When we dropped in at Solaro Estate Vineyard and Winery, we didn’t expect to see very many people there; It was rainy and chilly, and their parking lot was mud. The tasting room is situated with a drop-off spot, but no parking places close enough to avoid getting drenched if it’s raining hard at all. I dropped Julie off in the least muddy spot I could find close to the entrance then drove to the parking lot. This isn’t a complaint; it’s a preface.
Solaro’s tasting room was hopping. When I walked in the door, Julie was already chatting with the owner, Barbara Haderlein, who started pouring tastings for us right away.
We started with the 2010 Montage Blanc, a blend of Viognier and Chardonnay with a splash of Muscat. Pretty refreshing! I’ll take two, please.
Barbara got called away, so Shay, a very friendly tasting guide, poured the 2010 Old Vine Moscato (High Plains – semi-sweet ) while telling us that they only had a couple bottles left of it. Yeah, that one sold out before we were able to make our order. Talk about smooth.
The Arancia is a dry High Plains Orange Muscat, and the only other bone-dry Orange Muscat I have ever tasted was a barrel-tasting of unfiltered Orange Muscat destined to be sweetened into a dessert wine. The former tasting presented a very full-flavored, tart orange. If I remember correctly, the Arancia is also unfiltered – Solara strives to produce naturally clear, smooth wines using smaller-batch, manual processes. The Arancia also presents a bold orange flavor while being very balanced and smooth on the tongue.
It didn’t occur to me until we started tasting the red wines that the normal tasting only includes five wines, and I had not been asked which wines I wanted to try. It’s like they were on autopilot, or they assumed that we wouldn’t have a particular preference since we had never been there before to know the wines.
Barbara was back by this time and served us the 2010 Reserve Mourvèdre (High Plains), a Mourvèdre, Grenache, Tempranillo blend, aged in French oak. Very aromatic, smooth on the tongue, with a very slight musky finish. It was followed by the 2010 Reserve Sangiovese, again, a well-balanced wine with strong plum and black cherry.
Even though we really wanted to spend some time with Robert Fritz, Barbara’s partner and Solaro’s winemaker, the tasting room had just welcomed a stretch-Hummer full of guests. So we chatted a little with Shay again before we prepared an order.
Robert stopped by for a minute to greet us and, poor guy, he was stuck for another hour. We asked a few questions about the winery, talked about our interest in Texas wine, and Robert fascinated us with his story, their philosophy on winemaking, and what separates Solaro from other wineries. Of particular interest to us is Robert’s ties to Italian winemaking families – his aunts, uncles, and cousins, and how he strives to create handmade, distinctive, smaller-production wines. Robert and his team hand-press the wines and manually work every process, keeping most of his wines in small batches that are manageable – and distinctive.
Robert asked me if I had tried the Reserve Tempranillo, and learning that we had only gotten to the Sangiovese, poured a generous taste. The 2010 Reserve Tempranillo is a very fruit-forward wine with black pepper and pipe tobacco influences and, like his other wines, very well balanced and downright smooth.
He followed the Tempranillo with Solara’s 2009 Borderoso 27, a Tempranillo / Merlot blend aged for twenty-seven months. I picked up a tart cherry flavor with a strong oaky finish. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it – although I usually prefer oaked reds over un-oaked, this came across too strong for my taste.
Robert then served a taste of the Lisse – a blend of 2010 Mourvèdre, aged for twelve months, and 2009 Merlot, aged 24 months in oak. I did pick up the oak, but the dark cherry aroma and flavor trumped the oak, and I am oversimplifying my description because I was too involved to take good notes (o.O). Again, a smooth finish, but I picked up some tartness – mineral origin? – that kind of “pushed” into the front. I picked up a couple of bottles for further study, of course.
We really appreciate the time that Robert spent sharing with us about his winery, and about the Texas wine industry – I’ll blog about that some other time. As I tweeted earlier, our visit to Solaro was way up on my awesome scale.