The Gregorian calendar assures us that it’s still winter, but the Texas Hill Country is manifesting perfect spring-like days beckoning one to its’ scenic drives along the Way Out Wine Trail west of Austin through rolling green hills and spirit-lifting vistas. Though the Texas wine industry doesn’t boast an en primeur market quite yet, three award-winning wineries — Perissos, Fall Creek and Wedding Oaks — held a new vintage tasting for media and consumers this weekend. Like the wines of an en primeur market, however, these wineries boast some nice standouts with super boutique limited production selections.

Taste of Time, Place and Passion in Every Bottle

Growing wine grapes and producing wines of this quality takes skill, passion and unwavering perseverance in Texas. Grape growers and winemakers here have worked hand-in-hand under some of the most challenging conditions to build a $2.2 billion industry. Sergio Cuadra, Fall Creek Vineyards Director of Winemaking, pointed out that the unforgiving Texas weather may reduce a harvest down to 24 to 36 hours, while elsewhere in the world, the harvest can span up to 10 days. Though it’s not just what Mother Nature can dish out that can undermine their forward progress, but also man-caused repercussions including harmful agricultural practices, apathetic legislators representing agricultural areas with big league GMO crops, adversarial trade associations and their lobbyists and unsympathetic bureaucratic agencies.

This Roll Out the Barrel Tour organized by Matt McGinnis, Pen & Tell Us Marketing of Austin, allowed us some samples straight from the barrels and some just bottled, but not yet released. With that being said, many of these wines were much like a young teenager, as Wedding Oaks winemaker Penny Adams illustrated, pronouncing their great wisdom and superiority, but in reality needing a little more bottle time to settle down, mature and integrate back to an even more promising, delicious future.

Road Trip Worthy Standouts

With that caveat, I found that there were already shining examples of varietal correct vino magic on the palette and, with some aging time, they could be even better. Here are some of the shining stars of the barrel samples, new releases and a vertical tasting of previous releases.

Seth Martin winemaker and owner
Seth Martin describes 2016 wine releases.

Perissos Vineyard and Winery, Burnet County (south of Inks Lake)
Seth and Laura Martin, Owners
Seth Martin, Winemaker
Many in the wine industry say Viognier is the Queen of Whites in Texas, but I believe Roussanne is a new diva challenger to this crown. Both seem to have found a new home in Texas far away from their Rhone roots, much as Malbec has in Argentina.

2014 Roussanne, Texas High Plains, Terry County, Oswald Family Vineyards
Fermented in stainless steel, no malolactic. Crisp minerality with a nice touch of fruit — reminding me of a deliciously tasty Rhone white.
Gold Medal 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

2015 Roussanne, Texas High Plains, Terry County, Oswald Family Vineyards
Fermented and aged in neutral French oak barrels for 6 months, malolactic in barrels. This was just the right touch of fruit, minerality, light toasty oak and creaminess. A nice flavor profile twist and change to the normal unoaked, malo versions out there.
Double Gold 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Four Year Vertical of Aglianico 2013 to 2016, Perissos Estate Vineyards, Texas Hill Country
2013 – 2014 Aglianico: Delicious fruit forward, medium to full-bodied wines dialed back from their Italian cousins with full-body, firm tannins and high-acidity.
2015 Aglianico: Just released, grippy with tannins, fruit and high acidity. Should taste even better with four to six months of bottle aging.
2016 Aglianico: Barrel sample was showing well-integrated fruit, tannins and acid.

Fall Creek Vineyards, Tow, Llano County
Ed and Susan Auler, Owners
Sergio Cuadra, Director of Winemaking and Phil Price, Assistant Winemaker
Three wines were standouts at this tasting:
2016 FCV Vintner’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc, West Texas, Fort Stockton, Mesa Vineyards
Light floral nose with nice balance of light citrus, peach, basil/herbaceous notes, crisp acidity and minerality on the palate. New release.

Fall Creek Vineyard wines
Fall Creek Vineyards wines

2015 FCV Terroir Reflection Chardonnay, Texas Hill Country, McCulloch County, (Dotson-Cervantes) Certenberg Vineyard
Aged sur lie in French oak for 12 months. This is a rich wine with notes of ripe pineapple, citrus and banana. Crisp acidity to match up to the creamy style and nice finish.
Best White Wine 2017 Houston Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition
Gold Medal 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

2016 FCV Tempranillo (barrel sample), Texas Hill Country, Driftwood, Salt Lick Vineyard
Deep color, aged in American Oak. Beautiful balance of deep dark layers of fruit wrapped with soft, supple tannins leading to a long Texas trail ride finish. Wow! Delicious! Extremely limited amount.

2013 FCV Meritus, Texas Hill Country, Driftwood, Salt Lick Vineyard
This is the big red blend to match up with your grilled ribeye for a dynamic duo on the taste buds.
Andre Tchelistcheff (one of America’s most influential post-Prohibition winemakers), a consultant for FCV owners Ed and Susan Auler in the early years, told the Aulers not to worry about sticking to a percentage of grape types or traditional meritage blend. He instructed them to make a red wine blend that best reflects the exceptional grapes sourced and wine produced from that vintage.
The 2013 vintage is a blend of 53% Merlot and 47% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 20 months in French and American Oak. Full bodied, big deep dark layers of fruit, with enough tannins to cut through the fat of a big thick steak.
Gold Medal 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Wedding Oak Winery, San Saba, San Saba County
Mike and Lynn McHenry, Owners
Penny Adams, Winemaker
2016 Roussanne, Texas High Plains, Brownfield, Narra Vineyard
Light straw color, subtle aromatics of herbal tea, fresh ripe pear fruit, clean and crisp with mineral notes. Perfect for Texas’ heat and grilling.

2016 Terre Rouge (barrel sample), Texas Hill Country, San Saba County, High Valley Vineyard

Penny Adams pours barrel samples

Medium brown brick in color, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. This is more Old World style with robust flavors, softer round tannins, deep fruit. I believe this one was still a bit awkward and closed-in due to having just having been drawn from the barrel. When bottled and given a chance to rest, it should show its’ full potential.

2016 Montepulciano (barrel sample), Texas High Plains, Terry County, Diamante Doble Vineyard
Dark color, no aroma on the nose, round, plummy dark fruits with ripe tannins. This big, dark red definitely isn’t a “quaffable wine” as one Texas media wine writer has ineptly described other Texas-grown Montepulciano. Montepulciano is on the rise in the state. Wedding Oak blends this varietal in their Texedo Red and award-winning sweet red Wine Cup. You can find these at their winery tasting room, Wildseed Farm (Fredericksburg) tasting room or in select local markets for your drinking pleasure. I believe this wine will get much better and show more layers of character once it is bottled and has time to rest.

All winery owners and winemakers without exception were expressing their anxious concerns of a late freeze on vines that are showing signs of sap rising and the beginnings of bud break. “We are not safe and out of the woods, yet” said one winemaker regarding a potential late freeze in the Hill Country.

— Dale Blankenship with Catherine Sansing