Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Different Take on Old Favorites: Visiting Spicewood Vineyards

I don't often venture much past the 290 wine trail here in Texas. I have to do almost all my winery visits as day trips, so staying near home is easier. But that regular circuit of wineries doesn't always inspire me. When there are new wines, events, etc., it is easy to get inspired, but as the days turn long and the winery folks are intent on the grapes ripening on the vine, I look for different pastures. I start close, usually the Driftwood/Dripping Springs area. Recently I went a tad bit further afield and stopped in the Marble Falls area. Sean and I hadn't been to the area wineries in several years; our last visit was right after my grandparents moved from Lago Vista in 2011. On a nice, bright June Saturday, we visited Spicewood Vineyards.

We visited Spicewood back in 2011. At the time, we found the wines decent but lacking some character. We decided to file the winery away and wait to see what happened. Recently, the folks at Vinously Speaking made a visit to Spicewood. There were tales of good times and great wine; and with that said, Spicewood wines ended up on the shop's shelves (The Tempranillo, Merlot, Merlot Rose, and Sauvignon Blanc). This peaked my interest, and so we made the slightly longer drive up 281.

The winery was a bit quiet for a Saturday afternoon -- there were three other small groups besides us. We didn't mind, as they left before we finished, giving us ample time to chat with vineyard manager Brad Dixon and owner Ron Yates. Brad took us through a leisurely tasting as we enjoyed the company of the three winery dogs.We mainly tasted the available menu, but at the end, we were able to taste a few more wines. This tasting was what we had hoped for two years ago. All the wines are small production and use primarily Texas grapes (grape appellation is notated on the tasting menu). The wines also had their own voice, each with its own take on the mainly single variety wines.

Estate Vineyards

The whites were a nice treat. The two we tasted were two of my favorites, Viognier and Albarino. For both, the grapes came from the Texas High Plains; the wines also provided light, subtle takes on the grapes. The Albarino had strong notes of pear with a crisp finish. This was a surprise, as I often expect a hint of sweet in Albraino; instead, I found it in the Viognier, as the aroma of honeysuckle and tastes of melon came through.
Wines for sale at Vinously Speaking, San Antonio, Texas 

Spicewood has a number of roses. The one we tried was the Tempranillo. I first worried that is would resemble the Rose of Tempranillo from Hilmy, but it was a dry rose compared to Hilmy's slightly sweet. Both roses bring out hints of strawberry, but as the Spicewood wine is dry, the strawberry was light, almost floral. 

One of the main reasons we came to Spicewood was their Claret. Sean still stands by Becker's Claret -- even if oftentimes the grapes are not from Texas. Knowing that Spicewood is known for their Claret -- they even have an annual Claret chili cook-off in March -- we were eager to give the newest one a try. This Claret, despite being dominated by Tempranillo (at 55%), is oddly sweet. In fact, I noticed attributes of the other grapes -- 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 5% Syrah. The fruit notes are very pronounced and give a sense of sweetness not found in Claret. 

We drank one non-Texas wine, the Grenache from Paso Robles, CA. The nose on this wine reminded me of a Spanish version of this wine, oak and earth. I expected the wine to be more fruity and light, as the variety is often a light-bodied red (check out Becker's Reserve for a good example). However, this Grenache provide depths of flavors with an oak feel mid-palate and ending with a balance of tea and fruit. This unique red asked me to take my time and taste it carefully.

Wines for sale at Vinously Speaking, San Antonio, Texas
We rounded out the main tasting with a High Plains Tempranillo (80% with 20% cCb) and an estate grown  Hill Country Merlot. The Tempranillo hearkened back to the Claret; it was light and fruity with only a hint of the typical spice and earth so often found in Texas Tempranillos. It had hints of the typical Temp found laced through a lighter, fruitier take; I could easily just sip at this wine. The Merlot was the only wine I didn't feel surprised by; it fell in line with many of the Texas Merlot's we had recently been tasting, which is a good thing. The tannins were pronounced in the aroma, leading into flavors of spice and limestone; the fruit was light and interlaced itself through the stronger earthier flavors.

After our main tasting, Brad offered to let us re-taste or taste other wines. Of course, Sean and I were both drawn to the 100% Touriga. Brad informed us that they had been tending the Touriga -- located in Round Mountain -- for someone else. For taking care of the grapes, they got access to the crop. This wine was the result of that hard work. It ended up our favorite of the day. It was a lighter, softer Touriga, especially compared to the ones coming out of  Mason, TX (one of the areas producing the most of it). The fruit flavors, dark berries, dominated but were well supported by spice and earth (the opposite of what we were use to). The balance found in this wine was incredible. We were blown away, and then disappointed. This past year, the owner of the vineyard decided to start charging Spicewood, and they were not interested in the new price. This means no Touriga in the new future. However, the success of the vineyard encouraged them to plant some of their own; that means there will be Touriga again several years from now. 

Painting found at the winery
This recent trip to Spicewood won us over. This was something different, despite the same old varieties. I like to taste the depth and breadth of a grape, to know its various forms. Here, I was provided yet another look at some of my favorites. This year, especially after a trip like this, I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of Texas wines. Different vineyards, different winemakers, etc, craft such a wide range of wines, even when using the same grapes. Because of this, a Texas wine drinker never knows what to expect with each new wine; it is such a wonderful adventure.

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