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Value Vino

Value Vino: Tempranillo takes Texas

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"I don't know how you can make a bottle of wine under $20 in Texas; we're truly challenged due to all the bugs and critters … and fierce winds and hail in the High Plains." So said Guy Stout, a master sommelier (of which there are only about 160 in the world) who just happens to have a vineyard near Blanco. We were at a Culinaria wine dinner put on jointly by Lüke and Pedernales Cellars, a Hill Country winery now into its seventh vintage. And though the winemaker, David Kuhlken, never once mentioned plague and pestilence, he does produce wines that are well north of $20.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Kuhlken also has wines in the under-$20 category, and the first of these to be tasted was the 2011 Texas Dry Rosé ($16 at the winery), a delightfully crisp and strawberry-scented wine that is produced in a "Spanish style." (Pedernales is concentrating on warm-weather grapes such as tempranillo, garnacha/grenache, and monastrell/mourvèdre from Spain and the Rhône Valley.)

Next came a 2010 Texas Viognier ($18) with grapes largely from the High Plains, and though it lacked the honeysuckle aromatics often characteristic of the grape, there were pleasant peach and orange blossom components. I could have used a touch more acid, but can't fault the otherwise beautiful structure.

The 2010 Texas Tempranillo ($30) was served with a lusty lamb Bolognese pasta, and it held its own by countering with dark cherry, vanilla, and a hint of caramel, all given gravitas by a bit of smokiness. We can quibble with the price tag, but the results of this assembly from different Texas locations suggest that tempranillo is a grape to watch, and it may be worth paying a little more now to encourage future development.

Pedernales Cellar's 2009 Family Reserve was the most nuanced wine of the evening. The Family Reserve program will vary from year to year in its composition and might even include cabernet and merlot. The '09 model opened with a little herbal quality that quickly dissipated, evolving into vanilla and dark fruits complemented by a hint of earthiness. It is, however, priced at $50, but it's worth noting that the 2007 library edition, which had a price tag of $55, is sold out. Some folks think the pricy wines are worth it.

The evening concluded with an established Texas workhorse grape, muscat canelli, vinted in a light, bright style in the 2010 Texas Muscat Canelli ($16), artfully sidestepping the cloying qualities this grape sometimes exhibits. You can taste all of these wines and more at the tasting room near Stonewall (pedernalescellars.com). And should you feel inspired to walk away with a $70 bottle of 2008 Kuhlken Vineyard Reserve, we are definitely not going to attempt to stop you. Think Pierce's disease, the glassy-winged sharpshooter … and Texas pride.

Veteran food, wine, and spirits writer Ron Bechtol has been a Current contributor since 1993 and is the local editor of the Fearless Critic restaurant guide to San Antonio.

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