A Little Background
Back in 2001 when I got married to The Husband, we were given a gift certificate to a bed and breakfast in Fredericksburg, TX. We had never even heard of Fredericksburg and really didn’t know much about the Texas Hill Country. But when we got there we discovered a charming little town with unique shopping and a handful of wineries scattered on the outskirts. Such began my love affair with the Texas Hill Country. We’ve now been going out there for fifteen years. Over those years, we’ve seen many changes, some good and some not so much. What has boggled the mind is the sheer number of wineries that have popped up. There was a time when I could visit every winery and still have time left over. Now I find myself actually having to do research to decide where to visit. Of course I didn’t have a blog fifteen years ago, but that just means that I now get to write about the The Hill Country with a new and fresh perspective. And it really trips me out when I read stats such as the Texas Hill Country being the second largest AVA in the country as well as the second most visited wine region in the country behind Napa. So now you know, there really is a such thing as Texas Hill Country wine.
On this most recent trip, Thing 1 and Thing 2 were doing their annual four day visit in Austin with family so as usual we took advantage. We dropped them off in Austin and headed on over to Fredericksburg. The Texas Hill Country consists of a large area of central Texas, so named as it consists of miles and miles of rolling hills. For a quick summary of the Texas Hill Country, go here. For more extensive information about the area, check out the Texas Hill Country website.
The town of Fredericksburg is ground zero when it comes to exploring the area. It was settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800s and that German heritage is still apparent as you walk around town. There is no shortage of bratwurst to be had and biergartens around town. There are other cities in which to base yourself, but if going for the first time or want to get the biggest bang for your buck (and gas tank) start here. Just remember that Texas is BIG so don’t go thinking that you can see the entire area in one trip.
On our first trip all those years ago, we stayed at a charming B&B. Since then, we’ve been staying at Angels Lodge Above the Creek and never stay anywhere else.
It’s such a cute place just a block off Main Street, yet you feel as if you’re in some out of the way, secluded place. The grounds are beautiful and there are lots of places to sit out and enjoy a bottle of wine. OK, and I’m just not a fan of the typical B&B. The Husband is the more social of the two of us and I think I do well having breakfast with him, let alone strangers. Keepin it real…
So on to the wine. Listen and listen carefully, or read, or…you know what I’m getting at. Do not just walk into a tasting room around Fredericksburg in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Don’t do it! It is pure insanity! Either stick to places that take reservations (which is a relatively new phenomena in the area that I’m thrilled to see) or go when they first open. Otherwise, go during the week. I know this applies to lots of other places, and I’ve been in crowded tasted rooms in many different places, but this is crazy. Really! You know what the population of Texas is! They are ALL there on Saturday!
Our first stop on our first day was Lewis Wines. We first visited these folks back in 2013 not long after they opened and were still doing tastings in their production facility. They had just come from another area winery and decided to strike out on their own. This time around they had built a nice, new tasting room with a lovely patio.
They are appointment only, but don’t let that deter you as it is really a calm, personable experience without the crowds.
I like these guys because they make good wine and are committed to using Texas fruit. I also like the fact that they take reservations and they will waive your tasting fee with a two bottle purchase (pet peeve of mine but now is not the time to rant). They make several wines with Tempranillo both as a single varietal and in blends because Tempranillo grows so well in Texas. There were five wines on the tasting menu for the regular, non-wine club folks, but we also got to taste one bonus selection that was generally reserved for wine club members.
The first wine we tasted the 2015 Swim Spot, which was a blend of Blanc du Bois, Muscat Canelli, and Viognier.
The wine is prefect for the blistering summer heat and humidity that Texas is known for as it has a lower alcohol level. It also has a small bit of effervescent bubbles which makes it quite refreshing. Beautiful crisp acidity and lots of citrus notes on the palate. Pool, beach, lake, whatever. Open it up!
The second wine we tasted was the 2012 Newsom Reserve. As an FYI, Newsom is a reference to the Newsom Vineyard which is part of the High Plains AVA – the second largest AVA in Texas. The largest AVA in the state is the Texas Hill Country AVA near Fredericksburg. This wine was a blend of 70% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Franc.
The third and fourth wines were both 2012 Tempranillos from different vineyards – one from Newsom and one from Parr, which is in the Texas Hill Country AVA. I liked them both, but for different reasons. The Newsom wine showed a bit more red fruit and was definitely the one I liked drinking on its own. The Parr wine seemed a little “bigger” and I think it will benefit from having it with some food.
Next up was the 2012 Newsom Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was produced from older vines (at least for the relatively young Texas wine industry) that were planted in 1986. There is now more of a focus on keeping the older vines instead of pulling them up in ten years or so. These older vines produce less fruit, but yield richer and many times, better wines.
Finally as an added bonus, we tried the 2012 Round Mountain Vineyard Reserve that they usually hold back for their wine club members. This was a blend of 53% Tempranillo, 26% Tinto Cao, and 21% Touriga Nacional. Lewis Wines is focusing more and more on Portuguese varieties as they’ve been having success with them. They have even started planting a bit of Tannat. I am definitely looking forward to trying more of these in the years to come.
So what did we get? We got both Tempranillos as well as two bottles of the Round Mountain Reserve. Glad we got to taste the Round Mountain as it was definitely my favorite wine out of all the ones we tasted.
Next up we visited Kuhlman Cellars, which is one of the newer additions to the area.
They also do tastings by appointment but have a pretty good space to accommodate a number of people. So you may not be completely out of luck if you show up as a walk-in, but why do that to yourself? I really liked the modern tasting room and each tasting space was set up to be intimate. Nice to taste your wine amongst the wine. The tastings start on the hour and half hour.
We did the Signature Tasting which was a paring of five wines and five seasonal small bites. We tasted from right to left.
First up was the 2015 Roussanne paired with roasted chicken breast with orange marmalade, blue cheese, and green onion all in a mini phyllo dough.
I’m of the opinion that everything tastes better with green onion. I really liked the honey and peach aromas on the wine and it was well balanced offering up some nice acidity but it was also rich and full-bodied.
Next up was the 2015 Calcaria which was a blend of Viognier and Trebbiano.
This was quite an aromatic wine that was off-dry and had some residual sugar. Because of that little hint of sweetness, the wine was paired with a mango, pineapple caviar with serrano, goat cheese, cayenne, chive, and chili salt. The heat of the caviar was a great match for the residual sugar in the wine. You could also do some Tex-Mex or curry with this wine as well.
Next we got into the reds. The first red was the 2012 Alluvé which was a blend of 59% Carignan, 22% Petite Sirah, and 19% Grenache.
This was paired with marcona almonds which were seasoned with Herbs de Provence and yes the herbs came from the South of France. The almonds were fantastic and of course they had small and large jars for sale. They said they’d tried to find domestic herbs but just couldn’t get them to work, so they have a source in Provence that supplies them. I thought it would be rude to ask for more and The Husband had already finished his. But man, were they good. OK, the wine now. It was a dark, inky red courtesy of the Petite Sirah and had aromas of plum and raisins. More black fruit on the palate as well.
Next up was the 2013 Barranca which ended up being my favorite wine of the bunch.
I’m a big fan of Petite Sirah and this wine was a blend of 41% Petite Sirah along with some Malbec, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. It was paired with a mint pea purée and red wine infused salami on a rice cracker. And while it was a great pairing, I was thinking how great the wine would be with a ribeye. There was lots of ripe dark berry fruit on the nose. More of that lush dark fruit showed up on the palate along with some hints of earth.
The last wine we tried was the 2013 Kankar, which they consider their flagship wine.
This wine was smooth and silky and was a bit more acidic than the Barranca. It too was dominated by 46% Petite Sirah, along with 40% Malbec, and 14% Sangiovese. The Kankar was paired with a honey cinnamon cracker topped with vanilla cream cheese and a brandy amaretto soaked cherry. I wasn’t expecting it but of course they nailed the pairing.
We ended up buying two bottles of the Barranca and one bottle of the Kankar. We also got a jar of the marcona almonds. I have GOT to learn to recreate this!
Compass Rose Cellars
Our final stop of the day was Compass Rose Cellars which is also one of the newer wineries in the area. All of the wines we tasted were made with Texas fruit. We went inside and did our tasting but I loved the grounds and the views here. I can definitely see a return back to sit outside and soak in the views.
They offered two tastings – a regular tasting where you just walk up to the tasting bar and their premium tasting which you can reserve and which is paired with small bites. We did the premium tasting and tasted six wines, four of which which were paired with small bites.
First up was the 2015 Chenin Blanc.
A crisp, unoaked wine with lots of citrus and grapefruit notes. It was paired with shrimp ceviche in cucumber. All the acidity in the wine was perfect with the shrimp and the cool crispness of the cucumber. Definitely a nice pairing for the summer heat.
Next up was the 2014 Bearings, which was a blend of Merlot, Grenache, Ruby Cab, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I really liked the lush red fruit on this wine. The pairing was blue cheese fondue and thyme in a mushroom with a blueberry sauce. Yeah, only a chef can come up with these wonderful and creative combos. And I’m not even a big fan of blue cheese.
We had the 2014 Walking Home next, which was a blend of two Cabernets – Sauvignon and Ruby. Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. The wine was a brilliant translucent red and was paired with infused watermelon with peppercorn crusted tuna. I was expecting the wine to be a little big for the food pairing, but it really wasn’t. Go figure.
We then tasted the 2014 Merlot which was my definitely my favorite of all the wines we tasted. We bought two bottles of this. The wine was paired with a five spice pork tenderloin with butternut squash and rehydrated cherry in wine. Gotta love those chefs. They really do come up with some amazing combinations.
We finished with the 2013 Iron Spike which was a Madeira style dessert wine and the 2013 Jacquez which was a Port style dessert wine. A sweet ending indeed. The Iron Spike was fermented outside in the Texas heat, which is why it’s termed Madeira style. The color was quite dense with some brownish hues and some sour cherry aroma. I’m a fan of “dessert” and while I really liked this wine, I liked the Jacquez a little bit more. The Jacquez is made from 100% Lenoir, which is also known as Black Spanish and Jacquez. Call it what you want but it was fantastic! More of the dense color with brownish hues but this time with plum and raisin aromas. The Husband is not a fan of Port style wines so I finished his as well. I definitely got myself some of the Jacquez to take home.
In addition to being a winery, Compass Rose also has a restaurant on site that has a fantastic menu. I mean, they have a grilled brisket hamburger. Hello! In fact, our tasting was done by Chef Ben who was just delightful. He’s put together a great menu and better planning on my part next time around will give me the opportunity to try it. But we did get to try his venison Frito pie!
And this was just day one of our Texas Hill Country wine adventure. Water, sleep, detox. Stay tuned for part two.