Liquid Assets

Texas wines with a little something extra

When I lead Texas wine-tasting events, I always make sure that everyone – myself included – tastes the wines blind. The reason is simple: Most people still believe that Texas wines are somehow lesser than those of California, Europe, and Australia. So, just to keep everyone honest, I throw in a few ringers from around the world so that the tasters have to think about whether or not a wine is from Texas. The important point is that people are generally surprised by how good the Texas wines are.

For my Texas gift basket, I would put together a tasting assortment of similar Texas wines along with an interloper, and include enough bottle bags to cover each. Then to encourage a somewhat formal tasting, I'd also offer a set of preprinted tasting sheets with scoring areas for looks, aromas, flavors, and overall impressions. Keeping in mind taste and price tag, what follows are the wines I would choose.

Texas makes some great Sauvignon Blancs, ones that stand up to the classic French versions from the Loire Valley. Three of my favorites from Texas are from Spicewood Vineyards ($10), Fall Creek Vineyards ($12) and Delaney Vineyards ($11). All demonstrate the best of Texas' style with the grape; lighter and less grapefruity than the California or New Zealand versions, yet perfectly wonderful wines. Add a bottle of Domaine des Corbillières Touraine ($12), and you've got quite a tasting.

The other white that we make magic with is Viognier. At its best, and it's hard to find a bad version in Texas, it has seductive aromas of peaches and pears and a thick, rich mouthfeel. Three of Texas' best, in increasing order of oomph, are made by McPherson Cellars ($14), Llano Estacado ($14), and Becker Vineyards ($15). About the best bargain outside of Texas is California's Cline Viognier ($12), a perfect competitor for Texas' wines.

Moving to red wines, Texas is starting to hold its own in what Alamosa Wine Cellars winemaker Jim Johnson called "climate-adapted varietals." Syrah, or Shiraz as it's called Down Under, is showing good potential here at home. Aussie winemaker Craig Parker's Flat Creek Estate Shiraz ($19) is a bit light but has nice complexity. You'll have to drive to Mason to get it, but Sandstone Cellars Syrah ($15) is worth the drive (have lunch at Santos Taqueria next door). Finally, French winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne is making some wonderful wines out at Ste. Genevieve. Their premium Shiraz, under the Peregrine Hill label, runs about $9 and puts a lot of California wines to shame. Pair these Texas wines up with the best red wine bargain in the U.S., Columbia-Crest Grand Estates Syrah ($10).

Finally, if you want to splurge on your giftee, start with a bottle of Fall Creek Meritage ($40), a Bordeaux blend that regularly amazes folks with its depth of flavor and intense richness. Throw in a bottle of Llano Estacado Viviano ($40), a touch lighter but beautifully elegant. Throw them up against a 2002 Château Gloria ($38) from France's famed St. Julien. Then, for an extra soupçon of generosity, throw in one of California's better versions, the 2002 Girard Napa Valley Red ($40).

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