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Posts Tagged ‘Wine Tour’

Exploring the Wines of Texas with a Hill Country Wine Tour!

by celeste.nunn | January 20th, 2010

Although I am both a fan of wine (no I wouldn’t say “enthusiast” or “spectator” by any means, my taste usually runs in the $12-$20/bottle range!) and an Austinite, until recently I did not have much exposure to the wines of the Texas Hill Country. I’ll even admit shying away from the Texas wines section when selecting a bottle. That all changed Thanksgiving weekend, when I enjoyed a local wine tour in celebration of my good friend’s 30th birthday.  I had such a great time that I wanted to share my experiences with you–particularly because, as you may know from my previous post, I’ve been injured and unable to update my hiking blog. Drinking wine, unlike hiking, can be comfortably done with a plastic boot cast on.

First and foremost, I have to applaud my friend for her genius idea: renting a bus for the tour! The nice folks at Marriton Limo picked up two groups (both north Austin and South Austin locations chosen by our hostess) so that we could all ride together in comfort and safety while we enjoyed our adult beverages. Such a cool idea and HIGHLY recommended if you are going with a large group. The tour consisted of visits to four wineries, with tastings at each stop. The tastings ranged from about $5-$10 per winery, so the total I spent–before gifts I purchased at the wineries–was only about $25. What a deal! Here’s a breakdown of the wineries we visited.

Texas Hills Vineyard: Their tasting room was small and pretty crowded, and although their wines have a decidedly Italian influence (they mostly grow grapes associated with Italian wines, such as moscato (Muscat), sangiovese, and the first Pinot Grigio produced in Texas), their premises are designed in the style of a French bistro. Lots of wood and a chalkboard listing wine specials, plus a little cooler of cheeses, spreads and sauces for sale, small gift shop area and an outdoor patio, also fairly petite. All of the vineyards we visited were picturesque–it was the Texas Hill Country–but in terms of beauty and ambiance, I would have to say that this was my least favorite. However, they did have a cat and a dog, and I do appreciate a business with mascots.

We tasted a 5-wine series, the most notable of which to my mind was the 2007 Toro de Tejas, a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, which their website describes as having “soft tannins” and flavors of  “dark berries and plum, and just a hint of spice.” Yum! I had a glass of that after our tasting round, while many of my tour-mates enjoyed a glass of the 2006 Kick Butt Cab (as the name suggests, a Cabernet Sauvignon) as well as their 2006 Syrah offering. Then, a few nibbles of cheese and veggies from our Spec’s deli tray, and we were off to our next stop!

Becker Vineyards: Becker had no shortage of ambience or yummy wines! Their lovely grounds include 3 acres of lavender fields, which were absolutely beautiful on a cloudy November day. The winery was designed with hosting events in mind, as it features a tasting room with a gorgeous antique bar and spacious covered patio, as well as the separate Lavender Haus reception hall.  While crowded–what did we expect for a holiday weekend?–it was spacious enough to be very comfortable for our tastings and for our large group to toast our hostess’s birthday.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Becker was that they allowed us to choose our own wines for the tastings instead of offering a pre-selected package. As I subscribe to my family’s old adage that you “only drink white wine when you are out of red,” this allowed me to focus on my faves and leave the rest to the others. I enjoyed almost all of the wines I tried, but ended up picking up a bottle of the 2007 Claret, a Cabernet-heavy blend which “produces essences of raspberries, chocolate, and spices,” for myself; and for my stepdad, who likes most reds but has been enjoying Zinfandels particularly of late, the 2008 Zinfandel. I would gladly drink any of the reds I tried at Becker again, including the Iconoclast Cabernet, Grenache, Malbec, or the Raven–a super-dark, Malbec-Petite Verdot blend that was delicious!

Becker also harvests and makes bath products from their fragrant lavender, like super-scented soaps and bath salts. A favorite stop on this tour.

Torre di Pietra: Texas wine with an Italian flair. This winery had a sort of whimsical, Tuscan feel to it, but the staff didn’t seem too knowledgeable about the wines. I tried a variety of reds, including the 2006 Primitivo and Black Spanish, and the 2005 Claret and Petite Syrah, as well as the  Texas Dirty Girl Chardonnay. Many of these wines seemed to have an herbal complexity to them that was in contrast to the red berry flavors of the vineyards we had previously visited; I enjoyed that but some of my companions thought these wines had too much going on.

I have to give high marks to the atmosphere at Torre di Pietra…the patio boasted a cozy outdoor fireplace, and beyond that was a covered pavilion where live music wafted through the air and patrons two-stepped. I could have relaxed here for much longer, but eventually we headed off to our last stop…

Grape Creek Vineyards: Grape Creek’s website promises “Tuscany in Texas,” and the grounds don’t disappoint. It was a perfect place to end the day as the sun was setting. However, I didn’t like the cattle-herding approach to wine tastings that they employed. In the first series of tastings, they introduced their white label wines, which were fairly unmemorable in my estimation. The staff in this portion of the tour had a hard time answering questions or making recommendations about which wines to try. We did get a take-home wine glass for our tastings, which has since become a favorite of mine. After the white label offerings, we were whisked away to the black label tasting room, where some of Grape Creek’s prize-winning (and pricier) offerings were being poured. We tried the 2007 Cabernet/Syrah and Bellissimo, but were disappointed that the winery’s award-winning Mosaic blend was not available for tasting. The black label staff knew their stuff, but seemed a bit rehearsed in their presentation. These wines were yummier, but a little pricey for everyday consumption ($36 and up.) Maybe for a nice dinner party, not for just any old Friday lasagna night!

In summary, if you live in Central Texas and like wine, you should tour at least once. In a group it can be inexpensive and fun. I highly recommend packing a picnic lunch and lots of water to ensure plenty of munchies and hydration along the way. And if you are unsure of the quality of Texas wines, you will have a better appreciation after touring. I can proudly say that I have purchased Becker Vineyards’ Claret a couple of times since attending the tour in late November, and it has never disappointed!

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