Wine Reviews: C.L. Butaud’s Texas Wines

Today we’re taking a trip down the wine road less traveled  (at least by me) – Texas. I’m not going to make any broad generalizations about Texas, as it so huge and diverse and the tropes fall flat. I lived there for a year as a teenager, before I knew about wine, and have made somewhat frequent trips since. But I’ve yet to tour the Texas High Plains wine country and other areas, or dig deeply into producers across the state who have been laying the groundwork for decades now.

As an outsider, I’ve enjoyed a few of the Texas wines I’ve managed to find. But a proper trip is in order for me to get a better handle on things — long drives, visiting with winemakers, walking through vineyards, and perhaps adding on some rock climbing or hunting. This is all making me nostalgic for Texas, and the wines from C.L. Butaud were a great reminder to keep up with wines from the Lone Star State.

Houston native Randy Hester kicked off his first Texas vintage in 2014, after working in the wine industry for years, including at Cakebread and with a host of renowned winemakers. They take a low sulfite approach, use some whole clusters in their fermentation, and produce wines with a unique spice and appeal. While these wines are very distinct, I was reminded of Arizona wines (with which I have much more experience) in the sense that, when tasting them I get this earthy nuance that makes me want to visit the land itself. To get my feet in the dirt and hands on the rocks.

This was my first time with this producer, and it won’t be my last. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2021 C.L. Butaud Pa Pa Frenchy Red USA, Texas, Texas High Plains
SRP: $18
Vibrant ruby color. The nose is so alive, spicy, and inviting, with deep cherries, sweet raspberries, red plums, along with violets, cloves, mesquite, pepper, some leathery spice. On the palate, there’s a chewy feel with smooth tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. The juicy strawberry and red plum fruit is fresh and crisp, backed with notes of rhubarb, cola, white pepper, leather, some smoked meats. There’s a lot in here to parse through, but it maintains such a fun, fresh, crushable appeal. Highly recommended if you like this style. A blend of West Texas Grenache with 20% Mourvedre and 20% Tempranillo, aged for 10 months in old French oak and stainless steel. Winemaker Randy Hester’s homage to his great-grandfather, it’s a fitting tribute and a delightful wine. (88 points IJB)

2020 C.L. Butaud Tempranillo USA, Texas, Texas High Plains
SRP: $54
Deep ruby color. The nose shows a deep mix of roasted plums and figs, warm clay, creosote, some sage, pepper – a lot of those higher elevation desert vibes are so evident in these aromas. The palate sports a chewy feel with smooth tannins and medium acidity, along with jammy red and black cherries and plums. Notes of toffee, cola, dark chocolate, spiced black tea and anise add complexity. Juicy and deep, give it air and pair with some barbecue, and this will work wonders. All Tempranillo, aged in new and used French oak and stainless steel. (89 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: C.L. Butaud’s Texas Wines

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2021 C.L. Butaud Blanc de Noir USA, Texas
SRP: $48
The palates copper color imaginable. The aromas pop with tons of flowers and dandelion, along with crunchy white cherries and red apple peel, and there are also these cool tobacco, mint, and sliced cucumber elements. The palate sports crunchy acidity on a medium-bodied, steely frame. Flavors of white cherries and tart green apple mix well with notes of white pepper, basil, and dandelion flowers. This is a ton of fun and has a lot of versatile pairing potential. A 50/50 blend of Grenache Noir and Mourvedre, whole cluster pressed and aged on the lees in stainless steel for five months. (90 points IJB)

2021 C.L. Butaud Mourvèdre Texas Mourvèdre USA, Texas, Texas High Plains
SRP: $30
Dark ruby color. The nose is spicy and jammy with a cool mix of raspberry, cranberry relish, with notes of bay leaf, pepper, warm clay, leather – lots going on. The palate shows a mix of chewy tannins and tangy acidity, with generous red plum, cherry and raspberry fruit. I love the vibrant rose tones, the white pepper, with notes of chewing tobacco and anise. This is really fun, crunchy, and spicy, but shows a depth of feel and a savory complexity that is really nice. From two vineyard sites, this includes 30% whole cluster, aged in stainless steel and used French oak. Mourdvedre fans should check this out if they can! (90 points IJB)

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/12/23

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This past week included a very nice Chardonnay, an excellent Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon from the husband-and-wife duo Sean W. McBride and Juliana McBride. They bottle single-vineyard selections, like the tasty Laoise Vineyard Chardonnay under the Sean W. Mcbride label, and everything else under their Crosby Roamann brand. I really enjoyed what they call their “Estate Bottled White Wine” which is actually just a fancy name for a blend of a bunch of Sauvignon Blanc clones. But it, like the Chardonnay and like the Cabernet they also sent along, shows some nice restraint and excellent levels of acidity. The couple makes 2500 cases of wine each year, and in addition to owning their own small winery building in Napa, have recently closed on a small vineyard in Napa as well.

Next, I’ve got a few more Pinot Noirs from Graham Tatomer, who spent the early part of his career convincing people that you could make excellent Riesling and Grüner Veltliner in California. Eventually, living in Santa Barbara, he couldn’t resist trying his hand at Pinot Noir. Taste these wines and you’ll be glad he did. They are light, ethereal, and delicious, especially his restrained rendition of Pinot from the famed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard.

Lastly, it’s always quite fun when wineries send me library releases in addition to their current releases. Kelly Fleming Wines sent along their 2011 Napa Cabernet bottling to accompany their 2019 vintage release and it was a treat to taste them side-by-side. Widely regarded as one of the most difficult vintages since 1998, 2011 has nonetheless proved to be a fantastic year for those who made wine carefully and diligently. In Kelly Fleming’s case, winemaker Celia Welch pulled off an excellent wine that has great freshness and balance. I preferred it to the more lush current vintage of 2019, made by winemaker Rebecca George.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2021 Sean W. McBride “Laoise Vineyard” Chardonnay, Los Carneros, Sonoma, California
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and grapefruit pith, white flowers, and wet stones. In the mouth, bright and juicy lemon pith and lemon juice flavors mix with pomelo and white flowers as fantastic acidity keeps things zippy and a light chalky sensation lingers in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2021 Crosby Roamann White Wine, Napa Valley, California
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith, lemon juice, white flowers, and a hint of pastry cream. In the mouth, the wine is deliciously bright, with zingy acidity that delivers bright flavors of lemon, passionfruit, pink grapefruit, and a hint of yellow herbs across the palate. Mouthwatering, with just a hint of creamy, woody oak in the finish. Fermented in concrete with native yeasts. One-third of the wine ages in steel, with the remainder split between neutral and new barrels. This is labeled as white wine, but it is 100% Sauvignon Blanc from several different clones. 13.5% alcohol. 117 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $85.

2021 Tatomer Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sour cherries, raspberries, and chopped herbs. In the mouth, juicy raspberry and sour cherry flavors have a light, fine-grained tannic grip to them, as raspberry and herbs linger through the finish. There’s a faint, salty umami quality that surfaces in the finish as well. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2021 Tatomer “Küstennebel” Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, raspberries, and dried herbs. In the mouth, raspberries and redcurrant flavors are silky and shot through with powdery, athletic tannins that show their muscle as the wine finishes. Notes of dried fennel, dried flowers, and herbs linger in the finish with a hint of citrus peel. Excellent acidity. A delicate, ethereal wine. 13.5% alcohol. 120 cases produced. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2021 Tatomer “Sanford & Benedict” Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of flowers and candied raspberries. In the mouth, gorgeously bright raspberry and cranberry flavors are stony and juicy with the barest whisper of tannins. Bright citrus peel, herbs, and wet chalkboard notes linger in the finish. A supremely poised and delicious wine. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/12/23

2019 Crosby Roamann “Crosby’s Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of graphite, pipe tobacco, and dark cherry fruit. In the mouth, powdery tannins wrap around a very fresh core of cherry, cocoa powder, and faintly minty herbal notes. There’s a hint of dried cherry and raisins in here as well, surprising given the relatively low 14% alcohol. Good acidity, and the tannins remain supple through the finish. Comes in an unnecessarily heavy bottle, weighing 1.59 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $105.

2011 Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of forest floor, a touch of smoked meats, and dark red and black fruits. In the mouth, minty flavors of black cherry, dates, and blackberry are wrapped in gauzy tannins. Elegant and beginning to enter its next phase of life with dried floral and redwood bark notes emerging in the finish. 14.7% alcohol. Packaged in an unnecessarily heavy bottle weight 1.55 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $200. click to buy.

2019 Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit and oak. In the mouth, sweetish black cherry and blackcurrant flavors mix with cola and tobacco. Lush muscular tannins wrap around the palate with a velvety texture. I wish there was more acidity and brightness here, which would make the wine feel less heavy. 15.1% alcohol. Packaged in an unnecessarily heavy bottle weight 1.55 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $185. click to buy.

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