Texas wine has never been better. This does not say that the state’s winemakers and grape growers still don’t have problems to solve, because they do. But these are problems of approach, not proficiency. Texas wineries are consistently producing quality wine at a level that has never been seen before, and that’s an impressive accomplishment.
There are almost a dozen producers turning out professionally, competently made wine, and most of it is readily available. You can walk into many retailers and find a bottle of Texas wine to drink for dinner and not give it a second thought.
This was not the case at the beginning of the decade, when only a handful of wineries could make that claim. Since then, the quality of grapes they use to make their wine has improved; their skill at wine making has gotten much better; and their mindset has gone from that of a serious hobbyist to that of a professional. The latter, in fact, may be the biggest change. The best wineries realize there aren’t any free rides because they make Texas wine, but that they have to compete against everyone, from the winery down the road to Kendall-Jackson.
These are among the best examples of the renaissance in Texas wine:
• McPherson Cellars Rosé ($12). Dry and fruity in the French style, it doesn’t cost a lot, and it pairs with everything from barbecue to burgers to salads. What more can one ask for in a wine?
• Becker Vineyards Prairie Roti ($15). Richard Becker has enthusiastically embraced Texas’ shift to wine made with grapes that aren’t cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This red blend, made with grapes popular in southern France, was a big hit at this year’s Kerrville Wine and Food festival.
• Llano Estacado Viviano ($40). Llano’s growth in the past decade has been striking, and it’s bigger than a host of better-known California wineries. This red blend, made in the Italian style, may be the best high-end wine in the state. —Jeff Siegel
Ask the Wine Guy
Q. How many wineries are there in Texas?
A. More than 160, including 54 in North Texas. The complete list is at txwines.org/region2/ wineries.asp. Many of these wineries don’t grow their grapes here, but buy them from growers in the Hill Country and west Texas.
Rabbit stew with red wine vinegar
Don’t be intimidated because this is rabbit. Many grocery stores carry it, and domesticated rabbit truly does taste like chicken (and chicken is a fine substitute). This is a painless introduction to rabbit, complete with a nifty pan sauce (though it may not work as well for wild rabbit, which needs to be braised). Any of the wines here would go well.
Serves 4, takes about 60 minutes (adapted from Jacques Pepin)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 rabbit, cut into 10-12 pieces
2 Tbsp chopped garlic
2 chopped onions
1/4 cup best quality red wine vinegar
1 cup chopped tomato
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the olive in a skillet large enough to hold the rabbit, and brown the rabbit in the covered skillet over low to medium heat for 40 minutes. Turn every 10 minutes. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water if the rabbit starts to burn. The goal is to get browned, crusty pieces.
2. Remove the rabbit to a plate, add the onions and garlic, and sauté for two to three minutes. Add the vinegar (be careful, since it will give off vinegary fumes) and stir for another couple of minutes. You want to dissolve the browned bits in the pan to make a glaze-like liquid.
3. Add the tomatoes, stir, and then add the rabbit pieces (with any accumulated liquid). Let all heat through, and serve.