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Chalk Talk: The Dallas Wine Trail. Full Report and Extensive Tasting Notes


chalkboardWelcome to our first edition of Chalk Talk featuring Andrew Chalk. Andrew is a food and wine loving SideDish reader who has taken time out of his busy schedule to send in extensive reports of his experiences around Dallas. Last weekend, he hit the Dallas Wine Trail. Below are his recollections of the day-long event followed by his totally geeky, but insightful, tasting notes. And now, here’s Andrew:

Want to visit the wine country but out of NetJets units? Or don’t want to bear the cost of getting the G50 out of mothballs in the Arizona desert? Easy. Tour the wine country in Dallas where there are now four commercial wineries that have banded together in a joint promotion called the Dallas Wine Trail. The idea is that you travel from one winery to the other, taste three wines at each, talk to the winemakers, and tour the winemaking facilities. For $39 you get the tasting, light food at each location, a souvenir glass and a bottle of one of the wineries wines to take home.

First stop was throbbing downtown Lakewood to visit Times Ten Cellars. This winery sells almost entirely California wine. However, a new development is the coming on stream of their own Texas vineyard “Cathedral Mountain Vineyard” in Alpine Texas (that is so far away it’s closer to Chihuahua than Dallas). It is planted to what appears to be a risk-aversion strategy: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc reflect Bordeaux. Syrah and Grenache reflect the Rhone region of France and Tempranillo reflects Spain. We tasted the first vintage from Central Mountain Vineyard which includes all of these grapes (see tasting notes below the jump). The food consisted of sandwich rolls filled with either tuna salad or ham. Pretty tasty.

Next stop was at Calais Winery in the neutron bomb test zone known as Deep Ellum. This is the newest of the four wineries on the tour having been formed by Frenchman Benjamin Calais, with exquisite timing, just prior to the economic crash of 2008. To date, all of their wines have been made with California fruit shipped under dry ice for fermentation and aged at their winery in Dallas. However, change is afoot. On the day of the tour, he and his wife had got back barely 24 hours earlier from Newsom Vineyards in Plains, West Texas having spent 48 hours, virtually without sleep, hand picking and crushing fruit left on the vines after mechanical harvesting was completed. Newsom Vineyards is the source of most of the top-ranked Tempranillo wines from the state and Calais and his wife had to go through this hand-picking ordeal because there is a queue of some 50 wineries ahead of him for the fruit. He told me how he had planned to make a Rosé like the Tempranillo Rosados from Spain but gave up when he saw the color of Texas fruit immediately after crushing. The pigmentation was so dark he realized he would be making an inky red monster whatever his best-laid plans. The food match was Scardello’s cheeses although I had to leave before any serious sampling so I just grabbed a slice of the Empire Bakery bread.

The third stop was FUQUA Winery. This winery is focused mainly on California fruit and all three wines we tasted were majority California wine. The food here was the most varied of anywhere on the tour. Rex’s Fresh Seafood provided shrimp paste on crackers that tasted truly shrimpy but unfortunately had some chili’s in that made them incompatible with the wine. Kathleen’s Sky Diner (neé Kathleen’s Art Café) provided half a dozen toppings for bruschetta, an organic meat producer from Oklahoma provided succulent mouth-sized portions of various cuts of beef and Paula Lambert, representing her own firm, Mozzarella Company, served six cheeses including three very worthy chevres.

The final stop was Inwood Estate Vineyards. Here the emphasis is certainly not on ambience. Inwood Estate Vineyards produces wine exclusively from Texas fruit. The winery has a separate label, xxx, for its non-Texas wines. For the tour, they pulled out all the stops, serving their latest flagship offerings of Tempranillo-Cabernet blends, Tempranillo and the limited release ‘Magellan’, a blend of the five Bordeaux varieties and Tempranillo.

Perhaps it was a cult following, perhaps just because it was later in the day, but Inwood Estates was packed. The food had suffered. Maybe it had started as a hors d’oeuvres plate but by now it resembled a grainy movie of 1945 Dresden, with red specks. I passed.
The next Dallas Wine Trail will be publicized here on SideDish. I highly recommend it if you can take part.

Until then, jump for my geeky tasting notes.

Andrew Chalk’s Geeky  Tasting Notes

All of the wines on the tour are available at the wineries and all permit ordering over the Internet via their web sites if you wish. So, since some of you may wonder what wines I have been talking about, here are my geeky notes on all 12:

Times Ten Cellars

2007 Cathedral Mountain Vineyard, Vino de terra Alta. Red Blend, Texas

A blend of 33% Tempranillo, 33% Syrah, 2437% Grenache, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc.

The nose has spiciness, Tempranillo fruit and red fruits. The taste is thin on the mid-palette, slightly sweet with a short to medium finish. So many varieties in the blend leave the varietal character of this wine a mystery.

Drink now, maybe with BBQ.

This is the first year for wine from this young vineyard. I think we are beta testing the vineyard. The vines, and the winemaker, need time to get the best from each other.   80/100

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, California

The nose has raspberries and liquorice. The taste is of sweet, open fruit (typical warm-climate characteristics). The wine is simple with soft tannins.

Drink now.79/100

2007 Gewurztraminer, Monterey County, California

The nose has peaches and  lychees. The taste repeats the peaches in the nose. However, the fruit is thin and too monotonic in its flavors. Short finish.

Serve with a fruit dessert. E.g. a fruit tart or pie. 82/100

Calais Winery

2008 Pinot Gris, California

The nose is perfumy and light. Just very unobjectionable rather than distinct.

Serve as a summer afternoon aperitif. 77/100

2007 La Cuvée Principale, Chardonnay, California

That’s ‘Main St.’ to non French speakers. Calais names his wines after the streets that surround his winery. I wonder what he will name after the biggest landmark in the area ‘The Parking Meter”.

This wine is made from California grapes from the Lodi region. They are packed in dry ice to suspend fermentation on their journey to Texas. He crushes (what remains uncrushed from the 1500 mile journey) and ages the wine in his winery. No oak is used for aging.

The nose is dominated by a vineous quality, a negative one that is. The taste is similar with little varietal character.

This wine needs oak. 78/100

2006 La Cuvée de Commerce, Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Syrah (15%)

The nose exhibits the Syrah with bacon scent qualities. In the mouth the wine has Cabernet fruit with tough tannins and steminess. The wine has a medium finish.

Serve with lamb or BBQ. 80/100

FUQUA Winery

2007 FUQUA Chardonnay, California

A small amount of Viognier added. No oak used in aging.

The nose is a faint lemony character. Possibly some perfumy aromatics from the Viognier going on here. In the mouth there is a taste of lychees. Good acid.

Serve with lobster. 80/100

2005 Pinot Noir, Mendocino

From the Potter valley AVA.

The nose is classic Pinot Noir fruit with a light to medium intensity. In the mouth the fruit is astoundingly forward, especially for a four-year old wine.

Serve with pork. 82/100

2006 Tempranillo, vat No. 3, California

Some Texas fruit also used. I am seeking more information on the provinence of this wine.

The nose has hints of Tempranillo fruit. The taste is an absolute model of balance. There is fruit, but this is not a fruit bomb. There is acid. But this is not acidic. There is tannin, but this is not tannic. I can see why this wine won a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. The best-balanced wine of the 12 on offer on the tour. 91/100

Inwood Estates Vineyards

2005 Tempranillo/Cabernet, Texas

The nose is Tempranillo fruit, cherries and raspberries. In the mouth this is a chewy wine with good grip and a long finish. I have tasted several examples of this and don’t remember it being this good. Possibly bottle age is bringing it on.

Serve with lamb, steak, game. 90/100

2007 Tempranillo, “Cornelius”, Texas

This is 100% Texas high plains fruit. Viticulture by Neal Newsom on a vineyard co-owned by he and Inwood Estates.

The nose is unduly plumy. This appears to be bottle variation as I have not noticed it before. In the mouth this wine is made in a highly extracted style. There are grippy tannins and a medium finish.

Serve with lamb, steak, game. 86/100

2006 ‘Magellan’, Texas

A blend of the five Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec) with Tempranillo. Winemaker Dan Gatlin see this as an iconic and icon-busting wine in Texas oenological history but we will have to wait to find out.

The nose is, at present, subdued with tight-knit fruit. In the mouth the wine is a tannic creature. Black cherry and an all-encompassing minerality dominate. However, this very serious wine is inscrutable at this time. Check back in five years but I suspect it will last much longer. Could Dan Gatlin become the Randy Dunn of Texas? 91+/100