This month’s selection, a robust and bold red wine, is produced in the small town of Comfort, Texas, by the Bending Branch Winery. Their Texas Tannat combines a striking mélange of rich color, palate-pleasing tannin, and a balance of dark fruit and rustic earthiness, a well-rounded introduction to a wine made from a lesser-known grape. 

The Wine:
Bending Branch Wnery Texas Tannat 2011. 

Who Likes It:
Christy Canterbury, a Master of Wine (MW), lived in Manhattan for seventeen years, but she grew up in Mount Pleasant in Northeast Texas and graduated from Southern Methodist University. After spending five years in investment banking and private equity, she moved into the wine industry, becoming the world’s first Texas born-and-raised MW and one of only 312 MWs in the world. Canterbury gravitated toward the business side of wine, managing the national beverage program for Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group then the global program for Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, before becoming an independent journalist, speaker, and judge. At the Dallas Morning News/TEXSOM Wine Competition, she always judges the Texas wines, a nod of respect to the state’s growing industry, which she keeps close tabs on.

The Grape:
“Tannat is a fiercely tannic grape from southwest France. In fact, it is said the grape’s name comes from this predominant characteristic,” said Canterbury. “It’s home is the Madiran region, which sits west of Toulouse, about half way to the Atlantic Ocean and the Basque Country, from where it is said to have immigrated elsewhere.”  

Why She Likes It:
“Contrary to some people’s expectations, quality is all about balance. It is an empirical judgment,” said Canterbury. “In Southwest France, Tannat is almost always blended. To find a pure Tannat with balance is truly exceptional.

“Texas – like most other new wine regions of the modern era – began with classic French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. While those grapes can certainly make nice wines in Texas, I am convinced the soul of Texas terroir and climate is best expressed through heartier grapes that thrive in warmer climates like Tannat, Touriga Nacional, and Tempranillo in the black grape category.”

Suggested Pairings:
“Tannat needs red meat,” said Canterbury. “Chargrilled, medium-rare sirloin steak makes a perfect pairing. For a more casual table, however, I would pair it with the hickory-smoked chopped beef from Bodacious Barbecue in Mount Pleasant.”

On Down the Road:
“Texas wine production is based on small quantities, so very little crosses any of its borders,” she said. “There are lots of thirsty Texans to sop up the local production! This is a good thing as few markets are open-minded enough to throw back wine from Texas, which is hardly a traditional wine region. Most would drink their own local wine or something from California.”

“Hands down the most important thing Texas must do is be clear about its labeling so that when Texan wines are consumed, it is clear whether or not they are made from Texan grapes.”

Winemaker Note:
John Rivenburgh, of Bending Branch Winery, said the 2011 Texas Tannat was sourced from Vijay Reddy’s Brownfield vineyard in the High Plains of Texas. “The 2011 vintage is very special due to the fact that mother nature gave us, what I consider to be a perfect crop,” said Rivenburgh. “We harvested five tons to the acre, which proved to be a sweet spot in the balance of that vineyard. The balance between tannin and fruit in this vintage is a perfect expression of the hopes my business partner, Bob Young, and I have for Tannat in Texas. You’ll find beautiful hints of dark cherry, dried plum, cocoa and vanilla.”