Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WW: Politics and Religion @ Hilmy Cellars

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to try a brand new release at Hilmy Cellars. The 2010 Politics and Religion red blend has been a mystery since the winery opened. From the very beginning, release dates were sketchy, but everyone knew something was coming. Early estimations had been July, but that month went and passed with no word. But as the Fall wine shipment appeared on the horizon, teasers came out. And before we all knew it, the new blend was about to see the light of day.

Politics and Religion at the tasting release party

A Little Back Story

This is one of the early wines made by the winery, but it was been left aging for quite awhile. This is a 2010 vintage that was bottled only days before the unveiling -- Tuesday and Wednesday before the Saturday release. As of right now, this wine has had time to develop in the barrel, and the early taste shows that this aging added a lot of earthiness and oak to the flavor. However, this wine is still very new to the bottle; the flavors are not yet melded and balanced, still struggling in their new container. It is still drinkable at this time, but it will be best left to rest in the bottle for a bit. I would easily estimate a few more months, so maybe a Christmas pairing is in order.

This blend is comprised of a popular Texas grape, Mourvedre, and the always blendable Merlot. The grapes make a nice pairing, bringing two different approaches to a wine. Without any other major grapes added, both are able to sing out. And that is perfect considering the quality of the grapes. The grapes come from Andy Timmons' Lost Draw Vineyards in the High Plains. The heritage of the grapes adds to the developing success of the blend.


Right now, the dark fruit flavors are the powerhouse here, a dominating force throughout the entire tasting experience. They stride forth with the just the aroma. Dark fruit, especially the deeper berries (and to a lesser degree, plum) are strong from first smell to final taste. In fact, upon first tasting, the fruit is bold and heavy; it is a weight that settles in and fills everything. It is a sense of decadence with such powerful fruit.

The fruit starts to soften around mid-palate as the earth and oak begin to emerge. There is a strange dustiness to the final essence, like the ground beneath the summer sun. The earth and minerals tend toward this drier sense, playing with the hint of oak that seems just out of reach.

At this point, the fruit and earth are not well balanced. The fruit seems to rest on top of the earth, almost like a thick blanket on a cool day. This isn't unpleasant; the great flavors are clear and tasty,  drawing the taster back. But the wine is still young in the bottle. The earth has not collected and strengthened to match the fruit, and so they have not quite come together to create a more unified experience. However, towards the end, as both slowly fade, the earth is stronger, almost a match for the fruit. Here the flavors begin to weave. This was the sign I was looking for (a trait I noticed in the Vintage Texas Tannat from Bending Branch). This lush and desirable flavors are just starting to get to know one another in the bottle. Until they do, the one that comes first will remain dominate; however, with time, the other will grow stronger and join with its partner. In time, this wine will have a rich and luxurious complexity that will be a delight (just as I suspect from the Vintage Tannat).

Visual Tasting

This wine, right now, is an early summer, one that has already seen the force of the sun and the heat. The ground is dry, the loose grains rustling in a heat driven breeze. A few inches down is just more loosening dirt, lightening in color. Here it is not soil; it is not unified. However, just a little further, the ground darkens, softens, and knits together in the tightest of weaves. It is hidden and waiting for just the right moment to reach toward the sky.

And along this ground creeps dark green weeds. Clover and similar hearty plants dance along the surface of the loose dirt. The dirt can only be seen in patches, a hint visible through the skeletal lace of the tendrils and vines that reach out from the root. These tangled vines creep and crawl along the dirt, lacing their way along the surface, touching only lightly; the contact is limited. But at that root, those same vines turn into a great vein that suddenly dives deep and reaches for what hides beneath. It desires the comfort and strength of the soil; it reaches out to join with it. The two are almost one here, invisible to the sun's gaze. They hide and wait until the rains come, until the sun dims, and a new season allows them to fully be what they are meant to be.

Like the weeds that struggle through the harshest Texas summers, the wine waits until the right moment is upon it. At that time, the flavors will come together into something all its own. The weeds will wait, keeping their light dominance over the dust and soil (just as the fruit stays on top). When Fall rains arrive to soak the surface, the vein and soil below will reach up, gathering the tendrils to them, and a blanket will spread and fill the land, a carpet of green and lush scents only possible when the earth and plants are one. If we can just wait, the dust in the wine will clear, grow into a lush earthiness that will mingle and weave into the fruit to make a wine that will be one that all will agree on, unlike the two topics the name evokes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WW: William Chris Wines' Enchante

William Chris Wines is one of the friendliest wineries along the Texas 290 wine trail. The staff is quick to welcome every visitor and work to make the newcomer feel like a part of the William Chris family. And once someone joins Hye Society, the wine club, a new family member is inducted. This spirit of friendship is expressed well in the winery's signature blend, Enchante. This wine is a wonderful introduction; it is a friendly and relaxed greeting that makes the drinker feel right at home.


This Texas Hill Country red blend is mainly Merlot with a good proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. It is evened out with Cab Franc and Ruby Cabernet. This unfiltered wine spends twelve months in new French and American oak.

The current 2010 blend is a strong red with rich fruit scents on the nose. These ripe, dark berries dominate the palate during tasting. Despite this fruit forward nature, the wine is not sweet; it is a lush dry red. This is made possible by the hint of the Texas terroir, the mineral nature so common in much of the Texas soil, coming out, at first, at the end of the taste.  With continual tasting, the essence of minerals and soil comes through a bit more, starting at the middle of the palate. This flavor sits just underneath the fruit and intermingles with the fruit as one continues to sample the wine. At this point, a deeper complexity starts to take shape as the two flavors intertwine and mingle to make a wine that is not so easy to pinpoint. The aftertaste becomes increasingly harmonized between the two, making a pronounced last flavor. This flavor then melts away inviting the drinker to take another sip.

Visual Tasting

My first thought leaned towards the serene and a concept of two seemingly different parts going together. This made me think of a smooth, fluid brook that is taking its time as it makes its way through a wooded area.

The brook is at a state of ease while also moving. It flows naturally, unhindered, as it makes its way on its own time. There are no obstructions, no rocks or debris, littering and disrupting its path. This stream is idyllic, much like the taste of berries that predominates the wine.

The banks are the most interesting part. The stream has no defined edges. Instead, it melds with the grasses and soil that edge it. In some places the brook laps at the soil, and at others, the grass grows out into the water. The two seem intertwined; they fit together and cannot be taken apart. This is like the tannins and mineral quality of the wine that settles into the fruit but doesn't overpower it.

And of course, this stream is dotted with berry bushes. Blackberries and deep red raspberries pop up now and again. The berries are ripe; some are beginning to ooze and attract the occasional bee. The scent takes flight on the movement of the stream and fills the landscape. This is a place to rest against a tree and take a moment to drink it all in. Enchante asks for the same.

Secondary Tasting: A Real-Life Connection

The large oak behind the tasting rooms at William Chris, June 2012
 After I saw the stream, I thought back to the winery itself. The lands behind the current tasting room (and the new one that is nearly ready and looking great) include a large, beautiful oak and a great growth of natural Texas. This of course links well with my image. But this is not what I think about when I think of William Chris. I think about the people. And then it hit me: this wine is William Chris.

As I mentioned earlier, the winery is one of the friendliest. Every time I arrive, I am quickly welcomed. Someone sights me and calls out a greeting. Before long, I find myself hugged. I love this. I love the friendships I have formed at this winery. This matches the comfort and naturalness of the mingling flavors in this wine.

Bill Blackmon
But, this wine is also the two men at the helm: Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett. The two men in charge project very different personalities, but they are ones that blend well together. Chris is the fruit flavor of the wine. He is the obvious face of the winery, much like Enchante's fruit forward nature. I can't leave the premises without a hug from him. He welcomes everyone in his natural down home way. On the other hand, Bill is a quieter. He, like the tannins and minerals, tends to hide behind the larger personality. But also like those flavors, he shows to be a very important figure that is crucial to the overall success.This is evident in his dedication to the vineyards that supply the winery with some of the most incredible grapes.

Chris Brundrett
In the end, Enchante is a wine to sit back and enjoy. It is easy to grab a bottle, find a comfortable shady spot, and let the day pass at the winery in Hye. Even at home, the tension slips away, and I feel transported and comforted by this wine. It is a good friend from a winery that wants to make every visitor a friend. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Quick Look: San Antonio Home and Garden Show

During the last weekend of September, San Antonio hosted the Home and Garden Show at the Alamodome. GoTexan was there to encourage support for Texas owned businesses. Right next to them, five Texas wineries stopped by to share their liquid gold with visitors to the event. I stopped in to check out one of my favorites -- Pedernales Cellars -- and had the chance to taste four new wineries. I took some pictures and learned a bit about three nearby wineries and one a bit farther afield.

FawnCrest Vineyard
Winemaker Patty McNeil came down from her scenic vineyard and winery on Canyon Lake. This winery has limited hours -- Patty still holds down a normal job in addition to making wine and running the winery -- so I was glad they were in attendance. Sean and I tasted their bronze medal Meritage and the gold medal Cabernet Franc. These reds were brilliant with strong fruit and earthy flavors. I was impressed and can't wait for a visit.

Kerrville Hills Winery
Kerrville Hills paired up with ARC Tours to bring a selection of whites and reds. I tried their dry and fruit forward Blanc du Bois and the deep, rich Cabernet Sauvignon; these wines were strong and balanced. I was also encouraged to come out and see their beautiful tasting room.

Vineyard at Gruene
Operations Manager Wendy Wolf was at the show to introduce the crowd to one of the newest area wineries (in Gruene near New Braunfels). They brought two stand out reds, the Guadalupe Valley Red and 1190 Gruene Road. The more traditional 1190 blend was solid and strong; the Guadalupe blend that uses more Texas friendly grapes was interesting and complex. I am eager to seek out this exciting new winery very soon.

Fairheaven Vineyards
This more northern and eastern vineyard came a long way to showcase some of the most interesting options at the show. Winemaker R. L. Winters walked me through his wines and discussed a bit of his research, especially his work on the Black Spanish Grape. This winery showcased a number of US hybrid grapes and wine, such as Blanc du Bois and Chambourcin. The Chambourcin was the most interesting, providing some fascinating variations and wines. This wine had a wonderful strawberry nose that was accentuated in one wine by the addition of strawberry extract (bringing out a natural undertone of strawberry). Winters' love for the wines was infectious, making a vineyard visit a must (when I finally get out of my little area).

Pedernales Cellars
Shannon brought a few Pedernales label wines (the 2010 Tempranillo was soft and rich) and a number of the fun Armadillo's Leap wines. I love the fact that Pedernales has been making a concerted effort to encourage Texas wine drinking in San Antonio. Bringing the accessible Armadillo's Leap and the newer Tempranillo did get many new fans. The best thing for most of us is that these wines can be found a local retailers at good prices; Specs carries them, and in San Antonio, Vinously Speaking has them as well. Unfortunately, these are not available at the winery.

I spent much of my visit just visiting these five spots, and it was well worth it. The increasing appearance of Texas wines in San Antonio is a good sign, one I hope to see more of in the future.