Texas Tasting Series - Texas vs France -
 This event offers attendees the opportunity to compare and contrast wines made from similar grape varieties and produced in Texas versus France. Chef Amber Saidler, Texas Wine Collective Director of Operations, has prepared delicious small food bites to accompany the wines.
Note: The Texas wines from our Texas Wine Collective partners will be offered in a 3-pk at a special discounted price.
France has an amazing wine history and has long been considered the most important wine region in the world. Through most of the 19th and 20th centuries the quality and reputation of French wines set them apart from the rest of the world. The famous 1855 classification of top Bordeaux estates set a standard that many envy and have tried to emulate. The French also instituted an Appellation of Origin (AOC or AOP) system designed to help define the origin of grapes, and in some cases even define allowed grape varieties for various regions. Similar classifications are now used throughout Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South and North America. The American Viticultural Area (AVA) system used in the U.S. and Texas is based on the French AOC system, except that AVAs do NOT include definition of what grape varieties are allowed in each growing area.
Many French-origin grape varieties have found their way to Texas and some have adapted particularly well to the hot and arid climates where grapes are primarily grown in the Lone Star State. This pairing event will focus on three of those varieties – Viognier, Grenache, and Merlot. Like with other wine regions, comparison tastings provide a useful means for Texas growers, winemakers, and customer-advocates to measure the quality of their wines. Today’s event provides us the opportunity to make our own taste comparisons of these Texas and French wines.
Viognier has become very popular, basically a workhorse white variety in Texas. Surprisingly, by 1965 the grape had become almost extinct as it was only being grown in the tiny northern Rhône Valley appellation of Condrieu. After WWII, an older generation of growers simply abandoned the difficult-to-farm steep hillside vineyards. It wasn’t until a new generation came along that the grape variety was revived. Now, almost 1,000 acres are planted in Condrieu and from these grapes came cuttings that have supplied many other wine regions, including Texas, with Viognier vines.
It is common in nearby Côte Rotie region to add a small percentage (4-10%) of Viognier grapes to co-ferment with dark, tannic Syrah. It seems implausible that adding white grapes to fermenting red grapes would help increase color and color stability, but that’s what happens. Such is the wonder of chemistry and the “magic” of co-pigmentation. It brightens fruit aromas and flavors, too. Other regions have adopted this concept and now add Viognier, or other white varieties, to red wine fermentations.
Viognier on its own produces rich, aromatic white wines with a textural mouthfeel similar to Chardonnay and aromas/flavors of white flowers and stone fruits – peach, nectarine, and apricots. All TWC winery partners produce or at least use Viognier in their portfolio. Viognier is a signature wine for Todd Webster at Brennan Vineyards, and a version several years ago was awarded a custom saddle as the top Texas wine from the Houston Rodeo, Livestock Show and Wine Competition. That saddle is proudly on display in the banquet tasting room in Comanche.
Brennan Vineyards Viognier 2022 Texas High Plains AVA
This 100% Viognier wine was produced from mechanically harvested fruit from Texas High Plains vineyards. The grapes were actually pressed at Reddy Vineyards east of Brownfield, TX, and the resulting juice shipped to Brennan Vineyards in Comanche where it was fermented cold at 52oF; aged on the lees in SS tank with no malolactic transformation; and eventually bottled at 14.1% ABV, 0.0% RS (dry). As noted above, this Rhône Valley grape has adapted well to Texas and produces floral, aromatic wines loaded with aromas and flavors of stone fruits – peach, nectarine, apricot. In addition, there are notes of key lime zest, bosc pear, and ginger-spiced peach puree. The mouthfeel is silky and rich with good fruit/acid balance. Pair with bacon wrapped quail (bacon wrapped just about anything), charbroiled oysters or shrimp, white cheese fondue, and fried squash or okra with garden herb ranch.
Famille Gassier Les Piliers Viognier 2021 Southern France
This 100% Viognier comes from vineyards in the Gard region in southern France. The area is near the city of Avignon and contains several notable appellations, such as Provence, where Mourvèdre reds and rosé wines are prominent, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation famous for producing some of the finest wines of France – mostly based on the Grenache variety. The Gard region has a Mediterranean climate that is hot, generally dry, with prevailing winds –
sound a bit like the Texas High Plains?
Michel Gassier, a fourth-generation winemaker, manages two estates, Château de Nages is the family domaine and Domaine Gassier is a newer creation. Both are organically farmed and from which a range of Rhône-style reds and whites are produced. This Viognier is off-dry, smooth, and velvety on the palate with ripe peach, pear, honey lemon flavors, and bright acidity that pairs well with grilled seafood and rich sauces, avocado stuffed with chicken salad, goat cheese bruschetta, and grilled pork chops.
 Grenache is one of the world’s best and most widely planted grape varieties. It is believed to have originated in eastern Spain where it is called Garnacha and adapted well to southern France, especially in the southern Rhône Valley. Grenache is probably best known as the key grape for the Grenache-Syrah- Mourvèdre red wine blends of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is really the workhorse grape of the southern Rhône with over 50% of the vineyard acreage. We see a lot of wines labeled as GSMs these days, and that trend started in Australia when they needed a distinguishing name that related to the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Grenache ripens late and grows best under hot, dry conditions, like those found in Spain, southern France, Sardinia (where Grenache is known as Cannonau), Australia, California, and TEXAS. The grapes can climb to high sugar levels giving high alcohol wines. The flavors are generally described as red fruit (think cherry and strawberry) with a white pepper note that can be very distinctive. Grenache is not often darkly colored or tannic like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah but can carry a lot of flavor and character.
There was a lot of Grenache planted early on in Australia as it produced high yields and was tolerant of heat and drought. It was a key component for many fortified sweetened wines. For the same reasons, Grenache was extensively planted in California’s hot and arid San Joaquin Valley and used in sweet jug wine blends in the late 20th century.
Grenache has a strong wood canopy that can handle windy conditions, important in the Rhône Valley, coastal regions of Spain, and the High Plains of Texas. However, this can make it more difficult to use mechanical harvesters and pruning equipment – something which has led to a decline in popularity in both Australia and California. The vines bud early, require a long growing season, and tend to suffer from several mold and mildew diseases exacerbated by tight grape clusters, especially under rainy conditions.
McPherson Cellars Grenache Block Series 2019 Texas High Plains
This 100% Grenache varietal was sourced from the specially planted Purtell Block of vines in the large Lahey Vineyards west of Brownfield, TX, Terry County. The fruit was machine harvested, sorted, given a 3-day cold soak, and fermented in SS tanks at moderate temperature (about 75oF) for 8 days. There was a total of 30 days skin contact. When finished, winemakers Kim McPherson and Spenser Igo racked the wine into French oak barrels, 18% new, for 14 months aging. The wine was bottled at @ 13.5% ABV, 0.2% RS (dry).
The color is a rich ruby. Aromas of cherries, dried strawberries, rhubarb, and soft vanilla notes are followed by flavors of sour cherries and black currants with notes of brioche and baking spices. The wine offers a fine balance between fruit, acidity, and gentle tannins on a long finish. This pairs well with grilled and smoked meats, roasted leg of lamb, soft cheeses, and a range of Italian dishes.
Domaine de la Piégonne Valréas 2019 Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC
This is a classic Côte du Rhône blend of Grenache 90%, Syrah 8%, and Mourvèdre 2%. Very little info is available about vineyard and vinification, but it was most likely handled like other Côtes du Rhône Villages wines - hand harvested, fermented in temperature-controlled SS or concrete tanks (@ about 75oF), aged 10-12 months in used French oak barrels, then blended and bottled at 14.0% ABV, 0% RS (dry). The color is a deep, opaque red with a nose reminiscent of Mediterranean countryside and olive groves. Notes of black and red berries meld with spices on the palate.
The Côtes du Rhône Villages designation applies to certain villages of the Rhône Valley that are generally considered to produce higher quality wines than the broader, generic Côtes du Rhône appellation. When a village’s wines are judged to be of even greater quality, the name of the village can be listed on the label. Valréas, located in the Vaucluse region 21 miles north of Orange, is one such village. There are about 1,200 acres of vines, planted about 95% to red varieties, and the wines must contain at least 40% Grenache. The vineyards are planted on an elevated plateau on soils that are rocky and sandy with clay and limestone underneath. Even with the typical hot summers, this is one of the cooler areas of the southern Rhône Valley and benefits from slightly longer hang times as a result.
Interesting note: The Valréas area was a favorite source of wines for Pope Clement V (1305–1314). He declared Valréas part of a special “papal favorite” region for grape growing that was reportedly a key factor in the creation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape as the new seat of the papacy in the 14th Century.
 The final pairing for this event includes two red wines based on Merlot, a classic Bordeaux variety. Merlot is the most widely grown grape variety in the Bordeaux region of France, and, almost surprisingly, has found a home in Texas, producing delicious varietal bottlings or Bordeaux-style blends. Merlot is the primary grape in the East or Right Bank (of the Dordogne River) region of Bordeaux and is typically blended with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot tends to offer riper fruit aromas and flavors than Cabernet Sauvignon and generate milder tannins for easier drinkability.
Lost Oak Winery Merlot 2020 Texas High Plains AVA
Grape(s): Merlot 100%, Diamante Doble Vyds, Tokio, TX, Terry Cty. The fruit was machine harvested; fermented in SS tank; aged 18 mo in a mix of French and American oak barrels with just a touch of cherry wood; bottled @ 14% ABV, 0.0% RS (dry). Winemaker Jim Evans has a long history of producing delicious Merlot wines – remember the wonderful Double Diamond bottlings from several years past? Jet Wilmeth grows top-quality Merlot fruit in his Tokio, TX, vineyard (over 3,500 ft above sea level), about ten miles west of Brownfield and only 50 miles from the New Mexico border. Merlot is noted for rich black cherry aromas and flavors with subtle hints of fresh garden herbs. The finish offers moderate tannins and notes of black tea leaves. Pair with rich cheeses, chicken and pasta dishes, smoked pork ribs, bacon or chopped brisket macaroni and cheese, and rosemary shortbread bars with dark chocolate.
Chateau de la Huste 2019 Fronsac AOC East Bank Bordeaux
This is an easy drinking blend of Merlot 95% and Cabernet Franc 5% from the Fronsac appellation that borders the more famous region of Pomerol on the east bank of the Dordogne River of Bordeaux. The 19 acres of vines are planted on mostly south facing hillsides over clay and limestone soils. The vine density is about 2,500-2,700 per acre, production is about 3 tons per acre, and average vine age is 40 years. Grapes were harvested by hand, de-stemmed and crushed, and fermented in concrete tanks at about 75oF over 7-9 days. Following malolactic transformation, the cuvées were aged for 12 months in a combination of one- and two-year-old French oak barrels. The components were eventually blended and bottled at 14.5% ABV and 0% RS (dry). The color is deep ruby. The wine offers aromas and flavors of black cherry, black plum, blackcurrant, and licorice with notes of chocolate, spice cake, cinnamon stick, and tobacco. Moderate, ripe tannins on a long finish promise some aging potential. Pair with grilled meats, hearty stews, or rich cheeses (like Swiss or Manchego).
The world market now has access to thousands of French wines, so it is easy for us to compare and contrast that production with our favorite Texas wines. Growers and winemakers from Texas continue their efforts to improve wines from the Lone Star State. Making comparisons with quality wines from other important wine regions, particularly France, can provide a useful means for them, as well as we consumer/advocates, to measure and appreciate the quality of Texas wines.
Learn more from these references:
Cotes du Rhone Villages, https://www.wine-searcher.com/regions-cote+du+rhone+villages
Bordeaux Wines, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/bordeaux
All About Bordeaux Wine, https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/a-primer-to-bordeaux-wine