The Texas Department of Agriculture is compelled to promote all the permitted wineries in Texas, a mandate that doesn't resolve the thorny issue of how to address varying degrees of quality within the industry.
But a recent event proposed by industry members has allowed the department to discern without discriminating: At the Texas Sommelier Tasting, held last month in Austin, nearly a dozen sommeliers blind tasted about 100 submissions (only wines made from Texas-grown grapes were eligible) and selected "their favorites that best represent Texas and its terroir." The TDA will now pour their choices at promotions designed to showcase Texas wines.
"We've gone through different scenarios, trying to find something fair and balanced," says Robert Campbell, state coordinator of the TDA's Wine Marketing Program. "I think it worked out really well."
The tasting isn't structured as a competition; the sommeliers didn't bestow any awards or judge one varietal against another. But Campbell says many of the smaller wineries benefited from having their wines served to influential sommeliers. Drew Hendricks, wine director for Pappas Bros., was so impressed with a wine from Sandstone Cellars in the tiny Hill Country town of Mason that he decided to put the bottle on his steakhouse's list.
"To have their wines picked up in a great restaurant is really exciting," Campbell says.
The list of favorites is fairly lengthy; nearly 50 wines, representing 16 different varietals, made the cut.
"It shows what can be done with various varietals," Campbell says. "These wines came from all corners of the state. It's a good reflection of what's being done here."
To keep the list current, another Texas Sommelier Tasting will be staged in about six months.
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