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Messina Hof Father and Son Cuvee Riesling 2011
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.
A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining easily identifiable typicity. This versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling, and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Riesling is best known in Germany and Alsace, and is also of great importance in Austria. The variety has also been particularly successful in Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington, cooler regions of California, and the Finger Lakes in New York.
In the Glass
Riesling is low in alcohol, with high acidity, steely minerality, and stone fruit, spice, citrus, and floral notes. At its ripest it leans towards juicy peach and nectarine, and pineapple, while in cooler climes it is more redolent of meyer lemon, lime, and green apple. With age, Riesling can become truly revelatory, developing unique, complex aromatics, often with a hint of gasoline.
Riesling is very versatile, enjoying the company of sweet-fleshed fish like sole, most Asian food, especially Thai and Vietnamese (bottlings with some residual sugar and low alcohol are the perfect companions for dishes with substantial spice), and freshly shucked oysters. Sweeter styles work well with fruit-based desserts.
It can be difficult to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling, and German labeling laws do not make things any easier. Look for the world “trocken” to indicate a dry wine, or “halbtrocken” or “feinherb” for off-dry. Some producers will include a helpful sweetness scale on the back label—happily, a growing trend.