Saturday, March 20, 2021

Elevating French grapes outside France at Texas's William and Chris Vineyards #Winophiles

2018 Carbonic Tannat, Hye Estate (SRP$35), 2017 Tannat, Hye Estate (SRP$50), 2017 Malbec,
Lost Draw (SRP$42) and 2019 Roussanne, Texas High Plains 

The #Winophiles bloggers are obviously passionate about wines from France. Does our passion fade when it comes to wines that are produced from French grapes outside France? Cam Mann from Culinary Adventures with Camilla invites us to look at this topic in March 2021. To me, I'll go a deeper-dive how Texas's William Chris Vineyards elevates Tannat, Malbec, and Rousssanne, which are grapes originated in France, and transforms these wines into local and national favorites.

Wines from William Chris Vineyards are not new to me. I tasted and wrote about their impressive sparkling Rosé and Skeleton Key Red before. What really resonates with me is their focus on growing quality grapes, minimally manipulating the wine making process, and being innovative every step along the way. It's the to-do and bold attitudes...everything that speaks for Texas! 

Texas Wine AVA (American Viticultural Area) - Photo

Born French - Tannat, Malbec and Roussanne

The three types of French grapes used to produce the 2018 Carbonic Tannat, Hye Estate, 2017 Tannat, Hye Estate, 2017 Malbec, Lost Draw and 2019 Roussanne, Texas High Plains are Tannat, Malbec and Roussanne. 

2018 Carbonic Tannat, Hye Estate, a much fresher interpretation of Tannat due to carbonic maceration

Tannat is a red wine grape, initially grown in the Madiran AOC, southwest of France. Tannat is a "tough" grape and adapts well in rugged terrains. The Hye Estate Vineyards, where 2018 Carbonic Tannat and 2017 Tannat were grown and produced, is located in the middle of Texas Hill County AVA. In the Hye Estate Vineyards, about 6.5 acres of vines are planted on soil marked by bottom layers of rocky riverbed that give way to limestone. The soil is rich in nitrogen due to the turkey farming that previously dominated the region. The warm 2018 summer offered exceptionally high fruit ripeness levels but still retained great acidity in the grapes. While, generally speaking, Tannat is intensely fruity, spicy and heavy in tannins, the 2018 Carbonic Tannat is a fresher exhibition of the fruit. On the nose, it smells like freshly picked dark berries. As you sip, it's aromatic, slightly spicy and runs a tad licorice that leaves fun and tingling sensations in your palate. The winemaking technique for this wine is to "let it be"...there is no fining, no filtration, no sulfur, but wild yeast in its fermentation. At harvest, the whole clusters were transferred into a terra cotta clay pot, which was added with dry ice in layers to create an anaerobic environment, free of oxygen, in order to facilitate carbonic maceration of the grapes. Carbonic maceration is to ferment grapes in whole clusters in a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing, fermenting the juice while it is still inside the grapes and yielding a juicer and low-tannic wine.

2017 Tannat, Hye Estate, a contrast to the 2018 Carbonic Tannat,
showcases a traditional and rich Tannat

The 2017 Tannat, however, is a much more traditional and richer interpretation of Tannat. Aging 26 months in five percent new French oak, this Tannat displays the aromas of pomegranate and leather on the nose and has a rich palate of smokiness, black cherries and leather. It's bright and tart and has elegant tannins and a long finish.

2017 Malbec, Lost Draw, oaky, smoky, love at first sight, a lot of depth... a "refined" cowboy!

Malbec is indigenous to France, and its growing is now found primarily in Cahors in the southwest of  the country. This is one of those French grapes that travels around the world and becomes famous as a single-variety wine else where such as Argentina, when at its birthplace, Malbec remains as a humble blending grape in Bordeaux wines. The grapes of the 2017 Malbec were sourced from Lost Draw Vineyards*, which is situated in Texas High Plains AVA. They grow many warm-climate varietals at high elevation in the well-drained, iron-rich red clay soils. The quality of the Malbec grape does make this wine stand out. It's full-bodied, oaky, and has chocolate notes and a lot of chew. After all, the acidity is still retained, striking a good balance of elegance and richness. The finish is long, with memorable replay of chocolate notes. This Malbec is like a "refined" cowboy, who may impress you with the bold and outgoing appearance but eventually charm you with his deep thoughts. 

*Lost Draw Vineyards merged with William Chris Vineyards in October 2020.

2019 Roussanne, Texas High Plains, which consists of 90% Roussanne, 5% Marsanne and 5% Picpoul Blanc, is a hearty white that is good for all year around.

Roussanne is a white wine grape grown originally in the Rhône wine region in France. The grapes of the 2019 Roussanne were grown in three vineyards (i.e., La Pradera, One Way and Timmons Estate Vineyards) that are known for their clay base, limestone sub-soil, fine sandy loam, and high organic matters. Due to the unusually long growing season in Texas High Plains in 2019, there were two separate harvests of Roussanne at the La Pradera Vineyards. The younger block, which is about 35% of the wine, was harvested a week earlier than the rest and was fermented in a concrete egg. The remainder of the wine was barrel-fermented. In order to add additional texture and body, Bâtonnage was added every two to three weeks during the six month ageing period. The end result of this Roussanne is richer, full-bodied and loaded with minerality. 

2019 Roussanne with a pan-fried fish cake on rice

Smoky Pork Belly, Salmon Rice Burger and Pan-fried Fish Cake

I can't remember since when pork belly becomes very popular in Asian restaurants in New York. May it be a Japanese ramen shop or a 5-star fusion Thai-French restaurant, pork belly is cool and defies the all the low-fat diet trends. What I paired with my William Chris wines was slowly smoke-roasted pork belly strips that were marinated in nine different sauces or seasonings. The 3/4" thick strips were roasted in an oven at 350 degree for 1 1/2 hours. The sauces I used were simply a mixture of what I have in the pantry and a splendid showcase of diverse Asian flavors. From the left to the right (or top to bottom), the marinating sauces I brushed on the strips are: 

  • Japanese Miso sauce with paprika
  • Soy sauce with grinded up ginger (spicy)
  • Fish sauce with coriander
  • Montreal steak seasoning
  • Korean Gochujang red chili paste (spicy)
  • Chinese fermented tofu paste
  • Ginger honey salad dressing 
  • Soy sauce with rice vinegar
  • Miso sauce

Pork belly strips marinated in 9 different types of sauces and seasoning, slow-roasted at 350 degree in the oven for one and a half hours

Prior to the roasting, I did lattice-cut on the up side pork belly to allow easy absorption of the sauces into the meat. To let the fat of the belly drain out, I put a rack above the tray to catch the fat. The smokiness came from the soaked apple wood chips. I also added half a cup of water to the wood chips to prevent any burns during the roasting. 

Lattice-cut the pork belly to achieve better marination and maximum flavor

The pork belly is perfect for the Tannats and Malbec. I chilled the 2018 Carbonic Tannat for 20 minutes before drinking it, and it turned out it was the most fun and perfect for the pork belly, especially for the ones that are a bit spicy. There is no doubt in my mind that this wine will be a big hit red wine for summer BBQ pairings. The 2017 Tannat and 2017 Malbec were also a solid match with the ones that have rich, savory and creamy flavors like the miso paprika, Montreal steak seasoning and the fermented tofu. 

Crispy, juicy Pork Belly bite

For the 2019 Roussanne, I opted for a pan-fried salmon patty on a rice burger. This Roussanne is a substantially solid white wine that is very enjoyable with a heavier fish like salmon. I made an egg-yolk garlic aioli sauce to cream up the salmon and add extra flavors to the rice. I found that this Roussanne went very well with pan-fried fish cakes that can be made of any ground white fish.

I think it is fair to say that drinking French wines made from French grapes are fine. You kind of know what you are getting into. But tasting the wines made from French grapes outside France, like Texas is a wild card, and with William Chris Vineyards, it is an awesome and rewarding experiment that elevates my palates, experiences and spirit!

Disclosure: the wines in this post are samples. The ideas of the post are mine.

Check out other #Winophiles bloggers' pursuits of French grapes outside France below:


  1. Thanks for joining me this month, Pinny. Is there a recipe for your Smoky Pork Belly, Salmon Rice Burger and Pan-fried Fish Cake because it sounds amazing!

    1. I got the pre-cut pork belly from Costco. The sauces I listed are pre-made, out-of-a-jar. Brush it on the strips and marinate if for an hour or so. Put them in the oven at 350 degree for 1 and a half hours. The fish cake is made of frozen catfish fillets. Defrost a few and grind it up in a blender with some cornstarch, white pepper and salt until it turns into a sticky paste. Form it in patties and pan-fry. The salmon burger is a pre-made frozen patty I got from Costco. Hope this helps.

  2. Thanks for sharing the map-- really helps in understanding where the wine growing regions are in Texas. Lots of potential for Tannat there it seems. Pairings look yummy!

    1. Thank you. Texas wines come up a lot lately. Definitely a US wine region I'll visit when travel is worry-free again.

  3. Love that you focused on wines made in Texas as our experience with this region is limited. These pairings look absolutely delicious!

    1. Thank you. I learned a lot about Texas wines through William Chris Vineyards, which makes really awesome high-end wines.

  4. What fascinating wine techniques! I found my mouth watering as you described the wines. A Carbonic Tannat made in amphorae? Wow! I could almost taste the Roussanne. I have fallen for aged Roussanne, but I would love to try one that was fermented in a concrete egg or barrel aged with battonage! Yum! You have me ready to look into these Texas wines from William Chris!
    I also absolutely LOVE that you did all your pork belly strips with different sauces and seasonings! They all look delicious.

  5. The carbonic Tannat makes so much sense to me -- would love to try that! The whole line up sounds great though, as do the pairings.

  6. I've been so impressed with the Texas wines I've tried; must add William Chris to the list! I'm inspired by your pairings too - so perfect with the wines you've described.