palate offering a bold depth of complexity and tannic grip. This is a true Texas Cab. 
Price: $100

Duchman Family Winery Tempranillo 2011 
A fruit-forward approach to Tempranillo, this rich and full-bodied wine reveals brown-sugar-baked blueberries, tart raspberry, and a hint of vanilla on the nose, and balanced with a dusty earthiness and mushroom on the palate. This is a unique style of Texas Tempranillo. 
Price: $34

Duchman Family Winery Salt Lick Cellars GSM 2011  
Another stellar GSM, this wine shows a lighter style of GSM layered with tart red fruit and a nice complexity that finishes clean and bright. Produced for Salt Lick Cellars by Duchman Family Winery winemaker Dave Reilly, this food-friendly red is a perfect match for smoked brisket or roasted lamb. 
Price: $36

Fly Gap Winery “Dank” Tempranillo/Touriga Nacionale 2010 
Though not overly impressed with the arguably lewd label artwork, this wine is a clearcut reason why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Concentrated dark fruit pervades among rustic notes of mushroom, tobacco and leather. This is a big, grippy wine that shows just as much backbone as it does finesse. A real standout and a pleasant surprise in the blind tasting. 
Price: $19

Llano Estacado Winery Sangiovese 2011  
A refreshing nose of cherry, red flowers and hint of eucalyptus ushers in a bright and zippy palate of tart red fruit and restrained balance of oak. A light, yet complex expression of Sangiovese and an excellent pairing for grilled meats. 
Price: $14

Llano Estacado Winery 1836 2010
A repeat on the “Best Texas Wine” list, the newer vintage of this red blend of High Plains Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah was just as compelling as the last. With a nice presence of red and black fruits offset with rich saddle leather and a touch of florality, this wine is a beautiful example of balance and finesse. Good structure, nice fruit, alluring earthiness—all this wine needs is a good steak. 
Price: $40

McPherson Cellars Tre Colore 2012 
A vibrant blend of strawberry, raspberry and cherry defines this light and refreshing red wine. A standard in the McPherson Cellars stable of wines, the blend varies slightly from year to year, but this vintage made with Carignan (27 percent), Mourvedre (62 percent), and Viognier (11 percent), is a perfect food pairing wine and a great alternative for Pinot Noir fans. 
Price: $14

Pedernales Cellars GSM 2011
With a beautiful fruit-forward nose with notes of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, mocha, and a kiss of fragrant red orchid, this wine had us at “hello.” Leveraging the strength of the classic French Rhone style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, Pedernales Cellars offers a red wine that stands up to any of its kind. 
Price: $27

Spicewood Vineyards Tempranillo 2011 
A beautiful expression of how great Tempranillo can be in Texas. This wine comes from a small winery west of Austin that makes the majority of its terroir-driven wine using estate grapes. Rich, stewed blackberries and plums with minty herbaceousness and rustic earthiness, this is a great steak wine. 
Price: $21

Wedding Oak Winery Sangiovese 2010 
This relatively new winery in San Saba debuted with a solid portfolio of wines including this rich and luscious style of Sangiovese—the primary grape used in Chianti, Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino. With cherry and strawberry notes, this wine is bright and fruity with a hint of savory herbs on the palate. 
Price: $25

Honorable Mentions

Inwood Estates Vineyards ‘Mericana 2010

Alamosa Wine Cellars Graciano 2010

Brennan Vineyards Tempranillo 2011

La Cruz de Comal Troubadour 2011

Calais Winery La Cuvée Du Manoir 2011

White Wine 

Brennan Vineyards Lily 2012 
A true beauty, this blend of white Rhone varietals Roussanne (59 percent), Viognier (23 percent), and Grenache Blanc (18 percent) finds itself on this list a second time. Though a newer vintage, Brennan Vineyards consistently makes this wine with a beautiful fragrant nose of honeysuckle and ripe apricot that leads to a well rounded wine that balances crisp acidity with the slightest hint of sweetness. 
Price: $18 

Calais Winery Roussanne – La Cuvée Principale 2012 
Originally based in the Dallas area and soon to open in the Hill Country, Calais Winery is the culmination of what happens when a Frenchman moves to Texas—he makes wine. And he’s certainly putting his best foot forward with French Rhone varietal Roussanne. Lush citrus, pear, white flowers and subtle herbaceousness, this wine has a nice round body with bright acidity and a beautifully clean finish. 
Price: $22 

Duchman Family Winery Vermentino 2012   
Another repeat from last year’s list, Duchman Family Winery has made the Vermentino grape its workhorse. It’s possible that this year’s 2012 vintage is the winery’s best one yet. With a restrained citrus and mineral-driven nose, this wine comes alive on the palate with a touch of lemon zest and crisp acidity. An excellent food pairing wine that could easily be sipped all through the long Texas summer. 
Price: $18

Duchman Family Winery Salt Lick Cellars BBQ White NV 
A white wine blend with smoky BBQ in mind, this easy drinking white wine has a perfect balance of depth and brightness. Made by Duchman Family Winery, this wine has a crisp blend of Vermentino, Trebbiano, Pinot Grigio and a tough of Muscat offering a fragrant grapefruit and floral nose with a nice dry finish. Perfect for spicy foods. 
Price: $20

Hilmy Cellars Viognier Naked (Unoaked) 2012 
An experiment in curiosity from winemaker Erik Hilmy, this is a unique style of Viognier for Texas. It is produced in stainless steel with no exposure to oak. The result is a beautiful, balanced wine fragrant with orange blossom, ripe peach and a kiss of grapefruit offering a crisp, clean finish. 
Price: $24

La Cruz de Comal Petard Blanc 2012 
A very unique wine, the Petard Blanc is an all natural production of estate-grown Blanc Du Bois from this idyllic little winery near Canyon Lake. The term “natural” refers to the process of making the wine completely sulphide and additive-free—the only way winemaker Lewis Dickson cares to make wine. The result is a very rustic style of wine with honeysuckle and  fresh yellow flowers on the nose and a bright, citrusy palate with a savory finish that leaves you wanting more.
Price: $34

McPherson Cellars Albarino 2012 
Fruity and floral, this crisp white wine made with a classic Spanish varietal is fragrant with honeysuckle, ripe peach and lychee fruit, but zippy and dry on the palate. It has a nice medium weight that makes it perfect for sipping in the hot summer, or pairing with fresh seafood. 
Price: $11 

McPherson Cellars Roussanne Reserve 2012 
While Viognier has fast claimed the spotlight as the white grape of Texas, it will likely become second fiddle to this Rhone varietal in coming years. With examples like this Reserve Roussanne from McPherson Cellars, it’s easy to see why. White tea, lemon curd, and summery yellow flowers fill the nose ushering in a taste of ripe white peach on the palate. A definite standby to convert the novice Texas wine drinker. 
Price: $18 

McPherson Cellars Les Copains 2012  
White tea, ripe white peach and fleshy lemon pulp describe the nose on this pretty dry white wine from McPherson Cellars. A blend of Viognier (45 percent), Roussanne (35 percent), Grenache Blanc (16 percent), and Marsanne (4 percent), this is a classic example of a French white Rhone blend that not only entices the nose, but allures the palate. Though crisp and dry, this wine also has a nice, full body with bright acidity—a perfect wine for grilled poultry or fish. 
Price: $14

Pedernales Cellars Viognier Reserve 2012
Rich with ripe peaches, honey, and jasmine on the nose, this wine is a classic example of what a French Viognier should taste like. So much so that the French even gave it a Grand Gold Medal in the Lyon International Wine Competition this year. (The only U.S. winery to receive such an honor.) Full bodied with a slight butteriness and a touch of sweetness, this golden beauty is a perfect substitute for the staunchest Chardonnay lover. 
Price: $40

William Chris Vineyards Blanc Du Bois 2012 
Increasingly popular in Texas, Blanc du Bois is a hybrid grape that not only grows well here, but has the potential to make beautiful wine. (Though not all Texas Blanc du Bois wines are created equal.) This selection from William Chris is a stunner with a fragrant nose of lilies and lemon zest that gives a bright, citrusy palate. A beautiful substitute for Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. 
Price: $28

Honorable Mention

Flat CreeK Estate Pinot Grigio 2012

Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012

Hye Meadow Winery Viognier 2012

Spicewood Vineyards Viognier 2012

Because many of these wines were released in 2013, it’s possible that some of them are out of stock or have limited availability. 

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  • Dan

    Only 34 wineries out of 300 tested? Seriously? How can you possibly say those are the best?
    Piss poor job and a seriously flawed article.

    • Jeff

      Read the article, Dan. Lots of “Texas” wines didn’t make the cut because of questionable origin, others did not make it because of very limited availability. Hard to argue with the results- impressive list.
      Piss poor comment, and seriously flawed reading comprehension, Dan.

      • Walt Longmire

        I too think Dan was a bit out of line. But perhaps he caused you to be a bit uncautious in your own statement. You said, “impressive list.” I am not sure how you can judge that, unless, of course, you have so bias for certain wineries. I was frankly surprised by the narrowness of the named wineries in the judging. Is there bias or politics involved? Just sayin’…

  • Would also enjoy learning what the “tasting volunteers” thought, and how I can become such a volunteer. 🙂

    • Matt McGinnis

      Hey Gary, as one of the “tasting volunteers” I was impressed with how professionally Jessica handled the evaluation of the wines. Each of the 106 wines that were included were wrapped to ensure that the tasting panel did not see any identifying marks. Two volunteers handled the bottles and poured the flights to ensure the tasters only came in contact with the liquid. The tasting panel was made up of experienced wine writers and certified sommeliers with deep training in how to evaluate wine in blind tastings. The scoring system was derived from the methodology that the Court of Master Sommeliers uses in evaluating wines in blind tastings. While the tasting volunteers contributed scores for each of the wines, the ultimate decision on the list was Jessica’s. She brought her experience and expertise to bear.

      • I echo what Matt said here. I had been on a panel for a different wine competition just the week before and, although it was much larger and long-running, it was not nearly as well designed as Jessica’s. Her tasting rubric was very professional and she ran a tight ship with complete double-blind tasting. We all had different experiences and preferences, and in the end it was Jessica’s palate that made the final cuts. I’ve been tasting with her for a few years now and can confidently say she has a fined-tune sense of quality. It was definitely a great experience and I hope to “volunteer” again next year!

    • Way Out West Austin

      Gary, it was a fantastic experience, but much more difficult than you might think! 106 wines is a lot, and after about 30, you really have to concentrate and keep “cleansing” the palate with crackers, celery, etc. The whole process took several hours. Jessica’s descriptions do a great job covering the wide range of wines being produced in our state.

  • Denise Clarke

    A solid list of great Texas wines. As part of the tasting panel, I was impressed with how organized and professional the tasting evaluation was managed. We tasted through a lot of wines and judged them based on the Guild of Sommeliers tasting grid. While not all of my favorites made the list, many of them did, which shows that well-made wines will always stand out. But in the end, it was up to Jessica to choose her favs. Way to go Jessica for helping consumers learn more about Texas wines and to offer suggestions each month on wines they should try. Cheers and happy holidays!

  • Shane

    Have to give Duchman a shot. Tasted there when it was in the Mandola family and was LESS than impressed with the wine. Good to know I have a new daytrip to look forward to in Driftwood!

    • Don

      First, I am a huge consumer of TX wine and must agree last time I tried Dutchman I walked away with the same impression as Shane. We’ll have to make a run out there in the near future. I am happy to see the nod to Bending Branch, who in my opinion has the best “top to bottom” list of vino in TX. Also good to see William Chris, McPherson, Brennan, Pedernales, Hilmy, and Inwood make the list. You may want to add Pontotoc (a real sleeper) to your list to taste next year.

  • SAHMmelier

    Thank you, Jessica for doing such a great job executing this and for allowing me to be a “taster”. Although I have no prior experience tasting this many wines at once, I can’t imagine how it could have been better organized. I learned that my palate is iffy that early in the morning and that tasting that number of wines can be challenging. I also learned that there are many producers I need to visit and that some favorites were indeed favorites. It is so exciting to see what is happening in the Texas wine industry and I am grateful for every opportunity to learn more.

  • Walt Longmire

    Don’t really care what the judges think. I will be back to Val Verde Winery whenever I get a chance.

    • Jessica Dupuy

      Val Verde does have some great wines and a longstanding wine history in Texas. (I love their port.) But only a handful of their wines are made with Texas fruit. Many of their wines are made with fruit from out of state, which prevented them from being evaluated.

      • Walt Longmire

        That I didn’t know. I get it now. My wife and I like several of their wines, and we sometimes drive from Illinois to Austin to pick some up. Now I have an idea of some other wines in Texas. We will give them a try. Thanks.

  • Raymond

    Nice job Jessica! I have not had the pleasure of tasting all of the top wines but they are on my to do list. I have tasted over half of them and I agree that they are worthy of recognition for raising the bench mark for quality wines in Texas. One only needs to recall the recent history of chilean wines. Twenty-Five years ago, they were mediocre at best. Now they are producing some beautiful wines. That did not happen overnight. I believe that Texas wines have evolved in a similar way. This article was Jessica’s article. It was not intended to be decided by committee which wines would end up in the top 10 list.. It is wine writers like Jessica that are helping to bring Texas wines to the attention of Texas consumers and for that I applaud and thank you Jessica!

  • Jamerb

    So sad not to see Sister Creek Moscato on here. Pout!

  • Wayne Johnson

    dan is gay

  • Alyssa Ortiz

    Loved this article! Nicely done and informative. Although it is not legally related, I posted it to my Wine Law blog- The Legal Vine. http://thelegalvine-winelaw.blogspot.com/

  • Norm

    I’m a retiree who recently transplanted from Seattle to Houston and am adapting to being a Texan. One way to show my affection for a new area is to try out local beers and wines (that won’t break the bank!). Any help with easy to drink wines above and beyond the list of Best Texas Wines of 2013 is greatly appreciated.

  • Brian Mitchell

    Yeah, um…Super Tuscans aren’t made from Sangiovese…

    • Brian Mitchell

      That is to say, many do contain some Sangiovese Grosso, but what distinguishes them is their use if more international varieties.

      • Jessica Dupuy

        Technically Sangiovese Grosso is an unclassified clone found in Super Tuscans. But by and large the predominate grape that defines Super Tuscans according to its DOC and IGT status is Sangiovese, which is the predominant red grape of the Tuscany region. Many Super Tuscans contain upwards of 85% Sangiovese and are complimented in part by Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. – Thanks for reading!