This week the total list of medal winners from the TEXSOM International Wine Awards (TIWA) was released, and 23 Texas wines took home gold prizes. This is a notable accomplishment as the TIWA (formerly The Dallas Morning News and TEXSOM Wine Competition), now in its thirty-first year, is one of the largest, most-respected wine competitions in the world. (Full disclosure: Texas Monthly is the presenting sponsor of the awards.) With more than 3,600 entries, the competition was held at the Irving Convention Center on February 23 and 24 and was supported by 68 judges, most of whom are master sommeliers, masters of wine, winemakers and wine journalists. Additionally, a 28-member sommelier panel tasted and reviewed each of the gold medal winners from the 2015 competition.

These awards winners span the globe, with wines representing areas ranging from Austria and Australia to Napa, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Mendoza, Tuscany, Willamette Valley, and everywhere in between. Texas entered 215 wines, and in a testament to the growing strength of the state’s industry, took home 157 medals, roughly two dozen of those being gold. 

“I was delightfully surprised by the high quality of Texas wines across the board,” said Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser, one of four members of the Texas judging panel of which two were master sommeliers and two were masters of wine. “Our panel awarded around 20 gold medals across a broad range of wine styles, which really speaks to how far the industry has come in a short period of time. I look forward to getting the list of gold medal wines to learn which ones we tasted.”

Bob Betz, the founder and winemaker of Betz Family Winery in Washington and a judge on the Texas panel, reiterated the same sentiments. “I judged the same panel a few years ago and in 2015 we gave more than double the number of gold medals than we had the last time. It’s indicative of the quality steps that growers and winemakers in Texas have taken over the past several years: understanding their growing conditions better, making better site/variety marriage decisions, and responding to the fruit more appropriately in the cellar have all improved. The best of the wine categories were southern Rhone red varieties, Tempranillo, and some attractive, crisply structured whites. The judging also reflected that Texas winemakers are expressing the character of their own fruit, not trying to mimic the style of other growing regions.”

Following the Texas gold medal selections at the awards, I tasted through these 23 wines with members from the sommelier panel to further winnow the list down to a our picks for what we would consider the best in show. These are wines that stood out to us for a variety of reasons, chief of which was representing Texas wine at the highest level.  

Bending Branch Winery Estate Tannat, 2012
Just outside of Comfort, this twenty-acre estate vineyard and winery grows a few different grape varieties, but it has gained most recognition for its Tannat, a dark, thick-skinned red grape originally grown in the southwest part of France and has grabbed a lot of attention for its production in Uruguay. 

If it’s possible to smell velvet, then it’s in this wine. It’s silky and opulent with tart red cherry, raspberry and strawberry, and a hint of confectioner’s sugar. Typically, Tannat is most known for its bold tannic structure, and while this wine certainly has a bit of grip, its rich concentration of fruit and balanced use of oak for aging brings a refreshing texture to this wine that is both robust and elegant. 

“I love the complexity of this wine,” says sommelier June Rodil, beverage director for Austin-based McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group. “It’s nose is so alluring with its fruit, coconut and smoky undertones, and it has this beautiful unexpected structure.”

Brennan Vineyards Super Nero, 2012
Located in Comanche on the border lands between the Hill Country and the High Plains, Brennan Vineyards has steadily evolved each year with an increasingly impressive selection of quality wines. The winery’s 30 acres of vineyards are currently home to 10 varieties of grapes that make up a portfolio of 13 different wines. 

Spotlighting a leading grape from Sicily, the Super Nero is made from 100 percent Nero D’Avola. This Southern Italian grape is know for its sweet tannins and notes of plum and peppery spice, and this Brennan example reveals exactly that, with fruit-forward aromas of black cherry and blackberry followed by a sturdy backbone of dusty leather. 

Duchman Family Winery Montepulciano Oswald Vineyard, 2012
A star grape variety for Duchman Family Winery, this single vineyard Montepulciano from the Oswald Vineyard in the High Plains takes this widely planted Italian grape to another level. Known as a late ripening grape in Central and Southern Italy, Montepulciano has found a happy home in the soils of the Lone Star State. 

With beautiful floral notes complimented by supple dark plum and fig, this wine is velvety on the palate with a pleasing grip of tannin and hints of tar, leather and dirt road after a fresh spring rain. Bright acidity and a lingering finish make it an easy crowd pleaser. 

Haak Vineyards Texas Madeira Blanc du Bois 2012 Dessert Wine 
Named after an island a few hundred miles off the coast of Portugal, Madeira is one of the most famous styles of fortified wine in the world with a particular fan following from the founding fathers of the United States. In fact, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, the occasion was toasted Madeira. Throughout the country’s history, Madeira was most popular in America along the coastal towns of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Seaboard where it was shipped through ports of commerce. It seems only fitting that Haak Vineyards and Winery would choose to mimic this style in such a delicious way along the Gulf coast in Galveston. 

Notes of orange peel, lemon and fresh white cherry pervade leading to beautiful flavors of golden sultanas, brown butter, and sun. If Germany claims Riesling as the tears of angels, this Texas Madeira is the song of saints. 

“This wine is an absolute pleasure to drink,” says Atlanta-based sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Eric Crane. “As a tribute to winemaking in a traditional Portuguese style, this wines mirrors and matches the original with certainty and depth.This wine should not just be enjoyed but celebrated for what it has achieved. Thank you, Texas.”

Lewis Wines Round Mountain Vineyard Reserve, 2011
A recent release from the Lewis Wines lineup near Johnson City, the Round Mountain Vineyard Reserve is a single variety wine made from Touriga Nacional, a reigning red grape for the Portuguese Duoro Valley region where world class ports are made. Not surprisingly, the hot, rugged landscape of the Texas Hill Country, also makes a good home for the warm-climate grape. 

“This wine is beautifully perfumed with the fresh blueberry pie qualities you’d find in Jumilla in Southern Spain,” says Rodil. and it has fantastic structure.” 

Rustic and earthy with bright notes of blackberry and blueberry framed by a linear eucalyptus character, this is a big Texas wine that will only get better as it spends more time in the bottle and reveals a promising future for Touriga Nacional in this state.

Llano Estacado Viviano, 2010
As one of the longest running wineries in the state, bolstered by a reputation for quality winemaking, Llano Estacado has showcased the Viviano as one of its premier wines for more than 16 years. Though the blend varies from vintage to vintage, there’s no mistaking the 2010 for the bold and beautiful Super Tuscan style that it is. 

Dominant with 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 percent Sangiovese, this wine offers pretty aromas of bright red fruit with underlying meaty tones and dusty red brick that also translate to the palate along with cool magenta flowers wrapped in silky tannin. The finish is lovely with a hint of cola and smoke on the tail. 

Messina Hof Cabernet Franc Barrel Reserve, 2012
One of a handful of medals earned by Messina Hof, one of the state’s longest running wineries, this wine impressed with its elegance. Cabernet Franc is one of the key players in Bordeaux blends and reigns in the Loire Valley of France as the dominant grape of the region. And while it may seem unexpected, Messina Hof has managed to produce wines from this grape in Texas soils since 1991. 

Rich with notes of blackberry, violets, and subtle hints of bell pepper, this is an enticing wine from the beginning with ripe blueberry on the palate, backed by a soft greenness and grippy tannin that bring a broad structure to the wine. 

Pedernales Cellars Viognier, 2014
A star grape varietal for this Stonewall-based winery, Viognier has shown stunning success in the years it has been able to produce a good crop. (Both 2013 and 2014 were very difficult years.) In 2012, the winery’s Reserve Viognier nabbed a Grand Gold award at the Lyon International Wine Competition and put Pedernales at another level in terms of producing premier Texas wine. 

This 2014 vintage is no different. Subtle notes of spring white peach, dried lemon peel, and orange blossom on the nose, this wine offers a multi-dimensional palate providing the same fresh, spring flavors on the nose, but expanding to offer luscious, ripe summer peaches, breezy fields of fragrant yellow daffodils and honeysuckle, and a broad palate with firm–not flabby–structure and a trace of bright acidity that brings beautiful balance to the wine. 

Perissos Vineyards Aglianico, 2013
Of the three wines entered into this competition from this winery, all received a gold medal. Perhaps it’s due to a diligent philosophy of precision in both the grape growing and winemaking employed on this family-owned estate vineyards and winery near Burnet. Other gold medal winners from Perissos Vineyards included the 2013 Tempranillo and the 2013 Syrah, but this Aglianico struck a chord with some of the members of the Sommelier Panel. 

“It’s a big wine, with plump, juicy fruit and great structure, but it’s also so clean,” says David Keck, and Advanced Sommelier from Camerata wine bar in Houston. 

Redolent with fruit-forward tones of blackberry, cassis and black cherry, this opulent wine also offers hints of dark, wet soil after a fresh spring rain fall, and well-worn saddle. A candied fruit finish lingers with notes of dark roast coffee. 

Find a full list of winners or search the competition’s database here.