Maintained by a long history of knowledgeable grape growers and a current generation of persevering winemakers, modern Texas wine production continues to flourish. Today Texas ranks fifth in production volume and boasts a number of variations in climatic conditions and terrain suitable for viticulture.
The Spanish planted the first vineyards in the state in the 1660s in Ysleta Mission near what is now El Paso. Texas is also home of the famous taxonomist, Thomas Munson, who led extensive research in the 1880s on vine breeding and is credited with saving Europe from complete phylloxera devastation. His results led to the French importation of huge amounts of American species phylloxera-resistant rootstocks, which when grafted onto their non-resistant Vitis vinifera species, prevented the spread of the disease.
Today Texas boasts over 275 bonded wineries and eight official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Some of the main AVAs include Texas High Plains, Texas Hill Country, Bell Mountain, Escondido Valley and Fredericksburg.
After experimentation with popular California varieties yielded mixed results, many growers have turned their focus to heat and drought-resistant Mediterranean varieties. Grapes such as Syrah, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Viognier and Vermentino are well-suited to the Texas environment, especially the Texas High Plains AVA in the northwestern Panhandle of Texas where vineyards are planted at 3,000-4,000 feet. This AVA receives of plenty of sunshine and cool nighttime temperatures support acid retention.
Notoriously food-friendly, long-lasting and Spain’s most widely planted grape, Tempranillo is the star variety of red wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. The Rioja terms Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva indicate both barrel and bottle time before release. Traditionally blended in Rioja with Garnacha, plus a bit of Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano, the Tempranillo in Ribera del Duero typically stands alone. Somm Secret—Tempranillo claims many different names depending on location. In Penedès, it is called Ull de Llebre and in Valdepeñas, goes by Cencibel. Known as Tinta Roriz in Portugal, Tempranillo plays an important role in Port wine.