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Griffin to Go: Open Mouth, Insert Wine

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If you’re ever invited to speak on a panel, make sure Chesley Sanders is on it with you.

Chesley is the former owner of Lone Stone Wines in Fort Worth, the first wine store in the state devoted strictly to Texas wines. He has the gift of gab and a true Texan’s knack for telling a story.

I could have listened to him for all of the 45 minutes that five of us had come together to present a discussion on “What’s New in Texas Wine: Trends and Developments.” The panel was the first of three sold-out seminars at the first Conference held Aug. 15 at Dallas’ Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts.

Chesley is a hero to many in the Texas wine industry because he has hand-sold more people on the state’s wine than can be counted. When he opened shop, there were only 24 wineries in the state. When he retired earlier this year, the number had grown to more than 175. In the 13 intervening years, he spent his time trying to find out what people liked and what the state had to offer to fit those tastes.

But he always encountered a few skeptics who only wanted to mock Texas wines. For these people, he had a little test to see if he knew what they were talking about.

Because he had tasted every wine Texas produced on numerous occasions, Chesley kept a bottle of a 90+ rated Gigondas under the desk for him to enjoy as a change of pace.

To the skeptics, he’d say something to the effect, “Oh, I’ve got another special bottle that I keep behind the counter.” And he’d pour them a blind taste. Most would also reject the Gigondas as being, in their mind, another bad Texas wine, so he knew they were talking out of their hats.

OpenMouthInsertWine1Also on the panel were Wes Marshall, author of “The Wine Roads of Texas,” and Mary Kimbrough of the culinary tourism business Food Roots, as well as moderator and “Wine Curmudgeon” Jeff Siegel, who helped organize the event. Each offered a great picture of the state of Texas wines today and the positive direction in which the industry is headed.

I felt I opened a few cans of worms in my responses. Wes noted that although wine critics may taste Texas wines blindly, they still know that the wines are from Texas and seem to give demerits before tasting.

If that’s the case, I said, then the wrong food and wine writers seemed to be targeted. Instead of trying to get great scores from the likes of Wine Spectator, perhaps the better people to target are the nation’s top food writers. And I used as an example Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post, who asked in an online chat about 18 months ago: Does Texas have wines?

The point was not to slam Sietsema but to point out that one of the nation’s top food writers needs to be educated on this point as much as he needs to know where raspberries are cultivated or which cities offer the best Tex-Mex.

Yet that comment may not have been interpreted the right way. So, sorry, Tom; if you ever come to San Antonio, we’ll share a couple of great bottles on me.

Finding some bottles of Texas wine is not always easy. I mentioned how frustrating it can be to follow Texas wines and not be able to try some of the labels you read about. The same is true of lauded wines from all over the world. How many of us have had Screaming Eagle? Or enough Turley Zinfandels?

But I specifically mentioned the Fuqua Winery Tempranillo, which had won a double gold recently in the San Francisco Wine Competition. Not a bottle that I was aware of made it to the shelves of San Antonio’s finest wine shops. Was it really the best that the state has to offer these days?

That comment brought a most unexpected — and most welcome — response.

Ann Bartholomew of the North Texas Wine Enthusiasts Meetup was one of the people in attendance. She had a bottle, she said, and she shared it with us the following day at the TexSom conference. Inky black and rich with oak, it was perhaps a little too young to be drinking, like a young Tempranillo from Rioja might seem, yet it showed a richness of flavor that was impressive.

But was it a truly Texas wine? Some at the conference questioned the origin of its grapes, saying they were from outside the state. That may be true (the label said it was for sale in Texas only), but what qualifies as a Texas wine? Well, that’s a topic for another panel to take up.

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