Bending Branches, Crushing Grapes, Making Wine

We’re a little crazy. We’ll drive hundreds of miles and hours on end just to visit a winery. We’ll even pass by closer wineries we have yet to visit for one special winery or one special wine, or sometimes to visit just one special winemaker.

Today was a real treat – we drove from Pearland to Comfort, TX, west of San Antonio to visit with John Rivenburgh at Bending Branch Vineyard & Winery. John had made quite an impression on me at the Texas Hill Country Winery (THCW) Road Show in Richmond a little over a week ago when he told me, “This is the grape that’s going to make Texas,” and poured me a taste of the Bending Branch Texas Tannat.

I admit, I haven’t had all the different wines from all the different grapes grown and offered in Texas, so I can’t say if Tannat will make the Texas wine industry. What I can say is that it made me want more. Being the geek that I am, after tasting the Texas Tannat, I told every attendee that had the misfortune to introduce themselves and ask me about the various wines I had tasted that the most fascinating Texas wine I had ever tasted was at the Bending Branch table. It reminded me of the 2004 Ovid Experiment 0.4 that I enjoyed the week before the Road Show. It wasn’t the same as the E 0.4, but there was a strong resemblance between the single varietal Texas Tannat and the Ovid blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

Here’s the lowdown on the Tannat: I have a Bending Branch glass in my hand with a normal pour of the Tannat. When I swirl it, I see nice legs flowing slowly down the sides of the glass.(1) I didn’t swirl the glass to see the legs, I did it to see the color and. most importantly, to release the fragrance of the wine so I can smell it.

Ah, the aroma. This ain’t your momma’s Cab. The first thought I have is dark. Tobacco (OK, I’m a cigar smoker, so I like tobacco). Berries – currant? black cherry? the slightest hint of prune (a good thing in my book). Licorice, barely. What I want to point out in bold, is that no single aroma stands out above the others. This is what I call balanced.

I’m blogging this live, so I’m waiting a little for the Tannat to open up. When I tasted it at the Road Show, I asked how the flavor evolved as the wine opened up. John’s response was, “night and day”. OK, I had tasted it fresh from the bottle and was already captivated, so was “opened up” night or day? It was both. The nose didn’t change perceptibly, but the flavor was, exactly as John said, night and day.

I’m delaying now.

Did you know that Bending Branch also sells an 1840 Silver Tannat? We didn’t try it at the Road Show because it wasn’t there, but we did get to try some today. What’s bad is that the tasting hostess didn’t clear the glass after the Picpoul Blanc (more about this in a minute or twenty), and I could tell that it corrupted the Silver Tannat. I should have had her dump and re-pour the Silver after my first taste, because it was bitter. The Picpoul wasn’t bitter, they just didn’t blend well.

About the Picpoul Blanc? Get some. Then get some more. Add it to your cellar because it probably won’t last long. Not that it will turn into vinegar – I don’t know what the cellar life of the Picpoul is, but I hazard to say that you will go to your cellar and wonder where it all went. Yes, it’s that good. Geez, I need to publish my TXWineGeek’s Favorite wines of Texas list because you may think that I’ll forget all my other favorite wines for this one. I won’t – I’ll just drink wine more often. I remind myself f John Cleese in his beginner wine-drinker video. Every time he talked about a varietal, he’d say, “Now this is my favorite grape.” I fully understand that, Mr. Cleese.

The Picpoul Blanc is a Rhone Valley grape (John told me – I didn’t bother looking it up) that they brought to Texas. Shades of Monty Python’s “And now for Something Completely Different!” Here’s how I place it among other Texas-grown grapes: somewhere between Orange Muscat and Blanc du Bois with a mouth-feel of Chardonnay. I know, probably every sommelier in Texas will call me a hack and idiot for making that relationship, but that’s what I get out of it. My mouth was convinced that this dry white was “sweet”. Not sugary sweet, just sweet. If there’s a non-snobby way to put that, please let me know.

I wonder if the Texas Tannat is ready for me? Almost opened up. Tannins are evening out.

We had barged in on Bending Branch’s Kentucky Derby bash, so the place was packed. Since John and Bob were so busy with all the people, we found a place in a corner where we could rest (after the long drive) and watch people. I stepped out to get a few pictures while Juile waited in the tasting room, and when I got back to her, she pointed a couple out and told me, “I overheard him say something about being a grower. Find out who they are.” Right. And she knows how deathly afraid I am of meeting people. But she piqued my curiosity to the point that I walked over to the lady (hopefully she won’t hit as hard as he does) and asked if they were local growers. She politely answered that she and her husband were the owners (and growers / harvesters / laborers) of Cherokee Creek Vineyard.

A little context here. One of our favorite wineries is Alamosa, and Cherokee Creek Vineyards grows grapes for some of Jim Johnson’s wines. Small world here. Thank God for Julie’s keen ears! We talked to Mike and Lynn(sp?) McHenry for a few minutes, and we were very pleased to tell them that the 2010 Viognier from Alamosa was the best in Texas IMO. Those are Cherokee Creek grapes.

Mike and Lynn brought a good friend of theirs and introduced Penny Adams to us. It was such an honor to meet the first female professional wine grower in the state of Texas.

Ah, the Tannat is ready. Is it legal to call a wine savory? This is so easy on the tongue. Silky tannins – they are there, but so well balanced with everything else. My tongue is catching sweets, sours, bitters, but all in the right places. My palate – the back of my mouth – and nose are picking up black cherries, rosewood, perhaps a little leather, but in the best way. When I swallow, I’m left with plum and cherry.

I heard someone relate the Tannat to an Amarone or Valpolicella (Amarone del Valpolicella? My favorite wine for a Kobe Filet, mind you). Amarone is a wonderful wine, but very different. It’s a different level of complexity.

Well, Damn. The glass is empty, and I’ve been working on this blog for over an hour. I hope it doesn’t take as long to read it.

What was the highlight of today? It’s a tie. Seeing John again, meeting Mike and Lynn McHenry and Penny Adams, and sitting down to a glass of Bending Branch Texas Tannat.

Want to know what sucks? You can’t buy the Texas Tannat right now because Bending Branch sold out. Go figure.

I have part of the bottle I just opened (now vacuum sealed) and one more bottle.


(1) I know that the “legs” are a result of the viscosity of the wine – in this case, it’s the difference between the surface tension of the liquid and the “thinness” of it. Think Karo Syrup versus water. One’s thick, one’s not. A couple of things that affects the viscosity of wine are the alcohol and/or sugar content. Sugar tends to thicken liquids whereas alcohol thins it.
What “legs” don’t tell you is how good the wine is. It’s just something pretty to look at. Sure it affects how good it is, but it’s one of many things that make a wine.


Bending Branches, Crushing Grapes, Making Wine — 3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Bending Branch 2011 Estate Tannat – An Unexpected Preview | Texas Wine Geek™ - Drive. Taste. Talk. Write.

Hey! If you have an opinion, then Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.