In case the thick coating of oak pollen blanketing the state wasn’t a giveaway, spring has sprung. And with it comes a new season of wine. To evaluate our top Texas picks for this spring, we sampled nearly 100 wines, many of which were releases and from new wineries. This list also happily includes a few special wines that medaled in the recent TEXSOM International Wine Awards, one of the most celebrated wine competitions in the United States, which was held at the end of February in Dallas.
In the end, there were 25 wines that topped this list, 10 whites and 15 reds. Check back in May for a list of our favorite rosé wines.
Pheasant Ridge 2015 Old Vine Chenin Blanc, $18
A TEXSOM Awards Gold Medal winner from one of the state’s oldest wineries, this wine is special. Made from 35-year Chenin Blanc vines in the High Plains, this wine is an excellent example of the strength and longevity of this iconic grape—and just how well it can do in Texas. Bright with high tones of lemon and wet limestone, this wine deepens on the palate with notes of peach and yellow apple. Vibrant acidity adds length and panache to the finish making this a wine you’ll surely savor well into a second glass.
Grape Creek Vineyards 2015 Viognier, $27
Perfect for appetizers on the front porch, this Viognier has a little heft in its body and a touch of creaminess—perhaps from a short time in oak—but its bright acidity puts its vibrant notes of baked apple, preserved lemon, white daisy, and grapefruit pith into perfect balance. This is a versatile wine for a number of roasted or grilled poultry and fish dishes.
Brimming with aromas of spring yellow flowers and white peach, this is a Viognier with broad appeal. The palate offers a lemony lead that unfolds across the mid-palate with stone fruit and balanced heft. The finish is crisp but long, with a touch of phenolic bitterness common to the classic French Viognier.
Naysayers to Sauvignon Blanc grown in Texas already have a few excellent examples to grapple with, but this particular wine may be the one to quell any lingering doubts. The Gold Medal winner from the TEXSOM Awards interweaves delicate notes of lemon, peach, fuji apple, and ruby red grapefruit, delivering them on a gentle summer breeze. This wine expands on the palate with an appealing weight and finishes with a bright, refreshing, and clean farewell. A standout favorite for this white wine evaluation.
I love it when a winemaker knows what to do with Chenin Blanc. The grape, made famous in the Loire Valley of France (and more recently South Africa), has an unparalleled versatility in both dry and sweet wines, save for Riesling. Sadly, not all Chenin wines fall short of their potential. But in this case, Lewis Wines shows us how it’s done. Lean and crisp around mid-palate and a crave-worthy finish, this wine is daffodils and lemon and sunshine.
A pleasant find in the lineup, this pretty white blend has a lot going on in the glass. Aromas of lime leaf, crushed seashells, white peach, and a field of daisies and honeysuckle swirl in the glass and transfer seamlessly on the palate with an equally pleasing finish. Flirty and seductive, this wine is a beautiful blend of Riesling and Orange Muscat from the High Plains.
With floral notes and ripe stone fruit, this wine also offers a whisper of tropical fruit as you take a first sip—not unusual for this native Spanish variety. Juicy, but restrained, this wine is as elegant as it is thirst quenching. Sip this on the back patio with friends, or enjoy it with oysters or grilled shrimp.
This wine, from a new Texas winery owned by the Rancho Loma Vineyards, is a stunner. A classic white Rhône blend of Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne grown on the Reddy Vineyards in the High Plains, this elegant wine has notes of jasmine, daffodils, lush lemon, and ripe apricot. With a zippy palate offering mineral undertones and a lemony, silken finish, this wine is a pleasure to drink and would be even better shared over a meal of lemon-roasted chicken or grilled redfish with cilantro and lime. It’s worth noting that this wine garnered not only a Gold Medal at the TEXSOM Awards, but also the coveted merit as a “Judges’ Selection” wine, which means it represents the competition’s best of the best. Indeed, for their first time out of the gate, RLV is a new Texas winery to watch.
Landing another spot on this list, RLV nabbed a TEXSOM Silver Medal with this aromatic beauty. Lush peach, juicy lemon pulp, honeysuckle, and daffodil rush the enticing a first sip. This wine rolls to the palate with elegant minerality and a silken structure. A true taste of spring in a bottle.
Another Viognier for the list, this wine is leaner than the others with a liveliness on the palate that compliments characters of honeyed melon, apple, and white flowers. Made from grapes grown in vineyards near the winery’s home in San Saba, this is a lovely wine that would be welcomed at any spring dinner table.
Nicknamed the “little sweet one” in Italy’s vaunted Piedmont region, this Dolcetto isn’t saccharine in literal terms, but is lovely in its completeness and strength. With notes of raspberry, cherry, and strawberry ladled with caramelized sugar and mint, this wine deepens on the palate with a pleasant tartness framed by savory herbs and hints of tobacco leaf and leather. A firm but relenting grip rounds out the juicy finish.
Hailing from a winery christened after directional orientation, “Random Lines” promises to be off the beaten path. In this case, that’s a good thing. A robust blend of Cabernet Franc, Ruby Cabernet, and Petit Verdot—all varieties not commonly grown in Texas—this wine is rich with dark dried figs and spice, with a kiss of raspberry, licorice and tar. Inky and velvety, this is a great steak wine.
This 2013 vintage from Oswald Vineyards in the High Plains, one of the winery’s signature wines, took home a Bronze Medal from the TEXSOM Awards. Aromas of dried plums, blackberry, fresh tobacco leaf, and savory roasted tomato lead to a firm, grippy palate with a tart mid-palate and a savory finish. This is a mature wine that shows why many other wineries are following Duchman’s lead and releasing Montepulciano wines of their own.
A flagship label for Fall Creek, the Meritus is only released when the vintage is remarkable. This recently released 2013 marks the first imprint of winemaker Sergio Cuadra’s unique style. The result is stunning. This blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon offers aromas of rich blackberry, leather, and violet veiled in a hypnotic smokiness. The smoke extends on the palate with lush fruit and spice offering a tart mid-palate and assertive tannins that persist with a fierce grip. One of our favorite wines in the evolution, this 2013 Meritus is beautiful. While it immediately begs for a juicy char-grilled burger, this wine could easily reveal more depth and intrigue with age.
Another Montepulciano for the list. This delicious wine has a lot going on. It begins with hints of dark chocolate, raspberry, and tart cherry deepening on the palate with notes of tobacco, mushroom, herbes de Provence, cinnamon, clove, mocha, and a dreamy, smoky finish. This wine is beautifully balanced and multi-layered. A great find.
A basket of warm summer red fruit adorned with sprigs of rosemary is the first image this wine brings to mind. But there’s more. While red fruit is prominent, this blend of Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Malbec, and Sangiovese is really driven by dried herb characters and undertones of leather and mushroom. The palate is beautifully integrated with dark fruit, cinnamon, cloves, and a rush of anise and lavender. Balanced and finessed, this is a delicious wine.
Not all Cabernet Sauvignon has to some in a big, rough and tough package. This one goes down easy. With notes of raspberry, lavender, and cocoa-dusted cherry, the aromas in this wine invite an inquiring taste. On the palate this wine delivers flavors of macerated blackberry, vanilla, and mocha and smoothly finishes with silken tannin.
When a winemaker indicates that a wine is reminiscent of the Right Bank of Bordeaux on a wine label, it had better be able to deliver. Fortunately for Llano Estacado Winery, this wine makes the grade. More earth-driven and cloaked in notes of leather and tobacco, this Merlot is as elegant as it is sturdy. Notes of blackberry, plum, and fig are dried in character rather than ripe and linger on the palate. A pronounced grip embraces the senses offering a slow, finessed retreat. This is an indeed a wine with Old World character blended with Texas charm that will continue to improve with age.
This Sangiovese is a consistent performer for winemaker Kim McPherson, a testament to the long-term vision of his father Clinton “Doc” McPherson, who first had a hunch about growing wine in Texas in the late 1960s. His first experimental vineyard was with this grape, and it’s been a key player ever since. This wine is warm and inviting with notes of bright red cherry, cola, and mocha. Light, with tart red fruit on the palate, this wine is beautifully structured and begs to be savored.
Celebrating more than 40 years in Texas wine, Messina Hof reveals its stretches in this celebratory Cabernet Sauvignon release. With aromas of blackberry, cassis, eucalyptus, and poblano pepper, flavors of cocoa powder, vanilla and coffee follow in an expansive palate that slowly fades into an alluring finish. This wine offers a balanced structure accented with velvety tannin. If you love big, luscious red wine, give this a try.
Pedernales Cellars KO 2012 and 2014, Call winery for pricing
Don’t worry, the “KO” in the name isn’t reminiscent of the taste. A special label wine from Pedernales Cellars, the “K” stands for the winery’s founding family name, Kuhlken, and the “O” stands for Fredrik Osterberg, the winery’s co-founder and family member through marriage. Each year the winery releases a new vintage of a special red blend wine under the KO label which is available to winery club members under an allocation model. (Best to seek details directly from the winery.) I first tasted the 2012 KO wine in an interview with winemaker David Kuhlken, and I was so impressed with this blend of 76 percent Tinta Amarela (a native Portuguese grape) and 24 percent Syrah, that I begged him to include some KO wines in this evaluation.
The 2012 was as much of a standout as I remembered with notes of dried fig, worn leather, and anise leading to an equally brooding palate with a soft and easy mouthfeel and a lasting finish with dried plumbs, dried herbs de Provence, and baking spices.
It’s younger brother, the 2014 vintage, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarela, and is equally as stunning with notes of deep, dark, ripe blackberries and cassis, mocha, and violets framed by rosemary and lavender with a rich, full body with a grippy, yet velvety finish.
Gracing this list yet again with its excellent structure and finesse, this elegant Tempranillo is reminiscent of the Old World. Dusty leather and tobacco lead, followed by dried cranberry, raspberry, and savory herbs. This wine shows maturity and depth right down to its red brick hue and its rustic, earthy finish.
Trilogy Cellars, a relatively young winery from Levelland (west of Lubbock), has hit the ground running with a promising portfolio of wines. A favorite in particular from this winery, which boasts a few seasoned grape growers, was this Reserve Malbec from Hockey County in the High Plains. It seems we weren’t the only ones to love it—it garnered a Gold Medal at the TEXSOM Awards. This wine is big in more ways that one. A quick swirl of the glass and the nose is at once greeted with notes of blueberry and blackberry cordial along with fennel and savory herb undertones. On the palate, a thin line of dried cranberry supersedes a mélange of ripe, dark fruit layered with significant oak-imposed notes of vanillin and baking spice, which expands broadly and fiercely into a grippy finish that offers a gentle release. This is a wine that evolves with every sip from the glass. Delicious.
William Chris 2015 High Cross Tempranillo, $40 williamchriswines.com
Offering a deeper style of this versatile grape, this wine is brimming with ripe red and blue fruit, toasted lavender, graham cracker, and candied violet. These notes carry through to the palate with excellent structure and depth offering elements of dried herbs and tart fruit with a lingering smoky finish. This wine is ready to drink now, but will grow even more intriguing with age.
Evaluation notes: As with every wine evaluation we conduct, the sampled wines were tasted blind, with each bottle wrapped 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.)