If you are like me, you have a go-to wine that is reasonably priced, well-balanced and versatile. For me, that bottle is Becker Vineyard’s Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon. As I’m learning more about Texas varietals and wineries, I’m adding bottles to my repertoire and experimenting with floral yet dry Viogniers and earthy Tempranillos, two Mediterranean varietals that do well in Hill Country soils and climate.
Sam Hovland, a sommelier and buyer for East End Wines, walked me through his current Texas standouts.
Duchman Family Wineries 2010 Vermentino ($14.57). The 2008 and 2009 vintages from this winery in Driftwood were a big hit with East End customers. Hovland thinks the 2010 is an even stronger offering with bright, crisp flavor and white floral and citrusy notes. The Vermentino is great on its own as an aperitif, with citrus salads such as orange or grapefruit, or paired with briny seafood like shrimp and less oily fish.
Pedernales Cellars, 2011 Texas Viognier ($16.97). With up to about 15 percent alcohol, it has a surprising amount of balanced juicy acidity, according to Hovland. "If the alcohol is high and we still like it, it means they’ve done a good job," he said. Fresh fruit and stone fruit flavors and a little more weight from alcohol allows it to hold up to weightier foods, such as orange chicken or chicken stuffed with macerated fruit, orange or apricot duck, pork, a lightly breaded meat, or a medium-fat fish.
Perissos Vineyard and Winery, 2010 Roussane Blend ($29.57). The Roussane Blend has a more floral taste and nice herby spice notes. If pairing with salads or vegetarian dishes, Hovland advises avoiding very acidic dishes. Play up the wine’s notes by serving with medium weight white-fleshed meats such as pork or chicken, especially those prepared with golden apple. This bottle also is a good choice with Moroccan tagines, couscous, quinoa, and rice dishes such as pilaf.
Pedernales Cellars, Tempranillo, 2010 ($21.97). "This wine has been a huge hit with us and continues to get good press," Hovland says. With a 13 percent alcohol level, it is more in line with a Spanish tempranillo: medium body, dusty tannin, berry fruit, cherry, and spices and less mineral than a classic Rioja. Good with any form of cherries. Also works well with cabrito, goat, and Spanish or Mexican dishes. Avoid highly spiced foods.
Duchman Family Winery, Aglianico, 2010 ($22.97). Rich and ripe fruit taste, almost to a cooked or macerated fruit without being super sweet. Has a hard spice character of allspice, cinnamon and baking spices. "Dried herb and floral on the nose with a firm tannic backbone to balance out those fruits," Hovland says. Works well with smoky savories like barbecue. Go easy on piquant spices and heat. Try it with grilled meats, red meat, bone-in pork, lamb, and game birds.
Pontotoc Vineyard, 2011 San Fernando Academy ($25.57). Blend of lots of different grapes: cabernet franc, sangiovese, mourvedre, cabernet sauvignon, carignane, tempranillo, grenache, syrah. They also make a light tempranillo version. "For being what seems like a kitchen sink varietal, it has a pretty fruit without being overly tannic," says Hovland. All kinds of things you could do with that: grilled meats, venison, antelope, quail, and game.
If you are looking for Texas wines with Texas-grown fruit, Hovland offers a few tips for decoding the label. Look for phrases such as "estate grown fruit" and "made from 100% Texas grapes." A label that says, "Texas winery" means the wine is bottled in Texas but does not guarantee grapes grown in Texas.
The best way to learn more about Texas wines is to taste them. Central Texas has three wine trails: Texas Hill Country Wine Trail (www.texaswinetrail.com), Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 (www.wineroad290.com), and Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail (www.texasbluebonnetwinetrail.com).
In town, East End Wines now offers wine tastings and wine to drink on the premises; find more information at eastendwinesatx.com. (Other shops and restaurants have regular events, too.) They offer a 10 percent discount for as few as four bottles, which can be mixed and matched, and 15 percent off for 12 bottles or more.
Ready to become a serious Texas oenophile? Texas Department of Agriculture packs plenty of information into their Texas Wines website, www.gotexanwine.org, including how to read a wine label and everything you need to host a Texas Two-Sip wine tasting event at home.