The future of Texas wine is as big, bold and diverse as the state itself. Still officially an “emerging wine region,” a description that often gives wine lovers, including me, an uneasy feeling before that first tentative swirl and sip, Texas is striding toward legitimacy.
There are more than 400 wineries in Texas, with 5,000 acres of grapes under vine and eight AVAs with a diverse range of elevations (up to about 3,300 feet) and soils, according to Texas Fine Wine. It currently ranks number five—behind California, Washington, Oregon and New York—in terms of the amount of wine it produces.
Some see the diversity of the grapes it plants—from Aglianico to Tannat— and the styles of wine it produces—restrained to opulent—as an identity crisis of sorts. But I see it as more of a savvy assessment of its own potential range. No one expects wine growers in Sonoma and Paso Robles, California to grow the same grapes and make the same style of wine. Why do we expect it from Texas? One quibble I did share with many about Texas wine though: the state does not require producers to use more than 75 percent Texas-grown grapes to be labeled as “Texas” wine. That needs to change if they want to be taken as dead seriously as their best demands they be. Don’t worry: they’re on it.
I recently sampled a broad range of Texas wines—made with Texas-grown grapes, of course—and discovered that in addition to being beautiful, thoughtful expressions of the Lone Star state on their own, they were even better with food. I reached out to the winemakers for their favorite recipes to pair with their wines.
Spicewood was established in 1992, and with 28 acres under vine, it’s one of the largest vineyards in the Hill Country, Texas’s most well-known and, arguably, the most promising large-scale growing region. At Spicewood, the wines are made from estate-grown fruit using several varieties, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Tempranillo.
The Good Guy, a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, is fantastically grippy and structured, with notes of blackberries and smoked meat, with an herbal tang. My first instinct was to pair this with a meaty pasta, but I like winemaker Todd Crowell’s idea better.
“One of my favorite summer pairings on the grill is a big, juicy Cowboy ribeye paired with our big, bold Good Guy,” Todd says, adding that beef short ribs paired with Spicewood’s Syrah has become a mainstay of his diet year-round.
SPICEWOOD VINEYARDS SYRAH WITH HERBS DE PROVENCE BEEF RIBS
- 2 pounds boneless beef short ribs
- 2 tablespoons rosemary
- 2 tablespoons lavender salt
- 2 tablespoons coarse ground pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
- Combine rosemary, lavender salt, and ground pepper into a rub.
- Lightly brush ribs with olive oil.
- Generously season ribs on both sides with rub.
- Heat the grill to high. Grill ribs over direct heat, about five minutes, to create a nice char, then move ribs to indirect heat until cooked through.
- Serve with Spicewood Vineyards Syrah.
Bending Branch Winery
Bending Branch was founded in 2009 with the goal of creating not just world-class, estate-grown wines in Texas, but also wines made with the health of the planet in mind. Founder and owner Dr. Bob Young experimented with several varieties, and now focuses on Tannat and other grapes that are disease-resistant and require less water.
The 2019 Estate Picpoul Blanc is a compelling iteration of this spring-summer sipper with aromas of white flowers, pear, and honeydew melon. It’s polished and balanced. While the doctor generally prescribes a ribeye with his Tannat, when summer heat calls for a Picpoul, he recommends a shrimp pairing.
BENDING BRANCH’S SHRIMP IN OREGANO WRAPS
For the Shrimp:
- 4 bamboo skewers, soaked in water
- 20 large peeled, deveined frozen shrimp, thawed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, plus more leaves for garnish
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Zest of ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground coarse black pepper
- 10 very thin slices prosciutto
- Lime wedges for garnish
- Soak bamboo skewers in water while preparing the recipe.
- In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, oregano, olive oil, lemon zest, salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper. Mix well and refrigerate for 30 minutes while heating the grill to medium.
- Cut each slice of prosciutto in half lengthwise. Wrap each shrimp with one strip of prosciutto, leaving the large end and the tail exposed. Skewer five shrimp per bamboo skewer, leaving about 1/8” space between shrimp to allow even cooking. Grill over moderate heat, turning the skewers to brown both sides, until the large ends of the shrimp are firm.
- Drizzle with raspberry vinaigrette, and garnish with lime wedges and fresh oregano leaves.
For the sweet Raspberry Vinaigrette:
- ½ pint fresh raspberries
- 1 tablespoon white sugar, split
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ teaspoon salt
Combine half of the sugar and raspberries together in a medium bowl, and macerate until juicy, about ten minutes. Mash berries with a fork until only lumpy bits remain. Pour the berry mixture into a quart jar with a lid, and add the rest of the sugar, vinegar, olive oil, honey and salt. Put the lid on the jar and shake until well mixed. Refrigerate.
Duchman Family Winery
Duchman Family Winery is in Texas Hill Country (just 25 miles outside of Austin) but visitors will be forgiven if they think they’re in Tuscany, between the romantic gardens, rolling hills and Italian varieties under vine. Look for Aglianico, Vermentino, Montepulciano and Trebbiano.
The 2019 Sangiovese is fantastic, with notes of ripe red cherries, cranberry juice, honeysuckle, and blackberries hemmed in by moderate tannins. Winemaker Dave Reilly loves pairing his “whites with grilled vegetables,” but recommends pairing the Sangiovese with grilled chicken when the patio beckons.
DUCHMAN FAMILY WINERY SANGIOVESE AND TUSCAN GRILLED CHICKEN
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 sprigs chopped rosemary
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 large skinless chicken breast
- In a bowl, combine all ingredients except the chicken breast. Pour contents of the bowl into a bag with the chicken breast, and let it marinade over night.
- Start your grill and over medium high heat, sear the chicken breast for about a minute on both sides, then cook the chicken through on medium heat until the internal temperature is 160 degrees Fahrenheit on the thickest part of the breast.
Overlooking the Pedernales River Valley about 15 minutes east of Fredericksburg, the Pedernales winery produces sustainable wines by selecting Hill Country and High Plains-grown Rhône and Spanish varieties.
The 2016 High Plains Tempranillo has aromas and flavors of cherry, cranberry, cedar, white tea, and white pepper. David Kuhlken, co-founder and winemaker at Pedernales loves to “grill jalapeno pepper burgers and enjoy them by the pool with our Viognier Reserve,” but for special occasions, he’ll grab a bottle of Tempranillo to pair with grilled steak.
PEDERNALES CELLARS GRILLED STEAK WITH BLUE CHEESE AND CHIVE BUTTER
For the Butter:
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped fine
- 1/8 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- 4 ounces Blue cheese
- Place room temperature butter into a mixing bowl. If available, use a paddle attachment on a stand mixer.
- Beat until light and fluffy, approximately 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add mustard, chives, salt and pepper. Beat on medium speed until all ingredients are well mixed, approximately 1 to 2 minutes.
- Crumble and gently mix in the blue cheese.
- . Butter should not be perfectly smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Place butter in the center of a sheet of parchment paper (can use wax paper or plastic wrap). Form a log by rolling the bottom half of the paper over the butter. Roll it back and forth until you have desired thickness, then roll it all the way closed.
- Twist the ends to seal and tighten the log. Refrigerate until hardened, about two hours.
For the Steaks:
- (2) 1-1/2-inch-thick steaks
- Coarse kosher salt
- Freshly cracked pepper
- Grapeseed or other neutral oil for grill
- Prepare your charcoal or gas grill. If using a gas grill, preheat on high for at least 15 minutes ahead of time.
- Remove steaks from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking or until steaks are at room temperature.
- Season steaks liberally with coarse salt and pepper on both sides.
- Rub grill grates well with oil. Grill steaks until medium or medium rare, about 4 minutes per side.
- Remove steaks and immediately top each with a slice of Blue Cheese Compound Butter. Let it melt for 5 minutes as the steaks rest.
Brennan Vineyards is located on one of the oldest remaining homesteads in Texas, dating back to 1876. It has 30 acres of grapes under vine—including Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre—farmed with a land over hand approach. The minimal intervention in the fields and the winery allows the terroir to really shine through.
The Graciano is an effusive summer red, my favorite kind to pair with grilled dishes here in New York. Blackberry pie, red and black currants, plump plums, a rounded, bouncy texture.
Winemaker Todd Webster says that in the searing Texas heat he often reaches for their “Dry Rosé 2019 (70% Mourvèdre & 30% Muscat of Alexandria) is low alcohol with high acidity and pairs great with deconstructed Mexican Style corn. A perfect pairing with hot days, rosé wine and a pool in your backyard. I love the Graciano too, especially with grilled kabobs.”
BRENNAN VINEYARDS GRACIANO WITH HUSBAND’S K-BOBS
For the K-Bobs:
- 1 pack disposable wooden skewers
- 1 -2 pounds of your meat of preference cut into 2″ cubes—beef or chicken (stew meat works in a pinch)
- 2 bell peppers (pick your favorite colors)
- 1 red onion (halved, and then quartered, pieces should form triangles)
- 1 sweet onion (halved, and then quartered, pieces should form triangles)
- 2 cups cubed pineapple
For the marinade:
- 1 tablespoon mashed garlic
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup honey
- 3/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- (*If you are not a fan of texture in your marinades particularly with the garlic, parsley, or green onions feel free to run through a food processor or blender.)
- Marinate cubed meat for 6 to 8 hours
- Skewer meat and desired extras (onion, bell pepper, and pineapple).
- Grill over coal or gas to desired doneness
- Serve with rice and sautéed yellow squash.