A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I decided to take a trip from Austin to Ft. Worth stopping at the wineries along the way. The inspiration for this trip came from a prior wine trip that included Brennan Vineyards. After trying their solid Austin Street Cab Sav and their very good Viognier (which has sold out in that vintage), we learned that they have monthly wine dinners and made a note to come back.
So the trip started with Brennan Vineyards on Friday night for a wine dinner. The dinner was a decent value for the money, as you got light canapés and four courses with wines for $59/person. The food itself good overall, with the spinach salad and squash soup both being above average and the main dish (an odd combo of surf and turf steak with béarnaise sauce and shrimp with habanero sauce) and the dessert (Mississippi Mud cake) being average. For this dinner, the wines of another winery, Barking Rocks, were featured (more on Barking Rocks below).
The next day we set off for Bluff Dale, and reached our first stop of Bluff Dale Vineyards. We tried several of their wines. As with may Texas wineries, there were many sweet and off-dry wines on the menu. Being fans of drier wines, the two that caught our attention were the Sangiovese (light bodied take on the this varietal with a nice finish) and the Zinfandel, which had a soft terroir note and a full body feel that would be great with red meat.
Now we were hungry, so we went to "Let's Eat" right down the road in Bluff Dale. Everyone we talked with recommended it to us. It's a classic hole-in-the-wall, with decor to match, but is remarkably good. The menu is all comfort food, and we enjoyed our sandwiches with heavily spiced french fries.
Then we traveled to Barking Rocks Winery. Wineries like this one are what make visiting Texas wineries fun. The winemaker (Tiberia) has a real passion for wine, and although he has only been around for a few years, he appears to have a gift for making wine. All of his wines are good; the Viognier is more austere than the one at Brennan. We really loved the 2004 Casena, a blend of Cab Sav, Merlot, and Sangiovese, with its full-bodied flavors.
We finished this day with Lightcatcher Winery, a much more commercial winery. It's a bit more impersonal, and the wines were not quite as good as Barking Rocks or Brennan. However, the 2003 Merlot is very unique (in a good way), with mint and eucalyptus notes. The 2003 Cab Sav Port is outstanding with chocolate!
That evening, we ate at Lonesome Dove restaurant in Ft Worth, which is often cited as the best restaurant in Ft Worth. Given that, we were disappointed. The food wasn't bad, it just wasn't outstanding. To be honest, and this is odd for a restaurant in this genre, the food was bland. The starters (squash soup and lobster wontons-ish bites) were acceptable; but the main courses and desserts were mediocre. There was also the fact that the service was not up to par--long interludes with no service, bad table placement, a waiter very unfamiliar with the wine list.
The next day we struck out for more wineries. Our first stop was Sunset winery (the Mapquest directions are very bad--use the winery's instructions). The winery was a converted home with land out back. The owners gave us a tour and it was great to see how they meticulously converted every inch of space into making the winery work. The wines themselves are very good, with our favorite being the Merlot. Merlot is usually not the grape that impresses us, but these folks handle it very well.
Our final winery was the nearby Lone Oak Winery. We only tried the dry wines here. Unfortunately, they were sold out of their most recent award winners, but we really liked the wines we tried. Particularly, the Red Roan (Tempranillo/Cab blend) and the Merlot (again!) were nicely styled wines. We added more bottles to our trunk.
On our way out of town, we stopped off to eat at Babe's, which was recommended to us by the lovely lady at Lone Oak. We knew it would be good when there were people still dressed in church attire waiting at 2pm. When we got in, we had the fried chicken with all the sides. The chicken was yummy, but the sides make the meal (particularly the creamed corn). Completely stuffed, we found our way back to Austin.
We would love to hear any other opinions on Texas wineries and the restaurants nearby. We have already been to every winery advertised on GoTexanwine.org that is located in the Hill Country, but it has been awhile so we weren't comfortable posting opinions on those spots until we go back. While Texas wines typically aren't a "value" for the price, you don't get to talk to the man who made the $10 bottle that you buy in the local store, either. It would be great to share conversation with anyone else out there with similar thoughts.