As many of you have no doubt been preparing for holiday feasts, family gatherings, and buying presents for under the tree, we’ve spent a little time, ahem, pouring over some of Texas’ latest wine releases. As the year winds down, we reflected on the 375 Texas wines we’ve tasted for our quarterly reports on the best Texas wines (see our spring, summer, and fall lists), and we concluded that it’s been a good year for the state’s viticulture scene—particularly for newcomers who have handily joined Texas’s league of quality producers and, more generally, assisted in raising the bar for Texas wines.
For our winter evaluation, we tasted 88 wines submitted from wineries and vineyards across the state, and in the end, 21 rose to the top. There were a few nice white wines worthy of the list, but it became clear that for the majority of this edition, we’re seeing red. You can tell a good wine if the list of aromatic descriptors reads like a grocery list through the produce aisle—there are other important components as well, but layers and structure are key—and in the case of these wines, we found that descriptors were thrillingly abundant.
Haak Vineyards & Winery Blanc du Bois Estate Reserve (Dry)
A consistent crowd pleaser from vintage to vintage, the 2015 release is dainty and elegant with aromas of lemon zest, white flowers, green apple, and lime. A great wine to serve as an aperitif or with a light first course.
Hilmy Cellars 2015 Viognier
Bright yellow flowers lead this fragrant wine, while elements of lightly buttered toast and baked pear and apple reveal this wine’s time in oak. With a voluptuous body, this wine is balanced by enough acidity to keep you wanting more. A perfect answer to those who love California Chardonnay.
Majek Vineyard & Winery 2015 Opal
This wine is brimming with a variety of aromas. Notes of pretty yellow flowers, lemon pulp, passionfruit, and guava are contrasted by hints of tart green apple, white tea, and chalky minerality. While a teensy bit of residual sugar teases the palate, this wine finishes fairly dry, and with a clarity and balance. A blend of Orange Muscat and Muscat Blanc, this lovely wine could easily be mistaken for a German Riesling.
William Chris Vineyards 2015 Blanc du Bois
Yellow flowers, honeysuckle, lemon confection, and chalky minerality with notes of canned pear and faint cucumber, this wine is crisp and refreshing with a quenching finish.
Ron Yates 2015 Sauvignon Blanc
Ron Yates winery is one of the latest wineries to open along the Hill Country’s U.S. Highway 290 corridor between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, and the second winery from the Ron Yates family of Spicewood Vineyards. Right out of the gate, they’re putting out some solid white wines, including this Sauvignon Blanc using grapes from both the Hill Country and the High Plains. Like a lemon drop crushed over wet limestone, this wine is fresh and elegant with a veil of white flowers and lime leaf. A perfect pairing for grilled redfish or fresh oysters.
Ron Yates 2015 Viognier
With this elegant number, all notes are yellow and bright. Juicy lemon and tropical fruit are framed by a restrained lacing of summer flowers. While rich with aroma, the body is full but lean, and backed by a refreshing acidity.
Becker Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Wilmeth Vineyard
This wine has a lot going on. Aromas of stewed plum, dried fig, and savory herbs lead followed by red flowers, tomato leaf, and a hint of bell pepper. Tannins are present but not overbearing. This is a sturdy wine that is a little high in alcohol, but balanced with a great finish.
Becker Vineyards 2014 Tempranillo Reserve
This Tempranillo packs a punch with dark cherry, red flowers, cola, coffee, and a little bit of tar with a swirl of the glass, there’s a lot here to entice you into that first sip. On the palate, macerated blackberry and toothsome dark chocolate round out the palate with grippy tannin and a nice finish. This wine is big, but could soften in another year or two in the bottle.
Compass Rose Cellars 2014 Touriga Nacional
A standout for this Portuguese grape, this wine is big with luscious blackberry and red cherry, dried cassis, dark chocolate, sage, and forest floor. The palate is bold with tart fruit, and big-yet-integrated tannins leads to a long, dusty finish.
Duchman Family Winery Grape Growers Blend
This wine is an homage to the talented grape growers in the High Plains and Hill Country who provide winemaker Dave Reilly with an array of quality fruit that contribute to this bountiful blend. Deep in color, this wine is rich with dark and red fruit aromas with soft leather and tobacco leaf, dark earth, and dried savory herbs as well. The palate is broad and rich with an earthy tartness that belies an old-world style.
Duchman Family Winery 2015 Sangiovese Reddy Vineyard
A wine on the lighter side of the spectrum, this lovely Sangiovese is proof that this classic Italian red grape takes on many different forms in Texas soils. With bright notes of smoked cherry, tomato sauce and a touch of cinnamon, this brick red wine offers a silken, feminine palate, with a lingering dusty finish. An excellent alternative for lighter Pinot Noir lovers.
Fall Creek Vineyards 2014 GSM, Salt Lick Vineyards
With a blend like Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, great things are bound to happen. With the 2013 vintage, Fall Creek winemaker, Sergio Cuadra released an impressively powerful wine that rivaled Rhone Valley greats. This 2014 vintage is no less breathtaking and with a little more time in the bottle, will reward its audience. Opulent and ripe with rich blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry, this veiled with in leather and pipe tobacco with vanilla and cocoa sweetening its presentation. On the palate, this wine has muscle, but promises a soft release, especially when enjoyed with roasted lamb or prime rib.
Fall Creek Vineyards 2014 Tempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyards
A beautiful expression of Tempranillo, this wine has evolved with each new release to reveal the richness of the soil where these grapes are grown at the Salt Lick Vineyards in Driftwood. Red cherry and raspberry are laced with notes of smoke and earth, and leather and tobacco. On the palate, the fruit is tart and savory, with sautéed mushroom and a hint of sweet balsamic vinegar on the mid-palate. A lingering finish with dried figs rounds out the big tannins on this wine. Letting this wine lay down a few more years would certainly be of benefit.
Grape Creek Vineyards 2014 Epiphany
A blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico, this is a solid wine with good structure and an earthy rusticity that mimics old-world styles. With aromas of black cherry, plum, and dried fig colliding with sautéed mushroom and dusty earth, and notes of brown sugar brulée, this wine has a grippy palate with traces of cigar box and leather, and a lingering finish.
Lewis Wines 2011 Round Mountain Vineyard Estate Blend
In the glass, you’re greeted with notes of mushroom, blackberry, cassis, kalamata olive, simmered tomato, leather, and tobacco leaf. In short, there’s a lot going on here. Considering this is a 2011, the ample time this blend of Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional have had to marry is revealed in perfect harmony on the palate. This wine is big and voluptuous and proof that good things come to those who wait.
Lewis Wines 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Newsom Vineyards
A remnant of one of a great vintage from Newsom Vineyards in the High Plains before the 2013 late spring freezes decimated these Cabernet Sauvignon vines. With aromas of dark dust-covered cherry, baked blackberry, and dried cassis framed in fresh savory herbs, this wine is ripe on the noes, but earthy and brooding on the palate. With beautifully layered structure and a lingering tart finish, this is a beautiful wine that reveals the uniqueness of Cabernet in Texas soils.
McPherson Cellars 2014 La Herencia
This wine has long been a work horse for McPherson Cellars. The latest vintage may be the best yet. A flurry of aromas erupt from he glass from red and blue fruit and spicy ancho chile to smoky bacon, balsamic and a hint of pencil shaving. On the palate, this wine hits all the high notes that are both elegant and fierce. A delicious wine.
Messina Hof Winery 2015 Tempranillo Private Reserve Double Barrel
Deep in color with opulent black and blue fruit, this wine also reveals notes of eucalyptus, kalamata olive, and black tea. With a juicy mid-palate and a pleasing tannic grip this wine is everything you want from a bolder style of Tempranillo.
Messina Hof Winery 2015 Sangiovese
In contrast to the Duchman Sangiovese, this release offers notes of deep cherry intermingled with rich blueberry and blackberry. Hints of cola, cocoa powder, and coffee add to the complexity of this wine that has a little more grip on the palate and balanced finish.
Tatum Cellars 2013 Hotspur Mourvèdre
A novelty project from winemaker, Josh Fritsche at William Chris Vineyards, the Hotspur is a beautiful Bandol-style expression of Mourvèdre with rich aromas of chocolate-covered cherry, stewed tomato, and dusty earth.
William Chris Vineyards 2014 Enchanté
Rustic and ripe, this Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot is fragrant with red flowers and exhibits a dusty trail of dark brambly fruit—and we like where this one leads. On the palate, this wine is an iron fist in a silken glove with both power and finesse, and a finish that fights to let you go. Lay this one in the cellar for a while, and you’ll be rewarded.
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.)