Big Red Fundraiser at Charlie Palmer’s Benefits North Texas Food Bank

The timing could not have been better. At the end of the week area food pantries reported their donations were down, Charlie Palmer’s at The Joule held a major wine and food fundraiser for the North Texas Food Bank to help correct that situation. The Big Red, was a two-night event.  Friday was the opening salvo, Taste of The Big Red, a walk around tasting of wines from 20 Texas wineries and food by an A-list of Dallas restaurants: York Street, Fearing’s, Craft, Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck, Abacus, Stephan Pyles, Bonnell’s, Salum, Scardello Cheese, and Top Chef Brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio.  Besides real chefs, there was  live music by Somebody’s Darling, Boys Named Sue, and Grant Jones & The Pistol Grip Lassos. BTW: Check out Texas-based  Somebody’s Darling.  I’ll swear Amber Farris, the lead singer, is Janice Joplin reincarnated.

Others can comment on the food, which I thought was uniformly excellent.  The lines to get it were short as well. I shall treat this as a chance to stick a thermometer down the larynx of the Texas wine industry. Here, with a focus on truth rather than vacillation, is my take on the wines, in the order tasted

2008 McPherson Cellars Sangiovese. The fateful words “For Sale In Texas Only” adorn the label. That is a bad sign. Sourced from Texas (65%) and New Mexico (35%).  Color: Thin ruby red. Nose: rubber. Taste: Some ill-defined varietal. A simple, ordinary wine.

2009 Texas Hills Vineyard Toro de Texas, Tempranillo, Newsom Vineyard High Planes AVA . I have never had their wines before but this Tempranillo, made from grapes from the most famous vineyard in Texas, is a solid example. Color: Young wine purplish red. Nose: Characteristic Tempranillo red fruit (raspberry). Some oak in the nose. Soft tannins and forward fruit in the mouth. Such a tiny winery may not have retail distribution here, but you can buy online at their web site. Recommended.

2007 Inwood Estates, Cornelius, Tempranillo, High Planes AVA. The second bottle was the charm here (the first one was oxidized). It stands in sharp contrast to the preceding wine as a dark fruit example of Tempranillo. Very tight and closed. A complex wine that will develop with time.

2008 Brushy Creek Ruby Cabernet, Texas. Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cariñena suited to warmer climates. Owner and winemakerc Les Constable is a cross between Burl Ives and archetypal vine grower. From his vineyards just west of Fort Worth he makes over 30 wines and they vary enormously. This one has a dark Cabernet color, an almost Rutherfordesque dusty nose, soft tannins and an earthy character in the mouth. The fruit exudes flavors of cassis and is sweet, reflecting the warm growing conditions. The aging (in new American oak for 6 months) contributes some complexity. A pleasant wine to quaff.

2005 Crossroads Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve. The La Mesa fruit has good provenance but this Frisco winery needs a winemaking consultant. Nose: Alcoholic. Taste: Thin fruit and battery acid volatility.

Delaney Vineyards, Claret, High Plains AVA. What grapes is this made of? It does not say on the label. In fact, the only thing that I know is in this wine is sulphites. Even if you go to their web site, you would be hard put to get a list of their wines. They seem focused on holding weddings and other events at their winery. Luckily, people who decide not to buy because they can’t find out what’s in the wines won’t miss much.

2008 Haak Tempranillo,  Haak makes one of the most distinctive Texas dessert wines that I have had (Blanc du Bois Madeira). I would put that up against wines from California and several places in Europe. They say that this red wine “has hints of cinnamon, cocoa powder and ripe blackberries. It is a perfect companion for a rib-eye steak and other rich red meats. If you want to make a statement at your next grill party, this is the wine for you”. I say: Thin brick red color. A varietally indistinct nose. Burned rubber in the taste (and the finish is more of the same). If someone gives you a botle as a present, re-gift it.

2009 Arché Ryan’s Red Cabernet Sauvignon, Montague County. Cabernet character simply non-existent. This wine has the rubbery character of hot climate coop wine. Another place in need of a winemaking consultant.

2007 Kiepersol Estates, Syrah, Texas. Grapes grown on the estate in Tyler. Ethyl acetate in the nose. Same flavors in the mouth. This might be a good wine if it wasn’t for that.

2007 Kiepersol Estates, Barrel 33 Texas Wish. Texas. Estate Bottled. A Cabernet-Merlot blend. Dusty nose, Chewy tannins, fruit-oak-tannin mix gives it great character. Medium length finish. Bucking the trend towards forgettable Merlot (everywhere in the state) and Cabernet Sauvignon (everywhere in the state except West Texas) this Tyler-grown blend stands tall as a complex, exciting, New World wine.

2009 Sandstone Cellars, Touriga Nacional #7,Mason County. Half aged in stainless steel, half in new French oak (with a heavy toast). Clean fruity nose. Rich fruit, expressing notes of pomegranate in the mouth. A well made wine. Failing Texas Merlot makers take note: this Portuguese grape variety may have a big part to play in Texas’ wine growth. Sandstone takes the liberty of shortening the grape name to Touriga (which I don’t find objectionable). If you want to keep tabs on a winery to watch, bookmark Sandstone. Winemaker Don Pullum appears to know what he is doing. Recommended.

2006 Sandstone Cellars, Port. #4,Mason County. 90% Touriga Nacional, 6% Tempranillo, 2% Barbera, 2% Viognier. With those proportions you basically taste the Touriga. The other varieties are a hand wave. This has 12% residual sugar (very sweet) and is 19% alcohol. Fortification is done not with some anonymous grain alcohol but with a fine white brandy from California. This wine would be great in a blind tasting against some ruby ports from the Douro Valley in Portugal. I suspect some judges would not pick it out as the Texan. It would also go well with a plate of strong cheeses (e.g. Stilton, Epoisses or Limburger). Simply a reference wine for Texas in its category.

2008 Becker Vineyards, Claret, TX. 44% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec. An ambitious attempt to create a Bordeaux-like wine from Texas fruit. Judged against that tall order it must be judged a failure. It is not as complex as one would hope and it lacks the necessary intensity in the fruit. That said, this is a pleasant enough wine with a good tannic backbone.

The Wines of Unknown Origin

Despite Charlie Palmer Lead Sommelier Michael Lefko’s clear instructions, these wineries still served wines that could not be labeled as Texan. Most of the grapes probably came from the surplus in Lodi.

2009 Messina Hof Barrel Reserve. “Vinted and Bottled…”

Llano Estacado Vintner’s Select Meritage.

2007 Sister Creek Vineyards, Red Blend. “For sale in Texas only…”.