Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Coturri Winery & Texas Wine

Which state is the fifth largest producer of wine in the U.S.?  Texas, which has about 200 commercial wineries and produces over 2.3 million gallons of wine.  Yet, until very recently, I had never seen a Texas wine available in Massachusetts.  Besides California, Oregon and Washington, that is a common problem with the other U.S. states, that their wines are not widely available across the country. 

When I recently saw several Texas wines available at The Spirited Gourmet in Belmont, I was intrigued but they were pricey, $50-$55 a bottle. Fortunately, a couple of the wines were going to be tasted a couple weeks later, with the wine maker, Tony Coturri. I was already a fan of Coturri Winery, a California winery located in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, so I was thus even more excited to try the wines. I usually find Coturri wines to be unique, delicious and compelling.

Coturri Winery produces what they consider to be "natural wines," that every ingredient in their wine is organic. Their website states: "Coturri Winery never uses grapes that have been treated with pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. The Coturri Winery Estate Vineyards are certified by the CCOF. No SO2-no inoculation with sulfites, yeast cultures, no use of concentrates to boost sweetness, no added water, acids, or other manipulation of the wine."  Tony is very passionate about natural wines and has now carried that passion to Texas. 

Tony is very good friends with Lewis Dickson, a Texas lawyer and wine enthusiast, and back in 2001 they produced their first batch of Texas wine together. In 2004, they then established the La Cruz de Comal winery in the Texas Hill Country, in Central Texas. Their intent is to produce natural wines, indicative of the terroir of the region.  Tony told me that too many Texas winemakers follow fads, rather than trying to grow what grows best in the Texas soil.  The location of Tony's vineyard is not an easy area for vineyards, and they have had two crop failures in the past ten years.  But, Tony feels they can make some excellent wine.

The winery uses both vitis vinifera, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as vitis labrusca, such as Norton and Black Spanish (also known as Lenoir and Jacquez).  For example, they use Black Spanish, which they consider a very good grape for the region, in a red still wine, a rose, and a dessert wine.  The winery only produces a total of about 350 cases of wine, so they are a very small operation.

At the tasting, we went through a number of Coturri wines from California, including the following:

•2006 Coturri Sonoma County Chardonnay
•NV Coturri Sandocino
•2005 Coturri Charbono 'Testa Vineyards'
•2004 Coturri Pinot Noir 'Jewell Vineyard'
•2003 Coturri Zinfandel 'Bruschera Vineyards'
•2005 Cotes de Cailloux Chateau d'O
•1997 Coturri Assemblage

Though I enjoyed all of the wines, my top two favorites were the NV Coturri Sandocino ($21.99) and the 1997 Coturri Assemblage ($29.99).  1997 was an excellent vintage and Tony is particularly proud of the Assemblage, a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Some people feel that a wine without added sulfites cannot age well, but this Assemblage is 13 years old and is still going strong.  It reminded me of an older Bordeaux, and it seems as if it will continue to age well for a number of years. And at this price, it is an excellent value and highly recommended.

We had the opportunity to taste two of the Texas wines, including the 2004 La Cruz de Comal "Cohete Rojo" ($49.99) and the 2005 La Cruz de Comal "Cohete Rojo" ($54.99). "Cohete Rojo" is Spanish for "Red Rocket," in a reference to fireworks.

Only about 96 cases were produced of the 2004 Cohete Rojo, which is blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat and Alicante Bouchet.  Initially, this wine had an aroma of seawater, almost a lowtide smell. But, after a bit of aeration, that smell vanished and there was more of an earthy smell, reminding me of some Rhone wines.  On the palate, I found an intriguing melange of tastes, more black fruits but with hints of red cherry.  There was some minerality, earthiness, and mild herbal flavors. Good acidity, tannins were moderate, and the finish was lengthy and pleasing. It had a very unique taste, and seemed more European in style than California.  A strongly recommended wine, though the price might keep some away. 

The 2005 Cohete Rojo is a different blend, with 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest includes Norton, Black Spanish, Syrah, Tannat and Viognier. This wine reminded me more of a California wine, a bigger style with more prominent black fruit flavors. But, it did not cross the line into being a fruit bomb, the fruit flavors being restrained though prominent. There were also some underlying notes of spice and herbs.  Good acidity and a lengthy finish. I enjoyed this wine too, though not as much as the 2004 as I found the 2004 to have a more intriguing and complex taste.

Based on these two examples, I see a potential for Texas wines, and I am interested in tasting more of them in the future, though it won't be easy to find them locally.  Plus, it is very good to see natural wines being produced in places you might least expect them.  Tony Coturri has another winner on his hands and kudos go to him.

Have you had any Texas wines?  If so, what were your thoughts?


VintageTexas said...

$50-$55 for a bottle of Texas is a generalization. There are many good ones in the $12 to $25 range now.

Good to see you feature wines from Cruz de Comal. I was there in October with Alice Feiring for a great wine tasting with Lewis and friends...

See: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=2642

Congrats to Tony for a job well done.


Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Russ,
Thanks for the comments. I think maybe I was not clear though. The $50-$55 wines were the Cruz de Comal ones available at my local shop. They did not have any other Texas wines. I did not mean to imply that all Texas wines are in that price range.

Chris said...

I have really enjoyed the La Cruz de Comal wines as well as Coturri wines because of there authenticity and evolving complex flavors. Both Coturri wines and Comal wines, though worlds different as far as "terrior driven flavors" are concerned, both are similar in acidity, stucture and style. How great is it to see more regional wines "cruzing" out of the state of Texas! Its a big state and there are a lot of little producers making some complex old world wines with real finesse. The only problem is they don't have any trouble selling it to their huge market and it never leaves the state. Cheers to Texas and Texans for getting into the national scene. Gotta Love Coturri for being such a risk taker. Cheers to Dickson for being such a quality-driven proprietor.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much Chris for your comments. I agree that it is great that some Texas wines are getting more national distribution. It would be nice to see more Texas wines available in MA, to give exposure to all that is being done in that big state.