After you’ve been drinking wine for a while, it’s fun to get to know more about it. It’s fun to find out how your favorite wine from your favorite area compares to the same wines from other areas around the world, even its origination region. My dear friend, Dr. Carl Hudson, is a natural educator and a wine guru. Some of his favorite things are to drink wine and share his knowledge of it. And he has a LOT of knowledge of wine. He helped expand a fruit farm in New Jersey to a working vineyard and premier wine making facility making award winning wines for 11 years. During that time, he also ran a wine program at a restaurant and even before that he sat with about a dozen friends who would gather weekly to drink fine wines and discuss them. A couple of years ago he studied for and aced the Certified Specialist of Wine exam. My friend knows his wine!
When Carl moved back to Texas in June 2013, one of his first winery visits was to 4.0 Cellars, which we now know as Texas Wine Collective. He wasn’t even finished with his tasting when he told the (then) manager Jesse Barter that he wanted a job. If I remember the story right, Jesse told him that if he came in the next Saturday, the job was his. Carl came in that Saturday and almost every one since. He is currently the longest tenured employee. You can find him on almost any Saturday “holding court” at the table in the boardroom conducting the Wine and Cheese Pairing Experience. He loves to teach the gospel of Texas wine to visitors from near and far. He tells the stories of the people who grew the grapes, made the wines, milked the cows, and made the cheeses. It’s easy for him because these people are also his friends.
A recent educational experience series that he is having a particularly good time putting together is called “Taste of Texas Wines.” Carl shows how Texas wines compare to a country, region, or style. He takes wines from the member partners of Texas Wine Collective, McPherson Cellars in Lubbock, Lost Oak Winery in Burleson, and Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, and compares them to three wines from the theme of the session. A small bite food pairing is included prepared by Director of Operations and Chef Amber Saidler.
I attended a recent tasting session at the beginning of January where wines of Texas were compared to wines of South Africa. Carl started the session with the obligatory introductions and thank-yous. Then he gave a brief history of the wine industry in South Africa. Carl commits a great deal of time and effort putting his tasting sessions together. He researches the theme’s history, the varieties grown, the area’s wine regions, and the wines produced. It is important to him that his tasting participants are educated as well as entertained.
While Carl was greeting everyone, we were being taunted by the plate of pairing bites and two glasses of Chenin Blanc in front of each of us. Finally, he turned to the wine and began to tell us about the Chenin Blanc grape in general. He let us know that it is best known as a delicious, crisp wine produced in the Loire Valley of France. He told us that it has adapted to climates in many wine regions across the world, including Texas and South Africa. The Texas wine in front of us was McPherson Cellars 2021 Chenin Blanc from Lepard Vineyards just south of Brownfield, located in Terry County in the Texas High Plains AVA. He let us know that Chenin Blanc has been grown on the Texas High Plains for over 40 years. The South African wine he chose to compare was from Rhinory, a new tasting room located just down Wine Road 290 a couple of miles. This 2019 vintage wine was sourced from several vineyards in the Devon Valley area in the north-central part of Stellenbosch and produced at Stellenbosch Vineyards. It was interesting to taste the difference between the two examples. The Texas wine was fermented in Stainless Steel while the South African wine was fermented in Stainless Steel and then aged in French oak barrels for 18 months.
Chef Amber paired the Chenin Blanc with Biltong, a South African air-dried meat.
After allowing us to taste these wines and chat with our tablemates, Carl moved us on to the next wine, Cabernet Sauvignon. He told us that the southern tip of the African continent, where most of the key wine regions are located has a relatively warm, dry Mediterranean-type climate where Bordeaux grape varieties common to Spain, France, and Italy flourish. Elevated inland areas are milder with a climate where grapes such as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir are commonly grown. I learned that the well-known South African variety, Pinotage is a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault and is rarely grown and produced in other countries.
While Carl was educating us, his “assistant,” Brandon Owens, the new Tasting Room Manager at Texas Wine Collective, poured everyone Cabernet Sauvignon. Carl continued with letting us know an interesting feature in South Africa is the Benguela current that pushes up from Antarctica and brings cool air along the coast and moderates high summer temperatures. A prevailing wind known as the “Cape Doctor” helps keep vines dry, thus limiting the risk of various mildew and fungal grapevine diseases. He compared this wind to the wind that seems to constantly blow on the Texas High Plains where high elevation helps moderate summer temperatures and airflow limits the risk of various mildews and diseases. He also reminded us Cab Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape variety in the world, and both Texas and South Africa follow that trend.
For the Texas example, we tasted the 2018 Brennan Vineyards, which turns out to be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (89%) and Carmenere (11%). The Cab grapes were sourced from Soleado Vineyards in Seagraves in Gaines County in the High Plains and Brennan’s Newburg Vineyards in Comanche County in central Texas. The Carmenere was sourced from Lahey Vineyards just west of Brownfield in Terry County. Brennan winemaker Todd Webster fermented his blend in Stainless Steel tanks or open-top microbins for 8-10 days, afterwards he racked the wine into a blend of American and French oak barrels and aged for 24-30 months. At that time, he bottled the wine dry at 13.6% ABV. The resulting color is deep ruby with aromas of cherries, rhubarb, pipe tobacco, smoke, and delicate nuances of violets. The resulting flavors of sour cherries and black currants with notes of caramel, brioche, and five spice blend.
The South African example was produced by a winery that has been making wine since 1692 in the Cape Region. Spier Seaward Winery’s range of wines represents those most influenced by the currents and sea breezes along the Cape’s southwestern coast. Their 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was fermented in Stainless Steel tanks, aged 14 months in used French oak barrels, at 14.0% and bottled dry. Like the Texas example, its color is a dark ruby, with aromas and flavors of plums, blackberries, and ripe cherries. There is a pleasing balance between the components of fruit, acidity, oak flavoring, and finishing tannins.
Chef Amber paired these medium to full bodied Cabernet Sauvignons with African inspired chicken and yellow rice.
Carl allowed a few minutes for the patrons to enjoy the wines with the pairing and discuss amongst ourselves. It’s always a good time to discuss with your table mates the similarities and differences that each other perceives. In fact, some at our table preferred the Cab with the Biltong meat better than the chicken skewers.
He caught our attention again and began telling us about the final wine, a red blend. The Texas version came from Lost Oak Winery and was their 2020 Meritage. This wine is registered with The Meritage Alliance and therefore is able to carry the Meritage name on the label. The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) from Diamante Doble Dos Vineyards and Merlot (35%) from Diamante Doble Vineyards, both in Tokio in Terry County in the High Plains, and Petit Verdot (10%) from Sprayberry Vineyards near Midland. Winemaker Jim Evans dropped in a splash of Cabernet Franc (5%) from Burning Daylight Vineyards located in Rendon just south of Fort Worth to round out the flavor profile. He fermented these separately in stainless steel tanks after which they aged for 20 months in a combination of used American and French oak barrels. The individual components were eventually blended and bottled at a whopping 15.1% ABV. The resulting color of this wine is a rich garnet and offers soft aromas of boysenberry and vanilla followed by flavors of Bing cherry, blackberry, baking spices, with gentle, rounded tannins at the finish and more black cherry notes.
The South African blend called The Caracal Red from 2019 is made of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (43%), and Petit Verdot (7%) and is from the Neethlingshof Estate from Stellenbosch. In Carl’s handout he noted that “this wine highlights special efforts supported by Neethlingshof such as the preservation of wilderness area that is home for the Caracal cat, also known as the desert lynx. These secretive, nocturnal creatures are savvy hunters of rodents, small mammals, and can leap high enough to capture birds flying low to the ground.”
The grapes for this blend were harvested by hand and fermented in rotating stainless steel tanks then moved to a combination of new and used 300-gallon French oak barrels for 12 months. These barrels are larger than the typical 60-gallon barrels we are used to seeing. After aging, the wines were bottled at 14.0% ABV. We noticed the contrasting deep ruby color next to the Texas’ garnet hue. This wine offered aromas and flavors of black plum black currant, black cherry, and mulberry with notes of tobacco, baking spice, and tar.
Chef Amber expertly paired these red blends with a creamy milk tart.
In closing the event, Carl noted that Texas grape growers and winemakers continue their efforts to improve wines from the Lone Star State and comparisons with quality wines from other important wine regions like South Africa, provide a useful means to measure the quality of Texas wines.
Look for Carl’s next educational tasting on Sunday, February 5th for a tasting comparison and discussion of French wines and grapes.
Neal Addy says
Looks like a great tasting!