As I have spent my time chatting with you all about wine from countless regions around the world, I have often been asked my opinion on Texan wines. I often shout out well-made wines while acknowledging my lack of knowledge on the subject. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I until recently, like MANY ‘industry folk’ I interact with, harbor a generally condescending attitude towards Texas wine in general. This is not the only region that I feel gets this treatment; but it is rare that disdain is shared “across the bar” between professional and customer like this over a particular region.
Over the Independence Day weekend, the Steve’s crew took a trip down to Fredericksburg to unwind and visit some wineries at the recommendation of Shawn Croft, the Marketing Director for Pedernales Cellars, fierce Texas wine advocate, and longtime friend of Steve’s Wine Bar. I was excited to finally see the land and meet the people firsthand.
Impressions: It certainly looks like a wine region down there! Small communities scattered among a vast space with a concentration of wineries, tasting rooms, and vineyards along a collection of roads. It really was no different than what you might expect in another comparably sized region in California (save for Mars-like appearance you tend to get in Texas.)
Regarding the wines: in short, they were pretty great! Were some experiences notably better than others? Yeah. Were some wines abjectly bad? Yeah. But in all, there were stylistic differences and quirks from producer to producer that made the whole experience intriguing, educational, and eclectic - three things I would argue are essential to a successful trip to any wine country. To clarify further, there were more than a couple wines that this pretentious nerd TRULY enjoyed.
However, what struck me most as a wine enjoyer AND wine professional was the community. The first night we visited, we had a special experience at Vinovium, a local winery/ negociant wine bar/ local hangout spot. We were hosted by Shawn, his lovely family, and Daniel, the somm/VP. These folk and the staff shared a delicious homemade meal while trying a variety of Texas wines, each sincere with intention and a focus on quality and individuality.
As the night went on, I chatted with Shawn and Andy regarding mundane wine industry talk such as distribution and the like. We eventually came to the topic of advocating for Texas wine. This is generally the point where I point the difficulty of advertising Texas wines to folks that have not tried and have no reason to explore them. However, instead of advocating for the quality of the wine like one might expect, the conversation centered around the community, and how much buy-in from wine establishments means to it. This is not to say that they thought the quality of the wines should be eschewed in favor of the community, but rather that the support of the community, local economy, and producers should be considered considerably more than they currently are.
I can only speak for myself, but I haven’t considered those things while talking about Texas wines and potentially bringing them to y’all. Furthermore, I have not heard sommeliers, distribution representatives, or other industry folk address those things when they are trying to sell Texas wine. The more I thought about, the more hypocritical this seemed. We consider these kinds of things all the time when talking about other regions and wines; whether it be certain philosophies of winemaking, traditions surrounding a certain wine, or other things that don’t necessarily impact the tangible product. What if we (professionals, consumers, advocates, etc.) took that same approach with TX wine, and celebrate these products from fellow Texans looking to enrich their community and customers with their product.
To be clear, I’m not saying you should feel pressured to buy some wine (TX or otherwise) solely because you’re benefiting the community. Rather, the next time you decide to try something new and novel; give that High Plains Malvasia a try. Next time your server is really hyped about this pet nat’ for a hot summer’s day, try it! And next time you are scoffing at Texas wine on the shelf of your local restaurant, wine shop, or wine bar *wink wink*, think about WHY you are blowing it off. Is it because you have tried that wine and can confirm it’s not your thing, or is it because it’s from Texas?
Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
Wine Professional, 1st-Time Hill Country Visitor, Unbearable Snob… and Budding TX Wine Advocate.
P.S: We want to thank everyone who made our trip special and possible; including Sandy Roads Vineyards, William Chris Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Siboney Cellars, Vinovium, Crowson Winery, and our tour guide/homie-extraordinaire Shawn Croft.
DENTON, Texas -- The streets are quiet on the Denton Square, normally bustling during this Thursday lunch hour, and most businesses are operating on limited hours due to COVID-19, which has affected musicians and small business owners alike.
Marked by red framed doors and windows on a near empty Industrial Street is Steve’s Wine Bar, doing the same to limit the spread of novel virus COVID-19 and allowing only to-go orders of their selections of beer, wine, and cigars. On a normal night, glasses clinking and the smooth sounds of jazz would ring through the air. It’s a hotspot for jazz. Now, it’s dark inside, as it’s not yet open, dimly illuminated by the light falling through the windows.
At the back, a silver-haired man clad in khaki shorts and a light blue shirt arranges the patio seating. He’s the namesake of Steve's Wine Bar, Steve Severance. Before COVID-19 forced gatherings in public places to be reduced significantly or stopped completely, Steve had booked performances up until May for the bar. Though concerts can no longer be held with a live audience, Steve and his wife, Karen Severance, still find ways to accommodate the new changes and offer some sense of normalcy to customers and performers.
“I actually made an offer, just kind of a general public offer, to people out there if they’re looking for a piano to play on,” Steve said. “And they want to practice or play while we’re open, they’re more than welcome to do so.” Steve said there were no takers at the time, but wouldn’t mind having someone playing as customers come in to pick up their to-go orders.
Since then, Steve’s Wine Bar has streamed a couple of musicians playing live on Facebook. Karen, who Steve calls the face of Steve’s Wine Bar, said social distancing and not being able to sit and talk with customers has been hard for them since they’re sociable people.
“We’re like ‘that’s to-go, you can’t stay here.’ They want to stay and talk. We had a woman yesterday who just lost her sister, and I gave her a glass to-go,” Karen said. “She just wanted to talk a little bit, so keeping our distance, we let her talk. It's really hard on her because she’s not able to be around anybody.”
Staff have also had to deal with the effects of COVID-19, adhering to social distancing and limiting the amount of people in one space. Therefore, only one employee a day is scheduled to come in for a shift. For some of these employees, this is their sole source of income, and COVID-19 has brought unforeseen circumstances.
“We base everything on, not so much the wine, but coming in to enjoy your company, your friends, so that’s what makes it difficult,” Karen said. “I feel really bad for our staff. For them, we’re hoping that maybe we could come back and work out something if we
could get one of the loans that are available to us so that way we could take care of them in this time.”
Before the declared pandemic caused by coronavirus, Steve had a 12 hour workday that he spent the first half tending to the business’s social media page and website and other tasks related to the bar. The other half was spent servicing the bar and interacting with patrons. “I’m always working on something for the wine bar,” Steve said. “My day just kind of flows from about 8 or 9 in the morning until the time I get home about midnight. The morning is spent at home.”
But when Steve isn’t working on something for the wine bar, he’s playing his trumpet. Steve said he prefers big band jazz, and it has been in his life from an early age. He got his degree in music performance and really enjoys big band jazz, which brought him to L.A. after college. “That's kinda the background on jazz is I grew up with it by listening to lots of big bands,” Steve said. “Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, you name it.”
Steve is also plays trumpet for the First United Methodist Church in Denton with a group called Mosaic, which has been together 4 years and he sometimes has the band play at the wine bar. “I play at the First United Methodist Church, 9:45 service is called the Mosaic Service, and we’ve got a 13-piece band,” Steve said. “It’s got 6 horns in it, and I play trumpet. We do a fun variety of music that is written specifically for the band that we do at church. Then we also do other fun things, funk and blues, and lots of mixed stuff.”
Jeffry Eckels, a full time musician and friend of the Severances, met Steve around when the bar first opened in 2016, is another part of the Mosaic ensemble. Before COVID-19, they’d perform every Sunday. Prior to that, during their encounter in 2016, Steve saw Eckels playing at a coffee shop on Wednesday nights and wanted him on board as a jazz bassist at the wine bar. “The gentleman I knew who was performing every Wednesday night at a coffee shop, called the White House, when they shut down, he lost his Wednesday night gig,” Steve said. “When I approached him and said, ‘hey, i’m opening a wine bar, would you like to move your gig from there over to my place?’ that kind of kickstarted the idea of some jazz.”
Eckles describes Steve’s trumpet playing happily, remarking on his humbleness when it comes to trumpet. He said Steve is an incredible trumpet player and performer but won’t admit it. In regard to performing together, Eckels said he was discussing options for live streaming with Steve at the wine bar and giving the people something to enjoy. “We’re in the process of fixing, in fact, you beat me to the punch, I was gonna call him this morning trying to figure out the best way to get audio into the video and we’re thinking about doing the “COVID Sessions,” Eckels said. “We physically distance, of course. But he’s got a beautiful grand piano there. Maybe a duo or a trio and Steve and the engineer and we stream live from there.”
There are many musicians who want to play at the bar, and it has been a go-to spot for many UNT jazz professors. With a welcoming, familial atmosphere where locals flock, Eckels has described the bar as “Denton’s ‘Cheers." With the role Steve and Karen play in contributing to Denton’s noteworthy music scene, giving musicians a platform to perform is still important. While the music scene has gone quiet in Denton, as has much of the life here, jazz still finds a way at Steve’s Wine Bar.
Steve has always been a dreamer. In the future, he hopes to spice up the Denton Jazz scene even more, maybe introducing new events. Like many other small businesses in the area, he’s got big plans he wants to put into motion. “I’d love to come up with a little Industrial Street Jazz Fest,” Steve said. “I think that'd be a lot of fun.”
Jeffrey Eckles passed away in July of 2020. We all miss him very much. He was the driving force behind the musical experience people now have when visiting Steve's Wine Bar. Some of the most incredible music happens during the live performances and customers are always amazed at the talent and music they see and hear while enjoying their evening at Steve's.
The Mosaic Service continues at FUMC but is now at 9am.
Steve's Wine Bar is still hosting live music on a weekly basis. The schedule of events can be found on their webiste under Events or on their Facebook Events page.
At this point in time, Argentina is known primarily for rich renditions of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon with the occasional Pinot Noir or Chardonnay appearing on grocery store shelves. While red varieties dominate the total acreage, you might be surprised to hear that none of the famous white international varieties top the white list. At the very top are the three most common varieties with the Torrontes label: specifically, Torrontes Riojano, Torrontes Sanjuanino, and Torrontes Mendocino. Despite the identical forename, these are three distinct varieties that share a similar aromatic nature. T. Riojano is the most planted, most highly looked upon, and just happens to be the variety in the ‘La Oveja’. Aromas of violets, rose petals, and geraniums explode out of the glass, with some underlying citrus and stone fruit. On the palate, these fruits shine more with the floral notes playing more of a supporting role. Torrontes is one of the world’s most polarizing wines, with many likening its flavors to soap, but for those that love this quirky combo of fruit and flowers, we recommend grabbing some pad thai or a shrimp stir fry from our old neighbors over at Andamans.
Among many, Savoie is one of the central regions of the ‘natty’ wine zeitgeist. Tucked to the very East of France, Savoie viticultural history could truly be considered ancient, with confirmed winemaking activity in the 11th century and sparse evidence suggesting activity by the Gauls in the first! Among their interesting indigenous varieties, there are some mildly international ones, like Gamay! The father and son winemaking team at Ravier designed this wine to be approachable, while still standing out in character from some of the more famous rose-producing communes in France. Made of 100% Gamay sourced from 30–50-year-old vines, this wine goes through batonnage and 3-6 months on the lees depending on the quality of the grapes. The aromas of this pink drink are inviting, with bright strawberry and hints of sweet citrus, with an underlying note of flint. The palate is light, but creamy with balanced acidity accenting red fruits, minerality, and a slight flowery herbaceousness. The Ravier’s heavily recommend lighter salads and cheese dishes, and we cannot think of better candidates than our friends over at 10:1 Artisan Cheese.
It has been a SECOND since we had a Chilean red wine on the wine club: enter Chono! Named for the indigenous and nomadic Chono people of Southern Chile, this producer, spearheaded by Alvaro Espinoza and Juan Carlos Faundez, vinifies different wines from many of the most notable appellations in Chile. Their Chono red blend is sourced from the Maule Valley, which also happens to be where the project itself started. Maule Valley is one of the oldest and most significant growing regions in Chile, housed in the Southern portion of the Central Valley. While many of Chile’s primary varieties thrive here, it is 50-year-old + plantings of Carignan that have captivated winemakers as of late. This eclectic blend of Carignan, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc displays everything you could want in a summer red. The nose offers pepper-laden raspberry, plum, and black cherry accented with hints of earth. The palate is medium-bodied, with rustic tannins and moderate acidity underlying a savory, red fruit-driven profile. A cellar-temp glass of this with a hearty plate of Gyro Fries from Gyro 360 is the umami bomb we all need.
The ‘Villages’ surname is something you might have seen on a bottle of French, often with an increased price tag. Why the jump? Many subregions among many of the larger French growing regions (Burgundy, Beaujolais, Rhone, etc.) have ‘Villages’ within certain appellations that indicate a more focused area of growth. A good analogy might be the difference between a wine from Sonoma County and one from Russian River Valley (A region within Sonoma). This is particularly analogous to Cotes du Rhone, as it is a vast and disjointed region that covers much of the Southern Rhone Valley. A bottle labeled as a ‘Village’ wine is simply one from a particular legally recognized subregion of Cotes du Rhone. If you were worried that this would drastically alter the CDR formula, rest assured that this is the big, extracted red you know and love. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, the ‘Croix de Bonpas’ goes through a lengthy maceration to extract the color and quintessential phenolic compounds the region is known for. This dark ruby wine smells of cherries, chocolate, black pepper, and hints of lavender. The palate is lush and full, with medium tannins and gobs of dark red and black fruit. Though this could go well with a fatty piece of steak, going for something more of the bistro ‘persuasion’ would go equally as well. Order some polenta fries to go from our friends at Chestnut Tree.
There are winemaking projects that sprout up that seem particularly risky given what the new endeavor is trying to do in a certain region compared to what has been done traditionally. While these might be Brian’s favorite type of winery (nerd), it takes some pretty neat wines for these wineries to succeed long term. Ovum is a quintessential example of when these go right! Founded by Ksenija and John House, Ovum only use white varieties, but makes an eclectic range including roses, whites, and orange wines. King among their products is Big Salt, a phenomenal blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, and some proprietary varieties. It is hard to imagine a white that is more fun than this to drink, with aromas of lychee, petrol, flowers, and ripe stone fruit translating to the palate outlined by mouthwatering acidity and hints of salinity (get it?). Pair this with a platter of butter chicken or some Banh Mi fries from our friends at the Pickled Carrot!
The first of two killer Spanish reds on the Platinum list, we make our first stop in Galicia. We have featured Galician whites several times, but reds are more of a rarity here. Much of Spain’s growing regions tend to oscillate between warm/hot continental and Mediterranean, but Galicia (or ‘Green Spain’ as its affectionately known) is the closest thing Spain has to a true maritime climate. Naturally, white varieties thrive here in comparison to other regions in Spain, but there are a handful of interesting red varieties that call this region home: Enter Mencia! Grown exclusively in Bierzo, Mencia is often known being made into comparatively light, acidic, and fresh wines in relation to their Tempranillo counterparts. Ladeiras do Xil is a contemporary producer having started in 2002 but has quickly risen to prominence as one of the most respected champions of Mencia. Their Gabo do Xil Tinto might be their entry-level rendition, but it is a wonderful example, nonetheless. A blend of Mencia and Merenzao (more commonly known to the wine world as Trosseau) sourced from the Valdeorras region of Galicia, the nose offers bright, crunchy red fruit with hints of savory herbs. The palate offers rustic, but approachable tannin, with quaffable acidity and the same ripe red berry medley. This with an arugula and mushroom pizza from our friends at Mellow Mushroom or with a red meat-based pasta at Graffiti would be right at home.
If you want rich, leathery, fruit-driven reds, you go to Rioja. If you want something with a little bit more structure, nuance, and staying power, you go to Ribera. Located to the South of Rioja, cut by the Duero River, Ribera might not be the *legally* highest-rated region in Spain, but it might as well be, because their wines are priced like it (and for good reason). High-elevation vineyards dot the landscape, creating ample opportunity to infuse much needed structure into the sometimes-flabby Tempranillo (or Tinto del Pais as it’s known there). Prado Rey’s version follows this formula, coming from vineyards half-a-mile up, and spending 24 months total in a combination of various French oak barrels. The result is a firm, but approachable red, with aromas of ripe strawberry, black cherry, cedar box, and hints of balsamic reduction. The palate offers prominent tannins that soften with time in the glass, moderate acidity and ripe red and black fruits. This Tempranillo drinks more like a Cab’ than you may expect and needs a hunk of red meat… BUT pair this with the Psychedelic over at LSA and experience some magic.
By this point, it is likely that you have had the opportunity to try the ‘Wild Thing’ Zinfandel we feature on our By-The-Glass list. Should you have had the (mis)fortune of Brian serving said glass, you have heard the term ‘Godmother of Zinfandel’ thrown out. Turns out she is good at other grapes too! The Coquille Rouge is a Rhone-ish blend of Mourvèdre, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Alicante Bouschet sourced from multiple vineyards on the Central and North Coasts. Following a lengthy maceration and 15 months in a combination of American and French oak, this wine oozes excellence without pretention. The nose offers a rich medley of black cherry and blueberry coulee, with accents of bramble, new leather, and vanilla from the oak. The palate is nothing short of luxurious, with a creamy texture and soft tannins intermingling with the fruit to create something truly hedonistic. Grab a platter of BBQ from Juicy Pig, a bottle of this, and indulge.