A Super Tuscan Made in…Texas?

Today, even novice lovers of Italian wines are familiar with the tern "Super Tuscans," a blend of wines originating in Tuscany that generally (although not always) combines the area's most prevalent grape, Sangiovese, with Italian-grown French varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Cabernet Franc. The renown accorded these wines has allowed some of them to be sold at extremely high prices. As author Jay McInerny said in his book, Bacchus & Me, referring to Super Tuscans, "…if it ends in aia, it's bound to be good." He should have added the words "and expensive."

Grape Creek Vineyard winemaker Jason Englert and owner Brian Heath. Photo: Terry Duarte.
The growing popularity of Sangiovese wines in the U. S. has induced American wine growers to add this hardy grape to their domestic production. These additions have included vineyards in the Southwest, particularly Texas and New Mexico. Intrigued by the somewhat recent addition of Sangiovese wines to the offerings of the growing Texas wine industry, I recently visited what I believe to be a rising star of wineries in the area.

Award-winning Grape Creek Vineyards (www.grapecreek.com) is located just east of Fredericksburg, Texas (approximately 50 miles west of Austin) on the site of an old Comanche campground. Grape Creek occupies about 100 acres and has been producing wines since 1985. In 2006 Brian Heath, a former financial services executive, purchased the winery from the heirs of the founders and began the implementation of his vision to make Grape Creek a world class winery. In the intervening period he has begun, as he described to me, to "marry the romance of winemaking with the beauty of viticulture to produce an exceptionally pleasing experience." Improvements have included a beautiful Italian villa style wine tasting room and grounds, expanded production facilities and most importantly addition of new types of grapes including Italian vines for Montepulciano (an Adriatic variety) and the star of Campanian red wines, Aglianico.

But what about the wines, specifically the Super Tuscan style wine? Grape Creek's young but knowledgeable winemaker, Jason Englert, has crafted a really good blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that is sold under the name Bellissimo. On a previous visit, I had tried the 2006 bottling and found it to be a very nice wine. However, this time Brian and Jason opened a bottle of the 2007 Bellissimo which I found to be exceptional. Though only in the bottle for one year, the bouquet was very pleasant, slightly fruity and the taste was a joy to experience. Grape Creek's 2004 Bellissimo won numerous awards at that time, but I believe this may be better. It will be available in September or October 2009.

bottle label
Grape Creek sells the majority of its 120,000 bottle/year production at the winery or over the internet from its web site. In 2009, production will increase to 150,000 bottles/year. On the web site you can see the various wines offered, but my favorite is the Bellissimo. However, I can't wait to try their Aglianico when it is produced, as the soil and climate in Fredericksburg are very similar to that in Campania and Basilicata in Italy.

If you find yourself in the Austin area, a visit to Grape Creek Vineyards would be a most enjoyable trip. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and they even have B&B lodging on the premises. If you can't visit, you can try the 2007 Bellissimo by purchasing it via the internet. I think you will be very pleased.

September 2009

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