local flavor for less
Put to the test: Are Texas wines really competitive values?
I held a double blind tasting recently. Ostensibly, the panel was told I was researching "value for the price point" and that they would only know the varietal or blend and the cost. I selected a broad range of subjects; in addition to two "average consumers," Addie Broyles of the Austin American Statesman and her friend Becky, I invited sommeliers:
- Bill Elsey of wines.com
- Scott Ota from the Driskill Grill
- Brian Phillips of the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin and Haddington's
- Restaurant buyer Crissy Cornelius of Fleming's Downtown
- John Roenigk of The Austin Wine Merchant
- Sam Hovland of East End Wines
The secret, known only to Addie and me? Most of the wines were from Texas. Only one wine from each flight was a "typical" representative from outside the state. I wanted to get empirical evidence to support my answer to a question Addie asked me last month: "Why aren't more Texas wines on Austin restaurant wine lists?"
I wanted to see the "state of Texas wines" so to speak. In on the plan were Denise Fraser, publicist, and Russ Kane, Texas wine blogger. Denise sourced the Texas wines for me, but I did not know what they were.
The flights: Viognier under $15, Chenin Blanc $10-15, Sauvignon Blanc $15-20, Dry Rose $10-15, Tempranillo $20-29, Sangiovese/Cabernet Blend $20-29, Rhone Blend under $15, Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux Blend $30-35. The price points were given to me by Denise, to accommodate the retail prices of the Texas wines sourced, and I purchased a typical bottle at the given point, which were the only wines I would know (but I would not know where in each flight each was poured).
The rules: All wines must be readily available in Austin for most of the year, to ensure they could be on a restaurant wine list—I did not want micro-production Texas wines that are not readily available (the benchmark production for the Texas wines was about 1,500 cases per year). Scoring was on a 25 point total scale: appearance 3 points max, nose 5 max, palate 5 max, finish 3 max, overall quality 5 max, and 'how much did you like the wine for the price?' at 5 max. I asked for specific comments as well because I needed input behind the numbers. (This proved vital.)
I know, the sample is small and this is not a "definitive" empirical over-view of the quality of the entire Texas wine industry. However, the results do actually support not only my own opinions, but those of most of the wine professionals I know in Austin.
My conclusions? Texas can be clearly competitive in some areas.
Viognier was one clear bright spot, showing that Texas Viognier is quite competitive at the price; the McPherson Vineyard Viognier showed rather well, 16.7 average. The Becker Vineyards ,16.3 average score,was solid at the price point. Most Viognier available in Austin tends to be above the $15 price of the Texas wines, which makes them a good value, since Viognier can clearly be done here well.
Sangiovese/Cabernet blend also does well in Texas, showing great promise and some quality that surprised many on the panel, with mixed results however. Llano Estacado Viviano was a strong performer at 19.0 average score. Perissos Vineyards was clearly inferior scoring only 13.5. Cabernet-based Bordeaux style blends are also very close in competition for the price, and given the high price of most genuine Bordeaux, Texas may soon well be a solid competitor. Fall Creek Meritus was a surprise in quality, 17.5 average score, especially as it was put up against a Pomerol from Bordeaux which scored 18.0.
Rhone blend wines in Texas are showing a little promise. Two Texas Rhone wines were clearly inferior, Llano Estacado Signature Melange, 13.5, and McPherson Tre Colore, 15.0. Prairie Rotie from Becker was somewhat of surprise result as the Sommeliers gave it moderate to low scores, 14.6, while the consumers did not care for it at all, scoring a very low 11.75 overall average. Bill Elsey was as surprised at this result as I was, explaining that "we may have scored the wine higher because it was a clean and well made wine, that showed some of the characteristics of Southern Rhone wines that I look for with the riper fruit, full bodied character to it. I don't know why everyone else was so down on it, maybe because it had a slight bit of non-fruit character that is appealing to sommeliers."
There is still much work to be done in other areas of wine grown and produced in Texas as well. Some of the Texas wines were, to be blunt, inferior. Chenin Blanc from Fall Creek, and Rosé from Becker and McPherson showed poorly. The Blanc de Bois cousin of Sauvignon Blanc from Haak Vineyards showed to be weak across the board. Tempranillo showed mixed results; Pedernales Vineyards was popular with consumers, 19.5 score, but failed with the professionals, 14.0, Perissos Vineyards was seen as "ok" but not impressive. Given the higher price point, for the Texas wines, $20-29, Texas, while almost competitive, is not yet delivering good value for the dollar here.
The price points for most Texas wines are $20 and up, this is what I call "playing for the university varsity team" in terms of overall competition in the current wine market: you have to produce solid quality results regularly and consistently to play "varsity." Scott Ota:"Texas has some values on par with other areas. However, when running wine programs we also, and sometimes regrettably, have to think about the names and locations that sell to consumers. Therefore, we need the Texas wines to clearly outperform the rest of the world at the same price point to sell it." Texas needs more work and more training to get there. I wouldn't cut them from the team just yet—but they need time before they can make it.