Russ Kane, Texas Wineslinger

I spent an hour or so yesterday with my good friend Dr. Russell D. Kane, one of the first people I met when I moved to Texas more than a decade ago who took Texas wines seriously. Then as the leader of the Wine Society of Texas and now as the author of The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine (Texas Tech Press, $23.96), Russ makes a convincing case that the wines of the Lone Star State deserve to be respected far behind any pride we might take in such things existing at all. 

Happily for readers like me, Wineslinger isn’t one of those geeky diaries filled with jargon, tasting notes and detailed descriptions of malolactic fermentation. Like so many things about Texas, Texas wines come down to some mighty memorable stories, whether it’s the first Spanish padres planting grapes for their sacraments near El Paso to the Texas scientist who saved the French wine industry from phylloxera in the 1800s to, of course, to the pioneers who braved derision in the 1970s because their chemistry sets told them wine grapes would do well here. Most tellingly, Wineslinger is a tale of an industry learning all its lessons the hard way – all the way to determining which grapes Texas ought to be growing. 

“We spent 30 years trying to convince people we were Bordeaux and Burgundy,” laughs Russ. “We aren’t Bordeaux, and we sure as hell ain’t Burgundy. It’s amazing to me that we took so long to figure that out. I guess if you plant a hundred acres of something, it’s hard to change your mind.” 

Across the Wine Countries (yes, plural) of Texas, slow attrition has seen the standard-issue cabernet, merlot and chardonnay be replaced by tempranillio and albarino from Spain, sangiovese from Italy, and even some syrah and roussanne from the hot-climate valley of the Rhone. This evolution of Texas wines should, Kane says, change the image of the wine business in Texas in less than a generation. 

Here are some Texas wines (and how much you’ll pay for them where) that Russ says you should taste right now to embrace this future. A lot more good reading on the subject (and personalized copies of his book) can be found on Russ’ website, 

McPherson Cellars Albariño 2011

(Texas) – Winery: Lubbock, TX. Scents of peach, pear and tropical mango with a silky soft texture and yet a crisp finish.  Castaño Prado Vineyards – Terry County (Texas High Plains AVA). $11.36 at Spec’s Smith Street. 13.6% Alcohol. 

Haak Vineyards Blanc Du Bois 2011

(Texas – Dry Table Wine) – Winery: Santa Fe, TX. Dry clean crisp style with citrus and stone fruit and a hint of musk (Vineyards  in SE Texas & Gulf Coast). $12.41 at Spec’s. 12% Alcohol. 

Duchman Family Winery Viognier 2010

(Bingham Family Vineyard  – Texas High Plains AVA). Winery: Driftwood, TX. Fruit fresh with unoaked apricot, peach and citrus. $13.67 at Spec’s. 13.8% Alcohol. 

Alamosa Wine Cellars Viognier 2010

(Texas Hill Country AVA) – Winery: Bend, TX. Rich old-world style carrying subtle oak from Alamosa’s estate vineyard (Tio Pancho Vineyard). The tropical fruit, white peach fruit long finish. $17.99 Houston Wine Merchant. 13.2% Alcohol 

Becker Vineyards, Provençal 2011

(Texas Hill Country AVA – Dry Rosé)  Winery: Fredericksburg, TX. Light bodied with salmon color from limited skin contact from Rhone varietals, yields soft stone fruit and delicate red berry nuances. $11 Central Market. 12.4% Alcohol. 

Duchman Family Winery Dolcetto 2009

(Bingham Family Vineyard – Texas High Plains AVA). Winery: Driftwood, TX. Agreeable, medium-bodied red varietal wine with crisp red fruit character, hint of smokiness and tart cherry finish. $13.46 Spec’s. 13.0% Alcohol. 

Alamosa Wine Cellars, Texacaia  2010

64% Sangiovese, 25% Tannat and 11% Petit Verdot (Texas Hill Country AVA).  Winery: Bend, TX. Flavors of dark cherry, crisp, moderate tannins and crisp finish. $15.99 Houston Wine Merchant. 13.3% Alcohol. 

Becker Vineyards Reserve Cabernet-Syrah 2010

60% Cabernet, 40% Syrah, (Texas Appellation). Winery: Fredericksburg, TX. Concentrated fruit dominant red wine driven by blackberry, chocolate, vanilla, and cedar.  $13.46 Spec’s. 13.7% Alcohol. 

Tranquilo Cellars, “Tranquilo” Red Table Wine 2010

(Texas Appellation). Winery: Lubbock, TX. Tempranillo-dominated Spanish-style red blend gains complexity thru Grenache, Mourvèdre and other Rhone varietals includes tart cherry, dusty earth tones, and floral notes on the nose. $14.95 Central Market. 13.5% Alcohol. 

Llano Estacado, Tempranillo 2010

(Newsom Vineyards – Texas High Plains AVA). Winery: Lubbock, TX. Smoke, cedar and tobacco combine with dark black cherry qualities. $15.78 Spec’s. 12.3% Alcohol. 

Messina Hof Papa Paulo Port, Private Reserve 2005

Messina Hof Vineyards (Texas Appellation). Winery: Bryan, TX. A “fermented” Port-style wine made from local Black Spanish Grapes. Dark mulberry flavors, sweetness and vanilla/chocolate aromas. $22.31 Spec’s. 18.5% Alcohol.

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