Must we sacrifice character for balance?


Fresh fruit on plates, dark red wine (Petite Sirah) and 2 empty glasses
Bending Branch Winery, 2012 Reserve Petite Sirah, Shell Creek Vineyard, 14.8% Alcohol

Petite Sirah loves warmth.  Its New World examples (California, Argentina, the subtropical regions of Brazil and Mexico, as well as some examples I’ve tasted in Texas) are giving the grape a fashionable image, changing the secondary status it has long held as a blending grape of importance in France.  Read what is happening.

A stunning New World example

Bending Branch’s 2012 Reserve Petite Sirah is among the best I have tasted — balanced and polished, bursting with juicy flavors, and worthy of an honorable place in your wine cellar.  Dark and opaque (as Petite Sirah must be) and with reasonably strong tannins, it is a palate experience you simply must have if you are a fan of big and bold.  As a serious sipping wine or in the company of a bold and rich, flavorful steak or full-flavored barbecue, it will excel.  Try this: a fatty cheese brings out the feminine side of this masculine wine.  Surprised?  Who said elegance can’t be found with strength?

Dark and tannic, but still supple and plush

On the nose, the palate, and with an excellent follow through, you wil find ripe blackberry, the full range of black currant flavors, dark chocolate, black Assam tea and hints of black pepper, almond and toast. All marry well in this fully extracted wine with distant reminders of its more rustic and earthy beginnings.  When vinified in this manner, it can take its solo place among the truly noble varieties.  While Bending Branch has taken it to its dark and tannic limits, it remains supple and plush.  

A wine that declares itself with its character

Although six years old, it still possesses bold tannins and has many years to go. It is loaded with character.  Such character is often missing in the wines that seek soft and smooth as their ultimate expression.  Character is the individuality of the wine.  And character does not bow to balance as the only goal.  If it did, all wines would (as some winemakers produce) offer the same style and the same experience.  But what we want is for a wine to declare itself and win our applause.  What we find in this wine is a taste experience that pushes the wine all the way to its possibilities. By contrast, in Old World grapes assigned to blending purposes, they were presented as support elements to the major ingredient and were not explored for what they could offer on their own.

Art in winemaking: balanced, but with character through individuality

Thanks to this winery’s approach, you can experience what Petite Sirah can be and is: namely, strong in flavor, deep and dark with rich ripe fruit; complex, while still preserving rather than losing the flavor elements. Its character is in full flower.  Marriage of flavors in wine should still honor individuality (just like marriage in human relationships should) and when artfully expressed, its multiple personalities become an intriguing unity.  Balance must be a goal and have its place.  But when overdone, the wine can lose what it is.  This wine does not.  As you drink this wine, think through how some wines want to make all elements equal, allowing no element to express itself. 

Thanks for a wine whose acids, flavors, fruit, sweetness, alcohol, and tannins meet without canceling out each others’ character in the name of balance.  This is art in winemaking — either deliberately sought or happily found.  Although well-balanced, the magic of yet more marrying and honoring of its flavors promises great times now and in its future for us, the consumers.  Why not follow it year-to-year and you will see why Petite Sirah (this one in particular) has climbed to the level of noble grapes.  Its high level of antioxidants, when fully extracted, can’t do anyone harm, either.

Bending Branch’s 2012 Reserve Petite Sirah is available from the Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, TX and may be purchased online through their website.

This wine was tasted in February of 2019 at 59℉ and again over three subsequent days of extensive evaluations.   

Rating a solid 92

C.S. Vin   2-18-19

(Check out the author’s course for wine evaluation, Experiencing Wine’s Wonders,  at and make you own evaluation)

This Texas Chardonnay Writes a Surprising Story


Texas Hills Vineyards‘ 2016 Chardonnay Estate (Texas Hill Country) 13.5% Alcohol

This Texas Chardonnay is an exception

Your surprising experience will unfold from start to finish as you savor this wine.  A noteworthy Texas Chardonnay is in itself a surprise.  Texas is not noted for its Chardonnays — bar a few exceptions.  This is one of those exceptions.

Begin your surprising experience here

A full, ripe aroma confirms what you saw in that brilliant golden hue.  It offers ripe apple and pear aromas on a  clean, lemony base with reminders of rose scents, too — and if you concentrate, a hint of butter.  

Continue the experience as you taste

Then, you taste. On your palate, the vibrancy of its acids come through and they build, keeping the wine fresh and lively all the way to a long, pleasing, cleansing finish.   This is a wine that will cut the fat of a wonderful, rich salmon dish or a full-fat cheese.  Surprising?  Yes!  And one seldom finds such a cleansing palate in this variety while still maintaining these full flavors.  The richer the Chardonnay, the more freshness it needs, and this Chardonnay has been well crafted.  

But there’s more.  Note: the taste is full and soft like the aroma, but it lasts and lasts as it coats your mouth.  It is what a Chardonnay should be: acids kept to complement the extraction of flavors while also presenting a full texture.  

Compare it with confidence

Compare it to a Californian Chardonnay and it is different.  It says to you, “This is me!  I’m from the Texas hills and you will never experience the same in other Chardonnays.”  Overall, it is an attractive wine.  And those who want to know what Texas is capable of achieving with this variety in the hands of a deft winemaker should taste this wine.  

Smooth but lively, it will awaken your senses any day of the year.  The surprise is that it comes from the hands and the soils of an unlikely place.  The reasons for this success is yet another story.  

Rating:  88 (This wine will keep and open up more with a little age).  

C.S. Vin   2-18-19

(Check out the author’s course on wine evaluation, “Experiencing Wine’s Wonders,”  at and make your own evaluation)

A True-to-Character Rosé


Glass of rose with vintage books and pearls.
1851 Vineyards, LOC Rosé, 12.5% Alcohol, Texas High Plains 

What more could you ask for in a Rosé?

Everything you could ask for in a Rosé and more, this wine is pleasing, refreshing, light, not too viscous, but still possessing a fullness that satisfies.  And it has enough complexity to make it interesting — beautifully balanced, delicate, not so acid-driven that the flavors are lost.  Furthermore, it’s velvety, attractive, with a subtle emotional appeal.  This adds up to just the right experience.  And its right balance of Grenache — the go-to grape for Rosé — will do it.

Just the right amount of fruitiness and character

Southern France made Rosés popular, and Grenache (with a touch of color and phenolics bled from its skins) adds just the right amount of fruitiness and character to make this a wine to drink with pleasure in the company of friends.

The aromas greet us

Lemon, ripe melon, and a hint of Grenache’s dried strawberry and Ruby Red Grapefruit aromas greet us — and gently, too, at 12.5% alcohol.  Maybe we can detect a little orange blossom and a slight minerality that reminds us of Provence’s Rosés.  You will have 1851 Vineyards and Dabs Holloman’s palate to thank for this true-to-character Rosé.

This wine was tasted and evaluated at 59 degrees, so if you love Rosés, don’t drink them too cold or too warm.  They will offer their best at around this temperature.  

I would confidently give this wine an 89 rating.  

C.S. Vin 1-17-19

(Check out the author’s course in evaluating Wine, “Experiencing Wine’s Wonders,” and make you own evaluation)

Alicante Bouchet from 1851 Vineyards


Vineyards at sunset
1851- Vineyards 2016 Alicante Bouchet, Lahey Vineyard, Texas High Plains

Rising from indignity and growing on the Texas High Plains

This wine tells a story: the story of an Old World style (the style of European wines) and a grape that has risen from indignity to stand in its honorable place among the wines of the New World, reinventing itself but never losing the character of its roots.  The grape is Alicante Bouchet, a variety from southern France, now growing in many spots around the world, this impressive example being from the High Plains of Texas.

All these traits make it a great food wine

It’s a food wine, as the aroma’s should indicate — red fruits, dominantly raspberry’s zip with red cherry and some lesser undertones of blackberry to give it depth.  Brightness and abundant, refreshing acids signal how it will cut through the fats of a rich meal — think barbecue.  Strong, young tannins grip the palate, too, offering a tactile experience that you won’t miss and shouldn’t miss.  And the tannins, being acids, add yet more zest to its impressions.  Don’t forget, there is health in those tannins.  1851 Vineyards has offered us a fine introduction to this grape. 

This Alicante Bouchet has Old World character

Along with what you might have already detected in the wine, there is a pleasing lattice of mineral elements.  Among them is the kind you might remember from the smell of wet pavement, which signals again its Old World character.  When fruit and more fruit can become too much fruit, this wine will take you on a much-needed, pleasant journey.  Oh, and there’s a reminder of cedar, and a moist forest floor with, perhaps, a touch of fresh-cut oak to add yet more to its complexity as it ends with a medium to long, strong finish.

Cranking up that grill?  Enhance the meal with this well made wine.  If you haven’t met this wine before, enjoy a new and appealing experience.  Welcome to Alicante Bouchet from 1851 Vineyards and to an excellent wine from Texas soil.  

Rating 89, with healthy phenolics to boot.  

C. S. Vin 1-20-19

(Check out the author’s course in evaluating Wine, “Experiencing Wine’s Wonders,” and make 

Texas Grapes Make “Beginnings 2016” Exciting


Glasses of red wine on old barrel with autumn leaves
1851 Vineyards Estate “Beginnings” 2016, 13.8% alcohol

Full of fruit without being all fruit

Who can dislike a wine that creates a powerful exciting response on first taste?  This wine, made from Texas grapes, is exciting because it is full of fruit without being all fruit.  What keeps it from being the proverbial “fruit bomb” is the depth and complexity of its aromas that follow through to an explosive consistent taste experience.  Is it all fireworks and excitement?  No, it is a truly cerebral experience, too.

These aroma notes entice thoughts of its profound, obscure depths

Blackberry, with side notes of raspberry and strawberry, follow the initial violet aroma.  Black pepper and clove spice up the presentation with a hint of minerality. A warm, sweet vanilla note accompanies coconut, fresh leather, and unmistakable dark chocolate that is calling to you.  This jewel of a wine from Texas grapes is making you think of its profound, obscure depths as well as its attractions.

A 50/50 blend of two grape varieties

It’s a 50/50 blend of Petite Sirah and Malbec.  A touch of earthiness confirms the presence of the Petite Sirah.  The mouthfeel is rich and full, coating all it touches with its tactile viscosity — a really full and complete wine.  

With this character, can you resist it?

It’s balanced, with a firm structure and refreshing acids plus fine tannins that, together, lead you to wonder about just how long you can resist drinking it.  Not long, on my watch!

“Beginnings 2016” has a medium length finish.  Is it balanced?  Yes, but it’s a balance that has not divorced character.  It will be remembered, and I think you will remember it, too.  This is a wine for special occasions and a wine that will make the occasion if you don’t have one.  

A careful evaluation has given it a rating of 92.  Well done!

C.S. Vin   1-14-19

(Check out the author’s course in evaluating Wine, “Experiencing Wine’s Wonders,” and make you own evaluation)