Rob Moshein - The Austin Wine Guy

A Double Blind Look at Texas Wines

November 10, 2011

I held a double blind tasting recently.  Ostensibly, the panel was told I was researching "Value for the Price Point" and that they would only know the varietal or blend and the price point. I selected a broad range, 2 "average consumers" Addie Broyles of the Statesman and her friend Becky, Sommeliers: Bill Elsey of and TexSomm of the Year 2011, Scott Ota from the Driskill Grill, Brian Phillips of the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin and Haddington's, Restaurant buyer Crissy Cornelius of Fleming's Downtown, and Retail buyers John Roenigk of The Austin Wine Merchant and Sam Hovland of East End Wines, who is also a Sommelier. I sat on the panel as well. Shout out to James Cooke, General Manager of Fleming's Restaurant downtown who so graciously hosted the tasting and to his wonderful staff for their support and assistance.

The secret, known only to me and Addie? Most of the wines were from Texas. Only one wine from each flight was a "typical" representative from outside Texas. I wanted to get empirical evidence to support my answer to a question Addie asked me last month in an interview for an article she wrote on Texas wines, which was "Why aren't more Texas wines on Austin restaurant wine lists?" In on the plan were Denise Fraser, publicist,  and Russ Kane the Texas wine blogger. Kudos to them for their invaluable assistance and huge amount of volunteer work. Denise sourced the Texas wines for me, but I did not know what they were. Ethical disclosure: The Texas wines were donated free of charge for the tasting by the wineries. I purchased the non Texas wines for each flight out of my own pocket at retail. Fleming's downtown allowed us the use of their facilities free of charge.

The flights: Viognier under $15, Chenin Blanc $10-15, Sauvignon Blanc $15-20, Dry Rose $10-15, Tempranillo $20-29, Sangiovese $20-29, Rhone Blend under $15, Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux Blen $30-35. The price points were given to me by Denise, to accommodate the retail prices of the Texas wines sourced and I purchased a typical bottle at the given point, which were the only wines I would know, but I would not know where in each flight each was poured.

The rules: all wines must be readily available in Austin for most of the year, to ensure they could be on a restaurant wine list.  I did not want micro production Texas wines that are not readily available.  The benchmark production for the Texas wines was about 1,500 cases per year. Scoring was on a 25 point total scale. Appearance 3 points max, Nose 5 max, Palate 5 max, Finish 3 max, Overall quality 5 max, and How much did you like the wine for the price? 5 max. I asked for specific comments as well because I needed input behind the numbers. This proved vital. 

Yes, I know the sample is small, and can not be considered a complete empirical over view of the quality of Texas wines. However, the results actually do correspond closely to my opinions before the tasting, and correspond also closely to those of most of my professional wine industry colleagues.

My conclusions, which I will put here, for those not interested in the detailed analysis:

Texas can be clearly competitive in some areas. Viognier was one clear bright spot, showing that Texas Viognier is quite competitive at the price. Most Viognier available in Austin tends to be above the $15 price of the Texas wines, which makes them clearly a good value, since Viognier can clearly be done well here. Sangiovese also does well in Texas, showing great promise and some quality that surprised many on the panel, but with mixed results. Cabernet based Bordeaux style blends are also very close in competition for the price, and given the high price of most genuine Bordeaux, Texas may soon well be a solid competitor with France, if not California.  Rhone blend wines in Texas are also showing promise,  if not  quite competitive. Two Texas Rhone wines were clearly inferior. One, Prairie Rotie from Becker Vineyards was a surprise result as the Sommeliers gave it strong scores, while the Restaurant/Retail and Consumers did not!. There is still much work to be done in other areas of wine grown and produced in Texas as well.  Some of the Texas wines were, to be blunt, inferior. Chenin Blanc and Rosé, and the Blanc de Bois cousin of Sauvignon Blanc showed to be weak across the board. Tempranillo, given the higher price point, for the Texas wines,  $20-29,  while almost competitive, is not yet delivering good value for the dollar either.

The price points for most Texas wines are $20 and up, this is what I call "Playing for the University Varsity Team" in terms of overall competition in the current wine market. You have to produce solid quality results regularly and consistently to "play Varsity". Texas needs more work, more training to get there. I wouldn't cut them from the team just yet, but they need time before they can make it. Keep up the good work. You can do it. The talent is there, it just needs more practice and time.

The detailed results:

Texas clearly the winner. However, none in the flight scored particularly well. 
16.3 and 15.8 overall average score for Texas (out of a possible total of 25), however the consumers prefer the California Miner Viognier. Typical notes:
McPherson Vineyards: Sweet, tastes cheap, boring, best of flight, subtle clean, moderate finish, enjoyable floral notes, neutral, nice focus, minerality, off balanced, nice and well made
Becker Vineyards: grassy, vegetal/celery, oak used not my favorite, don't like the palate or finish, extraction, interesting, complex, some fruit, more balanced, grassy, light, odd nose.

Chenin Blanc:
Texas Fall Creek Vineyards was clearly an inferior wine against Ken Forrester from South Africa which scored. 17.25 overall and 19.25 for the Sommeliers, 11.6. overall for Fall Creek, 12 for the Sommeliers.
Fall Creek typical notes: awful, plastic, no nose, out of whack, too much sugar.

Sauvignon Blanc
was a bit problematic because Texas does not produce very much Sauvignon Blanc, but rather grows more of its very close cousin,  Blanc de Bois. The true Sauvignon Blanc was J. Christopher from Washington. Adding to the problem were a lot of the  professional taster's comments which indicate Christopher may have been an off bottle.
Even still, weak results for the two Texas wines, the Haak Vineyards and Haak Vineyards Reserve,  14 and 13 overall, and 16.75 and 13.75 Sommeliers.
Typical Texas wine comments: bubble gum, poor finish, hoped for more. tropical on finish. High alcohol, flabby, not clean on palate, poor flavor, acidic finish.
Texas performed moderately well against the Washington State, but not a clear value/quality according to the numbers and comments.

Texas Rosés Becker Provençal and McPherson Vineyards Rosé of Grenache/Syrah did not best the Lebanese Massaya, 20.75 Sommeliers. McPherson Vineyards stood up better with a 14.75 overall and 16.75 Sommeliers.  The results showed Becker Provençal was a dismal wine,11 over all, 12.75 Sommeliers,  with comments of: not drinkable, under delivers, only acid, innocuous, and light.
Mc Pherson: too much residual sugar, lack of complexity, crowd pleasing, nice, pleasant.
The Massaya: Pleasant fresh nose, Good structure, Nice, well balanced, interesting, refreshing, nice balance, gorgeous color, value driven, ripe fruit, nice minerality

Texas held up, if not a clear winner. Consumers clearly preferred Texas. while the Professionals preferred the de Bardos Ribera del Duero from Spain, which scored 13.5 overall, but 16.25 Sommeliers.
Perissos Vineyards clearly competitive, 16.5 overall, 16.25 Sommeliers.
Pedernales Vineyards clearly the consumer choice at 19.5. but a low 14.0 Sommeliers.
Texas comments: modern style, Flashy acids, too much oak, pleasant if not memorable, cocoa and cocoanut, murky.
Given the higher price point, $20-29,  Texas, while almost competitive, is not yet delivering good value for the dollar here.

Again, one Texas wine, Perissos Vineyards, failed across the board, 13.5 overall, 14.0 Sommeliers.. However Llano Viviano was a very close competitor to the Felsina Chianti Classico (19.25overall, 21.5 Sommeliers), with 19 overall  and 20.25 Sommeliers.
Perissos: thin, one dimensional, not enjoyable. far too expensive, thin, soft.
Llano: nicely made, enjoyable, tannic, rich on palate, firm structure, grape tannins, needs food.
Felsina: Savory, sound wine, complex, great acidity, will drink well now and only get better, varietally correct.
Clearly, Sangiovese can be done in Texas at a competitive quality and price point but needs consistency in quality.

Texas again was not competitive. The interesting note here is that Becker Prairie Rotie was preferred by the Sommeliers 20.25, the retail/professional scores were low, 10.5 as was the consumer 15.5..
Llano Estacado Signature Melange not at all competitive at 13.1 overall v. 16.5 overall for the actual Rhone, Coteaux de Travers Cairanne.
Llano:  not much on palate, Rubber smell, medicinal, very basic. Clearly not seen as a value.
Prairie Rotie: nice acid, not typical, undrinkable, nothing, but Sommeliers said: Nicely made, firm structure, like this as it punches above its weight class, koolaid.
McPherson Tre Colore: 15.0 overall 13.75 Sommeliers.: Thin, clean but wouldn't buy, not typical, no interest, light weight, Koolaid.
The most overall positive comments went to Domaine de Coteaux Travers Cairanne from the Rhone in France.
Texas has promise with Rhone varietals, impressing the Sommeliers, however clearly needs more work to secure a more broad appeal to the professional wine trade and consumers.

Bordeaux Blend:
Texas Fall Creek Meritus was quite competitive here.  Ch l'Enclos Pomerol from France scored 18.0 over all, 18.5 Sommeliers,  versus 17.5 overall and 20.25 Sommeliers for Fall Creek Meritus.
The comments however, give some insight:
Pomerol: well integrated oak, nice wine, enjoyable, old world style, good terroir, well balanced, demanding tannins but solid fruit and mineral, typical Bordeaux nose.
Fall Creek: Rich and layered, nice structure, good wine, slightly maderized, could be better, faulty acids, not very complex, friendlier, massive and tannic, acids hold together, almost lush, flashy and a bit leafy.

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