Like a lot of food and drinks, wine has its seasons. Take, for instance, rosé. People are more likely to drink the pink stuff during the hot days of summer (especially here in Texas), which is why I put together a list of my top ten Texas rosés last month. But now it’s time to follow up with a list of the best red and white wines coming out of Texas this summer.
This list is part of a four-part series that grew from a revelation I had while reporting out the “Best Texas Wines of 2015”: some of the best bottles produced in a given year are sold out by the time our year-end list appears. Texas Monthly is now publishing a quarterly review to keep wine aficionados abreast of the best selections closer to their release dates. In March, we published the best Texas wines of the spring, and now we’re releasing our summer 2016 edition.
We tasted 87 wines submitted from wineries and vineyards as far west as Mesa to the eastern city of Tyler, even dipping down to Galveston Island. Nearly 30 wines were considered for final inclusion, but in the end, the following 19 qualified as this summer’s best Texas wines.
Brennan Vineyards 2015 Cellar Select Viognier
This Viognier is an unusual style of wine for Texas but is very on trend with the rest of the wine world. To make this Viognier, Brennan Vineyards allows there to be extended skin contact in the pressed grape juice, a similar process to making red or rosé wine, but not common with white wine. The result offers more texture to the structure, the impression of tannin, and a deeper color, which is why this particular style of Viognier is often called “orange wine” worldwide. Ripe lemon and dry limestone join with aromas of ripe peach and white flowers. The palate is both light and bold with pear, white peach, and lime carrying the dominant flavor, all rumbling toward a toothsome, yet crisp finish. This is a red wine drinker’s white wine.
Duchman Family Winery 2015 Vermentino
With a particular focus on Italian varieties, Duchman Family Winery has made a name for itself with the Vermentino grape. Most notably a major player on the Italian island of Sardinia, the grape is known for its racy acidity with notes of stonefruit, citrus, and minerality, and this Texas version delivers on all points. On the nose, aromas of kiwi, lime, white daisy, and subtle celery leaf lead to a similar palate with additional flavors of grapefruit, guava, and a touch of salinity. The 2012 was a showstopper for Duchman, and this new 2015 vintage is even better.
Fall Creek Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay, Texas Hill Country
From one of the longest-running wineries in the state comes this delicious Chardonnay. Aromas of white flower, lemon zest, wet limestone, and a hint of smoke are followed by a crisp dry palate with notes of tart green apple, white peach, lemon pulp, and a slightly glycerol body that offers a bright, refreshing finish. Elegant in the glass, and a perfect companion to grilled fish or sushi.
Fall Creek Vineyards 2015 Headwaters Reserve Chenin Blanc
Someone has been paying attention to the dry wines of the Loire Valley’s Savennières region. This Chenin Blanc is reminiscent of the area, with notes of peach blossom, lime zest, lime leaf, and funky wool—which is a good thing. On the palate you find a vivid bridal bouquet with a hint of orange zest and a fantastic, minerally finish.
McPherson Cellars 2015 Les Copains White
A consistent shining star in McPherson Cellars’ already stellar portfolio of Texas wines, this fresh Rhône Valley blends white grapes—Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier—for a perfect summer patio pounder. In the glass, this wine is a fragrant salad of white peach, apricot, and nectarine with mineral undertones. Flavors of stone fruit are framed by fleshy lemon pulp, and a soft, yet vibrant, finish.
Messina Hof 2015 Unoaked Chardonnay
Delicate and pristine, this wine was a surprising find and could easily be mistaken for a young Chablis. Shy aromas of pear, white peach, and white daisy lead to delicate flavors of lemon zest, green apple, and smoky flint. An excellent companion to fresh oysters or grilled snapper.
Perissos Vineyards and Winery 2015 Fiore Secco
In a verdant valley near Inks Lake, this winery has made a reputation for eliciting every possible flavor from its long-hanging grapes, and this dry white wine is no exception. Fiore Secco means “dry flowers,” and this wine, made from Orange Muscat, offers the impression of sweetness but finishes bone dry. Ripe, concentrated fruit flavors erupt from the glass with aromas of baked apple, peach blossom, and honeysuckle. On the palate you find tart grapefruit, white peach and underripe apricot with a honeyed, yet crisp, finish. There’s a lot going on with this wine, and each sip offers a new discovery.
Spicewood Vineyards 2015 Sauvignon Blanc
As one of the few vineyards to successfully produce Sauvignon Blanc in the state, I’m always curious to see what each new vintage of this wine reveals. The 2015 is perhaps one of the best. With notes of kiwi, lime zest, grapefruit, and clover on the nose, this wine offers beautiful balance and structure with quenchy lime pulp, white daisy, and a pleasantly bitter finish, making it a perfect pairing for grilled fish with spicy chimichurri or shrimp scampi and cilantro rice.
Brennan Vineyards 4.0 Cellars 2015 Montepulciano
One of the most planted red grapes in Italy behind Sangiovese is Montepulciano, a grape you can count on for delivering a solid, quaffable wine. And in Texas, it’s found a second home. This particular wine is a must-try. Elegant and well-structured, this balanced and robust wine leads with aromas of black cherry, red flowers, smoked meat, leather and earth, culminating to a palate with red cherry, tobacco, and cocoa powder. The grippy-yet-easy tannin yields a lingering finish.
Haak Vineyards and Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon
I’m a big fan of the recent wines coming from this Texas Coast winery. Spanish-native winemaker Marta Lastowska works magic to produce a variety of excellent easy-to-drink wines, and this Cabernet Sauvignon is no exception. This wine is elegant and approachable with notes of rich raspberry and blackberry, cedar, cinnamon, and clove. Tannins are soft but give structure, and the finish is bright and lifted.
Lewis Wines 2012 Parr Vineyards Tempranillo
For Lewis Wines, patience is a virtue that has paid off for winemakers Doug Lewis and Duncan McNabb. Committed to letting their red wines age as long as necessary before releasing them. When it comes to Tempranillo, aging is a key element to its beauty. This 2012 could actually benefit from a little more time in the bottle, but if you just can’t wait to pop the cork, you’ll still be rewarded. Tart black cherry with candied strawberry and cranberry blend with aromas of anise, eucalyptus, dried herbs, and dusty red earth. The flavors deliver on the palate with a well-integrated tannic structure and a beautiful, tart fruit finish. This wine is chewy and delicious.
Lewis Wines 2013 Tinta Cao
Say it with me: teen-ta cow. Remember this grape as it’s likely to be a contender in Texas for some time. Lewis Wines has placed big bets on this Portuguese variety for its performance in the harsh Texas climate bringing both luscious fruit character and mouthwatering acidity to the table. In the glass, red raspberry, brown sugar, and fresh mint lead to a palate bursting with dust-coated tart black cherry. A beautiful, complete wine that deserves a regular spot in the wine cellar.
Llano Estacado Winery 2012 Viviano
One of the benchmark wines for this historic Texas producer, the Viviano is a red blend that consistently shows finesse. Designed with the celebrated Italian Super Tuscan style in mind—a particular red blend of Sangiovese made more robust with the addition of Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot—this wine is a blend of 70-percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30-percent Sangiovese, all from the Texas High Plains viticultural region. Dark red cherry and tobacco aromas intermingle with cocoa and mushroom that deliver on the palate with leather and cassis. Tannins are soft, but tangible with a lingering dusty cherry finish. A perfect wine for grilled meats and post-sunset al fresco dining.
Lost Draw Cellars 2015 Cinsault
If you’re looking for a nice, light summer wine, this is the one for you. Used typically as a blending grape in the Rhône Valley, Cinsault takes center stage for this wine offering bright notes of raspberry, cranberry, and cherry that present with both sweet and tart characteristics and a kiss of earth on the palate. A delicious palate pleaser.
Pelle Legna 2011 Essenza
From Tyler, Texas, Pelle Legna has almost a decade of Texas wine growing under its belt and this Rhône style blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel is one of their best expressions. Aromas of red cherry, cinnamon stick, and vanilla reveal a lofty oak aging regiment but notes of tart cherry, savory herbs, leather and earth backed by a firm tannic grip give a great balance to the wine.
Red Caboose Winery and Vineyards 2013 La Reina Tempranillo
In Texas, they say Tempranillo reigns supreme. I personally believe the jury is still out on that, but if Tempranillo is indeed royalty here, then this 2013 La Reina is definitely the queen. Tertiary elements of savory dried herbs, leather, cigar box, and dill frame a blend of dried fig, plum, and potpourri. With a balance of age in barrel and bottle this wine has well-integrated tannins and a bright, alluring finish. It would be worth holding onto a few more years to see how it ages.
William Chris Vineyards 2014 Enchanté
I love it when a good wine blend comes together in the bottle. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec yields a happy marriage offering notes of brambly dark fruit beneath a layer of wet earth, sautéed mushroom, savory herbs, and tomato leaf followed with flavors of black cherry, plum, eucalyptus, and smoked meat. It’s juicy. It’s tannic. It’s big. Bam—it’s a good wine.
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.)