Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Don't Mess With Texas

Being a West Coast kind of guy, I think you can forgive me if my first thoughts of American wines drift to California, Washington and Oregon. Even beyond West Coast wine regions, I can't say that Texas is foremost on my radar. After all, I've run across and tasted New York and Virginia wines previously and I've even visited a North Carolina winery, but I'm always eager to try wines from unexpected sources and our neighbours, Songstress and Cycle Dude, came home from a quick trip to Dallas and brought back a bottle of Texan wine for us.

It took a little research to learn that Texas has a long history in winemaking. Not surprisingly, early winemaking related to the arrival of Spanish missionaries and they have left records that date from the 1650's. As with most of the States, the advent of Prohibition pretty much decimated the Texan winemaking industry but a re-introduction of wineries began in the 1970's and the state has seen a steady expansion since that time.

Today, there are over 280 wineries in Texas and, by volume of wine produced, it is the fourth-largest wine producing state in the US, behind California, New York and Washington - although I did see one magazine post in TexasMonthly that noted not all Texan wineries make wine from purely Texan-grown grapes. They then point out that to qualify as a "Texas Appellation" wine, only 75% of the grapes need to be grown in the state.

Cab Sauv and Chardonnay apparently lead the way in acreage planted but Texas Wine Lover blog reports that Tempranillo is a "very popular wine in Texas." Indeed, TexasMonthly also reports that Tempranillo has "become a sort of signature red grape at many Texas wineries."

As such, it was with great interest that we pulled the cork on the bottle at hand.

1859.  2013 Becker Vineyards Tempranillo (Texas)

Becker Vineyards opened in 1996 and is in the Texas Hill Country appellation, located near Austin in central Texas. Area-wise, the appellation is the second largest AVA in the United States; yet, even still, less than 800 acres are planted with grape vines. Accordingly, there may be quite a lot of potential for expanded plantings and increased production.

Although Becker started off small as a 1500-case winery, they proudly point out that they have already seen their wines served at both the White House and at James Beard House. Their annual production has also grown to just over 100,000 cases as they offer around 20 different wines that cover quite an array of grape varieties and blends. From what I could tell on their website, it appears that all their wines are made entirely from Texas grapes.

The good news is that the wine didn't scare us away from Texan wine. I'm not sure that I would have identified it as Tempranillo if I'd been served it blind but, then, the grape can show a wide range of characteristics. Just look at the sweep of flavour profiles you can encounter with Spanish Tempranillo varietals - and Spain is pretty much seen as the starting point for Tempranillo wines. The Becker was definitely on the lighter, fruitier end of the scale but it took us no time to finish off the bottle.

While searching online for some information on the winery and region, I was pleased to read a Texas Wine Blogger post on the "Battle of the Texas Tempranillos" where Becker finished 4th in a field of 28 Texan Tempranillos.  It was also the only bottle priced below $30 that made it in the top seven. So, it would appear that Songstress and Cycle Dude zoned in on a pretty decent bottle.

One of the more interesting quotes I ran across online was accredited to a tasting room manager from one of the region's wineries, which stated that "We are Napa Valley 30 years ago, as far as the growth and the expansion of the vineyards goes...We are finding the grapes that are good for Texas and it's just going to get bigger and better."

I'm pretty sure that I won't still be blogging in another 30 years. So, don't put it in your calendars to check back in a few decades to see if I've managed to snag some more Texan wines and what I might be thinking at that time. I would, however, like to keep an eye out for some additional wines to try and get a better taste and feel for the bigness that is Texas. I was certainly glad to get the chance for this initial try.

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