The urban terrain of one of 21st century America's most vibrant cities melted into rolling hills, a curious mix of green and grey driving west from Austin into the wine country of the Texas hills. Rain poured sadly down, but the pastoral serenity of this place was as lovely as it was surprising to be found in a state conceptualized by most who are not from here as an endless prairie of scorched earth and heat. We had come looking for Becker Vineyards, the next chapter in our long standing fascination with wine from places you'd not expect, and surely but the first chapter in our flirtation with wine from Texas Hill Country.
If the architecture isn't unmistakable on walking up, the Texas flag certainly is. This place is intimate, yet shows big, like Texas? Inside we found an expansive tasting room, wooden beams supporting a high ceiling from which wrought iron chandeliers hang. The same gnarled tree that adorns the labels on the white wine appears as a mural on the back wall. The rain poured down upon the roof.
We learned from Casey, as she poured, that the winemaker uses grapes exclusively grown in Texas, of which many come from the 50 planted acres on the 250 acre estate here in the town of Stonewall. There seems to be room to grow. The winery produced 105,000 cases in 2015, spread among a lineup that includes Viognier, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and others. I must admit to being surprised by the multitude of varietals they are growing here, but was impressed with the expressions they've been able to hew from each. There are clearly far more wines that what we worked into our tasting notes below, reflecting the best of what we tried.
I was sad that the rain dampened our ability to walk about the grounds and take in the fullness of what I think Becker has to offer. This excursion was wedged in around other events that brought us to Austin, Texas, but suffice it to say that the winemaking in this part of the world is robust, and certainly worth our (and your) future visits.
2014 Reserve Viognier
Made from Viognier grapes grown southwest of Lubbock, Texas, this is one of those Viogniers that appear a touch more viscous, and (similar to their Roussanne) pale gold color in the glass. A bit of a leafy nose turns into something downright creamy when drunk, with interesting orange notes that followed. Actually we found this one a bit tough to nail down, but can tell you that its heartiness makes it -- like all good Viognier -- highly appropriate to pair with a meal.
2015 Dry Riesling
I delight at the opportunity to share nice dry Rieslings with others, for it is a wine known among casual drinkers (at least in the United States) for its sweeter incarnations. This one gives us something akin to lavender in the nose, with vanilla and (of course) notes of citrus through the finish. It has apparently been the recipient of several awards.
2015 Jolie Rosé
We divined that the rosé is a blend of "big red" grapes, presumably from their Bordeaux varietal lineup, though details were not forthcoming. It is nonetheless much darker than most other rosés once poured in the glass, and plays thickly on the tongue with that characteristic "strawberry and cream" essence that defines most rosés. Consider this as an alternative to your run of the mill when you want something cool, yet heartier.
2014 Prairie Rotie
This Rhone-style blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (we'd call that a "GSM") is, as is typical from the blend, earthy, but not so mushroomy. It features a wonderful medley of black tea, rose hips, ripened apricot, and other herbs with lovely cranberry at the end; a fine segue into the lovely reds in the lineup.
2013 Reserve Tempranillo
Somehow the presence of Tempranillo in this lineup didn't surprise me, as I suspect this area produces a few similar climatic patterns as some of the world's great Tempranillo regions. Hot days, cool nights -- Toro, Spain -- anyone? We were told that 2013 was a bit of a dry year, which rings true from the very concentrated and robust red fruit notes we found in its vintage bottle. It's fruit-forward, yet also smokey, with a bit of spice reminiscent of a good Cabernet Franc wine. This was our favorite bottle in the lineup (surprise, surprise).
2014 Reserve Tempranillo
Grown exclusively in the Texas "High Plains", the 2014 is oddly darker than the 2013 despite feeling less robust up front, and less spicy (no Cab Franc ringers here). Actually we think that the 2014 was still a bit tight, and needs another six months to a year of aging in the bottle, certainly some decanting, to experience its true glory. There's also more cranberry fruit here, and some delightful vanilla that asserts itself in your mouth about ten seconds after you swallow.
2014 "Raven" Red Blend
They're obviously and rightly proud of their "Raven" blend here. This red wine is a Bordeaux-style blend of 60% Malbec, 20% Petit Verdot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Light refracting through the glass in a beautiful deep red hue makes a delightful first impression that's backed up by oats, chocolate, and cherry in the nose. It mellows quite a bit in the middle, and finishes with nice dry tannins that linger satisfyingly in the mouth at the finish.