The 4th of July has always been a celebration of friends, family and fun so this year I made arrangements to be with my family at a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. While I am sure many of you can understand the simple joys of laying in a rocking chair on the porch, watching exotic animals eating corn 75 yards away and reading a book in the shade, I am sharing my Sunday because it included one of my favorite past times: winery hopping.
For those of you who have never been to Fredericksburg, it is a quaint little community built around tourism and Highway 290. Once you get to Fredericksburg, the landscape changes from rock, cedar and mesquite to little boutiques and German history. I normally do not go for this kind of thing but we had an hour to kill before the first winery opened so my family decided to lunch at Auslander Biergarten. We actually chose to sit outside in 100 degree weather for the ambiance. It also helps to have misters, fans and wooden planks providing some shade to moderate the temperature.
While there, I got to sample their Opa’s sausage, a really good sausage with some spice, and their rouladen, shaved roast beef wrapped around pickles, onions, bacon and mushrooms in a brown grave. Both were better than expected and with a pint of Hoegaarden on draft, a great start.
The first winery was not in Fredericksburg, it is in Johnson City. Texas Hills Vineyard is one of my favorite wineries from my first trip into the hill country and a great spot to start. With a good selection to pick from, I decide to do a vertical and a horizontal. The vertical was the 2007 Syrah and the 2008 Syrah. Both were light in color, with good red fruit notes, a slight hint of pepper and very light tannins. After talking to the people behind the table, the explanation was that the winemaker tried to soften the tannins as much as possible for the local palate. The main difference was the brighter fruit and acid on the 2008. The horizontal was two different vineyards of the same grape from the same year.
The Toro de Tejas is Tempranillo from the High Plains. The Reddy Vineyard Toro was much softer and silky as compared to the Newsom Vineyard, the more full body, fleshier example. The Newsom Vineyard was one of our favorites on this little trip.
Next we decided to go to William Chris along 290. When you drive by, it looks like a 100 year old farmstead and when you walk inside, you quickly figure out that it is a 100 year old farmstead converted into a tasting room. The concept of William Chris is “farmer-driven”, where the farmers are also the winemakers. A quick taste of 5 wines showed a different point of view from some of the other wineries along 290. First of all, the wines are made in small quantities and a bit more full bodied. Highlights include the 2010 Artist Blend, a young wine made from Tempranillo, Mouvedre, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and the 2010 Mary Ruth, an off-dry Orange Muscat.
The Artist Blend had good floral notes backed by red fruit and a hint of leather and spice. I would love to try this wine in a few years to see what it becomes. The Mary Ruth was included because it was not cloyingly sweet, hinting more of grapefruit and orange peel than candy. If you are looking for a local wine to bring your sweet white zin drinkers over to the dryer side, this might be a good way to go.
Pedernales Cellar is two miles off of 290 and well worth a visit. It has one of the best views of the Hill Country and wins the award for most improved wine from my last visit. Pedernales was doing a nine wine tasting and you get to keep the glass for $12. Not a bad deal, especially when you get to taste the 2010 Grenache Rose and the 2009 Tempranillo Reserve. The Rose had a hint of sweetness balanced by fruit and spice, the perfect poolside drink. The Reserve was flesh and body, the cherry and raspberry balanced by the leather and spice. I almost bought a bottle.
Our excursion ended up at Torre di Pietra, an Italian-inspired winery that was busy when we arrived with music outside and a hundred people drinking and relaxing in their event space. We opted to go inside and try some different varietals that you do not usually find in the area. The 2010 Midnight Nymph is a house blend of Black Spanish, a hybrid that works well in Texas but not commonly seen, and Touriga Nacional, the main grape in Port. While the wine was very tart and acidic, with some time this might be worth looking at. They also had a non-vintage Amore de Tuscano, a blend of years that mainly included 2007 Sangiovese along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The nose on the wine was strong cherry and strawberry with some spices that worked with the velvety texture.
Finally, is there any better way to finish than with port? The 2010 Ruby port is the same blend as the Midnight Nymph and a much better expression than the still wine. My favorite though was the Tango Port, more closely resembling a tawny port that had hints of the fruit surrounded by crème brulee, butterscotch and honey.
Highway 290 in the Hill Country was a great way to spend time with family and I would highly recommend it. Just make sure you have a driver because 1oz pours may not seem like a lot but they do add up. I hope everyone enjoyed their 4th of July weekend as much as I did.