October is Texas Wine Month, an occasion to dig deeper into the finest wines of the Lone Star State. Rather than simply recommending our favorites, we invite you to gather a few friends and host your own taste-test challenge. This “Texas Two-Sip,” originally dreamed up by the Texas Department of Agriculture a few years back, is a playful way to explore the regional differences between Texas wines and varietals from elsewhere in the world.
Included below are a list of Texas wines paired with international offerings made from the same grape or in the same style—Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo, and others.
What’s the catch? Each pairing must be served blind—the bottles wrapped in foil, paper bags, or tissue paper—with no knowledge of its origin. This fun little showdown encourages you to put your senses to the test and allows you to discover for yourself just where Texas stands in the world of wine. All of these are available in Texas through local retailers and directly from the wineries.
This exercise will no doubt prove eye-opening, as it forces you to set aside biases or misperceptions, and will likely lead you to a few new Texas favorites.
It’s made from a white grape most commonly associated with the Galician Rías Baixas region of northwestern Spain, but also grown in Portugal and more recently in the United States. Noted for its bright acidity and light body, Albariño offers characteristic notes of fruity gum and lush stone fruit framed by richness and often hints of salinity, particularly in its native Spanish home along the Iberian coast. These wines are an ideal pairing for seafood, especially shellfish.
2017 Pedernales Cellars Albariño, Texas High Plains, $30
2017 Burgans Albariño, Spain, $13
One of the world’s most planted white grapes, Chardonnay originated in the Burgundy region of France. As the leading variety in the region, it’s often simply referred to as White Burgundy, Bourgogne Blanc. In Burgundy, Chardonnay wines are often a little higher in acidity, with earthier characteristics and a fruit finish that offers a more tart, rather than ripe, impression. Common descriptors include yellow apple, ripe pear, quince, melon, and peach. These wines often see some oak as well, but more often during fermentation and in neutral barrels. White Burgundy pairs best with lobster and scallops, veal, poultry, and cheese. The wines of Chablis, the region just north of Burgundy, are also exclusively made from Chardonnay and marked by particularly high acidity, tart fruit flavors of green apple, green pear, and lemon, along with white flowers and stony notes.
In the New World, Chardonnay has taken on a different identity both in flavor and texture. This is particularly the case in California, which in general produces Chardonnay with a broader palate, creamier texture, and heavier alcohol. Much of this is due to the warmer climate, which yields riper fruit and higher alcohol content along with a heavier use of oak aging, particularly in newer barrels. Common descriptors would include ripe red and yellow apple, baked pear, lemon curd, ripe apricot, mango, and pineapple, as well as buttered popcorn, toast, and pie crust.
2018 Fall Creek Vineyard Vintner’s Selection Chardonnay, Texas Hill Country, $22
2018 Georges Duboeuf “Flower Label” Mâcon-Villages, France, $18
Though it’s not often obvious on the label, when you see a French white wine labeled as Vouvray, Savenièrres, or Saumur, you can be sure that the grape used for these wines is Chenin Blanc. With it origins in the cool climate of the Loire Valley of France, Chenin Blanc is one of the most versatile of all grape varieties with the ability produce a range of styles, including sweet dessert wines, bone-dry table wines, and elegant sparkling wines. Beyond the Loire, Chenin has found homes in South Africa, the Central Valley of California, and in Texas, where some vineyard plantings have been growing for more than thirty years.
2017 McPherson Cellars Chenin Blanc, Texas High Plains, $14
Alheit Vineyards “Cartology” Bush Vines, South Africa, $40
This straw-toned grape originated in Bordeaux, France, where it is often accented by Semillon and Muscadelle for dry white wine and is a key player in the glorious dessert-style wine Sauternes. Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley region of Sancerre is known for its radiant tart lemon character with vibrant acidity and textural minerality—and even a smoky, flinty character when it’s Pouilly-Fumé. But this iconic grape has also found a happy home in New Zealand. Grown most prevalently in that country’s Marlborough region, Sauvignon has garnered a distinctive identity for offering wines with racing acidity and notes of lemon zest, lime pulp, pithy grapefruit, white daisy, tropical fruit, and fresh herbs. Other regional producers include Chile, Australia, and the U.S.
2018 Spicewood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Texas Hill Country, $20
2015 Craggy Range Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, $20
Primarily grown on the Italian island of Sardinia and in parts of Tuscany, Vermentino often produces bright, refreshing wines leading with citrus notes, including lemon, lime, and white grapefruit, along with green apple and hints of bitter almond. Un-oaked, Vermentino is light and crisp, with a slightly weightier body due to the warmer climates from which it derives, but it is also possible to find Vermentino that has been aged in oak, which serve as a delicious alternative to New World Chardonnay. A few New World regions have also found success with Vermentino, particularly around California’s Paso Robles and Texas.
2017 Duchman Family Winery Vermentino, Texas High Plains, $20
2011 Rocca delle Macìe Occhio a Vento Vermentino, Italy, $14
One of the iconic white grapes of the northern Rhône Valley of France, Viognier holds sway for those who adore radiantly aromatic wines. At its peak ripeness, Viognier unfurls lush floral aromas co-mingled with fleshy apricot and hints of crème frâiche. For those who love the creaminess of oaked Chardonnay with less-pronounced notes of vanilla and baking spice, Viognier is the answer. Though the Rhône Valley’s Condrieu subregion is what put the grape on the map, notable producers from California, Australia, Virginia, and Texas have also found great success. Classic examples of wines from this grape are soft and supple with balanced, yet broad, silky palates offering aromas of honeysuckle, ripe peach, and orange blossom. In Condrieu, these wines tend cost a premium, making good Texas selections a great alternative.
2017 Brennan Vineyards Viognier Reserve, Texas High Plains, $20
2016 Guigal Condrieu, France, $60
This trendy, pink-hued style of wine is loved for its fresh, fruity, and versatile characteristics. Though rosé is originally the French term for this style of wine, it can also be found in Spain as Rosado, in Italy as Rosato, and in Germany as Weissherbst. Though produced via a number of different methods, this style of wine is made from the juice of red grapes that has remained in contact with the red skins for varying amounts of time. (Sometimes the juice of white grapes is also blended in.)
2018 Tatum Cellars Rosé, Texas Hill Country, $25
Perhaps the world’s most-planted grape, Cabernet Sauvignon originated in Bordeaux as a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Known for making wines with big, robust flavors and both high tannin and high acidity, Cabernet Sauvignon varies in style depending on where it is produced. In Bordeaux, the wines are aged in primarily neutral French oak and are almost always blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petite Verdot. Bordeaux Cabernet-dominant blends express greater smoky and savory qualities with pronounced earthiness, leather, tobacco, and dark dried fruits, such as black currant and plum.
Elsewhere in the Old World, Cabernet played a significant role in the emergence of Super Tuscan wines, which are red wine blends containing Sangiovese, along with a percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, or other Bordeaux grape varieties.
In the New World, Cabernet Sauvignon has garnered iconic status in Napa Valley, California. Here wines are more commonly found as single variety Cabernet offerings with pronounced ripe fruit-forward characteristics such as baked blackberry, currant jam, and fleshy plum. You’ll also find Cabernet in Australia, Chile, Washington State, and Texas.
2016 Bending Branch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Texas High Plains, $42
2015 Hedges Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $40
Though many have grown accustomed to seeing single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon from iconic U.S. regions like Napa Valley, it’s actually a grape that’s more commonly blended with other Bordeaux varieties including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. These “helping hands” help soften Cabernet Sauvignon where it’s a little rough around the edges and strengthen its flavor profile in more difficult vintages. This is what Bordeaux wine is all about: blending. While many people associate Bordeaux with Cabernet, you may be surprised to know that the majority of wine produced in the Bordeaux region is led by Merlot. Blending Bordeaux varietals is also an area where Texas excels.
2017 William Chris Vineyards Hunter, Texas High Plains, $42
2015 Château Sainte-Catherine Cadillac, France , $14
Cabernet Franc may take a backseat to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Bordeaux blends, but it actually pre-dates both of these regional leaders. In fact, it’s one of the parent grapes to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère. In France, Cabernet Franc offers a peppery zip and leaner structure to Bordeaux blends, while it often stands on its own in the Loire Valley in regions such as Chinon, Anjou, Bourgueil, and Saumur. Here, the wines are elegant, herbaceous, and slightly bitter with bright acidity from these cooler climate regions. Because of its leaner, more delicate structure, oak is used sparingly with Cabernet Franc. In the New World, Cabernet Franc presents with lush fruitiness and a heftier structure due to warmer climates in California, Chile, Argentina, Washington, and Australia. These wines often see quite a bit of oak bringing more pronounced vanilla, cedar, and baking spice characteristics.
2017 Becker Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Franc, Texas High Plains, $40
2016 Domaine Guiberteau, France, ~$45
Malbec originated in France as a one of the five Bordeaux Blend grapes. It can be found as a single-variety wine in the smaller Bordeaux subregion of Cahors. Malbec rose to fame in its second home of Argentina where it is grown throughout much of the country, but primarily in the central region of Mendoza. These wines are often full-bodied and slightly grippy in texture with an inky black color that fades to purple-magenta edges along the rim. Fruit characteristics are concentrated blackberry and plum backed by notes of vanilla, tobacco, and cocoa bean.
2016 Lost Draw Cellars Malbec, Texas High Plains, $48
2015 Domaine Bousquet Grande Reserve Malbec, Argentina, $18
One of the most planted red grapes in Italy, second to Sangiovese, Montepulciano’s most prized examples are found in Abruzzo in central and southern Italy. Typically known for its weighty body with approachable tannins and balanced acidity, Montepulciano offers notes of dark ripe plum and earthy dried figs, dried herbs, and black pepper. These wines have often been described as rustic and earthy, with rich fruit concentration and an easy-drinking structure.
2017 Burklee Hill Montepulciano, Texas High Plains, $25
2016 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy, $16
Aside from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley of France is most prized for its red blends. Here, in the sun-baked soils of this Mediterranean region, grapes such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Cinsault have become iconic. Rarely do you find these grapes in single-variety wines—with a few notable exceptions. By and large, Rhône wines are more than the sum of their parts. These wines often exhibit warm peppery notes along with dried lavender and figs, and rich dark earth in a full, tannic structure. Lamb is a classic pairing with Rhône Valley Syrah, but braised and grilled meats of any kind are also excellent matches. In recent years, Rhône red blends have taken off in regions such as Paso Robles, Washington, and Texas.
2016 McPherson Cellars EVS Windblown Red, Texas High Plains, $13
2016 Château l’Ermitage Costières de Nîmes, France, $11
The leading red grape of Spain, Tempranillo earned its name for being early (temprano) to bud and early to pick during harvest. Though associated with the Spanish regions of La Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo is also widely grown in Portugal, where it’s known as Tinta Rortiz and Aragonêz. These wines tend to offer earth-driven notes of tobacco, leather, and dust along with kalamata olive, and sweet balsamic vinegar followed by red strawberry, cherry, and dried fig notes. Many Spanish Tempranillo wines (particularly from La Rioja) are aged in American oak, resulting in wines with notes of dill and coconut. In the past decade, Texas in particular has championed this grape as one of its star performers.
2016 Llano Estacado Winery THP Tempranillo, Texas High Plains, $25
2017 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso Tempranillo, Spain, $16