The 19th annual Saveur Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival offered the chance to learn about some wonderful new wines, and judging by the happiness I saw around me, copious numbers of folks were taking the opportunity to learn a lot. Narrowing the list down to a few new favorites took some work, but I decided to focus on the under-$20 contingent. Here are my picks for the best of those new wines.
Starting with the Texas deputation, Greg Bruni, the talented winemaker from Llano Estacado, brought his 2002 Llano Estacado Cellar Select Chardonnay "Certinberg Vineyard" ($17.99). Back in 1984, the winery stunned the rest of the United States winemakers by winning the Double Gold medal from the San Francisco Fair and Exhibition. Llano Estacado has done well with chardonnay ever since, winning 129 awards for their chardonnays. I haven't tasted every vintage, but this strikes me as the best they've ever made. Greg is developing a true Texas style with his wines. This is a smooth chardonnay with a soft kiss of acid on the tongue. It's a bargain at $18.
Also from the Lubbock area, Kim McPherson was showing his 2002 McPherson Sangiovese ($14.99). Kim is acknowledged as one of Texas' best winemakers, and this is the best wine I have tasted from him to date. It is rich with dark fruit flavors and an unctuous mouthfeel. His wine beats any California version I've found at the price. Try it with grilled pork tenderloin and some cheesy polenta.
We didn't see a lot of California wines in the under-$20 range, but two stood out as delicious wines at a fair price. Dennis Fife and Karen MacNeil Fife are making 2000 Redhead Red. (I assume that the Redhead in the name refers to the lovely Ms. Fife's curly tresses.) The wine is a blend of sangiovese, barbera, charbono, and petite syrah from Mendocino County. Luckily, the marketplace seems to be more accepting of wines named after something other than grapes, which allows iconoclasts like the Fifes to make a drink that looks, smells, and tastes great without being tied to one varietal. The aromas are cinnamon and vanilla along with dark berry flavors. I tried it with a scrumptious veal chop from the new Finn & Porter restaurant at the Convention Center Hilton, and it was just what the doctor ordered, especially at a price of $11.99.
The other bargain from the California brigade was the 2002 Gallo of Sonoma Syrah ($11.99). Instead of the normal overly jammy California style of Syrah, Gina Gallo offers a food-friendly wine with lots of spicy black pepper character. It tasted great all by itself, but it was even better with Perini Ranch Steakhouse's delicious Mesquite Smoked Tenderloin.
Finally, I fell in love with the 2001 Escudo Rojo ($13.99) from a joint venture between the Baron Philippe de Rothschild of France and Chile's Concho y Toro winery. Escudo Rojo in Spanish means Red Shield, which is also the translation for Rothschild (more precisely das rote schild). The wine is made from a blend of cabernet sauvignon, carmenère, and cabernet franc from Chile's central Maipo and Rapel regions. The carmenère grape has such intense flavors and aromas that, even though it is only 20% of the blend, it dominated the flavors. This wine has rich and fruity aromas that will please anyone who loves a little grilled meat.
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