By Brian Waddle
Do you know enough about wine to tell a Pinot Grigio from a Pino Noir? Do you know that Chablis and Chardonnay are more than just the names of Kathie Lee Gifford’s bichon frisé dogs? Or that Miller High Life may be the “champagne of beers,” but it’s not champagne and it’s still beer?
Then you, my friend, are a choice candidate for a Texas Hill Country wine tour. When the leaves start turning and the temperatures drop out of the triple digits, it’s the perfect time to grab your boots and hat and head out west to visit a few of the more than two dozen wineries stretching across the Hill Country. From San Saba to Uvalde, New Braunfels to Marble Falls, you’ll find wineries of every size—some no bigger than a double-wide trailer, and others you’d swear are a replica of “Falcon Crest.” But each has its own story, and most importantly, samples.
A wine tasting doesn’t have to be a posh affair. Sometimes you don’t even sit down. In fact, you don’t really even need to know anything about wine, other than the tastes you enjoy. It’s sort of like Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s classic definition of porn (“I know it when I see it.”)—you’ll know it when you taste it.
Don’t be fooled by the rows of grape vines meeting you along the drive into some of the wineries. Generally, most of the grapes used in production are grown in the high plains of west Texas. Dusty. Flat. No five-star hotels, and away from the allure of the Hill Country, Fredericksburg, or Barton Springs. (You’re getting the idea?) During a recent winery tour, I noticed a half-acre vineyard that had been tweezer-manicured down to the last leaf. When I mentioned to the sommelier how beautiful and picturesque it was, she quickly informed me, “Oh, the marketing people did that; all our grapes come from Lubbock.”
Texas grapes were first grown by Catholic priests (while the region was ruled by Spain in the 17th century) for . . . what else? . . . making communion wines. Don’t forget that France also ruled Texas for a few years, so we have a decent claim to the heritage and art of winemaking that’s at least equal to the pedigree of California vineyards. Texas has the goods—our marketing team just showed up late.
The point is that large areas of Texas have the soil, sun, and climate that allows vineyards to grow the quality and quantity of grapes required to produce world-class wine. Texas is in the top five states for wine production, so we’re now recognized for more than just our barbeque. Next time your friends from Napa are in town, complaining about traffic on “The 610,” don’t let their Sonoma snobbery get to you. Our junk is just as good as theirs, but we don’t brag about it as much as we should.
The best part is that you can taste these wines for yourself without the need for air travel. Rather than limit yourself to the few Houston stores that carry a wide selection of Texas wines, take a weekend and enjoy them at the wineries where they were produced. Usually a tasting will start with white wines and move to reds, with 8 to 10 different varieties, depending on the grapes and varietals that a particular winery uses in their blends. Choose what you like and relax with a glass—or three—on the veranda. Then have a case shipped back home. Join one of the wine clubs and get a discount. Enroll in a wine club for reward points. Sign up to receive email offers. Go with your friends and have a private gourmet dinner paired with remarkable Texas estate wines.
See? The marketers have truly arrived. Now it’s your turn.
But where to start? You’ll easily find amazing places to eat and rest. Forget hotel chains and check out the heaps of bed-and-breakfast options available through Airbnb or homeaway.com. To help plan your trip, visit texaswinetrail.com to map out your route.
I would never offend by attempting to school you on the crazy-good cuisine available in the Hill Country, from the aforementioned world-famous BBQ to authentic, massive German sausages, to chicken-fried steaks with gallons of cream gravy. What food doesn’t go with some type of vino? You need not drink at every meal, but remember that two glasses of wine still has a fraction of the sugar found in one bottle of peach sweet tea. Bonus!
Now the only thing left is waiting to hear that pop of the cork, the clink of the glasses, and a chorus of “Cheers!”
Brian Waddle is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.