Best Texas Wines of 2012

This year I had the opportunity to taste through some of Texas’s best wines in preparation for the next edition of The Wine Roads of Texas. The good news is, the state of the art is getting better each year.

I would describe about 10-15% of our wineries as capable of competing on the world stage, and if that sounds stingy, I would say the same thing about California. Even better, virtually every winery had at least one good wine. The best news for folks traveling in Texas is we are there are so many terrific wineries, including, of course, all three of my picks. The wines of 2012 included these three clear winners.

White Wine: Duchman Family Winery’s Vermentino – Cliff Bingham Vineyards. Start with some of the best organic grapes in the wine business from Bingham’s high plains farms and then add the perfect winemaker, Dave Reilly. He is making as good a Vermentino as you will find anywhere on earth.

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Red Wine: Becker Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Canada Vineyard. I first tasted this wine along with a large group (two busloads!) of KLRU subscribers and was nearly speechless. When I recovered, I made sure the crowd understood they were tasting a benchmark. Given all the great newish wineries like William Chris, Pedernales, Inwood, etc. I have to admit being surprised that Becker, after 20 vintages, is still setting the standard.

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Dessert Wine: Dotson Cervantes Gotas de Oro. Restaurateur/Chef Damian Mandola called me a few months ago and asked me to come to lunch to meet the first Texas winemakers that would be represented in all Mandola’s markets. I was happy to come because Damian is a lot of fun and the people he wanted me to meet are two of my favorite folks in the Texas wine business, Alphonse Dotson and Martha Cervantes. We had a great time telling tall tales and tasting the wines with a few of Damian’s dishes. Not only did the Gotas de Oro have the unctuous sweetness you find in almost every sweet wine, it also had perfect acidity, something very few Texas dessert wines have.

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So there you have it. I wish I had the time and space to mention all the wonderful Texas wines I tasted this year. The important takeaway is, it is time to start visiting the many (25+) wineries within a two hour drive of Austin. All have a decent wine and many have wines that compare favorably with other U.S. wines. Then you’ll be able to discover the 10%-15% that really are world class. In the meantime, congratulations to Duchman, Becker, and Dotson Cervantes.

Wes Marshall

relationships

Yes, growing grapes is farming, and most people I have met farmed other crops before they took up a vineyard.  But there’s something very different about this sort of agriculture and its product, and certainly something special about it in Texas.  In one word: relationships.

I recently attended a grape growers meal held by Becker Vineyards.  They invited all the people who grow their grapes to dinner, then paired single vineyard wines with each course.  As the food came to the table, the grape growers from that specific vineyard were asked to stand and share something about that year’s harvest, or about that particular grape, or a story.  It was so intimate.

Jet Wilmeth with his single vineyard Lone Oak cabernet

Touring the different vineyards in Lubbock, it began to dawn on me how different growing wine grapes is from growing, say, cucumbers, which many of the farmers in that region have done.  For one, as Jet Wilmeth of Diamante Doble Vineyards described with his previous cucumbers, much of the crop (the “imperfect” fruit) is left to rot or thrown away.  The farmer has very little say in his harvest.  And second, those cucumbers (or pumpkins or cotton) go into the market and the farmer seldom sees the final product, and certainly does not receive credit for it.

But with grapes, and especially in Texas, it is very different.  The farmer, in essence, creates a paint of sorts and turns it over to the winemaker/ artist.  The winemaker then creates a piece of art and hands it back to the farmer (and sells it en masse) in the form of a bottle.  Oftentimes the vineyard is placed on the label, giving the farmer direct credit.  This became clear sharing a lunch with the Bingham Family as they served wines made soley from their grapes.  Or at a dinner with the Newsoms, Canadas and Wilmeths, each family providing a bottle of wine from their soil.  The relationships between the drink and the earth, and between the farmer and the winemaker, were clear as day.

VJ Reddy and Bobby Cox standing in front of Reddy Vineyards

My favorite moment of this Becker dinner came when VJ Reddy stood to explain the Viognier made from his grapes.  He talked about how old the vines were and how, this whole time, he had hoped for someone to make the grapes into their true expression of wine.  And how the Beckers had finally done this.  He expressed his gratitude and thanked the Beckers directly, to which they quickly and emphatically replied, “No, thank YOU.”

This doesn’t happen with peanuts or pumpkins.  I’d dare to say it’s something better.