Tag Archives: In Pursuit of Balance

Do you really know your wine? You may be surprised!


Do you know where your grapes actually came from or what is actually in that bottle of wine you paid top dollar for?

Wine pour

It is date night at home with that special person and you want to make it memoriable.

You pull that very special bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Savignon you bought many years ago that has been on laying on its side in the cellar peacefully for 10+ years. You’ve been saving  this incredible wine for just for this type of occation.  That “POP” as you carefully pull the cork with precision and decant it in your favorite wide bottom decanter is all part of the antisipation of what is to come! As you decant very slowly to make sure all the sediment stays in the bottle and not in your glass, the excitment is  simply palpble.

To add a certain allurement and grandeur, Tonight’s wine is a great exuse to break out the  special Riedel Sommeliers Series Bordeaux Grand Cru wine glasses that ONLY come out for your best wines. You clean and polish them to perfection  “extra carefully” as to not torque the stems  because you know the stem will snap in your hands!

The Prime aged Ribeyes that were hand cut earlier for you have been marinating all day in your special “double-secret marinad” that always brings raves from family and friends.  The meat sizzles as you slap them on the hot grill.

Everything is perfect…right?

Do you really know your wine? Are you sure the fruit from cabernet sauvignon wine you paid top dollor for is actually from the Napa Valley region? Is it even 100% cabernet sauvignon, or is it actually a blend of merlot, cab franc, petit verdot or even (god fobid) malbec?

You may be surprised about the answer:

Maybe… but maybe not!

There was a big movement in Texas a few years back to make sure that if a Texas wine says “Texas Wine” on the label,  the grapes actually are from Texas! There are a few producers in Texas that have bought, or are still buying bulk juice from other states, including Arizona, New Mexico, or even California. I know this may seem very silly to the novice or naive wine consumer, but nothing could have been farther from the truth.

One of the biggest leaders of this movement for correct labeling wines is a friend of mine.  Russ Kane is a Writer, Blogger, and huge proponant of Texas Wines. Russ is known as “Texas Wineslinger”. He was the one that brought this travesty to my attention at TexSom about 5-6 years ago. Because of Russ (and many others like him) and the dilligence and hard work to get the word out; the laws were changed in Texas.

If wine producers are going to use “Texas” on the label, at least 75% of the fruit must be sourced from Texas.

Be very carefull because some so called Texas Wines will attempt to desguise the bottles. But by Texas Laws they are now required to label them  the confusing “Not for sale outside of Texas” in tiny-tiny lettering. So if you want real Texas Wines made from “real Texas Grapes” please carefully read the label!

And if you have automatically dismissed Texas Wines as not worthy, you really should check out some of the incredible TEXAS WINES coming out of such producers as: McPherson Cellars, William Chris Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Brennan Vineyards, Spicewood Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, and Duchman Family Vineyards. I am especially enamored with the move away from the old standard Cab, Merlot, and Chardonnay, and now producing Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, and Sangiovese that are better suited for the hot dry Texas summer and the terroir.

By the way; Russ has a great book The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine “ that is a great read. You should check it out!

Texas Wine!
Texas Wine!

So is that bottle of wine really what it says it is?

When you shell out $100-$350  and more for a bottle of Rutherford cabernet sauvignon, you trust that the bottle is filled with wine that actually came from cabernet sauvignon grapes that were grown in the heart of California’s Napa Valley and specificaly Rutherford AVA,  right? That is normaly the case, but not always!

Jeff Hill, Founder of the Hill Wine Company (no relation) and longtime Napa Vineyard Manager was a serious player in Napa Valley wine scene for many years, and very respected. He worked his way from pest control in a vineyard to a maker of $100+  cabernet sauvignon wines in the prestigous Silverado Trail, a destination for wine aficionados from around the world.

The federal government forced Mr. Hill to cede control of his business on April 23, and Napa County prosecutors have charged him with two felonies, saying that on two occasions in October 2013 he stole grapes that his crew was harvesting for another winemaker and diverted them to his own winery. He is accused of substituting much cheaper merlot and malbec grapes for the much more expensive Napa cabernet sauvignon advertised on his wine labels.

In January, he pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges, and a trial is set to begin April 13. If convicted, he faces up to four years and eight months in prison. Hill Wine has filed for bankruptcy and owes more than $8 million to creditors.

So how do we know what is in the wine and at what percentages? Here are rules for California wines produced in the state:

California Appellation of Origin

Wine labels may contain several types of geographic designations of origin:

  1. Appellations of origin that are the names of states and counties can be used on wine labels under federal law if at least 75% of the grapes come from the named state or county. The remainder of the grapes may come from outside the named state or county.
  2. For wine labeled with an American viticultural area (“AVA”), which is a specific type of appellation of origin established under federal law, at least 85% of the grapes must come from the named AVA (for example “Napa Valley”), while the remainder of the grapes may come from outside of the AVA. That wine must be fully finished in the state in which the AVA is located.
  3. California law requires that 100% of the grapes come from within California for any wine labeled with the appellation of origin California or a geographical subdivision of the state. This is stricter than the federal labeling standard.

So, if you noticed in “B”  listed above, if the AVA reads Oakville or Rutherford you could be drinking 15% cabernet sauvignon from Mendocino or Paso Robles, not from your beloved Oakville or Rutherford!

Does this matter to you?

Should it?

While I do expect that if I am paying for Rutherford Cabernet, or Russian River Pinot Noir, I fully expect to be getting predominantly  grapes from those sites and enjoying the terroir that only those sites can produce!

Terroir begins with the soil!
Terroir begins with the soil!

But I personaly do not mind if it is all 100% from the AVA listed on the bottle.  I am more concerned in the quality of the wine vs. the cost. Especially if I am paying upwards of $25  per bottle, I expect my wines to be balanced and expressive no matter what the variety of grape.

Wines should be an expression of the soils, with a balance that incorporates all its main components; tannins, acid, sweetness, and alcohol in a manner where no one single component stands out above any other. This is a quality wine.

Thank you again for your taking the time to read the ramblings of a Texas Wineaux! Please take a few moments to leave a comment, and drop by often for new posts.

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux

Wine: In Pursuit Of Balance

Wines in California have been dominated of late by the modern style of wine making; i.e. big wines with high alcohol, low acidity, and very fruit forward. However there is a very discernable movement in the last few years to go back to the more “old world style” of wines where overall balance in all areas is much more important. This is the manifesto of in pursuit of balance.




Which is a better wine; rich buttery California chardonnay dominated by oak, or  balanced French Burgundy that is dominated by terroir?

I have had this argument with many of my wine buddies, and often with my beautiful wife Margie. She and her girlfriends prefer the rich, buttery, oaky chards to the French Burgundy. The bigger the butter bomb the better in their opinion! And who am I to say what is right and what is wrong? Obviously the market ultimately decides what is most popular. The big butter bomb chardonnay, as well as over ripe pinot noir with low acidity have become some of most popular and best selling wines in America. Thank the movie Sideways for the explosion of Pinot Noir in the US 10 years ago this month. But the proliferation of plunk wines that comes with quick popularity has ended us at this juntion.

I personally do not enjoy these high alcohol and highly manipulated wines. In fact almost refuse to drink them. Life is too short to drink a wine I do not enjoy. So I have gotten to the point I simply open a bottle for her, and then open  another bottle of wine for myself.

I became a member of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club many years ago.


Then I toured and tasted Chablis and Cote d’ Beaune in Burgundy, France several years ago, and I discovered what the true expression of the Chardonnay  grape can actually be!

Chardonnay when done right and not overworked by an overzealous winemaker can be the most expressive, incredible, food friendly and world class wines in the world!

The same can be said for Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, and of course Burgundy, France!

But the style of Pinot Noir that has been becoming more and more popular in California is made in the “Modern Style”, rather than “Old World” style. What is the difference you say?

The Modern style  of California wine industry has been dominated by a richer, fruit forward, low-acidity, with excessive use of oak, and a high alcohol approach. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been at the forefront of this movement.  Balance (in my opinion) has completely been lost in making many wines, as some winemakers keep pushing the limits further and further. And even though we love big in Texas:

Bigger is NOT always better. Balance in wines is better!

So let’s consider balance, and why this is important when it comes to wine.

There is a group of individuals, wineries, sommeliers, and wine writers that have joined a movement by the name of In Pursuit Of Balance (IPOB). Organized by Jasmine Hirsch, of Hirsch Vineyards, and Rajat Parr, owner of RN74 and the wine director for the Michael Mina Group of restaurants, they are intent on highlighting what the organizers feel is a style of winemaking that goes underappreciated in California. That is a true balance in winemaking.

“The genius of Pinot Noir is found in subtlety and poise, in its graceful and transparent expression of the soils and climate in which it is grown. Balance in Pinot Noir enables these characteristics to reach their highest expression in a complete wine where no single element dominates the whole.”  – The Manifesto Of Balance

This includes:

  • Whole-picture farming and winemaking. Artisan winemaking techniques are a given at this point. Looking beyond that, let’s consider farming, or even pre-farming decisions, and the thought process behind identifying a great terroir. How do these decisions affect the balance of the ultimate wine?
  • Growing healthy fruit and maintaining natural acidity to achieve optimum ripeness without being overripe. What is ripeness and what is its relation to balance?
  • A question of intention: Can balance in wine be achieved through corrections in the winery or is it the result of a natural process informed by carefully considered intention at every step of the way?
  • Reconsidering the importance of heritage Pinot Noir clones with respect to the omnipresent Dijon clones. What do heritage clones contribute to balanced wine?

Without getting to complicated  and drug down by minutia;

Wines should be an expression of the soils, with a balance that incorporates all its main components; tannins, acid, sweetness, and alcohol in a manner where no one single component stands out above any other.

Sonoma Valley Grapevines
Sonoma Valley Grapevines

Robert Parker Jr. has been a big proponant of  higher alcohol and very fruit driven wines for decades, and his 100 pt scale has rewarded exactly this style of winemaking. As such as you can imagine he has been very critical of IPOB. In fact he was quoted:

“I just don’t think that people making those wines should be trashing the other wines that are big, rich, full-bodied, and alcoholic as some sort of beverage for Neanderthals,” said Parker while speaking at a public gathering of wine professionals last year.

Now I understand that a so called perfect wine is not always possible. There are many things that have a huge effect on the grapes during the growing season such as the weather, soil, climate, and sunlight that play a large role in determineing an excellent,  good or bad vintage.

The French have a word for this called “Terroir”.

But balance should be the main goal for every serious winemaker!

So if you agree with me and the IPOB movement toward a pursuit of balance in California wines, what is the next step? Where do you find these wines?

My personal favorite is Foppoli Wines located in Russian River Valley, Sonoma. Now granted these wines are almost impossible to find unless you are on the membership list. Foppoli believes; great wine is primarily made in the vineyard first and foremost, judicious use of new oak (or no oak), perfect acidity is paramont, and near perfect balance is the most important attribute. And I dare say  Foppoli Lion Edition Chardonnay is one of the best chardonnays I have ever tasted. Email Christina Foppoli at ctfoppoli@yahoo.com  next time you are going to Sonoma and ask for a personal tasting at the ranch. Foppoli insists on meeting you personally;  this is the only way they will add you to the membership list or sell you wine. Trust me when I say it is worth it!

Check out the many wineries and producers such as Hirsch, Twomey Cellars, and Au Bon Climat who have committed to the Manifesto To Balance for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the IPOB website here.

Thank you for taking the time to review my ramblings and thoughts. Please leave a comment (good or not so good) as I would love your thoughts on this or any of the other articles here at Texas Wineaux.

Hanging grapes

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!