Texas wineries dominate at prestigious California wine competition

Brennan Vineyards' 2015 Reserve Viognier won a best of class award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Brennan Vineyards’ 2015 Reserve Viognier won a Best of Class award at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

At the largest competition of American wines in the world, Texas wineries proved they can hold their own against some of the top wine producers in the country — taking home seven best-of-class awards for their wine and a total of 158 medals.

The only state that topped Texas’ unprecedented wins at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition was California. Texas taking second place overall, beating out lauded wine regions like Oregon, Washington and New York, is a well-earned victory for winemakers who have fought derisive perceptions of Texas wine since the 1970s.

“Texas wine may have reached a tipping point, in its development and national reputation, with the recently released results” of the wine competition, Pat Brennan, owner of Brennan Vineyards in the Hill Country, said.

One of his wines, Brennan Vineyards’ 2015 Reserve Viognier, won a Best of Class award, while two others, the 2015 Roussanne and the 2014 Tempranillo, got gold medals. (Best of Class tops gold as the highest honor to receive.) Brennan’s and other Texas wines were up against more than 7,000 wines from 28 states, all tasted blind by a panel of 60 wine experts. There were more than 100 categories for the wines to be entered into.

Brennan noted that California winemakers earned accolades in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for their chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines — two French varietals that the Pacific Coast state typically dominates at making.

Texas winemakers, however, have discovered their niche elsewhere: in more warm-weather varietals such as tempranillo from Spain, which has a climate similar to ours. These often lesser-known grapes, coupled with Texas terroir, are helping to cement Texas’ status as a wine region that can compete with the best. For winemakers like Brennan, that’s been a long time coming.

“Unfortunately, many Texans do not realize the some of the best wine in the United States is made right here in the Lone Star State,” he said. “We hope more and more people will ask for Texas wine at their favorite restaurants, visit Texas wineries and pick up a bottle at local retailers.”

Here are the seven Best of Class winners:

  • Brennan Vineyards 2015 Reserve Viognier
  • Haak Vineyards & Winery Tempranillo 2015
  • Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards Sweet Blush Colibri
  • Messina Hof Winery Merlot 2015
  • Perissos Vineyards & Winery Dolcetto 2015
  • Trilogy Cellars Malbec 2015
  • Wedding Oak Winery Sweet Alyssum 2015 (white blend)

December drinking events calendar

Star Bar’s Blackout, 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 2. Variety of porters and stouts tapping, including Rahr & Sons Barrel-aged Winter Warmer, Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea and Prairie Bible Belt.

Opal Divine’s 12th Annual Whisky Festival, 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4. More than 50 malts from the British Isles and beyond to be served, along with Scottish-style smoked salmon, meats, cheeses and more. $45 in advance, $50 at the door.

2014 Holiday Wine Trail, various times Friday, Dec. 5 through Sunday, Dec. 21. Visit up to 42 Hill Country wineries for holiday fun. $35 individual ticket, $60 couples ticket.

The Ginger Man is holding its annual holiday beer tasting on Saturday, Dec. 6. Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman.
The Ginger Man is holding its annual holiday beer tasting on Saturday, Dec. 6. Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman.

Ginger Man’s Holiday Beer Tasting, 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6. Seasonal beer offerings paired with fruits and cheeses from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. Call 512-473-8801 to reserve your spot.

National Lager Day at Easy Tiger, 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10. $4 lager specials, including Firestone Walker Pivo Pils and Great Divide Hoss Rye Lager.

Flying Saucer’s Beer and Cheese Flight Night, 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11. Beer from Deschutes Brewery, cheese from Henri’s. Also a special release of 2009 Deschutes Abyss.

Hi Hat’s 2nd Anniversary Beer Dinner, 7 to 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11. Six-course beer pairing dinner featuring New Belgium and Firestone Walker brews and live jazz music. $75.

“Love Austin Beer” Pop-Up Show at Studium, 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12. Unveiling of 10-piece print series by Austin artist Jessica Deahl featuring local beers on screenprinted posters. Special local tappings for the event TBD.

Vino Vino’s Oodles of Bubbles, 12 to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13. More than 50 sparkling wines and fresh Gulf oysters on the half shell. $25.

Banger’s Ugly Sweater Party, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17. Austin Beerworks brews (Sputnik alert!) with suggested food pairings from Chef Ted Prater.

The Brew & Brew’s Tun Tun Tun Fest, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17. A whole tap wall’s worth of limited release beers, such as the Prairie Christmas Bomb and Brew & Brew’s own collaboration with Hops & Grain, a Coffee Baltic Porter called &.

Come and Taste It at the Grapevine in Gruene, 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18. Hye Meadows Winery & Pedernales Brewing will be at this complimentary tasting event with live music, prize giveaways, food samples and more.

Austin Beer Guide’s 2014 Awards Ceremony, 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18. The winners of ABG’s readers and critics’ picks of this year will be announced at the ABGB with special firkins and more.

The White Elephant in the Room at Hops & Grain, 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21. A White Elephant gift exchange party. $30 for a mug, 4 beers and a special Hops & Grain holiday sweater.

Sundayfundaymas at the ABGB, 12 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21. Live music and beer the Sunday before Christmas. Just bring in some socks to be donated to the Front Steps of Austin.

Wine Workshop: Bubbles for New Years at Central Market North Lamar, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 29. Celebrate the coming of the new year with a sampling of champagne and sparkling wines.

Beer Pairing Dinner at Central Market North Lamar, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 30. Learn to pair delicious brews with upscale versions of down-home dishes, including roasted carrot soup with a pilsner, crab pot pies with a Belgian tripel and more.

New Beers Eve 2014 at Hopfields, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31. Bring your best Roaring Twenties-dressed self and a big appetite and Hopfields will supply the food and some very special beer, including Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout.

New Year Celebration at the Russian House, 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31. Late dinner, sparkling wine and fireworks at midnight.

Celebrate Tempranillo with Texas wineries next week

This Tempranillo, produced using Bending Branch Winery’s cryomaceration process, offers notes of espresso grounds, sweet pipe tobacco, with a rich bing cherry and raspberry finish that balances with a bright acidic backbone and soft tannic structure.
This Tempranillo, produced using Bending Branch Winery’s cryomaceration process, offers notes of espresso grounds, sweet pipe tobacco, with a rich bing cherry and raspberry finish that balances with a bright acidic backbone and soft tannic structure.

Texas wineries found their footing and began establishing the region as bona fide wine country when they started planting grapes that didn’t just survive, but thrived, in Texas’ warm climate and particular soil type.

One such grape is Tempranillo: a black grape varietal, native to Spain, that produces full-bodied red wines with aromas and flavors of berries, plum, tobacco, leather and herbs. It’s now the world’s fourth-most planted grape to make wine, and 400 acres in Texas are devoted to growing it.

But when four Texas wineries celebrate International Tempranillo Day next week with a Twitter chat with wine enthusiasts, one thing they might mention is that Tempranillo didn’t always have such a following in this state. Although Pedernales Cellars’ Fredrik Osterberg estimates that some 60 Texas wineries now produce Tempranillo wines, in Pedernales’ early days — the winery first opened in 2006 — only two or three of the state’s wineries were bottling Tempranillo.

“We were one of the early promotors of Tempranillo and Viognier on the white side,” Osterberg said. “Everywhere I went, at wine dinners and meetings with sommeliers, I told them the Tempranillo is going to be the Texas grape in the way Malbec is for Argentina and Cabernet is for California. It does exceptionally well here. So our philosophy is, if we grow the right grapes, we will make world-class wines. That seems obvious now, but at the time the logic wasn’t there — tourists wanted Chardonnay. Now things are changing.”

Because Texas’ climate, soil and other important growing conditions are similar to Spain’s, where the grape originated, Texas’ version of Tempranillo isn’t far off from Spain’s, imparting a distinct, comparable terroir to the wine. After noticing that with several of Pedernales’ Tempranillo-based wines, Stout Vineyards owner and master sommelier Guy Stout said, he felt compelled to grow the grape, too.

“Texas is the only place I have tasted Tempranillo other than in Spain where the varietal expresses that character I know as Tempranillo,” he said.

On Nov. 13, International Tempranillo Day, Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery and Pedernales, all of which grow the Tempranillo grape and sell bottles of the wine, will host a #TXWine Twitter chat about Tempranillo from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., answering all manner of questions about the varietal and sharing their appreciation for it.

The chat pairs best with a glass of your favorite Tempranillo, of course.