Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pondering things Italian in West Texas

“They invited us to Buffalo Gap in April when the Italians will be here, but we didn’t know which wines to bring,” said Jim Evans, winemaker for Lone Oak Winery in Burleson, Texas. “Well, I don’t think that will be a problem, Jim, seeing as you make Viognier, Syrah and Merlot. And our Tuscan wineries that will be here make wines from all those grapes,” I volleyed.

We had made the hour or so trek from Dallas to Burleson as my better half was interviewing the winemaker and owner for a luxury magazine. I was going along for the ride and was interested in tasting their wine. Lone Oak winery was getting a lot of attention from as far away as San Francisco

When we arrived we found ourselves in a room with a load of newly bottled Gewürztraminer. Gene Estes, the owner of Lone Oak winery spent several years in Alsace and had been thoroughly indoctrinated into the cause of keeping Gewurtz alive in the New World. “The Alsatians love the grape and seeing as it is the epicenter for Gewürztraminer, I had a lot of exposure to it.” Well, Gene, Gewürztraminer may shine in Alsace, but it was born in Italy, in the town of Tramin, or Termeno as the Italian speakers call it. High on the hills leading up to the Dolomites in Alto Adige, Gewurztraminer has a steely dry character with a reserve of aroma. When Jim pulled a sample from the tank, from a vineyard in Tokio, Texas, elevation 3,600 feet, it was déjà vu for me. Steely, high acid (naturally) good fruit but not over-the-top, and a dry-as-a-bone finish. “We added a little sugar to the bottling, they said almost as a form of apology for the tank sample.”Why?” I asked. “It’s perfect the way it is.” I knew the answer. Texas folk like their tea sweet. “Why don’t y’all just bottle 20 or so cases of the dry stuff for the rest of us?” I was ready to buy a six-pack on the spot, and I don’t need any more wine in my home.

Texas has been growing up, and this short time with these fellows really dinked me back into believing that wine from Texas could maybe rise up to the level that many of us have come to expect from California, Italy, France, and so on.

Next week I’ll be in Italy and the following week in Bordeaux, so I am about to pack it up and head out. Lots of great wines to be tasted. My palate is attuned for high expectations.

In the barrel room, Jim poured us a glass of their 2010 Merlot. Now, I am not normally a Merlot lover. Sure, in two weeks in Pomerol I won’t be complaining, but plain-Jane vanilla Merlot from the High Plains of Texas? Give me a break. I humored them, took a sip. And another. And another. I was impressed. Thinking to myself, they’re probably goofing off with the oak chips in the back room. No, just an assortment of older barriques, some French, some American. Fair enough. The oak was in the background, subtle, not over-arching. Good enough. These guys know how to make wine.

And we didn’t even taste the wines they lately have become famous for, their Viognier and their Tempranillo. I guess we’ll just have to wait until I come back from Italy and France and meet them out past Abilene in Buffalo Gap with the Italians. I can hardly wait.

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