by Andrew Chalk
Earlier this year I reviewed the Neapolitan pizza restaurant in San Antonio, Dough. It was distinguished not just by the food (excellent pizza, and homemade burrata) but also by the extensive, 100% Italian, wine list. They even had some impressive old vintages. While speaking with owner Doug Horn he asked about Italian grapes in Texas. He had tasted some many years prior, with results that did not impress him.
I mentioned that Texas Wine had improved out of all recognition, and that Italian varieties were in the front rank. Although he had built a list that was purely Italian, it turned out that he would be interested in adding some wines made from Italian varieties grown in Texas. It dawned on me that nobody had produced a credible review of current Texas Italian offerings and that suggested that this would be a great opportunity to do so, talk to the producers, introduce Doug, and open up some business.
We ended with me suggesting a one day Sherman’s March (or. more literally, drive) around the most accessible Texas wine area for Doug and wife Lori, the Hill Country. I was acutely aware that this overlooked some recognized High Plains producers of Italian varieties (e.g. Llano Estocado Winery and MacPherson Cellars), however, the aim right now was to get the skittle in play.
I went home and thought about the schedule. Assuming curated tastings at each location, we could visit six wineries in one day without having to ask wineries to open extended hours for us. Based partly on past tastings, and partly on website offerings, I chose six wineries and put together an itinerary after getting agreement on the date. I confirmed with the wineries (all of whom were very flexible in adjusting to our tight schedule) and with a friend of mine who would handle the 150-plus miles driving between sites.
The eventual schedule was:
09:45 Depart Blanco
11:00 Perissos: Aglianico, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Sangiovese;
12:00 Torr Na Lochs: Malvasia Bianca, Muscat Canelli, Sangiovese, Vermentino;
13:00 Lunch: Trailblazer Grille
14:00 Wedding Oak Winery: Muscat Canelli, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Vermentino;
14:45 - depart
Destination: U.S.290 Wine Route
15:30 Hye Meadow Winery: Aglianico, Barbera d'Hye, Montepulciano, Rosata (Sangiovese/Dolcetto), Trebbiano;
16:30 William Chris Vineyards: Muscat Giallo, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Vermentino,
17:30 Hilmy Cellars: Aglianico, Barbera, MuscatCanelli, Sangiovese;
The north Hill Country town of Burnet turned out to have a strong cluster of three wineries, so it wrote its own ticket as the first half of the tour. It also provided a good lunch spot with easy parking and the lack of crowds that would characterize Fredericksburg in late July.
I had allowed 45 minutes at each location so we would need curated tastings containing only Italian varietals. There was little slack.
If all these wineries had turned us down (none did) I could have easily picked six substitutes, plus a B-team below them, such was the depth in Italian varieties in the modern Hill Country.
I will not pretend to review all the wines (we spat at every location to retain clean palates). Instead, some overall impressions.
I have to admit to some worries that Doug would find the Texas wines ‘insufficiently Italian’ in some organoleptic sense and that would lead to a negative response.
As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. The quality and authenticity of the wines far exceeded my expectations. There was even a major surprise, in my book, at Hye Meadow when they offered us a Nebbiolo. No grape is harder to grow where it is not an autochthonous variety. No grape has a more extensive list of AoPs that were its nemesis. And yet, Hye Meadow’s had the dried fruit high acid of its Piemonte and Lombardy cousins and ‘tasted like a Nebbiolo’. This may be the most under-the-radar success in Texas Wine of 2022.
Coming back to the subject-at-hand, the uniformly high quality of the wines was impressive. Relative newcomer Torr Na Lochs have really improved their winemaking in the last three or four years. Perissos Aglianico is national quality and they should enter it in the San Francisco wine shows (Chronicle and International) to promote visibility and get the price up to what Silicon Valley tech. moguls are willing to pay when they discover it.
Sangiovese is really well represented by William Chris 2020 Salt Lick Vineyards and Hilmy 2020 ‘Uplift Vineyards’. I admit to having been concerned that Hilmy would slip with the departure of the founding winemaker, but Michael Barton showed he is everything needed as a replacement. Even extending to a flair for hospitality: A spontaneous cellar barrel tasting as the last event of the day was an indelible memory for the Horns.
Next, we will see what Dough decides makes the best choice for their list…