Friday, March 28, 2008

Deep in the Heart of Texas you find...Wine and Vineyards!

As D and I keep hinting, but have yet to really explain, we are wine people. We first realized that we were 'more than friends' while tasting Rieslings at a Rotenberg vineyard in Baden-Württemberg, Germany (just outside Stuttgart). I had a summer internship in Geneva and had taken the train up to visit D, a college acquaintance who was doing research at the Stuttgart University. One of his mentors had taken it upon himself to introduce D to classical music and to wine; D gleefully passed on his new-found appreciation as soon as I got off the train. Both he and the Rieslings totally knocked my socks off. One year later, we did a 3 week trek through Europe and brought back over 20 bottles of Wurttemberg wine in our backpacks (I have renowned packing skillz). Two years later, our wine collection topped 100 bottles, not counting the hard liquor, and dominates the central room in our apartment. And right around the three year mark, we'll be moving to the doorstep of California wine country! Life is good.

What really brought all this on is that, while waiting in the airport on Easter Monday, I picked up a copy of the oft pretentious but still delectable Food & Wine magazine. That magazine unnerves me to no end with its ridiculously elite vibe (they only do stories on multimillionaires and the food that their chefs prepare for their "casual" parties), but I find that its recipes are a lot morechallenging and sophisticated than most other food magazines on the market. In the April 2008 issue, Food & Wine did a fairly mediocre travelogue article on Texas Hill Country vineyards. I don't know if I was more indignant at the poor quality of the writing, or more pleased that Hill Country wines are finally starting to get recognized in the mainstream foodie culture.

When D and I moved into our D.C. apartment last September, my Dad gave us a bottle of 2004 "Super Texan" Sangiovese that he picked up in an Austin grocery store. He was tickled by the name and amused that Texas made wine at all -- and was hoping to pass on his appreciation of reds to two staunch white drinkers (we had expanded beyond German whites, but only grudgingly). We laughed, since "Super Texan" is a spoof on "Super Tuscan" -- the Italian term for a Tuscan wine that doesn't conform to their strict wine-making standards. We then jovially took the bottle on a picnic in the Shenandoah National Park... and were completely floored. The red was hearty, sure, not wispy and subtle, but gooood. Not overly aggressive with tannins, yet it still had some body to it unlike so many insipid California Pinot Noirs. D can do more justice to the description than I can, and I may have him edit this post to insert his own perspective. [D interjects: It had some deeper fruit flavors going on (like cherry or plum), but was still very well balanced thanks to mild acidity. It's a perfect sipping red, and yet it had enough structure that it could pair with mild to moderately robust food]. Suffice it to say, it was one of the best reds we'd ever had.

So when we visited my parents in Austin a month later, we were quite excited to go visit the Flat Creek Estate, the vineyard where this magnificent example of American craftsmanship and ingenuity was made. The trip was not disappointing. The winery and its grounds were lovely, the owner was amused by our pretentious vocabulary and our out-of-town enthusiasm (D takes notes when he goes to tastings). We learned that the Hill Country is a burgeoning wine region that is starting to climb on the national radar screen, with vineyards experimenting with different grapes and techniques to figure out what works best. They are clearly still working out the kinks: a Muscato D'Arancia was very orangey but too sweet, and their port was about as subtle as a sledgehammer. What's surprising is how quickly the vineyards are finding their sweet spots: that 2004 Super Texan that we adore was that vineyard's first harvest of Sangiovese grapes! Simultaneously, it takes a real gutsy cowboy to try wine-making in Texas. A bad drought in 2006 means that Flat Creek's Sangiovese grapes were nearly wiped out and they'll have to truck in someone else's -- so our glowing praise doesn't necessarily apply to the 2006 Super Texan!

It's really neat to watch the new emerging wine regions, like the Texas and Virginia. I mean, these regions are not in any way pompous or posh, so their baby vineyards have this real 'down-home' feel. Kind of like food markets: you feel like you're connected to something more than a conglomerate; it's an adventure, you've made a discovery.


giz said...

If you hurry, you can get to Toronto in time for the wine and cheese expo next week. They'll be featuring alot of the Niagara wines - it would be fun to do the comparisons. I'm sure you'd love the ice wines.

katiez said...

That is almost exactly how we started drinking wines: A German tour, then into the whites.
Now, we're into just about everything and have far too many.
But, it's almost time for our bi-annual trip to the Somotano region of Spain to get our summer rosados....