This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue with the headline “Give These a Swirl.”
It’s a great time for Texas wine. The state’s vintners have never been so flush with acclaim from international competitions, national publications, and wine professionals. And this spring’s selection exemplifies the improvements happening across Texas.
Our most consistent wines come from the Texas High Plains American Viticultural Area, which is located in the Llano Estacado region and accounts for nearly two thirds of the state’s vineyard plantings. But advancements in the management of vineyards in the Texas Hill Country AVA have led to a higher caliber of wine from that region, making it one to watch.
A main reason for the state’s increase in quality, at least among white wines, is the focus on Vermentino, Viognier, and Picpoul Blanc grapes, which are native to the warmer Mediterranean climates of Italy and Southern France and therefore well suited to the weather conditions in some parts of Texas. These grapes produce crisp, mineral-driven wines with high citrus tones and floral aromas.
In the red camp, Sangiovese, a widely planted Italian grape commonly associated with Chianti, and Mourvèdre, a Southern Rhône variety, are the stars right now. Others to watch for are Tempranillo, Aglianico, and outliers such as Petite Sirah and Norton (America’s oldest native grape).
To pick the best of the season, Texas Monthly hosted a blind tasting that started off with 150 wines—a task not for the faint of palate! The bottles were wrapped to hide the labels, and volunteer sommeliers handled the pouring. We winnowed those down to thirty wines that stood out based on qualities such as aroma, structure, and finish.
Here we present our top whites and reds. All thirty wines are proof that, with each passing vintage, the state’s wine industry has made nonsense of the question “Is there a good Texas wine to drink?” Now the question is simply “Which one?”
Top 30 Spring Wines
1. 2016 Duchman Family Winery Vermentino, $18
Redolent of tart and juicy citrus, this vintage of Duchman’s signature white wine is alive with yellow flowers and a touch of tropical fruit.
2. 2016 Duchman Family Winery Trebbiano, $15
With a swirl of the glass, this vibrant wine tenders an array of tropical fruit notes led by passion fruit and kiwi. It makes an elegant aperitif as well as a perfect complement to lighter seafood fare.
3. 2017 Fall Creek Vineyards Vintner’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc, $22
Pretty in the glass, this Sauvignon Blanc offers aromas of lime leaf, white daisies, and a touch of peach blossom. Crisp and bright, it offers a juicy, citrus-dominated mid-palate that leads to a refreshing finish.
4. 2016 Grape Creek Winery Cuvée Blanc, $24
Refreshing and light, this beautiful white blend offers bashful aromas of stone fruit and wet limestone that leads to a palate with notes of tart green apple and delicate flowers.
5. 2017 Haak Vineyards & Winery Blanc du Bois Dry, $19
A beautiful nose is framed by playful tropical notes and fleshy lemon pulp. This wine is light and delicate but with a dry character.
6. 2017 Kuhlman Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, $19
With aromas of ripe stone fruit and a kiss of citrus, this wine is simply lovely. It’s bright and balanced.
7. 2016 McPherson Cellars Les Copains White, $18
A happy blend of white Rhône Valley varieties—Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Picpoul Blanc, this wine is a summer pleaser, offering a bouquet flush with summer yellow flowers, ripe peach, and a finish of tart lemon pulp.
8. 2016 McPherson Cellars Piquepoul Blanc, $18
Known as a lip-stinger in Southern France, the Picpoul Blanc grape has found a home in Texas. The taste of green apple and white blossoms rushes the palate and fades to notes of lemon curd.
9. 2016 Pedernales Cellars Viognier Reserve, $32
This Viognier has characteristic floral notes folded in with ripe apricots and quenchy citrus. High tones of grapefruit and minerality transition into a crisp, memorable finish.
10. 2017 Rivenburgh Picpoul Blanc, $38
Delicate notes of creamy saltwater taffy and lemon curd rise from the glass, coupled with lush summer flowers that transition to a crisp palate with vibrant acidity and a dusty limestone finish.
11. 2016 Ron Yates Viognier, $27
Those looking for the Texas answer to rich California chardonnay will love this wine. Characteristic floral notes lead, followed by aromas of green apple and lemon pith framed by a toasty flint character. This wine is bright and balanced with a beautifully broad palate.
12. 2015 Becker Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Wilmeth Family Vineyards), $40
A beautifully complex wine, this Cabernet Sauvignon offers a mélange of red and black fruit led by black currant and followed by distinctive eucalyptus-menthol aromas. The fruit-driven palate is framed with an evocative smokiness that ends in a dry, grippy finish.
13. 2015 Becker Vineyards Petite Sirah Reserve Estate, $40
If you’re looking for a robust wine, this is your jam—and I’m not just referring to its qualities of macerated black and blue fruit. Hints of flowers, cocoa powder, and cigar are propped up by a layered structure and persistent tannin.
14. 2014 Duchman Family Winery Aglianico, $28
A stunning red wine, this Italian native grape has found a home in Texas, particularly with this producer. Tart red fruit leads the palate with a touch of savory tomato and dusty red earth for a wine with stark tannic structure that will evolve beautifully in the glass or with more time in the cellar.
15. 2015 Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, $35
A lush yet elegantly structured wine, this Tempranillo from the Salt Lick Vineyards, of Driftwood, is brimming with rich black and blue fruit, Kalamata olive dust, and a kiss of graham cracker from time in an oak barrel.
16. 2016 Kuhlman Cellars Alluve, $28
A velvety, approachable red blend, this wine balances notes of pipe tobacco, ripe red raspberry and cherry, and eucalyptus that transition to an elegantly structured palate with a smoky, alluring finish.
17. 2016 Kuhlman Cellars Gypsum, $19
A lighter style of red wine, this blend of Mourvèdre, Malbec, Carignan, and Tempranillo is brimming with notes of Tarja cranberry and raspberry framed by baking spices and followed with notes of forest mushroom.
18. 2013 Lewis Wines Terry County Mourvèdre, $30
Offering a deep complexity and elegant structure balancing tannin and acidity on a tightrope, this wine is a joy, with notes of cranberry and eucalyptus as well as a rustic earthiness.
19. 2014 Llano Estacado Winery THP Tempranillo, $20
With initial aromas of tobacco, savory tomato leaf, and herbs, this wine offers a tart red and black fruit palate with notes of sautéed mushroom, spice, and leather that usher through a soft, velvety finish.
20. 2016 Lost Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, $30
Luscious and complex, this wine offers a laundry list of aromatic descriptors, from fresh tobacco leaf and savory herbs to ripe strawberry and tart black cherry. On the palate, tannins are soft and well integrated.
21. 2016 Messina Hof Private Reserve, Double Barrel, Petite Sirah, $25
Led by cordialed fruit notes of cherries and blackberries and a touch of cola, this wine is fragrant with violets and cherry pipe tobacco. Flavors of candied strawberry dusted with cocoa powder finish out the opulence.
22. 2014 Rivenburgh Mourvèdre, $40
This happy find from a newer Texas producer offers aromas of bright cranberry and black cherry mingled with fresh tobacco leaf, and is tart and racy on the palate.
23. 2016 Ron Yates Sangiovese, $29
Offering a lighter side of the grape commonly found in Chianti, this Sangiovese is elegant and refined, bordering on Burgundian Pinot Noir in style. It features characteristic flavors of tart red cherry and dried sage, with a smoky finish.
24. 2016 Stone House Vineyard Claros, $30
Made from 100 percent Norton, Claros is hypnotic from the very beginning, with the brooding character of stewed plum and baking spices. This wine is bold and an utterly hedonistic indulgence.
25. 2014 Tatum Cellars Mourvèdre, $50
Rich and concentrated, this Mourvèdre is reminiscent of classic French Bandol, with tones of rich blackberry and blueberry dusted with dried savory herbs. Time in the glass reveals deep complexity.
26. 2016 Trilogy Cellars KAB, $48
Rich aromas of macerated black cherry and stewed strawberry commingle with savory notes of balsamic vinegar and transition to a palate that lingers with candied fruit and a rustic grip of tannin.
27. 2016 Trilogy Cellars 331, $36
High tones of lush red strawberry and summer cherries are framed by brûléed brown sugar and smoke with this balanced blend of Malbec and Merlot. On the palate, red characters are provocatively tart and earthy, transitioning to a velvety finish.
28. 2015 Westcave Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, $40
A big wine for Texas, this Cabernet Sauvignon offers notes of vanilla and cocoa dust backed by macerated cherry and black currant. Leathery and beautifully structured on the palate, this wine is grippy now but will soften with time in the bottle.
29. 2016 William Chris Vineyards Sangiovese (Narra Vineyards), $36
A concentrated style of Sangiovese, this wine is savory and earthy, with aromas of tomato and sautéed mushroom. The fruit is tart on the palate and framed by a bold, complex structure.
30. 2015 William Chris Vineyards Skeleton Key, $34
If a wine could exemplify the word “brooding,” this red blend would be the one. While Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, the best characteristics of Tempranillo, Malbec, Sangiovese, and Syrah culminate to offer rich, jammy notes of blackberry and currant with dusty earth and cocoa powder.