Thanks to its approachability, rosé has become the drink we want all spring and summer. In Texas, especially, it’s not just a trend; it’s here to stay.
“We can ripen a sustainable amount of rosé grapes that retain great natural acidity and will make these great low-alcohol rosés,” says Chris Brundrett, co-founder of William Chris Vineyards. “They’ll not only go great on a warm day, which we have a (ton) of, but also go wonderful with so much of our cuisine. Barbecue, smoked meats, tacos — there’s so much of our cuisine that is just incredible with rosé. It really suits our market for a lot of reasons.”
Brundrett’s winery, which is approaching a decade in the Texas wine industry, now makes about 3,000 cases of rosé a year out of 25,000 cases total, and that amount may well surpass the amount of white wines William Chris now produces, he says.
But don’t discount those white wines. Many Texas winemakers, including Fall Creek Vineyards, Hye Meadow Winery and Duchman Family Winery, make some stellar examples that you’ll also want to sip as the temperatures rise.
Fall Creek, the first winery to open in the Hill Country in 1975, puts high stock in its chardonnay.
“So many people had blown off chardonnay, cabernet (sauvignon), merlot — the Bordeaux varieties — as being viable in Texas, but we have a good track record with them of 30-plus years,” Fall Creek Vineyards co-owner Susan Auler says. “These were the wines we were drinking in France and California and loved. And I think our chardonnays are very good examples of world-class chardonnay.”
New vintages of both rosé and white wines are making their debuts now, just in time for the warmer weather. Here’s a look at some of the bottles you’re going to want to get your hands on very soon.
Let’s start with the rosé — with one particularly special to Brundrett. William Chris Vineyards was the first Texas winery to make pétillant naturel, an old-style sparkling wine the New York Times noted last month has made a “triumphant return.” Pét-nats, as they’re affectionately called, create their own bubbles when winemakers bottle the wine with yeast still present, which eats up the remaining sugar and leaves carbon dioxide (and a resulting fizz) as a byproduct.
Brundrett began producing a pét-nat rosé five years ago and has upped the number of cases each time. The 2017 William Chris Pétillant Naturel Rosé ($25), made with 50 percent merlot, might be the best one yet. It’s bursting with notes of “fresh raspberry and strawberry skins,” a flavor profile that might change slightly in the coming months because pét-nat is a wine that’s alive, he says. (But don’t age it to the point that it’s getting dusty in your cellar, as it’s meant to be more of a fresh offering.)
His pét-nat project has “really started a trend in Texas,” he says. “I think there are probably eight or nine producers that are making pét-nat in Texas. Not all are great, but shoot, in five years, we could have a Texas pét-nat tasting with 20 or 30 examples, and that would be incredible.”
A new round of Sway Rosé, Brundrett’s canned wine project with Andrew Sides of Lost Draw Cellars, has also just been released across the state. It’s “very crushable,” Brundrett says.
Rosés can be made from just about any red grapes, the juice strained from their skins early, but there are a few varietals winemakers prefer. Aglianico, an Italian fruit, is a less common choice that nonetheless lends Duchman Family Winery’s Dry Rosé 2017 a soft tannic structure and good acidity, according to general manager Jeff Ogle. Expect an aroma of “bright red fruit and rose petals” and a palate of “wild strawberry and blackberry,” he says.
For the month of May, the deeply pink-hued dry rosé is Duchman’s featured wine at the winery. Normally $22, it’ll be discounted at $18.
Austinites may have already noticed the charming bottles of Dandy Rosé 2017 ($20) in many of their favorite local bars and restaurants. Dandy is the creation of sommelier Rae Wilson, who is responsible for converting many Texas winemakers into avid rosé producers and for introducing Brundrett to pétillant naturel wines a few years ago. She’ll have her own pét-nat, Dandy Bubbles, out this summer.
Located in the same small Hill Country town as William Chris Vineyards is Hye Meadow Winery, owned by Mike and Denise Batek. They take a sometimes unconventional approach to winemaking and aren’t afraid to try new things, as evidenced by one of the most intriguing offerings in their white wine portfolio this year: the Hye Meadow 2015 Hopped ($24) made from sauvignon blanc grapes and dry-hopped with Citra hops.
The Bateks’ assistant winemaker had wanted to experiment with adding hops after seeing Infinite Monkey Theorem try it in a couple of their products. It required some tinkering and finding out which grapes were best with the citrus-forward hops, Mike Batek says; the result is an incredibly aromatic wine with a distinctive floral finish.
Having the hops “just raises up the aromatics, and you get a little bit of hops on the backside. For a summer white, it’s just so good. We’ve been blowing through it,” he says.
There are more traditional white wines from Texas winemakers, too. Spicewood Vineyards’ Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($19) is bright with flavors of grapefruit and lemon.
A particular rising star in the vineyards is the Rhone Valley varietal of roussanne, a grape as elegant as it sounds. Bending Branch Winery makes a 100 percent roussanne with the Bending Branch Comfortage 2016 ($28), a “rich and creamy” barrel-fermented wine brimming with notes of “ripened green apple, apricot and mango,” according to the winery.
Another spring stunner is Brennan Vineyards’ Lily 2016 ($18), also completely made with roussanne. Brennan’s marketing director, Rebecca Conley, has a pretty good idea why roussanne — a modestly recognized grape that can be a bit of a flavor changeling in the glass — has become a hot commodity of late.
“Roussanne is quickly coming up in the ranks as a favorite variety here in Texas, as it presents bright tropical flavors with a certain richness that likens itself to a weightier chardonnay. This is the perfect wine to gift to those who love a richer style of wine or classic California chardonnay,” she says.
For Pedernales Cellars, the far more familiar Rhone varietal of viognier has always been the white grape that shines in Texas. Pedernales’ Texas Viognier Reserve 2016 is a pricier find at $40, but the blending of barrel-aged fruit with stainless steel-finished fruit has yielded a beautiful and complex wine, rich with lemon, apricot, honey and almond characteristics. Want to see how Pedernales plays with roussanne? The 2015 Texas Roussanne is available, too.
And then there’s chardonnay. Fall Creek Vineyards’ Vintner’s Selection Chardonnay 2017 ($25) blossoms with notes of Key lime and almond cream. The true standout of Fall Creek’s chardonnay lineup is the Certenberg Chardonnay — which was the best white wine at last year’s Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition, beating out wines from California, France and other countries — but it’s available only for wine club members.
“We certainly didn’t mind getting that,” Auler says of the award.
She and Fall Creek winemaker Sergio Cuadra have been most excited about a sparkling wine of their own. Fall Creek has bottled the sparkler using méthode Champenoise, the traditional French process used to produce Champagne. Texas consumers won’t get a taste of the lenoir-based wine until later this year, but we have a whole lot of rosé and white wine to enjoy in the meantime that reflect how far Texas’ wine industry has come.
“I think it’s fascinating that in the last 10 years Texas wine was just finding itself,” Brundrett says. “Now, I’d say we’re past the scratching-the-surface phase and are starting to dig in a little bit and finding our sweet spot. It’s a really great time for Texas wine.”