The Top of the Hill Country Wine Trail is a wine trail located appropriately enough at the northern end of the Hill Country. There are some great wineries on the trail but since most wine visitors concentrate on the wineries around US Highway 290 in the Hill Country, they sometimes do not take the opportunity to visit the other Hill Country wineries. I was invited to be part of a media tour recently of the eight wineries which consist of the Top of the Hill Country Wine Trail in preparation for the Roll out the Barrel event which occurred this weekend. The idea for the event was to show what the 2014 wines were looking like from the tank or barrel.
Seven of the media invitees met the Heart of Texas Wine Tours bus in Austin at 8 a.m. in the morning and the tour was on. The first stop was Perissos Vineyard and Winery where owner Seth Martin met us when we arrived and we picked up the eighth and final media invitee.
Seth started out explaining the background of the winery and the current 16 acres of vineyards. We met Seth’s wife and co-owner Laura Martin inside the tasting room where a table had been set up for our tasting. Two glasses were at each place setting and we started tasting wines. These were the wines tasted from Perissos in order to compare a finished wine versus an unfinished wine:
- Viognier 2012 and 2014. The 2014 was done with a whole cluster press.
- Lucy 2013 and 2014. This is 40% Roussanne, 40% Viognier, and 20% Muscat Canelli. Right now they are cold stabilizing all the white wines and they get them down to 30 degrees for one month.
- Dry Rosé 2012 and 2014. This is a Grenache and Mourvèdre blend.
- Italian Stallion 2013 and 2014. This is a Dolcetto, Aglianico, and Montepulciano blend. Seth said Aglianico is perfect for Texas as he can bring it into the winery and does not have to do anything to it. The Italian Stallion runs are small right now so he can use the Italian Stallion name but if they wanted it more commercial, they would either have to change the name or trademark it.
- Tempranillo 2013 and 2014. This is 95% Tempranillo and 5% Touriga Nacional. All of their barrel wines are aged for ten months and they do not use oak for any white wines.
- Aglianico 2013 and 2014. We were originally going to do a vertical tasting with the 2012 Aglianico but we were running short on time.
Seth said 99.38% (that’s correct) of their sales come from the tasting room. He was asked about when they harvest and replied that the maturity, seeds, and tasting the grapes is what they use to determine harvest instead of chemistry like Brix and pH. Seth showed the production area to the group and they will be getting three more 2,500 gallon tanks in this year. They have rental tanks right now which he said was a good thing because that means they have more juice than was expected.
It was a great start of the tour at Perissos and winemaker Sergio Cuadra from Fall Creek Vineyards joined us to ride the bus to Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow.
We arrived at Fall Creek where co-owner Susan Auler was also present to welcome everybody to the dining room with a table already set up with the wines we were going to taste. Sergio led us through the tasting of these wines:
- Terroir Reflection Chardonnay 2014 (Certenberg Vineyard). The next day I visited Fall Creek Vineyards at Driftwood and bought a bottle of the Fall Creek Chardonnay 2013 so I can predict the 2014 is also going to be great.
- Mourvèdre 2014 (Salt Lick Vineyard). The Mourvèdre may be released as a vertical but may just be included in the GSM.
- Terroir Reflection GSM 2014 (Salt Lick Vineyard)
- Terroir Reflection Tempranillo 2014 (Salt Lick Vineyard)
- Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Certenberg Vineyard). This could possibly be the next Fall Creek Meritus. Meritus is not made every year and you can read a review of the 2010 Meritus on our website.
- Terroir Reflection Tempranillo 2012 (Salt Lick Vineyard). This was the only finished wine we tasted.
It had been another great tasting and Managing Partner and General Manager Mike McHenry from Wedding Oak Winery joined us to lead us to the next winery. This was a great idea to have people from the next winery join the tour bus because it allowed them to describe the upcoming winery and answer questions on the way instead of spending time at the winery to do so.
We arrived at Wedding Oak Winery and went to the barrel room where a table had been set up for us. We met Mike’s wife Lynn McHenry and winemaker Penny Adams. We sat down and Penny led us through the tasting:
- Terre Blanc 2014. This was 50% Marsanne, 30% Roussanne, and 20% Viognier.
- Terre Rouge 2014. This was Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, with Cinsault.
- Tempranillo 2014. This was from Lampasas County and has been in oak since September.
- Dolcetto 2014. From Diamante Doble Vineyard in the High Plains. This will be bottled in about a year.
- Tio Poncho Blend 2014. This was a big blend of 25% Graciano, 25% Grenache, 18% Tannat, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Sangiovese, and 3% Petite Verdot.
The Dolcetto would be joining the Bridal Series of wines, currently Bridal Veil, Bridal Blush, and Bridal Bliss, and it was time to represent the men and be called Tuxedo Red. Mike explained that Wedding Oak’s current philosophy is to release wines young and let the consumer age them. This lets them sell the wines at a lower cost instead of having the wines age at the winery.
Joining us at the tasting was Karen Johnson, co-owner of Alamosa Wine Cellars, so she joined us on the bus to head to Alamosa. We rode by the house of San Saba native Tommy Lee Jones who enjoys a reclusive life when he stays in San Saba. We learned from Karen on the bus that Alamosa Wine Cellars is currently for sale so they have not been making new wines. So instead of our tasting being new 2014 wines, we were going to taste a historical perspective of their wines.
We arrived at Alamosa Wine Cellars where we met co-owner Jim Johnson. The wines we tasted were:
- 2004 and 2010 Syrah (100% Syrah from Tio Pancho Ranch Vineyard which is the estate vineyard)
- 2006 and 2010 Palette (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault from Cherokee Creek Vineyards). This is similar to Wedding Oak’s Terre Rouge.
- 1999 and 2011 El Guapo. I could not believe this was sitting on the counter to taste as Alamosa Wine Cellars made the first commercial Tempranillo in Texas and the 1999 El Guapo was that wine. Jim Johnson explained they did not think consumers would know what Tempranillo was at the time so they came up with the fanciful name of El Guapo. Jim explained they started with 2.5 acres of Tempranillo. Everybody was very pleased that the 1999 El Guapo was very smooth and still tasting great. I offered Jim and Karen $150 for a bottle of the 1999 El Guapo, but they turned me down as they only have seven bottles of the wine left. I realized later I should have then asked for the empty bottle (once it was finished) to set on my shelf of special Texas wine bottles.
- 2010 and 2012 Graciano (100% Graciano from the estate vineyard). They were also the first to offer 100% Graciano in Texas.
- 2011 Texacaia (62% Sangiovese, 30% Tannat, 8% Petite Verdot)
The group was very impressed with the wines offered by Alamosa Wine Cellars and I hope Jim and Karen Johnson are able to find a buyer for the winery.
Owner Stephen Baxter from Fiesta Winery had arrived to join us on the bus and we were off for the short distance to the next winery on the tour.
See Part 2 for the rest of our tour of the Top of the Hill Country Wine Trail.