Recently I was reading 2010 Top 10 Texas Wines on Russ Kane’s Vintage Texas blog. Amid the familiar names was a wine that I had never tried. The 2009 Perissos Vineyard and Winery Rousanne, Texas Hill Country. I had to investigate.
Perissos Vineyard and Winery is in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, about an hour northwest of Austin, or about three hours from Dallas (with traffic) down the old cart track better known as I-35 . The location puts it equidistant between two ranges of high hills and in the center of what used to be the bed of the Colorado River. That means that the soil is predominantly clay with fine granules of granite. Owner and winemaker Seth Martin attests to the importance of the soil composition. Before he settled on this site, he grew grapes at several test sites around the Austin area. At his house, close to town, the high alkalinity of the caliche soils prevented the grapes from adequately ripening. At his brother-in-law’s farm east of I-35 where the soil is the typical dark, hard clay of the Blackland Prairie, the vines grew, but they all looked like runts of the litter. By contrast, the river bed provided the right combination of acidity (neutral to slightly acidic) and drainage which allowed the grapes to thrive. The first test block was planted in 2005 with 13 different types of vines. Based on his experience thus far, Seth sees the winning varietals as Aglianico, Dolcetto, Petite Syrah, Roussanne, Tempranillo, Touriga, and Viognier. Nonetheless, he is quick to agree that he is very much still in the experimentation phase with varietals.
There are now 11 acres of vines at Perissos. In the center of the vineyard is the winery, which doubles as the family home to Martin, his wife, and their five children. Martin was a home builder in the Austin area before he made the jump to full-time vigneron so he designed the home be physically the upper floor of the winery, but also a separate space where the family did not feel that work intruded. To my great surprise, he is self-taught in viticulture and oenology. Rather than take classes or hire an expert consultant, he voraciously read books and did lots of experiments. As a result of his empirical approach, I found that he has very settled views on some things, but was intrigued when I described experiments going on elsewhere to prove things that he had not tested. For example, a page on his web site is a conclusion dump regarding which grape varieties grow well at Perissos. It represents a decade’s worth of experimentation. He won’t change it without strong evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, he was intrigued to hear of experiments being conducted by other Texas wineries to defeat the destructive effects of Pierce’s Disease.
What comes over clearly when talking to him is a clear set of objectives at Perissos. All of the varieties he works with are vinifera vines, the vine species from which nearly all serious wine is made. All of the grapes he uses are from Texas because it is Texas wine that he wants to make (he considers those wine makers who import out-of-state grapes, but use labeling designed to hide the fact, to be undermining the credibility of the Texas wine industry). All of the varieties he grows are those that produce the best wine. Those wines are not based on commercial considerations such as ready acceptance of the grape in the market. For example, there is no Chardonnay or Zinfandel in his vineyard because they don’t result in good Texas wine. He prefers Roussanne because of the results he had with it despite the fact it is relatively unknown in Dallas wine stores. Virtually all of the grapes he uses come from the winery’s own vineyards. The only exception is some Cabernet Sauvignon from west Texas because it grows better in the Texas High Plains AVA.
Martin is totally unimpressed by wine fashion. He will forthrightly attest to the value of good Petite Syrah despite its lowly status in the snob’s varietal hierarchy. He is also a pathfinder in planting the little appreciated Italian variety Aglianico in Texas.
Of course all good intentions meet their maker when the cork is pulled from the bottle. Here are my impressions of the wines I tasted at the winery.
1) 2009 Perissos Vineyard and Winery Roussanne Blend, Texas Hill Country, Estate Grown. 51% Roussanne, 30% Viognier and 19% Muscat. Lemon in nose. Glorious heavy mouth feel (maybe from the Muscat). Clean Roussanne flavors really come through. This would be a wonderful match with, for example, ceviche.
2) 2009 Perissos Vineyard and Winery Viognier, Texas Hill Country, Estate Grown. Perfumed nose typical of this grape. In the mouth: Good fruit-acid balance. Flavors of peach and guava.
3) 2009 Perissos Vineyard and Winery Syrah Blend, Texas Hill Country, Estate Grown. Actually 50% Syrah-50% Mourvèdre. Complex forward nose of syrah and dark fruits. Also hints of pepper. Unfortunately the flavors, while type correct, are not as mouth filling as one would hope.
4) 2008 Perissos Vineyard and Winery Tempranillo Blend, Texas Hill Country, Estate Grown. A blend of 50% Tempranillo and 50% Touriga Nacional. The nose exhibits traits of each grape. The red fruit flavor of Tempranillo and the dark fruits of Touriga. The flavors are more Tempranillo aligned but the wine has the glycerin like texture of ripe Touriga. This wine had been open two days and this can have a huge effect on which grape predominates.
5) 2009 Aglianico Blend, Texas Hill Country, Estate Grown. Bright Aglianico fruit in the nose. Racy acidity on the palate. Intense fruit released in the mouth leading to a long, pleasant finish. Given its youth, it is no surprise to find that this wine is built of hefty tannins at this time. These will soften with age, or you can let the wine breathe for a few hours before drinking. This is an impressive example of this underappreciated Italian grape that can compare with some of Italian examples. A barrel sample of the 2010 suggests it may be even better (although it is notoriously hard to predict how a barrel sample will turn out). Add Aglianico to the list of grapes that show promise in Texas.
Perissos will make about 2,400 cases of wine from the large 2010 harvest, which makes them a small boutique producer. Order the wine directly from the web site. At the present time, no restaurant wine lists in the Dallas area carry their wine, although I expect that will change. The Roussanne and Aglianico, in particular, are examples of their type within the state.
I paid for my travel, accommodation and food. Perissos provided the wine tasting samples at the winery.
The top two wines from Perissos – Roussanne for white and Aglianico for red.