I love grilling a burger or a juicy steak as much as the next person. But with three different grills at home – gas, pelllet smoker, and charcoal grill – I’m always looking for the next cool thing I can throw on the grill. And yeah, when I say “I” just know that I’m loosely speaking as it’s Mr. Corkscrew who is usually manning the grill. I usually come up with the creations and do the prep, which lets face it, is the lion’s share of the work. Well, it is!
In Texas, grilling is a way of life as we have mild temperatures throughout the year. In fact, there’s rarely a month when we aren’t able to grill. Even when it’s sweltering in July and August, we just jump in the pool between flips on the grill to cool off. So since it’s such an integral part of our lives and since I seem to be drinking all the Texas wine, I thought it’d be fun to combine two of my loves.
There is so much diversity in wine in the Lone Star state, so everyone is bound to find something they love. Texas will never be like an Oregon or Bourgogne (they don’t like us calling it Burgundy anymore) with one or two signature varieties. Instead, growers are finding that so many things grow well here. Texas is huge – its bigger than the entire country of France – with multiple microclimates throughout the state (and more and more being discovered) which provides great opportunities to plant a number of grapes. Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian varieties, as well as those that thrive in southern France, seem to really be at home here. And its great that wine lovers have been so open-minded about trying new things. I’m amazed when I hear Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Aglianico, Roussanne, Tannat, Touriga Nacional, Picpoul and more regularly roll off the tongues of folks around here. I love Pinot Noir (its my first wine love) but I love seeing people open themselves to new wines.
So here goes my guide to Texas grilling and Texas wine. And no, I’m not a recipe creator. I do a combo of cooking from other folks sites as well as going on instinct (cause I’ve only cooked like 1,254,821 meals!!).
Wedding Oak Winery
With a name inspired by the majestic, 400 year-old oak tree (known as the Wedding Oak Tree) that grows a couple of miles away from the winery and was used as a place for weddings of Native Americans and early Texas settlers, Wedding Oak Winery has been around for almost a decade. With its original home in a beautifully restored 1926 building located in San Saba, TX (the Pecan Capital of the World) in the northern Hill Country, the winery began its production with white wines before branching out into reds. They produce a wide variety of Rhône and Italian varietals and I’ve been such a fan of their white wines. Since opening in San Saba, they’ve also opened tasting rooms in a couple of other spots.
2019 Wedding Oak Roussanne, Phillips Vineyard, Texas High Plains + Grilled Lobster w/ Garlic Butter
Oak aged Chardonnay is such a classic match for lobster slathered with butter. So when I saw that the Wedding Oak Roussanne spent some time in French Oak, I knew that I wanted to pair it with lobster. Previous versions of the Roussanne only saw stainless steel, which is good too, but I’d go in a different pairing direction. Richer, oak influenced wines are great with the weight and richness of the lobster and butter.
Roussanne is showing up more and more in Texas and has gone beyond a mere blending grape. And it certainly makes sense as another white Rhône variety – Viognier – has found a great home in Texas. This one is medium-bodied, with tropical fruit notes, citrus, and some saline and mineral undertones. A nice combo of richness and acidity. As for the lobster, I like to cut them down the middle (kitchen shears are perfect) so they can hold all the delicious buttah! And hit them with squirt of lemon at the end.
Texas Heritage Vineyard
One of the newer kids on the block, Texas Heritage Vineyard owners Billy and Susan Johnson planted their first grapevines in 2015 and had their first harvest in 2018. Located just outside of Fredericksburg along the Highway 290 wine trail, this is very much a family affair. Daughter Jessica helms the tasting room, which is what the Johnsons dreamed of – a family operation that could be passed down to future generations. With varieties such as Souzao, Tempranillo, Albariño, and Alicante Bouschet in their portfolio, they seem to know their way around Spanish and Portuguese varieties.
2018 Texas Heritage Barbera, Reddy Vineyard, Texas High Plains + Grilled Mushroom Pizza
Ok, so yes, I’ve talked about the Spanish and Portuguese varieties, but the Barbera was a Best in Class winner at the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition so I was excited to try it. And I can certainly see why this was a winner. Tart cherry, baked raspberry, dried violets, warm baking spice, and a touch of earth.
After this past February’s freeze (still pissed about that f*ckery!) we’ve been throwing more pizzas, flat breads, etc on the grill. During those days when we had no power – added by no water a couple of days later – and just needed to escape the house, we’d go outside (yes in the 20 degree temps) and fire up the outdoor fireplace as well as our outdoor heaters. It was probably still warmer in the house (maybe) but you can only take the house for so long. We were also likely aided by some alcohol consumption. On one of the days, we threw some frozen pizzas on the grill and wow! Deliciousness! I had no idea a store bought frozen pizza could taste so damn good! Yeah, I know fire-grilled anything is usually good which explains why pizza ovens are amazing things. But since I still hadn’t managed to talk Mr. Corkscrew into a pizza oven, I just kept putting our pizzas in the regular oven. Well no more!
And since I adore Barbera with mushrooms, this was an easy choice on a “recent make your own pizza night.” Mushrooms and Barbera is one of those classic complementary pairings – at least for the Italian versions. I wasn’t sure what my new world version would do, but it too shined with the mushrooms. The acidity in Barbera, which makes it a great food wine (particularly for rich foods) was present in this beauty. In this case, I had some dried porcini and shiitake mushrooms which have those classic earthy, woodsy notes and all the good umami. Added to the richness of the cheese and a dash of truffle oil, the Barbera was right at home.
Duchman Family Winery
Their love of Italian wines lead Drs. Lisa and Stan Duchman to work with Texas growers to realize their dream in 2004 to open Duchman Family Winery. And lucky for them, as I mentioned above, Italian varieties love the Texas climate. Always with a commitment to using Texas fruit, they are known for cultivating varieties like Vermentino, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and more.
2017 Duchman GSM, Texas + Grilled Pork Skewers
My initial plan was to highlight the Duchman Aglianico as it’s one of my fave wines from them. But when I saw the GSM and realized I hadn’t had this from them, I thought I’d give it a whirl. It was also from 2017, which is considered one of Texas’ best vintages.
I actually learned at a recent media tasting that the 2017 vintage was so great because of the hell that those of us on the coast endured due to Hurricane Harvey. Harvey sucked all the moisture out of the air inland which created a perfect storm for the grapes – the sugar kept rising, the temperatures stayed low, and the acidity held. So we ended up with fantastic fruit and fantastic wines. Well at least something good came out of that little ‘effer Harvey! Anywho, this is 17.4% Grenache, 43.5% Syrah, and 39.1% Mourvèdre and yes, lots of ripe dark cherry, black plum, dried herb, and a touch of pepper spice.
For this beauty, we grilled up pork skewers. I love grilling skewers because nobody ever complains about the vegetables threaded in with whatever protein we decide to grill. In fact, nobody really complains about any vegetable on the grill. #Winning. Pork is like the GSM itself, easy going, versatile, and easy to pair. Plus, the dominant, robust Syrah handles the smoke from the grill with ease.
Overlooking the Pedernales River valley, Pedernales Cellars is located in Stonewall, Texas just fifteen minutes east of Fredericksburg. Along with their estate vineyard, they source wines from the Texas Hill Country and Texas High Plains and specialize in Spanish and Rhône style wines. They are best known for their award winning Viognier and Tempranillo. And lucky me, I’ve had many opportunities to taste and pair their wines.
2017 Pedernales Cellars Graciano, Texas High Plains + Smoked Black Bean Burgers
I have to say that I was intrigued to try the 2017 Pedernales Cellars Graciano. As they excel at Tempranillo, I wanted to see what they did with another varietal from Rioja. This one is crafted of 84% Graciano, 11% Cinsault, and 5% Tannat. First impression was an unexpected freshness in the wine. Smooth with moderate tannins, it had notes of smoke, graphite, pepper, clove, cherry, and black plum.
Carnivores that we are, we do enjoy some vegetarian (and even vegan) fare now and then. The black bean burger recipe is from David Tanis of New York Times Cooking (I would link the recipe but usually a pay wall) and Thing 1 and Thing 2 request these burgers all the time. The prep can be time consuming (but worth it for the great flavor) so I always make them a day ahead. This also helps to firm them up. But instead of putting them in the oven as the recipe calls for, I put them on the smoker. They are fragile so it’s best to keep them in the skillet to catch anything that could break off. Fifteen minutes at 425 degrees (flipping once) and you have an absolute flavor bomb. And yeah, we like to finish ours off with a runny egg.
The moderate tannins proved a nice match for the black beans as an overly tannic wine can overpower a dish that doesn’t have a lot of fat. I’d previously had Tempranillo with black beans so that was part of the method to my madness with this pairing.
An experience studying abroad in Spain sealed the deal for Ron Yates when it came to wine, particularly Tempranillo. After returning to Texas, going to law school and even starting up a wine label, he just couldn’t get the thought of the wine country lifestyle out if his mind. And so it was that he purchased Spicewood Vineyards in 2007. The winery estate, which was established in 1992 is one of the largest vineyards in the Texas Hill Country at 28 acres.
2017 Spicewood Vineyards Blend 2 Red Blend & 2018 Spicewood Vineyards Tempranillo, Texas Hill High Plains + Brown Sugar, Honey Spiced Ribs
This ever-changing 2 Red Blend depending on Ron’s mood (maybe the vintage – LOL!) also sports a new label each vintage with an artist that they love. This red blend goes with just about anything you throw on the grill and can even take a bit of a chill. It went down so easy (particularly while I was taking the obligatory pics) that we decided to open another bottle to finish with dinner. Enter the 2018 Tempranillo. As its the variety that got him into wine, Ron of course crafts fantastic Tempranillo.
While Spicewood suggests a tomahawk ribeye or even blackened snapper with their Tempranillo, I have to say that the ribs are also a great match. And that’s because Tempranillo really is such a food-friendly wine, which I first discovered when I did a Rioja partnership many years ago. It’s hits the middle of the fairway in body, tannins, and alcohol and rarely offends. And the ripe fruit can easily stand up to the smokiness of the ribs.
The spice rub for the ribs is courtesy of the folks at Vindulge (who have amazing grill skills). I make up a batch and use as needed. We’re “Team Foil” when it comes to ribs and these ribs take around 6 hours on the smoker. The glaze, which goes on for the last 30 minutes of cooking uses roughly a 4:1 brown sugar to honey ratio with just enough apple cider vinegar to smooth it out.
I have long been fascinated with the story behind the founders of Reddy Vineyards, and hope to tell more of their story at some point in the near future. From farming produce and grain in India to farming cotton and peanuts and eventually grapes in Texas, the story of Dr. Vijay Reddy is one of passion and dedication. Along with his wife Subada, he is one of Texas’ most prominent winegrowers. In the early 1970s the couple ran a soil consulting company as well as farmed cotton and peanuts in west Texas. But when a friend suggested they try their hand at growing grapes, their lives changed forever. The Reddy family farms about a tenth of the planted vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA and grow grapes for a multitude of Texas wineries. And it took a few decades, but they finally bottled their own wine.
2019 Reddy Vineyards TNT Red Blend, Texas High Plains + Grilled Balsamic Chicken
As I’ve mentioned, Spanish and Portuguese varieties grow quite well in Texas including Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional. Tempranillo has long been a star and more and more Touriga Nacional seems to be showing up. This particular wine is crafted of 63% Tempranillo and 37% Touriga Nacional.
Figuring this to be a bold, full-bodied wine (I mean it’s called “TNT”) I knew I wanted something with an equally bold flavor. And bold it was with a good combo of robust black fruit and earthy notes. There was also a little fig compote working in there as well as some baking spice and dried herbs. I’d been thinking about some grilled balsamic chicken that I saw who knows where, and thought this would be a great opportunity to give it a try.
Start with some time in a balsamic based marinade (balsamic, worcestershire, Dijon, honey, and garlic) that you’ll later discard. Mine ended up spending only a couple of hours in the marinade because I didn’t plan enough in advance. No worries though. The real flavor of this comes from reducing the balsamic sauce (balsamic, brown sugar, honey, Sherry vinegar, onion, and whatever herbs you have on hand) you’ll top the chicken with. Just be sure to sauce near the end. Sauce too early and it will burn and char too much on the chicken. When reduced, the sauce takes on a richness and intensity that certainly matched the bold flavors of the wine.
Cheers to tasty Texas grilling and Texas wine. Happy grilling y’all!