Like That Wine? Try This One: A Guide to Texas Wine Varietals

There are plenty of great Texas wines to choose from that aren't Cabs or Merlots.
In last week's cover story, we discussed the fact that Texas vineyards still stubbornly grow varietals that aren't suited to the Texan weather or soil -- well-known grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay. But they're doing it for a reason: Too many wine drinkers don't want to stray from the varietals they know and love.

So here's a suggestions, Texas wine drinkers: Try a wine that is similar to your preferred grape, but which actually thrives here. You just might discover a new favorite, and you'll encourage Texas grape growers to diversify their offerings as a result. It's a win-win all around.

Listed below are the top five grape varietals currently grown in Texas, and our suggestions for wines you might like just as much -- or even more! -- that are actually suited to our rough Texan climate.

If you like: Cabernet
Try: Syrah or Grenache

Both are -- like Cabernet -- very hearty, rich wines that pair excellently with meat, especially game meat. And we all know how much Texans enjoy their meat. You'll often find the two blended together, as Syrah and Grenache bring out the best in each other: the Syrah brings spicy notes to the jammy, fruit-forward Grenache.

Haak Vineyards 012.jpg
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
If you like: Chardonnay
Try: Blanc du Bois

The creaminess present in many Chardonnays isn't as pronounced in a Blanc du Bois wine unless you purchase a sweeter variety, which is found at wineries such as Haak Winery. But even in a semi-sweet Blanc du Bois you'll find oak and bright citrus as well as perhaps even pear and pineapple. Unlike Chardonnay, Blanc du Bois is a varietal perfectly suited to Texas. But like Chardonnay, it pairs very well with seafood, cheese and anything with a creamy sauce.

If you like: Sauvignon Blanc
Try: Viognier

Crisp and dry, this white wine grape prefers a warmer climate (like our own), a long growing season and as little time spent in the cellar as possible. Viognier is meant to be consumed while still young, when you can best taste the same floral and mineral notes that people enjoy in a good Sauvignon Blanc.


If you like: Merlot
Try: Tempranillo

People like Merlot because it's full-bodied but drinkable. You'll find those same attributes in a Tempranillo, as both grapes ripen early. You'll even find some of the very same flavor notes in a Tempranillo as you would in a Merlot: dark fruits like plums and berries as well as leather and the supple softness of vanilla. Even better, you can already find plenty of excellent Texas-made Tempranillos such as the one pictured at right from Pedernales Cellars.

If you like: Pinot Noir
Try: Mourvedre

People tend to enjoy Pinot Noirs because of their musty, funky qualities. Mourvedres can offer the same notes -- rustic, earthy and with some odd herbal flavors -- especially when blended with Syrah or Grenache.

For tips on which Texas wines to pick from these six excellent varietal suggestions, check back later this week.

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Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

But saying "blahnk doo bwah" and "moo vehd reh" makes me sound fancier than I really am! Maybe that'll appeal to wine consumers in the same way that "Fume Blanc" sounds much fancier than plain old Sauvignon Blanc...  ;)

Jeremy Parzen
Jeremy Parzen

Last week one of the top Merlot producers in Napa gave me a copy of the Wine Spectator from 1997: the cover story was on Merlot. U.S. winemakers and the wine media have always tried to simplify domestic wines, classifying them by grape variety. That's worked against Texas grape growers and bottlers historically... One of the things that was so "easy" about Merlot was how easy it is to say it! Blanc du Bois can be a tough one, as can Mourvèdre... Great post, Katharine! :)

Roy Schneider
Roy Schneider

Variety is the spice of life! and when you get into some of these "other" varietals, you get a lot more bang for the buck. Some of our serious Wine Makers are starting to work with the varietals that actually work well in our varied Texas Terroir. Haak's Blanc Du Bois and McPherson's Roussanne are great examples of this. 

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