Even though Texas is fifth in wine production as well as in the number of wineries per state, I have yet to step foot in a Texas winery or tasting room despite having lived here for almost seven years. Hopefully, that will change next month during the Wine & Wildflower Journey, a passport event where $100 will enable a couple to visit over 40 wineries for free (tasting room fees usually average around $25/person).
(At this point, I only have a few wineries that I want to make sure I visit, so feel free to let me know if there are additional “can’t miss” wineries on your list.)
First on the list of wineries I want to visit is Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas. (Unfortunately, Comfort is close to two hours west of Austin, which is about two and a half hours west of Houston.) Why? Simply put (and further detailed in the notes below), there is a lot going on at Bending Branch. While most (all?) of the winemakers I have spoken to over the last 20 years or so claim that great wines are “made in the vineyard” (I hear it so much that it has become a cliché), it seems like Bending Branch does quite a bit in the winery after the grapes have been picked.
2021 Bending Branch Winery Picpoul Blanc, Texas High Plains: Retail $26. Under cork. 100% Picpoul Blanc. There is not a whole lot of Picpoul in this country and I never thought I would find one in Texas, but here it is. And it’s good. Really good. Tropical and peachy on the nose with a round, luscious mouthfeel. Great fruit, a bit of spice, and enough tartness to bring it all together. Reds rule the roost in Texas, but this Picpoul is among the better Texas whites I have tried since moving here nearly seven years ago. Excellent. 91 Points.
2019 Bending Branch Winery Anniversary Blend, Texas High Plains: Retail $75. Big ass bottle. 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Malbec, 25% Petite Sirah, 25% Petit Verdot. I have mixed emotions about Bending Branch Wines–they are usually quite tasty, but they also go through a ton of manipulation. Case in point. This wine, made to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the winery, went through both “Cryo-maceration” and “Flash Détente” two processes with which I was not the least bit familiar. After a bit of Googling. Whoa. Yeah, heavy manipulation (see below). Tasting the wine, though? Good fruit, complex flavors, and great acidity–I tried really hard to dislike this wine, but it is actually quite good. Had I not known what these grapes had been through? It’s a tough call. At least for me. Excellent. 92 Points.
2019 Bending Branch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Texas: Retail $35. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon from Newsom Vineyards and Y Knot Vineyard, and 20% Petite Sirah from Veraison Hills Vineyard. Regular fermentation, Cryo-Maceration, and Flash Détente. Once again, Bending Branch manipulates the heck out of a wine and I really don’t want to like it as a result. In the end, though? It is pretty tasty. In brief, cyro-maceration involves quickly freezing the recently picked grapes and when they subsequently thaw, more can be extracted from the skins (particularly color and tannin). Flash détente, on the other hand, is the application of intense heat (185°F) to the fruit immediately after harvest followed by a quick cool-down. This is done to eliminate pyrazines, or the green pepper characteristics often found in Cabernet (both Sauvignon and Franc). Phew. As I said, a lot of manipulation going on here. Medium color in the glass with dark fruit–plum and blackberry, as well as a touch of spice, an herbal note, and a hint of vanilla. The palate is a bit thinner than what I had expected with subtle fruit and a nice acidity level but might be lacking a bit of personality. Very Good. 89 Points.
The second winery I will be sure to visit is a bit closer to Austin (and home), is Spicewood Vineyards, in Spicewood, Texas. Spicewood makes wines from the vineyards in the Texas Hill Country (where the winery is located) and from the Texas High Plains (near Lubbock, which is another six-hour drive from Austin–Texas is a big state) where roughly 2/3 of all Texas wines grapes are grown.
2018 Spicewood Vineyards Blend-2, Texas Hill Country: Retail $38(?). Heavy. Bottle. “Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Sangiovese.” So I searched. I Googled, I Binged, I Yahooed, I even Yandexed (not really, but just trying to see if you’re paying attention) and there was next to no information about this wine. Ugh. Regardless, this is quite dark in the glass, quite dark with brooding fruit (blackberry, plum, cassis, elderberry). The palate is fruity and tart, with a bit of a stewed aspect as well as near off-the-charts acidity. This works on many levels and would be even better with some Texas BBQ. Very Good. 89 Points.
2019 Spicewood Vineyards The Independence, Texas High Plains: Retail $45. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot. Even though I have yet to visit Texas wine country (I know, I know), I have been fortunate enough to sample quite a few wines from the Lone Star State. This is now the eighth wine from Spicewood Vineyards that I have cracked, and I have been impressed. Quite dark in the glass with black and red fruit a go-go on the nose with mocha and spice. The palate is fairly rich but also tart, with just a hint of greenness. Really, quite nice. Excellent. 92 Points.
Some of my favorites are Becker, Bluff Dale, Calais, Farmhouse, Fawn, Heath, Kuhlman, Llano Estacado, McPherson, Pheasant Ridge, Triple D and William Chris. Tops on my list right now are McPherson, Kuhlman, Heath and Calais.
William Chris is a must!