Dallas Wine Trail Boot Camp

This Saturday is the Dallas Wine Trail. It’s a great chance for Dallas consumers to visit and taste wine at the  four bonded wineries in the city limits. You check in at either Times Ten Cellars or FUQUA Winery anytime between 11am and 5pm. You receive a crystal Dallas Wine Trail tasting glass and your ticket which entitles you to taste three wines at each location. After tasting at your starting point, you drive to each of the other wineries . The other two wineries taking part are Calais Winery and Inwood Estates Vineyards. The wineries are about 15 minutes apart so if you spend 30 minutes at each winery the whole tour will take you about a leisurely three hours. Please note:  no tickets are sold at the door. You have to order them in advance through the Dallas Wine Trail web site.

This event has always sold out in the past so order quickly to avoid disappointment. Also, start early to avoid the afternoon crowds. There is food at each location and plenty of opportunity to talk to the winemakers.

Jump for the juicy details.

I have done this event a couple of times and it is fun. It is also eye opening, in several respects, as to what is going on with winemaking in Dallas, in particular, and Texas in general. However, an informed consumer is a prepared consumer and it is best to approach the event the same way you would approach any major combat operation – with suitable training in advance. If you fail to do so, you may miss some of the best things going on and taste something that isn’t what you thought it was. So here, ripped from the training manual of the 81st Grape Airborne, are the key rules of the wine trail:

1. Thou Shalt Not Drink Any Wine That is Labeled “Vinted by…” or “Cellared by…” or “Bottled By…” or “Made and Bottled By…”

Usually you have to turn the bottle round as this information is on a small label at the back. Reason: The winery didn’t make the wine. According to The US Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (the Feds. responsible for enforcing Federal wine labeling law) “(v) Cellared, Vinted or Prepared means that the named winery, at the stated address, subjected the wine to cellar treatment in accordance with §4.22(c).” Cellar Treatment. What is that? Good question. It is any normal winemaking practice that takes place in a cellar, so it could be as little as storing the wine in the cellar for a few weeks prior to sale. No crushing of grapes, no controlled fermentation, no batonnage, no pumping over the juice to extract fruit, no selection of oak for aging, no treatment to deter spoilage. Just the placement of the finished bottles in the named winery’s cellar (and maybe the attachment of a label). Hardly fitting work for a wine maker. This stricture is especially important in Texas because seven out of every ten bottles of wine sold by Texas wineries are made outside Texas. They can’t call it Texas wine but they can sure make it look like Texas wine by putting the name of a Texas winery on the label and maybe the colors of the state flag as well. Or it can be in their range of wines, some of which are Texas wines. It is just ‘slipped in’. Better that a Texas winery that wants to legitimately make wines from grapes sourced outside Texas clearly indicate it, ideally with a separate label.

Those seven (out of every ten) out-of-state bottles, by the way, mainly come from California, where a huge wine surplus has generated a whole industry selling ‘private label’ wines to out-of-state wineries, restaurants, hotels, etc.

What one should look for is:

1)       Estate Bottled by… This means that the winery not only made 100% of the wine but also owned 100% of the vineyards from which the grapes came.

2)       Produced and Bottled by… which means that at least 75% of the wine in the bottle was fermented at the named winery (see the previous link for exact Federal Law). The grapes were not 100% internally sourced but rather purchased from growers. In practice, “Produced and Bottled Wines…” are as high quality as Estate Bottled wines as typically 100%, not 75%, of the wine is made at the named winery. The practical difference from Estate Bottled wines is that the grapes were purchased rather than grown. There are legitimate business reasons for this that enhance quality, as the skills required in viticulture (grape growing) are different from those required in vinification (winemaking). Wineries that buy grapes, far from hiding the fact, often put the name of the vineyard on the label as an indicator of quality.

2. Thou Shalt Not Drink Any Wine Labeled “For Sale in Texas Only.”

Reason: All the aforementioned Federal Law is intended to allow the consumer to know where the grapes came from and where the wine was made. The label phrase For Sale in Texas Only says that the wine may only be sold in Texas. It is a subterfuge to get around everything the Federal Law attempts to do. No longer does the source of grapes have to be declared. No longer does the place where the wine was made have to be declared (it may have only been labeled in Texas!). The intent of the law is to hide this from the consumer and this is an anti-consumer law. Many quality wine producers want it repealed and so should wine drinkers in Texas.

3. Tempranillo is The Best Texas Red Grape and It Grows Best in West Texas.

Look especially for High Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area). Any wine labeled with an AVA must have at least 85% of its grapes from that area.

Other red grapes that do well are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (other Rhone varieties also show promise) and Lenoir (aka Black Spanish) for late harvest wines.

4. Viognier is The Best Texas White Grape.

In fact, it does so well in north-central Texas (e.g. Newburg) that Texas Viognier can be blind-tasted against West Coast examples without embarrassment.

Forget Chardonnay. There has never been a good one from Texas. Other promising white varieties are Muscat Canelli and Blanc du Bois. I think there is a lot more experimentation to be done in the next few years with white varieties from such places as the southern Rhone, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece.