For three years, I’ve written an annual evaluation ranking the top wines produced in Texas during that particular year. Last year’s publication of the “Best Texas Wines of 2015” was no different, but I had a personal revelation: some of the best wines produced in a given year are sold out by the time the list appears. To remedy this issue, Texas Monthly decided we would publish a quarterly review to keep wine aficionados abreast of the best selections closer to their release dates.
For our first mini-list, we tasted wines submitted in late 2015 and early 2016. This timing means we received a higher ratio of reds to whites. (White and rosé wines are typically released in spring and will likely be more heavily represented in our next list, to come out in June.)
For this evaluation, we sampled more than 107 Texas wines. If this seems like a low count, keep in mind that while there are 300 bonded wineries of record, not all of them are operating as wineries producing Texas-appellation wines, a distinction that requires more than 75 percent of the wine is produced using grapes grown in-state. During testing, the sampled wines were wrapped in tissue paper to hide the labels and poured by volunteers. Each wine was evaluated based on standard tasting criteria with five possible points per category of nose, palate, structure, balance, and finish for a potential total score of 25. (Volunteer scores were not used when determining my final selections.)
As discussed in 2015’s year-end list, Texas wines are still finding footing, but, as said Paul Ozbirn, an advanced sommelier who works at Parkside Projects of Austin and volunteered during the tasting, said during the sampling,“The quality of Texas wine is steadily increasing. While there will always be some producers that lag behind the curve, which is true of any wine-growing region, most are refining their viniculture and expressing varietal character. Less oak, lower alcohols, and attention to detail in the wineries are beginning to speak volumes with varietals that may sound obscure to most, but their response to our dry Texas climate is indisputable. Aglianico, Sangiovese, and even Tinta Cão are thriving here, and present quite the exciting potential for the future of Texas wine.”
Look for future lists in June, September, and December. And if you’re a member of the Texas Monthly Wine Club, some of these selections will be included with your quarterly shipments.
And now, the 15 top Texas wine picks for spring 2016:
Haak Vineyards & Winery 2014 Semi-sweet Blanc du Bois
A golden beauty in the glass, this wine evokes the pleasantries of early spring with bright notes of orange blossom, ripe peach, and a kiss of lemon. Made from 100-percent Blanc du Bois, a hybrid grape variety, this wine offers a touch of sweetness balanced by the vibrant acidity on the palate. It’s similar in style to a classic German Riesling. An excellent wine to pair with lighter foods with a touch of spice.
Kuhlman Cellars Roussanne
While Viognier has fast claimed the spotlight as the white grape of Texas, Roussanne is a sure bet to be its fiercest competitor. With elegant examples of Roussanne like this one from the relatively new Kuhlman Cellars, it’s easy to see why. Tart green apple, white peach, and juicy lemon pulp fill the nose and usher in a taste of summer citrus and refreshing minerality.
Price: $32 (sold out)
La Cruz De Comal 2015 Pétard Blanc
A very unique wine, the Pétard Blanc is a signature wine from La Cruz du Comal, a small Central Texas winery near Canyon Lake. Here, winemaker Lewis Dickson makes a handful of wines from his estate vineyard of Blanc du Bois and Black Spanish—grapes that have grown natively in Texas for many years. Made using native yeasts and free of additives, this wine displays an alluring rustic style with aromas of summer peach, candied lemon peel, and a whisper of honeysuckle. The palate is vibrant with citrus tones and a hint of salinity. This is a wine for Gulf Coast oysters on the half shell.
Pedernales Cellars Viognier Reserve 2012
A signature wine for Pedernales Cellars, winemaker, David Kuhlken has a way with making the Viognier grape brilliantly shine. Rich with ripe peaches, daffodil fields, and lemon drops dusted with confectioner’s sugar, this wine is both elegant and classic. Though there’s a bit of heft in its body, the vibrant acidity of the fruit helps lift this wine from the palate, making it a perfect substitute for every day Chardonnay. Pair with grilled salmon and avocado-mango salsa.
William Chris Vineyards, 2014 Mary Ruth
This pretty little white wine is a fragrant blend of Blanc du Bois, Orange Muscat, and White Muscat. Its pronounced aromas of honeysuckle, ripe peach, orange blossom, and juicy Meyer lemon may lead you to believe you’re drinking a sweet wine, but on the palate, the fruit and floral characteristics are balanced by a refreshingly dry finish. Named for William Chris co-owner Bill Blackmon’s mother, this wine is the perfect thing to have on hand for when your mother-in-law shows up on your doorstep for a few days.
Hilmy Cellars Sangiovese
A limited production wine from Hilmy Cellars along the U.S. Highway 290 corridor between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, this Sangiovese was a happy find. Hypnotic scents of Luxardo cherry and ripe strawberry filter onto the palate along with red flowers, and rich earthiness. With a touch of ripe fruit, pronounced tannin props up a distinct structure that transitions into a lingering finish.
Kuhlman Cellars 2012 Merlot
One of the first Texas red releases from Kuhlman Cellars, this Merlot has made an impressionable statement. Though not a commonly grown grape in Texas, this Merlot offers ripe red raspberry and perfumed red flowers dusted with dried herbes de Provence. Tannins are pronounced, but soft and beautifully integrated with bright acidity and a pleasant earthen finish.
Lewis Wines 2011 Round Mountain Reserve
From one of the oldest vineyards in the Hill Country, this wine is an expression of what the region’s limestone-rich soils can do for powerful Spanish and Portuguese grapes like Tempranillo, Tinta Cão, and Touriga Nacional. Aromas of black, red, and blue fruits dance in tandem with notes of pepper, lavender, anise, and charcuterie. The structure is brooding and complex framed by elements of leather and tobacco, rich, grippy tannin, and a smoky finish. This wine isn’t for the faint of heart, but it will stand up to braised meats and smoked prime rib all day long.
Price: $55 (sold out)
Llano Estacado Signature Meritage Red Wine
Produced under the direction of winemakers Greg Bruni and Jason Centanni, this classic Bordeaux blend is a perfect palate pleaser. An opulent, fruit-forward mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, this wine offers aromas of macerated red raspberries and blackberries baked in a buttery cobbler framed by dried herbs and red flowers. Oak aging has imparted a recognizable amount of vanilla, mocha, and buttered popcorn flavors, but not too much to overshadow the ripe fruit characteristics on the palate. At around $10 a bottle, this wine is as approachable as you can get for a good Texas wine.
Llano Estacado Winery 2013 THP Montepulciano
A release from Llano Estacado’s new premium portfolio of wines, this deeply colored Montepulciano is a successful salute to a grape widely planted throughout central and southern Italy. Having seen great success with this grape in Texas from Duchman Family Winery, winemakers Greg Bruni and Jason Centanni tried their hand with this late ripening variety. The result is a richly layered wine with baked blackberry and tobacco intermingling with savory notes of stewed tomato and basil leaf. With a pleasant tannic grip, this wine evolves beautifully hours after opening.
McPherson Cellars 2013 Mourvèdre
Pretty and approachable with strawberry and raspberry notes and subtle-yet-elegant structure, this is a great wine to sip on through the summer, but its strength also holds up to heavier foods like grilled meats and barbecue. Those who prefer lighter wines will love this selection, but those who like a little more substance in the glass won’t be disappointed. Made from Mourvèdre, a common French Rhône varietal, this wine is a perfect everyday red with notes of ripe red cherries, sweet strawberries, and crushed rose petals. A perfect pairing for barbecue and grilled meats, this wine had a limited production. Check into availability directly at McPherson Cellars. (www.mcphersoncellars.com )
Messina Hof Winery 2014 Tempranillo Double Barrel Private Reserve
With blackberry, dried fig, and black cherry bolstered by dark earth, leather, and mushroom, this wine unfolds with many layers. From the diverse portfolio of Texas wines produced by Messina Hof, this rich expression of Tempranillo opens up beautifully in the glass with an appealing tartness of fruit and firm tannin that beg for a grilled ribeye or plate of sizzling fajitas.
Newsom Vineyards Inception
From one of the state’s most respected grape growers comes an iconic release from his very own vineyard. Since 1986, Neal Newsom and his family have meticulously grown High Plains grapes to sell to many of Texas’ top producers from Bending Branch Winery and Lewis Wines, to Llano Estacado Winery and Inwood Estates Winery. With the help of Llano Estacado, the Newsoms can share the fruits of their labor following a tragic post-freeze harvest year (2013) with a wine of their very own. This robust blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese leads with aromas of dust-veiled blackberry and cherry, stewed plum, sautéed mushroom, and tobacco. On the palate, tertiary flavors of eucalyptus and leather fade in and are enveloped with a strong, yet beautifully integrated tannic structure. A great first start for a trademark grape grower.
Perissos Vineyards Petite Sirah
Luscious. The perfect word to define this beauty. For those looking for a fruit-forward wine that packs a punch, but has structure and elegance to boot, this is your wine. Deep ruby in color, aromas of baked blackberries, cocoa powder and kalamata olive erupt from the glass. On the palate, this wine is velvety and full-bodied, with firm tannin and a rich, enjoyable finish. This is the kind of wine you want to stay—just a little bit longer.
Wedding Oak Winery 2013 Hill Country Sangiovese
This luscious style of Sangiovese is a head turner. Made by veteran Texas winemaker Penny Adams with Sangiovese grapes grown in the San Saba area, this wine includes just a touch of Tannat and Petite Verdot for added depth of fruit and structure. Opulent yet balanced, this wine begins with aromas of ripe black cherry, tart green strawberry, and Dr Pepper on a soft, pleasant palate that finishes with a faint tannic grip and a lingering impression of the great outdoors.
These exemplary wines have been featured in the TM Wine Club. Learn more about how to get the best Texas wines delivered to your door.