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Tag Archives: regional wine

Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

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Texas wineAnd, apparently, not much has changed with Texas wine a year after I wrote: “Has Texas wine reached a plateau, where quality isn’t going to get any better given the state’s resources and climate? Or is something else going on?”

That was my conclusion after a couple of days tasting wine and moderating a Texas wine panel in the Hill Country last week. The day before I left, a Texas winemaker (who has told me I’m an idiot) took to the Internet to criticize almost everyone else who disagreed with him. During my visit, a winery owner told me I knew nothing about wine, Texas wine, and the ugni blanc grape, my Gascon favorite that is starting to be grown in Texas. And the wine during those couple of days? Mostly, and sadly, ordinary. At worst, it brought back memories of the bad old days in the late 1990s.

What’s going on? Why is this happening? Much of it has to do with the state’s wine success over the past decade — more wineries, better quality, and increased recognition here and elsewhere as part of the local wine movement. There are more wineries making better wine than ever before, using the grapes best-suited for the state’s terroir, and it’s easier to buy quality Texas wine than it has ever been — even grocery stores sell it.

But that success has led to other, less welcome, developments: First, people getting into the wine business not because they particularly care about wine, but because it’s a successful business and they don’t understand that wine is more than a business. Second, as the Texas wine business has changed, not everyone has changed with it, and many of those people are bitter and angry about the changes.

U.S. Hwy. 290 in the Hill Country had a couple of wineries when I started writing about Texas wine some 20 years ago. There are more than a dozen today, and applications for almost two dozen more. Ignoring for the moment whether there is enough business to support that many, we can’t ignore that there aren’t enough grapes. As Houston wine writer Ron Saikowski pointed out during the seminar at Boot Ranch, there are about 8,000 acres of grapes in Texas. We need 40,000 acres to meet the demand, which means we use all the grapes grown here, regardless of quality, and make up the difference with imports, mostly from California and Washington state, and also of varying quality. The irony? As Texas wine becomes more successful, and we get more wineries, the grape shortage becomes more acute.

Which is not to say there isn’t good news. The new vintage of Becker’s Provencal rose ($17, sample, 12%) may be the best ever, and it’s usually one of the best roses in the state (and which says something about how professional wineries can make quality wine). Consumers are more knowledgeable, and so are the people who follow Texas wine. The writers on the panel — Saikowski, John Griffin of SavorSA, and Austin’s Matt McGinnis — know their stuff, and are more than capable of tracking the changes in the business and holding producers accountable. And they’re far from the only ones, also much different from the early days when there were just a couple of us.

Because, frankly, this version of Texas wine has worn me out, and it’s why I’m not judging the Lone Star competition this year. I’ve done it every year but one since they invited me 10 years ago, but I don’t see the point this time. Too many Texas producers don’t want honest criticism; they want gold medals and parades in the street, because they know how much better they are than everyone else. That’s not the way I do business, and anyone who is honest with themselves shouldn’t, either.

 

Local wine, local food

wineadvice

local wineThe Wine Curmudgeon, despite his good intentions and his advocacy of all things local, is not perfect. Even the co-founder of Drink Local Wine sometimes forgets that local wine goes with local food.

Case in point: A recent dinner with pork shoulder rubbed with cumin and coriander, roasted with garlic. onions, and peppers, and served with guacamole and black beans. So, like the wine snobs and dilettantes that I spend so much time excoriating, I bought a French wine, a white from the Rhone, to drink with it.

What a maroon.

I live in Texas. I have been advocating Texas wine for Texas-style food for almost three decades. So why did I buy a French wine made with viognier when when we make some of the best viognier in the world in Texas?

Like I said, what a maroon.

It’s not so much that the white Rhone was overpriced and under-qualified. Even if it had been better made, it didn’t have the bright apricot and peach fruit to stand up to the pork the way a Texas viognier (Brennan, McPherson, and Pedernales among many others) would have. And it was heavier, as well, with an unpleasant oiliness, both qualities that didn’t complement the pork’s spiciness and something the best Texas viogniers don’t have. Ours are lighter and more crisp, which gives them an affinity for something as rich as the pork shoulder.

So the next time you opt for safe instead of local, know that you’re making the same mistake that I did. Just be willing to admit it, and do the right the next time.

Winebits 379: Big Wine, diet soda, regional wine

winenews

big wineBig and getting bigger: Wine sales in the U.S. were mostly flat last year, which makes the growth in E&J Gallo’s various brands. including Barefoot, all that much more impressive, reports Shanken News Daily. Total U.S. wine sales were 321.8 million cases in 2014, and 17 million of those were Barefoot — more than five percent of the total. Given the thousands of wine brands in the world, that one brand, and especially one that isn’t sold in many wine shops, accounts for that much wine is difficult to imagine. It speaks to Big Wine’s ability to put product on store shelves and to market it onces its there. It also illustrates the divide in the wine business between what we’re told we’re supposed to drink and what most of us do drink.

Is diet soda dead? Which matters to wine drinkers because the sales of diet Coke, Pepsi, and so forth appear to have started an irreversible slide, down 20 percent from their all-time high in 2009. The reasons are many, reports the Washington Post, but center on health, including the artificial nature of diet soda. So where will diet soda drinkers go next? It’s not soft drinks, which are also declining in sales, again for health reasons. The Wine Curmudgeon could offer wine as an alternative, pointing to the growth of Barefoot and what are considered wine’s heart health benefits. But that would mean the wine business is interested in attracting non-wine drinkers through education and outreach, something that we know isn’t true. Ah, missed opportunities.

The next Napa Valley: During my many years working with regional wine, the one thing that has always made me crazy is hearing someone from a U.S. region talk about how they wanted Texas or Colorado or Virginia (or wherever) to become the next Napa Valley. To which I always asked: Why do you need to do that? Why can’t you be the best Texas or Colorado or Virginia (or wherever)? Turns out I’m not the only who feels that way. Rob McMillan at Silicon Valley Bank writes that he sees the same thing all the time, and with California wine regions. “Do you really want to be like Napa?” he asks. The post is a little technical for consumers, but the point is well made. If you can’t make world-class cabernet sauvignon, why would you even think of being like Napa, let alone build a region behind that goal?

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