The White Blends category featured wines from across the state including the two prominent Texas AVAs; the Texas High Plains and the Texas Hill Country. Most of the wines submitted however (15 out of 20), were simply labeled under the state appellation name. The prices of the wines submitted ranged from $13 to $30 and included the following; 1 from the 2010 vintage, 14 from the 2012 vintage, 2 from 2013, and 3 were multi-vintage wines. All the wines submitted were the producer’s current release or soon to be released white blend.
The White Blends category tasting featured 20 wines and was held on March 18th at the offices of the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas located in Austin Texas. The Texas vs. The World category tasting featured 10 wines and took place the following month on April 22nd. Only the top rated white blend from Texas would represent the state in a tasting that also featured white blends from France, Italy, Spain, United States, Greece, Lebanon and South Africa.
All wines in Journal tastings are evaluated and rated under controlled, blind conditions, using a standardized evaluation form where the judges taste and rate based on peer groups. The panel comprises of 12 judges of which a minimum of 5 are required to reach a quorum . The White Blends category tasting included 7 of the 12 panel judges and the Texas vs The World category tasting featured 6 of the 12 panel judges.
In regards to the overall White Blends category it is safe to say that this category, to date, was the most difficult to judge. The result was much more variance and deviations across the panel’s scores, which was not something entirely unexpected considering the nature of the category. Having the panel evaluate and rate this category for the first time is the initial step to uncovering what is normal (if such a thing exists) or should be expected (in terms of quality) from white blends in Texas. Only future tastings will provide a deeper level of insight.
That being said, there were still some interesting trends uncovered that are worth mentioning, namely;
Four out of the 5 (or eight out of the ten) top rated white blends contained Viognier; all of which rated 80 points or higher.
Three out of the five (or six out of the ten) bottom rated white blends did not contain Viognier.
Only two wines (2013 William Chris ‘Mary Ruth’ and MV Pleasant Hill ‘Collina Bianca’) out of the twenty wines tasted scored 80 points or higher when Viognier was not some percentage of the blend.
To start to understand the difficulty of this category and to decipher these results, let’s start with the understanding that there are no ‘classic’ or ‘traditional’ white blends in Texas as compared to the classic blends found in France, Italy and Greece. And according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association website there are 12 different white varietal species grown in the state; any combination of those can be used to make a wine; that’s 479,001,600 different possible combinations!
There were however, some varietals more prominent in the blends than others including, Blanc du Bois, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, the Rhones (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne) and the Muscats (Canelli and Orange).
To understand why Viognier, more than any other varietal, is having such an impact on the quality of the white blends evaluated, the structural characteristics of Viognier must be looked at. It is a varietal that is highly aromatic, can throw its weight (body) around, can be rich and round or lean and crisp all while maintaining the ability to produce moderate to high alcohol levels. It has the ability to offer blends four critical structural characteristics (Aroma, Body, Acid and Alcohol) to create balanced wines around; regardless if it is the informing grape in the blend or not. This characteristic plays out in the results. For the most part, the wines that did not contain some percentage of Viognier seemed to lack balance and cohesion between the parts and the whole; particularly for alcohol – a counterbalance to sugar (which also seemed misplaced among several of the wines) and viscosity and a complement (either balanced or extreme) to acid and tannin. To put it into perspective, nine out of the ten lowest rated wines all had 13% ABV or less; again, six of those ten wines were blends that did not contain Viognier as part of the blend.
Even though Viognier is having an impact on the blends evaluated in this category tasting, it must be noted that just because Viognier may not be included in the blend does not mean a quality or high scoring wine can’t be produced. We see this imparticularly with Blanc du Bois and Chenin Blanc led blends (see 2013 ‘Mary Ruth’ and MV ‘Collina Bianca’).
After both categories are tasted and rated the scores across the panel are averaged, which creates a scenario where it is very difficult for a wine to score above 90 or below 70 points. Averaging the scores creates a consensus across a wide range of palates and produces a final rating that is more objective; even when category and panel deviations are considered. To that point, only 5% of the wines rated were defined to be ‘Very Good’ wines by Journal definitions (scoring 84-89 points), 45% were rated ‘Good’ wines (scoring 80-84 points), 30% were ‘Average’ wines (scoring 75-79 points) and 20% were ‘Below Average’ (74 points or less).
The 2012 Solaro Estate ‘Miscela Bianco’ (the top rated Texas wine) that scored 86 points in the initial category tasting scored 89 points in the Texas vs. The World category tasting (within normal deviation limits), coming in second after a Viognier based blend out of California. Coming in last with 83 points, was the Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle blend from the Graves region of Bordeaux.
For more information on the Journal’s definition of ratings click here. For more information about the panel of judges and to match initials below with names click here.