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Austin Food & Wine Festival: Texas Wine Ready For the Main Stage

Staff Writer
Austin 360

If the sparse crowd in the Cedar Tent this morning was any indication, 10 a.m. might be too early for most people to start a wine tasting.

Luckily, people steadily trickled in for Texas Wine: Ready for the Main Stage as the tasting progressed, and by the end, almost all the glasses were claimed.

Local Sommeliers June Rodil, Craig Collins, Devon Broglie, and author Dr. Russell Kane were joined by Food & Wine Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle for the discussion and tasting of six wines from around the state.

As we tasted through a spectrum of styles, from Viognier and Tempranillo to Tannat, Cabernet and Riesling, Dr. Kane pointed out that one misconception some people might have is that grapes grown in Texas are not restricted to a single blanket climate or growing conditions. Because the state is so large, the growing regions and micro-climates are actually quite diverse and unique.

“We have areas that are equivalent to the south of France and Spain, all the way to conditions needed to grow grapes for Riesling, that would typically be from Northern European countries. Texas has a pretty broad swath.” For this reason, wines like Viognier can be produced at a quality level that is equal to that of the same grape grown in some European countries. For example, the Pedernales 2012 100% Viognier has not only won a handful of awards statewide, but also scored a double gold medal at the Leon competition in France — a high honor, considering Pedernales is the only American winery to win the award.

Also, because wine producers are starting to pay attention to the variety of micro-climates Texas has to offer, they are branching out beyond the standard Mediterranean-style grapes that most know grow well here, to other grapes that were once considered impossible to foster. Dr. Kane said varieties like Cabernet are now being produced with quality. “It’s hard for us to out-Cabernet Napa Valley, but we can look at ways grapes are grown and fermented that bring their own style to the glass in a way we weren’t necessarily doing before.”

A few fun facts, for those of you who appreciate stats:

  • Texas is America’s #5 wine producer
  • Texas is America’s #7 wine grape producer
  • The total economic impact from grape growing and wine production to the state of Texas is 1.83 billion
  • 1.44 million tourists visited Texas wineries generating 438 million in wine tourism expenditures (almost the same as Number 2 wine producing state, Washington)
  • Number of full-time jobs generated by the industry: 10,870
  • Current number of wineries is more than 236; wine case production 1.4 million

Recommended wines from the tasting:

  • Brennan Vineyards 2011 Lily: A white Rhone-style blend of Grenache, Viognier and Rousanne grapes. Rodil called it floral, with good alcohol, but not overwhelming, with hints of white peach and good minerality. Collins added that while most white Rhone blends can be too heavy, “this one is drinkable. You can enjoy multiple glasses of and you’re not wearing out your palate.”
  • Pedernales Cellars 2012 Viognier: Beautiful floral aromas on the nose, with a fresh, zippy acidity and lush honey flavors. Broglie said it has a nice palate weight without the typical “old world” Viognier finish. “This wine is remarkable balanced and complex, not just as an American version of Viognier, but as a Viognier compared to others around the world,” he said.
  • Llano Estacado Tempranillo: While many Tempranillo wines will be blended with other Spanish grapes, Llano Estacado cuts this one with Merlot. Bordering medium and full-bodied, the wine has a fresh cherry fruit flavor, with a soft savory component, and big tannic grip on the end, Broglie said. He suggested pairing this one with anything with a high fat content, because the tannins will balance out the fats.
  • Kiepersol Estates 2010 Cabernet: As a wine style with big tannins, for this one, the winery “decided to accentuate the fruit and natural tannins by aging in stainless steel, so it mellows them out a bit,” Collins explained. A solid Cabernet with big blackberry, black cherry, black plum flavors, and robust tannin.
  • Bending Branch 2010 Tannat: Isle said the best way to think about the Tannat grape is as “Malbec on steroids.” He says “this one has similar berry fruit (to Malbec) but more intense tannins. It’s a more aggressive wine style, but this one from Kiepersol is more restrained and balanced than many others.” Look for the wine’s lifted acidity and brightness, with fruit flavors oscillating between strawberry and cranberry, and a floral element close to violet.
  • Messina Hof Father and Son Cuvee: June Rodil wants everyone to drink Riesling, because it’s one of the most versatile grapes out there. “Rieslings can go from the driest of dry to the sweetest of sweet,” she said. They can encompass a range of light fruits from tropical, citrus, stone fruit, but also have certain ethereal qualities: florals, mineralogy, honeysuckle, tarragon, fennel. Collins says this one will pair great with any spicy asian food.