The Three Styles of Fortified Wines

What is fortified wine?

The art of wine-making dates from ancient times. It was known to the Greeks, Persians, Romans, etc. But distillation is a much more recent development, that was discovered by Arab scholars during the Middle Ages, from the 8th to the 12th century. By distilling wine, the alchemists were able to produce what we call today “brandy.” This process was learned by the Spanish when they reconquered their lands from the Moors by the end of the 15th century.

Not long after, the Spanish and Portuguese began exploring and colonizing the world, and transporting vast quantities of commodities to and from those colonies. Wine was one of those commodities. However, the intense heat and jostling associated with storing wine in the holds of wooden ships traveling through tropical waters meant that much of the wine that was shipped this way ended up spoiling.

In the2 16th century, it was discovered that blending an amount of brandy into the wine stabilized and preserved it, allowing it to reach its destination intact. Of course, the process of adding brandy to wine also increases its alcohol content, but there weren’t too many complaints about that. This style of wine is known as fortified wine.


The Portuguese style of fortified wine is made in the Duoro River Valley in northern Portugal. There, the brandy is added to the wine while it’s fermenting. The sudden increase in alcohol kills off the fermenting yeast, and leaves residual sugar remaining in the final product. This yields a sweeter wine known as Port. Port wine is popular as a dessert wine, and pairs extremely well with a variety of cheeses, chocolates, and cigars.

Since England is too cold for grape cultivation, the English traditionally imported most of their wine from Spain. But after the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, there was a split in relations between the two countries, and England’s wine supply was cut off. As a result, a treaty was signed with Portugal for the importation of Port wine; and since then, communion wine in the Anglican churches has often been Port.

While the term “Port wine” is legally protected and can only refer to specific wines made in the Duoro Valley, there are some Texas winemakers who produce a similar style of dessert wine here. One of the most popular is called Port Rubino, made by Texas Hills Vineyard. It is what’s known as a “Ruby” style of port. That means it’s younger and fruitier, with intense flavors.



Spanish fortified wines have been made for centuries in a region known as Jerez, in the southwestern corner of the country. Jerez was called Sherish by the Moors, and that’s how the wine got its name. Unlike with Port, Sherry is made by adding the brandy to the wine after the fermentation is complete, resulting in a dry style of wine. Also, it’s actually made from white grapes, although the fortification and aging give it a darker color than white wines. Because it’s not as sweet, Sherry is often consumed as an aperitif before the meal, in addition to being a dessert wine.

Like Port, the term “Sherry” is legally protected. Sherry-type wine is not commonly made in Texas. One similar product is made by Messina Hof Winery, called Solera. This is a wine made from black Lenoir grapes, and is not fortified, but is fermented to approximate the qualities of a Sherry.



The third type of fortified wine comes from the Madeira Islands, which are an archipelago off the coast of Morocco, controlled by Portugal. The Madeira Islands were usually the last stop for cargo ships leaving Europe on their way to the New World, and they became a center for wine production and trade. On occasion, some of the wine made there would remain unsold in the Americas, and would return all the way back home. The winemakers discovered that months of heating and turbulence onboard the ships had not been able to spoil their fortified wines; on the contrary, the flavors of the brandy and the barrels had been intensified and stabilized even more. So, the wineries began to intentionally expose their fortified wines to these processes to produce the same results.

Madeira wine is darker, nuttier, and sweeter than traditional Ports, and they are virtually indestructible. Since they’ve already been oxidized, heated, and jostled about, they will remain in good condition for many years after being opened.

Because American colonists had to pay taxes on goods imported from England, there was a healthy black-market trade in Madeira wine, which was less expensive. In fact, Madeira was the most popular wine consumed in America prior to the War of Independence.

As with Port and Sherry, Madeira wine can not be labeled as such unless it comes from its legally-designated origin. But William Chris Vineyards here in Texas makes a Madeira-style dessert wine from white grapes, called Cibola.


If you’re an aficionado of a strong, sweet wine paired with some chocolate or fine cheese after dinner, exploring the world of fortified wine will yield some excellent discoveries.

Winery Profile: William Chris Vineyards

In 2008, two Texas grape growers happened to meet at a wine-industry event, and began a partnership that has blossomed into one of Texas’s most successful and well-respected wine-producing ventures.


Bill Blackmon graduated from Texas Tech University in Lubbock with a degree in agriculture, and over a decades-long career, became an in-demand wine grower and vineyard manager for some of the largest grape producers in the Texas High Plains.

Chris Brundrett graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in horticulture, and was hired as a vineyard manager by some of the burgeoning winemakers in the Texas Hill Country.

Both men developed a philosophy of favoring terroir over popularity. Terroir is a French term that encompasses all of the physical attributes of a particular vineyard that affect the quality and characteristics of the grapes produced there: mineral content and particle size of the soil; quantity and seasonality of rain; cool air flow; slope aspect and degree; etc. If a grape grower concentrates on the terroir characteristics of a particular plot of land, they can select the best variety of grapes and growing techniques that will take advantage of that terroir. However, many grape growers will simply plant the grape varietals that produce the most popular wines, and will sell the best: chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, and so on. These grapes are not particularly well-suited for the growing conditions in Texas, though, and insisting on planting them may result in inconsistent yields, and less-than-ideal quality.


Bill and Chris discovered their shared desire to feature and accentuate the best that the Texas terroir can produce. With help from a loan by Bill’s artist mother, Mary Ruth, the pair purchased a plot of land in Hye, Texas. It had originally been a turkey farm owned by the German immigrant Deike family, who raised nine boys, three girls, and uncounted thousands of turkeys from a two-room farmhouse they built themselves in 1901. Although the land had been left unused for decades, it had the right slope, soil components, and a rich layer of turkey-dropping fertilizer to produce quality Texas Hill Country grapes.

The William Chris Vineyards tasting room, located in the original Deike farmhouse, opened its doors in 2010. In the vineyard, Bill & Chris planted mourvedre, a little-known variety from the Rhone River Valley of France. In Cote du Rhone wines, this grape is blended with others to make a classic red wine blend. But Bill and Chris had determined that, despite its obscurity, Mourvedre was the grape to produce the highest-quality wines in their vineyard. Since then, mourvedre has become a darling of the Texas wine industry, and a common grape used to show off what Texas wine can be. More recently, they have pioneered the growing of tannat, another obscure and neglected European grape variety, which also grows remarkably well in the Hill Country climate. You will see more and more tannat-based wines coming out of Texas in the next few years, and William Chris Vineyards is in the vanguard of this trend.


In a few short years, William Chris has gone from a small, boutique winery to a major player in the Texas wine industry. A big contribution to this success is their insistence on always using 100% Texas-grown grapes. State law requires at least 75% of a wine’s grapes come from Texas in order to be labeled Texas wine, but William Chris has always taken a stand on 100% Texas fruit. They quickly outgrew the century-old farmhouse, and built a new, modern tasting room with a beautiful view overlooking their Hye Estate Vineyard.

Their signature wine is a blend of three white grape varieties, called Mary Ruth, in honor of Bill’s mother. In addition to their mourvedre and tannat wines, they are known for two red blends, Enchante and Skeleton Key. The actual recipe for each changes every year, based on the quality of grapes they get from different vineyards as determined by that year’s weather. They are also known for excellent tempranillo wines.


William Chris Vineyards is one of the most popular destinations we visit on our guided wine tours. If you stop there, you will be sure to enjoy not only the spectacular views and top-notch service, but also some of the best wine Texas produces, from one of the largest producers of 100% Texas wine.


An Introduction to the World of Mulled Wine

With the winter weather approaching and the holidays fast upon us, you may find it inviting to enjoy a cup of warm mulled wine in front of the fireplace, or perhaps with your family around the holiday table. But what is mulled wine, and where can you get it?


Mulled wine is basically just wine that’s been heated up with various spices or herbs. This recipe has been made since the 2nd century in Rome. Throughout history, the spices used to mull wine were considered expensive luxuries, and only the wealthiest and most powerful families in Europe could enjoy them, until spices became more affordable in the 17th century. Because of the warmth and earthiness of the beverage, mulled wine lends itself particularly well to cold weather, and has become especially linked with the winter holidays.

To make it easy for you to enjoy this seasonal treat, a few local wineries produce a pre-mulled wine that you can purchase. The best way to serve it is to empty the bottle into a saucepan, heat it very gently, and share it with a group of friends or family. Remember, since this is a hot beverage, a mug is a much better vessel than a wine glass.

The most famous of the Texas Hill Country wineries to produce a mulled wine is Pedernales Cellars. Every year, around October, they release their coveted Glogg. Glogg is a mulled-wine style from Sweden, dating back to the 16th century, when it was given to messengers or postmen who had traveled long distance through cold conditions, to warm them up again. The Pedernales Cellars Glogg is a fortified wine, meaning that it’s been blended with brandy, in addition to spices, to increase its alcohol content. The annual release of the Glogg is usually a popular event, and many consumers refer to it as “Christmas in a bottle.”


From time to time, other Hill Country wineries will produce a mulled wine by the bottle, and you may be able to find some bottled mulled wine in your local liquor store.

If you are looking for something more unusual, consider mead. Mead is a wine made by fermenting honey instead of grape juice. Like wine, it can be fermented to be completely dry, or sweet, or anywhere in between. Since grapes do not grow in the colder climates of Europe, mead was the drink of choice in Britain and Scandinavia until the advent of distilling introduced those countries to gin and vodka.

At Six Shooter Cellars on the 290 Wine Trail, you can find a mulled mead produced by Texas Mead Works, which has also opened up a location of their own in Hye. Their Minstrel’s Head is a mead infused with clover, orange blossom, and wildflowers. It may not be as spicy or fragrant as Glogg, but it will bring a great deal of merriment to your holiday festivities.


If, perchance, you are interested in mulling wine yourself, there are many recipes and do-it-yourself packets available online, and at some finer liquor stores. If you go with a premade packet, you simply empty a couple of bottles of wine into your saucepan, and gently heat it with the spice packets submerged in the wine, as if you’re making tea. Of course, you could always find a recipe to create your own blend of spices yourself. The key to success with any of these methods, of course, is selecting the right wine.


An excellent way to start exploring the world of mulling your own wine is to visit Texas Hills Vineyard in Johnson City. They sell a spice packet for mulling wine that is formulated to pair perfectly with their Volare dessert wine. The recipe is included. If you’re hosting a party, you may want to consider 4-6 bottles, as the spice packet is intended for larger batches. And, it will be a popular beverage once the smell of the heating wine fills your kitchen.


Good luck, and revel in this additional world of wine enjoyment.

How to Pair Wine With Food

Everyone always talks about which wine goes best with a particular dish they’re serving at home or ordering at a restaurant. But how do they know? Well, you could memorize a long list of which wines go with which foods. But if you understand why the wines pair well with some things and not others, then you’ll be able to make your own determinations along the way, without consulting any lists.

Keep in mind that some wines are meant to be enjoyed by themselves. There is a wide selection of bottles out there, though, that are intended to be consumed with food. The aromas, acidity, flavors, and tannins in a wine will either complement, accentuate, or contrast pleasantly with the tastes, smells, and textures of certain foods. There are no hard and fast rules, and you’re welcome to experiment to see what works for you. Some old adages, like only white wine with fish, are helpful guidelines for the uninitiated, but you can find some excellent red wine pairings with fish if you know what you’re doing (hint: try a rose with salmon).


So in lieu of hard and fast rules, here are some helpful tips and guidelines:

Region to Region: Wine traditionally made in a certain region is meant to be paired with food from that region. Chianti is a wine from the Tuscany region of Italy. It pairs best with food from the Tuscany region of Italy (e.g. minestrone, steak Florentine, pappardelle, etc.). Rioja wine from Spain pairs well with northern Spanish cuisine, such as tapas, roasted vegetables, and lamb. This also applies to Texas: Texas winemakers produce bottles that go great with chicken fried steak, smoked brisket, chili, tamales, and Tex-Mex.


Sweet, fruity, and acidic to spicy: Wines that are sweet or fruity will pair well with spicy foods. This is particularly true if the wine has a pleasant acid component. Wines in this category include Viognier, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Vinho Verde, Pinot Noir, Albarino, Blanc du Bois, or Moscato. You may be surprised how well these choices stand up to Chinese, Thai, Indian, or Southwestern cuisine. Another option with spicy food is a sparkling wine; too often, people think of sparkling wine only in conjunction with a special celebration. Well, drinking wine is always a celebration, so don’t hesitate to break out a cava, prosecco, or Messina Hof Sparkling Moscato next time you have Asian food.


Soft and smooth to salty: Wines that are soft and fruity, with low tannins, will balance any particularly salty foods. We’re talking about wines like Beaujolais, Cinsault, Carignan, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc, or Rousanne. This will complement some salty oysters, pomme frites, bacon, pretzels, or sushi.


Medium body and alcohol to acid and texture: Wines that are in the middle of the spectrum, with medium alcohol levels and medium tannins, are perfect for complementing foods that have acid and texture. These would be foods like tomato sauce, citrus glazes, espresso rubs, or tangy barbecue. Some good choices here would be Sangiovese, Barbera, Grenache, Mourvedre, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Malbec, and Merlot. A good Burgundy blend would be excellent here as well.


Tannins to fat: When you have foods with a prominent fat component, then you’ll want to pair them with wines that have a lot of bold, full tannins. The classic example is Cabernet Sauvignon, and other popular choices are Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Bordeaux blends, and aged Rioja wines. A few of the oakiest, fullest-bodied Chardonnays may work here as well, depending on the food (think cheese instead of steak). An important point to remember is that these tannic wines should not be paired with any foods that are particularly acidic or spicy. This is a bad combination that will wreak havoc with your gustatory experience.


Don’t be afraid to experiment. I recently discovered the joys of pairing a Portuguese Vinho Verde with a sauerkraut-topped hot dog, because I was willing to take the leap of faith that the acidity and effervescence of the wine would balance the tanginess of the kraut and relish. You might consider keeping a journal of your wine & food combinations so you can track your success.

Happy eating!

Winery Profile: Santa Maria Cellars

Martín Santamaria is a native of Argentina, and completed his schooling there. After university, he received a Master’s Degree in Viticulture (grape-growing) and Oenology (study of wine) from the University of Bologna in Italy. The next year he moved to Texas and became the winemaker at Dry Comal Creek Winery in New Braunfels. During the 5 years he lived and worked there, he met his wife, Angela, a native of Mason, Texas.

Gradually in those five years, Martín and Angela began their own independent wine-making operation, Santamaria Cellars. In 2005, they moved from New Braunfels to Fredericksburg, and began making wine in their home on State Highway 16. Today, they still produce approximately 1,600 cases of wine by themselves, and welcome people to a beautiful patio overlooking the Hill Country to sample their wares.

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Usually, when we take our passengers to visit Santamaria, they are surprised upon arriving at a private residence, where the wine is sold from their garage. But the beautiful vista from the patio, and the excellence of the wine are even more stunning. It is quite common for our customers, especially the serious wine drinkers, to exclaim that Santamaria Cellars has the best wine of any venue we visit. Please note that they’re only open for visitors on Friday, Saturday, & Sunday, so if you’re interested in stopping there any other day, and you have a large group, we will have to make special arrangements in advance.

The wines are predominantly, but not exclusively, reds made in an Argentinean style, including malbecs and malbec blends. Martín and Angela also make authentic empanadas that you can enjoy along with your wine.

Santamaria Cellars is truly a hidden gem among Texas Hill Country wineries!

What Wines to Bring (or Serve) for Thanksgiving Dinner

If you’re not serving Thanksgiving dinner yourself this year, there’s a good chance you’ll be visiting friends or family on the big day. If so, you may feel obligated, or be expected, to bring along a contribution. Instead of stuffing, cranberries, or pie, why not delight your party with an exceptional wine? And in case you’re the host, you may want to have a bottle or two available to enhance the meal.

But, what wine goes with Thanksgiving? Because of the heavy, savory, character of most traditional holiday foods, it is one of the most difficult meals to pair with wine. A big, bold, full-bodied red wine will actually overwhelm turkey and stuffing. But a light, soft, white wine will itself be overwhelmed by the gravy and cranberries.


Not to fear, there are excellent choices out there that strike the perfect balance. What you’re looking for is a dry wine with enough acidity to cut through the heavy gravies and sauces, but some fruitiness to complement the savory flavors. You can select a sparkling wine, a white, a red, or a combination of any of them, depending on how many people will be in attendance.

Sparkling wine

It’s unfortunate that so many people associate sparkling wine with New Year’s Eve, weddings, or other very specific occasions. The fact is that sparklers pair excellently with all sorts of meals and get-togethers. And after all, isn’t Thanksgiving as much a celebration as any other holiday?


Sparkling wine has the acidity and the fruitiness to balance and complement the Thanksgiving dinner, and the effervescence actually washes down the sauces and gravies quite effectively.

Try the following Texas wines in this category: Sparkling Brut from Messina Hof, McPherson Cellars Sparkling Wine from 4.0 Cellars, or Grand Cru Brut Champagne from Alexander Vineyards.

White wine

Because white wine has a lighter body and less complexity than red wine, it’s important to focus on the acidity and fruitiness to make sure it’s not inundated by Thanksgiving flavors. Perhaps the single best variety on this count is Albariño, a slightly effervescent wine from Spain. Also, vinho verde from Portugal might be a good choice. The most common variety of wine made in Texas that will work just fine is Viognier, a French varietal that grows extremely well in the Hill Country and the Texas High Plains.

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Try: McPherson Cellars Albariño, or the McPherson Marsanne, from 4.0 Cellars; Pedernales Cellars Viognier Reserve; Wedding Oak Winery Viognier Reserve; Swim Spot from Lewis Wines; or, for something different, the Gemütlichkeit from Lost Draw Cellars.

Red wine

Because of the cooler temperatures in November, people do tend to lean towards the comfort of red wines. Despite the generally accepted wisdom of serving white wine with chicken or turkey, red wine works exceptionally well here. Again, light body with good acidity and fruitiness is the rule of thumb.


Try: Carignan, Granache, or Sangiovese from Lost Draw Cellars; Sangiovese or Sophia Marie (a rosé) from Messina Hof; McPherson Mourvèdre or Tre Colore from 4.0 Cellars; Skeleton Key or Enchante from William Chris Vineyards; or Signor Vineyards Pinot Noir.

Dessert wine

Finally, after you’ve digested a bit, if there’s room for dessert, consider a dessert wine to go with your pie. A couple of excellent suggestions would be the Jacquez or Cibola from William Chris Vineyards, or the Sauternes from Alexander Vineyards.


Of course, if there’s time in the next couple of weeks, you’re welcome to try some of these wines, keeping the flavors of Thanksgiving in mind as you sip, on one of our daily Texas Wine Tours.

We look forward to seeing you soon; and wish you the most joyous and delightful holiday.

Five Things You Didn't Know About Texas Wine

One: Texas is the second-oldest wine-making region of America. Spanish priests established a chain of mission churches along the Rio Grande near El Paso starting in the 1650s. In order to hold Mass, sacramental wine was required for the sacrament of the Eucharist. Rather than have wine shipped from Mexico City, a hazardous journey of four months by wagon train through treacherous desert and hostile native territory, they planted Spanish grape vines in the river floodplain and made their own wine. Wine was made continuously somewhere in Texas from the 1650s to 1920.

Two: There are six species of grapes native to Texas, including canyon grapes near El Paso, mustang grapes in the Hill Country, and muscadine grapes in East Texas. The fruits of these grapes are bitter and highly acidic, with thick skins, making them highly unsuitable for winemaking. Almost all commercial wine made in Texas is made from European wine grapes. There are a few specialty wineries, and at-home hobby winemakers, who utilize mustang or muscadine grapes. This requires chaptalization, a fancy winemaking term for adding sugar to the grape juice.


Three: Nearly all of the thirty-six wineries in Texas closed in 1920 as a result of Prohibition. After repeal, no new wineries opened in the state until Llano Estacado Winery in Lubbock began selling wine in 1976.

Four: Today, five million people each year come to the Texas Hill Country to visit one of the 53 wineries in the region. This makes the Hill Country one of the two most-visited wine regions in America, along with Napa County.


Five: Because of the warm, humid Texas climate, in the last 10 years viticulturists (grape growers) in the state have focused more on growing grape varieties best suited to our growing conditions, with less emphasis on the most popular or best-selling varieties. The most common types grown in Texas are: tempranillo from Spain, sangiovese from Italy, and viognier and mourvedre from France. When you’re trying Texas wine, keep an eye out for these varietals.

Winery Profile: Bingham Family Vineyards

In the autumn of 2003, the Bingham family planted their first vineyards in Meadow, Texas, just southwest of Lubbock in the Texas High Plains. The Bingham Family Vineyards are in Terry County, which has more area of planted vineyards than any other county in Texas. In addition to the family’s traditional crops, they now own or manage a total of two hundred acres of grapes.

In the last fifteen years, they have grown twenty-one different varieties of wine grapes, and they sell them to twenty-one different wineries across Texas, plus a Greek Orthodox monastery in the Hill Country that makes its own wine.

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Starting in 2014, they decided to start making wine themselves, and bottled their first vintage in 2015. But their wines were only available to visitors to Terry County and Lubbock.

On September 1, 2018, the Bingham Family Vineyards has opened a new tasting room on the Highway 290 Wine Trail just east of Fredericksburg, and Texas Wine Tours is pleased to bring our passengers to visit this newest wine destination.

For such a relative newcomer to the wine-making scene, Bingham’s wines are surprisingly mature and pleasing. They have barrel-aged reds, as well as light and refreshing rosés and whites. The wines they make from blends of different grape varieties are named in honor of the family’s farming roots on the Texas High Plains.

When visiting, try to sample the Cloudburst, a delightful blend of five white varietals that manages to showcase the characteristics of each. Their High Plains Sunset Rosé is made from 100% mourvedrè and has enough acidity to support the richness of the grapes’ flavor. And the 2014 Turnrow, one of the first wines they ever produced, has complexity and structure to mature, but is medium-bodied and can be sipped alone as well as pairing with food.

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When you visit Bingham Family Vineyards tasting room, not only do you know that the wine is made from 100% Texas-grown grapes, but that they are all from the same estate vineyard. We look forward to taking you there on your next visit!

Why Didn’t I See Any Grape Vines At My Wine Tasting?

The wine world is dominated by the image of a centuries-old French chateau surrounded by acres of mature vines, where wine is slowly crafted in oak barrels hidden in an underground cellar. This model is certainly accurate in the older wine-making regions of the world.

Here in America, especially in newer wine areas such as Texas, this is often not the scene where you taste and buy wine. So, to avoid disappointment, let’s examine what you can expect when you visit Texas wineries for a tasting.

While European wine-making is often done in facilities surrounded by the vines where the grapes were grown, in truth, grape-growing (viticulture), wine-making (vinification), and distribution & sales are three quite distinct and independent parts of the wine industry.


First, vineyards are located on sites that are very carefully selected because of the growing characteristics that will impact the grapes. The mineral composition and consistency of the soil, the amount and seasonality of rainfall, degree of slope and slope aspect in relation to the sun, climate, daily temperature fluctuation, etc.,  all impart specific qualities and characteristics on the grapes that are raised and harvested on any given site. This is a concept that the French call terroir. Grapes grown in one region will result in very different wines than grapes grown elsewhere, even if everything else is the same.

The best place in Texas to grow grapes is the Texas High Plains, the elevated flat-land around Lubbock. There you will find more than 3,000 acres of wine grape vineyards stretched across the prairie. This represents more than 80% of the grapes being produced in the state.

And although Lubbock draws almost five million visitors per year for conventions and business meetings, it has not established itself as a destination for wine tasting and wine tourism. In fact, there are only five wineries in the Lubbock area that you can visit. Most of the grapes from Texas High Plains vineyards are shipped to wineries in other parts of the state for fermentation into wine.


Second, we’ll look at wineries. Traditionally, in Europe, the winery itself would be located adjacent to the vineyard. The reason is that pulling the heavily-laden grape carts to the wine press was labor-intensive and time-consuming. The shorter the distance, the quicker you could start making wine.

In practice, the physical location where the wine is made has no impact whatsoever on the final product. You could grow your grapes in California, and make the wine in Vermont; it’s still going to be “California wine.” Today, with modern refrigerated trucks able to transport tons of grapes across the country in a matter of days, a winemaker can open a winery anywhere they see fit, and have the grapes come to them. When the grapes are grown by the winemaker, either on site or at a remote location, the resulting wines are known as “estate” wines. The vast majority of Texas wines are not estate wines.

Today, more than five million visitors annually come to the Texas Hill Country for the purpose of visiting wineries and tasting wine. There are 54 wineries located here, where the pressing and fermentation of grapes takes place. Some of these wineries have small vineyards attached to them, but with only 700+ acres of grapes being grown in the Hill Country, most of the grape supply for the locally-made wine has to be purchased from the High Plains or elsewhere. When you visit a winery for a tasting, you know that the wine is produced on-site, regardless of whether the grapes are estate-grown or not.


Finally, there are tasting rooms. Many wineries, even large ones, are located in areas not often visited by wine tourists. For example: one of the oldest, largest wineries in Texas, Messina Hof, is in Bryan. It is the only winery there, with four smaller ones located in the country outside College Station. Bryan does not attract a lot of attention as a wine destination. Therefore, in order to expose Messina Hof wines to a wider audience, and get a lot more people tasting their wine, the winery opened up tasting rooms in the Hill Country and Grapevine. Many wineries have opened up tasting rooms across the state to expand the opportunities for people to encounter their wines.

At a tasting room, there will probably not be any vines, except perhaps for ambiance, and probably no wine being made. What you will find is trained, enthusiastic professionals who can talk to you knowledgeably about the wines, where the grapes were grown, how the wine was made, and how to pair each with different foods.

There are a half-dozen different tasting rooms on Main Street in Fredericksburg, plus a few others along the Highway 290 Wine Trail. In addition to tasting rooms that are operated by specific wineries, there are some tasting rooms that are independently owned and offer a selection of wines from different wineries. This is a good way to experience multiple wineries at the same time. Vintage Cellars at Rocky Hill offers wines from three Texas vintners, including Val Verde Winery, the oldest operating winery in the state. Val Verde is located in Del Rio, 180 miles off the beaten-path of most Hill Country visitors. Vintage Cellar is located in the old Rocky Hill School, built in 1902.

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Whether you visit a winery or a tasting room, you will be able to experience some of the best that Texas wine has to offer. There may even be some vineyards nearby, producing a few estate vintages. And if you’re ever in the Lubbock area, you may choose to visit some of the larger, 150+ acre vineyards. There’s a lot to explore in the world of Texas wine.

The Three Best Wine Tools to Have at Home


When visiting wineries, you will see a plethora of retail options for you to purchase. Some of them are very useful gadgets if you drink a lot of wine at home. Some of them are just a waste of money. Which is which really depends on if you’re just an occasional wine consumer at home, or if you enjoy a bottle regularly.

One of the most useful wine products I’ve found, and certainly the best value for the money, is called a Wine-Tapa. They’re for sale at many of the Texas Hill Country wineries, as well as online. You put it on top of your wine glass when sipping outside, to prevent the inevitable fruit fly or other insect dive bombing and drowning in your wine as soon as you set it down.

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Fun fact: fruit flies are attracted to sweeter wines, such as Sherry, which is produced in southern Spain. For centuries, Spanish sherry drinkers have covered their wine goblets with a small piece of bread or ham, to prevent any unwanted insect invaders. These wine toppers eventually became a course of food in their own right, consumed between the traditional
lunch time (1-4 pm) and dinner (9-11 pm). The Spanish word meaning “to cover” is tapear, and this early evening snack became known as “tapas.”

On the other end of the price scale is a wonderful device for the occasional drinker. If you only have a glass or two at a time, and find yourself with a half-empty bottle of wine that goes bad before you finish it, you may consider investing in a Coravin.


This device works by inserting a small metal straw through the cork of the bottle (this only works with natural cork). When you depress the button, the inert gas argon is pumped into the bottle, displacing the wine, which is then dispensed through the spout. When you remove the needle, the natural cork seals itself within a minute, and no oxygen is introduced to your wine. This means that you can pour yourself a glass of wine without actually opening the bottle, and the wine will stay fresh as long as it would otherwise.

There are different models, which range in price from $200-$500. They can be purchased at finer stores such as Neiman-Marcus, Williams-Sonoma, and Sur La Table. Eventually, you would need to replace the argon gas canister, but these will last a while and cost less than $20 each.

Another inexpensive yet helpful little tool is the wine drop ring collar. This is a simple ring, usually metal or wood, with a felt interior, that slips over the neck of your wine bottle. It catches the last little drop of wine from each pour before it becomes a drop on your white tablecloth or someone’s clothes. It’s extremely straight-forward and makes a significant difference if you find yourself pouring wine into a lot of glasses in social situations. The least expensive ones are less than a dollar, although highly-crafted artistic ones made of more precious materials can be found online for more than $70. It’d be easy to overlook the functionality of such a small addition to your wine service.

What is your favorite wine gadget?

Winery Profile: 4.0 Cellars

From time to time, we would like to highlight some of the wonderful wineries we visit on our tours so you can learn more about the variety of wineries in the Texas Hill Country. We will start today with 4.0 Cellars.


4.0 Cellars is a tasting room operated jointly by three well-regarded wineries in Texas and is the venue visited most often by Texas Wine Tours on our regularly-scheduled daily tours. The three wineries at 4.0 are McPherson Cellars, Brennan Vineyards, and Lost Oak Winery.

McPherson Cellars was established in 2001 in Lubbock, by Kim McPherson. Kim is the son of Texas wine pioneer, Clint McPherson, who established Llano Estacado Winery in 1976. Today McPherson Cellars is one of the largest wine producers in Texas.

Brennan Vineyards is a smaller, boutique winery located in Comanche. It was opened in 2002 by Dr. & Mrs. Pat Brennan. Originally, they supplied grapes to larger wineries, but a few years later, started producing their own wine.

Lost Oak Winery was started by Gene Estes, who had been growing grapes since 1987, in Burleson. The winery opened in 2006. Gene has served as the president of the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association.

All three of these wineries produce award-winning vintages, but few people make the trek to Lubbock, Comanche, or Burleson for wine-tasting. Meanwhile, an average of five million visitors come to the Texas Hill Country to visit wineries every year.

So, in 2012, these three winemakers joined together to open a fourth, collaborative location, that would serve wines from all three and created 4.0 Cellars. In addition to the three wineries, they offer self-serve samples of cheese from Veldhuizen Cheese in Dublin and various condiments produced by Fischer & Wieser in Fredericksburg.

When you visit 4.0 Cellars, you will be given a choice between three tasting menus. One menu offers six dry red wines; a second has a mix of six white, rose, & red wines; and the third option has six sweet wines. The actual wines offered on each menu change daily, but all three tasting options include wines from each of the three wineries represented in the tasting room.


The most recognized wines you’ll find at 4.0 Cellars includes their Roussanne, a Rhone-style blend called Les Copains White, the Piquepoul Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Spanish-style red blend called La Herencia. There are many other terrific options as well, including a peach-flavored dessert wine.

We find our clients consistently enjoy the selection at 4.0 Cellars, which is why we frequent it so often. We look forward to seeing you there on your next visit.

Four Wine-Tasting Mistakes to Avoid

To get the most out of your upcoming wine-tasting, avoid these four mistakes:

1. Don’t focus on the winemaker’s tasting notes. You might review them to determine which wines you’d like to try if you have a choice. But once you have the wine in front of you, focus on what aromas and flavors you detect in the wine. And more importantly, if you enjoy it. After you’ve made that determination, then you might consider reviewing the winemaker’s notes to see if you experienced the same nuances they did. If you didn’t, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, or that you don’t know what you’re doing. What it means is that you and the winemaker have different palates and flavor experiences, which is completely valid.


2. Don’t wear white. Spills happen.

3. Don’t throw your taste buds and nose out of whack before tasting. Biggest culprits in this category are tobacco and beer. Indulging in one of these right before you start tasting wine is going to really change your perception and your experience of everything you try.

4. Don’t over-do it. If you want to enjoy your entire day and get the most fun for the longest time, pace yourself. If you don’t know your limits, or you try to squeeze in as much drinking as you can right from the get-go, there’s a very good chance you’ll get to the third winery and appear intoxicated, which means you’ll be cut-off for the rest of the trip. It’s happened to a lot of people. Better to still be having fun by the end of the day, then to be feeling sick and miss out on half of your tastings.

How to Start Drinking Red Wine

When we’re young, our culinary tastes are pretty simple: we like fat, and we like sugar. Candy, chocolate, cake, and brownies are all the stuff of desire. As we age, our palates mature, and we come to discover the pleasures of sour, bitter, and savory foods. This is true of wine-drinking, too. Typically, we start our exploration of wine by discovering sweeter wines that are more pleasant and easier to drink. With experience, many people discover that some dry wines, with more complex flavors, including bitterness, are equally enjoyable.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to everybody. Everyone’s tastes, preferences, and palates are unique. I know plenty of senior citizens who have never enjoyed a wine unless it was very sweet. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I have also encountered people who are looking to expand their horizons beyond sweet white wine and don’t know where to start. Or perhaps, they dove right into the deep end of the pool, beginning with the heaviest, fullest-bodied, most alcoholic, bitter wine, and that may have turned them off to the idea of red wine entirely.


The single differentiating factor between red and white wines is the color that comes from fermenting juice with the grape skins.  Regardless of the color of the grape skins, all white wine is made from just the grape juice. When the skins, and sometimes the seeds, of red grapes, are allowed to remain in contact with the juice as it begins to ferment, red wine results. This adds not only color, but also flavor, body, and texture to the final product.

Be assured, there is most likely a red wine out there for you. Knowing which options are the best first steps into the world of reds will be immensely helpful to discovering new experiences in the wine world.

Start with red wines that have many of the characteristics of white wines: light bodied, simpler collections of aromas and flavors, without a bitter aftertaste.

Beaujolais is a great place to start. Beaujolais (bo-zhu-LAY) is a wine-making region of France, just north of Lyon. The red wines produced there are made with a thin-skinned, low-tannin grape called Gamay. The grapes are not pressed, they’re simply piled on top of one another and crush under their own weight. The grapes at the bottom start to ferment and release carbon dioxide, which starts to break down the grapes at the top. This means that whatever tannins and other harsher compounds that are in the skins do not get expelled into the juice, making a very light, fruity product. This is a process called carbonic maceration.

Every year, on the 3rd Thursday of November, the first Beaujolais of the year’s vintage, the Beaujolais Nouveau is released. This is the youngest, lightest, fruitiest of the year’s wine, and is meant to be consumed immediately. I strongly suggest starting your red wine exploration with Beaujolais, especially the Beaujolais Nouveau.

Since this wine only comes from one region in France, there are no Texas versions of a Gamay-based wine. However, Texas produces some excellent wines from Cinsault (sin-SOH) or Carignan (carry-nyan) grapes, which is as close as you can get to this style of wine here. Start at Lost Draw Vineyards to find a Cinsault or Carignan.

The next step is pinot noir. This is a type of grape that was originally grown in the Burgundy region of France and is an essential grape in Burgundy wines, which are blends of multiple grape types. The grape is notoriously difficult to grow; it’s finicky, prone to disease, and reacts dramatically to changes in weather. In America, pinot noir is grown on the north coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. The warmer the climate, the riper the grape becomes, developing more complex flavors. For your exploration, you should try to find a pinot noir wine made from the coolest climate you can; this usually means Washington, Oregon, or New York. You can get Oregon pinot noir at the recently-opened Signor Vineyards on the Highway 290 Wine Trail.

The important characteristic of pinot noir wines, particularly the cool-climate versions, is its acidity. In the cooler temperatures, the grapes build up acids that lend a refreshing bite or tartness, like a crisp cool apple or an iced lemonade, which makes it appealing to white wine drinkers.

Now, pinot noir does not grow consistently well in Texas, because of the warmer climate. However, the Lahey Vineyards in Brownfield, located in the Texas High Plains, is growing pinot noir grapes, and you can find wine made from this vineyard at Messina Hof Winery. This wine has been aged in oak barrels, and this smooths out the acidity of the wine and balances it with some mild tannins. This is not a European- or Oregon-style pinot noir, but you might consider trying it if you’re not too afraid of complexity and structure in your wine.

A good alternative to pinot noir that grows well in Texas is a Spanish grape known as Garnacha. You will also see the French name, Grenache. This grape has the same acidity characteristics of pinot noir but does better in warmer climates. It is a common grape that is blended together with other varieties to make Spanish wines, and in France is a component of Burgundy and Côte du Rhône wines. In the Texas Hill Country, a good place to start is the Grenache made by Ron Yates Winery. Because of its refreshing acidity, you will find multiple wineries with a rosé wine made from Grenache. The wineries that have produced such a rosé change from year to year, based on the quality of the Grenache they get from their vineyards, so you’ll have to search around to see who has one this year. It’s an excellent choice for spring, and for hot summer days. And, if you end up deciding that true red wines are not for you, there’s no shame in settling for a beautiful grenache rosé.

Your next step might be to try an Italian varietal: Sangiovese (san-jee-o-VES-ay). This is a grape from the Tuscany region that is the principal variety blended with others to make Chianti. It grows very well in Texas, even in the Hill Country, and has a good balance between its acidity, body, and very mild tannins. It’s an excellent choice to pair with some light marinara sauce or pizza. You can find some excellent examples, priced competitively, at Texas Hills Vineyard and Messina Hof. An exceptional Sangiovese, with a little bit more complexity and body to it, is the one produced by William Chris Vineyards, which was named one of the 30 Best Texas Wines for Spring 2018 by Texas Monthly magazine.


Finally, if you’ve gotten this far, you’re ready to graduate to Mourvèdre (more-VED). This is a grape from the southern regions of France, such as the Rhône River Valley. It has a little more heft and complexity than pinot noir and is much better suited to warm climates. It has become increasingly more popular among Texas grape growers in the last eight years. In France, it is blended with Grenache and Syrah to make Burgundy and Cote du Rhône wines; in Texas, these blends are known as GSM. But as a single-varietal wine, Mourvèdre can be made in a range of styles from light and fruity to medium-bodied with some complexity that will stand up to pairing with grilled meat or fruity desserts. The champion of Texas Mourvèdres is William Chris Vineyards, and you might be able to find a good one from Lewis Wines or Lost Draw Vineyards as well.

Whatever you try, keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t like something. The only person you have to please is yourself.

Why You Don’t Have to Avoid Tannins

Often, you may come across a wine that has a harsh taste in the back of your mouth, and leaves you with a dry feeling like all your saliva was sucked up by cotton balls, or that suction tube the dentist uses. “Ugh, why would I drink this?” you might say. Well, let’s find out what’s causing that, and why it’s there in the first place. You may find yourself seeking out these wines for the right occasion in the future.


The culprit here is a type of acid called tannin. It commonly occurs in different plants: tannic acid is what tea leaves release into hot water to make tea. It also can be found in coffee beans. The tannins found naturally in oak wood are extracted and used to harden animal hides into leather. This process is called tanning and is where tannin gets its name.

Tannins are one of the three acids commonly found in grapes, along with citric acid and malic acid. The tannins are concentrated in the grape skins, as well as the seeds and stems. If the winemaker leaves the skins, seeds, and stems in contact with the grape juice as it ferments, you’ll get a red wine. And the longer they sit in the juice, the darker and more tannic the wine becomes.

Tannins are also absorbed by wine that’s aging in oak barrels, directly from the wood. But this is a much smaller, less significant, source of tannins, and they tend to be smoother and mellower than the ones in the grape skins.

When the tannins come into contact with the salivary glands in the back of your mouth, they dry up the saliva, creating that puckery, bitter feeling. This is because tannin is an astringent; it has a drying effect. Some people think that this is what’s meant by “dry” wine, but that word only means that there’s no sugar in the wine. The effect created by tannin is simply called “tannic.”

So, why in the world do winemakers make wine with tannin? They could avoid it by using grapes with less tannin in the skin, and by reducing the time that the skins are left in the juice. Many wines, including red wines, are made this way. But quite a few wines are made intentionally with a tannic component. There are three principal reasons:

First, the tannins give the wine “structure.” If a wine has a lot of acid, sugar, and/or alcohol, without the tannins the wine may seem unbalanced or flabby. With the addition of tannins, all of these components are balanced out, and none of them sticks out in an unpleasant way. As time goes on, and the wine remains in the bottle, all of these different parts of the wine blend together more completely. A young wine with pronounced tannins, along with healthy acids and alcohol, will mellow out over the years; the tannins will blend with the acid and alcohol, making a mature wine very different from when it was bottled. These wines are meant to sit for one to two years, sometimes up to ten years or more, before being enjoyed, to allow the components to blend together for maximum balance.

Second, some people like tannins. Yes, they are bitter, but plenty of people enjoy the bitterness that tannins lend to tea, coffee, beer, and bourbon. It is an acquired taste, not that different from a fine cigar.


Finally, tannins neutralize, and are neutralized by, fat. Many wines are produced with the intention that they will not be consumed by themselves; rather, they’re meant to be enjoyed with food. A full-bodied, tannic wine will pair exceptionally well with foods that have a significant fat component. Take a creamy cheese, a well-marbled steak, or an alfredo sauce; and get that wonderful, fatty consistency to fully infuse your mouth. Then take a sip of your previously-intolerable tannic wine. You’ll find that the tannins have mysteriously mellowed out and become quite pleasant. That’s the magic of food & wine pairing.

If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy the acquired taste of tannins in your wine, then you can: avoid those wines; determine if there are enough of the other balancing components of wine present to set aside this wine for a couple of years; or make sure you’re not drinking this wine without a cheese plate or a Texas ribeye steak alongside it.

Happy experimenting!

10 Facts About American Viticultural Areas

1) American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are distinct grape-growing regions that have unique geographical characteristics. Because of climate, soil, and growing conditions, the grapes grown in one AVA will have qualities, aromas, and flavors different from grapes grown in another region. These differences can be detected in the wine made from those grapes.

 At least 80% of the grapes in this wine were grown in the Texas High Plains.

At least 80% of the grapes in this wine were grown in the Texas High Plains.

2) If a wine is made of 80% grapes from a particular AVA, then the wine can be labeled with that AVA.

 The grapes in this wine made by Texas Hills Vineyard were all grown in the Texas High Plains, and more specifically, at Newsom Vineyards.

The grapes in this wine made by Texas Hills Vineyard were all grown in the Texas High Plains, and more specifically, at Newsom Vineyards.

3) If all of the grapes in a wine come from a single county or vineyard, then the bottle can be labeled more specifically. Many wines are made of grapes from different vineyards in the same AVA, and so only bear the name of that region on the label.

 The grapes for this Pinot Noir were grown in different vineyards all in Monterey County.

The grapes for this Pinot Noir were grown in different vineyards all in Monterey County.

4) Grapes can be grown outside of an AVA. Wines made from those grapes can’t be labeled as coming from a particular region, however.

5) AVAs are officially designated by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The first AVA designation was made in 1980. There are now 238 AVAs in thirty-three states.

6) There are eight AVAs in Texas. Some are located inside other ones.


7) The Texas High Plains AVA is responsible for producing 80-90% of the grapes in Texas. There are about 3,000 acres of grapes planted within the 8,000,000 acres of the Texas High Plains. This is by far the best place in Texas to grow grapes.

8) The Texas Hill Country AVA was designated in 1991. It is the second largest in the country, covering 9,000,000 acres. But only 700 acres within that area are planted in grapes.

9) The Texas Hill Country AVA is also the southernmost AVA that has been designated. That means that grape growers here must be very careful about the types of grapes they plant; they must be well-suited to relatively warm and humid growing conditions.

10) There are fifty-three wineries in the Texas Hill Country, but most of the grapes they use are supplied from the Texas High Plains, or from out of state.

3 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Wine Tasting

If you’ve been wanting to take a wine tour, but were concerned that you don’t know enough about wine, worry no more. You can enjoy and learn about wine without any prior knowledge or experience, but keep reading for a few tips that will give you confidence and help you get the most out of your first (or fifth!) wine tour experience.


While you could spend hours learning the techniques professionals use to see, smell, taste, and evaluate the components and qualities of different wines, it’s absolutely not necessary to do that if you want a great wine tour. A few simple techniques will help you to compare different wines and make sure you get the most from your tasting experience. You will be able to discover great wines that you love. After all, that’s the bottom line: if you like a wine, then it’s a good wine; if you don’t like it, well, then there are plenty of other choices out there for you to try.

A note about price: the price of a wine is not based on its inherent quality; like everything else, it’s supply and demand. If a winery produces a small quantity of a particular wine, it’s likely to be more expensive. And if one particular type is highly sought-after, that will raise the price. What this means is that a wine you enjoy may be inexpensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s a poor-quality wine. One of my favorite bottles is a Sangiovese from Texas Hills Vineyard that runs $10-14.

3 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Wine Tasting

1. First and foremost, always taste the wines in the order they are listed on the tasting menu. Almost always, they will be listed from lightest body to heaviest body. “Body” refers to the heaviness, or viscosity, of the wine. Fuller-bodied wines will have more alcohol, more flavor, and more glycerol, which is a fatty acid that contributes to the intensity of the wine, and makes it seem sweeter, even if there’s no sugar present.  

If you swirl the wine around the glass, you will see it cascade down off the side of the glass. When it does this quickly and thinly, like water, it is a lighter-bodied wine. If it adheres more to the glass and forms thick “teardrops,” or “legs,” then it is heavier-bodied. Ultimately, the way the wine coats the side of the wine glass is the way it will coat the inside of your mouth, and the top of your tongue. A full-bodied wine will more completely coat your palate and tongue and inhibit your ability to taste lighter-bodied wine afterward. Therefore, you should always start with the lightest wines and proceed to the heaviest.

2. Secondly, try not to rinse out your glass with water. It is best to rinse the glass with the next wine you’ll be tasting. Water changes the intended experience of the wine. If you’re dehydrated, ask for a separate glass for water, so that it doesn’t dilute and alter the next wine you’ll be tasting. The pourer assisting you will be happy to provide one.

Should you reverse direction, and end up tasting a lighter-bodied wine after you’ve already had a heavier wine, that is a good time to use a palate-cleanser to reset your palate and mouth for the light wine. The most common palate cleansers available at Hill Country wineries are oyster crackers and Goldfish crackers. Saltines and popcorn also make excellent palate cleansers.

3.Lastly, some wineries may present a little accompaniment for particular wines. In this scenario, the paired food will complement, but also alter, the way you perceive the wine. So, the best procedure is to try the wine by itself first, to see how it stands alone. Then take the food and chew it so it coats the top of your tongue and the inside of your mouth as much as possible. Then try another sip of the wine; you’ll notice that your perception of the wine is quite different. For example, drinking an orange Moscato wine by itself may make you think that it’s too sweet. But then having a piece of dark chocolate, or fine blue cheese, with the wine will balance the sweetness and bring out the other flavor qualities of the wine beside the sweetness. In other words, sip-chew-sip, which is good advice for both wine tasting, and life.

Now, you are ready to get tasting on your wine tour. Grab some friends and book a tour with us so one of our tour guides can introduce you to some of the best Hill Country wineries.  You’ll be able to impress your friends as you discover your new favorite bottle of wine. Enjoy!