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The holiday season is a distant memory, but February and March are exciting times in my neck of the woods. In addition to that Hallmark holiday with all the red and pink stuff, it is also Mardi Gras season and rodeo season. And we go big for both at our house. Beads and king cake seamlessly give way to cowboy boots and hats.

My rodeo season actually got started last November when I served as a wine judge for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s (HLSR) 2020 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition. After 120 of us tasted through over 3,500 wines and awarded many medals, it now time for the winners to be served at the Champion Wine Garden during the rodeo. One of the things that I love about the competition is how many Texas wines are entered and end up being awarded medals. All double-blind tasted with no Texas bias, of course. That so many Texas wines can compete with wines from all over the world is a testament that the industry has come a long way.

So as I’m gearing up for Rodeo season and even attending several pre-Rodeo events including the Rodeo Run, Rodeo Roundup & Best Bites Competition (seriously one of the best wine and food events ever!), HLSR World’s Championship BBQ Contest, and the HLSR Black Heritage Committee Gala (whew!), I find that I tend to have lots of Texas wine in my glass. And y’all, the Texas wine business is wide open and booming! Here are a few that I’ve sipped on as of late – some as samples and some from my cellar.

2017 Kuhlman Cellars Sangiovese, Newsom Vineyards, Texas High Plains ($38)

Kuhlman Cellars Sangiovese

I still remember the first time I visited Kuhlman Cellars, shortly after they opened and being impressed with their wines. But it has been a while, so I was thrilled when I was sent a couple of their latest releases to test drive. This is a single varietal, single vineyard wine from Newsom Vineyards in the Texas High Plains.1 Kuhlman Cellars has perfected the art of the blend, so they don’t make many varietal wines. On the occasions when they do make one, it’s a sure bet that it is something special. Made from the Brunello clone of Sangiovese, it sounds sixteen months in new French oak. Showing a clear garnet in the glass, it is medium bodied with bright acidity and smooth tannins. Aromas and flavors of earth, tart cherry, and strawberry. Such an elegant wine that was a joy to drink. Pair with roast duck or pork or just a relaxing evening. 

2015 Ab Astris Montepulciano, Reddy Vineyards, Texas High Plains ($39)

Ab Astris Montepulciano

One of the newer additions to the Texas wine scene, Ab Astris hit the ground running. I had a fantastic visit with them recently and can’t wait to go back for more. Their gorgeous veranda just beckons you to sit a few hours with a delicious bottle of wine. It was during my visit that I purchased some of their Montepulciano as well as a few other things. And as it was a hit for me, it was a hit for my wine squad as well. The nose of mocha, stewed berries and fig hint at the deliciousness to come. Smooth and medium bodied with a nice balance of fruit, tannin, and acidity. The palate is filled with ripe red fruit, spice, and a touch of herbs. Ab Astris has done well with this Abruzzo darling. Get yourself a pizza pie and enjoy!

2017 Pedernales Cellars Texas Tempranillo (~$20)

Pedernales Cellars Texas Tempranillo

Depending on who you ask, Tempranillo is regarded as the signature red of Texas. Whichever side you fall on, it’s undeniable that it is a variety that grows and performs well in Texas. With a commitment to sustainability that begins in the vineyard and goes to the winery, the tasting room, and beyond, Pedernales is a star in the Texas wine industry. They specialize in Spanish and Rhône style wines and are well-known for their Tempranillo. Pencil lead, vanilla spice, herbs, and strawberry jam on the nose led to a full-bodied wine that offered up earth, black fruit, white pepper, leather, and tobacco on the palate. So darn smooth and reminiscent of why I love Texas Tempranillo. The biggest surprise with this one was the moderate (and welcome!) 12.7% alcohol. We need more of these classic, restrained wines in the market! Pair with lamb burgers or a nice charcuterie board.

2016 Kuhlman Cellars Merlot, Texas High Plains ($34)

Kuhlman Cellars Merlot

Bucking their wine blend trend again (say that fast 5 times!), this was another varietal selection from Kuhlman and another well crafted wine. This one spends thirty months in French oak and offers up aromas of graphite, pencil lead, green pepper, and earth. On the palate it provides dusty earth, blackberry, plum, allspice, bell pepper and more. Lots of complexity on this quite interesting Merlot that is balanced with seamless tannins. The noticeable acidity was something I wasn’t expecting but was a pleasant surprise. This one was a favorite for many of my wine squad. And the more it opened up, the better it got. Truffles, mushrooms, beef, and more would pair with this one. Ooh, how about a creamy truffle and mushroom pasta?!

2017 Fall Creek GSM, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country ($50)

Fall Creek GSM

With locations in Driftwood and Tow, Fall Creek is one of the oldest wineries in the state. It was the first Texas Hill Country winery and also the site of some of the first vinifera grapes planted in the state. In fact, it was founder Ed Auler that made the application to the U.S. government to have the Texas Hill Country granted appellation status. With all of that history, you certainly expect great things. The Fall Creek GSM is crafted of 60% Mourvèdre, 36% Syrah, and 4% Grenache (14.2% alc.)and was one of those day 2 wines for me. Upon opening, I didn’t get much on the nose and tasting it revealed a wine that was almost harsh. And that’s why we have decanters, right? So I put it away thinking I’d come back to it later. About 12 hours later the next day, I was back at it and it had done a big 180! Sweet blackberries, plum preserves, and baking spice on the nose beckon you in. The same characteristics appear on the palate carried by velvety smooth tannins. While the oak was apparent, it wasn’t overdone. This one beckons for a warm fire or some tasty Texas BBQ. 

Now to dust off all the rest of my rodeo wardrobe…

  1. Neal Newsom, founder of Newsom Vineyards was one of the first to plant vineyards on Texas’ High Plains and today is one of the state’s most successful growers.

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