Get to Know Texas Wine Varietals
Whether you’re just dipping your toes into Texas Hill Country wine or a connoisseur, we wanted to give a breakdown of the top Texas wine varietals in our region. All wine is made with grapes, but not the typical table grapes you’d find at the grocery store. Wine grapes, Latin name: Vitis Vinifera, have thicker skin, are smaller, and contain seeds. Texas boasts some outstanding Mediterranean-style wines thanks to the compositional makeup of our soil being similar. Let’s get started on learning more about these incredibly delicious varietals!
Native to Southern Italy, this red wine grape is known to produce full-bodied wines that show musky berry flavors with firm tannins and good aging potential. Even when grown in hot climates, Aglianico is capable of reaching high levels of acidity, which makes it a particularly useful vine in the Mediterranean. The Texas Hill Country’s soil composition is similar to the Mediterranean making this wine a favorite of the region. When young Aglianico wines tend to be very tannic and concentrated, especially if adverse weather conditions force producers to harvest their crop before it has achieved complete ripeness. A few years of aging has a favorable impact on the wine and helps the tannins to soften and the fruit profile to emerge.
Initially native to Spain and Portugal, this white wine grape produces a refreshingly crisp wine with vibrant stone fruit flavors, a hint of salinity, and nice acidity. In The Texas Hill Country, this grape is grown in higher elevations for the cooler evening and night temperatures. Albariño grapes are typically tiny with thick skins making this grape harder to produce. On the nose, you can expect aromas of nectarine, lime, and grapefruit. On the palate, Albariño wines have a weight mid-palate acidity that finishes with a subtle bitter note like a citrus pith. Most Albariño wines are drunk young and fresh; however, the level of acidity they contain makes them ripe for aging. *pun intended* When it comes to pairing your Albariño wine, lean toward seafood. Albariño pairs exceptionally well with flaky white fish and green leafy herbs.
Alicante Bouschet or Alicante Henri Bouschet is a wine grape variety that has been widely cultivated since 1866. It is a cross of Petit Bouschet and Grenache. Alicante is a teinturier, a grape with red flesh. Its deep color makes it useful for blending with light red wine.
At the turn of the 21st century, Alicante Bouschet was the 12th most planted red wine grape in France with sizable plantings in the Languedoc, Provence and Cognac regions. In 1958, Alicante Bouschet covered 24,168 hectares (mainly across southern France). By 2011, plantings represented less than 4,000 hectares. This is the opposite in other regions of Europe, and in southern Portugal, where its wines are highly prized and frequently outscore traditional autochthonous varieties.
Also known as Lenoir, this grape is now known to be a seedling of an American hybrid grape resulting from a cross of the American Vitis aestivalis species of grape with an unknown Vitis vinifera pollen donor. This hybridization is not known to have been purposeful, and may have occurred naturally, as was the case with many of the early American grape cultivars. This black skinned grape makes for musky, weighty red wines and richly sweet wines.
Blanc du Bois
(BLAHNK du bwah)
This hybrid grape was first bred in Florida to resist mold and mildew. Blanc du Bois grapes are resistant to Pierce’s Disease: a vine-killing disease that can destroy whole vineyards of many types of grapes, making it one of the largest planted grapes in Texas. This grape has range, as it can produce wines that have tropical fruit flavors and vary in style from dry, off-dry, sparkling to sweet dessert wines. If you enjoy a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, then try a dry Blanc du Bois. The sweeter versions of this varietal would be enjoyable to those who prefer a Riesling.
This classic French variety does best on the South Plains or in extreme North Texas. Cabernet Franc is one of the major black grape varieties worldwide. It is principally grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux style, but can also be vinified alone, as in the Loire’s Chinon. Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, making a bright pale red wine that contributes finesse and lends a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Depending on the growing region and style of wine, additional aromas can include tobacco, raspberry, bell pepper, cassis, and violets. Records of Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux go back to the end of the 18th century. DNA analysis indicates that Cabernet Franc is one of two parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère.
The king of red wine grapes does well over much of Texas, but especially well above 3,000 feet in elevation. A natural cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux, France. Cabernet Sauvignon is loved for its high concentration and age worthiness. Excellent wines made from this grape have been made by many Texas wineries and enjoyed by many consumers of Texas wines. The rich flavor and high tannin content in Cabernet Sauvignon make it a perfect partner to rich grilled meats, peppery sauces, and dishes with high flavor.
A purple-skinned, French-American hybrid grape that is more readily available in the United States and Australia than in its homeland, France. It is one of the world’s most popular hybrid varieties, and is noted for its distinctive dark coloring and herbaceous aroma. Chambourcin wines are often spicy, with black cherry and plum flavors, and a range of herbal characters.
This grape is challenging to grow for much of Texas because it buds out early in the season, which makes the grapes subject to late spring freezes. It is also susceptible to Pierce’s Disease, making it a difficult grape. Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used in the production of white wine. The variety originated in the Burgundy wine region of eastern France, but is now grown wherever wine is produced, from England to New Zealand. The Chardonnay grape itself is neutral, with many of the flavors commonly associated with the wine being derived from such influences as terroir and oak. Chardonnay wine tends to be medium to light body with noticeable acidity and flavors of green plum, apple, and pear. In warmer locations, the flavors become more citrus, peach, and melon, while in very warm locations more fig and tropical fruit notes such as banana and mango come out. Chardonnay’s popularity peaked in the late 1980s, then gave way to a backlash among those wine connoisseurs who saw the grape as a leading negative component of the globalization of wine. Nonetheless, it is one of the most widely planted grape varieties, with 210,000 hectares (520,000 acres) worldwide, second only to Airén among white wine grapes and fifth among all wine grapes.
This grape does well in most parts of Texas. Chenin Blanc is typically drier than chardonnay. It is not as popular with consumers, but it’s hard not to love Chenin Blanc. It is versatile in style and sweetness and has the ability to adapt to a wide variety of tastes. Chenin Blanc makes lithe, dry summer whites and sparkling wines. It also offers oak-aged styles with similar flavors to Chardonnay. There really is a Chenin Blanc wine for every occasion. It is most often used for blending. Tight clusters can make this grape difficult to grow as it is prone to bunch/sour rot and Pierce’s Disease.
A red wine grape that is very resistant to drought. This grape is known for producing light, fruity and heavily perfumed wines, most often as either a Rose or blended with another heartier grape. It is also often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan to add softness and bouquet. Aromas and flavors of fruits and spices are common.
This grape is derived from the grape species Vitis labrusca (also called fox grape) that are used as table grapes, wine grapes and juice grapes. They are often used to make grape jelly, grape juice, grape pies, grape-flavored soft drinks, and candy. The grape is sometimes used to make wine, particularly kosher wine. Traditionally, most commercially produced Concord wines have been finished sweet, but dry versions are possible if adequate fruit ripeness is achieved.
The skin of a Concord grape is typically dark blue or purple. Concord grapes have large seeds and are highly aromatic.
A black Italian wine grape variety widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The Italian word dolcetto means “little sweet one.” Funny enough, Dolcetto wines are generally tart with loads black fruit flavors and occasionally aggressive tannins. It is possible that it derives from the name of the hills where the vine is cultivated. The wines produced by dolcetto grapes are nearly always dry. They can be tannic and fruity with moderate or decidedly low levels of acidity. They are typically meant to be consumed within a few years after release.
An aromatic wine grape variety, used in white wines, and performs best in cooler climates. Gewürztraminer is a variety with a pink to red skin color, which makes it a “white wine grape” as opposed to the blue to black-skinned varieties commonly referred to as “red wine grapes”. The variety has high natural sugar and the wines are white and usually off-dry, with a flamboyant bouquet of lychees. Dry Gewürztraminers may also have aromas of roses, passion fruit and floral notes.
(gra – see – ah – no)
A Spanish red wine grape that is grown primarily in Rioja. The vine produces a low yield that is normally harvested in late October. The wine produced is characterized by its deep red color, strong aroma and ability to age well. Graciano thrives in warm, arid climates making it a great match for Texas.
One of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world. This grape ripens late, so it needs hot, dry conditions such as those found in Spain, where the grape most likely originated. It is generally spicy, berry-flavored and soft on the palate and produces wine with a relatively high alcohol content, but it needs careful control of yields for best results. Characteristic flavor profiles on Grenache include red fruit flavors (raspberry and strawberry) with a subtle, white pepper spice note. Grenache wines are highly prone to oxidation with even young examples having the potential to show browning coloration that can be noticed around the rim when evaluating the wine at an angle in the glass. As Grenache ages the wines tend to take on more leather and tar flavors.
One of Italy’s most widely planted grapes, has its origins in ancient Greece. Malvasia Bianca, a white grape, is the most common variety, though there is red Malvasia as well. White Malvasia grapes make smooth and lightly viscous wines, aromatic and with notes of tropical fruits, that can be dry or sweet. In central Italy, Malvasia Bianca has traditionally been added to both white and red wine blends to boost body and flavor.
A white wine grape, most commonly found in the Northern Rhône region. A primary blending graped, most often blended with Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and sometimes Viognier. A great alternative to Chardonnay. In Savoie the grape is known as grosse roussette. Outside France it is also grown in Switzerland (where it is known as ermitage blanc or just ermitage), Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
A purple, red wine grape that tends to have an inky dark color and robust tannins. Malbec is known as one of the six grapes allowed in the blend of red Bordeaux wine. The Malbec grape is a thick-skinned grape and needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to mature. It ripens mid-season and can bring very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like flavor component to add complexity to claret blends. As a varietal, Malbec creates a rather intense wine, so it is also commonly used in blends, such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the red French Bordeaux claret blend. The grape is blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay in some regions such as the Loire Valley.
A dark blue-colored wine grape variety, that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. The name Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird, probably a reference to the color of the grape. Its softness and “fleshiness”, combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be higher in tannin. Merlot is loved for it’s boisterous black cherry flavors, supple tannins, and chocolatey finish.
A popular Italian red grape found mostly labeled as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The best examples deliver complex black fruit flavors and a smoky-sweet finish. Montepulciano is an amazing wine to pair alongside sausages of all kinds from the smoked Andouille found on a meat lover’s pizza to those sweet Italian sausages flavored with fennel.
Widely grown in the Rhone region of France and in Spain, this grape thrives in warm weather, making it perfect for The Texas Hill Country. Mourvedre wines often have aromas of dark fruit, flowers like violets, and black pepper. Texas Hill Country Mourvedre wines typically tend to be less tannic than its European counterpart. This full-bodied red wine is great to enjoy on its own or in a red blend. In The Texas Hill Country, we often see Mourvedre blended with Grenache and Syrah, often called a GSM. Texas Hill Country winemakers have also done an incredible job at making some excellent rosé wines using Mourvedre grapes. Full-bodied wines like Mourvedre beg for rich foods and pair well with meats like beef short ribs, pork shoulder, barbeque, lamb, rabbit, pork sausage, and veal. Season with spices that will complement the floral notes in the Mourvedre like rosemary and thyme.
Vitis rotundifolia, or muscadine, is a grapevine species native to the southeastern and south-central United States from Florida to Delaware, west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma. It has been extensively cultivated since the 16th century. The plants are well adapted to their native warm and humid climate; they need fewer chilling hours than better known varieties and they thrive on summer heat.
Muscadine berries may be bronze or dark purple or black when ripe. However, many wild varieties stay green through maturity. Muscadines have skin sufficiently thick and tough that eating the raw fruit is similar to eating a plum and may be an acquired taste. Muscadines are typically used in making artisan wines, juice, and jelly. Sweeter versions of this grape would be perfectly paired alongside a majorly flavourful dessert such as trifle, with fruit, custard and brandy.
A white wine grape of Greek origin that is a member of the Muscat family of Vitis vinifera. Its name comes from its characteristic small berry size and tight clusters. It is known under a variety of local names such as Moscato bianco, Muscat blanc, Muscat Canelli, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Lunel, Muscat d’Alsace, Muskateller, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, Moscatel rosé and Sárgamuskotály . While technically a white grape, there are strains of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains vines that produce berries that are pink or reddish brown. The same vine could potentially produce berries of one color one year and a different color the next. This grape typically produces a crisp dry wine.
Vitis mustangensis, commonly known as the mustang grape, is a species of grape that is native to the southern United States. Its range includes parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma.
A dark-skinned grape variety that has been associated with the Puglia region in southern Italy for at least 1500 years. Most commonly found in a blend, alongside Primitivo, Malvasia Nera, Sangiovese or Montepulciano, Negroamaro is valued for its deep color, medium-full tannins and dark berry fruit flavors. The variety can also add earthen tones that can cross over into slightly medicinal flavors. It is mildly aromatic and can produce complex wines that show characteristics of ground brown spices such as clove, cinnamon and allspice.
This grape is used in making dry wine. An American hybrid of Vitis vinifera and Vitis aestivalis that shows excellent promise for winemaking in America’s midwest. Wines are often rich with both fruity and savory flavors.
A variety of red wine grapes, loved for its deeply colored wines with rich black fruit flavors and bold tannins. The grape originated as a cross of Syrah pollen germinating a Peloursin plant. On some occasions, Peloursin and Syrah vines may be called Petite Sirah, usually because the varieties are extremely difficult to distinguish in old age. Given that Petite Sirah wines often have aggressive tannins, this wine does well matched with fat and umami – be it steaks from the grill or a plate of beef stroganoff.
A variety of red wine grape, principally used in classic Bordeaux blends. It ripens much later than the other varieties in Bordeaux. When it does ripen it adds tannin, colour and flavour, in small amounts, to the blend. Petit verdot has attracted attention among winemakers in the New World, where it ripens more reliably and has been made into single varietal wine. It is also useful in ‘stiffening’ the mid palate of Cabernet Sauvignon blends. When young its aromas have been likened to banana and pencil shavings. Strong tones of violet and leather develop as it matures.
Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio is a white wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. Thought to be a mutant clone of the pinot noir variety, it normally has a grayish-blue fruit, accounting for its name but the grapes can have a brownish pink to black and even white appearance. The wines produced from this grape also vary in color from a deep golden yellow to copper and even a light shade of pink, and it is one of the more popular grapes for skin-contact wine.
Pinot gris is grown around the globe with the “spicy” full-bodied Alsatian and lighter-bodied, more acidic Italian styles being most widely recognized. The Alsatian style, often duplicated in New World wine regions, tends to have moderate to low acidity, higher alcohol levels and an almost “oily” texture that contributes to the full-bodied nature of the wine. The flavors can range from ripe tropical fruit notes of melon and mango to some botrytis-influenced flavors.
A red wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. The name may also refer to wines created predominantly from pinot noir grapes. Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler climates, and the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. Pinot noir is now used to make red wines around the world, as well as Champagne, and such sparkling white wines as the Italian Franciacorta, and English sparkling wines. Pinot noir is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine. The grape’s tendency to produce tightly packed clusters makes it susceptible to several viticultural hazards involving rot that require diligent canopy management. The thin skins and low levels of phenolic compounds lends pinot to producing mostly lightly colored, medium-bodied and low-tannin wines that can often go through phases of uneven and unpredictable aging. When young, wines made from pinot noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wine ages, pinot has the potential to develop more vegetal and “barnyard” aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine.
A white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed, aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally pure and are seldom oaked. Riesling is a variety which is highly “terroir-expressive”, meaning that the character of Riesling wines is greatly influenced by the wine’s place of origin. Off-dry Riesling wines make a great pairing to spicy Indian and Asian cuisines. They also do excellently alongside duck, pork, bacon, shrimp and crab.
This grape varietal, originally from the Southern Rhone Valley, thrives in the sunny Texas Hill Country. In France, you’ll often find this varietal artfully blended with other grape, such as Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier, but in Texas, this grape satisfies as a single varietal wine. Hill Country producers of this wine will often ferment the wine in stainless steel tanks, oak-aged wine barrels, or other barrels for a richer texture reminiscent to a Chardonnay. When pairing this wine, seek out buttery meats like lobster, crab, foie gras, or pâté.
A cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, it can produce wines with good color and a pleasant cherry flavor, but is mostly blended into bulk wines. The purpose for the creation of the crossing of the grape varieties utilized to produce Ruby Cabernet was to obtain the superior quality of a Cabernet wine, and the resistance to heat of the Carignan combined in an inexpensive table wine. Even though the wine made from these grapes does not possess the distinctive flavor and the overall structure of other types of Cabernet wines, it does carry their fruitful essence.
This grape varietal is a bit of a chameleon, as it quickly alters its genetics to fit the environment. Originally from Italy, where you’ll find many different mutations of this grape, resulting in very different tasting wines from each region. In The Texas Hill Country, this grape produces wines with medium tannins and is often fruit-forward. The beauty of this grape in our region is that each year the quality of the harvest gets better, as the roots of the vines dig deeper into the Texas soil. Sangiovese is a bit of a chameleon, offering a wide range of tastes from very earthy to round and fruit-forward, but you can always expect cherry flavors with subtle notes of tomato. Sangiovese pairs well with a wide array of foods due to its chameleon nature. Create a congruent wine pairing by serving dishes that are heavy on herbs and tomato, like pastas, with your Sangiovese. Alternatively, you can also pair this wine with fatty roasted meats, cured sausages, or hard cheeses.
This grape most likely gets its name from the French words sauvage (“wild”) and blanc (“white”) due to its early origins as an indigenous grape in South West France. It is possibly a descendant of Savagnin. Sauvignon blanc is planted in many of the world’s wine regions, producing a crisp, dry, and refreshing white varietal wine. The grape is also a component of the famous dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Depending on the climate, the flavor can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical. In cooler climates, the grape has a tendency to produce wines with noticeable acidity and “green flavors” of grass, green bell peppers and nettles with some tropical fruit (such as passion fruit) and floral (such as elderflower) notes. In warmer climates, it can develop more tropical fruit notes but risk losing a lot of aromatics from over-ripeness, leaving only slight grapefruit and tree fruit (such as peach) notes. Fun fact, the first Friday in May is International Sauvignon Blanc Day!
Along with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, Sémillon is one of only three approved white wine varieties in the Bordeaux region. The grape is also key to the production of sweet wines such as Sauternes. Sémillon wines can be surprisingly rich and when oaked, can taste similar to Chardonnay. This wine pairs excellently well with richer fish entrées such as black cod and with white meats including chicken and pork chops.
Syrah or shiraz, is a dark-skinned grape variety grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce red wine. The style and flavor profile of wines made from Syrah is influenced by the climate where the grapes are grown with moderate climates tending to produce medium to full-bodied wines with medium-plus to high levels of tannins and notes of blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hot climates Syrah is more consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of licorice, anise and earthy leather. In many regions the acidity and tannin levels of Syrah allow the wines produced to have favorable aging potential.
Syrah is used as a single varietal or as a blend. Pair this wine with darker meats and exotic spices to bring out the fruit notes. Try it with Lamb Shawarma, Gyros, Asian 5-spice pork and even Indian tandoori meats.
A red wine grape, historically grown in South West France in the Madiran AOC, and is now one of the most prominent grapes in Uruguay, where it is considered the “national grape”. In the US states, there are small experimental plantings of the vine, and plantings in California have increased dramatically in the first years of the 21st Century. Tannat wines produced in Uruguay are usually quite different in character, being lighter in body and lower in tannins. It is also used to make Armagnac and full bodied rosé.
The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word Temprano, meaning “early,” which suits this grape as it ripens earlier than other grapes native to Spain. The dominant flavors of this varietal include cherry, cedar, and tobacco for an overall earthy wine. Several Hill Country wineries produce Tempranillo making for a wide range of styles, from light-bodied and fruit, to complex and tannic. The aging process of this wine can significantly change its aromas and flavors. When drunk young, Tempranillo can be surprisingly fresh and fruity. When aged with oak, you’ll notice the more tobacco and leather flavors. Tempranillo is traditionally paired with red meats and hams, but this versatile wine can pair well with several kinds of food. Try pairing it with roasted vegetables, heavy pastas, or even Mexican food.
A dark-skinned grape variety that is currently very fashionable and is widely believed to produce the finest red wines of Portugal. Extensively planted in Portugal’s northern Dao and Douro wine regions, the variety is a key ingredient in both dry red wines and the fortified wines of Oporto (Port). Touriga Nacional’s elegant floral fruit aromas and massive tannins makes it a perfect pairing for thick cut steaks topped with compound butter or blue cheese.
The second most widely planted grape in the world. It gives good yields, but makes undistinguished wine at best. It can be fresh and fruity, but doesn’t keep long. Its high acidity makes it important in Cognac production. As a dry white wine, Trebbiano pairs well with hard Italian cheeses, seafood pastas, white pizza, roast chicken and even pesto.
Viognier is a full-bodied white wine that originated from the South of France. The history of Texas Hill Country Winemaking and Viognier go hand and hand as it was one of the first varietals planted in the region. Today, Texas Hill Country Viogniers often win medals at prestigious International Wine Competitions. Viogniers are loved for their perfumed aromas of stone fruits and honey finish. When aged in an oak wine barrel, this wine can become rich and creamy with hints of vanilla. Depending on the producer and how the wine is made, Viognier can range in intensity from light with a touch of bitterness to bold and creamy. When pairing foods with a Viognier, it is crucial to respect the delicate floral notes and acidity of the wine. Focus on finding foods that compliment the wine’s core flavor while taking care not to pair any foods that are too acidic or bold. Soft cheeses and herbs like sage, lemongrass, saffron, nutmeg, and peppercorn are a safe choice.
Also known as Primitiv, is a variety of black-skinned wine grape. DNA analysis has revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, as well as to the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Apulia (the “heel” of Italy), where it was introduced in the 18th century. The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, where it became known by variations of a name applied to a different grape, likely “Zierfandler” from Austria. The grapes typically produce a robust red wine, although in the United States a semi-sweet rosé (blush-style) wine called White Zinfandel has six times the sales of the red wine. The taste of the red wine depends on the ripeness of the grapes from which it is made. Red berry fruit flavors like raspberry predominate in wines from cooler areas, whereas blackberry, anise and pepper notes are more common in wines made in warmer areas and in wines made from the earlier-ripening Primitivo clone.
All of these Texas wine varietals would not be possible without our amazing Texas Hill Country Winery growers. Each year The Texas Hill Country Wine industry, which includes wineries, winemakers, and growers, continues to be innovative and creative with how they blend and create wines with varietals that are now interwoven into The Texas Hill Country region. Place your order online with your favorite Texas Hill Country Winery for free shipping or curbside pick up, and we’re confident you’ll find wines that will leave you proud to be a Texan!